Friday, May 16, 2003

Late Night Musings: The Morning After

When you’re obsessed with politics and current events and activism, you run the risk of becoming a shrill, histrionic, schadenfreud-ish, diatribic crank, and I think what saves me from becoming more insufferable than I am ordinarily is that I regularly have the fascinating conversations with people that restore my calm.

A writer friend of mine wrote this prose-poem piece drawing comparisons between the hazing at the Glennbrook North High School and the larger themes of war, dominance, sexism, and isolation. He’s an activist and a very gifted writer, but for some time he’d been struggling with putting his rather abstract fury at the war into a concrete piece of writing. The images he had were too small. In the details of the hazing he saw everything that is wrong in the world right now: the false idea in the world that through violence and the endurance of violence comes legitimacy and control, the exclusion of women and their need to create their own context of struggle and triumph, the glorification of the worst.

One thing that we realized in our talk was that while images of the war were censored and sanitized, the video of the hazing was shown and re-shown everywhere. It’s a paradox in this country that we have such fetish for reality TV and while we watch “Cops” and “Worst-case Scenario” and “Girls Gone Wild” we can’t bring ourselves to watch the reality of war. Reality is only fun if it’s a freak show.

Are we hypocrites when we denounce hazing without examining how we legitimize violence? People talk very earnestly about violence in movies, music, video games, and on television but they fail to recognize how complicit we are in the idea of violence. Stories of struggle and triumph are stiff with it. It’s the war hero syndrome. In every way we send out the message a life of violence is more real than an ordinary life. Isn’t that the point of hazing, not merely to create a bond, but a bond based on having survived something horrible? Even those who don’t participate are complicit because we accept that this is the way things are.

This true of most cultures not just ours. And it’s an idea that’s been around forever. But pacifism is nearly as old if not older. It’s not realistic to seek to eradicate violence in the world. Aggressive tendency is more complicated than that, and there are always going to be people who revel in it. But I think that to glorify can be changed. I think that reducing state sanctioned violence can go a long way—not the distance—but a long way, towards making war less of a viable option. More importantly I think, people won’t seek legitimacy through ultimately pointless and tragic acts, and people not inclined to violence will feel more included.

This is just me working through some thoughts swimming around in my head. I have no real epiphany or solution. I’m just sick and tired of this culture of death and martyrdom that seems to pervade everything that’s going on right now.

UPDATE: I can't post the piece because it's still in the draft stages and I don't yet have permission.

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