Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Farewell to A Prairie Home Companion

No, the popular Minnesota radio show isn't going off the air. I just can't listen to it anymore. Garrison Keillor's a great storyteller, but I can't listen to skit after skit and monologue after monologue about shy people who won't stand up for themselves against emotionally manipulative and abusive people.

This isn't the first time this has happened to me. I used to love reading Peanuts as a kid, when my life seemed a lot like Charlie Brown's. But once things started getting better for me, and especially once I finally got a girlfriend, I lost patience with his always being the loser and never having the confidence to talk to that little red-haired girl. I especially lost patience with him not even noticing that maybe Peppermint Patty had a crush on him, and liked him just the way he was.

Same thing with Doonesbury. I identified with poor luckless Mike when the strip first appeared in the early 70s, but as my life got better, and I developed more self-confidence (and a few much-needed social skills), I lost patience with him too, and stopped reading it.

Which brings us back to Garrison Keillor and the people of Lake Wobegon MN. I've listened to the show on-and-off ever since I was first introduced to it by a friend from Wisconsin 27 years ago. It was on-and-off because I was almost never in one place for the two hours the show was on the air on Saturday afternoons. So I'd catch a bit of the show here and there, but rarely did I ever get to hear an entire show in one sitting. As a result, my exposure to people who wouldn't or couldn't stand up for themselves was limited.

The Internet and the iPod changed all that. When the APHC website started streaming both the current week's shows and those from its archives, it meant that I could put shows on my iPod and listen to them whenever I was in the car - and I spent a lot of time in the car. Not to worry, I wasn't wearing headphones, the iPod plugs into the car's stereo system. This regular listening, 20 minutes here, 10 minutes there, every day, led to my overdose of shy, spineless, and stupid people.

You see, as with Charlie Brown and Mike Doonesbury, I had once been one of those people. But I eventually learned to stand up for myself, and it made me crazy that there was no "character development" in Lake Wobegon, and that they all pretty much remained doormats. Hey, if I could learn to do this, so could they!

The most annoying regular character on the show was Duane from the skits about his telephone conversations with his manipulative mother. This Minnesota mother made the classic Jewish stereotype seem like a rank amateur. Even my wife found listening to these segments painful, and suggested that we just fast-forward through that part of the show.

I knew that I had to quit, but I didn't know how. Until I got behind.

Yes, getting behind in my listening is what made it easy to quit. We had been so busy, and had been listening to so many other things in the car, that I was a good month or two behind in listening to APHC. And being that far behind made it really easy, because now it was no longer a matter of deciding to when to quit listening, but rather, of deciding whether or not to start again.

I haven't listened to APHC since around Christmas, and I'm OK with that. If there's ever a live performance nearby, like Buffalo or Bethlehem, I might try to get tickets. Listening to a show every now and then is something I could probably handle. But my days of regular listening are over. I just can't take it anymore.

In the meantime, I'm gonna try listening to podcasts of Stuart McLean's monologues from the CBC's Vinyl Cafe.

If I can make it through his Canadian accent.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Gone Are The Days

As we celebrate another Black History Month, the time has come for those of us born before 1960 to give those of us, both white and black, born after 1960 a sense of perspective, and to let them know that things have indeed changed over the past almost 50 years.

Let’s face it, not only do we no longer have to sit at the back of the bus, but sometimes we run the bus company. We have been mayors, governors, ambassadors, Secretaries of State, and now President of the United States.

Most white people are no longer trying to hold us back, but are trying to move us forward, and this is because, unlike previous generations, they have found it to be in their best interests to do so.

And therein lies the key to the difference between now and then: generations have changed.

Yes, generations have changed. For the most part the old generation of whites who wanted to keep us down and “in our place,” those who were resistant to change, have died off. In their place are their children and grandchildren, people who had a vision of something different, but something that they couldn’t quite pull off while the older generation was still alive and had power.

As I look around my school and Onondaga County in general, I am pleased to see so many interracial couples that I don’t even bother counting them anymore. And as I look at them, I think about the fact that many of these are the children of people whose parents forbade them to bring “one of them” home. These are children of people who may have felt powerless to go against their parents’ wishes at the time, but made a vow to themselves never to say that to their own children.

Yes, the children and grandchildren of the old generation are different. The first wants their children to see skin color as being no different than hair color, and their success is measured in the fact that the second wonders what the big deal was ever about.

So if things really are so much better now, why does it appear that so many white people, and especially of the newer generation, are against Affirmative Action programs? Because we did a good job of salesmanship. We sold them on the ideal that a person should be judged based on the content of their character, on their skills, and on their ability to do the job. To them, programs that seem to give a lesser-qualified person an advantage in getting into a college or getting a certain job look like a betrayal of that ideal that we fought for and sold them on. I’ll grant that this view is perhaps a bit na├»ve and lacking in historical perspective, but it is not mean-spirited. It comes from them listening to us.

Others will ask about recurring flare-ups of racist incidents, the most recent of which comes to my mind is that of the Jena Six. My response is simple: Idiots and jerks you will always have with you, but they will no longer represent the mainstream. There is no longer a tacit agreement to just let things like this go. The mainstream, which is made up of the newer generations, wants things to be better, and is ashamed of the actions of their ancestors.

Are things perfect? Of course not. Is there still progress to be made? Definitely. But based on what I’ve seen over the course of the past 52 years, what remains to be done is simply fine-tuning around the edges.