Thursday, October 30, 2008

simply human

I have recently been on a This American Life binge. It is easily my favorite program on public radio, probably because it evokes so many different emotions. I listen to the news a lot, especially when I am at work in the cheese kitchen doing something mindless, like filling hundreds upon hundreds of plastic tubs with chevre. Lately, the news has been very feverish with the economic crisis and the election that threatens never to end, and so I mostly feel anxious when I listen to the news. Anxious, frightened, angry. I am infuriated about the potential plan to kill 88 black children and behead 14 others, moving on to assassinate Obama. Even though I know that anyone knuckleheaded enough to take photos of himself holding a very large weapon and bearing a swastika on his arm will most likely not be at all successful, this plot worries me. I can only imagine how many others, like him, have ambitions of killing the first black president.

I am worried about the economy. The more I hear about it the more confused I am. I've read several articles on the mortgage crisis and the credit crisis (although these two things may be the same thing, and I simply don't connect them because I understand the implications of neither) and why people can't afford to stay in their homes and why people can't afford to retire. Suffice it to say that the more I read the less I understand. I suppose I might not even need to understand at this point in my life: I have no mortgage, have never taken out a loan, even for college, have no credit cards, stocks, bonds, 401ks...But then, I have a suspicion that I should be afraid of what I cannot understand. It is almost as if these abstract things--mortgages and stocks that represent real money but that are really just ideas you have to toy with and that adults argue about late at night after the children have gone to bed and are supposed to be asleep--were designed not to be understood by the people they will ultimately affect the most. The sheep is blissfully ignorant until the moment the throat is cut, and then no knowledge can save it.

And then there's still the war. Still. The war that no one talks about anymore. I remember when the war was a big deal. Now, even on NPR I hardly hear about it at all. The BBC might mention a car bomb or a suicide bomber--the latest massacre with none of the flair and urgency that massacres once had. For some reason whenever I think about Iraq I think about all the orphans. I don't think about terrorists or bin Laden or American soldiers. I think about the thousands and possibly hundreds of thousands of children who have no parents because of the war. They are not considered casualties, and so their lives are not counted. But they are the future of Iraq, and I wonder what can come of an entire generation of orphans that can only remember one thing about the Americans--Americans are why their parents died.

I have all these negative emotions. I have an irrepressible sense of guilt--yeah, that cliche liberal guilt that is so uncool but that shines like a star: cold, bright, undeniably present when you turn out all the lights. And then I allow myself a little bit of emotional diversity. I've been listening to This American Life archives for a while now, and more often than not I am completely overwhelmed by emotions the whole time I listen. I laugh or just smile, I think, I am saddened and then hopeful. I know this sounds really silly, and that there's no reason for me to have an emotional connection to a radio show, but I can be an extremely emotional person although I rarely show much emotion about anything.

I have heard a lot of people dismiss this show as nothing but overemotional, vapid, hipster radio trash. I don't know why this is. I don't know how it could be that a show I find so utterly beautiful and fascinating could draw such harsh criticism from people who watch South Park and so obviously have no criteria for their media. I like to think that these people love the show and are just afraid that they might betray something about themselves if they admitted to enjoying it. I've noticed a disturbing trend lately of people who are just too cool for anything. Nothing is enjoyable or good because they're too self-conscious about what they do and say and wear and listen to to actually have an opinion. It's like political correctness but on a personal level. You can't like this band because they became popular or because they actually got a song on the radio. You can't wear American Apparel anymore because too many people are wearing it even though a year ago a lot of on-the-edge punkish types were wearing these clothes because they are actually made in America as opposed to a third-world sweatshop. It's this constant running-away that people do, and it's far too exhausting for me. I've stopped trying to do that. Yes, I listen to This American Life, I wear Roo shoes, and I like Burt's Bees products even if they were bought out by Clorox. I am starting to understand that you just have to stop being avant-garde at some point in order to be human. I opt for human.

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