Complexity, Art, and Monsters

I feel a strange kinship with Michael Moore.  They’re trying to pit us against each other in the press, but it’s a hologram.  They really have got nothing to do with one another.  It’s just some kind of device, some kind of left-right.  He makes some salient points.  There was some very expert, elliptical editing going on.  However, what the hell are we doing in Iraq?  No one can explain to me in a reasonable manner that I can accept why we’re there, why we went there, and why we’re still there.  

The fear mongering we depict in this film reminds me a little of President Bush and his guys.  

I doubt very highly if, while reading the above quotes, you attributed them to Mel Gibson.  Jeez I get up to some strange shit at night.  Somehow at 1am I started watching Braveheart and then I went down the rabbit hole of IMDB.  I think Mel Gibson is an interesting figure because if you like his films, as I do, it brings up many interesting questions.  Should we separate the art from the artist?  Do we have the right to judge people’s whole lives on possibly momentary lapses of reason?  Aren’t people almost always more complex than our media portrays them?  I have defended him here before and these quotes again made me remember why I have.

Mel Gibson is someone that struggles from alcoholism and bi-polar disorder.  Having known people with both, I know that especially with alcoholism that people that are good and decent in most of their lives can turn into absolute monsters.  Most of us would say that alcoholism is a disease and that we should realize the good in people that are struggling against that disease and not condemn them completely for the monster that they may become.

I again am not supporting in anyway the awful things that Gibson has said.  He also has displayed extreme hubris by doing things like building a personal chapel on his own property.  Any of you that read this blog on a regular basis know that I believe in equality for all and also have politics that at times differ greatly from some of the things that Gibson has professed to.  However, what I do defend is his right to make art.  Whatever laws he has broken he has paid for.  I also read last night that after his drunk driving episode he was on probation for over four years where for several months he had to take classes four times a week.

If you look at our criminal justice system it punishes people long after they have served their debt to society.  Many poor people have trouble finding work after serving time or after receiving something like a DUI.  Someone like Gibson has the money that they don’t have to worry about those kinds of consequences.  He never has to work another day in his life if he wants to.  However, we have to be even handed in our justice system.  We should prosecute bankers that commit fraud just as we prosecute low level conmen.  Inversely if we are going to forgive low income offenders after they have paid their debt to society, which we do not but should, then we should also forgive someone like Gibson once they have paid theirs.

Also, I believe that one should try to separate art from the artist.  I am sure all of us own albums or watch movies that have saved our lives at certain times, where if we knew the personal behavior of their creators, might sicken us.  I remember hearing a priest one time on the radio talking about how art is often a thing created by people trying to heal themselves from their personal demons.  Because of that it is often an altruistic force that should be allowed to stand apart from its creator much of the time.  Therefore we should rightly condemn the anti-Semitism of someone like Wagner, but we also should not prevent ourselves from enjoying the extreme beauty of his music.

There is also a portion of our culture that is truly sick that capitalizes on the struggles of others.  On the high end this is represented by something like TMZ.  On the low end this is represented by something like Busted Magazine or any number of low level publications that print mug photos of our fellow citizens.  They capture people at their lowest and weakest moments and make sport of it for the rest of us.

People are complicated.  The world is complicated.  We live in a society that often values simplicity whether represented as left vs. right or good vs. evil.  There are times when we must make hard value judgments that come down on one side or the other of this divide.  However, when the world allows it, we should allow our feelings and interpretations of what we see to be, well, complex.

Our Secret KGB Lust

In the above article a woman gets in trouble with the police when she leaves her son in the car for five minutes on a cool day to go into the store.  The police only know about this because someone with a camera phone, who clearly wishes they were in the KGB, informed them.  The best part of the article is when another mother talks about the odds of a child being harmed left in the car for five minutes vs. driving to the store.  People’s threat factors are way off these days.  Also, just watch Mad Men to get an idea how our parents grew up.  As Terry Gilliam says, “kids bounce.”

How many times has some virulent anti-gay figure turned out to be gay?  Is the reason that we claimed to hate totalitarian Communism all those years, and I am referring to the Soviet kind for the moment, because we secretly loved it?  Why do we need a secret police when citizens feel that it is their duty to inform on other citizens for things other than serious crimes?

One of the things that I find most disturbing about modern social interaction is how nothing is private anymore.  It is one thing if someone wants to disclose their own information online, but we now no longer give people the choice most of the time.  From the disgusting world of TMZ to friends checking you into places on facebook without them asking, it is just getting ridiculous.  Are we Big Brother?

If there is a flip side positive to any of this it is when people use their electronic devices to speak truth to power and protect their fellow citizens.  I am thinking especially of when people take videos of police abuse.  If only more people would realize that we’re all in this thing together.

Alec Baldwin, Swearing, and Vampires  

I just read the piece by Andrew Sullivan up above.  I love Sullivan’s writing and even when I disagree with him I feel like I learn something.  Even in this piece, where I disagree on some points that he makes, he questions himself. It is the rare writer these days that is unafraid to dabble in uncertainty.  

The piece is about Alec Baldwin and how some of the vulgar things he says make him an anti-gay bigot.  There is a text message that Baldwin sends later in the piece that I do believe is out of line.  Writing takes time and even when angry there must be some deliberate thought put into it.  However, let’s just take the thing he is being vilified for at this moment.  Alec Baldwin recently went on a tirade against a photographer where he used some pretty vulger and hateful language.    

My gut just tells me that we have to learn to differentiate between real hate and one temporarily losing one’s shit in a stressful situation.  We also have to learn to not respond to language, but to sift through it and find the real meaning behind something.  One can maybe or maybe not see a pattern emerge over time and make a value judgment, but something said in anger one time should not doom an entire life. 

I swear, a lot.  I have said things that would make women, children, and grown men blush.  I find a certain poetry in swearing.  Watch the show Deadwood where swearing is mixed with Victorian language and occasionally iambic pentameter.  Listen to George Carlin where the right swear word is used in just the right place for devastating effect to get a point across.  My dad told me about a piece by the comedian Louis Black where he talks about swearing.  I am paraphrasing but Black says something along the lines of, “when you lose your job it’s not like you are going to say ‘oh horse feathers’.” 

When angry, or if one is just having fun, one very well might swear.  If someone says fuck do they necessarily mean to have sex?  Of course not, as that word has about a million meanings when used in different ways.  You might say about someone, “that fuck”.  In that way you are basically saying someone is a jerk and it has nothing to do with the word’s original sexual connotations.  Or you might say, “oh fuck”, as in I’m in trouble now!  I believe that certain swear words that have homophobic origins have been divorced in people’s minds from their original intent.  If you say someone is a cocksucker, you very well might mean that they are an asshole. 

The more meanings that a word has the less it should have the power to offend.  The word has actually been devalued as a word of hate.  This is a good thing.  The problem with the N word is that, see I can’t even type it, is it has never lost its original intent and therefore is still a word of hate.  It can’t be construed in many other ways other than to say something derogatory about black people.  And that is a problem, for the more you put words up in an ivory tower where they can’t be touched, the more real world hurt they can actually cause when used. 

I’m not necessarily defending or attacking Alec Baldwin. I’m just saying that certain words, especially ones that have been pervasive, and are often divorced from their original meaning, do not necessarily translate into hating a whole type of people.  The term homophobe means that one has fear of or contempt for homosexuals.  Bigot means that one is intolerant of those that are different.   Those are quite heavy trips to lay down upon someone, if we are only talking about the one situation, for swearing. My gut tells me that he might be someone with ego or anger issues, but he probably doesn’t hate gay people.  He is probably far more in need of meditation or anger management classes than in learning tolerance for those different than himself.  However, I don’t know him and I could be wrong.  We are all free to decide in this life. 

And there are two other problems.  The first is, look how much time I have spent writing about this situation.  I could have been writing about global warming, gay marriage, drone warfare, or any other number of things more important.  I believe in economic and social justice for all, and I have just spent the better part of an hour talking about a celebrity meltdown.  When we allow ourselves to be easily offended over meaningless controversies, we take our eye off of the ball of far more important things.  The press thrives on this.  It loves to entertain and distract us so that it doesn’t have to do its real job which is to keep us informed.  That’s how it keeps people tuned in while allowing them to spend as little money as possible on real investigative reporting. 

The second is what is wrong with our culture that we are so invested in the personal lives of celebrities?  Watch TMZ someday and ask yourself how we allowed people like that to thrive in our culture.  Many of you don’t believe in vampires, but there they are on our TV screens every single day.  Something like that can only function because it has the interest of enough people.  How did we get to a point where celebrity gossip has become a currency in which so many people trade?  And yes, I’m partially complicit because I just spent an hour writing this piece.  We all need to take a good hard look in the mirror and ask ourselves if this is the best use of our time.  Anyway, I’ve got much more to say on all these topics, but unfortunately, I’m out of fucking time.  (See how fucking there has nothing to do with sex?)