*re-post* pinko is the new black

Re-posting.  Not because of any (tanking) mayor.  Because we're still remembering an awful night and thinking a certain critical and creative mind would be welcome today.  

War is over 
(Originally published: 8 December 2010)  

Yesterday an entertainer in a Pepto Bismol coloured suit stood up in Toronto’s city council and ranted and raged about “left wing pinkos” to show his support for our new mayor.  It seems the mayor requested that this person – a national celebrity who has been known to rant his bigoted views on what is probably the nation’s most popular television show, causing many to question the soundness of his mind and his relevance on a show watched by many, many children – be the one to introduce him and decorate him with the chain of office on the first official day of the new council.

Yesterday’s show tipped the “cringe-o-meter” for many thinking people.  Here we had an entertainer in a pink suit taking that deplorable political tool – the sound bite – to a new low in stirring up anger and divisiveness, and helping this mayor move our city from world-class to class-less.

The same night over dinner my daughters and I had a conversation about John Lennon.  I said that the pink clad entertainer would call Lennon a “left wing pinko” with great glee.  Carly and Kelsey, in their 20s, had never heard the term “pinko” before yesterday; Carly said she'd Googled it.  I thought it was funny that a great many of the people the guy in pink was trying to insult would have had to research what exactly his dusty old slur meant since it hadn't been seen in a number of decades.

My girls – both intelligent, thoughtful, reasonable young women – were saying that they feel Lennon’s murderer robbed their generation of knowing a fine critical mind and thought-provoking artist.  He died before they were both born – but it just doesn’t seem like it – thirty years on Lennon’s persona looms still.  He angered many, but he inspired many more.  And that’s because he was a man with big ideas, and he worked them out and expressed them in truly original (and sometimes groundbreaking) ways.  None of his protest art included name-calling or trite clichés or sound bites, although the media loved to take sound bites out of his statements, like the infamous “we’re bigger than Jesus…”

Sound bites water ideas down to single layered messages.  Sound bites take bits of language and turn them into a symbol.  Given that humans process symbols before they process language, it’s not surprising marketers and politicians have turned it into a remarkably effective tool for persuasion.  We see the symbol – we don’t have to bother to think – the meaning is handed to us in a neat little package.

Fortunately, many of us still like to use our brains.  Many of us – like my daughters – stop and think about what is in, around and behind a message and work out its meaning for ourselves based on our learning and experiences.

One might say War is Over was a John Lennon sound bite.  But it was one of many layers – of contradiction, optimism, questioning the status quo, change, motivation, suggestive selling, opportunity, no, yes, maybe… Lennon’s War is Over might have made you think about a hundred things.  The point is, it was intended to make you think – not relieve you of the need to do so.

What were the layers of meaning in the “left-wing pinko” sound bite?  I don’t think more than one meaning was intended – it simply meant “the other side.”  It was easy for that guy’s fans, or the angry supporters of the angry mayor.  Who needs to think?  Yahoo – take that you Other Side!

Lots of Toronto people though – like my critical minded daughters – are wearing Left-Wing Pinko as a badge of honour today.  Especially given that it’s also the day in which many of us are thinking about one particular left-wing pinko and what might have been another thirty years of ideas and music and art – robbed, from a world that could really use them, in one violent moment.

John – I really wish my girls could have lived in the same world you did for a little while.  But your messages are not lost on them.  If you were here today, you might be as encouraged as I am that there are lots young people around who are able, like you once were, to think beyond a sound bite and imagine a world in which anything is possible.




  1. Marilyn December 8, 2010

    Excellent piece, so well written.

  2. lisahgolden December 8, 2010

    This made me cry. Perhaps it’s PMS, but I don’t think so. I still spend so much of the time in my head imagining.

  3. Jennifer December 8, 2010

    Thank you Marilyn.

  4. Jennifer December 8, 2010

    I don’t think it’s PMS either. It’s a day in which a few tears are perfectly warranted. (I do a lot of imagining too.)

  5. Tricia December 9, 2010

    “Lennon’s War is Over might have made you think about a hundred things. The point is, it was intended to make you think – not relieve you of the need to do so.”
    Brilliant and well stated.
    I cried all day yesterday too, and also thought it was PMS . . . The universe is trying to tell us something.

  6. Jennifer December 10, 2010

    Thank you Tricia.
    One should always listen to the universe.

  7. Liberality December 10, 2010

    Here we are 30 years later and the U.S. is still fighting wars of aggression. The more things change the more they stay the same?

  8. Jennifer December 10, 2010

    Agreed. But there are reasons why things have stayed the same. But if we don’t figure out WHY things are still the same, then they will always be so. My theory? The “powers” have learned to manage information. They have learned effective techniques from the PR and marketing set. Example: soundbites.
    I don’t know if it’s the same in the US, but in Canada, elite politicians are allowed to bill PR services to the public. In other words, the public is paying for the honour of being persuaded to buy things they don’t need. And I don’t mean laundry detergent.
    I remember during the first Iraq war with the first Bush pres – someone said to me: “there is hardly any death in this war.” This person believed that because we didn’t see death and destruction on our television sets (like we did in the Viet Nam war), that it must not exist. That person was convinced by terms like “strategic targets” – that bombs only hit mysterious technology an no people.
    30 years later we’re in the same place because people have learned to manage information. And we’ve got too lazy to interpret information for ourselves. As one of my favourite writers/theoreticians, Neil Postman, said: we’re amusing ourselves to death.
    That’s my theory anyway.
    (I’m glad you visited L!)

  9. Selma December 10, 2010

    This moved me, Jen. I also feel Lennon’s message lives on. His quest for peace will be something I will find it hard to forget. He was a thoughtful, insightful, sometimes brash, often gentle man. I still mourn him.
    They call them commies over here. It’s a very dismissive term used by people who disagree with someone else’s politics. ‘I don’t like what you’re saying so you must be a commie.’
    My response is – ‘Maybe I’m just better informed than you are.’ And really, like the wise man who came before me – all I am saying is give peace a chance!

  10. Jennifer December 12, 2010

    Thanks Selma. I too am very concerned with the polarizing of people by name-calling – nothing good will ever come from it.
    Love your response.

  11. Frank J. Croskerry December 9, 2011

    One of your best blogs. It moved me.

  12. Jennifer December 9, 2011

    Thank you Frank, thanks for saying so.

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