Friday, May 24, 2013

Remembering Trayvon Martin

On this day, I am remembering the senseless death of a young man in FL. But even more, I am grieving the outpouring of senselessness that I've seen online among some people since then. First, some background.
In Sanford, FL about a year ago, Trayvon Martin was killed by a neighborhood watch captain named George Zimmerman. Zimmerman claims he acted in self-defense, so he was not arrested. Martin was unarmed, unless you consider a bag of Skittles and a bottle of iced tea to be "packing".
So one questions what Zimmerman felt so threatened by that he had to "return force". A hail of Skittles perhaps? Did he just feel affronted at having to "taste the rainbow" so he had to shoot?


Now, you all ought to know that this kind of thing might be covered by a law enacted in FL that allows citizens to be armed, and to "stand their ground" if they feel threatened and "return force" if necessary. This law was signed by Gov. Jeb Bush in 2005. There are laws like this in nearly two dozen states.
You can see where this goes. Let's say you don't feel safe as you go through the drive-thru at Burger King because the person in the window looks, I don't know, "shifty". You're armed. He looks at you funny as he takes your money, an "altercation" ensues and you pull out your piece and...return force. So in a way, this law was trouble looking for a place to happen when it was signed. Well, I guess trouble done found a place to happen.

By all accounts, Trayvon Martin was a good kid. He was raised right, liked sports, played football and was close to his dad. He was the kind of kid any parent would be proud of. Even President Obama said that if he'd had a son, he'd want him to be like Trayvon. Now he certainly wasn't perfect, because no teenager is. This gets us to the senseless part of my remarks here.
There has been a rather concerted effort to portray this kid as some kind of thug who attacked Zimmerman and therefore he was justified in shooting him. There has even been a suggestion that the kid's hooded sweater was what aroused suspicion. There's also been new evidence introduced by the defense only yesterday that attempts to paint Trayvon as some kind of punk who possibly "had it coming." So they're playing that tune again. The one that says young black men are inherently dangerous and the best way to deal with them is either to lock them up or shoot them.

The point I want to make is this: as an artist, I find myself studying the human condition in its beauty and its horror. Because I'm an artist, I find myself asking questions like this: how did we get here? How did we get to a place where it's okay to shoot an unarmed teenager with what appears to be no provocation and just walk away?

How did we imagine passing a law that makes it okay to basically shoot first and ask questions later would somehow make for a more civil society? Apparently these acts of violence have increased dramatically since this law went into effect.

Why do some of us still have this knee-jerk reaction to young black men that says they might be dangerous? What weirdling paradigm is that based on?
And doesn't it seem curious that as things like art and music and education get cut, that there seems to be an increase in the kind of reptilian non-thinking that allows horrific tragedies like this to occur? Can you draw a direct line to this? Maybe not, but a connection can be made if you look. Because I can assure you, artists, musicians, poets, writers, actors, and dancers generally aren't busy coming up with new laws that allow us to spend time stirring up trouble, looking for fights, and finding new ways to kill each other. Unless of course you're Ted Nugent, who really should spend more time playing his guitar, and less time ranting for the NRA.
I did say that generally, artists aren't into this kind of stuff. There are always folks out on the fringe.
Meanwhile I keep hope that a better use of our collective imagination might at least mitigate a fair portion of this.

Don't quit your day job, Ted. Ranting for the NRA is so not a good look for you.

More Later

Monday, May 20, 2013

On A Day in April; A Meditation on Superheroes

Here in MA we have a holiday called Patriot's Day, and it usually falls somewhere around the time of the end of tax season. This year, Tax Day and Patriot's Day were the same day. So was the annual Boston Marathon. Whilst watching the goings on from our accountant's office, there was an explosion near the finish line. Shrapnel shot out everywhere with deadly intent. An 8-year old boy was killed. Two young women were killed, a student and restaurant manager with a bright smile and a sweet nature. Others were maimed and still others wounded.  First responders raced to the scene to help. Runners in the race came to help including a doctor who finished the race and then ran over to treat the wounded. Ordinary people became superheroes on that day in April. But they weren't the kind who could repel bullets or scale walls or even fly or run at incredible speeds. And whether Superman or Spider-Man or the Flash could've gotten there in time to stop the carnage is an open question. It's always great when these things are averted, and we've been incredibly fortunate. But it was really only a matter of time. We wouldn't be able to get to all of them. Stop all of them. That may be too much to ask even of mythic characters like Superman.

So since we don't have super speed, X-ray vision, or the proportionate strength and speed of a spider, we have to rely on our ability to be one step ahead of people like Tamerlan Tsarnaev, and his brother Dzhokar, a couple of homegrown terrorist wannabes who learned how to build pressure cooker bombs on the internet and used an international gathering as practice for more disruptions later. This time, we didn't get all the intel we could have gotten and we didn't connect the dots fast enough. And the attack went off. Even the Batman might not have been able to stop it in time. The device was activated with a cell phone as the two brothers walked calmly away. Is the Flash fast enough to outrun the signal?  That's the problem with superhumans. They're still human in the end, and humans miss things. But what makes the folks who rushed in to help super is the strength of their connection to each other, amplified by the communal energy from all over the world gathered in one place at one moment. In moments like that, we're as powerful as any strange visitor from another planet with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. That's why these two losers were taken down before the week was out. Tamerlan was killed in a gunfight with Boston PD, and Dzhokar finally surrendered and is in prison at Devens, awaiting trial. That's why they won't get a chance to try anything else in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, or anywhere else.

Margaret Thatcher, who was committed to the ground in England while we were here chasing down bad guys seemed in her life a proponent of a very rigid kind of individualism. But it wasn't individualism that took out the Tsarnaev brothers. It wasn't an individual superhero who stopped them. It was a collective will and consciousness that demanded they be caught and held responsible for trying to terrorize us into paying attention to their half-formed, ill-advised political discontent.

And no less a superhero than David Ortiz, Big Papi himself arrived just in time to give us all a sense of closure when he said, his uniform saying Boston in big red letters, "This is our !@#$^& city!"

So say we all.
It's going to take a damned sight more than a couple of junior jihadi apprentices to take us down.
And Admiral Adama, along with all of Boston and the whole Commonwealth of MA said:

I should add here that Edward James Olmos' remarks here at the UN sort of explain why there are people who need to do what was done in Boston on that day in April. As long as this need to "otherize" people exists, there will be acts of destruction of this type or another, and it's also why we will continue to need heroes, super or not, to remind us of what we all have in common.

More Later

Saturday, May 18, 2013

You Woke Me Up for This?

Just thought you should know: Beyonce is pregnant. Again.
More significantly, Canadian rock trio Rush was inducted into the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame. Now, did that already happen, or was it happening as I was watching it on HBO?

Sorry to wake you. Go back to sleep.

More Later