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Seeing Differences

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I’m a profiler. Why pretend otherwise? Without any effort whatsoever; the appearance, and speech of a stranger is rapidly calculated and a (metaphorical) card pops out that reads; “tourist” “nanny” “poser”. We all do this to one extent or another. People who can not assess people by visual and verbal cues are often taken to a specialist. There is an actual biological origin and motivation for this ability. Our senses exist to take in information and to assess danger. We may not know everything about the tiger say, its hobbies or dreams, but we know it’s a tiger and it’s headed straight toward us.

Most everyone can make certain generalizations about people very quickly. This comes in handy when looking for directions; would you ask a tourist how to get somewhere or would you ask a local? Of course you’d have to be able to identify a tourist and a local. And, this is where people may get themselves into trouble. “Appearance” is not a question of skin tone or pant waist. The way in which someone carries him or herself is an integral part of their appearance and often speaks volumes about who they are. What a person says and not just how they say it is also key. Grammar, syntax and accent are fascinating but may tell you less about someone’s intentions than what it is they’re actually saying. What people say (and don’t say) is probably the best (and perhaps only) reliable indicator of who a person is.

A 20-something in a stuck elevator wailing how ‘this is the single worst thing that’s ever happened to me in my entire life’ has led a charmed life, no? The same could be said about a supervisor who without a word, routinely hands you his empty coffee cups. The stranger, who worlessly pushes you to the ground at the sound of an explosion, knows a thing or two about survival. Our past and our sense of our place in the world are continuously communicated. We tell our stories (laced with varying degrees of fiction) literally and figuratively. For those who engage in the literal, it’s always fascinating to see what they include and choose to omit. In their editing, they often tell us more about themselves than they ever intended. Case in point: a woman wrote the story of her small child’s dog attack (just to be clear; the dog attacked the child.) It’s a traumatizing and bloody story that quite frankly is entirely her doing. She has remorse for the trauma and the facial scar but seems to have zero understanding of her role in the mauling. She knowingly created an extremely dangerous situation, not just for her own child but for anyone in proximity. That her children were not removed from the home, she was not imprisoned and was paid to write about her sorrow can only lead me to come to this conclusion; she is privileged. Had she lived in public housing the authorities would be aware of her behavior. If she had been to a public hospital the authorities would know. If she had looked a certain way or talked a certain way, the authorities would know.

It causes me no pleasure that I have engaged in the same act of profiling that perpetuates such inequity. But how do we ever fight for justice if we cannot detect the injustices? The only way to see that people are treated differently is to see the differences. There is nothing immoral or politically incorrect about acknowledging that people are diverse. What is morally reprehensible is to engage in separate and unequal justice.

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Posted by on June 1, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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Sideshow

freaks

It’s now been several generations since we considered a carnival sideshow an acceptable form of entertainment. Today photos or drawings from early 20th century circuses tend to evoke gasps. It’s jarring to consider that people who had an unconventional appearance were put on display and were considered entertainment. What societal limitations caused people to take to the circus tent? What kind of people would take pleasure in viewing a ‘freak show’? We will cover these and other questions in Intro To Reality Television: Evolution and Devolution.

After the Elephant Man heyday of the late 19th century and early 20th century, Americans got hold of themselves and backed away from such voyeurism and exhibitionism. Later, with the advent of political correctness we bowed our heads in shame and taught our children not to point. If we came across a midnight showing of Freaks (1932) we watched it in the dark, with a certain amount of guilt. And then we got our base groove back. Sometime during the Reagan boom years we found comfort in gawking at the rich. It’s okay to gawk and make spectacle of those (economically) better off, right? Robin Leach was the mid-1980s barker of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous and we gawked. He paved the way for us to release our pent up desires. Soon the business of celebrity boomed, to feed our insatiable appetite for fodder. It was okay to gawk and poke fun at people who had what we did not. But like any indulgence, it lost its ability to satisfy. Soon it wasn’t enough to see a child actress implode in front of our eyes. After a dozen or so of those kids, it ceases to impress.

Media abhors a vacuum, and can spot a hole in the market from space. Cue the new wave of reality television. A modern audience would not be satisfied with viewing a stock still anomaly on a stage, we are happier to see these specimens in their ‘natural’ habitat. We want to see people with their; 6,8,12,18,20 children going about their daily lives. Viewing wealthy people’s staged homes is no longer enough. We need to see them in prompted dramas. We need to see them dressed in award ceremony gowns to attend barbecues. We want to see them squabbling and behaving like junior high school students. We care little that there is no real wealth (and often bankruptcy.) Who cares that a title has been purchased, the hair is synthetic and the faces could be used as flotation devices? What we love is the sideshow behavior. It matters not that the behavior is created for our viewing pleasure. Who really cares that a toddler’s beauty pageant (in a sad little rural motel) is the most boring event one could ever imagine? With enough manufactured histrionics and adept editing, it’s more fun than a cross-dressing General Tom Thumb. Having a messy house, clipping coupons, or choosing a dress, are a snore fest. But throw in a few “No she didn’ts” or a litany of psychobabble and you’ve got yourself a show. The more fragile a participant is, the better the show. Make them cry, make them sound certifiable, and we’ll grab our chips and put down the remote. Emotional instability not your thing? Fear not, we’ve got shows about little people, the conjoined, the fattest man, the fattest woman, and the tattooed. Sound familiar? P.T. Barnum would be so proud.

In preparation of our next session: Professions Made To Look Glamorous; please review Baking, Trucking, Fishing shows and the newest addition to the golden age of television: The Search Is on for the Best Hooker in America.

 

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