Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Odds Are Never in Our Favor, Part 2

To continue from the part 1, I believe that violence is becoming more common across the United States, increasing in all areas. The first question of order is, of course, what do we do about it? Gun protection is widely contested issue but I'm not going to delve solely into that here because I think the issue is misrepresented: yes, of course, it should be much more difficult to buy a gun than it is. I should not be able to walk into a sporting goods store and walk out with a semi-automatic within a few hours having no gun training or proof that I can adequately and responsibly own one (though what adequately and responsibly mean is a good question too). I'm pretty sure that I can buy a gun more easily than I can buy a car and that deeply troubles me. Entirely getting rid of guns will change the violence that occurs but not completely get rid of it - people will likely switch to other weapons and/or the gun black market will be greatly increase and people will still be buying guns, this time totally illegally. The debate continues on which I think distracts from the main issue: our relationship and affinity to violence itself. Why do Americans feel like they need to buy guns to protect themselves? Why do we live in such an armed society? Why is violence only increasing then if we're supposed to be so protected?

Here are some thoughts on that:

1) We don't trust the police: It a understood idea that many people of color don't trust the police because of how they have - historically and recently - been treated by them. I think it is also perceived by white Americans that they also can't trust the police because they see them as inattentive, slow-acting, and badly managed, and (for some) if an armed robber came to one's house, one would have to take their own vigilante action because the police can't be counted on. They aren't prejudiced against, they're just at the mercy of sloppy, ineffective forces. Which is a legitimate problem for everyone, regardless of the color of your skin - but if you also have the added caveat of being a person of color, then distrust of the police is likely going to be doubled.

2) We live in a fear-mongering society: All I hear about are these news reports about violence and danger. While it's true that all of these things are going on, it's hard to get a grasp on just how commonplace these things are when five different news stories are reporting on the same occurrences in five different ways and tying them to other crimes and constantly operating in the post-9/11 mindset in which there is no security and we're all in constant danger. Which we are. But that isn't really any different then when we were in constant danger from plagues, famines, and being eaten alive by wild animals. The human race has always been in constant danger. We now just have 24-hour a day news services to remind us of it.

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3) We live in fear, but only if it affects us: I am so guilty of this. I'm worried right now because I've been affected. But the fact that this violence has happened for centuries all around the world to other people wasn't as big a deal to me. Which makes me feel like a pretty shitty person, but I'm not alone in this - which is quite possibly shittier. Many could honestly care less about what's happening in Syria or the Philippines except for sob-story reasons. I'm not saying people don't actually care - but I'm going to level with you, I have a very limited idea of what's going on in the Philippines. Why? Because our news sources already got bored with it and moved on to talking about other more "important things" like Black Friday.

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4) We think we can fight fire with fire: "Don't bring a knife to a gun fight!" is a common idiom. We for some reason seem to think that if we keep using the tools of the master, we overtake him and win. Maybe this works in certain ways, but I think we need to change the tools we're using. Owning guns will not reduce violence. The object should be to reduce violence overall not fighting back against it. If we only purport that shooting people who want to shoot us is supposed to resolve violence then we're talking about the issue very ineffectively.

Let me use another example of this fighting fire with fire issue in an issue that doesn't actually involve weapons (as that might make my point more muddled).  The other day I was approached by someone from Greenpeace on the way to work. While I'd love to help support an environmental group, I really can't afford it at the moment (and good old skeptical me seems to recall Greenpeace being less than stellar). Regardless, the guy who approached me was very aggressive about trying to get me to donate by talking about how "fat Americans" buy fast food and throw out all of these containers made from ancient forests while also telling me that I should support them no matter my monetary level because the rich aren't going to make such changes. He went on to tell me that many of the people who donate are broke and/or homeless and really want to make a change now rather than waiting until financial stability occurs - which he used to combat my excuse that I am not financially stable enough to make such donations. Basically, he said (and I am paraphrasing, but this is the gist of it), "It's great that you've got a new job but you should give your money to us because we'll use it to good ends and you won't, and financial stability may never come so stop being so selfish."

I was offended by his rhetoric on about twelve different levels. First off, to mark out "fat Americans" as this sort of generic, ignorant, comfortably elitist class pisses me off. Obesity is a serious issue throughout all classes ESPECIALLY in lower classes, fast food is often consumed by those who cannot afford other meals, and I myself was physically one of those "fat Americans" when I was younger (and still am mentally). Good job, you've offended me immediately by assuming the way people look equals what they do and how they live their lives. (I'd also like to note he was shocked to hear I was twenty-three because I had a "baby face" but acted "so mature for twenty-three." Look, if we hadn't been having this conversation in 17 degree Fahrenheit weather and he hadn't thanked me twenty times for being so polite because he hadn't had anyone be polite to him for hours, I might have gotten rude. Because I am seriously developing an age complex here. Baby face? I just... ugh...) Secondly, the fact that he was trying to guilt trip me into donating makes me angry - let me make my own choices, dude. I already donate monthly to another organization it is. And their representatives didn't offend me.

Touche. (http://www.rottenecards.com)
Thirdly, the homeless/people: to say that they will pay when I won't is just... unfair. And wrong. I feel like this organization is utterly using them to get money. I don't care if Greenpeace solves climate change and ends deforestation tomorrow - to say that they take money from people who are fighting to pay their own bills and feed themselves EVEN THOUGH they have to ask if giving their set monthly donation would put you in a dangerous position BUT THEN convincing you to do it anyway is... twisted. I got the feeling that this guy was way more concerned about planet Earth than people. It seemed like a stereotypical environmentalist archetype of, "Wow, people have screwed up the earth and it'd be so much better without them" (despite the fact that we're supposed to be the ones fixing it) that I thought was only a myth but then saw portrayed in front of me. Look, I get it - humans have done a lot of terrible things to our planet. But putting nature over people - rather than seeing them as all interconnected - is a mistake. Any group that would let people starve just so they can collect money to - do whatever it is they do with it - is greatly ethically problematic to me. You're not really helping people or the world if all you do is collect money and lobby and/or threaten these big organizations to change their ways to more environmentally friendly ones (which is how Greenpeace was described to me by this representative) while letting these people on the street starve yet use them to guilt-trip me because I don't look broke or homeless. I much prefer the group I've donated to before that is a local organization known as Sister's Camelot that provide organic food to the homeless (eco friendly and helping people; my kind of organization). However, I think actions speak louder than words and, as I've discussed over and over again, there's the issue that giving money to groups that are about money and disparity might just reinforce the issues rather than resolving them. Sure, you can tell me that you are giving the homeless and poor a voice by having them be part of your cause, but then that cause requires them to give money to be a part of it, I find the whole thing ineffective.

Fighting fire with fire? Not my cup of tea.

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5) We are encouraged to be distracted by other things: Half of Catching Fire is about how Katniss is a sort of means to cover up the problems of what's really going on in Panem by paying attention to her budding romance and her fabulous-ness from winning the Games. Instead, she manages to show just how screwed up Panem. Which is - irony of ironies - exactly what the marketing of Catching Fire has done. Discussing how much the film is about love triangles and having this whole "Capitol Couture" and Maybelline make-up line for the Capitol and Districts is meant to glamorize the movie but instead just makes it all the more obvious how our society acts like Panem (which I can never quite tell if it's intentional or commercialism just perfectly pronouncing its own flaws without realizing it. Pretty sure it's the latter). Realizing how discussion of Katniss by the Capitol media sounds a whole hell of a lot like how we discuss the lives of celebrities and fixate on their romances is important and hard to ignore. If you've ever seen the older South Park episode about Britney Spears (which was aired after her break-down several years ago) in which Spears is sacrificed to appease some god or being and it was expressed that she was just the first of many to be sacrificed in society, you'll get an even creepier feeling about this part of Catching Fire. I found that South Park episode to be in poor taste, yet it is also makes a haunting point - we do sort of sacrifice our celebrities. We urge them on into self-destruction and watch them burn up in front of us - not all that different from watching lives destroyed before one's eyes in the Hunger Games. (So someone should write a paper comparing this South Park episode to Catching Fire and the dark side of celebrity culture and send it to me (though don't say I didn't warn you that the episode is grisly and pretty offensive.))

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Furthermore, I sensed a strong Hollywood reference from Katniss and Peeta's victory tour as well as their interviews with Caesar Flickerman. There's the glamor of an award show, the awkwardness of a Today show interview, the obscuring real issues with stardom while simultaneously invading someone's privacy for the pleasure of the Capitol. If this movie wins any Academy Awards, it's going to be the biggest, awkwardest, most brilliantly ironic thing. And it will do nothing to help clarify my feelings about Hollywood.

I'd also like to take a moment to appreciate all the Roman references in The Hunger Games - after recently reading Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, I have a whole new cascade of feels about Cinna. And if I had time to write a dissertation, I'd love to talk about all the Shakespearian tie-ins I could make to The Hunger Games trilogy (but I'm saving my Shakespeare fandomness for Friday's post).

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This has been a lot of musing without a lot of resolution. But I think it's important to consider these films aside from the spotlight Hollywood puts it in. The phenomenon of these stories captivate me as they contain a lot of the mental struggles I find myself in - trying to find how to resist the problems in our world nonviolently, how to become aware of what's going on the world without completely dissolving into fear or fear-mongering, searching for truth in a world that's gone mad, and trying to be honest without being over-dramatic while also recognizing that the world is dramatic and great things are at stake. There are a lot of powerful ties between our society at the moment and the society of Panem, ties that film reviews and critics in Hollywood may be reluctant to talk about. But watching this film felt less like a traditional blockbuster and more or a strong, allegorical message for our times. These books and movies continue to boggle my mind and make me think - and I can only hope that it does the same for the majority of people who read/view them.

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