Empathy and a God in Our Own Image


The holiday season is a good time to think about our interactions with other people. We really want to make our loved ones smile, so we’ll do as much as we can to please them. We search out gifts for giving that we think will delight our friends and acquaintances, hoping to strike that balance between spending too much or not enough. And, in the best case scenario, we find it in our hearts and pocketbooks to donate a little to those who have less than we do; some of us will do that because we think it’s right to share what we have with others, while some will do so because donations can be written off on next year’s taxes. Either way – our donations and caring will have some impact on those in need.

For most of us, that is all that the holidays require; a little thought for others, an attempt to ease some of the stress and strain that we humans navigate most days. Our songs and stories commemorate how we feel when we come together, in peace and joy, ‘heart to heart and hand in hand,” and lift the winter’s darkness for a short time.

lincoln empathyWe are driven by kindness and care, and empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings and emotions of others. The quality is usually strongest in children, who can be almost clairvoyant in their ability to feel the pain of others, either human or animal.  From a very early age, we can sense goodness and meanness in the intent of others, and even as babies, we instinctively dislike those who are cruel to others. Little children have yet to learn that most grownups are oblivious and indifferent to the feelings of animals. And many children, sadly, will grow up into adults who will, very often, be just as oblivious to the feelings of those who are different from themselves.

Different by virtue of skin colour, or gender, or by an accident of birth that sticks a silver spoon in one child’s mouth, and bitter alms in another. Children are born all over the planet, every minute of every day, but not every child will be welcomed by it’s family, or it’s people, or by those who hold power over the powerless.

So, here we are, with Christmas 2017 behind us. The days will get shorter now, and for many, the snow will fall far more than we’d like. The young, the old, the sick and the well – all of us will cope with good and bad events, to varying degrees, and with varying success.

The poor will suffer the most, since winter is hardest on those who live in inadequate housing, with uncertain heat, and even more uncertain nutrition. The middle class will struggle along, carrying the largest burden, since it is the middle class that invariably bears the cost of keeping society afloat. And the wealthy  … ah, the wealthy will have their own special burden, that of hiding their untold riches in ever more clever niches.

Inequality, already a societally crushing issue in the United States, was exacerbated last week when a group of old, mostly white, and mostly male Republicans forced through a bill looting the Treasury coffers, while enriching themselves and their donors. There is no other way to look at the tax scam perpetrated by the Trump administration than as the brutal rape of the American taxpayer, for the benefit of the wealthy.

tax scam 2017Every tax payer in America will suffer, and I say ‘every taxpayer’ because the wealthy were already well ahead of most Americans in the non-paying of taxes. Even as the rhetoric on American taxation being ‘the highest in the world’ (it’s not) crescendoed, the wealthy and corporations snickered up their sleeves, knowing that their trusty accountants and willing elected officials had long ago resolved that little problem. Very rarely do the tax bills of the 1% exceed 1% – it’s more likely that they’ll be coasting on credits from past corporate ‘losses,’ government grants, and well established tax havens in other countries.

The Republicans gathered to celebrate these cuts that were given to those who are currently sitting on trillions of dollars that they cannot be bothered to invest in their own employees and companies, and the corporations responded by cutting staff and automating the lowest paid jobs. And buying back their own stock. And giving themselves massive, million dollar bonuses.  Oh – and bemoaning a rise to minimum wage, as it would impact their bottom line.

trump tax ripoff

Meanwhile, the American people can look forward to death by a thousand tax cuts. There are cuts to pretty much everything necessary to live, not the American Dream, but a life not lived on the streets.

No sector of society has been left untouched. Health costs will soar, children will die from the loss of medication and treatments. The young, the old, the poor, the sick, small businesses, students, home owners, veterans, ‘dreamers,’ refugees and immigrants … all will pay the price for the corporations’ champagne dreams.

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” says the plaque on the Statue of Liberty, but now, she’s beckoning them closer so that she can mug them, and then sell their blood and organs to the highest bidder.

The astonishing lack of empathy or fellowship shown in this tax scam is frightening. How do you explain to someone what it means to care about their fellow man? To care for their neighbour, not just because there’s something in it for them, but because their own laws say that all men are created equal?

I don’t know how to open the eyes of those who cannot see the suffering in front of them, or who do see the suffering, but brush it away with impatience. The greed and detached cruelty of those who have the power to ease the misery of others, to elevate the standard of living for all, and yet fail to do so, is astounding.

The gleeful joy and unbelievable callousness exhibited by those who passed this bill is beyond me. I think it’s likely beyond even our fictional monsters. It took Scrooge three ghosts to understand his perfidy, but I think the Republicans cut back the ghost jobs last year, and replaced them with automation.

I’ve got mine, Jack,” they gloat. “Pull yourselves up by your bootstraps,” they say, neglecting to mention that the bootstraps and ladders they used to climb to power were pulled up behind them, and the door closed to those who might use those means to succeed in the future.

There are practical, and even self-serving reasons, to make sure that all of your people have health care, public education or access to higher education, and better paying jobs that enable the masses to buy the junk that corporations have made in cheaper lands. But even that doesn’t penetrate the scaly skins of the elected officials.

minimum-wage-graphic Ontario 2017Years of recession, of belt tightening, of cutting staff to the bone, have weakened respect for workers, and tested our own belief in the value of what we do. After all, if we had any importance, surely our jobs and wages would not be treated with such disdain and indifference! When we are no longer valued for what we bring to a company, when corporations would prefer to pay as little as they can get away with, rather than pay a minimum wage that would allow their workers to have a decent life, the very idea of the dignity of work loses meaning.

When we see hundreds or thousands of jobs cut, and the CEO rewarded with multi million dollar bonuses for his/her skill at excising these workers, we begin to see our lowly place in the big picture. We see that minimum wage is, indeed, the lowest amount a company can legally pay a worker, but that they’d gladly drop that amount by even more, or welcome slavery, if only it would come back into fashion and usage.

Minimum wage today buys less than it did in 1950. That’s why some households have two, or even three, family members, all desperately working as hard as they can, just to bring in enough to cover their basic survival needs. That house of cards shivers every time something unexpected happens – an accident, an illness, an unanticipated expense … or the cost of an education that might allow a family member to dream of a better job.

min wage earnersWhen I see the memes of the self-righteous, those who sneer at those who fill these jobs that pay only a minimum wage, I cringe. It chills me, especially when those jeers come from someone who grew up in a time when there WAS a more level playing field, more opportunities for advancement, or who came from a middle class family able to pay for the speaker to get a leg up in life.

Those people are often under the false impression that it is only the young and incompetent that work for such a low salary. They are very wrong. And even when it is shown to them that they are wrong, they will defend their position, trotting out sexist, racist, or xenophobic tropes to bolster their words.

I don’t know if such an ugly and pitiless state of mind comes from the mindset of a political party, the real and imagined fears of the unknown or unknowable that plagues some as they age, or just a sheer bloodymindedness and complete lack of empathy for anyone other than oneself. I don’t know – because it is unimaginable to me.

Worst of all, those who propound these horrors, ‘for the good of the economy,‘ most often profess  to be good Christians, following the Bible, manipulating and misquoting it’s words to defend their deeds.

golden rule empathyIn all religions, there is one rule above all others, and the only one that must be followed. It is always some variation on the Golden Rule … “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Somehow, the importance of that must have gotten lost in the conservative/right wing/Republicans’ bibles.

These people worship riches, not a God. They deify those who have amassed assets beyond any conceivable use, and spit upon those who have not been ‘blessed’ with wealth. And yet, they simultaneously and methodically put into place barriers prohibiting the vast majority of others of ever attaining a similar goal. It is inexplicable. Somewhere along the line, our justified laughter at the silly crassness of the “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” morphed into an adulation at the altar of the Kardashians.  And it ain’t pretty, folks, it ain’t pretty at all. In fact – it’s nauseating.

Religions tell us that we were made in God’s image. That we are little God mini-me’s. It suits their purposes, because they can then mold our thinking to what works for the benefit of the religion, the church, and for those who profit from the preaching of the tenets of the faith. If we are just like God, we must be right and just. What we fear or hate is rational, as it is God’s own fear. We must love those that believe as we do, and hate those who believe differently. Carrot and stick – behave in the way we’ve outlined, and you get to go to Heaven. Misbehave, and it’s eternal damnation for you, buddy!

In reality, we create our Gods in our own image. We decide what a God should be, and it would seem that we’ve decided that’s he’s a pretty nasty creature, who demands absolute adoration, and will strike down all of ‘his’ children at the slightest indiscretion. He needs money, apparently, lots of money, to build fancy places of worship. This faux God insists that he is the arbiter of faiths, and that all who profess different beliefs are infidels, and must be converted, or murdered so that our religion is the only one worshiped.

What a vicious, reprehensible, ugly, vile, bugger some have chosen to represent the Almighty! Is this really how an all knowing, all seeing being, capable of creating the heavens and the earths would wish to be portrayed?

A benevolent God doesn’t hate poor people – in fact, they are his best beloved, along with children, the sick, the lame, the blind, and all of the others that elected governments prefer to throw under the bus, in order to curry favour with those who already have too much wealth and power.

rich need bigger needleGod DID hate those who wielded money and power like a weapon. Remember when he threw the money changers out of the Temple? Or that bit about the camel and the needle? Were you aware that the word “Gospel” literally means “Good News,” and that, at the time of this usage, had no religious feature, but instead meant ‘the forgiving of debt?’

An omniscient God doesn’t hate gay people, or refugees, or those with a different coloured skin or language. A compassionate God loves all mankind, not just a neat subsection of people exactly like Himself – or yourself.

A Vengeful God that spits out vindictive words and bile about ANY other human being is a false God, created in the image of the fallible and power hungry.  When the likes and dislikes of those imperfect humans are foisted onto a deity of your choice, the only religion that can be carved out is one that reflects our own prejudices and fears of ‘the other.”

empathy religion. JpgThe essence of empathy is an understanding that we are all equal, and all deserving of love and compassion. When empathy is removed from business and politics, we are on a slippery slope to the collapse of an Empire.

A nation is built upon the backs of ALL of it’s citizens, all of whom must have a place at the table. When the political administration in power only caters to the wealthy, they have forgotten that they serve at the pleasure of all of the people … and that their time in power is only temporary, and at the whim of those people.

This holiday season, the Republican party flaunted a lack of empathy and a slavish devotion to the upper class, all the while telling the middle class that they were giving them a ‘Christmas present.’  Those same smiling faces said that this year, you could once again say “Merry Christmas,” as though there had been some admonition against it while ‘the black man’ was president.  In truth, you could always say “Merry Christmas,” but after this tax scam, you just won’t be able to have one. strong people. jpg

The new year will reveal exactly how low they are willing to go in their abject fealty to these overlords. With luck, it will also open the eyes of those who’ve enabled their ugly, selfish, partisan goals, and lead us all to a world where fairness and democracy replace greed and apathy.

My wish is that 2018 be the year when we finally understand that ‘peace on earth, goodwill towards men’ was never meant to last for just a day, but rather, needs to be our goal, every day, every where, and for all people.

happy-new-year-quotes-2018

 

 

Blackberries and Entitlement


There is a very nice house on the corner of my street. The back yard is surrounded by a tall fence, but as you walk by, you can peep through, and see that there is a lovely garden inside, with a deck, and a nice patio seating area. It’s all very well kept and tidy.

Plants peek out through the fence, as plants will. There are some flowers, and a few weeds, and some of those long, brambly, blackberry stalks, the sort that seem to go from manageable to ‘ow! that long branch just scratched my arm!” in a matter of seconds.

blackberry bushA few months ago, the blackberries appeared. Blackberries start out red and inedible. It’s not until they turn black that they become tasty. There is usually about one week in the summer when the berries all hit peak perfection simultaneously. At my old house, I had a wall of blackberry bushes. When they were ready to pick, I would go into hyper drive, trying to get as many of the berries harvested as I possibly could, so that I could make a summer jam. I’d also offer my neighbours some of the bounty. And, inevitably, the birds, squirrels and raccoons would have a messy feast as well.

The first sighting of the blackberry plants escaping the fence on the corner house gave me a little frisson of emotion, a combination of happiness at seeing the familiar fruit, and a twinge of sadness at no longer having my little Scarborough fruit and veg garden. Planting in containers just isn’t the same.

Halfway through July, the magic moment arrived, and suddenly the branches bent low with beautiful, glossy black berries.  I’m sure I wasn’t the only passer-by that helped herself to a berry or two when I walked by the house. The branches were, after all, bordering the sidewalk, and just a tiny portion of the plants that lined the inside of the fence.

The day after the appearance of the berries, a small sign, written in crayon, and in a child’s handwriting, appeared on the fence. It said, “Please don’t pick the berries. Thank you.”

depressed personNow, perhaps my chagrin at seeing that sign stemmed from a desire to be inside the fence, gobbling down handfuls of the berries before harvesting a bushel or so for jam making.

But the first thought that crossed my mind was that someone had missed a wonderful opportunity to teach a child about sharing and responsibility. Since the home owner had allowed their plants to cross over into common ground, the berries were, ostensibly, now to be had by anyone who passed by the branches on their way down the street.

And if someone picked a berry and enjoyed it, that was a way of spreading the wealth, so to speak, without having to make any real effort. A way to allow others to enjoy a little treat, without that gift costing our benefactors any loss or stress. You  might not know who enjoyed that pleasure, and they might never know that it was you that let them have it, but there can be a strange, inner joy that comes from simply giving away some of the surplus of what you have.

Instead, the parents of that child taught her that she needed to keep a firm grip on what she ‘owned,’ even if that ‘property’ wasn’t actually contained within its bounds.  Best to assume that others will take things away from you, if you’re not stern and disciplined, and keep a firm grasp on your ‘stuff.’ And if you don’t tell them to back off, they’ll take and take and …oh!

i've got mineThat’s a weird and ugly paradigm that many live by now; the world of “I’ve got mine, and I’ll fight anyone that tries to get some for themselves!”

That’s the mindset of those who are threatened by anyone else enjoying even a sip of life’s cup, since it is a sip they feel to be taken from their own mouths. It’s what people earning a comfortable living feel like when they hear the minimum wage might be raised so that others with more menial jobs can actually afford to live. And it’s the way that many Canadians feel when they hear that there is a cost to ignoring the civil rights of other Canadians, and in the resentment they feel when the courts actually have to shell out millions to pay those costs to the victim.

It’s in the self-righteousness of the outwardly religious who piously mouth the Lord’s Prayer, but deny Christ’s preaching to love everyone as he loved them, and to treat others as they wish to be treated.  It’s in those who would put the possible cost of healthcare for transgendered people in the military over a respect for those peoples’ basic rights, as they spend their lives in the defence of their country.  It’s even in the behaviour of the driver who feels the need to be in constant touch by telephone entitles him or her to break the law and answer their cell phone while zipping down the highway at 140km an hour.

It’s a selfishness and entitlement that can be seen daily, on the streets, and in the houses of corporate and political power. The real trickle down that we’ve seen over the last few decades hasn’t been the money that the rich and powerful never did let fall on the lowly, but the examples that they’ve shown us, of how disrespect, lying, and a lack of accountability can enrich those who simply don’t care about anyone other than themselves.

We want to celebrate those who have stood on the shoulders of giants, but instead we are too often and too loudly confronted by those with feet of clay, who prefer to stand on the throats of the weak.

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Isaac Newton.

baby crying over statue removalNowhere was the inevitable down slide of perverted entitlement seen more clearly than in this weekend’s parades, protests, and riots in Charlottesville, Virginia. Far-right activists descended upon the city for a Unite the Right rally against the removal of a statue of Confederate leader, Robert E. Lee.

In April, the Charlottesville City Council voted to sell the bronze statue that stands in downtown Charlottesville. The city council also unanimously voted to rename Lee Park. However, two members of the five-member city council still voted against removing the statue. In May, a judge halted that removal for six months.

For those playing along at home, Lee was the general who lead the charge of the Confederate Army, in defence of slavery, against the prevailing American forces of the time. The Confederacy lost. The statue was commissioned in 1917, 52 years after the war ended, and was finally erected in 1924, 59 years after the war ended.

The march of the alt-right was composed primarily of young, white, decently dressed young men, who seemed to feel that their lack of melanin outweighed their concurrent lack of anything remotely special about themselves. Just having been born white and American has lead them to believe that they should have everything they feel they deserve in life – even if it means taking from others less fortunate.

Some are equating this all-white/alt-right protest to the Black Lives Matter protests. I would unequivocally disagree. One is a group seeking to elevate themselves socially by denying the rights of others, while the other is a traditionally oppressed group seeking their civil rights. Violent protests are wrong no matter who participates, but the messages are in no way equivalent.

“[…] I agree with Dante, that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

A state’s leader that would qualify his objection to ‘hatred, bigotry and violence‘ by adding “on many sides” is no leader at all, but rather a fool who dog whistles to his bigoted and racist followers, egging them on to further violence, in a game of false equivalency.

“… there was strong reaction to Trump’s refusal to denounce far-right extremists who had marched through the streets carrying flaming torches, screaming racial epithets and setting upon their opponents.

The clashes started after white nationalists planned a rally around a statue of the Confederate general Robert E Lee that is slated to be removed, and culminated in a car being deliberately driven into a group of people peacefully protesting the far right rally, killing one person and injuring at least 19.”

Even those within his own party disapproved of Trump’s lukewarm response.

The Republican senator Cory Gardner of Colorado tweeted: “Mr President – we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism.” This was echoed by Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah who lost a brother in the second world war. “We should call evil by its name. My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home.” ”  (The Guardian)

Despite the public disavowal of those who committed these offences, there were still many on social media who defended their racism by claiming that their protests are a reaction to what they see (the removal of a statue of a Confederate general) as a ‘direct assault against white people.”

Essentially, they are saying they’ll go to civil war to protect the past in an effort to avoid moving forward. The lives of those they harm are of no consequence; their actions say that their traditions and history are more important than the lives of other human beings.

charlottesville carThe Rebel staffer, Faith Goldy, was complaining about left-wing protesters not being inclusive, when she was interrupted by the killing of one of them, preserved on video as it happened.

The truth that must be said, that must be shouted and proclaimed, by not only the President of the United States but by all of his followers and sycophants, is that there is no equivalency between those who marched for their white rights, and those who had finally had enough of those who believe they can only be ‘equal’ if they are allowed to be superior to others through oppression. This was domestic terrorism, as deadly and frightening as any other sort of terrorism. The difference here is that this terrorism is being nurtured by other Americans.

White Americans, and especially young, white, male Americans, aren’t oppressed in the least. No one is trying to take their guns or Christmas away from them. Their churches are not being burned, and there are no burning crosses on the lawns of ‘whitey.’ No one is trying to take away their right to marry the person of their choice. They are under no worse of a travel ban than the need to remove their shoes before being allowed entry onto an airplane. No one feels so threatened by their very presence and colour that even the murder of a child walking home from school can be justified because someone ‘feared for their life.’ And there are no political groups so threatened by ‘the white demographic’ that they have to jury rig districts to ensure the right/white candidate is elected.

They don’t have grandparents and great-grandparents who lived through slavery and systemic racism that took from them even the hope of the prosperity of the average white American. Their parents weren’t imprisoned for marrying someone of a different colour, or for merely being mistaken for an actual criminal because ‘they all look alike to me.’

Racism and bigotry – that’s America’s real history and legacy. Great strides toward a more equal and civilized society have been made in the last several decades, but the actions of those who would ‘make America great again’ by ‘making America white again’ threaten to halt that progress, and tear the nation apart. It is only by accepting the ugly past, and learning from it, that a better future can be attained.

The willfully ignorant, those who are armed and dangerous to anyone who disagrees with their bigoted beliefs, who create their own echo chamber filled with half-truths and lies, are the cancer that will bring America to it’s knees.

America’s president has been very bold in denouncing global terrorism. It is apparently only domestic terrorism that keeps him silent.

Privilege …. is Such a Lonely Word


I already had a column drafted and ready for editing this morning, but my muse took a hard left turn and demanded a re-write.

I wanted to talk about how important it is to be true to yourself; in your own life, in the way you present to your loved ones, and the realities of pursuing the path by which you pay your bills. But all of that sounds rather pretentious, in the face of current events.

What I came to realize is that the only reason that old, white women like me can spend any time at all dreaming of improving themselves and their surroundings – never mind assuming that anyone else would be interested in reading those thoughts –  is that we have ‘privilege.

privilegeI know that’s a dirty word to many. “If I’m so privileged, why can’t I get a decent job? Why do I struggle just to make ends meet? Tell ME about privilege, when I grew up poor, with an abusive family, and no chance at a decent education!?”

And all of that is valid. You probably DID and ARE getting a raw deal on some aspects of your life. We live in troubled times of massive fiscal inequality. That you were able to fight your way through the obstacles, and are currently reading this on your cellphone/laptop/desktop/magic mirror, shows that you drew on all of your resources, and triumphed.

But what you didn’t do, if you were born white, was wake up every day, look into the mirror, and see visible proof that you were a minority, with all of the attendant prejudices that an accident of birth conferred upon you.

privilege types.pngJust by being born white, in Canada or the U.S., you won a lottery you never knew you’d entered. If you were also born male, able-bodied, straight, and into a family that was financially stable, you lucked into a super bonus.  Something you had no say in, no choice, granted certain privileges on you from the day you entered this world.

Not all privilege is exactly the same. Where we are in terms of ‘class,’ as an economic indicator, also affects what we can expect to access in higher education, and with whom we can expect to interact. justice fishcartoon.jpgOne kind of privilege doesn’t add or subtract from another – being discriminated against for having non-white skin doesn’t negate being discriminated against for being female, or non-straight, old, or disabled … all of these factors have bearing, and cannot be minimalized.

But if you woke up this morning, and a white face looked back at you from the mirror, you faced one less challenge than those who saw a face of another colour in their reflection. As rich and famous as Oprah Winfrey is, she still encounters those who think her unworthy of holding corporate power, and is not immune from discrimination in a luxury Zurich handbag store.

And you can just get off your high horse of pretending that systemic racism is only a problem in the U.S. Yes, their problem is more visible, and more violent, and yes, the spectacle of an openly racist presidential candidate whipping up the basest of armed citizens, potentially leading to Civil War II, is horrific.

But Canada’s treatment of First Nations people is despicable. Denying that it isn’t our own flavour of racism doesn’t address the very real injustices perpetrated against the people who were here before us.

Consider this commonplace incident that occurred yesterday, in Calgary. RCMP, making an arrest, entered a home on the Siksika First Nation around 6 a.m. The RCMP are alleged to have battered an Alberta First Nation man, hauling him naked from his home and bringing him to a detachment before realizing he needed an ambulance.

christian-duck-chief.jpg“Christian Duck Chief, 23, is recovering from a broken eye socket, fractured cheek bone, fracture to the back of his head and a broken nose.

Duck Chief and his wife say they were sleeping in their home on the Siksika First Nation southeast of Calgary Friday when RCMP from the Gleichen detachment entered their home around 6 a.m. to arrest him.

They acknowledge Duck Chief struggled at first, saying he was on his stomach when woken and didn’t know it was police. But they allege an RCMP officer hit him at least 20 times after he stopped struggling and shouted that he wasn’t resisting, even as he lay handcuffed on the floor.

Duck Chief — who has been charged in connection with the incident — and his lawyer said the force used by the officer was excessive.
….
(The couple) suspect the arrest occurred either because a friend had visited them the night before in a stolen vehicle or that RCMP wrongly believed Duck Chief was still under a bail condition that he not be in the home with his wife.

Duck Chief said he struggled at first because he thought someone had broken into their home and was attacking them, and initially bit the officer’s finger. He has been charged in connection to the incident.” (cbc.ca)

That scenario is almost as Kafkaesque as the spectacle of Philando Castile’s girlfriend talking calmly and calling the officer ‘Sir’, as he forced her out of the car and onto her knees after he shot her boyfriend dead in front of her and her four-year-old daughter during a routine traffic stop.

who police killed in 2015Do either of those scenarios, of the First Nations man in Alberta, or the man in Minnesota who died from a broken taillight, strike you as something that would happen to a white citizen? That this would be the subject of a discussion heavily loaded with justifications to decide if the victims deserved what happened to them? No. Privilege.

The people of colour in the U.S., and the First Nations people in Canada, are both being told that their very real fear of the police and authorities must be addressed in calm, respectful, and reverent tones.  While those who beat and kill them are not held to anywhere near the same standards.

blm-torontoThe us-against-them-against-who now?  arguments that broke out last week over the actions of BLM-TO (Black Lives Matter – Toronto) at the Pride parade exemplifies how divided even minorities have become, and how quick we are to pick a side. As emotions subside, speakers from both the BLM community and the LGBTQ community have moved to a middle ground of understanding. There have been talks, apologies, and re-commitments to values.

Except for white people. White people are still using real and imagined information about the actions of two beleaguered minorities, adding in the public attitudes on policing, finally declaring one side or the other a villain. It’s not even their battle! But that’s how privilege works … you still expect to not only have a right to an opinion on something you have not personally experienced, you believe your opinion should be heard and agreed upon.

Privilege.

Earlier this week, the executives in charge of Toronto’s CNE events made a disastrous faux pas, and announced that disabled patrons would no longer receive complimentary entry, citing a need for ‘equality.’

CNE.jpgThe CNE has posted the policy change on its website, saying it strives to respect “the dignity and independence of all of our guests, including those with disabilities.” Caregivers can still get in free.

Am I reading that right? The disabled will pay, but their (presumably non-disabled) caretakers will get in free? What an odd definition of equality!

Their publicity department insisted, self-righteously, that their decision was solely based on allowing all fair-goers equal entry, despite the reality of the thousands of free passes that are given to city councillors, employees of other attractions, anyone famous enough to be recognized at the Gates, and, ultimately, their own friends.

While the City weaseled out of the fight by fobbing off critique while they ‘discussed’ the situation, it fell to disability advocate and former Lieutenant Governor David Onley to lead a charge of harsh criticism, which forced the CNE to reverse their decision. They caved, as bullies will, when their petty actions are shown to be discriminatory, and potentially illegal. Public opinion, bolstered by social media, brought too much negative attention to the parsimony.

“The CNE had argued it simply wanted to treat people with disabilities the same as everyone else. But Onley said the decision was purely economic and if the CNE was truly concerned with equality, it should look at the number of people with disabilities it employs — a figure general manager Virginia Ludy didn’t know when asked on Wednesday.

Onley also said some 1.8 million Ontarians have some kind of disability and, of those, more than 400,000 live on Ontario Disability Support Program payments. That amounts to about $14,000 a year plus medical benefits, “meaning that you live in a state of virtual poverty … it’s not a good state,” Onley said.“

Privilege puts money above compassion and empathy. It bandies the word ‘equality’  about, while ignoring the reality of those who are physically or economically challenged.

Canada Post.pngNothing is too low for those who use blunt force to achieve their ends. Look to the actions of Canada Post CEO, Deepak Chopra, who has forced his will upon postal workers by refusing to continue talks. He’ll lock out the workers, and impose a stoppage of mail, eventually forcing the workers to take whatever he’ll decide to give them.

Some of the issues? Equal pay. In 2016, the same 2016 that Trudeau used as a banner and a reason to have a gender-even counsel, we’re dithering on whether men and women should receive equal pay for equal work. But for Canada Post, apparently equal pay is just not ‘this year’ enough.

“”Our rural and suburban mail carrier unit, which is predominately made up of women, get paid 28 per cent less than their predominantly male counterparts in the urban operations unit for doing the exact same work.””

Pensions are also on the table. “a two-tier pension system might become the reality for postal workers. Canada Post wants the union to accept a defined contribution plan for new employees. “The proposed change would alter the plan such that the contributions made by each worker would be set, but there would be no guarantee of the benefits they would receive in retirement,” wrote rabble labour reporter Teuila Fautai”

No guarantees in retirement. Well …  isn’t that comforting. Tell me how this can be justified by CEOs and government officials whose handsome pensions are locked down and guaranteed, ensuring they’ll live out their golden years in comfort.

Privilege.

Check-Your-PrivilegeIt’s all around you, and tied up in bows that dissolve in your hands, leaving those of visible and invisible minorities with nothing but slime to show for the strident claims of equality and justice for all.  Those with privilege point to laws and regulations designed to create a level playing field, and dismiss the cries of those who note that those fields are often studded with landmines, and protected from access by the high cost of pursuing justice in the courts.

No one is saying that it’s a crime to be straight, white, middle-class, able-bodied or male. There’s no need to don hair shirts or self-flagellate for the circumstances of your birth, no need to feel guilty for enjoying those privileges. In fact … please DO enjoy them! They are your birthright!

What those who have been denied access to the same privileges simply ask for is an acknowledgment of those differences. They ask that we be aware of how much more difficult it can be to compete in a world where others will never comprehend what it’s like to have to work twice as hard, just to be considered almost equal to a peer who has never known the same adversities or discriminations.

tolerating-intoleranceb.jpgUntil then, it seems we’ll live in a world where ‘tolerance’ is defined as not immediately killing those who don’t look like you.

 

(first published July 10/16 … bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2016/07/10/roxanne-tellier-privilege-is-such-a-lonely-word/)

 

Think of the Children!


I ‘get away’ so rarely that I hadn’t realized how proscribed most lives have become –  when you only leave your house for short jaunts into civilization,  interact with a select few, and then hurry back home on the last bus, people-watching changes from being a relaxing pastime to a zoological behavioral study.

Musselman-Lake.jpgIt was fun to leave our stuffy bungalow for a jaunt up to Musselman’s Lake, in the Stouffville area.  Our daughter recently bought a trailer, which is parked in the Cedar Beach resort.

The resort has been run by the same family since 1929, and generations of holidaying campers have enjoyed the lake and beach, along with other amenities. It’s a great place to bring a precocious 7 year old like my granddaughter, as the resort is like a small village, with 520 long-term trailer sites, most of which are as cared for as primary residences.

little-girl-with-stroller.jpgThe casual atmosphere, highly regulated, and self-policed by the families themselves, allows kids to run freely, to play in the many playgrounds, and simply behave like kids did before the last twenty or thirty years of increasing parental paranoia.

You don’t realize just how controlled kids’ lives have become until you find yourself, as my husband did, panicking over the sight of a pair of 4 and 5 year old girls calmly walking a doll stroller on a one-way lane. “Anyone could snatch up those two, throw them in the back of a van, and speed away!” he said.

Good lord – is that what we’ve come to? That, even in a small space where entry is carefully controlled, where the speed limit is 10 kph, and most of those present are long-standing renters, in a space that is rife with parents, aunts, siblings and grandparents …   even in a space this sheltered, we have to live in constant fear that our most vulnerable and precious could be snatched away at any time?

How has life become so seemingly perilous, even to we who have never known armed combat on our land? Are we now to live under constant fear, and the feeling that we could be attacked at any moment –  by our neighbours, by a stranger, by a predator, always potentially lurking in the shadows? Are we now to live in constant dread of ‘what could happen?’ No wonder people in America are so protective of their right to own guns.

illegal in U.S.jpgBut the bigger question is – when did we develop this persistent fear, and why? In a civilization where anything can be deemed too harmful to be legal, (fireworks, lawn darts, unpasteurized cheese … even KinderEggs!) how have we gone from subconsciously knowing the possibility of a rare instance of unforeseen harm into a state of constant vigilance against possible marauders?

Certainly, there are now more people living on the planet than at any other time in history, and we feel that claustrophobia even in our suburbs and towns. But proportionately, rates of kidnaps, rapes and murders haven’t really risen. In fact, the instances of kidnapping of children in the U.S. by non-parental or family members intent on harming the child is about 115 per year … out of 340 million inhabitants.

To put that figure into perspective – during the Vietnam War, every American personally knew at least one of the 10,000 soldiers per year who had died in the conflict. But almost no one personally knows a child that was taken with criminal intent.

Jon Benet Ramsay People magSo who’s ramping up this fear? Well … it’s astounding how much of U.S. law enforcement is influenced not just by mass media coverage, but by the hysterics of tabloid media, who thrive on rehashing grisly incidents for as long as they can drag out the gory details. Police and politicians have their feet held to the fire to account for the panic brought on by those who profit from tragedy.

Statistics can be, and often are, manipulated by private interests and organizations, in an attempt to boost profits, be they donations to causes meant to comfort sufferers, or by the marketing of items meant to increase private citizens’ feeling of being protected.

A fearful society tends to prefer the status quo, allowing governments to stay in power for perhaps longer than they should be. They will look to the loud and the bombastic, because the posturings of the aggressive allow the frightened to shelter in place.

homeland security.jpgAnd it’s certainly no stretch of the imagination to realize that a country in a state of fear and panic is easily manipulated by governments with agendas that might have seemed too radical in times of peace.  Look to America’s overly militarized Homeland Security, or Canada’s Bill C-51, an over-reaching bill designed to capitalize on the fear instilled in us, that trumps our free speech with a plan to capture – and indefinitely retain – all of our private phone calls and internet data.

The ripple of fear that circled the globe after the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers has never really subsided. Horrifying acts, including brutal torture and murders, were committed on suspects, whether innocent or guilty of crimes, and the attack on Iraq, which had long been a possibility for unrelated reasons, was used as an excuse to punish the masterminds wrongly believed to be behind the tragedy.

There must be a villain, there must be a reason, and so the net is cast further and further, vilifying those who are not exactly like us, the ‘others’ that we scapegoat to try and calm our jangled nerves.   Something must be done! we cry … and done now! Save us from the unknown, no matter if it is ultimately we that are harmed in the process.

A fearful society will often turn to religion, and a reliance on a supernatural power to ensure that, even should they themselves be injured or killed, there will be a reward, post-mortem, from the deity of their choice. They will blame and reject progressive ideas and ideology, preferring to trust the writings of the ancients over the possibility that a science they can’t quite understand could hold a solution to their terrors.

A fearful society wraps it’s most vulnerable in emotional cotton batting and bubble wrap, too frightened to allow children to explore their world and learn both the good and bad of their environment, and to experience the emotions and understandings inherent in living in their social order. A fearful society looks with suspicion on anyone who’s not in their personal tribe, and passes that crippling fear on to their children.

think-of-the-childrenWhenever changes meant to move our culture forward progressively are proposed, the rallying cry from those who are afraid of alterations to their reality is “Think of the children!  That plea, originally referring to children’s rights, and real dangers, such as child labour, has now become a plea for pity, and an appeal to emotion. It is a logical fallacy that substitutes emotion for reason, and indicates a culture in moral panic and relentless distress. It is, in fact, the antithesis of what children need – a feeling of security and of being protected.

And in believing that it is only by insulating children from all contact with ‘others’ and other ideas, it is a pious attempt to stop progress by effectively robbing children of their right to childhood. It seems a very high price to pay.

Our terror of the unknown, and our concern for the well-being of our children, must not be the justification of our need to inflict upon them a very real ‘nanny state’ created by our own neurotic anxiety.

 

Ain’t Gonna Play Sun City


Bruce Springsteen’s refusal to play North Carolina because of new, drastic LGBT laws might have shocked some people, but it didn’t surprise me at all.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band cancelled their Greensboro, NC concert because of the state’s new law blocking anti-discrimination rules for the LGBTQ community. The so called “bathroom law” clause in the bill forbids transgender people from using the restroom that matches the gender they identify with, and that’s a real problem for transgendered people.

missippi bathroom lawsSo far, North Carolina is just the latest state to go this route, following in the footsteps of Mississippi and those looking to do something similar: Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Missouri, Tennessee and Wisconsin.   As of last Tuesday, the National Center for Transgender Equality was tracking 49 bills across America, 32 of which dealt with bathroom access. More than a third (12) of those bathroom bills are still actively being considered.

From Funny or Die …

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WqASSN5S2CI

Also tucked inside North Carolina’s HB2 act is a sneaky little Trojan horse that strips workers in the state of the ability to sue under a state anti-discrimination law, a right that has been upheld in court since 1985. “If you were fired because of your race, fired because of your gender, fired because of your religion, you no longer have a basic remedy,” said Allan Freyer, head of the Workers’ Rights Project at the N.C. Justice Center in Raleigh.

Conservative media and internet pundits sprang to attention at Springsteen’s decision. Most postings were sad admissions of the lack of truly ‘conservative ‘artists, and the pain it caused them to  have to be exposed to thoughts unlike their own, all in the name of entertainment. Like this poor fellow …

 “if I refused to watch any movie or show, listen to any music or laugh at any jokes by people who are flaming liberals, entertainment options would probably come down to a choice between Ron White or watching paint dry.”

States-transgender-lawRepublican Mark Walker unwisely weighed in on the controversy. “I consider this a bully tactic. It’s like when a kid gets upset and says he’s going to take his ball and go home.”

No, sir – it’s the state that’s doing the bullying. Springsteen is reacting to discrimination, and the loss of civil rights, levied by the state. And so is PayPal, recently cancelling its plans to open a new global operations center in Charlotte, that would have employed 400 people, following the passage of the law. Add to that basketball great Charles Barkley, who has urged the National Basketball Association to move its All-Star Game next year away from Charlotte, N.C., unless the law is repealed.

Springsteen’s been down this road before – remember Sun City?

sun city artists againstSpringsteen, Steve Van Zandt, producer Arthur Baker and journalist Danny Schechter gathered  together what rock critic Dave Marsh called  “the most diverse line up of popular musicians ever assembled for a single session,” in 1985 to record an album, and video, protesting apartheid in South Africa. The artists also pledged to never perform at Sun City, as long as apartheid was an issue. The group were dubbed Artists United Against Apartheid.

The Sun City video, described by Schecter as “a song about change not charity, freedom not famine,” featured  Miles Davis , Kool DJ Herc, Grandmaster Melle Mel, Ruben Blades, Bob Dylan, Pat Benatar, Herbie Hancock, Ringo Starr and his son Zak Starkey, Lou Reed, Run–D.M.C., Peter Gabriel, Bob Geldof, Clarence Clemons, David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, Darlene Love, Bobby Womack, Afrika Bambaataa, Kurtis Blow, The Fat Boys, Jackson Browne, Daryl Hannah, Bono, Peter Wolf, U2, George Clinton, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, Bonnie Raitt, Hall & Oates, Jimmy Cliff, Big Youth, Michael Monroe, Stiv Bators, Peter Garrett, Ron Carter, Ray Barretto, Gil Scott-Heron, Nona Hendryx, Lotti Golden, Lakshminarayana Shankar and Joey Ramone, with the signature background vocal sound created by Lotti Golden, B.J.Nelson and Tina B.

From Wikipedia: “The song “Sun City” was only a modest success in the US, reaching #38 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in December 1985. Only about half of American radio stations played “Sun City,” with some objecting to the lyrics’ explicit criticism of President Ronald Reagan’s policy of “constructive engagement.” Meanwhile, “Sun City” was a major success in countries where there was little or no radio station resistance to the record or its messages, reaching #4 in Australia, #10 in Canada and #21 in the UK. The song was banned in South Africa.”

Said Jackson Browne at the time, “Sun City’s become a symbol of a society which is very oppressive and denies basic rights to the majority of its citizens. In a sense, Sun City is also a symbol of that society’s ‘right’ to entertain itself in any way that it wants to, to basically try to buy us off and to buy off world opinion.”

Could the Boss have seen North Carolina’s new law as anything other than “very oppressive and a denial of basic rights?”  Of course not.

The apartheid regime in South Africa finally ended in 1994.But injustice and discrimination flourish around the world.

Almost unknown, and virtually invisible, is a newer group against apartheid, this time in artists against apartheidthe Middle East. (ArtistsAgainstApartheid.org). No matter which side of the political fence you or your country are on, this group has the right to organize and protest.

“Artists Against Apartheid Declaration of 2010: Artists Against Apartheid is an international alliance committed to Equal Rights and Justice, and the elimination of apartheid in our world. While crimes of apartheid are ongoing in Palestine-Israel, we will stand in solidarity with the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS,) and the cultural boycott of Israel.”

A quick search on ‘artists against discrimination’ nets hundreds of thousands of results, from all over the globe, from Australia, to France, and to Mexico, with all stops in between and around.

We don’t hear much about the Guerrilla Girls, a protest group launched in 1985, that call themselves “the conscience of the art world.”  And as they admit, after 30 years of protest, there’s been very little change.

ageism after sexismNor do we hear about the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission receiving more than 19,000 age discrimination complaints in each of the past two years.

That’s why it’s important when artists of Springsteen’s stature take a stance on injustice. As he said, he could have confined himself to making a political statement from the stage during the concert, but cancelling the concert, which officials have told the media will cost the Greensboro Coliseum a loss of about $100,000, “ is the strongest means I have for raising my voice in opposition to those who continue to push us backwards instead of forwards.”

Most of us can’t make a big dent on injustice. The old saw about ‘voting with your wallet’ can certainly help turn the tide in some commercial issues,  but when governments pass laws that cause companies to decide against investing in your state, and artists to refuse to entertain you, the dilemma that the Religious Right and many Republican states must face becomes clear … as much as you may want and need jobs and entertainment, you’re gonna have to decide which is more important –  your fiscal duties or your need to control other peoples’ genitalia.

Interesting Times


May you live in interesting times.” Not a blessing, some say, but a curse, as though only times of peace and contentment are to be appreciated and enjoyed.

Perhaps we mean it ironically, as all times, across all eras, have had interesting aspects. Specific conditions change, but people still bend or break in reaction. Those who lived through the Great Depression, World Wars, Kennedy’s assassination, the Age of Aquarius, and the onset of the Computer Age, came out the other end either subtly or grossly altered. And those who look back fondly at rosy tinted times are prisoners of nostalgia, blinded by imaginings that neatly snip out the bits that disturb the dream.

beauty in chaosSo many dread and fear changes to their lives, and yet, there can be great beauty in chaos. Certainly, coping with new information can be problematic, but without profound change, we are static and boring. We even bore ourselves when life becomes nothing more than a forced march through our days, stuck deep in a rut of habit and preconceptions. Creativity demands a spur. You cannot rage against that with which you have not grappled.

We can try to hide away when change threatens our equilibrium. Or we can rush toward change, willing to embrace whatever life throws at us. Either way, change will come. The only difference will be in how you accept the inevitable.  Will you accommodate the newness, incorporating what is different, and weaving its strands into your existence? Or will you rail impotently at what is to come, in a foolish attempt to cling to the past, to slow down what cannot be stopped?  The present doesn’t care. The present continually dances to each new reality, with or without your approval.

The refusal to embrace change has reached its zenith in American politics. Long groomed by the Religious Right and a lockstep Republican party‘s fanatical refusal and repudiation of science and actual facts, a good part of the nation now stumbles along behind the Godzilla of Gaslighting, a man so devoid of empathy for his fellow man (or woman) that he feels free to tar whole segments of humanity with his own prejudices and biases. A textbook narcissist, willing to say or do anything to stay in the spotlight, and keep a constant stream of attention upon his silly self, he manipulates his followers through their nostalgic yearning for happier times … Make America Great Again, he cries, as though only he has Willie Wonka’s golden ticket to the future. The future he’s selling, though, seems to have to first detour through the past.

He wants to return America to the “good old days,” when life was simple. Well, simple for a certain segment of society, before civil rights and equal rights. Not so good, and a giant step backwards, for women, people of colour, or immigrants, be they legal or illegal.

we hope we despairHis followers yearn for an America that never existed except on film. They are led not so much by what he says, but what they fear – reality itself. They want to stop the world, just for a while, “just until we figure out what’s going on.”  He’s going to make life all better, more understandable, and “you’re gonna love it. There will be so much winning, you’ll get sick of winning.”

Like a slimy, used car salesman , the Sultan of Slurs seduces with words of no more than three syllables, absolutely devoid of facts or actual plans, and replete with self-aggrandizement. “I will tell you this, and I can say it with certainty: I will be the greatest jobs producing President that God ever created. I love the subject, I love doing it, and I love helping people.”

TheTrumpHouse.jpgDespite zero political experience, and a chequered, peppered with bankruptcy, past, he has nonetheless captured the lazy and the selfish, those who have yet to grasp that they are being sold a bill of goods. It seems almost preordained – behold your next President, brought to you by a media that prizes sound bites over content, the election reduced to a simple transaction between a seller and a buyer. And bought by those too foolish to grasp the precept, “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.”

Meanwhile, politicians with actual platforms run smack into that same unwillingness to grasp change, or hope for the future. After declaring in Ohio that her coal plan would “put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business,” Hillary Clinton, with almost terminal foot in mouth disease, was soundly booed and condemned by coal country lawmakers.  Meanwhile, the $30 billion alternative being offered for investment in the clean-energy economy was completely dismissed. Because, yes, there will be more jobs in clean energy, but for those who’ve spent a lifetime in coal mining, it’s a leap too far, particularly for people with little confidence in current government And especially since, as former Representative Barney Frank put it, “the likelihood that 58-year-old coal miners are going to become the solar engineers of the future is nil.

That guy is more likely to be thinking, “if Black Lung and lung cancer were good enough for my dad … they’re good enough for me.”

nothing but a twigDespair. Fear.  Anger.  So much anger.  Anger that simmers just below the surface, until released in the form of the fist of a 78-year old man, sucker punching a young, black dissenter. A  mindless, impotent, unending anger against politicians, Wall Street, terrorists, immigrants snatching the few remaining jobs, governments kinder to corporations than its voting citizens. Anger against a dream denied, a life that might have been, a life ‘as seen on TV.’  An anger that is fear disguised as action and reaction.

This is an extraordinary time full of vital, transformative movements that could not be foreseen. It’s also a nightmarish time. Full engagement requires the ability to perceive both.” Rebecca Solnit

The stories that are told to us, and the stories we tell ourselves, about our pasts, our presents, and our possible futures, reflect only one aspect at a time. If the narrator chooses to emphasize the negative over the positive, our emotions can be twisted, causing us to accept or reject the narrative. It’s often very much in how you look at things that determines how the experience ends.opportunities

This same society, this same world, which can be perceived as cold and unforgiving, can also be a place of wonder and delight. Each step forward, plagued as it can be by those who resent change, represents shifts in ideas and perspectives. Social change is happening. The very framework of how we view sexuality is shifting.  There are progressive advances in the sciences that we would never have anticipated, even months ago. All of these marvels are going on in real time, minute by minute. But if your expectations are shaped by those who desperately cling to the past, you’ll be stuck back there with them. If all you are focused on is what is temporarily amusing, or that which jibes with your own, delicate, beliefs, you’ll blink and miss glimpses of your future.

We have little control over the times in which we live. Indeed, no one has total control of anything, or anyone, other than themselves, and even that doesn’t always run smooth. So you may as well surrender to uncertainty. When we are willing to step into the unknown, free from all preconceptions, those ‘interesting times’ become the opening notes to a symphony of possibilities.

 

(first pubished March 20/16: bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2016/03/20/roxanne-tellier-interesting-times/)

It Is To Laugh!


samantha bee trevor noah.jpgIn a Salon.com article last week, Steve Almond accused Comedy Central of having “squandered Jon Stewart’s legacy” by appointing South African comedian Trevor Noah as host, over the then-incumbent Samantha Bee.

The author points to the success of Bee’s new show “Full Frontal” as proof that Noah’s lower key, outsider’s perspective, has damaged the credibility and political power of The Daily Show.

There’s so much wrong with that attitude that I barely know where to begin. Full disclosure: my conversion to political junkie is relatively recent, and as with most converts, I just can’t get enough of meaningful discussion on my new passion. I’m also an entertainer who studied comedy and acting for long enough to have a dispassionate overview of what I see on the screen – I’m not buying the physical over the intellectual. I watch for knowledge and to hear something clever that I hadn’t thought of myself.

That being said – there’s lots of leg room in the television/Internet world for a wide spectrum of opinions, and lawdy, lawdy, there’s a fan for every fanatical opinion. I dislike certain types of discourse; insightful commentary has no need to use scatology or childish insults unless justified in context. Those that shriek their thoughts are right off my list of viewing. So, that certainly leaves out the FOX News Network, and all Republican debates, no matter how ‘entertaining.’

But let’s just cut to the chase on why Samantha Bee declined the chance to succeed Jon Stewart.titans of late night 2016

I like how Vanity Fair leaned into the 50’s sexism of late night by making the photo Mad Men-themed’.

The ‘titans of late night’ sausagefest included Stephen Colbert, Conan O’Brien, James Corden, Jimmy Kimmel, John Oliver, Seth Meyers, Jimmy Fallon, and token light skinned Trevor Noah and Larry Wilmore. Not exactly a cultural mosaic going on there.

vanity-fair-cover2

“What’s conspicuously missing from late-night, still, is women,’ wrote David Kamp.’How gobsmackingly insane is it that no TV network has had the common sense — and that’s all we’re talking about in 2015, not courage, bravery, or even decency — to hand over the reins of an existing late-night comedy program to a female person?

(You could also add “people of colour” there, but I’ll get to that in a minute.)

While I can appreciate the work of Conan O’Brien, James Corden, Jimmy Kimmel, Seth Meyers, and Jimmy Fallon, I’ve never really taken to them. I’m just ‘over’ the late night formula, with its emphasis on rising or fading stars, and middle of the road, slightly risqué, rarely challenging patter. That was always the domain of older, white males, and still largely is. That’s more ” falling asleep in front of the TV” stuff, to me.

colbert thumbs upStephen Colbert’s defection to The Tonight Show, despite his best efforts, still landed him in that traditional format. While the move made great career sense overall and I do love his joyful, melodica playing, bandleader, Jon Batiste, Colbert’s brilliance is still best viewed in his political snipes, and thankfully, the cream of his wit usually wind up getting spun off into Internet clips and memes.

Trevor Noah only has to step on stage for the conservative dog whistles to start – he’s a young, black, South African, and an immigrant who’s taken an American’s job! A gentle, soft spoken and thoughtful soul, he is able to laugh at his own foibles and to marvel at American customs and culture. I find his often wide-eyed wonder refreshing – I too sometimes feel the same gulf between how Canadians and Americans think. Sometimes it’s just too wide a mental leap to span.

The contrast between the often brash, broad humoured and ultra-white Stewart and Noah’s more restrained presence can be jarring, if all you are looking for is what you’ve already seen. But Stewart himself knew that it was time to go – he’d accomplished what he’d set out to do. He saw that it was time to move on and let the next wave of young comedians have their shot. He subsequently signed a four year production contract with HBO, while continuing as executive producer of …larry wilmore

The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore – an Afrocentric look at America’s politics. Maybe it’s the humour of the damned and the resigned, but it’s also intelligent, truthful, often wise, and empathic.

A typical, if bowdlerized, user’s comment on the show: “they have almost no white people on their show at any point, and often just disrespect that person. It’s always a black panel, it’s always the same guys opinion, who is him? I’ve never seen or heard of him. He presents rather, off humor, if any of this is humor, which it’s not, it’s just a group of people acting out raged constantly”

people care about pets over poor blacksThe main take-away being, at least on the commentator’s part, not to see a chance to explore and try to understand a different perspective on the very real problem of racism in America, and how it’s dealt with, legally and individually, but instead a demand for more white faces to rehash white opinions on a series focused on black lives. And there you have your #allLifeMatters in a nutshell.

Stewart was also instrumental in launching Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, a satirical look at news, politics and current events. Funny-sausage-principle-by-John-OliverOliver had the distinction of guest-hosting The Daily Show in the summer of 2013, when Stewart took a working sabbatical to direct his film, Rosewater. Oliver’s sardonic and exaggerated comedic ‘voice,’ was immediately acceptable to American viewers familiar with the work of British comedians in the Monty Python vein. Although his series airs only once a week, each episode is a little gem, with the bulk of the airtime focusing with laser beam intensity on a well-researched and timely item deserving of closer examination.

 

hollywood_reporter_bill_maher_coverStill a force to be reckoned with, is Bill Maher, of Real Time, and the late, lamented Politically Incorrect. The granddaddy of political satire and discussion, Maher is definitely polarizing. He’s a “love him or hate him” kinda guy. Perhaps that’s the attraction. At any rate, I’ve followed his career since the nineties, and even once seized the opportunity to be in the Politically Incorrect audience, just a week or two after 9/11. Though I can’t remember if that was the episode that got his multi –award winning show cancelled.

ABC decided against renewing Maher’s contract for Politically Incorrect in 2002, after he made a controversial on-air remark six days after the September 11 attacks. He agreed with his guest, conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza, that the 9/11 terrorists did not act in a cowardly manner (in rebuttal to President Bush’s statement calling them cowards). Maher said, “We have been the cowards. Lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That’s cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building. Say what you want about it. Not cowardly. You’re right.””

Maher barely skipped a beat, moving from ABC to HBO in 2003, where his hour-long political comedy talk show, Real Time with Bill Maher, has flourished ever since.

Bill and I have been aging disgracefully – a world apart, but akin in spirit – for decades. We’re both still lippy, lefty, liberals – though I disagree with his pro-gun stance – with a sarcastic attitude, and a hate-on for bad politics, bought off politicians and mass media, inane bureaucracy, and rabid religionists of any stripe. What’s not to love? I’m positively dejected when I miss my Friday night fix of Real Time .

samantha bee on ScaliaBut circling back to Full Frontal with Samantha Bee… this new series airs only once a week. Like John Oliver, Bee touches briefly on current events, before diving deep into the murky waters of American politics. She’s funny, strong, relevant, courageous … even the show’s theme song, PeachesThe Boys Wanna Be Her,” asserts that “the boys want to be her, the girls want to be her.”

And I think that rings true to a young, engaged, non gender discriminating audience. Bee is cocky, unafraid to confront the staid establishment. Her interview with Texas Republican representative Dan Flynn, about writing the anti-abortion restrictions despite knowing little about the procedure, is typical of her style. “I speak with the authority of one who has a uterus,” Bee tells him, “and I guess that’s why I think that you’re the wrongiest, wrongheadedest wrong person.”

She’s exciting, she’s brave – and she’s Canadian! All of which allows her to comment and opine on wrongheadedness from the perspective of a country more known for acceptance than intellectual resistance. But we’re only four episodes in so far. It may seem longer, since that has encompassed four weeks, but we’re talking baby steps here.

By contrast, Trevor Noah’s been at The Daily Show since September 28, 2015, appearing four nights a week most weeks. Viewers have had time to decide on whether they like his shtick or not. Or have they? trevor noah w de Blasio

I recently watched an episode of Noah speaking with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. But this time, the episode that I watched was not the regular, clipped for time, segment normally shown in the time spot, but rather, included the ‘extended’ interview that is available only to those who seek out the episode on Comedy Central. There was an entirely different tone between the televised and the ‘only available on the Internet’ conversation.

In the first, commercially aired segment, there was a lot of polite banter and civility. But just as the conversation got started, it was cut short.

De Blasio: And look, a lot of people don’t feel the government’s treating them fairly. For years and years, a lot of – and this is especially why, as you know, I’m very involved in the issue of addressing income inequality. And, you know, it’s amazing, you see the national discussion – like, why are people angry? Why are they frustrated? Because they’ve been screwed. Because for decades they’ve seen their incomes go down. They’ve seen their economic reality decline, and they wonder if their kids are going to have anywhere near as good a life as they had. Would you be content? The anger and frustration are the natural way people should feel when they go through that, and then they take that frustration out on a government that they feel has let them down. 

Noah: That has let them down, especially when it comes to income inequality. It’s funny you bring that up, because you are big on income inequality, which seems like a Bernie Sanders supporter, and, yet, you’ve endorsed Hillary, which we’ll talk more about. TV time is up – we’ll be talking more on the web and on the app.

(the extended interview) http://www.thecomedynetwork.ca/Shows/TheDailyShow?vid=821779

Now, I can’t say that I’ve watched many of the extended interviews. However – a different Noah, a more confident, knowledgeable and willing to confront, Noah, appeared during the extended segment. And, in my opinion, that’s the Noah that viewers would prefer to the polished, safe, non-threatening, Noah they’ve been sold since his debut.

sense of humourBut really, in the end, our appreciation of comedy is personal, and only our opinion, as is our sense of humour. Everyone’s taste is different, and that’s a good thing – it speaks to our individuality. There’s room for all at the inn – pitting comedian against comedian is sophomoric and limiting. Let’s keep any nonsense austerity principles as far away from the distribution of art as we can.

Having a wide range of voices available for regular viewing is the essence of our freedom to choose, a real gift to viewers, and a paean to the right of free speech.

 

(first published Match 6/2015: bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2016/03/06/roxanne-tellier-it-is-to-laugh/)