Sunday, September 25, 2016

Won't somebody think of The Troops?

So here's something that always goes over really well, a foreigner wants to discuss something Americans hold dear.  Very dear. THE MOST DEAR in fact.  That's right, I want to talk about The Troops.

You love The Troops.  I know this because you keep telling me.  I'm half a world away and yet somehow you find a way to tell me constantly.  Lately, I've been hearing it more than usual because some NFL guys haven't been standing for the National Anthem and apparently that is a real slap in the face to The Troops.  America, I hope you know I love you lots, but we need to talk.  There is something very very weird about the way you talk about your troops.

So what do I know about loving The Troops you ask? (J/K, I know you didn't say that, you obviously yelled that.  The Troops get y'all very worked up.  Everyone knows this. EVERYONE.)  Well, actually I know quite a bit about loving The Troops.  More than you think.  More than you'll ever know.  See unlike you I grew up in the early 80's in Apartheid Era South Africa.  This may or may not mean anything to you, depending on what movies you have or haven't watched so let me explain.  If you - like me - were a white person from a small town in South Africa during the 80's your life had one purpose: To save the country from the coming onslaught of the black, communist hordes.  Growing up, we loved the troops.  My favourite T-shirt had a soldier on it and said "Fight Terrorism" (Full disclosure, I had no idea what that meant, I just knew Terrorism = Communism = Evil).  We had colouring books in kindergarden featuring the troops.  There were pop songs on TV about supporting the troops.  We held concerts for the troops.  We all wanted to be the troops, which was lucky because that wasn't optional.  Back then all dudes had to report for 2 years of mandatory service after high school.  So we cared about The Troops because we had to.  My dad was The Troops. My brothers were The Troops.  I was going to be The Troops one day and if I managed to not die or step on a land mine*, then so would my children.  Didn't stop there! Come High School, every Wednesday all the dudes had to dress up in military browns (yes that's our military colours, get over it) and learn things like marching, shooting and bomb detection.  No, I wasn't in a military school, this was every school.  Then there was the camps where we had to go into the wild, learn survival and camouflage and how to clean automatic rifles and the like.  So just trust me when I say I know a thing or two about revering The Troops, and over here that went way above and beyond wearing flag pins and saying "thank you for your service!" when you saw guys in uniform.

That's just half of it.  Look I know how proud you are of your flag and national anthem but full disclosure, you were held up as an example to us of people disrespectful to their flag and anthem.  Didn't see that coming, did you?  We felt we were far more respectful because unlike you, we didn't put our flag on cars, or clothing or bikinis.  That flag was sacred, it was treated as sacred as it was hoisted in front of the assembled students each day.  You didn't wear it, it wasn't a decoration, it was our flag.  Similarly, any artist singing the anthem and deciding to "make it their own" by adding 400 extra notes to it would never have worked again.  The was the right way sing Die Stem and then... well no that was it. You did it the right way our you didn't do it at all.

Of course with hindsight being 20/20 and all I'm not saying we were better at patriotism than you are or that we had it figured out and you don't.  After all, we were being prepared to serve as the enforcers of a fascist police state built on the brutal subjugation of all other races so I'm CLEARLY not saying this was a great thing, I'm just saying don't try to lecture me on Loving The Troops, you guys don't have the patent on fervent Nationalism or Military Patriotism.  All I'm saying is, maybe listen to me for 5 minutes, I may know what I'm talking about.

[OK so after thinking about this for a while I decided to put this break in the post.  Up to this point, when I used the word "you" I meant you personally.  You: the individual, intelligent, curious, citizen of America reading this post.  I may or may not know your name but I know the vast majority of my readers are American for some reason.  I appreciate you taking the time to read this whole post, trying to digest what I'm saying and not just looking for that one sentence to yell at me for in the comments.  I know you're not a monolithic entity, I've been to the USA, I loved it.  It's a great big beautiful country filled with a diverse range of truly interesting people, some of whom I'm very lucky to be friends with.  The irony is not lost on me that people from outside the US often criticize the US for not understanding the diverse nature of other nations while treating you as if you were all one big homogeneous community with the exact same ideas, beliefs and ideals!  That's very much what I'm trying to avoid here.  But from here on I'm going to talk to the corporate you, not the individual you.  A lot of what I'm about to say may not apply to you personally but that's not the you I'll be addressing from this point.  The "you" I'm speaking to now are the Talking Heads, the loud voices with the cameras pointed at them who do seem to think they speak for all of you.  They often seem to be of the opinion that you should all be one homogeneous community with the exact same ideas, beliefs and ideals (and that if you disagree with that you should leave the country).   So just keep that in mind and maybe disagree with them first and me second.  ]

The way you talk about The Troops is weird because you don't talk about them like they're people.  You say you love them, but you love them the way you love the Native Americans.  You love the idea of them.  You love the noble imagery.  You're proud to have a couple in your family tree somewhere. You love them as mascots, you invoke them as talismans to give weight to your own opinions.  Sometimes it seems like they're not people to you at all, they're more like crosses you can hold up to ward off dissenters.  Because when the real people - the troops, not The Troops - want something more than thanks you seem to love them a whole lot less.  When their actual imagery doesn't match the noble picture you paint, you pretend they don't exist.  The actual troops are far more than just the square jawed Marines in crisp uniforms saluting the flag.  They're more than the noble dead with the Stars & Stripes draped over their coffins.  They're also the homeless on your streets you wish could just go somewhere else.  They're the crippled and broken desperate for medical care from a broken bureaucratic mess.  And because of all that, they're also the victims of police violence more often than you'd like to think about.  But what right do you use their sacrifice and suffering as a cudgel against others?

I'm not asking you to stop loving your country or to stop having pride in those who serve it.  I'm saying that when you use them like objects instead of as people, then it's weird.  No, not weird, its wrong.  Ask yourself, who do you love? Do you love The Troops - some kind of platonic ideal that just happens to fit your exact concept of patriotism? Or do you love the actual people?  Because the actual people are not props to rest your opinions on, they're human beings from diverse backgrounds and they're not always going to agree with you.  And that should be OK.  As an American that is something you should be OK with**.  It should be OK to want things to be better, and to keep getting better.  Better for the troops and also for the civilians.  Is that really such an unpatriotic thought to you?

Way to alienate the only people who read your shit Eugene...

*Land Mines.  Because conflicts come and go but land mines stick around forever!
**Just going by what you say about yourselves and your ideals here guys.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Learning to Love with Lesbians

I fell into a deep 90s music video hole on Youtube last night and I just had to write down my feelings about something.  I hope I still remember how sentences work, I haven't done this in a while...

So here's a thing about the 90's that you may or may not recall.  If you were an awkward guy, having no luck in finding love, this was a terrible time to listen to the radio (or to go to the movies or to turn on the TV) because it would constantly be re-enforcing your very worst ideas about life.  See, a long time ago even the legendary sex gods The Rolling Stones figured out that "you can't always get what you want" but somewhere during the 90s it was as if pop culture decided to reject that notion completely and got super fucking whiny about it too.  The prevailing message was "if you want a girl, no matter what, you should be able to get the girl.  Yes, even that girl.  Especially that one because YOU want her and therefore you are entitled to her."  How? Well easy, just keep passive-aggressively hanging around her, constantly going on to all who would listen about how stupid women are because they always choose the total asshole and not the obviously superior guy (you) that is hanging around her constantly, (pretending to be) her best friend.  If you just hang around long enough and act nice long enough you will get your chance declare your love completely out of the blue and she'll realize how perfect you are and reward you with all the sex ever.

In case I actually need to point this out, THIS IS TERRIBLE ADVICE TO GIVE TO AWKWARD TEENAGE BOYS!!  Yet it was everywhere.  Every song on the radio, every romcom you took your "friend" to, this was the prevalent message of the time.  And it sucked.  I don't think I even realized how much it sucked until much later when I could take a sober look back and see just how many great friendships I poisoned and how many great relationships I missed out on thanks to these toxic, self pitying - and lets be honest - downright creepy ideas.

As the song famously doesn't say:

"If you're having girl problems I feel bad for you son...
Cause in this current atmosphere you probably have no healthy outlets for your hurt feelings"

Well, there was one exception.  One night the DJ on the local student radio station dared to defy the code of standards & practices and played a beautiful song that happened to have the words "Fuck You" prominently in the chorus.  I listened raptly and immediately loved the song.  Unfortunately I forgot the artist and title almost immediately and this was back in the infancy of the Internet so Yahoo, altavista and ohmygodI' was no help in tracking down a song you knew next to nothing about.  It was only years later when I tried "lesbian song" + "fuck you" on Google (#StopJudgingMe) and rediscovered Ani DiFranco's Untouchable Face.  This song has been on every device ever since and features prominently in my "Most Played" playlists.  This is the song I wish I had been listening to as a teen instead of those self pitying, incredibly entitled rock songs about love.

Firstly, this is a song that doesn't tell you what to feel, this song already knows what you feel.  The very chorus gives you permission to feel that bittersweet mix of love-anger-hope-frustration-disappointment-despair-warmth-sadness-longing that you feel when you love someone you can't have:
"So fuck you
And your untouchable face
Fuck you
For existing in the first place
And who am I
That I should be vying for your touch
Who am I
Bet you can't even tell me that much"

However, before that point it spends a couple of verses making clear that while it's OK for YOU to feel that way it's not OK to go make the other someone miserable too.  After all if they're happy and you really, truly like them then you should want them to stay happy.

"Think I'm going for a walk now
I feel a little unsteady
I don't want no one to follow me
Except maybe you
I could make you happy, you know
If you weren't already
I could do a lot of things
And I do
Tell you the truth I prefer the worst of you
Too bad you had to have a better half
She's not really my type
But I think you two are forever
And I hate to say it, but you're perfect together"

I love how this song makes it clear that feeling hurt and accepting that you can't have this person are not mutually exclusive processes.  These things can live side by side in the same heart, albeit uncomfortably at times.

I could make you happy, you know
If you weren't already

That one achingly beautiful line is worth more than all the pop culture garbage I absorbed over the years.  In it I find that I'm not bad for loving you and you're not bad for not loving me back.  We both have worth and we both want to be happy and while I may not always be feeling it right now, I'm happy you're happy.  I hope to one day be as happy as you are now.

Anyway you should just go find this song and listen to it if you haven't already, I'm not sure I'm doing it justice here.  Ani is the poet here, not me.  Get it first hand.  I mean look at these lines:

You know I really don't look forward
To seeing you again
You look like a photograph of yourself
Taken from far far away
And I won't know what to do
And I won't know what to say

You know, if I had to explain to an AI what that means I don't think I would have the words.  And yet, AND YET I know EXACTLY what that means because I've felt it.  Deeply.  That.  Exactly that.  Whatever that is.  Willing to bet that if you ever hung out with someone blissfully unaware of how painfully in love you are with them, you know it too.

So... off topic a bit but fuck you to all the homophobes out there insisting that homosexual love is somehow other, alien & perverse.  I don't know that I have much in common with Ani DiFranco but I do know that I have felt every bit of emotion she is expressing here.  There's really no difference, we all love the same.  So in the words of the poet: Fuck you.