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Between Families Between Families
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Friday, January 25, 2008

Instruments of Change

Instruments of Change

I've been thinking more about our political system. I've been thinking about a lot of things and I've come to worry that Christianity mixed with consumerism may be problematic in our social ideologies.

There are two schools of thought as to the instruments of social change: the individual, and the masses. Our history texts and classes tend to teach us through heroes. Regular everday people who've become great through their actions during adverse circumstances and great leaders and orators who seem to have been born for this role of hero. By studying history as a series of hero tales, we've gathered that as an individual, only if we are very, very special can we be the instruments of change. (see People's History of the United States: 1492-present)

In the example of civil rights, we look at the exceptional individuals like Martin Luther King Jr. and we idealize the participants of sit ins and other demonstrations but most of us do not imagine ourselves as though we would have necessarily done the same. We don't study the way the masses have taken part in the positive changes toward full civil rights. Think of all the subtleties. Today, I wouldn't hesitate to say hello to a black person I saw running on the path any more than I would a white. 50 years ago, I wouldn't be so sure your average white woman would make the same assertion. And if you think it doesn't make a difference, say hello to every person you see for the next week and imagine what it would be like if not a one of those people looked at you, responded to you.

As an individual we participate in these changes. But we are taught to think that, unless we are very, very special, we will not be the instrument of change. People form their opinions with this in the back of their minds all the time. Take civil rights again for example. 20 years ago if you had a discussion (or present day if you live in the boot hill of Missouri), about whether blacks and whites should marry, people would often say no. The reason they'd give: others' racism. "I'd say its ok. Its fine with me. But those poor kids will be the victims of so much racism, they won't have anywhere to belong." Yet these 'poor kids' are all around us today and if you spend a day in a whole variety of public schools you'll see, you notice more than the kids do. The masses of kids are who really made the social shift toward racial equality.

Other opinions are affected in much the same way. "I think war is wrong and violence begets violence, but I can't commit to being a pacifist because of what the other people will do." Yes we need leaders but the social changes are just as often and just as importantly led by masses of people who say that they don't want to see fighting anymore.

In the 50's, people would not hesitate to say to a kid to punch somebody in the face. Don't get me wrong, there are pleanty of people who still feel that way and would tell their kids that. In fact I distinctly remember a story where my brother popped a guy in the nose at my father's directing when we were kids. But in schools now, kids' thinking on the topic of fighting is more evolved (even if their behavior often isn't.) They say they'd only be giving the other kid what he wanted. They say they know that fighting wouldn't really solve the problem. Real kids. They really believe these things. This is because masses of parents have said these things to their kids growing up and in schools, and now its not considered as normal or acceptable to fight. Now kids say things like "I didn't like it when you______________, it made me mad. I wish you wouldn't______." I wouldn't have believed the change were possible if I hadn't seen it.

In the last 20 years another social change has gradually taken place. Women have gotten more and more eating disorders, depression, and anxiety attacks. While it sounds extreme to think of it in terms of magazines, it can't be denied. Women receive constant messages about all the things they should be: thin, confident, intelligent, atheletic, organized, etc. etc. We should run our household and dress nicely, but not too nicely, and sexy, but not too sexy and we should have a career, and we should exercise, and we should volunteer, and don't forget keeping up on politics. And don't get me wrong, I have a spandex suit in my closet that screams that I'm wonderwoman and I all but come the fuck on!

Reality says that we can't possibly accomplish all this. And even if we could, who wants that? Oh wait, I do. Cuz I've stood in lines at the grocery store two to three times a week for years staring at what I should be while I wait. I've listened to my male friends dissect outfits since I was a teenager realizing that whatever I wear means something. Goddamnit I just want to put on a tshirt and read the paper. But consumerism and capitalism combined mean that you have to fight to become all that and more. It means that you cannot escape advertising that exclaims what you need and who you should be.

It keeps you busy, this advertising. Going to Target to get a replacement pair of buds for your iFlunky. Picking out the carseat that will guarantee your child won't die of SIDS. Worry worry worry. Worry about carbon monoxide poisoning and worry about the Teflon that could be killing you. Worry about whether what the magazine told you to buy was the right thing. And when you're done worrying, look at how beautiful you should be. And on your day of rest go to church to find out how you can be saved from it all. It is the individual who will save you. Jesus.

And this translates into other things. Worry about those without healthcare and think its wrong for them to pay $300 per month for it when they only make $1200. But your just part of the masses. What the hell can you do about it when you're so busy replacing the sublight dooflinky for the thingamajig. And hell you can't even figure out how to do that right! You can't possibly keep up with politics and how can anyone when our media makes it so difficult. I bet anyone on here could tell me that Obama's a muslim (even though he's not) but could not tell me how he voted on a single issue. We just get the bites they feed us. We swallow them and try to digest meaning out of those sidebars. We've been snacking on newsbites so much that we're malnourished and to repair it we have to expend so much effort that its insurmountable. Its as though we have a medieating disorder. And we're looking for a savior. Jesus, please come and help me. Heal my medieating disorder, and if you cannot please send me one of your flock to guide me. What I mean is, we're looking for a Jesus in politics so we obsess about the presidential election and hope the candidate will save us, yet that's really not the president's job. The president isn't there to do the regulating that we need. So please, turn the magazines around at the supermarket as you pass through. Stop allowing yourself to be advertised at, newsbiten at. Stop watching mainstream media.

There was a pivotal book published in the 1960s called The Feminine Mystique. It was about how the women's movement had come to an abrupt halt after women's suffrage. It discussed the causes for that halt and what it mainly found was a dumbing down recurrent in the women's media. The women's magazines were run by men who were convinced that since women had a choice now about what they did and were not streaming into the work place, they must really prefer homemaking. They hadn't really asked women about this, but they were editors so they must've known right? So the articles produced focused more and more on homemaking and stories of women who could choose to join the workforce but ultimately chose family life (as though you had to chose one or the other.)

What happened over time? Over 20 or so years, women were depressed and anxious. And what was worse was that they had been dumbed down over time such that they could no longer understand many of the political articles that used to regularly appear in women's magazines.

It isn't just about women not having a realistic image of what they should aspire to. It's the way in which we are inundated with shit stories about popcorn butter killing factory workers and ice cube trays that don't make the grade and so much other crap that we can't find the salient information. And now we can no longer understand articles about foreign policy. The knowledge base just isn't there.

I read a magazine called the Sun every month. Its not because it's the best magazine. Its not. I have plenty of complaints about it, but the reader's write section is wonderful and Sy Safransky's notebook is my favorite part. But the truly brilliant thing about the magazine is the fact that there is not a single advertisement in it.

And if you think it doesn't make a difference, take a break from mainstream media for two weeks. I flip through other magazines occasionally now and can't even tell what's advertisement and what's article. Do not watch any television with commercials, turn the magazines around, and read something without ads and see if it doesn't make you feel a little calmer. A little more able to be an instrument of social change. A little more able to see the real Jesus who said to befriend a whore.

And if you have any other ideas of what we can do.. holla! Get loud! What can I put in my hands to make them the instruments I know them to be? Tell me. Tell us all. None of us are helpless and lord knows "god helps those who help themselves."

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