Tuesday, March 26, 2019

A Little More Vomiting, Please

I know this sounds a little disgusting...well, OK, a lot disgusting. But bear with me, and I think you’ll understand my point.

I had been thinking about last year’s shootings at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. Actually, I hadn’t. When I first heard about it, I was shaken…not just because of the horror of it, but also because I know people in Pittsburgh. I know that neighborhood. I know people who walked by that synagogue every day. This wasn’t just some “random” mass shooting; this one was almost personal.

Then I found out that it was even more personal than I’d thought. You see, the reason I had been thinking about the Tree of Life murders was because I had just discovered that the doctor of one of the people I know in Pittsburgh was one of those killed that day.

And that got me thinking…it got me thinking about the effects of a murder not just on the family and friends of the one who was killed, but on the rest of the community. The effects on my friend who had lost his doctor. The effects on those who worked at that practice who may now find themselves without jobs. The far-ranging effects that spread much farther than the person who pulled the trigger could’ve imagined when he decided to go on his killing spree. And that got me wondering…

Suppose we felt it when we killed someone?

No…I don’t mean suppose we felt the same pain of the bullet, knife, poison, or whatever. I mean suppose we felt an unbearable, unresolvable pain when we killed someone with malice aforethought. Most of us feel pretty bad when we kill someone accidentally. When Jim Boehiem, the basketball coach at Syracuse University accidentally hit and killed someone walking across the highway at night, he said that this would be with him for the rest of his life. And this was for an unavoidable accident. But suppose you had to live with worse…far worse…after intentionally killing someone?

I read that after witnessing a particular set of Jewish executions, Nazi official Heinrich Himmler vomited. Good. He should’ve. It was the only good thing he did during the Nazi reign of terror. But apparently he got over it. Better he should’ve vomited every time someone had been murdered at his command. Better he, those above him, and those who actually did the dirty work should’ve vomited every half hour for the rest of their lives for each person whose murder they were responsible for.

Suppose we knew this would happen? Suppose we knew that if you killed someone with malice aforethought or even tried to, you had sentenced yourself to a life of endless vomiting? Wouldn’t this be worse than any death penalty we could give them? Wouldn’t this life sentence of vomiting be its own very special hell? Wouldn’t seeing just one person go through this be enough to give pause to anyone else? And of course, in the case of what would now be attempted mass shootings, wouldn’t the vomiting caused by the first death or attempt be enough to stop you in your tracks before you were able to shoot anyone else; and give everyone else a chance to subdue you?

Frankly, I think that if we can’t learn to just get along with each other, we could sure use a lot more vomiting.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The Alvy Singer Effect

In the 1977 movie Annie Hall, the main character, comedian Alvy Singer, saw hidden anti-Semitism everywhere. One example is his hearing the quickly spoken question “Did you eat?” as “Jew eat?” I know people like this.

Who you are often determines what you see…or hear…even if it’s not meant that way. And nothing can convince you that you might be wrong.

Also, when George Lucas was making The Phantom Menace, he paid special attention to language. It bothered him that in SciFi movies and TV shows, aliens all spoke perfect English with no accents, or no speech impediments because of sounds that didn’t exist in their native tongues. So he spoke with linguists about what people from different planets and cultures should realistically sound like, and used what he learned for the speech patterns of the Gungans and members of the Trade Federation.

And for his efforts he got criticized by many Asians and blacks as being racist for “mocking” their speech patterns. Those, and the supposed characterization of Jar Jar Binks as a “Stepin Fetchit-like character”, have been used as examples of his unconscious racism.

Even though that was probably the farthest thing from his mind.

Again, who you are often determines what you see…or hear…even if it’s not meant that way. And nothing can convince you that you might be wrong.

A saying often attributed to Sigmund Freud, who saw phallic significance in everything, and loved to smoke, says that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. But sometimes who you are prevents you from seeing the plain old cigar, and insists on imbuing it with some deeper, and darker, meaning. Being a member of certain oppressed groups prevents you from seeing an honest coincidence as a coincidence, and instead has you seeing it as either a conscious or unconscious attack on your group.

All of which brings us to book titles.

In library circles, there’s a popular book display idea of books with titles like The Bonesetter’s Daughter, The Time-Traveler’s Wife, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; and a sign over the display that says “Her Name Is…” These books are seen as signs of the pervasive and unnoticed misogyny in our culture, where women have no identity aside from their relationship to some male.

I call “bullshit” on this one. I say that if you look at the books carefully, if you look at the genres, if you actually read the books, and if you look at the data for thousands of book titles, you’ll find that it’s nothing of the sort. But if you’re like Alvy Singer, who saw anti-Semitism everywhere; and the blacks and Asians who saw racism in the application of George Lucas’s linguistics research to the dialogue in The Phantom Menace, well then, this is just proof of a problem that’s so common that we don’t notice it.

But let’s face it…we tend to notice the things that affect us and bother us, and not the things that don’t. Did anyone complain about Wonder Boys, The Boys in the Boat, or The Bishop’s Boys? How about Navy Husband or The Husband’s Secret? What about The Man in the Iron Mask or both Invisible Man and The Invisible Man? Are there reasons for the man in question having no identity in the title? Is it part of the genre?

And what about those thousands upon thousands of titles that have no one’s name in them at all, male or female? Books like Gone with the Wind, Cold Sassy Tree, To Kill a Mockingbird, or The Color Purple?

I think that if you look at the data, you’ll find that this perceived “hidden misogyny” is nothing of the sort, and it’s just another case of the Alvy Singer effect.

But I know that I’ll be told by many people that my opinion here, backed up by facts, counts for squat…because I’m a guy.

And that’s oppressive.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Compliments and Objectification

Sigh…when are we ever gonna learn that there’s no such thing as a “one size fits all” rule for everyone? When are we ever gonna learn to make room and allowances for different realities without trying to enforce our reality on others, as if it were the only truth? When are we gonna learn that things might indeed be different for different people, for people of different groups…and even different people of the same group?

I ask this because of a discussion about objectification that happened on a particular online forum that I’m a member of. 

I’m pretty sure I understand about objectification, but when I suggested that what many people, many young people, many earnest young people are calling objectification might be what we old people used to call “paying someone a compliment”, you would’ve thought I’d invited Hitler to a bar mitzvah. And what these people are calling “objectification” is noticing or commenting on any aspect of a person’s body or appearance.

When I mentioned that a female library patron’s comment that I was much better-looking in real life than I was in the caricatures on the library’s posters made my day…no, I take that back…made my week, I got a huge frowny face from one of those people who thought it was not only inappropriate for the woman to say, but wrong for me to enjoy the compliment.

Like I said, I understand about objectification, but is every incident of noticing something about a person’s body or appearance really objectification? Are you really gonna tell me that “You have beautiful eyes” is in the same league as “Nice ass”? Because if so, then two things are true.

The first is that I’ve been “objectified” since I was five years old. That’s right, women have been coming up to me for almost 60 years to comment on my beautiful eyes. And over the years, I’ve learned to accept it with good grace, and even enjoy it.

The second is that we’re throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Yes, objectification of women is a problem, but saying that an innocent compliment like “You have a nice smile” is on the slippery slope to “Nice tits, toots” seems just a little ridiculous to me.

But here’s where an important difference lies…an important difference that many of those earnest young people don’t want to admit to: there may be a difference in the way that men and women perceive compliments…or “people paying attention to their bodies.”

Most guys I know enjoy getting compliments from women…it’s the kind of attention that we don’t get enough of. On the other hand, many women don’t enjoy getting compliments from men because it’s the kind of attention that they get too much of, and too much of the wrong kind of.

I remember all too well noticing that a female friend of mine had eyes as strikingly blue as mine are strikingly hazel, and the reaction she had when I told her how beautiful her eyes were. You would’ve thought she had caught me staring down her cleavage (which I wasn’t, I was really looking at her eyes), and the rest of our time together that day was really awkward for both of us.

But when I suggested in this forum that there may be a difference in how we each see compliments, and that we need to take that into account before we try to impose a “one size fits all” rule about “objectification”, the torches and pitchforks came out from those who insisted that their reality was the only valid one, and that those of us who enjoyed getting compliments were just encouraging guys to objectify women.

To be sure, the objectification of women is a problem, but so is a ham-fisted rule that tries to make any compliments to anyone a form of objectification.

Especially when it’s different for some of us.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

When You're No Longer the Standard

When I was in college, back in the 70s and 80s, I had a friend who hated the Sexual Revolution. She had many reasons for this, which I may go into in a later post, but one of her big reasons for hating it was that it meant that she was no longer an example of the standard. You see, before the Sexual Revolution the “standard”, which was part of an infamous double standard, was that “good girls” waited until they were married to have sex. Oh yes, we all knew or knew of girls who were doing it beforehand, but that was an open secret until they got “caught” and “shamed” by an unplanned pregnancy. My friend was a “good girl”, was proud of being a “good girl”, and looked down her nose to make “special allowances” for those “sluts”, as she called them, who had sex with their boyfriends…even their boyfriends who they were engaged to.

But the Sexual Revolution was a total game changer. Not only did no one really care whether or not you and your boyfriend were sleeping together, but it was pretty much assumed that if you’d been together for more than three months, you were. Not only that, but if you weren’t, then people might make “special allowances” for you due to “religious reasons.” But most likely, they just didn’t care what you did or didn’t do. If you had sex, it was OK. If you didn’t have sex, it was OK.

“Special allowances”? My friend was incensed. How dare the people she used to make special allowances for make special allowances for her, when she was supposed to be the standard? How dare people not care that she was being “good”? How dare not having sex become just another acceptable option, and not the standard to which everyone should be held, and that she was the flagbearer of?

She was pissed. And 40 years later, I’m still not sure if she’s gotten past this.

But I’m not really here to talk about my old friend’s attitude about pre-marital sex. I’m here to talk about changing social standards...of all kinds, and how many of us react when what we grew up thinking was the right way, the only way, becomes just one of many acceptable options in the buffet of life. How do we handle it when people graciously “make space for us”, rather than us sanctimoniously making space for them?

You see, that’s what I think one of our big problems is today…people who once exemplified the standard, or who thought they exemplified the standard…which may have only been the standard in their little corner of the universe…coming to grips with the concept that, unless we’re talking about human sacrifice, their ideas may not be a standard at all, but just one of many acceptable ideas out there for people to choose from.

The problem is people who are used to looking down their noses at those who didn’t believe or act according to their standards being told that maybe it’s more a case of steak or chicken than Luke and Darth Vader, not being able to handle that…and feeling a little resentful that all their hard work to live up to that standard doesn’t matter. The problem is also when these people try to force others into either living by or codifying their stricter standards in order to defend their choices and hard work.

But maybe, just maybe if we spent less time looking down our noses as we defended our choices, we’d be able to see into the other person’s eyes…

And enjoy a good dinner together at the chicken and steak buffet restaurant.

May the Force be with you.