Archive for the ‘media’ Category

Feature or bug?

October 24th, 2012

Not long before the nominating conventions, I decided to ignore as much of what remained of this year’s presidential campaign as possible.  Having paid attention during the previous four years, I knew for whom I was going to vote, based on people’s actions and their responses to events as they occurred.  Nothing that would happen during the campaign, in its bubble reality of imagery and rhetoric, was going to change that.

I don’t read a newspaper.  I watch very little television.  My most regular source of daily “news” is public radio, to which I listen sparingly.  I turn it off whenever a commentator or “analyst” comes on to tell me what to think, or when the announcer warns me I am about to be treated to the opinions of eleven housewives in Duluth, or when I hear the word “polls” or the names “Cokie Roberts” and “Mara Liasson.”   The radio is silent a lot, these days.  I avoid speeches and events.  I found something else to do instead of watching “the debates”, although I could not resist tuning into the vice-presidential contest because of my affection for Joe Biden.  On that occasion, I was treated to a split screen image.  On the right was Paul Ryan, squawking animatedly.  On the left was Joe Biden, grinning wolfishly.  “Go get ‘em, Joe,” I said, and turned it off.

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True Stories of Inspiring American Leadership

July 28th, 2011

Wounded Knee is part of our family’s history.  Leonard’s great-grandfather, the first Crow Dog, had been one of the leaders of the Ghost Dancers.  He and his group had held on in the icy ravines of the Badlands all winter, but when the soldiers came in force to kill all the Ghost Dancers he had surrendered his band to avoid having his people killed.  Old accounts describe how Crow Dog simply sat down between the rows of soldiers on one side, and the Indians on the other, all ready and eager to start shooting.  He had covered himself with a blanket and was just sitting there.  Nobody knew what to make of it.  The leaders on both sides were so puzzled that they just did not get around to opening fire.  They went to Crow Dog, lifted the blanket, and asked him what he meant to do.  He told them that sitting there with the blanket over him was the only thing he could think of to make all the hotheads, white and red, curious enough to forget fighting.  Then he persuaded his people to lay down their arms.  Thus he saved his people just a few miles away from where Big Foot and his band were massacred.

Mary Crow Dog, Lakota Woman (Grove Weidenfeld 1990).  This story bears a striking resemblance to a well-attested incident in the life of Sitting Bull.  There are differences.  In Sitting Bull’s case, the soldiers already were shooting, and Sitting Bull was accompanied between the lines by a small group of followers.  Sitting Bull sat down and in an unhurried

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The first casualty of class warfare…

March 10th, 2011

Really, it is too much.  This morning on Vermont Public Radio I listened to Jim Douglas’ apologia for the shame of Wisconsin.  VPR likes to hire “former” politicians as commentators, as if the politician’s perspective were under-represented in our civic discourse, overwhelmed by the thundering voices of the poor, the marginal and the disenfranchised.  The commentary was presented in Douglas’ usual soothing tones; if you could bottle this man’s voice, you could use it as cough syrup.  He availed himself of the familiar conservative Republican tactic of depicting the facts not as they are but as they might be on a planet where they support the conclusions that he would prefer to draw.  Thus, he described himself as a believer in collective bargaining and implied that, as a former union member, he is a friend to organized labor.  He described Governor Scott Walker and the Wisconsin Senate as motivated by concern for the state budget.

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The First Circle

February 22nd, 2011

Sen. Scott Brown - the face that launched a thousand talk shows

Listening Sunday afternoon to a radio show of interviews with men who have experienced sexual abuse as victims of it, I found myself irked by the way the host and his guest experts repeatedly referred to these men as “survivors.”  I was going to write that day about poetry criticism, but lucky you, I am going to share with you my irkedness instead.

I’ve never liked the sobriquet “survivor.”  It’s inaccurate at best and usually false.  In most cases, including mine, the sexual abuse did not constitute any kind of existential threat.  And in the cases where the abuse did involve some credible threat to the victim’s continued existence, it usually was conditional and ancillary to the abuse itself, for example, “Tell anybody about this and I’ll kill you,” or a result of the victim’s own reaction to what happened, for example, self-medication to the point of addiction.  I became dependent on marijuana.  I kicked this dependency.  Does this make me a “survivor”?

“Survivor,” with its melodramatic punch, seems to me to shove away the hard and sordid and complex reality of what really goes on during sexual abuse and in the long years afterwards.  It telescopes the whole difficult process into one big happy ending.  Like people rescued from a life raft, the “survivors” get handed ashore and congratulated on their luck and fortitude and sent on their way.  The audience to this gratifying spectacle doesn’t have to spend any time thinking about what exactly it is that they “survived” and why there are so many of them and how seamlessly it all fits into our society.

So don’t call me a “survivor.”  At a very early age I had experiences that I should not have had, and these experiences bent my life in all sorts of ways and sent me in all sorts of directions that, in retrospect, were less healthy than other directions I might have gone.  “As the twig is bent…”

All this happened on a level beneath consciousness.  I was sexually manipulated, in the most literal sense of that word, at a very early age by a woman caregiver.  I have no idea what her motivation was, but I suspect it was the way she knew to mollify a man.  I also suspect that at some point in her life she had been sexually mistreated, and so she also may have been acting out some of the feelings she had as a consequence of that.  At the time, of course, I had no idea what was going on, and no way to process it. I had no context within which to understand it, and barely any context for my perceptions of it.  It became part of that armature of unexamined experience that I carried forward into the world, the inchoate, inarticulate basis of so many of my reactions, aversions, and tropisms.  I dismissed it from my consciousness for most of the next four decades, for lack of a place to put it.

I don’t want to engage here in the debate about “recovered memory,” except to say that of course it is a phenomenon that is subject to faking, distortion, and outside influence, and also to say emphatically that the “experts” who deny it exists are ignorant about how memory actually works in the real world.  When my daughter was born, I found myself struggling with a whole lot of rage.  I had no idea where it came from and of course it was entirely inappropriate to the situation.  With the help of a very good therapist, over the next year or so I figured it out.  It had many roots.  My childhood experience of sexual abuse was primary among them.

There came a time when I wanted to tell my parents what I had learned.  It came out one day when we were standing in my kitchen.  I had been particularly worried about my mother’s reaction.  My abuser was someone of whom she had been very fond, and in whose care she had left me.  Even for someone less emotionally layered and hidden than my mom, those factors of affection and guilt, added to the potential unreliability of testimony based on recovered memories, could have produced denial or rejection.  Instead, she looked me in the eye and said, “Oh, honey, I am so sorry.”

Instead of the mawkish, congratulatory-pity of being called a “survivor,” how much better it is to be told, “We love you and we are sorry you were injured.”  I think that is what everyone who has suffered sexual abuse and its aftermath really wants to hear.  For that to happen, though, we would need to live in a society capable of rising above its own guilt and denial.  Too bad.  My mother was truly an exceptional person.

Are you listening, Barrie Dunsmore?

September 24th, 2010

A gurney used in Indiana for lethal injections

National Public Radio reported this morning on yesterday’s execution of Teresa Lewis by the state of Virginia.  The reporter, stationed outside the death chamber, gave us an eyewitness description of Ms. Lewis’ demeanor as she  went in.  According to the reporter, she looked scared.  The reporter repeated this several times.  That was evidently the strongest impression on the reporter’s mind.

On the same broadcast, our local station, Vermont Public Radio, carried a commentary by a former network news luminary about the decline of journalism in the face of blogging and internet media.  He opined that people seek out coverage that they find congenial in preference to  journalism that tells it like it is.

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