Friday, July 4, 2014

Notes on Some Game-Changers in My Lifetime

Anne posted the question, "What are the [social/political/technological ] game-changers that you identify from your lifetime?"

Fourth of July seemed a good time to jot down some changes I've seen in the USA since the '60s. 

I'll start with my favorite (and then a couple rants...).

1. The Internet
I love the Internet soooo much, and I wish I had grown up with it.   

 I love, for instance, that the Internet gives girls [I specify them, here, because that's what I used to be] an easy way to express themselves in public. 
Turns out, what lots of girls want to write is stuff like fan-fic stories about Justin Beiber
So what?  I hear people talk as if the USA used to be this great intellectual nation. Must have been waaay before my time.

The Internet is a democratic technology, and real participatory democracy means there's going to be a lot of crap floating around.  But I believe in Sturgeon's law: ninety percent of everything is crap. The Internet is young; perhaps we'll get better at straining out the worthwhile 10 percent? 

What I also believe is, writing or creating anything can serve as an apprenticeship. Who knows what it might lead to? For sure, more crap, but also maybe something better.  

 Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl (2013) is a lovely coming-of-age novel about how this might work, how a young woman might use fanfic as a springboard to writing her own stories. 
(But so what, even if it is just an end in itself?)

Illustrated quote from Fangirl >^ by nightowlin

Personally, I'm still practically speechless with gratitude that I have made movies and published myself online, something I thought was an impossible dream (because it was) when I was little.

2. Smoking bans, a rant

I used to only go to coffee shops during warm weather when the windows were open, so I benefit from this ban on indoor smoking, but I also resent that supplies the sort of moral righteousness Americans love to indulge in, pointing the finger at individuals who make "bad choices" while ignoring massive systemic carnage.

For instance, we make all this noise about the dangers of smoking, but at the same time everyone accepts death and dismemberment from cars as normal. This is my pet peeve and in my lifetime, except for Ralph Nader getting seat belts in cars, it's not even under discussion.

"Oh, but we have to have cars," someone explained to me.
Do we?

3.  Gun Craziness

 Godforbid you should smoke in public, but nobody better even ask you to leave your gun at home.
 [still ^ from Gun Crazy, 1950]  

On July 2, Target posted a notice to "respectfully request that guests not bring firearms to Target — even in communities where it is permitted by law."

Listen to the pussyfooting they felt they had to do:
We've listened carefully to the nuances of this debate and respect the protected rights of everyone involved. In return, we are asking for help in fulfilling our goal to create an atmosphere that is safe and inviting for our guests and team members....
And here's a sample comment in response:
They might as well post a note on the door and internet: "Thugs welcome. Unarmed people here you can rob."
4. Gay Marriage

This amazes me. The sort of lopsided situation we have in the US right now, where it's legal to get married in some states but not in others, is so bizarre, but considering that when I was a young woman who identified as a lesbian-feminist the issue of marriage was not even on the table––gay rights were more about, "please stop beating us up"–– it feels practically miraculous.

I've heard people mourn that it's no longer cool and edgy to be gay, but I think that's the point. The right to get married and join the army is about the right to be as boringly "normal" as the next guy. If your coolness comes from being part of an oppressed group, that's just an historical accident. 
If your coolness comes from being you, now that's cool.

Defending the right to be boring is a sign of old age, perhaps. I always think of the scene in Yojimbo (1961) when the older samurai tells a young man who idolizes him and his violent life (which looks spicy to the young man) that it's better to "live a long life eating porridge."

5. Racism
This is a hard one to even know what to say about... 

By some objective measures, I'd say there's less racism than when I was a kid. I mean, we've got a black president, and it's significant that a generation of kids of all races will have grown up for eight years seeing a black First Family in the White House. Even if some white parents teach their kids that Obama is             [fill in the hate], they can't deny Americans elected him president. Twice.

Subjectively, however, as a car-free white woman who lives in a mixed-race neighborhood, I see so much disturbing racial ugliness out there. 
Riding the bus, I frequently see white people's normal, casual suspicion of black people, and black people's deep resentment and distrust of white people, plus, to make it worse, culpable cluelessness from white people about why this should be so.

Simple example: 
Every single time I've been short on bus fare or my transfer is expired by a few minutes, the bus driver [of any race] lets me, a gray-haired white woman, ride anyway. 

But I have never seen a white bus driver give a break to a black man in the same circumstances. 
On the contrary, I've seen a white bus driver call the cops on a black guy who was 25 cents short. 
OK, the black guy was giving the bus driver some lip, but in a humorous "aw, come on man" way, which he wouldn't have even done if the bus driver had treated him like he'd treat me.

I actually got up and put a quarter in the fare box when the driver started to call the cops, but he told me, "It's too late."

The cops actually took the black guy off the bus and began to frisk him. I got off too and said, "He didn't go anything!"

A cop said, "Move along, ma'am," in that I-have-a-gun-on-my-hip way of theirs, and I did.

Jesus wept. 

I've seen black people physically harass white people on the bus for some perceived disrespect too.
 It all feels like a scary, intractable, self-perpetuating feedback loop.

Any points of hope?
I always take heart at funny and creative approaches that create a little breathing space in what feels like an airless situation.

Like John Scalzi's blog post Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is in which he, a straight white male, tries to "get across the ideas bound up in the word “privilege,” in a way that your average straight white man will get, without freaking out about it". 

Here's how he starts it off:
Dudes. Imagine life here in the US — or indeed, pretty much anywhere in the Western world — is a massive role playing game, like World of Warcraft except appallingly mundane, where most quests involve the acquisition of money, cell phones and donuts, although not always at the same time.
Let’s call it The Real World. You have installed The Real World on your computer and are about to start playing, but first you go to the settings tab to bind your keys, fiddle with your defaults, and choose the difficulty setting for the game. Got it?
Okay: In the role playing game known as The Real World, “Straight White Male” is the lowest difficulty setting there is.
 He goes on to explain that, duh, of course there are all sorts of obstacles for straight white males too:
 "You can lose playing on the lowest difficulty setting. The lowest difficulty setting is still the easiest setting to win on. The player who plays on the “Gay Minority Female” setting? Hardcore." 
To end on an up note, a wonderful game-changer I've seen in my lifetime:

Did I even know what soccer was, growing up? 

I guess so, but no one ever said anything about it...

Now? We've got wizard goalie Tim Howard!
(^ from Tony Heally)

And now I'm off to bink's for fajitas and margaritas!
Happy Independence Day to all!


Zhoen said...

I love the www too. But it's because it's a searchable, home based, comprehensive library, and I love libraries.

Not sure how you feel about smoking. I'm glad of all the bans. I remember when people smoked in line at the supermarket.

So tired of the guns, such a waste of everything. And I'm a very good shot.

Gay marriage, yeah. I love the normalizing of what is normal variation. Now, if only they could stop making every toy, every garment, exclusively "Boy" or "Girl." I like androgyny.

At least the racism isn't enshrined in law. Whole long way to go. Sexism as well. I thought it would disappear as the boys raised by feminist moms would have more understanding. Ha.

Fresca said...

ZHOEN: Thanks for your thoughtful reply.

I love the library aspect of the web too! I chose fanfic as an example of its participatory nature, but just as much I love Wikipedia. Such crowd-sourcing of information gives me hope in humanity.

Yeah, I'm glad of smoking bans--I changed that section a little to admit it's just that I resent the moral highhandedness that accompanies it (at least in Lutheran Minnesota).

I've actually never shot a handgun, only held one, and that was weird enough.

Laws do matter, I totally agree, and that's another sign of hope--at least racism isn't the legal law, even if the people who enact the law do sometimes tip it that way.

Yeah, I didn't even touch on sexism. Sigh.
It sort of surprises me (silly me) that kids clothes at Target, for instance, are still so massively sex-segregated. Pink frills for girls, baseball designs for boys.

bink said...

Great post.

Speaking of sexism: there is a quiz going around on FB that tries to define you in 20 questions--sex, age, etc.

Pretty much ALL the women who have taken the quiz, who comment (on multiple friends' posts) have been pegged as male. Me too. As one woman said, "women like beef and tequila too." Plus we don't all paint our nails, and some of us prefer the monsters from Monsters, Inc. to little princess animations. The stereotypes that continue to exist are outrageous!