Tag Archives: outrage

Defining Moments

A friend posted a riddle presented in his managment class. “If the day before the day before yesterday is Tuesday, what is the day after the day after tomorrow?”

I came up with Monday, since ‘today’ in the riddle seems to me to be Friday. He had the same answer. The instructor said he was wrong, and the answer to the riddle was Friday. My linguist friends and I started tearing this apart trying to sort out what the right answer is and how to arrive at it. Some argued that the conditional ‘if’ phrase is trumped by the present tense verb ‘is,’ kind of like a grammar version of PEMDAS, the rule that guides which part of a math equation one must complete first. Had the question been stated “was Tuesday” instead of “is,” then Monday would have been correct.

(Or so they claim. I have my doubts. Not to mention, searching for versions of that riddle on Google pointed toward a similar-but-clearly-worded variant, one which doesn’t play a trick based on verb tenses but simply asks the reader to figure out the puzzle. I suspect the lesson writers or instructor copied the riddle wrong from the start. But I’m arrogant about these things.)

My frustration with the explanation boils down to playing a trick of grammar rules and definitions. Rather than speak clearly, the riddle as explained by my linguist friends ignores common usage of language and depends on an oft-ignored rule that supposedly shifts the meaning completely from what is implied. It’s someone claiming a simple answer depends on what the definition of ‘is’ is–technically accurate and a proper debate tactic, but readily dismissed as shady or truth-dodging by the average person.

I thought of this little exchange when my Facebook exploded with a mixture of Cecil the Lion and all the videos about Planned Parenthood. I very nearly posted a tweet something to the effect of

Maybe if there was a market for lion parts, PP supporters could get behind hunting. #profitsmatter

Then I realized that would do no good. It alienates rather than persuades. It mocks issues people care about deeply. And I think we have plenty of that already.

I got the video link for a feminist declaring “Planned Parenthood Isn’t Selling Baby Parts, You F@#$ing Idiots” and a day later, the right-wing response “Planned Parenthood IS Selling Baby Parts, You Freaking Feminist Hosebeast.” (They also sanctimoniously called out the feminist for dropping f-bombs left and right, while they stooped to a ‘clean’ version of name-calling that is no better in my opinion.)

Meanwhile plenty of people point out the disparity between response to the PP videos and the slaying of Cecil the Lion. Plenty of tweets and posts encouraging the murder of that dentist, whether by lion mauling or by drilling him a new orifice. Whichever side of the aisle your circle of friends leans toward, no doubt you’re seeing a ton of outrage that invariably paints dissenters as morons, idiots, worthless human beings devoid of morality. “How can anyone support this?!” both sides scream, while talking about two different subjects.

We’re talking past each other. Everyone’s speaking but no one is listening.

When the right yells about baby parts, the left sighs at best or swears at them, because the legal definition in our country is “fetal tissue” or “medical waste” produced by a legal and optional medical procedure. There may be aspects that are legally questionable, like whether “sales” are taking place or procedures are being altered from what the patients consented to in order to produce better remains. But “by definition” they’re not selling baby parts, duh, because you have to remember what the definition of “fetus” is.

And the right shouts, “How can you care about a stupid lion more than you care about the horrors depicted in those leaked videos? Look at the evidence; listen to the words of the doctors and the staff.” Many will admit if pressed that they’d like to see the hunter who killed Cecil prosecuted for where he broke the law, if indeed that can be proven. But to most, it’s just a lion, and doesn’t compare with the human remains shown in the PP videos. Going from a religious or moral definition of all human life as being precious, the anti-abortion / pro-life crowd can’t help but be furious about the sale of baby parts — because you have to remember what the definition of “life” is.

We’re all heavily invested emotionally into so many various societal and cultural issues that it can be hard to hit the brakes and take a look around. Maybe it’s a debate about white privilege and the #blacklivesmatter trend. Maybe it’s the Confederate flag, or gun control. Maybe it’s a fight for rights we feel we’ve been denied, or a challenging sense that the comfortable culture we once knew is slipping and changing into something far different.

The river of outrage in this country seems neverending. It’s easy to forget that there are people just like us on both banks.

Locking in on my one point of view and refusing to consider the opposition only creates tension, division, and strife. Yes, we might never agree… but at least I can do you the courtesy of listening to find out exactly what I’m disagreeing with, and vice versa. (For example, here is a challenging view on Planned Parenthood from a Christian man faced with an impossible choice.)

I’m grateful for my friends on all sides of these discussions who are willing to have conversations and dig down to the roots of where our points of view diverge. I spent a good chunk of yesterday morning discussing the value of life and the question “When is it justifiable to kill another human being?” I don’t think either of us walked away with a different point of view, but we maintained the mutual respect we’ve developed over the years.

For me, that respect is what matters. Rather than debate words and call each other names, we’ve made sure to define our friendship first. We’ve defined our individual morality to include striving to show respect for others, and we make sure our conversations on these subjects are guided by that definition.

A mind that won’t listen can’t be changed. And when my first thought is that someone else is guilty of this, usually I figure out that it’s me.

Let’s not categorize ourselves with “us” and “them” on this or any other issue. We are not engaged in a civil war despite all the cultural issues and debates. We have to figure out how to be “we the people” because that’s what this nation is founded upon and defined by.

SaluteGate Seriously?

Maybe there are other things worth noting.
Maybe there are other things worth noting.

If you’ve seen a video or picture of the “Latte Salute” a.k.a. Semper Venti, or if you’ve heard (or participated in) the rambling cries of how much our President supposedly hates the military and disrespects them by this action, I invite you to check this link,

Warning: there’s some language in the article, and the comments section as always should be avoided as the bane of rational thought.

But the writer absolutely KILLS it on this subject.

Let’s give our thought and attention to that which is deserving.

Single Ladies

Two days ago I posted about some outrage from religious groups toward the movie Frozen. They claim the story pushes a “homosexual agenda” on children, and their proof, among other things, is that Queen Elsa never goes after any of the men in the film.

I talked about why I thought they got that impression, and then presented the very different message I found in the movie.

But the fact this is even up for discussion leads me to a question, one borne out of purely selfish motives. In order to tell a story that is both compelling and marketable, in light of this sort of debate, I have to ask:

Does the heroine need a hero? Does the female lead require a love interest?

The “compelling” part is easily dealt with. A story needs whatever makes it work, whatever gives it power. Effort spent jamming a hackneyed romance into a story will be obvious, through a hollow feeling, a lack of resonation with the audience, or an eye-rolling “This character is stupid” reaction from a reader.

The wise editor and skillful writer can look at parts of a work-in-progress critically, seeing when some subplot does too little to advance the overall narrative. Every word counts, and must earn its keep. Maybe the part that gets cut is a romance, maybe it’s a really cool action sequence, maybe it’s entire characters getting merged into one. There’s only so much time in a movie, so many pages in a book.

The more difficult question is how a work will be received by the market. Disney’s princess movies are known for a formula. The princess meets a prince. With his help, she overcomes her internal conflict, resolves the external problem, and they live happily ever after. Now, they’ve stepped away from the formula a bit with Brave and Tangled. But apparently Frozen went too far, despite the romance between Princess Anna and Kristof. After all, Queen Elsa never shows interest in any man…

Because the story isn’t about her falling in love.

Consider some of other movies (and books) with a female lead: Hunger Games and Divergent.

Even though both leads fall in love over the course of their respective trilogies, Katniss Everdeen and Tris Prior give the distinct impression that they can handle things without Peeta or Four, thank you very much. Both are concerned with staying alive in an unfamiliar situation. Neither goes into their adventure searching for a man, because that’s not the theme of the story. Instead, they meet and bond with allies, who through shared adversity become something more.

The authors fit romances in, and that weaves nicely into the plot, giving added conflict and tension as characters’ goals diverge (hehe). The stories aren’t dependent on their romantic arcs. They can be just as compelling without that element.

But the romance boosts the books’ marketability. Some readers might not care about a dystopian setting, but they’ll look past that to read a coming-of-age story they can relate to. Some readers might not care for either of those all that much, but they’ll take it alongside a plot of budding romance. And some readers might just be catching up on the books in order to understand the movie – or better yet, to avoid a years-long wait to find out what happens next.

I said I had a selfish motive. When this controversy about Frozen first “came out,” one of my first thoughts was my current writing projects. One book series has two female leads. Another has a female lead. None of the three have love interests (at this moment in writing drafts and planning).

Is that wrong? I don’t think so.

In fact, the thought of conjuring up a lovely face to accompany them, stuffing scenes and chapters in to create romantic tension and bonding… that feels wrong.

None of those characters are interested in romance during the timeframe of the story. When your world is falling apart, love isn’t always your first thought.

That’s not saying it can’t happen. Certainly it can, and it works in a lot of stories as one element, perhaps even the main theme.

But that leads right back to the original question: What’s the point of the story?

Once I know that, I write what fits and cut the rest. (ideally)

Back to Frozen, can you imagine fitting a romance for Elsa into that plot line without taking away from the impact of the sisterly bond at the center of the story?

One of the bloggers at the center of this controversy responded to some of her critics. And she quoted a friend, Jonathan Wilson, who took a reasonable stance:

“Frozen can certainly be successfully applied as an allegory for homosexual struggle. The authors may or may not have had that in mind when they wrote it. But Frozen is good enough art to rise above a specific allegorical meaning. It demonstrates broad applicability to many different human experiences. That is why it appeals to so many people.”

Remember, entertainment has to be marketable. A wide variety of stuff can be covered by this blanket.

Art is compelling. That means the field narrows significantly, and the artist keeps only what fits.

Unpacking a Backpack

My Facebook news feed and WordPress reader today are surprisingly full of things related to My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.

All because of a 9 year old boy’s “girly” backpack. Or perhaps because of the reactions to it, from the bullies in his school to the administrators dealing with the situation.

The backstory is a kid wore his My Little Pony backpack to school and got picked on. His mom complained to the school staff, and in addition to whatever else they did, the principal said the kid should leave the backpack at home.

I’ve read comments and blogs raging against bullies, saying this response is the same as “She deserved it because she wore that dress.” (Full disclosure, that was my initial take and I even posted that comment online.)

And I’ve read blogs declaring “I wouldn’t let my kid wear that, because boys should be boys.” One poster made what I think is a valid point – are we really comparing a kid picked on for wearing a MLP backpack to rape?

I’m sitting comfy in my house in Nebraska, far removed from Grayson’s life and surroundings. I only get the side of the story presented in the angry blurbs on FB, saying “The school sided with the bullies!” I don’t know what all the school said to the family, or whether the bullies have been disciplined, and how severely, if so.

So naturally my limited information qualifies me to speak in absolute terms about what’s going on in that kid’s life.

I am however a fan of the show, along with my four kids (14 yr old daughter, and boys ages 13, 8 and 3). My wife is decidedly opposed to all things Pony.

Here are some general observations:

1. Violence against others is unacceptable. Assaulting someone (physically, verbally, socially) has no place in a civilized society. Such actions deserve swift and stern discipline – knowing that the point of discipline is not merely to punish but to educate and rehabilitate toward a more desirable behavior. Consider this a teachable moment.

2. The sad fact is that your hobbies, your lifestyle, your chosen associations, your style of dress, your interests, and pretty much anything you do are subject to ridicule from people around you. The more you deviate from whatever is the societal norm, the more you can expect to get some negative attention. Should it be so? Nah. But is it so? Yes. There needs to be some recognition of this.
Even so, let me refer you back to item #1, which trumps this.

3. We need to get past the idea that some hobbies are only for boys, and some are only for girls. Most hobbies are gender-neutral until society weighs judgment. You like cars? Great. Work on cars. You play the violin? Awesome. Be the best at it that you can be. You love musicals? Fantastic. There are some powerful stories and songs worth anyone’s attention. Baseball’s your thing? Lovely. Go to town telling me about the ’86 World Series. You pwn noobs in video games online? Rock on. Be 1337 (‘leet’ as in ‘elite’ as in ‘highly skilled’). You find a cartoon both funny and meaningful? I’m glad you like it. Enjoy.
Which of the above are for boys and which are for girls? And who says so? And why should I care?
I care because see item #2, which we’re all going to have to deal with on some level when we discover how our interests line up with what society expects.

4. MLP is actually a great show on many levels. It’s got an edgy humor that admittedly is not for everyone, but each episode also has a moral story that never gets preached at the audience. Think Veggie Tales without the Bible references. The show IS marketed for young girls, but obviously can appeal to others because it’s done well. See item #3.

I know this is the “Viral Outrage of the Day” or whatever. Next week or next month, we’ll be talking about something else and this won’t matter.

I think those life lessons listed above do matter (except maybe #4). And I hope those are the sort of calm and reasonable approaches we can take when we all freak out and choose sides on the next debate.