Written by Amara Hartman. Part 1 of 2. Read part 2 here.
There are more ways than ever to connect with each other. It’s hard to imagine an era when people awaited the arrival of their correspondence strapped in saddle bags. Longhand letter writing is a charm of a bygone time, and any small sect of people who still try to keep it alive appreciate it for its purity. There aren’t any of the trappings of modern communication. No visible friend counts, gifs, or emojis. Nothing flashy driving the want to stay in touch except suspense and imagination. Even email’s been leveled to one-liners or co-opted by instant messengers like G-chat and Skype. Blogs are popularized by purveyors of trends who want to teach you a lifestyle: how to wrap an infinity scarf or create a refreshing grapefruit spritzer.
And in the middle of it all stands the behemoth social media. Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat have all morphed from handy tools to actual propellants of our culture. Tweets are regularly featured in the news. Emojis stand in for text within text. We get what the peach and eggplant mean–a far cry from actually having to woo someone into liking you in the first place, much less into your pants.
With this insane glut, like Augustus Gloop stuffing chocolate in his face, one of the last things anyone would describe an average American as is lonely. It’s a natural conclusion that the more interactions you have, the less you’re alone. In a society of likes, followers, and subscribers, it’s hard to imagine anyone feeling stranded in a hollow abyss of loneliness.
“It was a joke.” That’s his excuse. During a recent episode of Fox & Friends, Bill O’Reilly, the infamous conservative talking head, made a poorly placed comment on the hairstyle of Maxine Waters, a Democratic representative. A recording of her giving a speech against Donald Trump played on screen while O’Reilly reacted live. Instead of keeping his commentary professional, he decided to let everyone know he hadn’t actually been paying attention because he was distracted by Maxine’s “James Brown wig.” (There’s also a point to be made about black hair and all that AND men diminishing women in general when they say something at our expense and think we’re all going to have a laugh about it, BUT I’ll save that for another time. Dude’s just gone and thrown all his rods in the fire. He stays busy.)
In all honesty, if someone like Dave Chappelle had made that joke, I would have laughed. But even then, Chapelle would have used it to make a larger point about black and American culture. Bill O’Reilly isn’t a comedian, and he doesn’t illustrate any informational points about American culture, except a glaring one: if you talk sense to a fool, he will call you foolish.
O’Reilly’s apology (and the rest of it he could find in himself to bother with) was nothing more than that age-old shoulder shrug that takes the responsibility off the speaker and makes the butt of the joke seem like they’re over-reacting. We’ve all heard it and have even said it. “It was just a joke!” Sometimes it is. But what makes the difference, I feel, is not just an apology, but changed behavior. To show it’s been understood that no offense was meant and to restore respect. We can’t yet see if this is what O’Reilly will do with Maxine, but we can gather enough information from his past to assume that he’s not sorry, and when he said it was just a joke, that’s all he expects to have to say.
On Smash Up, I try to keep the focus away from the gratuitous nature of our current political and social climate. I don’t see it as doing any good to always be up in arms about who said what now or what so-and-so did. People will always be up to something. Kamala Harris said, “I think too many people get distracted from the task at hand with visions of wonder about their future, and it’s misguided and a bad use of current time.” Instead of fixating on a dream of how things could be, get your feet moving toward that vision.
But I decided to go ahead with this one, because O’Reilly and others like him are, to me, the machinery that keeps patriarchy and prejudice running. The words he chooses or doesn’t choose–his exaggerations, lying, and excuses are the grease that keeps us ill at ease. He’s given himself over to the fame that comes from being a shock jock. However you feel about O’Reilly, you can’t deny he’s a prominent public figure; he didn’t get that way by twiddling his thumbs while everyone else was saying, “Gee, that O’Reilly guy might be interesting…”
In his book, “The O’Reilly Factor,” he shirks personal responsibility because he’s just “telling the truth.” He writes, “The reader might be wondering whether I’m conservative, liberal, libertarian, or exactly what […] See, I don’t want to fit any of those labels, because I believe that the truth doesn’t have labels. When I see corruption, I try to expose it. When I see exploitation, I try to fight it. That’s my political position.” Even if he does hang up his coat at the end of each night and sigh, “When is the world gonna get it?” He still chooses to wake up every day and continue the side show. He’s active in his own image. So, with that in mind, I decided to do some digging into how he got to this place. My hope is that with this knowledge, we can be less distracted by the juggling and fire blowing.
(And he and I have the same birthday, which just insults the name of good Virgos everywhere. At least Beyonce is also a Virgo too, so she compensates for all our wrongs.)
All my ideas come to me while I get ready for work. Brushing my teeth, a word or phrase will pop into my head, and I fight to hang on to it while I gargle and spit, then rush to my phone for a haphazard reminder of my early morning insight–for better or for worse. This morning, the word was “anger.” More specifically, how anger is not sustainable.
Smash Up Magazine began, in part, as a response to the political and social discord of the recent election. Not necessarily as an expression only of anger, but as a tool to engage, specifically using the tools I can provide through the lens of being a woman (feminism). But a lot of expressions around the election are still trying to stoke that initial anger that ignited rallies, protests, and obvious displays of outrage. In that light, I wondered: how long can that last? What is it about pure anger that cannot survive long-term? Don’t get me wrong–I recognize anger as an effective fight or flight response in getting a fire lit under our asses. But fires die. The group breaks up and goes home to make dinner, watch a movie, go to bed. Pretty soon it’s just you and Uncle Lou who shows up for every fire, and some warm cans of PBR, griping about ‘nam, which you probably weren’t even alive for.
Let’s look at the word “anger,” from Merriam Webster (it’s been around since 1882; I think it’s got a few years on us): “a strong feeling of displeasure and usually of antagonism.” Ok, let’s look at “antagonism:” “actively expressed opposition or hostility.” Perfect. It’s not hard to find examples of this in our news feeds. Everywhere around the globe someone is hostile or thinks someone else is hostile, and therein is also hostile: North Korea, Russia, Obama, Trump, George W. Bush, Paul Ryan, Kellyanne Conway, war, poverty, the 1%, the 99%. On top of politics, we have our usual buffet of problems: poverty, race, jobs, money, the environment, murder, rape, and goddammit you probably lost your car keys too. It’s a crying shame we can’t take our physical heads off and let them rest. There’s no end! It’s angering!
I’m still a little embarrassed when people find out I have depression.
Find out. As if I’m a felon who’s committed robbery or murder. I haven’t, yet the stigma of mental illness commands almost the same level of secrecy. It’s the elephant in the room. It’s paisley and dancing Gangnam style and you’re desperate to glance, but no one is saying anything about it.
People are avoidant, seeming to experience secondhand self-consciousness about this thing they don’t understand or understand all too well. If they’ve experienced mental illness themselves, they know the battery of the self. The black hole and cyclone going on in your own mind that can render you incapable of living. Or, if they’ve lived with someone who has mental illness, they’ve experienced the battery of others. The grip is tight.
It’s embarrassing to admit your brain can act without you. You can’t control it.