Lone Wolf Dismayed

Okay, you don’t want to talk about gun control? The one thing that all mass shooters have in common is that they have a gun (or 47), but we shouldn’t talk about that. They must have something else in common, right? You think we should talk about the “underlying issues” that cause people to commit mass shootings, issues like mental health or disenfranchisement. Okay. Cool. Fine. Let’s talk about it. I don’t want to- BELIEVE ME, I don’t- but let’s talk about what the connecting tissue between these incidents might be other than the actual guns. Cuz you know what most, if not all, of these modern “lone wolf” shooters have in common? They’re white men.

I know, I know, not a revelation, and of course I’m not saying that “all white men” are violent mass murderers. See, I have to point that out. I have to point that out, even though when I say “elephants are grey” I don’t have to specify #NotAllElephants (some might be white or black or even pink, I don’t know), because that’s how words work. But for some reason when it’s about men, I have to be sure to offer an escape hatch for anyone who doesn’t want to be included. I have to put that little disclaimer that, oh no, I don’t mean YOU. I could never mean you. You’re one of the good ones. You know that. And so do you. And so does every single other man who now doesn’t have to examine his behaviour because he’s bullied and whined and cajoled the rest of us into exempting him from the responsibility of the very words and actions that we are criticizing even though, sure, not all men, but in all likelihood, probably him. Probably you.

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America was born of the gun. With it, we “tamed the land” and “conquered the frontier.” Which is a romantic way to describe genocide. There is nothing so quintessentially American as the image of a cowboy with a gun. The Gun is as American a symbol as the stars and stripes. It was the Gun that won the revolutionary war, the guns that no king could ever take away. The Gun is freedom. It is power. It is Independence.

For some.

Not everyone got to experience this freedom, though, did they? Not everyone got to feel powerful.
Deep down inside every single straight white American male is a rancher fiercely defending his homestead. An underdog. A lone wolf.
He’s defending it from the Brits. He’s defending it from the Indians. He’s defending it from the n*****s coming to take his woman. Yes, “his.” The woman doesn’t brandish the gun. He wields the power, he has the freedom. She is his. She belongs to him, inside, tending to the children, and he defends them against those with darker skin tones- the Natives, the Negroes, the Mexicans. This is the heart and soul of America. This is our narrative. John Wayne, Dirty Harry, Rocky Balboa, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Captain America, Batman, Superman, RoboCop, and Kevin Bacon… they fight, they shoot, and they win. These are our “good guys.” It doesn’t matter how many stormtroopers or aliens or “injuns” they slaughter- they are the good guys. They all appeal to that scrappy little rebel clutching his official Red Ryder BB gun with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time deep in our hearts. We identify with them. We are them. We fight. We shoot. We win.

“The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” But what happens when we’re all the good guy? When every single one of us thinks of ourselves as “the good guy”, but the world only agrees with those who are white and male? What happens when some of those white males aren’t so good? Because it turns out that there’s no such thing as good guys and bad guys. There’s just the choices we make, every day.
And if those white males have guns? What might they choose to do with them?

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Imagine a world where all your heroes looked like you, and everyone who didn’t was either a possession or an enemy. That’s the reality that’s been sold to you. That you’ve been indoctrinated into. Yes, yes, #notallwhitemen, but you can’t help it. You didn’t choose this. It isn’t optional. This is the world. A world in which you are a person, a hero, and only your motivations matter. Anyone who gets in the way is an enemy.
It doesn’t matter if they have their own motivations that are as valid as yours. You’ll never know that, because you never hear their point of view. Hell, sometimes, and you’d never admit this, even to yourself, but sometimes you forget that other people even have their own goals, their own perspectives, and aren’t merely cardboard cutouts, just background, or possibly obstacles for you to overcome. Those goals might be, oh I don’t know, not having your entire race wiped off the continent. Or not being shot by cops in the street. Maybe the woman you’re attracted to isn’t attracted to you back. That isn’t her making a decision for her own life- no, no, it’s her depriving you of something that you want. And the hero always gets what he wants.

———————–

Why are so many mass shooters white males? What could the connection possibly be between being raised in a society that prizes your desires and celebrates your accomplishments above all others, actively dissuades empathy for people not like you, and worships gun culture, and mass shootings?
Why would someone raised with a sense of entitlement above all others feel like it’s okay to do something that it wouldn’t be okay for someone else to do?
Why would someone raised to believe that their beliefs and struggles and morals are superior to those of others ever think that they had the right to punish others?
Why would someone raised to believe that the narrative would always flow in the way that best suited their goals and motivations ever expect to be held accountable for what they’ve done to others?

————————

“This is reverse sexism/racism/heterophobia/don’t fight hate with hate.” Don’t bother. I hear you. I’m not hating. I don’t hate white males. I don’t think you’re all mass shooters waiting to happen, unless you already have. I’m pointing out that, whether you realize it or not, you are living in a different world from the rest of us.
It’s like the opposite of the Matrix- instead of everyone turning out to be a simulation that only exists for the benefit of Neo’s story arc, it turns out that the rest of us are actually real. The woman in the red dress might not even like you, and you have no right to her body. All those people in that lobby- those were real people, just trying to make a paycheck. And you killed them. You slaughtered those innocent people like they were cockroaches, and all you cared about was how cool you looked doing it.

You destroyed Metropolis, but it’s okay because you had a moral dilemma about whether to murder your enemy and decided it was okay, because you’d still be the hero. And hell, it’s okay that you completely interfered with another couple’s relationship, disrupting their wedding that they paid thousands of dollars for, because you’ve decided that the bride actually loves you- she doesn’t get a say, of course, and the groom is just another obstacle in the way of possessing “your woman.” Why oh why would you ever hesitate to shoot up a school, or a concert, if you thought it was the right thing to do?

———————–

And we buy it. We enable it. We don’t call you a “terrorist.” No, no, you’re a “country music fan.” We sing your name from the mountaintops- oh sure, condemning you, since we’re living our narratives, not yours, in which we’re the good guys, not you, though of course the country only agrees with the white males on that one, the white males who look upon the carnage on the news and say, “ho boy, lemme tell ya, if I had been there…”
If you had been there, there’d be some answerin’. Because you’re the good guy, pilgrim. A good guy with a gun.

————————

And sure, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I am sexist, or racist, or whatever. But something in American society is causing white men to murder masses of people, and it shows no sign of stopping, or even slowing down. There’s no king to rebel against, and murdering natives is somewhat frowned upon now (though not nearly enough). So who do you shoot? Gotta shoot someone, right? That’s what America is about. It’s worth noting that even though women attempt suicide more often, they succeed less than men, due to the male tendency to turn his gun on himself. This is not okay. This has to stop.

—————————

Remember what Joker said: it only takes one bad day. There are no good guys, and no bad guys. We’re just some people who had that day, and some who haven’t yet. Maybe they never will. But if it happens to you, then you have no idea what you will choose to do with that gun you keep so safely and diligently locked away from the very children you’re trying to protect. You will believe that you’re the good guy, but that’s what all the bad guys think. If that bad day happens, do you talk to someone about it, try to sort it out, address your emotions, your mental health, and practice an active and thoughtful empathy for others? Or would you not even know where to begin with any of that? Would you prefer to strap on your holster and solve the problem like a man? America has made the choice for you.

———————–

I feel like we only say this as a counter-argument against racist assumptions, when we should be saying it regardless: mass shooters are white males. Mass shooters are white males. MASS SHOOTERS ARE WHITE MALES.

They are not wolves, lone or otherwise. They are humans. They are men. And they are not alone. They have company. Those who have blazed the trail before them, whom most of us see as villains, but to you- maybe the bad day will come when they seem to you to have been onto something. Maybe they become heroes. Maybe you become one, too.

All white men- yes, #ALLWHITEMEN– have two things in common: an over-cultivated sense of entitlement, and an under-cultivated sense of empathy. Perhaps you choose to actively check your own entitlement, and practice empathy towards those who are different. Perhaps you’re trying to beat the system. If so, good for you. That’s what you’re supposed to be doing. No, it doesn’t make you a hero, and that realization is probably the hardest to come to terms with: you’re not a hero, you’re just another extra in everyone else’s lives. And who would want to live like that, when the alternative is being handed to them in a silver holster?

——————————-

So what do we do?

Teach children empathy for others, even and especially those who are different, from a young age. Teach them conflict resolution skills that do not rely on violence. Teach them that they aren’t more important than anyone else, and their accomplishments don’t count more just for being them. Teach them to be honest with their feelings, and ask for help when they’re feeling overwhelmed. Teach them that it isn’t their job to protect others, because those others don’t “belong” to them. Teach them that their apparent enemies often have good reasons for doing what they do, even if it’s inconvenient for them. And teach them that guns don’t solve problems, don’t make you look cool, and don’t make you a hero.

And in the meantime, make it a little bit harder for those who don’t understand that yet to do the wrong thing on that bad day.

This is something we can choose to do. Not because we are enemies of the NRA or gun manufacturers or white men everywhere. Not because we’re trying to curtail anyone’s freedom. But because the real heroism is in making change- it’s the hardest, scariest thing to do, but also the most necessary.

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Inaugural Miss

I once had this friend. Originally from Japan, he had travelled the world- Australia, Indonesia, Africa, Europe- and settled for a while here in Canada. Eventually this nomad moved on, and while we may have lost touch a little, we remained Facebook friends (as you do). When I heard that he was getting married, I was happy that he’d found a kindred spirit. Both world travellers, they realized that they’d never be able to invite everyone they cared about to their wedding, since their friends and family were scattered across the globe. So, they came up with a rather elegant solution: they chose a time for their ceremony, planned the precise moment when they would be married, and started researching time zones. They informed everyone they were close to what time it would be in their respective part of the world when the moment came, and they asked us, at that moment, no matter what time it was where we were, to light a candle in our window. That way, even though it was only the two of them (and the officiate) on that beach, they would know that a light was being shared all over the world to shine on their new journey together. Now, of course, there was no way for the happy couple to know who had lit candles, or if they’d done it at the correct time, but it didn’t matter, because it wasn’t just about them. Wedding ceremonies rarely are. It’s about your family and friends getting to participate in your glorious moment. They were very specific; whoever wanted to participate in the candle-lighting could, but it was okay if you didn’t. It was an invitation to be a part of their special day. We, the global friends, got to decide if we wanted to share the moment with them. We would know if we lit those candles. We would remember if we participated. And if we had, that would never be undone.

I am not going to watch trump’s inauguration ceremony (that is not a typo- I find it difficult to bring myself to capitalize his stupid name). He is a troll who feeds on attention. That is what got him where he is. Like many reality TV stars, he does not seem to know the difference between the good and bad type of attention. Look at all his tweets about “haters”. Look at how he feeds on being called out by Meryl Streep or Saturday Night Live. You insult him, he retorts, and the media covers it for months. Now he is claiming that his Inauguration ceremony is the “everyone will be there” event of the year. “We are going to have an unbelievable, perhaps record-setting turnout for the inauguration,” he says. “All the dress shops are sold out in Washington.” This isn’t true, of course, but he needs it to be. And he doesn’t care if you support him or not. He’s probably hoping for a protest. He’s hoping for a riot. It’ll make him feel important. Look how he loves to kick people out of his rallies- even if you aren’t opposing him, he’ll treat you as if you are, because a bully needs a patsy. He acts as if there are assassins on his tail, because he loves to play the part of the President. He loves the parties, the pomp and circumstance, the attention. But he doesn’t want to do the job. There’s nothing more disheartening than no one showing up at your birthday party. This is his big moment, and he wants us to shine a light on it.

I understand that, unless you are a Nielsen household, your viewing habits are not recorded. I understand that there are ways to watch the train wreck without letting him know. But you’ll know. We’ll all know. Because it isn’t just about him. It’s about all of us. By watching the inauguration, even if your views aren’t counted, you are letting him into your life. You are participating. You are sharing in his celebration. I don’t care if you’re giving him the good or bad kind of attention. Even if you’re watching in the hopes that he’ll fall on his stupid orange face, by tuning in this ridiculous sideshow, this ultimate finale to the Apprentice, you are admitting to yourself that you would rather live in a reality TV show. You want the circus. You want to participate as audience, not citizen. If you turn on your TV to any channel broadcasting it, you are shining a light in your window to illuminate his journey. And that can never be undone.

Trigger, Please

Trigger Warning: Triggers. Also, Trump. Also, sexual assault, but who gives a shit about that? It’s not like we’re talking about something really bad. Like emails.

I’d like to take a moment to talk about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. You know, that thing that people get when they aren’t strong enough to “handle” the atrocities they’re unfortunate enough to live through?

I kid. Seriously, of all the awful things that simmering pile of pumpkin spice hatred has said, this was one of the most innocuous. It seems like this election season, we’re constantly focused on the wrong thing.

Like emails. Holy fucking Christ, enough with the goddamn emails already.

I’m not here to talk about emails.

I’m here to talk about sexual assault.

TRIGGER WARNING: Just assume that this is in effect from here until the end of time. Or at least, for the next four to eight years, because it looks like that’s exactly what’s going to happen. Either the US will have elected a sex offender, or a woman- and we all know what happens when a woman says something in public, and just how is a President supposed to avoid doing that?

But I’m getting ahead of myself, when I should be getting behind myself, like a stalker, or a leering old man hovering behind a woman he feels needs to be put in her place by any means necessary. Let me go back to the rosy days of the early 2000’s, when I was with my psychotic BF- no, really, he was honest-to-god psychotic. I mean, I’m not a psychiatrist, but that’s the condition he claimed to “suffer” from, and I believed him, because the evidence supported it, and anyway who would lie about something like that? One night, I was sleeping over in an old set of pajamas I’d borrowed from him- not a sexy set, and they didn’t even fit properly, so my apologies for making it harder to blame what happens next on my wardrobe. I was woken by violent kissing- holding me down, trying to strip me naked- which I just barely managed to fight off. Once I did, he told me that he was suffering a “psychotic break” and required some kind of catharsis to get through it. He was on the verge of murdering his roommate sleeping in the next room, he told me. But because I was a woman, I afforded him opportunities for dehumanization worse than death. Because I was a woman, he could be more satisfied by raping and torturing me than he could ever be with boring old murder. During the night-long ordeal, he even congratulated himself on losing his erection, thinking that it proved that he was really a nice guy deep down, since he didn’t truly enjoy what he was doing to me. See how much it hurts me to do this? I can’t even keep my dick hard. I had to fellate him to get him hard again so he could keep raping me. He really was a nice guy.

He made sure I stayed conscious, that I didn’t “check out”, by making me participate in acts of humiliation against myself. He’d force me to say things, words my young mouth had never uttered before, and certainly not in mixed company, just to make sure I was still paying attention, that I couldn’t escape, not even in my own mind. The hours flew by in eons, and sooner or later, I stopped fearing death. I accepted it. I understood that this was the last thing that would ever happen to me, the way my life would end. All of my hopes and dreams and ambitions would vanish forever with the sunrise. I accepted it. It’s not that I wanted to die. I’d just stopped caring.

Unmercifully, the sun eventually came up, and I was technically still alive, if you could call it that. I was covered in a substance- a mixture of blood, semen, and feces, I think- and he seemed finally sated. I don’t remember exactly how the fluids got all over me- I know the blood was coming from somewhere inside me, but to this day I still don’t know why. I know I was conscious, but my brain won’t let me remember.

As far as I was concerned, I was essentially dead. When you accept death as readily as I had, being still alive is nothing more than a technicality. I wanted to take my body off. It didn’t belong to me anymore. It no longer housed my soul, my identity. My personhood had been destroyed. So this is what it’s like to be a zombie. Aim for the head- the rest is taken.

So, I cleaned myself up, left without making eye contact, screamed internally to be able to rip my own skin off, and went to work like it was any other day. I didn’t think about it. I didn’t think about anything. Just went through the motions. No one ever asked me what was wrong.

It’s been like that ever since, with maybe a few exceptions, especially early on (abortion, attempted suicide). Just pick yourself up, clean yourself off, pantomime your way through the rest of your life, and never, ever think about it.

But he really should’ve killed me.

I mean, I was ready. I had accepted it. It’s almost cruel to force me to live after that. Because how can you really live if in your mind, you’ve already died?

The thing that got me was that, that night, it was proven to me beyond a reasonable doubt that the entire concept of human rights is just a fiction we tell ourselves to hide the fact that we’re just meat, we can be used and disposed of at the whim of others and there are no rules of nature or physics to prevent that, and we all die, we all go to the emptiness, the void where there is no eternity. It’s all nothing. We are nothing. We don’t matter. Or, at least, I don’t.
“Because you’re a woman.”

So, let me explain to those who are fortunate enough not to suffer from it what it’s like to have PTSD. Or at least, what it’s like for me.

It’s like a play. A theater production. There’s what is being performed on stage, and the machinations that go on behind the scenes. Only, behind the scenes, the theater is burning down and everyone is dying. But the show must go on.

When you have PTSD, it’s because the thing that occurred to cause it never ended. It isn’t over. It’s not something that happened, it’s something that IS HAPPENING. Always. 24/7. 365. Forever.

You never dealt with it. You never got over it. You never got past it. It’s happening right now. It is always happening, you just ignore it. You push it to the back of your mind. It’s backstage, and you just focus on the play. Perform, perform, pay no attention to the screams behind the curtain. You are in two realities at all times. You are fully aware of the present, the day to day activities you perform dutifully, seeing friends, talking to family, showing up to work, going through the motions. And you’re present, you really are. But there’s a part of you, behind the curtain, in the back of your mind, that is stuck in that moment, that goddamned eternal moment. And you can never escape.

So, what’s a trigger? A trigger is something that pierces the veil. Something in the front-world, the stage-and-audience world, the world of the present forces a connection to the eternal moment, the backstage, the inferno behind the curtain. That inferno spills out. The moment is no longer contained. Don’t scratch at that wall, Sam, there’s nothing good on the other side. Suddenly, the separation ceases to exist, and both realities come crashing into each other. You are now back in that moment, the Event, not just on a subconscious level, but on every level. It’s happening again. It never stopped.

Some triggers are obvious: a conversation about sexual assault could remind someone of their sexual assault. Others less so: the music of Metallica is a trigger for me, because that was his favourite band, and it will always be associated with that place. Other people have certain sounds, smells, sights… we can’t possibly protect ourselves from all of them, and we can’t possibly post warnings about all of them. But there are some that we really have no excuse for not doing something about. I’ll give you a few examples:

When someone catcalls me on the street, reminding me that I am viewed as nothing more than a piece of meat for the consumption of others, I’m back in that moment, in that place. When someone insists that I smile or tell them my name or give them my phone number when it’s clear that I’m not interested, I’m back there. When someone talks down to me, or suggests I don’t know my own mind, I’m back there. When someone touches me without my consent, I’m back there. When someone tells me I’m being “too sensitive” for not wanting to go back there, I’m back there.

And when the so-called “greatest nation on Earth” is about to elect a misogynistic admitted sex offender to the highest office in the land, you better fucking believe I am back there.

Donald Trump has been accused of multiple acts of sexual harassment and assault. Some of those accusations have led or are leading to trial. He’s even bragged about it himself. The day that he is elected over a hard-working, compassionate, experienced, qualified, lifelong public servant who just happens to be a woman is the day that I know for an indisputable fact that what I learned that day was true: I don’t matter. I will never win. I may as well be dead.

Trying to convince myself that that wasn’t true saved my life. It kept me from finally accomplishing what he couldn’t. I changed my mind about killing myself because I didn’t want to believe it was true. But if Trump is elected, I will know it’s true. I will know that this world offers no place, no safety for someone like me.

Donald Trump is a human trigger, in bright safety orange, and no one fucking warned us. Or did they, and we just didn’t listen? Are we listening now?

I can’t live in a world that would elect this man over Hillary Clinton. I won’t. I refuse. The night I was raped and tortured because I was a woman has lasted for fifteen years, and on Tuesday, I will know if it can finally end. This election will trigger either a resurgence of the social norms that put people like me in places like that, or it will trigger the final, gradual, eventual healing we so desperately need, with all the pain and pus and revolution and regrowth that goes with it.

Either way, you’ve been warned.

 

Golden Boys: Why America Mustn’t Elect Donald Trump

There’s a weird trend I’ve noticed happening in movies. It may have started with Batman Begins, but it might have been Harry Potter, or even Lord of the Rings. Slightly more recently, it can be seen in The Amazing Spider-Man, Man of Steel, and J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek. But before I get into it, let’s have some storytime:

 
I had this friend who was mostly a good guy. He considered himself a feminist, but not in an obnoxious, “look at me” kind of way, just in that kind of way where he’d looked the word up in a dictionary and realized that it applied to him because he wasn’t a backwards monster. He joined a frat. I’ve never really understood the appeal of the whole Greek/hazing/getting-into-trouble-with-the-uptight-dean culture, but hey, that’s what he wanted. He assured me that it wasn’t one of “those” frats- it was basically a nerd frat, full of guys getting together to fix computers and play Dungeons and Dragons or something. I asked what the point of joining a frat was, and he explained that it basically meant that any time you wanted a job, or a leg-up in any field, if the guy in charge was a legacy, you were a shoe-in. “That’s not fair” I said. “There are lots of people who can’t join frats. How come we can’t have the same advantage?” “What do you mean?” “You’re telling me that if you’re in a frat, anyone who’s ever been in that frat is far more likely to do you a favour. And of course, you’re more likely to be in a frat if your father was in that frat, and his father before him, etc. etc. So there’s like this network of people all willing to give handouts to each other based on the fact that they and/or their families have ties to this one group. And this one group is comprised of white males.”
“That’s not true,” he said. “People of colour can join. And there are female fraternities.”
“But that hasn’t always been the case. And isn’t the whole point about being a legacy? If I’m applying for a job, even if I’m a member of a ‘female fraternity’ (isn’t that just a sorority?), the chances that the CEO of the company is a member of that same frat are slim to none. Can you honestly not see how that’s giving men an unfair advantage? How it excludes women? The very word means ‘brotherhood’. How can you say that you believe that women should have the same opportunities as men while being a part of something that ensures that you have an advantage thanks to your penis?”
“It’s the way it’s always been done.”

 
See, privilege is like that. You tend to only see it when it’s being given to someone else. As much as you may think of yourself as a good guy, an enlightened soul, you cannot be expected to perceive something that has always been present for every moment of your life. Asking a white male to notice their own privilege is like asking them what air smells like. We can really only perceive something when we have something to compare it do, something to differentiate it from. They’ve never known anything else. But you better believe that they’d appreciate the air when they begin to suffocate.

For years we’ve been hearing the backlash from angry white males against those who have just been trying to even the playing field. Affirmative action and feminism become the bad guys, because it’s a about sharing what one group has always been handed without earning. You may not notice the advantages you get to enjoy when it’s the only reality you’ve ever known, but you sure as hell notice when someone tries to take it away. And you know what? I don’t blame you. It’s cruel, to raise you to believe that the world is your oyster, that success in life will just be handed to you because of the way you were born, only to snatch that away and tell you that you have to share. If I’d lived a lifetime of privileged entitlement that I didn’t even know about, and suddenly things changed and I had to actually earn what I had, I’d probably be defensive and aggressively nostalgic, too.
Speaking of nostalgia, let’s take a brief moment to consider the 80’s. Capitalism was roaring, traditional masculinity was prized, and we all identified with the hard-working straight white male from a blue-collar background. Our hero was John McClane, an everyman who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. But he was smart and determined, and won the day through pluck and grit. And despite the messianic imagery, the same could be said for Officer Alex Murphy- an “American Jesus”, according to Paul Verhoeven, a hero who was not prophesied to be a saviour, but just kind of fell into it through circumstances outside his control and made the best of it from there. GI Joe were a group of people who were all very good at what they did, like Rambo, whose skills were developed via extensive training, or Indiana Jones, who studied in his field to become an expert in mystical artifacts. But then, in the early 90’s, a popular addition was made to the Indiana Jones franchise- we met his dad. It turned out that Henry Jones Sr. taught Indy everything he knew. Indy was just following in his father’s footsteps all along. When the Terminator came out in 1984, its heroes were a waitress thrust into a life-threatening situation due to circumstances outside of her control and rising to meet the challenge with courage, and a time-travelling soldier who’s just trying to utilize his training to do his job the best he can (and also to deliver some very important sperm). When the sequel came out in the 90’s, the hero became the child of that union, a messiah who had been given a mission by his own parents. Maybe this is Star Wars’ fault. Maybe that whole “no, I am your father” scene in Empire had just been sitting, germinating in the brains of movie-goers everywhere. But why did it take until the 90’s to start showing up everywhere?
There are different kinds of movie heroes, and the difference is in what makes them a hero, and how they get there. In the 80’s, we had our John McClanes, our Sarah Conners, our Ellen Ripleys, our John Rambos- people who rise to a challenge thanks to hard work and determination. And while, sure, they still existed in the 90’s, the late 90’s and early 2000’s turned its attention to the Chosen One. These are characters who have been pre-determined by fate or parentage or whatever to be the MOST IMPORTANT PERSON IN THE WORLD.

 
In 2002, the final Star Trek: TNG movie came out. In Star Trek: Nemesis, Tom Hardy plays a young clone of Captain Picard named Shinzon, whose childhood was spent being abused by Romulans in a dilithium mine. The Big Question that the movie is clumsily trying to address is: are you who you are because you were born that way, or is it completely circumstantial? Is character destiny? If the moral, intellectual, enlightened Jean-Luc Picard had been raised in similar hardship to Shinzon, would he have turned out to be a genocidal maniac as well? I would argue that this movie was something of a turning point in pop culture from the hard-work-and-determination hero to the pre-destined-messiah hero (if anyone actually paid attention to it), but I feel like I must point out that Picard does specifically mention that he was the first member of his family to leave the solar system. We all know that his father wanted him to stay in France and tend the vineyard. Picard became the best captain in Starfleet entirely of his own volition. He even failed the Academy entrance exam on his first try, and later graduated as valedictorian. He worked hard and was good at his job, and that’s all there is to it.

 
1999’s The Matrix was a game-changer in movies. In it, Neo doesn’t actually have to do anything to earn the role of Messiah. He doesn’t even have to learn Kung Fu- it just gets uploaded to his brain. He’s prophesied to be The One, and that’s all the qualification he needs. Rather like Harry Potter, who, let’s face it, is not exactly the most diligent student. But who needs to be, when you’re a “natural” flyer, and can speak Parseltongue despite not even knowing what that is? Harry’s greatest accomplishment is just being born, and not getting killed by Voldemort as an infant. He can hardly be given credit for that. But we are told that his parents watch over him, and really, it often seems like they were the real heroes of his story before it even began. You could argue that Frodo, at least, is just a plain old hobbit, who rises to a challenge borne of nothing more than random circumstance, but it’s also fairly clear that he was chosen for this quest- only he can carry the ring, after all. Between Bilbo and Gandalf, Frodo has no shortage of father figures imposing a heroic destiny upon him. And don’t even get me started on the mess that is Star Wars.
I used to think that this was all some sort of Jesus thing, that for some reason, as global warming became more and more threatening, and we became more and more cynical that you can gain success in life by earning it fair and square, we needed to believe in some kind of Chosen One to save us. But all of the examples I’ve brought up are from speculative, or rather, escapist fiction. These protagonists are not the heroes we wish would save us, but the heroes we wish we were. That’s how protagonists work, after all.

 
At some point it stopped being about prophesies and messiahs, and became more literally about parents- specifically fathers. This doesn’t disprove the Jesus connection, obviously, but it does make me think that maybe we’re dealing with a more earthbound anxiety. Let’s look at Spider-Man.
Peter Parker was a totally normal kid who was in the wrong place at the wrong time- specifically, on a class field trip when a radioactive spider got loose. But that spider bite isn’t what made him Spider-Man. He was completely prepared to use his powers for personal gain until the death of his beloved Uncle Ben made him choose- yes, CHOOSE- to become Spider-Man. There was no prophecy. He had no parents in whose footsteps to follow. He was just a guy trying really hard to do the right thing. Until, of course, Sony’s The Amazing Spider-Man came out and ruined it.
Now, I haven’t read every Spider-Man comic, so I can’t tell you for sure that at no point since the 60’s have we ever talked about Peter’s parents, but it’s safe to say they’ve never really factored into his story. Peter is already an orphan when we meet him. I have no idea what his parents were like, but for some reason, this movie decides to fill us in. It’s no longer enough that Peter just gets bitten by a random spider that could have bitten anyone. No, in this version, it was his father’s spider that he, uh, left for Peter to find, I guess? The spider was part of Parker Sr’s research, making Peter some kind of heir to the spider throne. That spider was never going to bite anyone else. That spider was meant for Peter. It was fate. It was destiny. It was his Spider-Legacy.
Maybe this wasn’t done on purpose. Maybe it’s because of the awesome Batman Begins- everyone else is just copying it. Personally, I think it’s a pretty neat trick to get the audience to actually *care* about Thomas and Martha Wayne before they’re killed off. Good call, Christopher Nolan, letting us actually get to know Batman’s parents. Especially Thomas- it turns out that Batman’s dad was a really good guy. He taught young Bruce to look out for the little guy and pick himself up when he fell down. Then he died and left his son billions of dollars, a company with the world’s shadiest R&D department, and a mansion with a conveniently located cave right underneath. Thanks, dad. So naturally, when Man of Steel came out, it had to outdo Batman by including not one, but BOTH of Superman’s dads. Not only does Kal-El receive his mission to save the world directly from his father Jor-El, but for some reason the film goes out of its way to show us what a heroic, upstanding dude Jonathan Kent was by having him sacrifice himself to a tornado as it rips through the Kansas farmland. That’s weird, because Mr. Kent didn’t die in the comics. Superman not only gets to have the most tragic backstory ever by being the only survivor of a destroyed planet, but he also gets to be, like, the only superhero whose parents are still alive. For some reason, though, Snyder’s film decided that Clark’s dad had to die, leaving behind a legacy of generally being a good guy to follow.
The DC movies are notoriously terrible, but this same dynamic is present in the Marvel franchise. Let’s look at the latest installment, Captain America: Civil War. More emphasis than I expected was placed on Tony Stark missing his dead parents. We all know that Steve Rogers knew Tony’s dad back in World War 2, just as we know that Tony inherited everything he needed to become Iron Man from his father. There was even that weird holographic message that his dad left him to lead him on his eventual mission- wait, am I remembering that right? Did Tony’s dad really record this secret, encoded message to Tony that allowed him to become Iron Man and defeat the bad guys, saving his father’s company, now his, in the process? We really couldn’t have had him just decide to do that on his own? Regardless, while Tony basically inherited everything that makes him Iron Man from his father, Steve became Captain America due to his own choice to volunteer for a mission that was more important than his own life. To me, that is what makes Captain America a hero- he always makes the right choice, and he would do that with or without the serum- but Tony, once again, is a Legacy. It’s amazing to me how many people who had never read the comic series Civil War chose either “Team Steve” or “Team Tony” before the movie even came out. I noticed a trend amongst the people who chose Team Tony, and I don’t want to generalize, but let’s just say that this might be the same group that’s disappointed that there is no Entourage 2. I’m not saying that anyone likes Iron Man because his origin can be tied directly to his father’s influence- no, he was never that popular in the comics, people like him because he’s played by Robert Downey Jr.- but, wait, who the hell is Robert Downey Jr? Okay, that’s a stupid question, because even his twitter account identifies him only as “you know who I am.” But Mr. Jr. is a perfect example of someone who can seemingly get away with whatever he wants, because why? And who exactly was Robert Downey Sr.? Is it a coincidence that our greatest heroes are increasingly becoming white males who inherited their advantages instead of earning them?
The narrative of the straight white male who inherits his heroic mission from a father figure instead of choosing or earning it himself can also be seen in Thor, Daredevil, and countless others, even going outside the superhero genre and into other speculative, or escapist, fiction.

 

The most insulting example of this has got to be J.J. Abram’s Star Trek. I mean, what the fuck. While Zachary Quinto and Karl Urban were perfect as Spock and McCoy, the rest of the cast was basically just fine. If anyone should fit into that first category, it should absolutely be Captain James Tiberius Kirk, and yet, Chris Pine is basically, for lack of a better word, acceptable. He seems to have been cast based on handsomeness, and while I certainly wouldn’t kick him out of bed for eating cookies (hell, I probably wouldn’t kick him out of bed for eating dead babies, but then I’m very lonely), I don’t feel like that’s good enough. No offence to Chris Pine- his eyes are very blue, I’ll give him that- it’s just that this depiction of Kirk really falls flat. It took me quite a while to figure out why that might be, and when I finally had an idea, I started writing this.
You see, James T. Kirk was one of a handful of survivors of a colony that suffered a terrible genocide (see the original Star Trek episode “The Conscience of the King”), which strongly implies he was an orphan (though he has- er, had- a brother). That’s pretty much the only information we are ever provided regarding Kirk’s family. He joined Starfleet, worked hard, did well at the academy, cheated at the Kobayashi Maru and got away with it, and eventually became the youngest Starfleet captain in history. It is never implied that he got there through anything other than hard work and ingenuity. Captain Kirk is very good at what he does. He thinks outside the box and regularly outwits, out-maneuvers, and out-Kirk-Fu’s his opponents. His parents’ influence on the direction his life takes never even comes up. The only original Star Trek character whose father we ever get to meet is Spock’s, and it’s clear that they don’t get along. Sarek does not approve of the choices his son has made, and the two disagree on most subjects. Like Captain Picard, Spock has made his own choices for his own life, despite his father’s wishes, not because of them. So why do the new movies feel the need to change all of that?
In the world of the J. J. Abrams Star Trek, Jim Kirk is a drunken lout, some reckless kid that Captain Christopher Pike hand picks from a bar to command the Enterprise based on nothing other than having known his father. What? Where the hell are they getting this from? In this new Star Trek incarnation, Kirk does not earn his commission. He is chosen by a surrogate father figure, fast-tracked through the academy, and handed a command that he is entirely unqualified for. And he’s frankly a pretty terrible captain, but that’s okay, because he’s Captain Kirk, damn it, and everything just magically works out for him. But his entire career, right down to the mythical re-programming of the Kobayashi Maru simulation, is depicted as nothing more than the actions of an irresponsible, entitled douche who can get away with whatever he wants because do you know who his dad was? Kirk’s command is based on a form of nepotism- he is a Legacy, and while there may be harder-working, more qualified Starfleet officers, Kirk happens to share Pike’s square jaw and piercing blue eyes, and everything just gets handed to him on a silver platter without him having to actually earn a damn thing. Why has Hollywood decided that what we want in a hero is someone whose quest is handed to them by some kind of father figure, along with whatever supposed “powers” that make them special?
Honestly? I think the white male audience just wants their fraternities back.

 
The system that has been in place for longer than anyone can remember to favour the white men of the world is finally starting to crumble. It’s no longer enough that your daddy is a senator, nowadays you’re actually expected to work for what you have. Movie heroes are made for white men who are nostalgic for the time when important careers were handed to them, no questions asked, and the only qualification needed was to be born to another white male. A rich one, preferably, who could afford an education, but didn’t need to work to get into the school he wanted because his father went there, and his father, and so on. The privileges and advantages that used to be automatic to the chosen few are being stripped away. Who doesn’t wish that they could just get drunk in a bar, get into car accidents, have sex with random people and be generally completely irresponsible, and STILL be handed the command of the Enterprise because some captain knew your father and has a “good feeling” about you? We are seeing the fantasy of every American Male, the very people who founded the idea that anyone can make it, as long as they get to cut in line. That’s why we’re seeing freak-outs every time there’s a Ghostbusters remake where the cast is women, or a Mad Max sequel with a strong female presence. We had female heroes back in the 80’s and early 90’s all the time, and no one cared, because no one felt threatened. We understood that no matter how awesome Sarah Conner or Ripley or Buffy or Elizabeth Shue were, John McClane and Rambo could still show up and kick ass because they were good at their jobs, damn it, and they EARNED it. Did they really “earn” it? Of course not, but we were still allowed to believe that they did. But now that everyone is expected to “check their privilege”, it’s becoming harder and harder not to see the assumed entitlement that has gone unquestioned until now. It’s becoming harder and harder not to smell the air. Women and black people are entering your fraternities. Soon they will be taking your jobs, and you will be expected to work just as hard as they do if you want to keep them. So you escape into a world where having a rich white daddy still means something. You vote for a man whose only qualification to be president is his inherited wealth. You desperately want to believe that there is still some value in being a Legacy. But Iron Man is on the wrong side, Peter Parker’s father never collected spiders, and Captain Kirk gained his commission through a series of promotions, every single one of which he earned by being good at his job. Heroes become heroes because of the hard choices they make, not because of the choices that are made for them because choosing is hard. You do not get to coast on unearned privilege and still be the guy who throws the ring into the volcano. You do not get to be elected to an important office that you are unqualified for, just because you’re a white male.

 
And this, THIS is what I find so terrifying about Trump. You see, it’s not the fact that he inherited his wealth from his father and started his business thanks to his father’s money. Having an important daddy doesn’t automatically make you unqualified- here in Canada, we elected our own Golden Boy, and that seems to be going pretty well, depending on whom you ask. No, what bothers me is that it doesn’t matter how much you point out just how unqualified for the job of President of the United States Donald is, because that is exactly why his supporters like him. We are dealing with a generation of white males who grew up being told, indirectly, that being a white male was enough. You could apply for a job against a much more qualified woman or black person or immigrant, and still be hired. But now, the women, black people, and immigrants are taking those jobs away. Your advantages are disappearing, and you have nothing to fall back on, because you never thought you’d ever need any actual qualifications. Donald gives these people hope. If someone like him can still be President over a much more qualified female candidate, then there’s still hope. And no, no one would ever admit, even to themselves, that that’s the reason, which is why we insist on spinning BS about emails that no one cares about. There’s no amount of qualification that can surmount the angry white males who want “their” country back. Remember when America was “great”? When the person who got handed command of Starfleet’s newest ship wasn’t the person who was most qualified, but the nearest white male who happened to have an “in” with the captain? Because that’s where we’re heading again. If we elect Donald Trump, all our progress will be lost, and it will be us that put him there. Yes, US. Not just the backwoods hillbillies that we want so badly to blame. Not just the Southern redneck racists and uneducated rural dwellers. No, you classist asshole, the call was coming from inside the movie theatre. We were Tyler Durden all along. We ALL go to these movies, and we all love them, because on some level, we all want to go back to a simpler time, a time when we always knew who was in charge, because he had the whitest dick. A time when no one actually had to try, because if you were a white male it was handed to you, and if you weren’t, you were getting nothing anyway. We are chugging our way along to an eventual meritocracy it turns out that we don’t really want. All of the films I’ve named here are of the wish-fulfillment genre, and it is us, we women and black people clamouring for greater representation, we intellectual liberals who appreciate the allegorical elements of our comic book movies, it is we who allowed Trump to happen. He is our wish fulfillment. He is the Great White hope who will allow us to watch our world burn.

 
Do you smell that? That’s the air. Smoky, isn’t it?

HOW ROB FORD STOLE CHRISTMAS

Every Big Smoker likes Christmas somewhat,

Or we would if our Mayor would get off his butt.

Rob Ford must like Christmas, at least when it’s his,

And how he celebrates is frankly none of your biz.

But when a big storm came and took all our power,

It was time for Rob Ford to be Man of the Hour!

Should he call in the Army? Or is that too far?

Should he offer stranded travellers a ride in his car?

He could call out for help, hand out food and wares,

Or simply do ANYTHING to show that he cares.

Whatever the reason, his crack or a scandal,

This one storm proved simply more than he could handle.

So, tired of hearing us bitch, whine, and moan,

He looked us straight in the eye and said, “You’re on your own.”

On our own we were! And boy, did we shine,

With Hydro pros out fixing line after line.

Strangers offering their homes to those who are cold,

Looking out for the poor, the young and the old.

Emergency crews working tireless nights,

In whole neighbourhoods without any lights.

Forestry teams working ever so nimbly,

Every house lit with candles and warmed from the chimbly.

While glowering down from our great City Hall

Is our Mayor, whose heart is two sizes too small.

But the province is with us, urging us on,

The rest of the country is keeping us strong.

The world sends their love and support to our city,

Their condolences that our mayor is so shitty.

While we soldier on, though Christmas looks bleak,

And we may not have power for at least a week,

No ice storm, no outage, can dampen our spirit.

Our hope burns so bright, you can practically hear it!

For as much as our Mayor we love to insult,

Deep down even we know it isn’t his fault.

It’s winter in Canada, and one of the worst,

Ice breaking power lines and making pipes burst.

Nature has decided to just have her way

with all of us on this cold Christmas Day.

But with all of our worries, both those far and near,

Christmas is coming! Nay, Christmas is HERE!

It came without power, it came without heat,

It came without TV and freshly cooked meat.

It came while our Mayor lay useless and lame,

Christmas came to Toronto. It came just the same.

And wouldn’t it be nice if, at the very least,

Rob Ford put down the pipe and offered a feast?

He could tell us we’re awesome, even offer a toast,

And then he, HE HIMSELF, could carve up the roast!

I’m sure, wherever he is, Christmas came for him too,

And I wish him the best. No, really, I do.

Because Christmas doesn’t come from a store.

Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.

Christmas is a time to give,

To love, to cherish, and to forgive.

Christmas Day is in our grip,

So long as we have drinks to sip.

Welcome Christmas, bring your light.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Dear Given Breath

Since your comment thread seems to be disabled, I shall add my response to your post here, contributing my small part to the din of Internet Rage.

Mrs. Hall,
I’m sure your heart is in the right place, right now, you are NOT teaching your boys to respect girls. What you are teaching them is that, if they find a girl sexy, it is shameful, she’s not a “woman of character”, and most importantly, that THEIR inappropriate thoughts are HER fault.
For centuries, girls have been told how to behave, how to dress, how to present themselves, and how to think, by society. Not by “men”, but by society- a society that older, established women like yourself are a part of. But this is the key point that I think you’re missing:
Girls must have the right to present themselves however they like, and it is the responsibility of your sons to treat her with respect no matter what.
Treating a person with respect should not be conditional, or based on the moral judgments you choose to place on her facebook pictures.
And if a boy gets a boner looking at a girl, then it is his own responsibility to react appropriately, and NOT THE FAULT OF THE GIRL.
What you are teaching your sons is that the freedom of expression available to girls should be policed, that girls should be judged by their appearance, and that if they leer at a girl, it’s her fault instead of theirs. These are the same dangerous messages that we have been teaching boys for millennia, messages that lead to the prevalence of rape culture in our society. A girl must adhere to society’s definitions of decency, and if she doesn’t, then she will be objectified and disrespected by men, and it will be her own fault.

Instead, maybe you should remind your sons that their female friends are experimenting with self-expression, and have as much right as their male friends to do so. It is up to them to respond appropriately and respectfully to whatever their friends choose to post. Teach them that it isn’t their place to pass judgment on others, male or female, and that it is important to treat EVERYONE with equal respect, no matter their gender, wardrobe, or selfie pose. Tell them that women are people, and their worth does NOT come down to whether they’d make good wives or girlfriends. Teach them that they don’t actually get to tell girls what to do and how to dress. And most importantly, teach them that if they find themselves having inappropriate thoughts, that those thoughts are their own responsibility, and NEVER the girl’s fault.
These girls are not slutty little Jezebels just waiting to corrupt your innocent sons’ virtue. They are teenagers experimenting with their image and social media. The last thing they need is disapproval, bullying, and judgment. Please afford them the same understanding and benefit of the doubt that you afford your sons. It would be nice to know that the upcoming generation could be capable of taking the next steps toward gender equality.

(Keep an eye out for Kyle David Greenberg’s response in the comments section. That’s a dude who gets it).

PS- Rebecca Hains offers a wonderful response here, containing nuggets of wisdom like, “Contrary to popular opinion, boys are not animals. They can practice self-control. And yes, it takes practice. But if we focus on raising our sons, rather than chastising other people’s daughters, it’s possible..” Go read it!

And it wouldn’t be even be a conversation if Jezebel didn’t chime in.

FOLLOW YOUR FEAR!!!

It’s time for FOLLOW YOUR FEAR DAY once again!
Last year, I announced the writing of my graphic series,
Testament. This year, I had something different in mind…

When I took up martial arts as a teen, I should have known I was going to break something. But even though cracking my shoulder came as a painful surprise, it quickly seemed like not that big a deal. Granted, it was the most severe injury I had sustained up to that point, but being unable to move my right arm properly gave me a great excuse not to do homework. It was almost worth it. After all, even as an adult, when all the grappling locks and katas had faded from my memory, the confidence that martial arts gave me meant that I was never afraid to walk down the street at night.
That confidence has served me well. I have defended my friends against attackers and remained calm in life-threatening situations. It’s liberating to know that there’s very little a person can do to you that you can’t deal with. But that all changed.

One summer, as I strolled down a busy downtown street on a sunny afternoon, a man, a complete stranger, bee-lined his way out of the crowd and came at me. Before I could even process the threat, my right shoulder (the one I’d been too stubborn to let heal properly the last time it was injured) was dislocated. Not just a little. When I looked down at it, my shoulder was gone- the joint had found its way somewhere into my back.
I stayed strong all the way to the hospital- as is my habit, I joked with the EMP’s that the worst part was that the incident ruined my plans for the day. Ironically, when it came time for the “laughing gas”, I was no longer finding any of this funny. It was being tied down to the bed that did it- tied by tubes being inserted into my veins and nose, as I lost all sense against my will, with strangers having complete access to my body. That was when the helplessness sunk in.

In the months that followed, I attended physiotherapy- diligently, at first. I was still chilled by the warning by the fellow at the fracture clinic- that any further damage would likely lead to surgery, and a decrease in mobility in my right arm. I’m an artist. I need that arm. I need it to work as perfectly and meticulously as it always has. I don’t know what I’d do if I lost that ability.
But time quickly turns the concerned outrage and well-wishing of friends into a nuisance. I’d removed the sling, but still needed to remind people that there were certain tasks I couldn’t perform properly. Everything was a reminder of that feeling of helplessness I had felt on that hospital bed. To think that a single stranger in a single moment could affect my life so drastically. And I hadn’t even seen it coming.

Because it’s the world we live in whether we want to acknowledge it or not, I get followed, harassed, and even assaulted on the street on a fairly regular basis (I can think of about 51% of the population that knows how that feels). I used to hold my head high, practically daring them, in my head, to try something. Now, I must remind myself that I can’t count on my trusty right arm anymore. It’s been taken out of the fight. I have a weak spot.
The fear of further damage to my arm has led me to downplay just how serious my original injury was. I’ve been afraid to admit how badly- and how easily- I was hurt. This wasn’t the worst thing that ever happened to me, but it has shaken my confidence. And that loss took my liberty with it.

For years, I’ve been holding back. There are so many things I’d like to do, to try. I’d like to go bowling with my friends without worrying about over-extending my rotator cuff. I’d like to take more than one parkour class without disjointing my shoulder in the process. I’d like to reach tall shelves, re-organize my closet, to stretch in the mornings without the constant fear of the potential damage I might cause. I have popped my shoulder doing things as simple as rolling over in bed. I carry this weight of worry on my shoulder like a parrot that won’t stop talking about how fragile I am.
Well, that parrot can shut the hell up. Taking a cue from my physio exercises, which focused largely on pulling motions using giant elastics, I’ve decided to take up a sport that mimics the same actions, while also giving me my focus and combat-ready confidence back.
By Follow Your Fear Day on August 24th, I will have tried archery for the first time. If I like it, I will continue with it, until I feel I am ready to get back into my martial arts training. I will not let one little injury, or one crazy stranger, keep me down. I will regain that carefree confidence I once had, and kick some ass while doing it. So that hopefully, next time I get jumped in the street, they’ll be the ones heading to the hospital.

I’ll be presenting a talk about my experiences at FOLLOW YOUR FEAR DAY, this Saturday, August 24th, at the Tranzac (292 Brunswick Ave). Doors at 7:30, show at 8.
Get your tickets today!

Rae, Follow Your Fear Day 2012

See you there!

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