A couple of weeks ago the Boy Scouts caused a stir when they concluded after a two-year assessment, to continue their ban on gay boys and men as scouts and scout leaders. Well, their ban on out gay boys and men, but whatever. On the heels of this the Internet exploded over news-certainly not sudden–that Chick-Fil-A gave substantial money to anti-gay interests, including groups who advocate for killing gay and lesbian people in Uganda, since advocating for that kind of thing on US soil is a big no-no. And while this was going on, NASA was preparing to launch its most ambitious rover mission to Mars. Certainly NASA doesn’t ban people of a queer inclination, but that’s beside the point. My point, since I’ve buried it at the end of this paragraph, is that we humans are capable of astounding progress and horrifying cruelty, and this never fails to fascinate me.
I can’t believe we are still arguing about whether global warming is real or not. Seriously, look at this glacier.
Or this one.
The first photos are from Alaska and the second glacier is the one that feeds the Columbia River from Alberta through the Pacific Northwest and out to the Pacific through Oregon. Last month a section of Greenland fell into the ocean, a section about twice the size of Manhattan. But like that old saying, if a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it, we take these enormous moments as abstractions. Unless we’re regular donors to Greenpeace, but you get the idea. With evidence that sea levels are rising, average temperatures are hotter, and new weather patterns are emerging in response to these other climate changes,* we still give public consideration that this is simply part of the natural course of Earth and/or an act of God who is pissed that the Boy Scouts even thought about letting gays into its organization.
Why do we entertain notions that one can only describe as foolish at best? Or more accurately, why do masses of humans who know better allow the most superstitious few of us to direct these conversations? Why don’t we pull the same tree-in-a-forest logic on them and let them spout off their ridiculousness (Haiti’s earthquake was caused by a deal with the devil, Japan’s tsunami is because their emperor sleeps with Succubi) in a media vacuum?
It must be that something draws us to keeping offensive, idiotic notions like these in the room. When the Tea Party formed in the aftermath of Barack Obama’s election in 2009, there was a lot of press attention to the sizes of their crowds at rallys, so much so that some news outlets *cough cough FoxNews cough* doctored the footage** to suggest there were more people protesting the communist socialist President who was “just like” Hitler. Fast forward to the brouhaha around Chick-Fil-A, and the images of people standing in line to show support for being proudly bigoted against LGBT people, and once again the news media frames these conversations about civil rights and freedom of thought as a pissing contest of which group has more people in it. I can’t think of a more vapid way to think about religion, liberty, the civil rights of a community, and fried chicken.
The reality is that the number of Americans now in favor of same-sex marriage has reached parity with those who are not, but more importantly, the vast majority of voters are in favor of anti-discrimination laws for LGBT people, and there is strong support for similar laws targeting most every marginalized community except undocumented workers. (Which is something we need to work on, yes.)
One need only look at NBC’s Olympics coverage to find an example of how the press creates a non-reality for us to watch on television. I much prefer the stakes of misrepresenting sporting events than making people believe in the lie of a large, vocal extreme-right populace. Then I find myself in very muddy territory–am I arguing that these misrepresentations cause violence to people? Don’t I trust Americans to know reality from non-reality? To do the right thing?
When the right thing is buying a greasy fried chicken sandwich, I’m not sure I trust everyone, no. At some point within this stream of disconsciousness, some individuals will begin to believe the narrative and not their material reality. It’s at play when people who are not served by the Republican tax policy vote against their own interests and support GOP candidates at the polls. It’s evidenced when closeted gay men in Congress advocate against LGBT issues. It’s certainly in action when Christians put aside the traditional calls to do work for the poor and begin blaming poor people for everything from the housing market crash to the federal budget deficit.
Please don’t think I see some kind of straight [sic] line between news stories and rampant erroneous beliefs in America; I’m quite sure it’s more nuanced and convoluted than this. But somewhere in the midst of increased pressure on news outlets for ratings, competition from a bazillion Internet sites and blogs, a more masterful grip on online tools by ideologues of both poles, our longstanding historical amnesia for political and social moments of the past, and the harsh financial pressure from a near-flat economy, many people have begun to earnestly believe the narratives as presented to them by the media machine, which itself is a near-monopoly at this point.
All I can think is that at some point, we will shift direction again. We must. There is only so long humans can afford to interpret the melting of the earth as an outlier moment, only so long we can give airtime to bigots of any persuasion before those communities will resist in an organized fashion, and only so long we can delude ourselves in believing the singular greatness of our nation until it is clear that the rest of the globe has passed by us. Perhaps we need these false narratives right now because our reality feels so grim, but instead I’d rather we wake from our created dream early and have the hard conversations now while there is still time to correct some of these ongoing mistakes.
Ebb and flow.
*By the way, that linkage is brought to you by a scientist from NASA. There go those gay-loving scientists again.
**CBS News also broadcast images from a non-Tea Party rally that showed a much larger group of people in protest.