Conversations with white men

Whenever I was home over the past week, I’ve been watching South Park DVDs. It has been keeping me sane.

I also spent a while on Facebook yesterday, trying rather impotently to console a friend of mine in Colorado. He’s angry, and frustrated, and scared all at the same time. He probably looks on the outside like an average Trump supporter, but he has a lot of friends who are gay, a lot of friends who are ethnic and religious minorities, and a son approaching military age. All of these things are playing on his mind right now.

When I went to work, one of my colleagues (a young, blond, blue-eyed Czech) was confused more than angry. “What were they thinking? The last time a Western country voted in someone who talked like that, it didn’t work out so well.” And we both know that he’s talking about Germany in the 1930s, because he’s from central Europe and that history is alive and real to him. Plus we have talked at length before about the similarities: vitriol against ethnic and religious minorities; nostalgically hearkening back to a “great” time in the nation’s history that never really existed; harnessing the frustrations of people who don’t like how their world has changed; inventing “crimes” committed by his enemies; the implication that the people of this nation (or rather, some of them) are special and superior to the rest of the world…

Later in the afternoon, one of the young waitresses at our event (not white) asked me what I thought of the election result. The Head Chef interjected. “He’s a fucking idiot. But we’re on an island, so don’t worry – it’ll take a while for the nuclear fallout to drift this far.” I added that we could dig a bunker in my yard and she could come and live in my bunker if she wanted.

I had been feeling heartsick (and powerless) all day about my friend in Colorado, and all of his friends, and all those like him. When I got home, I sent him the link to the Skilled Migrant list for New Zealand immigration. I suggested he share it around, as pretty much every job in his industry is on that list (including his own). I said I’d be happy to help out and sponsor anyone who wants to come live here for a while. It’s not a bunker, and it’s not a suggestion that people should give up on America – just an acknowledgement that some people may feel safer if they move away for a while. And hopefully things will all be okay… but they might also get very bad in the short term.

None of us really know what the future might hold.

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The Hedgehog

So. Let’s get on with the topic I didn’t have time to explain yesterday.

My brain had been sparked when I’d read this article in The Guardian, which I will forewarn you is an excerpt from a book called The Ethical Carnivore, and which describes the author’s first trip to an abattoir. If you’d rather not know what goes on at a slaughterhouse, it will be a pretty tough read.

As with virtually any article that makes me think, I made a point of reading the comments too. I found the usual (but generally civilized) mix of “don’t eat animals!” and “stop anthropomorphizing things!” As New Zealand is a strongly agricultural economy, the issue of livestock actually comes up a lot around here. And this comment stream is typical – it seems to be the standard, shouty, non-debate that comes up at any time when people want to openly discuss veganism, or animal rights, or our management of the life and death of livestock. No one’s mind gets changed. Everyone entrenches. No common ground is found.

So I’m going to try not to entrench. Instead, I’m going to tell a story…

Many years back, I saw a hedgehog in the backyard in the middle of the day. Hedgehogs are a fairly common (but introduced pest) animal in New Zealand. However, they’re also usually nocturnal – snuffling around in the garden shrubbery past midnight, looking for snails. To see one walking (with difficulty) across the lawn in the heat of the day could mean only one thing: there was something wrong with this animal.

I went and had a closer look at it. The hedgehog generally ignored me. But I could see that it appeared as though all of the skin across its back was moving and boiling. Upon even closer inspection, I found that the moving effect was caused by maggots. Thousands of maggots. Writhing between the spines of this poor animal and literally eating it alive.

Continue reading The Hedgehog

Distance

It’s starting to feel like a really long time ago.

It was the middle of the night in New Zealand. I was rather rudely awoken by my boyfriend’s clock radio at a weird hour of the morning. He wasn’t even there.

Now I had a clock radio of my own – it dated from the late ’80s and was hot pink. It also only got AM, so I just used the buzzer as an alarm. But the buzzer sounded like the drone of a thousand angry bees in your sinuses, so my then-boyfriend decided that he needed something gentler to wake him up when he stayed over. Hence the fact that he had put his own clock radio UNDER MY BED. And the buttons on it were all in Dutch, so I couldn’t figure out how to work it. It had developed the random tendency to just go off in the middle of the night for no apparent reason. Which is what it did that night. At about 3am.

…”plane crashed into the World Trade Center. Authorities are warning of the possibility that this is a terrori…” which was about the point that my stumbling hands found it and bashed it back into silence.

Continue reading Distance

I Even Have the T Shirt

It’s officially reached the point of my Mortgage Depression where I must put on loud, happy, very familiar music as I drive home. Like Open Up & Say Ahh…, which was the first Poison album I ever bought and which (thanks to an obsessive adolescence) I’ve listened to approximately 43 million times. Yet it still provides the welcome escape it always did…

Ahh, the 1980s. When their concert turnout was massive and we were all skinnier with a lot more energy. It must be a sign of reaching middle age but it still astounds me that I can talk to a fully grown adult (like a bill-paying, car-driving, married adult) who wasn’t even alive when this video was made. “What do you mean you don’t remember the fall of the Berlin Wall? What are you, five?… Oh wait, you’re twenty-six?!?” That’s about the age these boys were when they made this video.

It also proves that there used to be a time when Bret Michaels would appear in public without a bandanna around his head (did I just say that?).

 

Make America Brannigan

“You can dish it out but you can’t take it!”

Hmm, ok.

a) What exactly am I dishing out?

b) What you have offered is a unsolicited meme calling Hillary Clinton a “turd”. Have I posted a meme on any of your posts? Have I called anyone a turd? Have I made any reference to Clinton at all?

c) I have no idea who the fuck you are.

d) I have thus far shown no indication that I cannot “take it”.

It seemed a puerile argument.

Continue reading Make America Brannigan

Act Three – Scenery in Trompe-l’oeil

>>> Continuing on from yesterday >>>

The amazing thing about this photo (taken by Louise Rosskam) is that it’s over 70 years old. Look at the graffiti on the windows. This is the lasting effect of the Great Depression. It looks like part of my lifetime. It looks like today…

Which brings me to my final point for Clinton to consider in this election. I’ve harped on enough about how things really aren’t as scary as the Republicans want to make them look… but they’re really not as rosy as the Democrats seem to want to make them look either. Times are tough for a huge portion of America. The jobs aren’t coming back (no matter how much the unaccountable may promise that they are). There is much work to be done.

3 – Find your New Deal

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that an American public in possession of a prolonged economic downturn must be in want of a socialist.

Bear with me.

Continue reading Act Three – Scenery in Trompe-l’oeil

Act Two – Notes

So, carrying on from yesterday and in full directorial swagger, I will offer some unsolicited pointers from well outside of the action.

I haven’t lived in America for many years. I sat my masters degree in American History (doing my thesis on President Clinton, no less), but the country is a very different animal from this far away. For one, our exposure to the U.S. elections come in tiny, shot-sized gulps rather than the 24-hour, brain-washing, seizure-inducing flood of coverage America has to endure. New Zealand has very strict rules about electioneering: you can’t promote your candidacy more than 3 months out from the election, you only get $25,700 of government money (per candidate) to spend on advertising, you have to declare any donations over $30,000, and you have to take down all of your hoardings and promotional material before the day of the election. Plus we always hold elections on a Sunday. It makes it easier for people to get to the polls. I certainly wouldn’t say that the results are corruption-free, but it does mean that the electorate isn’t so violently sick of politicians by the time they reach the finish line. After seeing it done differently, I don’t think I could sit through another American election without sticking an ice-pick through my brain.

But I digress.

Continue reading Act Two – Notes

Commentary

Everytime I reflect on my life I google Swift Kanye and suddenly become succesful intelectual giant.

 

So there it is. Randomly misspelled but probably the truest, most profound thing I’ve read in a while… In the comments section… On an article about Taylor Swift and Kanye West… Which I was reading because… well, I don’t really have a good reason. I was bored and possibly a bit depressed. I deliberately clicked on a story about the vapid Mr. West so I deserve to be publicly flogged.

In a world where ex-Marines are shooting cops, and violent losers are running over children to make some kind of psychotic point, there actually are people who think that the Swift/West/Kardasian thing matters. Swift, West and Kardasian apparently do, at least. And perhaps (for the rest of us non-narcissists), it is simply that the vacuous in-fighting of awful, shallow husks provides a moment of slightly sadistic entertainment to distract us from the real struggles of our lives. So much Reality TV works on this very principle. We can chortle and feel superior, even while we ourselves are voluntarily feeding our eyeballs to the maw of depraved indifference.

Just stop. No one will write stories about them if you stop clicking on those stories. And they will all just fade back into the obscurity from whence they came.

… Although that technique hasn’t yet worked for stories about golf.

For some bizarre reason, it has reminded me of something I once learned about Ancient Greek and Roman art. As their civilisations progressed, the proportions of their statues changed. They went from fairly human-shaped in the early centuries to become over-muscled caricatures of people. Well before the advent of steroids, there was simply no way for human beings to ever look like the torsos they sculpted. But it all sprang from a celebration of masculinity, and then an elevation of all things masculine, until it eventually reached a strange, unrealistic, unhuman, hyper-masculinity.

And I’m wondering if we’re doing the same with our own celebrity culture. We are worshiping, and gradually magnifying, the least human qualities of already abnormal people.

Art History. See? Sometimes it’s useful.

Continue reading Commentary

Witness

A few years back, gathered on the sunny deck outside our venue for a (slightly tiddly) workplace lunch, my boss started giggling and couldn’t stop. She eventually excused herself and went into the kitchen, with tears of laughter rolling down her cheeks. Her brush with mania was somehow infectious though – with almost all of us doing our best to stifle laughter at the bizarre situation. The only hold-out was the confused teenage girl, a workmate’s girlfriend, who had unwittingly sparked all the hilarity. Her mistake: she had mentioned the Holocaust.

I actually can’t remember how the subject even came up. She had asked a question, with the same kind of cute, wide-eyed idiocy that (many years later) saw another work colleague ask me about whether a WWI photo was fake “because they didn’t have cameras back then”. Sitting around at that Friday lunch, we had collectively been talking about something else entirely, and this somehow led the girlfriend to ask a silly (but ardent) question about the Holocaust. Something along the lines of “but why didn’t they all just leave the country?” Teacherly as I am, I did my best to answer her question in a considered and reasonable way. But it was too late for my boss. On that lovely, sunny afternoon, overlooking the gardens, with no more work left in the week, she started laughing and couldn’t stop.

Continue reading Witness

On The Lonely Death of Jani Lane – A Reprise

As with yesterday, not every day is interesting or exciting enough to easily bless me with blog ideas. Realistically, I’m writing every day just to force myself into the habit – it’s an act of fortitude, not grand inspiration. And tonight, while the rain is battering the house with Biblical anger, I’m wondering how I got into this recent pattern of sleeping 8pm-2am, waking up to write, and then falling asleep again from around 6am. Every night. It’s a lonely, depressive routine that’s cutting me off from my husband and preventing me from getting much done outside of work.

When I’m searching for ideas, I tend to trawl news sites for anything that sparks the ranty monster in my brain. Failing that, I flounder around on Facebook or even YouTube. YouTube is getting to know me well enough now – it offers me Mean Tweets and slam poetry and old Skid Row videos. And then this one came up…

Oh yeah. It’s 3:30am, I’m on the couch all by myself, and Jani Lane is still dead. Thanks YouTube.

Continue reading On The Lonely Death of Jani Lane – A Reprise