We were all worried, down Texas way, that the aberrant late Feb freeze might have killed off all the bluebonnets this year. I dragged hubs, kicking and screaming, down south to Fredericksburg, Tx, to check things out for myself.
I’m not gonna rant about the rightness or wrongness of gun control, police killing unarmed black males, whatever “the hell is wrong with this country” du jour. Like many a sixth generation Texan, I am conflicted. My own home has guns, an arsenal inherited from a militaristic grandfather, locked in a safe, that I wish we didn’t have. Hubs, who can’t let them go, also can’t be bothered to maintain them, so they are all 50-100 years old and rusty. Don’t fire well, if you catch my meaning. Kind like the men who own them.
I grew up hunting and shooting, rifles mostly, and would like to someday take a gun safety and training course, just for personal interest. One of those female empowerment things.
But that is not this. This is my rant on the situation we find ourselves in, after a year plus of quarantine lockdown due to Covid.
I mean, hell yes, we have a gun control problem in this country. We have a mental health care (and lack of overall general healthcare) problem in this country, too. When unions were broken up, workers were left feeling like no one looked out for them, and that is true. But there’s an unspoken missing piece to all this....not just “toxic masculinity” (although you never hear it’s a woman on a shooting rampage), maybe “broken masculinity” is the better phrase...... men don’t know how to “be” anymore, and that includes finding a less destructive outlet for rage. Idk why kill all the random people standing by? I *almost* could understand if some guy killed the authority figure or the one person he was angry with (not sympathize, just understand) - but why kill innocent bystanders too? Sure, I’ve had revenge fantasies re several old bosses.....but just move on, “living well is the best revenge” as F.Scott Fitzgerald once wrote. The real issue is not only the easy availability of guns in this country, but our lack of mental health resources and social safety net. I get scared when I think about the GOPs re agenda for this nation, since JFK.... Makes those ole robber barons of the late 19th century seem tame. And by systemically destroying our educational system, we have masses who can’t think for themselves, struggle with the day to day, can’t see beyond their nose - just like the 21st century robber barons want them to be. Our social institutions have crumbled.... as intended. Education, healthcare, infrastructure - who cares? Policing is where the rubber meets the road.
It’s like Thunderdome out there..... And the cops, to me, are scarier than the perps
Cops, drs and nurses, and teachers - we are all on the front lines of dealing w humanity at its worst, every single day. Each of us responds to that challenge in different ways.
Many teachers I know, if not liberal when they started out, end up becoming more “liberal” over time ..... bc we are mostly dealing w kids and it’s hard to stay angry at “the great unwashed” (as my ex refers to them) when you see kids hungry and yet trying their best, right there w you, day after day. Even the 17-18 yr olds I taught- if you ask em why they were sleeping in class, they’ll tell you they just pulled a night shift at the poultry plant or whatever, then came to school exhausted, bc they knew a hs diploma would mean a raise. It’s hard to stay mad at an individual when you know them and their personal situation.
My take on drs and nurses - limited I know, from the convos w ones I know - is they become detached from the personalities, emotions, and circumstances of individuals, and just focus on the bodies. Categorize the bodies. Move the bodies here or there. Heal the bodies.....”We got a code blue in 207”, or “are you on the cardiac ward?” People get impersonalized into conditions. Too sick to get to know them, in 3 days they’re gone anyways - dead or sent home.
But cops, I think, they see the very worst in humanity, day after day. Even if they start out naive and hopeful, their daily grind changes them over time. I keep trying to figure out why they’re M.O. is “shoot first, ask Q later” and I think some of it is, they’re scared. Adrenalin takes over. They see a lot of death, violence, and only criminality from people. Maybe they are tired, overworked, burned out. I gotta think, too, though, that their training is poor. That their system, organization, ways of doing things is poorly set up. No one trains them to stay calm, work in small groups, slow down, assess the situation. Why did none of the other cops tell Derek Chauvin to ease up? Were they afraid of him? Maybe nowadays being a cop as a career draws in a certain kind of person, maybe racists, maybe just aggressive narrow-minded individuals, those who love to exert power over others. Sickos and psychos. All these incidents are white cops killing black people..... Can’t think of a black or brown cop shooting anyone like this, or even each other. (Maybe the news just doesn’t report it? Interesting research topic.) There’s a trope in movies that cops are corrupt and hard to distinguish from criminals. That bad cops manipulate and dominate good ones. Idk if true or not. But you know a cop could choose whether or not to shoot to kill or shoot to maim. That tazers could be designed even further not to be confused w guns. That *something* is going on, not being talked about, in the media, pop culture, about this problem.
I’m forever shaped by my deep research for a paper in AP Euro history class in high-school, on the Nuremburg trails, esp the IQs and mental health and criminal cruelty of those Nazis who stood trial. Vast work was undertaken at the time, to study this (via inkblot tests, mental health quizzes, one-on-one psychological analyses and more) - across a broad range of humanity. Prison guards and foot soldiers, all the way up to “the final solution” and Third Reich masterminds.
We say without thinking that stupider people are more vicious and that is true, esp one on one. (I also have experienced that people can be kind, often one on one.) Studies and my own life exp have born this out. I coined a phrase “the tyranny of the 95 IQ” and it has held true throughout my life, w bosses and coworkers, people you come across at the DMV, often the front desk people or gatekeepers at any place..... those just on the low side of avg. They’re the ones that make you jump through senseless hoops, and enjoy it. The ones that tell you: you need another, different form, filled out in triplicate, with this or that signature - and every time you come back at them w whatever they previously told you, now they tell you something else.
Hubs and I experienced this the day I was admitted to the hospital back in Dec .... I was sent to some stand alone place to get an MRI, first, and the form the dr sent over said “URGENT”, not “STAT”. The MRI place refused to admit me bc it didn’t say “STAT” ..... Person at the MRI place front desk said insurance wouldn’t cover it or some fucking bs. (“Can’t you just write ‘STAT’?” I asked. “No, the dr has to write ‘STAT’.”, person said. “Can I write ‘STAT’?” “No, the dr has to write it.” “But the dr didn’t even fill out this form, he had his PA fill it out AND I AM TOO FUCKING SICK TO DRIVE BACK OVER THERE.” ) Sick as I was (I ended up in the ER an hour later - still unclear why I had to jump through this hoop, bc I nearly died that day and later had to be revived, twice), I got on the phone to talk to the dr, while hubs got on the phone to talk to the insurance people - both of us trying to find the solution. We planted ourselves at the front counter, stubbornly refusing to leave, each in a different phone convo, with some very agitated language, I admit. (That MRI place’s admissions gatekeeper’s eyeballs just rolled around and around in her head, like an old cartoon character.) Hubs was going round and round with the insurance people - he kept getting bumped to “let me send you to talk w my supervisor”- click..... but at least discovered that it really all did come down to the wrong word on the paperwork. It took 45-60 min to find anyone who would actually say this. Of course they had no ideas how to remedy it. I got put thru to dr’s PA. Grilled her and went round and round, too - but had to be gentle, non accusatory, to drill down to the real issue.....She didn’t want to admit it, but clearly the mistake was hers. She buckled and refused to admit that she didn’t know that “STAT” was like a medical insurance code word, while “URGENT” had the same idea but was not the code word that would move the patient along.....The PA kept wanting to bump my problem to someone else, but I managed to coax her into refaxing the form w the word “STAT” written just above the word “URGENT”. (“Didn’t we both hear the dr say, “ Write ‘STAT’?” .... yadayadayada “But I need to check with the dr....” Believe it or not, I used a technique I learned from Briana, my shero on “Grace and Frankie” : Meet every objection with the phrase, “Or” instead of “But”.....”I can’t just” yadayada....”Yes, that’s true......Or, what if we just sent the same form again, this time with the word “STAT” written on it? Next to the word “URGENT”.....You don’t even have to redo all the paperwork, just add that one tiny little word.” My P&G sales managers woulda creamed their pants over that one....Bring the customer’s denial into agreement, while avoiding opposition. Seek to turn “you” vs “I” into “we.”) She did it, and I thought : What happens to all the poor sick folk out there who weren’t captains of the debate team, merit scholars, Dale Carnegie “Best Speech” winners, pre-law majors, salesman of the year, and devoted fans of “Grace and Frankie”? What happens in these situations to average folk too sick to argue? Suddenly 5 min later, I was admitted. And I was waaaaay too sick at the time to have to go thru that kind of bullshit. It was too much bs.
So my point is - that’s the kind of mindset of not very bright assholes. You have to let them save face. And I think that is some of what happens w cops.... the ego thing.....(“No fucking ‘n word’ is gonna make me look...... whatever”) and so they can’t back down.
Newbie teachers often get into similar power struggles w students, esp teenage boys, where the teacher responds to whatever provocation w harsher and harsher strictness, rules, consequences.... backing themselves into a corner. Especially w toughs, hoods, gangbangers, vatos, blue and red bandana kids, etc. You gave to let them save face. De-escalate. I learned eventually to just stare at them, one eyebrow raised, with a wry facial expression that says, humorously, “you’re an idiot, just stop” and to ignore 99% of the little things.
Someone needs to teach cops the same skill.
Question: GFT, I've enjoyed your thoughtful posts over the years, esp. on literary matters. Thought I'd tee something up to get your thoughts. You've read about the Dr. Seuss estate ceasing publication of some books b/c of outdated, bigoted depictions of some characters. For example, drawings and wording around an Asian character in one book. The estate presumably controls the right to the IP. If so, why not do a new edition cleaning up the bad parts and republishing the sanitized version? Is it an "artistic purity" thing?
Hhhmmmm.....I have no idea what the members of the Seuss estate who made this choice were thinking, or why. Neither you nor I can influence the individuals involved w the Seuss estate, nor the current tide of PC-ism running through our culture. I hope it’s not due to Dr Seuss’ political cartoons drawn before he wrote children’s books.....Not that they are great, they’re pretty awful actually, they have not withstood the test of time, but must be analyzed in the context of their historical moment. It seems obvious to me that Seuss’ greatest works indicate he moved on to imaginary animals and thus, beyond drawing specific ethnically imagined humans, grew in his personal sensibilities......But the entire issue requires more than just a “sound bite” answer. It is of course ironic that early 20th century books and toys, full of stereotypical depictions of assorted ethnicities spanning the globe, were in themselves an awkward attempt at being pan cultural.....the thought of inclusivity was there - just flawed execution.
Also, Idk what you mean by “artistic purity” thing. (Once you figure that out, let’s find another name for it, bc as you say it, it sounds kinda Nazi-ish.) Do you mean : Changing the author’s original text? Or illustrations? Maybe the editors etc realized that doing so just keeps the dialogue going - on the wrong topics.
But here’s what I do know:
I “get” that these are children’s books, and we want our children to grow up without the racist genderist views of the past.
I “get” that white privilege makes you and I oblivious to slights others see and feel. (As a woman though, I can share many interesting anecdotes on bs I have had to put up within my own life.) These slights are legit, and should be examined, discussed, and brought into the cultural dialogue as “not okay” any more. We need to use this moment as an opportunity to discuss civilly and teach others about the harm exclusion, stereotyping or over simplification, and hate speech (ideas, illustrations) can bring.
But rather than see a revisionist cancel culture take over, I’d rather see more open dialogue and learning take over. I’m generally against banning any books - even horrible evil wretched ones. Because once you start cancelling one author, artist, book - where does it stop? The vaguely Chinese dancing mushrooms in the 1939 cartoon “Fantasia”? Stereotypical costumed dancers, Russian, Chinese, African and more - in Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker”? The Madame Alexander collection of dolls from around the world? The “It’s a Small World” ride at Disneyland?
And of course : No one is asking unrealistic images of the female body that cause women to hate their own natural flawed human beauty be removed from pop culture. No one is asking misogynistic novels, movies, video games to be banned.
Three examples as food for thought :
“Huckleberry Finn”, the 1880’s novel by Mark Twain, contains the “n word”. It is a novel that has always sparked controversy : on one side, for use of the “n word”, on the other side, bc Huck (who’s white daddy is a cruel belligerent abusive drunk) turns to his runaway slave friend Jim as a surrogate father figure, instead. Huck has a chance to turn Jim in as a runaway slave, and doesn’t - and feels bad about it, bc his 1840’s southern USA world has told him that Jim is someone else’s property. So Huck feels bad for doing the “right” wrong thing. It’s a nuanced point that 99% of people on either side of the issue can’t process. So the novel remains controversial bc of its use of the “n word”, bc that is inflammatory and riles people up. They never look beyond that to what Twain is trying to tell us - or even to accepting the historical setting and verisimilitude of the word choice. So a parable, trying to teach us about deeper human relationships, is unacceptable bc of one word.
“Gone With the Wind”, a novel by Margarette Mitchell written in the 1920’s (as the generation of individuals who had lived through the Civil War were dying off), and published in the 1930’s (bc the research took her 10 years to complete), was written by a young southern woman about her grandmother, who lived in Georgia in the 1860’s. MM grew up hearing all her grandmother’s stories, and along with a ton of research about that period in Ga history (Civil War battle specifics, economic forces, train schedules, farming practices, cost of goods, what people ate-wore-did), wrote it all up in a “fictional” memoir. The only thing MM ever intended was to tell her grandmother’s biography. Publication of the novel brought it to the attention, made it a cause celebre of pop cultural forces during the 1930’s Jim Crow era. MGM turned the novel from a tale of how a dozen different female characters survived the Civil War, into a movie about a sexy bitchy she-vixen. Over 2/3 of the novel’s characters / events were cut from the film. Now both book and movie are deemed politically unacceptable - even though Margaret Mitchell took the “n word” out, at her publisher’s request - bc no one ever reads the book any more, only watches the movie - and the movie has characters in it that are stereotypes (even if true to MMs account of her grandmother’s stories.) So personal experiences, white southern people’s memoirs, are unacceptable, bc not currently “woke.” (But Hillbilly Eulogy” is “woke” so it’s ok.)
What about Steinbeck’s simplistic depiction of lower class caucasian migrant farm workers in “Of Mice and Men”? Conrad’s depiction of natives in “Lord Jim”? Pearl S. Buck’s overly archetypal peasants in “The Good Earth” ? Hemingway’s depiction of nobly suffering Cuban fishermen? Any story where Nazis, Communists, etc are bad guys? Complex analysis and discussion is required for consideration of each of these.
And yet, no one is talking about this at all:
But the third example is my personal beef du jour: My alma mater, Rice U, was founded by a man who made a fortune on cotton and sugarcane plantations in the 1800’s. Just like so many American universities, from UVA to Brown to UT and more.....the wealth that financially underwrote their creation was achieved via the exploitation of others. Slaves and migrant workers and native Americans whose land was taken, who were worked to death or just killed off in an intentional racial genocide - all suffered a loss as white European men did whatever they did to earn money. Britain and other European nations did it too - out of sight in the colonies. Yes, it’s horrible - akin to the Old Testament story of pharaoh subjugating Moses and the Hebrews, or Nazis exterminating Jews, Poles, gypsies, gays, etc in the Third Reich. But recent student protests at Rice prompted a meltdown on an alumni FB page, with younger alumni wanting a statue of the founder of Rice removed bc he had slaves. Apparently irony impaired, these same people felt it was ok though to continue to enjoy the “white privilege” of a super posh campus, lifestyle, and degree - all available from that money. My point in all this was that merely removing the statue (a special revered feature on campus, one that represents the esprit de corps of its denizens, much like the Statue of Liberty, or the Vietnam Wall) continues to “whitewash” history, literally, and does nothing to make amends or raise awareness for those who were exploited over 150 years ago. Demands to remove Willy’s statue offer a momentary “feel good we achieved something” moment, without bothering to explore the issue at all. What then? Go about yer business of getting an education on a campus, without the troublesome statue to remind you where it all originated? How does that solve anything? Better to turn the statue into a teachable moment, with some additional historical contextual information next to it.
I am sure you did not expect such a long winded answer, but my point is this : None of these issues can be resolved with a sound bite or knee jerk response. To truly move forward, we must preserve the old, so it is never forgotten, and offer tours or paratextual material that explains historical context - Just like touring Auschwitz, or slave auction buildings in the south. So history won’t forget, but will learn from it and grow.
What are your thoughts on the subject?