Represent

I was thinking about people I’ve met who were born and raised overseas. You can learn a lot about other places from those who are actually in that environment, keeping in mind that what you’re learning is still being filtered through a particular lens.

Albeit a closeup.

One constant is how often we develop a perception of things we’re not quite familiar with or have never encountered by way of the media. Rather, from the information, ideas, and imagery we’re exposed to – the majority of which is derived from the media.

It’s something I always come back to when listening to people who’ve never been to my country (America) and/or who’ve never been around my race (blacks) talk about what they believe we’re like. Because when asked why they believe the things they do – where they got their ideas from – the answer is always the same.

Western media.

What we’re exposed to dictates our worldview more than anything, and that extends to the way we view ourselves. Every second of every day, we’re consuming information. Pictures and words. Feelings and thoughts. And we internalize that data. We adopt it into our existence and our translation of the world.

What we’re exposed to becomes the building blocks of our social language – the way we understand our environment and communicate with each other through that understanding.

I think most of that happens subconsciously, but there are times when we’re aware of specific things that have an effect on how we think. Sometimes, we can even pinpoint the very moment something sparked a change or planted a seed.

Beyond that, it’s like those things have always been there.

How many of you are insecure about a feature of yours or a perceivable trait? Maybe it’s a body part or your body as a whole. Maybe it’s an accessory like glasses or braces. Maybe it’s the way you talk or walk.

Do you remember the moment when that thing became an insecurity? When the switch flipped, turning something you didn’t think about at all into something that was all you could think about?

What happened?

In many cases, the answer will be that someone said something to you about it. In other cases, the answer will be that something you heard or saw prompted you to become insecure in spite of nothing being said to you directly.

Either way, barring a mental disorder, insecurity is a product of your environment. You were exposed to something, directly or indirectly, that – in reality or in your mind – defined a particular trait as a flaw, and you internalized that definition.

I was thinking about this because I came across a post somewhere on Tumblr that I don’t feel like finding again. Paraphrasing, it said that if someone creates a TV show featuring a cast full of what I personally refer to as the dominant groups (e.g. white, straight, Christian, etc.), it doesn’t make the show creators bigots. It doesn’t mean they hate other groups.

In the same vein, if someone does the opposite, creating a show with a cast comprised of everyone but the dominant groups, it doesn’t make them social justice warriors.

The post ended with write what you want or some such thing, and I agree with the basic sentiment. Don’t jump to conclusions. Sometimes, the way a film or television show is cast is just a creative decision. Not everything has a hidden agenda, good or bad.

That said…

Something doesn’t need to have an agenda to send a message, and when the message it sends is symptomatic of a greater problem or serves to perpetuate a greater problem, the fact that it may not have been purposeful isn’t really the point. The point is what I’ve been rambling about:

Internalization.

Given that what we’re exposed to plays such a significant role in our worldview and the way that we view ourselves, it’s in our best interest to expose ourselves to things that will have a positive effect on those perspectives.

Unless, of course, we prefer a stagnant society full of miserable, self-hating, other-hating, intellectually deprived individuals that are neither progressive nor productive, in which case, that’s cool too. Who needs enlightenment when we’re all gonna die one day anyhow, amirite?

But – if for some totally insane reason, we want to enrich ourselves, then we need to surround ourselves with enrichment. If we want to expand our knowledge, then we need to surround ourselves with new knowledge.

And if we want to improve our worldview and the way that we view ourselves, we need to improve the way that we represent the world and ourselves in our environment.

That’s why, as much as I believe that we should write what we want – both literally and figuratively in terms of what we put out into the world – I also believe we should want to write things that in some way make society better.

That’s why I think it’s important for people to be mindful of the message that something sends to those who are exposed to it and the potential impact it has on our society as a whole.

It doesn’t start and end with the question is there an agenda here and it isn’t solely about intent. We understand that a narrow mind is often a sheltered mind that simply hasn’t been exposed to enough of the world to have a more robust point of view.

And we point fingers at other societies we deem barbaric or archaic because we see the negative effects of what they’ve been exposed to (or not been) and we recognize that broadening their exposure is a part of the solution.

So why do we fight against broadening our own?

Everything around us contributes to the brainwashing we experience from the day we’re born to varying degrees. This isn’t news. And we’re aware (hopefully) that most of the social problems we have stem from this non-stop conditioning and involuntary internalizing of what we’re exposed to in our everyday lives.

Yet we don’t want to limit the things we say, do, or create. We put freedom first, even to a fault. It’s a part of our cultural identity as Americans. And to make up for it, we pretend that something’s okay as long as it’s not intentionally wrong.

It’s okay to constantly feature an all-dominant cast, for example, as long as it’s not because you’re prejudiced.

Sure, it’s been shown again and again that a lack of representation has a strong negative impact on the self-image of those who aren’t represented (or are represented poorly) while simultaneously contributing to them being valued less and/or perceived less favorably by those who are represented as well as by outsiders…

… but as long as it’s not on purpose, it’s fine! Why deviate? Because it would improve those attitudes? Quell those negative effects? That’s stupid!

I say all of that to say this…

The adage that things don’t happen in a vacuum is an overused cliche for a reason. It’s one of those things that’s so true, it’s hard to imagine a world in which anyone alive would need to be told that, and yet everyone alive needs to be told that.

Everything that we say and do matters.
Everything that we see and hear matters.

And it’s a self-serving cop-out to excuse yourself or anyone else from what you contribute to that collective by saying, “It wasn’t intended to have this effect.” You didn’t intend to have diarrhea when you ate that burrito. Did that change the fact that you shit all over the place?

Long story short, we can’t complain about the awful things going on in our society or in our homes or in our relationships while at the same time giving a pass to the very things that, by and large, serve only to trigger or perpetuate those undesirables just because we don’t have a problem with the catalysts themselves.

The bigger picture is pretty big.
We should try looking at it from time to time.

Hand Job

I was on my way to the grocery this evening and as is my usual behavior when venturing out into the world, I took everything in. Beside me, a bulbous man guarded a fleet of misplaced carriages. Across the street, a 20-something waited for the bus, glued to his tech from finger to ear.

Ahead was a couple sauntering towards me with groceries, their free hands joined together in holy matrimony.

I noted the swing of their arms. Most of the momentum was created by the woman, who was deeply engaged in whatever the hell she was talking about. The man stared straight ahead in silence with the kind of no-shit-giving expression I imagine a lot of men have several days before murdering their wives.

As they made their way past me, I had a thought:
Am I a hand-holder? Do I do that?

It wasn’t a literal question. Of course I’ve held hands – but am I someone who needs that? Do I attribute anything so significant to the act that if someone didn’t hold my hand, I’d be hurt? Does it make me feel closer to them or does it merely advertise our closeness to others?

I kept coming back to that question in between questions of equal importance – like do I want meatballs and does mac and cheese go with meatballs – and I don’t know if I know the answer, but I do know I’m a toucher.

Not so much with my friends, but when it comes to the person I’m dating, I’m like David in Prometheus. I’m touching shit all over the place.

And it isn’t the clingy kind of touching where you can’t be away from your lover for five minutes because you’re emotionally dependent upon their proximity. It’s the lustful kind where you adore them so much that you want to hump their face 24/7 and can’t, so you find other, more socially acceptable ways to make contact with them, like pinching their cheeks.

So I have countless memories of walking closely enough to press my arm against my other half or of me sitting beside them, stroking their chest. And I’ve definitely touched their hand. Rested mine against it. Clasped our fingers together.

I can’t recall ever reaching for someone’s hand to hold it.

Listen.

I’m not saying it’s awkward or bad. I just wouldn’t initiate it. Not for a walk down the street. Jumping off a cliff into the river below? That may net your hand a grab. Exploring a rundown house that’s said to be haunted in the middle of nowhere? That won’t net you anything because you’d be doing that shit by yourself.

I ain’t lookin’ to get murderated!

So I guess I answered my own question. Am I a hand-holder? Nah. But I’m a wuvably huggable bear, and that’s what counts! That and meatballs, which, as it turns out, go very well with mac and cheese.

Fan

I’ve always hated being a fan.
Being called a fan. Calling myself a fan.

I’ve always despised what that means,
because what does it mean?

It’s easy enough to say that it’s a good thing to embrace being a fan of something or someone, because it opens you up to sharing in those interests with a community of like-minded people.

Only they’re not like-minded.
That’s the problem.

The assumption that people who like what you like are like you is wrong, but you get lumped in with them anyway, don’t you? The world binds you to their thoughts and behaviors as if you’re a hive mind, not a like mind.

Your individuality is absorbed by the essence of that group and what others make of it – how others perceive it – and I hate that.

I value my uniqueness.

In a world full of people who’d rather be anyone but themselves (and try hard to be), I cherish all the little bits and pieces that make me who I am – a person no person can ever be except me.

And I cringe at anything that reduces my complex simplicity and simple complexities down to what music I like or which actors I follow.

I reject that box. Fuck that box.

So I don’t like being labeled a fan and have never been able to identify myself to others as a fan without recoiling, because it doesn’t feel right. Something is left behind. I can say I love that thing and I can talk about how much I love that thing, but I cannot say that I’m a fan.

Semantics, right?

But for a writer, semantics aren’t petty. That word means something, and I don’t like what it means. That’s just the way I am. And I don’t seek to change it nor do I have to defend it, but I do need to understand it. It’s important to know your own “why”.

So why does it bother me?

I was thinking about this one day when I was reading the comments on a YouTube video, which is rare (see; total eclipse). There was some kerfuffle in the comments that ended in one user saying to another that this particular YouTuber said he’d never date a fan.

It brought me back to the question of what being a fan means, not only to the fans themselves, but to others – including the people they’re a fan of.

These social and romantic rules rear their heads once people gain a bit of prominence on my side of the entertainment pond as well. Some actors say they’ll never date a fan. Some say they’ll never date a fellow actor. Some say they’ll never date another celebrity.

And they aren’t typically expected to qualify that preference. We just accept that they deem something about entering into a relationship with a person who falls under that umbrella to be problematic or less than ideal.

We can guess at the many reasons why a celebrity wouldn’t want to date someone in the same profession or with the same level of fame, but for now, let’s focus on fans, because that’s at the core of this post.

What does someone really mean when they say they’d never date a fan? If you took it at face value, it’d be the equivalent of saying I’d never date someone who likes me, and that obviously makes no sense.

So there has to be more to it than that. There has to be something more to how this person defines a fan – what it means.

Nuance.

Moreover, it probably isn’t good if it’s enough to spur a blanket preference not to date one, and that blanket is at the root of what bugs me.

It isn’t the thought of losing myself to a numberless mass, becoming another face in a crowd so dense, you can scarcely make it out. And it isn’t the thought of who I am being summed up by what others seem to be by virtue of one shared interest.

It’s the thought of who I am being reduced to a negative. Worse, because of something I happen to love that there’s nothing wrong with loving. It’s the feeling that because I’m a fan of this thing, a wall is placed around me and assumptions are used to pin me down.

Looking back, I realize that what I thought was the case isn’t true. I don’t hate being called a fan. I hate being treated like one. And I can call myself a fan just fine if I don’t feel like it limits me or says something about me that isn’t me.

I guess what I hate most is the irony – how some things are only out of reach because you reached for them. Sometimes, it’s like you’re punished for liking the things that want you to like them, and the more you do, the more separation it creates.

Strange, isn’t it?

But what do I know. I’m just a fan of rambling.

Jinx

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had this superstition that if I announce what I’m going to do before I do it, it won’t get done. But I don’t know if it’s really a superstition so much as me knowing myself well enough to predict an outcome.

Either way, I can’t shake it.

It’s as if saying that I’m going to do something gives me a false sense of progress that sabotages my motivation to actually do it. After all, verbalizing it makes it concrete and that’s half the battle, right?

That’s the problem with New Year’s resolutions. One of them, anyway. People commit to something and the act of committing makes them feel accomplished. That tiny bit of pride, that brief moment of determination, is enough for them to ease up on the gas and not push quite as hard as they should to follow through because hey, I made a decision and that’s something in and of itself.

In theory, it should work the other way around. If you say you’re going to do it, you should be that much more driven to hold yourself accountable – and for a lot of people, that’s precisely how it does work.

I’m just not one of them.

The second I say I’m doing xyz today, all energy to make that happen drains from my core. The only way I stay on task is by not having a task to stay on.

Maybe I’m compelled to defy my own plans because I don’t like mapping out my life. So much of what needs to be done is a bore. The least I can do is pretend it’s spontaneous.

Taylor, You Bitch!

I went to replace the battery in my electronic scale this morning when I realized it uses one of those button cell lithium types. I probably have every kind of battery on the market dumped around my place in bowls except that one and it took me back to something I think about quite a bit.

It’s the idea that a society can be primitive or advanced and the question of how we quantify that. I think the average person would consider us to be pretty “up there” – not quite Atlantis material, but certainly no Apocalypto.

Still, I wonder how progressive our progress really is.

What is the purpose of advancement? Is it about moving forward or is it about moving closer to a goal? Because if there’s a goal, what is it and how close have we really gotten?

When I look around at all of the incredible technology we’ve developed and the speed at which we’re evolving as a species because of it, there’s one frightening truth that stands out:

All of it can be negated by the flip of a switch.

We’ve progressed beyond the point of sustainability, because the technology we depend on to maintain and preserve life as we know it by and large requires power.

We always talk about resources and the fact that projections paint a dismal picture of what the future will be if we continue to consume things that are finite, but we only ever seem to speak of the loss of power in the context of science fiction.

When I say “power”, I’m talking about electrical energy.

In my opinion, mechanical energy is the only truly sustainable energy we’re capable of harvesting – and what I call sustainable isn’t to be confused with renewable. To me, renewable energy replenishes itself. That doesn’t make it sustainable.

Take solar energy, for example. It’s probably the first thing called to mind when you think of a renewable energy source, because like Annie said, the sun’ll come out tomorrow! But we’ve already seen a number of limitations to solar energy, the most obvious being that we don’t always have access to sunlight.

Then there’s the matter of the technology required to harvest solar energy and convert it into electrical energy. Technology we incidentally wouldn’t be able to manufacture without the electrical energy it makes.

Good thing we have other ways of producing electricity that aren’t solar, right?

Renewable energy is fantastic and necessary, but when I call energy sustainable, I mean that it’s a source of power requiring nothing more than our power – manpower – and what we’re able to build from the natural world. Because those are the only two resources we’re guaranteed by logic to always have:

The planet we live on and ourselves.

If we lost either of those resources, this discussion would no longer be a discussion, because there wouldn’t be anyone around to discuss it.

Ancient civilizations may have mastered engineering with a focus on mechanical energy because they weren’t advanced enough to utilize electricity and/or didn’t know what it was, but which is more primitive?

A society capable of thriving for hundreds or thousands of years without any of the electrical boons we require just to get through the day, or a society like ours that would collapse practically overnight if its primary power source were eliminated?

Which infrastructure is more advanced? Certainly not ours, given the destructive potential of something as absurdly simple as pulling a plug.

I’m likely in the minority with this sentiment, but I think we’ve progressed so far that we’re going backwards – and not only in terms of technology.

Look at what happens when there’s a blackout. Things start to break down immediately. The food is gonna spoil! We can’t see in the dark! Everybody scramble for flashlights and supplies and eat like you’ve never eaten before!

Kill the power in the middle of a heat wave and old people start dropping like flies because there’s no A/C. And you better hope that generator kicks in at the hospital, because half of the people in there are only alive thanks to the machines they’re hooked up to.

We know what happens when there’s no internet for five minutes. Imagine what would happen if it were permanent – if the internet stopped being a thing entirely?

Of course, it’s never as bad as all that and we make it through these brief moments without power by falling back on more primitive ways of doing things. Why? Because the more primitive ways of doing things are sustainable.

Doesn’t that make them better?

If we got the whole “progress” thing right, why do all of the solutions to modern-day problems resemble the past?

I’m not saying the advancements we’ve made are bad or that we shouldn’t have made them. I’m just putting it out there as food for thought that we may be shooting ourselves in the foot by continuing to move forward in ways that make us this dependent upon things that can be rendered useless this easily.

Indulge my stupid little mind for a moment and look around you. Take a walk through your house. Down the street. If we no longer had electrical power, how much of what exists in your environment would still serve a purpose? How much of what you own would still have any functional value?

Those things reflect the type of engineering and technology that will move us forward into the next phase of our evolution. Improving upon those things, taking cues from those things, is how we’ll refine ourselves to ensure that we progress in a way that’s sustainable

Everything else is glitter. Breakthroughs that allowed us to grow too much, too quickly. Pretty luxuries that created needs to fill.

I don’t know.
I’m thinking aloud.

Or maybe I’m just mad that I gave away my perfectly good mechanical scale for this electronic piece of shit that needs a fucking battery.

Conditional Unconditionals

A few months ago, a friend sent me this article about Melanie Gaydos – the woman with ectodermal dysplasia turned model. What I was going to say about it in my journal back then, I suppose I ended up saying to my friend instead, but I’ll let you in on the conversation since it was sitting in drafts.

My friend’s comment was how weird it is that the fashion industry – her industry – can make someone’s pain fashionable. My comment was how weird it is that the fashion industry is willing to “make a statement” by insisting that someone with deformities most consider objectively hideous is beautiful and/or worthy of aesthetic highlight, yet it would die before making the average person off the street a model.

That is to say, what I find funny is that they’d put someone who looks like they’re shriveling away from an aggressive flesh-eating disease on the runway before using someone with – say – a muffin top. It’s laughable, really, that this is seen as progressive.

Hey, friends! We know you condemn us for introducing and reinforcing standards of beauty that could best be described as pointless or absurd, but as those sentiments gain traction among the spenders and social awareness continues to trend, we’re breaking those rules!

We’re not just obsessed with appearance as we dictate it! Our industry is creative and inclusive and we’re committed to redefining what it means to be beautiful! To project standards that are less damaging to the esteem of the very populace that continues to feed into us as if we’d be the authority on anything without their susceptibility!

The only rules they’re breaking are the ones no one would object to without feeling like shitty human beings, ergo they get a free pass. What’s meaningful about breaking a rule you’d catch no flack for breaking? They aren’t redefining anything if they’re doing what they already know they can get away with without redefining anything.

Is this thing on?

The industry doesn’t have to change its standards that emphasize thinness and malign being bigger, for example, even with plus sized models who, as far as the industry players I come across are concerned, are just a necessary commercial evil.

Why?

Because no one feels shitty for putting overweight people down. That’s the atmosphere we’re in. Fat shaming, in spite of being openly recognized as fat shaming, is acceptable to those who do it. 

No one thinks twice about saying, “Eww, why would you use her as a model? She has a gut! Sorry, but no one thinks fat is attractive! Skinny people just look better and that’s a fact whether you like it or not! Just being honest!”

How many would say the same about someone suffering from a medical condition with such lack of remorse? Who would be equally “honest” about the “facts” and say that Melanie is ugly? That no one thinks Down syndrome is attractive? That vitiligo doesn’t sell? That people who don’t have medical problems just look better?

Only bullies, right?

The industry knows it can slap these people in a magazine or send them down the runway and get nothing but pats on the back for it while changing absolutely nothing about their prevailing beauty standards.

They didn’t break the rule. They made exceptions to it for the sake of novelties granted a stay for being tragic. The industry improved its reputation without actually improving itself.

Win-win!

Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s wonderful that models like those I referenced got an opportunity to do something they were always told they could never do and that others are inspired by it. I’m not so awful that I don’t see how that’s a good thing nor am I implying that they aren’t worthy of modeling independent of (or in light of) their conditions.

It just tickles me that those who fancy themselves less superficial – more evolved – because they can supposedly see beyond such disfigurements to appreciate a talent and beauty that transcends our overblown ideals are the very same people who can’t look past a fucking pimple or a double chin.

Call me jaded, but I’m not moved by yet another tall, skinny, white model who happens to have a disease the industry can capitalize on in the sentiment department. When the agencies and the advertisers and the brands all make a sweeping change to their long established criteria for talent, we can talk about progress.

Until then, feel free to skip me over when they “redefine the industry” again by signing a quadriplegic.