In a time when people’s worst qualities of lazy, frightened, self-obsessed greed and apathy are manipulated to near comatose levels of indifference, it is easy to feel alienated. I was struck by this piece so beautifully titled, Sometimes It's Exhausting Being a Humorless Fat Feminist.
Once you've had your feminist awakening, you notice there's a lot of misogynist shit out there that just ain't funny. Things your less-awakened friends might still find hilarious, you just find ... depressing. Or angering. Or nauseating. Same goes for when you get hip to GLBT rights, or civil rights for people of color, or class issues, etc., etc., etc. Often, after that first initial shock, you get inured again and can once more watch mainstream media without wanting to kill someone or hurl, but when you're really intensely immersed in race issues, class issues, gender issues - well, let's just say I can remember a semester in grad school where I could only watch carefully selected VHS movies, because I was so hyper-attuned to sexism that any other media exposure just squicked me right the hell out.
I must add consumerism, a culture of waste and the throw-away economy to the list. There is no leadership that scorns the hate and disrespect of modern discourse. We no longer can rely on a public educated in human rights.
Recently my son was sent an email titled Motivational Posters and he forwarded to me. It was filled with misogynist, homophobic, fat hating, disability intolerant, racist clichés of current culture. Okay, here was one that sort of passed the smell test. (My fear is that I am unwittingly posting the visual equivalent of a dog whistle, one of those symbolic phrases / images that signals to the haters.) But, notice that even this one was done without any ironic humor. The motivational message on the bottom is not a classic motivational phrase like teamwork, integrity, etc. Its only relationship to a motivational poster is the poster format (photo on black background) and the white typeface. WTF indeed.
I had the fierce battle within myself of whether to ignore it or confront it. Teaspoon in hand (the metaphor from Shakesville of the fight against sexism - all I can do is keep trying to empty the sea with this teaspoon) I wrote out a brief sentence or two per poster, assembled them all into a mini-memo and sent it back to my son. After some fragmented interactions I felt some satisfaction from broaching tough subjects.
Humor is dumber and meaner than it should be or could be. Songs, art, music, theatre, television, books, and much more have been reduced to the lowest common denominators for the deadened the minds and sensibilities. Keep us stupid, fighting each other and malleable? Perfect example is Step Brothers, which thankfully gets a scathing review today. (h/t Zuzu)
Here is another insight I borrow from the G-Spot blog. It describes my own feelings of alienation.
From as far back as I remember, I've felt like an outsider with an oppositional relationship to the universe. At some deep level, it has something to do with being born a female with a brain and a strong will in a world that is run by and for men.
Check. I would add that my own family of two sisters, a mom and a grandmother who were born without the brain and strong will combo reinforced my alien status by comparison.
A note about the links. I will freely admit that it is a bit ironic that for my post on alienation I am citing sources linked to Shakesville, where I obviously am feeling shared values and community. In fact, one of the reasons I have wanted to write something about alienation is that I do feel community where I live and at the virtual fellowship of Shakesville. I feel bonding and a loving connection with my son, my mom and best friend. And though I am grateful for the bloggers in the sustainability movement, there is a disconnect for all of these. You see, I feel all of these groups are so clearly connected, but they aren’t. None seem to have any more than a vague awareness of the others.
I blame the media for a decades long obfuscation. Corporate media keeps us alienated from facts, connections. This long process of de-education is effectively stupefying us all. Despite the lie of Chimpy McStagger claiming to be a uniter, we have learned that dividing us all is an effective device of suppression. Even our pastimes are alienating us.
- Spectator Sports
Each of these things encourages us to live within our own narrow world. These are not activities that engage us with others, even though we might be surrounded by others. These are not activities which enrich our minds, our interactions with others. Even movies and music have become solitary via technology.
The internet is a prime example of my feeling connected. But am I? I think of this line.
We're all in this together — by ourselves. —Lily Tomlin
I muse – because I don’t have a clear idea of how a better way of being might look or feel. I used to feel such a strong righteousness in my anonymity. Togetherness and community were not positive words for me. After the peer pressure, judgment and other authoritarian small town experiences of my youth, I thought becoming an adult and getting married would be my chance for my life, my way. Naïve that. I hadn’t a clue about patriarchy even though I’d married a second generation Middle Easterner. I had to read Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique. In the book, Friedan defines women's unhappiness as "the problem that has no name.”
Following Mid-West small town living, large Middle Eastern family life and post-marriage poverty and health problems, something essential broke down. In putting myself back together I chose to live a more solitary life. Yet, I now see that millions and millions of us thought we chose an ‘independent’ life for our own reasons. I am no longer sure that is true. My pattern of traveling far from where I was raised and where I was lived when I married isn’t unique. "It's a classic trick to manipulate people by making them believe that they are being more independent in doing so." This was a comment recently in one of the Shakesville threads. I spotted it after writing this. I agree whole heartedly.
Thanks to the last century and a half of cheap oil, we are scattered far and wide from our origins our ancestor’s homes. Industrialization moved whole populations off the land and into urban areas. Part of industrialization was the switch from buying from need to buying from want or desire. This process created the false sensibility I feel I grapple with now, today. I am alienated from genuine life awareness. I live my life an arm’s length from the essential.
The personal is political.
Image is Yinka Shonibare MBE, Dysfunctional Family 1999