Sunday, March 06, 2005

faith & fear

the canyon has been relatively quiet for more than a week now, as the normal traffic patterns have once again been interrupted by mother nature. thanks to all that rain we had, a chunk of the hillside above LCB, at the bottom of the canyon across from mount olympus, is in danger of sliding down. several homes in the path of the potential destruction have been red-tagged, and traffic has been re-routed. northbound in, you take little laurel. southbound out, at least from where we are, you have to take a winding side street that ends up at mount olympus, which descends from on high and drops you back out on LCB.

in the comparative silence, without the constant white noise of traffic, you can hear things better -- whether it's birdsong in the middle of the day, or coyotes banshee-wailing in the middle of the night.

early this morning, a bunch of them started up -- a freaky, truly otherworldly howling that i always take to mean they've killed something. they were really cutting loose; they sounded numerous and close. i hadn't been asleep too long anyway, and awoke paralyzed in the bed, wildly imagining that those furry beasts, emboldened by blood, were debating the merits of launching an all-out attack on one of the nearby houses -- maybe ours. i briefly envisioned them gathering on the back patio and hurling themselves at the sliding-glass door ... before recovering my senses and realizing they were just doing their usual thing. but that brief flash of fear had been primal and real, a prehistoric kneejerk sense of a threat where none really existed -- but could have.

how very ... american of me. it's a good thing i didn't have a gun, or i might've gone out and shot every last one of them in order to chase the terror away.

fear. it is definitely a thing. we're soaking in it, actually. katha pollitt wrote about "fear dust" in her "subject to debate" column for the nation a couple of months ago. recently i read a long, long post on daily kos, titled you liberals are clueless. written by someone calling themselves "palladiate," it is an explanation/analysis of how the american conservatives are able to rule us, even though they are a minority, by someone from "their" side who claims to have seen the light. fear figures into it in myriad ways -- as motivation, as mind-control tool, as obstacle we-the-opposition must learn not to ... uh, fear. the piece comes complete with advice on how to fight these trends. it's much too complicated for me to summarize; i am still absorbing it, actually. but you should read it.

in general i prefer anger to fear (and to despair when i can muster the energy), but i really shouldn't spend so much time perusing ginmar's journals or the feminist rage page, mainly b/c doing so gets me so furious and depressed. not b/c of the people who participate; it's actually comforting to know there are a lot of others who feel the same way i do about so many things. but the catalog of wrongs both large and small is terribly distressing (rage page), and the sheer volume of shit gin rants about is daunting. on the other hand, if i didn't read these things i wouldn't know what transpired a few weeks back on the noble reality show wife swap, the basic premise of which is that two families swap the female-authority unit for 10 days, living by the "interloper's" rules for five days and by the house rules for another five.

the episode in question featured a mixed-race fundamentalist christian couple from texas swapping with a lesbian couple from arizona. the fundie wife, kris gillespie, who is african-american, runs a tight ship, with sparkling home and kids trained like soldiers to do chores, etc. the lesbian wife, kris luffey, was more laid-back and less structured in her approach. naturally, this type of thing is perfect for the producers -- not only are life styles clashing, but also lifestyles. what a great coup for sweeps.

and it really was, thanks to gillespie's deep-rooted fear of the other. prior to the swap, she voiced concern that luffey would try to molest her daughter. molest her daughter!!! yeah, b/c as we know, gay people are always trying to recruit, by any means necessary. whatever. during the swap-ending wrap-up confrontation, this paragon of christian virtue -- interestingly, the fundamentalist fam was shown attending church with luffey, who had to endure an entire sermon on the sanctity of man-woman marriage complete with a petition-signing at the end, but the lesbian family was not shown attending church, even though they too are regular church-going christians -- unleashed such a barrage of vitriol toward luffey that the latter wept and asked how gillespie could say such things to her. to which mrs. g replied that if she'd known her swapping counterpart would've taken her cruel remarks so personally, she wouldn't have said them. after all, she is christian and doesn't believe in hurting others. (WTF?!?) did this woman really think that lesbians have no feelings? that they are so used to being called deviants, that they don't even mind when people excoriate them to their faces? was she so paralyzed by her fear of luffey -- who had brought to the straight-laced household a sense of fun gillespie's own kids obviously enjoyed -- that she could think of no better response than to whip out her rhetorical uzi and blast the poor woman to bits?

gillespie said these things publicly, on national television, as if there were nothing even wrong with hating people for being who they are. and this from a BLACK WOMAN!!!! someone who was not even legally considered fully human until less than 150 years ago. someone whose very own marriage and racially mixed family would've been similarly decried (doubtless with extreme prejudice) not even a half-century ago. you would think that she might have approached the situation with some empathy. alas, no.

despite this allegedly christian woman's apparent lack of shame in espousing her many slanderous notions, she now is not giving interviews. except i just read on some random blog by a texas lesbian i came across (i think it was called "waiting for nat" -- and, no, i was not googling myself at the time) that gillespie is running for state senator there. hmmmm. if true, i wish her blatant bigotism would translate into no chance of winning, but she'll probably triumph in a landslide.

anyway, the advocate had a good aftermath interview with luffey's partner, nicki boone. she provides an insightful take on what transpired, as well as some telling details of things that were left out. and she is just matter-of-fact enough about it to reveal how chilling the experience must have been. i guess to me the worst part was something luffey is quoted as saying during the show's wrap-up interview (which i found on page 2 of after ellen's analysis of the episode). it seems sad that she had to go through the torment of realizing some people are just haters. plain and simple. but is it really sad? or is mourning the death of idealism something we can't afford? i don't know; i hope we can at least grapple with whether idealism has a place in this bitter, shifty, deadly reality of ours. but i gotta go with my gut here -- my heart isn't always wrong, but, let's face it, my heart is what fucked up my potential sweep of the playoffs/super bowl picks this year -- and my gut said, upon hearing poor kris luffey's revelation, "well, duh." and in my gut i think she is better off for knowing the enormity of the fanatical cruelty she, and we, are up against. b/c the sad truth is that bitches like gillespie aren't even close to the worst of it. but that she can spew her baseless suspicions in the broad light of day -- multiplied by millions of viewers -- seems a harbinger of much, much worse to come.


the other night 00soul and i watched bowling for columbine on DVD. (all hail the god netflix!) michael moore really never answers the central question he asks -- why do so many americans kill each other with guns, when people in other countries, even ones with guns, don't do it nearly s'much? -- but he certainly illuminates the fear in the heartland that palladiate gets at in his essay about conservative power. i mean, all these people who live in the middle of nowhere, armed to the teeth for "protection." against what? rampaging coyotes?

the thing i love about watching movies on DVD a while after they've come out is that the timestamp shifts, in this case, surprisingly -- a film as contemporaneous as columbine might seem to have an expiration date, and i suppose in the longer run it might. but it struck me as we watched this deceptively event-oriented documentary that its lessons, however murky (other than, "don't fucking harass charlton heston. even if he is a tool of The Man, you aren't going to look good"), continue to instruct. for example, marilyn manson is amazingly articulate and reasoned in his own discussion of how the powerful use fear to keep the less powerful in line. (i was impressed with his breakdown, but also by the compassion behind his opinions.) it related quite well to what palladiate wrote in the here-and-now.

moore's film moved me with small moments, mainly things that reminded me of the true horrific nature of dylan and eric's rampage. in one scene, moore is talking with a man, and the man starts to bring up columbine. he becomes very emotional and has to collect himself. moore waits patiently. the man finally manages to say that the thing that is so upsetting about columbine is how hard it is to fathom the cruelty of their actions. it's strangely heartbreaking. partly b/c he doesn't want to break down, but he can't help it when he considers the enormity of what transpired. (i think 14 dead, not including the gunmen?) his distress threw into sharp relief the sense of the event, when it occurred, as being presented by our vaunted visual mass media as another entertainingly shocking bit of news. and how we joked about the jocks finally getting theirs, and all of that stuff. morbid humor to deal with the horror of it, perhaps. but also a seed of the callousness that doesn't let us examine our fears but rather requires us to build up -- a fortress, a thicker skin, a sense of indifference to keep ourselves from being affected. and maybe even allows people like dylan and eric to become monsters out in the open like they did.

but nowhere does the sense of what americans' fear has wrought, how it has molded our entire society, become more unsettling than in the sequences comparing us to canada. not just that canadians have tons of guns -- moore said something like 7 million guns for 10 million people -- yet their murder rate per year is in the double digits, while ours is more than 11,000. and, ok, i am prefacing this by saying i know it's a michael moore movie, and not necessarily reality unfiltered, but the segment that made it seem like canadians hardly ever lock their doors invoked in me a weird wistfulness. in part, i thought how strange that they trust each other so much, even when some bad apple does take advantage of the situation and rob someone. (again -- am i american much?) and in part i thought about when i was growing up, not far in fact from canada, and how we didn't lock our house, ever. the back door or garage side door was always open, if the front door was actually locked (which it sometimes was, but only when we weren't home). nobody thought a thing of it; it was weird to lock the doors. same with the student houses i lived in in college. the dorms were locked up tight, but both of the houses i lived in barely even had keys.

after i moved to the big city, where people always lock their doors, and returned to my hometown to visit, i couldn't stand the thought of an unlocked door, especially at night. granted, i had moved to a place where there really was a lot more crime. but the old town was the same world it had always been, plus a few more chain stores and minus a few locally owned businesses, and my folks lived out in the sticks. still, i reflexively locked the door at night, although it irritated the family. i couldn't help it. i couldn't sleep without that illusion of safety. so maybe if you multiply that impulse by a buncha million times, and escalate it into folks wanting to be armed to the teeth in the pursuit of feeling safe, you could come up with some idea of what strange soil grew this too-prevalent belief that we really are defending america's freedom by destroying iraq and bullying anyone else who doesn't agree with us.

No comments: