Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Complexities of Internet Grief

Yesterday I posted a photo of Cecil the lion and commented that the internet finally seemed united in their hatred of one person: the man who lured him out of his sanctuary, wounded him with an arrow, and then hunted the hurt animal for the next 40 hours before gunning him down in cold blood and beheading him for a trophy. But I was wrong about the internet being united on anything: because in that very moment a bunch of people thought, "Wait, we're UNITED about something? Can't let that stand" and immediately began suggesting that people who posted about the lion clearly cared more about animal suffering than human suffering.

At first I was annoyed: Jesus, can't we have one single moment of upset that something terrible has happened in the world before we all start calling each other names and guilting each other and accusing each other of not caring about anything else? The two aren't mutually exclusive: being saddened by the death of an innocent animal doesn't mean we don't care about the death of human beings, too.

But instead of being pulled down into typical internet arguing about something, let's ponder that thought and actually look at the issue, because, like it or not, these people are right. This lion was a beautiful creature, innocent, hunted only on instinct, and it was wilfully gunned down by a man who won't be arrested for his act. But ISIS isn't working in secrecy... why are we politicizing it and not spending every free moment of our days fighting it? Why are we not posting constantly about it on Twitter? And why the hell is anyone taking sides on the issue of nine people being gunned down in a church in the States? How is there a side to even take there?!

Is it possible that something about animals is ingrained in us from the get-go? Disney raises us to deal with big human emotions by anthropomorphizing animals and having them act it out for us. We don't mourn the loss of a human mother, but Bambi's mother, or Nemo's mother. We don't mourn the loss of a human father, but Simba's father. Animals are imbued with an innocence that humans can never have. If a lion bites you it's because you threatened him and he acted on instinct. He didn't get together with his buddies, draw up a game plan of how to lure you out of your tent, surround you, and kill you just for sport. When your cat bites you it's because you rubbed his belly wrong or he's trying to get your attention because you haven't fed him in the last three minutes or you just moved your arm after he'd been sleeping on it for the past two hours and you briefly interrupted his sleep. He doesn't plan to hurt you; he does so on instinct. But those of us with pets equate them with unconditional love. Sure, they might nip us or pee on something or make a mess, but sometimes snuggling with a cat or a dog is the only thing that makes the day a better one.

So when a lion dies we all cry out in horror. But just because humans are calculating and never perfect — even the sweetest lady who died in that church shooting could have bullied another child years ago when she was in grade school — it doesn't mean we shouldn't fight for the civil rights of everyone and be outraged that someone could have killed them. We have bumper stickers and posters declaring that Black Lives Matter. Is that even up for debate?! Who the hell thinks they don't?? And why aren't we fighting against anyone who thinks they don't, smearing their business pages with angry rants, shutting down their offices and forcing them to go into hiding like people did with the lion killer?

We as humans are so caught up in disagreeing along political lines or religious lines or ideological lines that we seem to have less and less sympathy for our fellow human beings. We can grieve the cat because he didn't have a different religion than we do, or didn't vote differently in the last election than we did, or didn't make an angry Twitter post one night that really changed our mind about him. He's just a lion. We humans are able to unite to mourn the cat, but we can't do the same about the human beings who are dying, or being tortured, or being mistreated, or being denied civil rights on a daily basis. And we need to.

This is Cecil the lion before he died. This is the photo I posted on Facebook yesterday.

And these are the nine beautiful people who were gunned down in South Carolina.

And this is Kayla Mueller, before she was murdered by ISIS. She was a humanitarian aid worker and human rights activist who was abducted in August 2013 and killed around the beginning of February 2015. She was 26.

Look into all their eyes. Mourn them. They all deserve our support, our outrage, our vow to make things change. Let's stop fighting amongst each other about who showed the proper amount of grief or outrage on Twitter or Facebook, or if you thought they showed too much on one topic and not enough on another. Let's stop pointing fingers and guilting each other and making people feel bad. Support each other in our grief, stand together against the real enemy, and actually turn the internet into a place that could effect change, instead of a place where we just fight amongst ourselves and then walk away to the next issue while leaving these incredible creatures — and their unnecessary deaths — behind.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Stuff for a Monday

Why, hello there! Yesterday was the ninth anniversary of me starting up this blog, and I realized I haven't blogged since Game of Thrones ended and left me a mess on the floor. And years ago I used to do these mishmash blog posts of randomness, so I thought I'd do one of those today just for the heck of it.

Bloom County Returns
As many of you know, I'm a crazy huge fan of Bloom County. When I was a kid, my family went through a bout where we lived in four different places within two years. It was tough, and on the final move I was particularly tired of it, but when we arrived at the new place my dad pointed into my new bedroom, which was empty except for an Opus stuffie sitting on the floor. To this day I have that Opus doll, and he sits on my mantle in my office and just stares into the room. When my brother and I were kids, my dad bought me a Bloom County book, and my brother got Calvin & Hobbes. I ended up getting all of the Bloom County books, and I still tell people that one of my worst book-lending nightmares was when my dad gave me the big Bloom County treasury book and I lent it to a friend, who ended up keeping it all summer, took it away to camp, and then handed it back to me in September, the pages all dog-eared and curled (she'd dropped it in some water at camp at one point) and she laughed and said, "It's well loved!!" I thought I was going to cry.

Bloom County went away in 1989, when artist Berkeley Breathed said the political climate had stopped being funny. And now, over 25 years later, it's returned with this glorious comic that showed up this morning on Breathed's Facebook page:

Yes, he's back! This time I thought I was going to cry again, but it was for only happy reasons. I can't wait to see what he has to say in the new millennium. Opus has never existed in the 21st century, hasn't had any comment post-9/11, hasn't been around at the same time as The Simpsons, for that matter. It's amazing to have him back.

And... Harper Lee Returns
Several months ago, it was announced that Harper Lee had a second novel, one written before To Kill a Mockingbird, one that was going to be published by HarperCollins in July. I was over the moon. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my all-time favourite novels. I first read it when I was a teenager, then in my twenties a couple of times, again in my thirties, and was just saying right before the announcement that I'd love to read it again.

But the good news was short-lived. For then it came out that Harper Lee was in a nursing home, not of sound mind, and that it was a greedy agent or greedy publisher or greedy lawyer (depending on the story) who was forcing her to put the book out. One person said she was happy and laughing and chatting at the nursing home; another said she was non-verbal and unresponsive all the time, and there's no way she could have signed the documents. Friends of mine on Facebook began calling it out, and saying no one should buy this book or it would be akin to elder abuse.

I didn't know what to do. Writers have the right to not have their work published if it's something they regret having written. Could you imagine someone publishing your high school poetry? And there's always been so much talk that Truman Capote had rewritten so much of To Kill a Mockingbird that he should have gotten a credit on the cover, but I've often chalked that up to sexism of the day. As if that purty lil' lady could have written those fancy words all by her lonesome!!

And then this week HarperCollins published the first chapter of the book online, and every news outlet picked it up. I went onto the Wall Street Journal site to read it... and I won't spoil what happens, but there's a shocking throwaway line that made my hand fly to my mouth and I gasped in horror. Suddenly I wasn't so sure I wanted to read the rest of the book. This book features the same characters as To Kill a Mockingbird, but she wrote the book BEFORE her classic. Even though it's technically a sequel — it happens twenty years after Mockingbird — she wrote Mockingbird as a prequel of sorts, one that only she knew about. So when she does certain things to beloved characters in Go Set a Watchman, she wasn't as invested in those characters as children or younger adults as we have been our entire lives.

AND THEN word got out that Atticus Finch is essentially a racist character, not the man who fought for the rights of an African-American man, as we've all upheld him to be. I didn't know if I wanted to do this anymore. Do I want to read this book — a book that Harper Lee didn't want published? That tosses away major characters in the first chapter like they're meaningless? That changes my view of who they once were?

But there have been some very interesting stories written about why we need to question this behaviour. Was Atticus really someone who fought for Civil Rights? No. He just believed the black man did not rape the white woman. But when (spoiler) he loses the court case, he doesn't stand up and rail against the establishment, or lead a Civil Rights parade down the street. He simply gets up, sadly goes home and says, "Oh well. Love thy neighbour, Scout. Even if thy neighbour be a racist piece of shit. You should love him." (This is not a direct quote.) It's not exactly a stretch that he would oppose civil disobedience. I've heard that Watchman is inconsistent — for example, Atticus actually wins the court case according to this book. So this book is not exactly a sequel, per se, but more of a historical document. Perhaps I can go into it not having the original characters changed, but almost seeing these new characters as separate.

Atticus was changed at the behest of an editor when Lee was working on To Kill a Mockingbird, so by reading Go Set a Watchman, we see what Harper Lee's original vision of him might have been. So I've decided not to cancel that pre-order, and I will be reading that book. If nothing else, I'll look at it as a writer and editor, looking at the process of one of America's greatest living writers, how her vision changed to create her masterpiece, and how, maybe, we need to question our literary heroes and ask whether they were as heroic as we've been led to believe.

Oh, and also...
Ernest Cline has a new book coming out tomorrow. Ready Player One is one of my all-time favourite books as well (it actually sits on the same bookshelf as To Kill a Mockingbird in my living room), and it's coming to me in the same pre-order as Go Set a Watchman tomorrow. So I confess: I'll be reading Armada first.

Grace and Frankie

I began watching this show on Netflix the day it premiered, and by the end of the first episode, I thought it was sort of cute, but the jokes were lame, and I didn't believe in any universe that Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston were a believable couple. Midway through the third episode, I gave up. I kind of hated the two guys — they could have told their wives about their secret affair 20 years earlier but instead kept it from them, let their wives raise their children, and then when those wives were officially senior citizens, they throw them back into the dating scene. It felt so unfair, these men stealing so much of their wive's lives from them, and leaving them alone in their twilight years.

But one day a few weeks ago, I was skimming around Netflix looking for something to watch (it's not a joke that people spend more time browsing the Netflix screens looking for new stuff than actually watching it because Netflix has the WORST search engine in the universe) and it popped up in my Continue Watching list. So I decided to continue watching. And Grace has a complete breakdown in the grocery store when the clerk won't pay attention to her and Frankie because he's too busy looking at a cute young thing in a low-cut top. Suddenly this wasn't the story of two women — played by Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin — who get dumped by their husbands after they reveal they've been having an affair with each other for 20 years, but the story of two 70-year-old women who have to start over. Grace is stuck-up, and Frankie is the New Age hippie who still sees her husband Sol as her best friend (and he sees her that way back). Each episode you see the women swinging back and forth on a pendulum of despair and joy, as they slump with misery at the thought of being alone for the rest of their lives, followed by the moment when they sense the freedom they now have. Richard is aloof most of the time because he and Grace barely had a relationship anyway, but Sol grapples with the guilt of what he's done to his beloved wife.

With every episode, I enjoyed this show more and more, and thought it began covering off all of the things that made me question it in the first place. The children's roles fell into place, and I couldn't wait to get back to watch what Grace and Frankie were going to do today. I thought it was a brilliant look at how society tends to disregard a woman in her 70s completely, and yet she is as vital and vibrant as she's ever been. AND... I even began to believe that Richard and Sol were in love. I was sad when I got to the end of the final episode and there was no more. If you haven't checked out this show yet, please do.