“Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die.”
Some of us in the United States are in mourning. You can feel it in the air. We’ve had it implied that we are insane, by people we — well some of us — thought were our friends, and when we’ve tried to talk about what it feels like to be told that we are crazy, we’ve been told it’s all good, not to worry – it’s just a joke. We try to laugh, maybe we misunderstood, then we get called crazy again. It’s like being bullied in middle school. We turn around to confront our bully and he says, “No, I was talking about that other girl.” And then, as we dig through our locker, feeling sorry for that other girl (or glad we are off the hook at her expense) our bully passes us in the hall, brushing up against us, just enough, and says under his breath, “crazy.”
Days before the Rally to Restore Sanity I attended a party at the Code Pink house. A man there said ruefully, “I really feel right now like I have more in common with the Tea Party, for all that we disagree on, than I do with the progressives who are excited about this rally.” Code Pink had just been mocked on the show. Actually we were all anticipating the mockery, as we waited to see what Medea Benjamin might be made to look like in a few minutes after taping three hours of footage the previous week.
My four-year old son woke up from a nightmare a little while ago and he told me that while he was hurt a clown was laughing at him. This nightmare actually derives from something awful that happened to him at the rally, in the crowd, something with its context firmly planted in the culture that adored that rally. While attempting to stop a man from abusing his wife, and after she ran away, I was very nearly assaulted by an unrelated drunk woman, in a group of drunk people, who I guess resented being denied the show provided by the abuse. It’s a long weird story. They encouraged the man to chase his terrified wife and, laughing, first circled me, trying to hug me, they said, and then in a split second the young woman in the group began pushing me. I screamed because I was scared, my friend rescued us all as well he could and, as we ran way and my little son cried in fear, they continued to jeer at us. That’s disturbing to me, but what is more disturbing is that out of the 100 people who must have seen it, no one had helped the abused woman, or me, nor had they offered comfort when there was no danger to them.
I feel that when I illustrate the culture I saw at the rally with this story, which I think was not a culture at all interested in meaningful dialogue with anyone they might not like — despite what the organizers may have intended — I remain uncomforted by many. It feels as if I must be crazy for thinking the attack and the response to it has meaning. My son’s clown is a nightmare I can relate to, not just because I know where it comes from, but because I feel I’m having it during my waking hours.
There is little left to say about the raw pain and anger the Rally to Restore Sanity has left some of us with, except perhaps to call it by its name. Raw pain and anger. Political analysis better than anything I am capable of has been made: Dennis Perrin, Andrew Castro, Medea Benjamin, William Blum, Chris Hedges, Trish Kahle, Mr. Fish. The list goes on for a while. Public thinkers I didn’t read afterward should be included, but these guys I did, and they really need to be included in this essay. I largely agree with them, with everything they each said.
From the stage Jon Stewart declared us to not be in “end times,” while for millions the fact is that these are, their lives are ending at this time. He also lumped Marxists in with racists as the polar ends of the same crazy dangerous fringe, when actually racism is alive and well and Marxism is basically dead. Whatever your ideology, even if you think Marxists have any danger value in and of themselves, you can refuse to buy a Marxist newspaper the next time they try to hand-you-one-and-then-ask-for-a-dollar, but you cannot just opt out of living your whole life in a racist society. Not being a racist is something that requires work, a lifetime of work, because racism is in the bones of our institutions. According to National Safety Council Estimates we in the US are a society in which you are more likely to be killed by a cop (especially if you are a person of color) than you are a terrorist (who is almost always depicted as a person of color). In George Carlin’s famous, and very funny, monologue about the media and war he says that US’ “new job in the world is bombing brown people…who were the last white people you can remember us bombing?”
But here we have it. Jon Stewart’s reality, and apparently that of many people I love is that Marxists and racists are in the same boat, or it is OK to say that they are, or I am not understanding what Stewart meant when he said that they are the same category of people. I think he said that their category is both very dangerous and very rare, though our response to them is too loud and we need to turn it down a notch, and, secondly, our response is somehow evidenced by the media. But I think I’ve been told that I think that…because I don’t understand that Stewart is a liberal? Also, it’s really hilarious. It’s all said in fun. We all need to laugh. And, if I simply don’t find it funny, an argument something akin to arguments about what Jesus said and what Jesus meant to say seems to ensue. Then, I’ve read commentary: Stewart is a liberal/Stewart is no Leftist. Back and forth, back and forth. Somehow Stewart, and his own political designation is the issue, yet he also isn’t a leader, he is a comedian. “Slacktivist”, crazy activist — back and forth.
And I thought I was frustrated with those I love when I lived in Alabama and the argument was about Jesus.
God. That rally is just a kick to my stomach. I feel as if I have spent the last few days of my life with a hangover. Maybe, more like a concussion. Writing, secluded as I am working from home, on my Facebook page and in emails to people I actually know, many of whom loved the rally and seem to be saying simply to me, “Why do you so hate to laugh?” And, “Stewart isn’t saying anything political; he’s a comedian.” And “The signs you saw didn’t mean anything; so what if they were cruel and classist or complete nothing, they were funny and we need to blow off some steam.” Don’t panic. That’s the point of the rally. Sit back, have a beer, stay away from bears. Don’t be a Marxist. Let’s have a spelling bee.
You know, my 15-year-old son had never seen Glenn Beck until after that rally? He was curious about what the rally was a response to. So, he watched Beck, and he had a good laugh. I had seen maybe one entire segment of the Daily Show in my life before the rally. We don’t own a TV. We’ve watched more of it on the internet the past week than I care to report. Stewart suggested, in his closing statement, the use of a remote to turn off the media nonsense, and on that point, I would normally encourage anyone to follow his, or anyone’s, leadership.
But what is it doing to me, to not watch TV? I have written to friends all my life, kept up with them as best I could, one on one, because it is in relationship I have thought we will be healed and made whole. I fail all too often, but I try. I have been writing to friends as of late who just don’t hear what I have to say, not about a lot of things. I don’t even feel like are talking about the same things enough to say we are having a debate or a discussion. I think we are having different realities: the one inhabited by the person who does not watch TV and the one inhabited by the person who does. My older son’s impression of Glenn Beck was that he was a performance artist. We had just been to see Laurie Anderson and the Rocky Horror Picture Show the night before. Is Beck a dangerous performance artist? Well, is Stewart?
I saw someone, no one I know, say in response to the meanness that some of us saw at the Rally toward the far Right that the Tea Party is not a grassroots movement, but the excrement of Glenn Beck. Whose excrement are the rest of us?
Is it misspelled, what I have to say? Because I understand that is a big problem, maybe the biggest we have, from the crowd at the rally. “It’s going to be weird seeing a rally with correctly spelled signs” said one of the most popular tweets, forwarded over 200 times. One sign I saw near me, that almost always got the thumbs-up, cool-dude gesture was “My texts are grammatically correct.” Do they say anything worth saying?
Have I been wrong to focus so much attention on people and community? The media, it seems, is so much more powerful than my feelings and words. Am I too sincere? Do I think too much? Am I both stupid and think too much, too sincere and crazy?
The people ahead of me in public writing have tried to address these questions though analysis, but I can just hear the comebacks of the people who loved the rally, if they read any of us. We sound, to rally enthusiasts, like the character in David Rovics’ I’m a Better Anarchist Than You. We have complained about the culture, we have questioned the motivation of Stewart, and we have defended Marxism in public.
I can just hear comments about my saying any number of things. Like, that thing about how I feel I have a concussion: “yeah, she has a concussion all right.” I’m from Alabama? Explains a lot, right? If I have a problem with the glossy little flier, like the one I picked up at the Mall, that advertises “$3 Sanity Shots” on one side and an “exotic Halloween party” with a reference to Egypt and a picture of a Black woman on the other? What would be said about me? Maybe that I not only think too much in trying to gain any meaning from this, or any other example of what I saw, I sound like a mother and mothers are no fun. Life is hard; these are hard times, not end times; and we need a good laugh. And, I am a mother after all.
If I say the rally lacked meaning, I am told it was filled with meaning; if I say OK, here and here I saw some meaning and it scared me, I am told there is no meaning. If I say I am upset by the culture I saw at the rally I am told the rally was the answer to that culture. If I don’t like it I am wrong. Maybe I am stupid. I am crazy, maybe? This is enough to make someone crazy.
Ah, the Left. What are we? Is there a we? Are liberals a part of it? Marxists? Who is my community?
And the Tea Party. Do I have more in common with the Tea Party than I do your typical liberal Democrat? That’s a good thought the man had at the Code Pink house, the more I think about it. But then, what about my relationships? Is everything about who my political allies are? What are my politics if not an extension of my relationships?
I don’t know how to reason with some of my nearest and dearest right now, this after waking up years ago a radical Leftist — OK, whatever that means — and feeling this same kind of shock to the system, before I found what I kept thinking would be the Beautiful People who would be my new community. My community of origin — working-class White southern is a rough description — and I could not, initially, seem to get along, in my immediate post-political incarnation. I suppose I thought ideology, if it broke my connections, could replace them too. It never did. I had to learn how to love people and be frustrated with them at the same time. And accept angry love, when available, too.
Anyone who still stings from something mean I said to them: I never forgot you and I always missed you and you were always the reason I thought what I thought about Justice and Love in the first place.
That might have been the lesson of the Rally to Restore Sanity. It was buried, perhaps, under spiked Pablum.
I am going to have to relearn that lesson. I was talking to a friend recently and noted that it took me a long time to get over being repeatedly told I was going to hell by people in my community of origin. Ten years ago my then kindergarten aged son was even told I was going to hell, by his public school teacher. You know, the ones we don’t let pray with our children. I didn’t like that. I think the liberal/Left/progressive version of “you are going to hell” is, and has been for some time, “you are stupid” or “you are crazy” and, since that is at least as invalidating as being declared hell-worthy (and maybe more because when someone says you are going to hell at least they are usually expressing concern about your innermost, you know — eternal — self, whereas being called crazy is more a simple insult), I was either going to have to learn how to not be stupid or crazy and pay attention to what was expected of me, which wasn’t likely given my history, or be alone, or just learn to live with it. So, I’m trying to live with it. Though it still hurts.
How are we going to live with it though, people who think the rally was just plain disturbing? I’m open to ideas.
WINDY COOLER is a psychology student at Goddard College, she is creating a collection of essays and interviews about activist cultures, the working title of which is Solidarity Scrapbook. She can be reached at WindyCooler@gmail.com.