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.
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.
Or: In which we are inspired by Selma opening up a can of whup-ass
Some things just demand to be written. They sort of grab hold of your collar out of the blue and get their nose right in your face and say “Hellloooo! Get on it sister!” The signs were coming at me from all corners this morning: "This is what the story is about today."
Sometime in the mid-morning I read this fabulous post by my friend Selma, which prompted a too-long and impassioned response. But as I read over the thing before burdening her blog with it, it started screaming "I BELONG ON YOUR OWN BLOG." Then I caught some catty jesting coming over Twitter. Then there was an unnecessarily barbed comment in a meeting. And here I am.
Selma’s piece was about several things, but mostly about her rising up and taking a stand against some uncalled for catty behaviour by some acquaintences. Opening up the proverbial can of whup-ass and the subsequent "Whoo! I rule!." But the issues she raises have resonated with me for many years.
So, a few hours prior to reading that I’m on the streetcar headed to Union Station, and there are two attractive young women in the seats in front of me having a conversation. It is just chatting about mutual friends and what-are-you-doing-this-weekend kind of conversation, nothing real interesting to your average eavesdropping blogger.
Then another attractive young woman gets on and sits near the front. She’s turned sideways in her seat and is surveying the people in the car behind her. Again, nothing so remarkable, until she fixes on the two women in front of me and starts giving them the old “up and down” look. Not just an “up and down checking out the outfit” kind of look, but a repeated “'I scorn thee' up and down;” increasingly scornful with each journey of the eyeballs. She “ups and downs” them for so long I wonder if she is trying to get them to notice her doing so.
So I get thinking, what is it about them that irks you so? All three of you are attractive, well dressed and seemingly going off to decent jobs – certainly luckier than the majority of the women on this planet.
I get to the station and onto the subway and forget about them; until later in the morning when I read Selma’s story about self confidence, soldiering on, nightgowns, cows catty sorts, words and brown eggs.
This is not a new issue – us women have talked about us being catty to each other for decades. Most of us have probably behaved this way on one level or another. At the very least we've seen it – starting in elementary school. There are numerous explanations for it put out there by various factions – from the “you women are petty and shallow creatures anyway” to (what I consider to be the most logical one) the notion that we have a good deal of fucked-upness based on centuries of cultural oppression and objectification.
I can just see my mother cringe. She and I differ greatly on the merits of the women’s movement and women’s issues. I expect that’s related to her devotion to Christianity, one of the biggest culprits in the objectification of us gals as far as I’m concerned, but that’s another post.
And let me say, this is not a man-bashing post. I love men, I adore them. I’ve often said I’d rather hang around with the men at a party than the women. Maybe that’s got something to do with womens' inherent prickliness toward one another. But I can say with confidence, I have many amazing men in my life and I do not hold them responsible for my, or anyone else’s, fucked-upness. Our fucked-upness wasn’t their idea.
I guess you could say it’s more of a women-bashing post. Because let me put this out there sisters: as long as we are divided, we’ll always be conquered. As long as we are judgemental of each other and our bodies, our looks, our beliefs, our actions, our intentions – as long as we make catty, underhanded remarks designed to make ourselves feel somehow superior to each other – we will not rise above anything that held us down in the past.
Selma says she thinks people should have to obtain a license before they speak. How about we just think for a minute about the power of words? I am still working on rising above someone telling me I wasn’t talented enough more than 30 years ago. And once, in my early 20s, I was dancing with a guy who told me I was a bad dancer. At 49, I’m only learning to dance with joy now.
I take 100% responsibility for my own life. I’m not shifting blame for my issues to other people – but I am trying illustrate the power that words have. I would suggest that my best qualities – my strength, self assurance, compassion and competency are no doubt also the result of the many positive messages passed on to me.
What I’m trying to say is that maybe us gals should think more about these issues that seem to pit us against one another, wherein we see each other as the enemy. Because there’s room for all of us. We’ve shown we’re strong, capable, innovative, and, by nature, we work great in team situations. Imagine what it would be like if we focused positive energy on one another; imagine if we directed our attention away from our privileged selves and directed our energies to our less fortunate sisters, and said “yeah – rock on girl.” The world, in turn, might be rocked right off its axis.
One of the last signs that I should write this post: After I drafted out part of this piece, I saw that a friend had posted this on her facebook page:
Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace. ~ Buddha