I’ve found lately, that I get the majority of my news from Twitter, Comedy Central, and NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.” As a result, I know there’s a lot going on about Charlie Sheen lately, but I didn’t know until almost a week later that my father-in-law made it through the primary elections for city council and is still in the running. I like my news funny and, apparently, irrelevant. But a few days ago, a twitter comic I follow called Peter Coffin, brought my attention to this video posted on YouTube:
After watching it, I actually felt sick to my stomach. And immediately reposted the video on twitter with this comment:
Thinking about it afterwards, I wondered if my gut reaction was a sort of high on activism and participation. I think it feels good to do something or say something that makes you think you’re involved. It feels good to get riled up about something. And, I think that’s how the Tea Party was formed, how riots start, but also how powerful movements began, like Women’s Suffrage and Civil Rights. It’s not necessarily a positive or negative thing, but it can definitely be overwhelming for better or worse.
When I was studying theatre at a small Catholic college north of Kansas City, we got a lot of flack from the student body because of a poster for a play we were advertising. I wish I could find the poster and let you judge for yourselves. If I can find it later, I’ll edit this post. The play was Shakespeare’s rather bawdy comedy “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” Its main plotline revolves around the comically obese John Falstaff (a character from Henry IV Parts I and II) who is overly convinced of his own sexual prowess. He strolls into the town of Windsor ready to seduce their wives. However, the women will have none of it and organize an elaborate prank against him. We had tons of fun putting the play together and were very excited to present the play to everyone at the school. Our director worked with one of our recent theatre graduates to produce a silhouetted image of Falstaff holding a beer stein, standing on a hill, surrounded by arguably naked women, some in mildly suggestive poses. It represented Falstaff’s very delusional self-image. We thought it was hilarious. The student body, or at least a loud, angry segment of it, strongly disagreed. All over campus, our posters were ripped down. Many students claimed it was “pornography.” The school paper ran an article about the ordeal with a scaled down image of the poster, and the students threw a fit again. It wasn’t long before both the Mass Communications and Theatre Arts departments felt very alienated by the rest of the school. If we weren’t segregating ourselves from the other students before, we were certainly were after all that. We put up a new poster in a hurry so we’d have some sort of advertising. It was drawn by our director’s grade school daughter and depicted several women on playing cards fanned out. Because it was clearly produced by a child, the next, though smaller, uproar was that we were calling our persecutors immature by putting up this poster. Throughout this whole ridiculous and, ultimately, petty debate, we theatre students would spend hours holed up in the green room talking about how hard it was to produce art on a conservative Catholic campus and about how backwards everyone else was. It put a very bad taste of Catholicism in the mouths of several of the students, especially those who weren’t already Catholic.
It was a bitter time, with tensions running high all over the school. I was a Student Ambassador and helping out with an event when a woman (who happened to be from a Catholic radio station in Kansas City) started grilling me about the poster. I politely (I thought) defended the theatre department and the newspaper. But a priest sitting across the room overheard us. He was the head of Campus Ministry and didn’t like what I was saying. He called me over (still, clearly in earshot of the woman and the other students helping with the event) and chewed me out for speaking as I did. I’ve never taken it well when I’ve been scolded by those in authority. I was shocked. I hadn’t expected him to have anything harsh to say to me, but he did. And he completely embarrassed me. He must have realized shortly afterward that I was very upset because he expressed some rather cool concern and excused me from my duties. Even writing about it now, though it’s rather trivial, has me sick to my stomach and jittery. I later got chewed out by the head of the Student Ambassadors, though I expected him to take my side and defend me. None of this encouraged me to try to see the other side of the entire situation. And as I told my theatre friends about the incident, it got them up in arms again, too. We were so ready for a battle. But when it came down to it, we were all talk.
I don’t remember any of us taking significant action except for my friend Dustin who left the school at the end of the year. We all got off on being artistic and enlightened and cultural and “open-minded” and, in all ways, better than the sheltered, fascist, Fox-News-Watching censors surrounding us. But really, we weren’t being any more “open-minded” than they were. We saw it as “us” vs. “them”, too. And any time I’ve tried to relate the whole story to anyone who wasn’t there, it sort of falls flat. “That was your epic spiritual battle against the religious right?” “Really? A poster? Big whoop.” It doesn’t mean anything if you didn’t experience it. But it still makes our blood boil when we look back on it. Both sides were high on idealistic warfare. We “lost,” if winners and losers could be named. But if everyone had just taken a few steps back and really looked at the whole situation, we would have found it all just as ridiculous as everyone else does. The student body wouldn’t have ripped down posters. They would have gone to the dean and asked for them to be removed. We wouldn’t have freaked out about censorship to posters already approved by the school. We would have come to a reasonable compromise with the concerned students. And we would not have spent hours upon hours in masturbatory whine sessions in the green room. But the thrill of the fight had taken hold of all of us.
I won’t say that it’s bad to be passionate about something. But it certainly can be destructive and dangerous if you don’t reign in that passion with some reason and perspective. By all means, get excited about something, but don’t waste your time just getting high on the passion. And don’t rush into action fueled by that enthusiasm without thinking through things and considering other viewpoints. A little more calm consideration could save the world from a lot of hate.comments powered by Disqus