Friday, November 12, 2010

San Francisco Bound

Well, children, it's happened again.  November rolls around and it is time to head off to the National Communication Association annual conference.  This year, it's in San Francisco, the city by the bay.  And I am so looking forward to visiting the town and seeing old friends in my profession.

Here's what I will be up to:
  • Presenting a paper on doing environmentally-themed solo performance.
  • Presenting the Christine Oravec Research Awards in Environmental Communication.
  • Participating in a four-year-out planning roundtable discussion for Performance Studies
  • Contributing to a panel on thinking beyond the digital frame, co-sponsored by the Performance Studies Division and the Visual Communication Division.
More on that last one.  Several of my friends and colleagues at different universities got this crazy idea to see what you could do with a digital picture frame.  Thinking outside the box, so to speak, of what these increasingly ubiquitous image tools might allow.  In my case, I have worked with two and the random slide show function to create an ever changing poem (there are 170 possible combinations of images and words -- below and above are three possibilities.)

In and around the presentations will be the usual school recruitment parties (the recession hit ours pretty hard this year), meals with old friends and colleagues, and the occasional opportunity to go see the city.

Since the conference butts up against our Thanksgiving Break, I will be sticking around for a few extra days.  But this Pomo Homo Nature Nut isn't planning on spending the extra time (sans partner) in the Castro.  Instead, I am heading down to Big Sur for a little backpacking and Kerouac. 

All of which is simply to say that I will likely not be posting to the blog next week, but I will follow the week after with a full report of my adventures -- intellectual and wild and all the wonderful possibilities of combining those two.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

We've Been Down This Road Before...

...but maybe the familiarity offers more dread than consolation.  Will we ever get off this cycle?  Off the pendulum swing between the Parties?  Out of the continual blame game and the reaction formations that follow?  I take no comfort from stolid reminders that this is what happens in midterm elections.  I try to remember that it could have been worse.  I take some small  solace from the realization that more Blue Dog Democrats lost their seats in this election than the truly Progressive ones did, although in the grand scheme of things that means that both parties have moved more toward their poles.  I don't expect anything but partisans slinging threats like stones for the next two years. 

The thing is, I thought we were actually getting somewhere.  It's frustrating that the accomplishments of the last two years get so little play in the media and hold so little traction with the voters.  Yeah, maybe jobs needed more attention than health care.  Yeah, maybe excessive eagerness for bipartisanship in the face of an obdurately obstructionist opposition led to health care reform that was a flawed sausage of a bill.  Sure, there were plenty of missteps and errors along the way.  But there were also tax cuts.  There was also some credit reform.  The most offensive bailouts came under the guy in charge before, and much of the rest of the other government rescues have (a) been paid back and/or (b) clearly prevented this recession from being worse than it could have been.  While unemployment is bad, the rate of employment and recovery has clearly turned around since the new guy took over. 

Was Tuesday night really just about taking it out on the janitor because he didn't clean up the trash from the last eight year's frat party fast enough?  The beer kegs and swimming pool made of jello shots weren't government overreach, but the request for more cleaning supplies and a couple of dumpsters somehow is?  But hey, hangovers and the regrets that come with them cause the most anger, right?  It's easier to scream at the guys making that racket picking up the bottles and cans than it is to get mad at the now long gone host of the bacchanal.

Forgive me if I am under the impression that the folks who were throwing down at that party and the folks complaining so loudly now are, in large part, the same people.  Not all of the ones making the most noise (in either instance) are the ones in control of the party or the response.  But they sure do wave a great misspelled sign, don't they?  And if they cross a line into racism or head-stomping violence, you can always blame it on passion that exceeds their educational opportunities.  Critique Note the latter and you announce yourself an elitist.  Elitists are always such party-poopers.  We hate them, right? 

But see, I have a feeling that the Republicans and their new-found populist energy in the Tea Party are headed for their own difficult tensions (finally!).  There's a storm brewing in the Old Boy's Club.  The rabble are not likely to behave, and the establishment has rules of conduct it insists upon.  When no one was in power, everyone could wave signs and offer promises of support.  But now that there is actual power on the table, now that they run the House, they can no longer just sit back and say no.  They can claim an adamant posture of defiance, but now it has to come with policy they actually put forward.  And while they could agree on hating anything the black guy and the white woman came up with, they will find it a little more tempestuous coming to agreement about what they want to put forward. 

And all of that would be just so amusing to watch if there weren't consequences, if there weren't lives on the line and bodies in the road.  They say their primary goal is to make sure the black guy won't get elected in 2012.  They promise to repeal that monster of a bill on health care. The say they will stymie any and all climate bills -- either because global warming is a hoax or because now is not the time to act given the economy and all.  They say they will cut the budget, and yet we've yet to hear (ever!) exactly how.  It will be harder to put words to action when they will be responsible for the blood that flows -- either because they are holding the scalpel or withholding the sutures.  And while the dead don't vote, their surviving relatives do.  This is a lesson they have had to learn before.  This is a road they have taken us all down before.  Why do they never learn from their past?  Why do they keep taking us on the same dead end detours?

We've been through storms and blood before.  It is part of our national heritage that we have survived these times, even when the debates turned violent.  But at least, in those times, there was debate.  There was a sense that we could make arguments and assess them on their merits.  We could put them one against the other and let the best answer emerge in between.  What happens when we replace those reasoned and structured arguments with meme manipulation and (poorly spelled) sign waving.  What has become of a country where politics is played like sports, the loudest side winning in the pep rally?  Point out not just a flaw in an argument but a demonstrably false claim of fact, and they say, "so what?"  Too many times I've read that the Tea Party specifically and the bulk of voters generally don't care about facts.  I am asked to accept this observation as fact, and the evidence is overwhelming that it is accurate.  But shouldn't that as much as anything else scare the living shit out of us?  I hear claims in these days after the midterm elections that "America has spoken" and that the Republicans have their second chance if not a mandate.  But when I listen to what America has said, I find the arguments incoherent. These are the boozed and bamboozled crying out for an aspirin and for mommy to make the pain go away.  They want their country "back" but not forward -- except that they have a very skewed sense of what back would mean.

The ultimate problem as I see it (and it crosses demographic and ideological divides) is that everyone wants the quick fix.  No one wants to deal with consequences beyond blaming them on someone else.  No one is willing to do the work or make the sacrifice to solve the problems.  Instead, we'd rather cast Others as the monster and then find the magical solution that will vanquish them forever.  We cannot see that we are all, all of us, vampires looking vainly in the mirror for a monster and unable to see our own reflection.  To speak this truth is to join the "blame America first" crowd.  It is to deny our Manifest Destiny of exceptionalism, our supernatural state as Super Power.  We are all too happy to be the villagers with pitchforks and torches -- we embrace that mob mentality as the essence of democracy.  And we scream all the louder when confronted with the sad fact that there are no external monsters and there is no magical antidote.  We scream in part in frustration.  We scream mostly because we know the screaming will create the monster (or summon someone who will).  And once the monster is confirmed, the magic bullet has to be out there too -- if we only scream loud enough and long enough to find it. 

We've been down this road before.  Maybe we will change course, but probably only to go down it again.  As we are learning all too well lately, the infrastructure of our roads (and our collective souls) suffers from this abuse.  We cannot stay on this cycling route forever.  We are driving our once mighty empire into its final days, not like heroes riding off into the sunset, but like frightened children facing the dark.  We scream and poke at each other.  We rant and stomp our feet, sometimes on one another.  When we should huddle together and support each other, too many of us claim the primacy of individual freedom and head off to get lost in the dark alone.  It's okay.  They know if the made-up monsters don't get them, the group will take them back.  And if they do somehow make it through the night, it will be that conveniently invisible hand coupled with their own self-evident self-worth that is responsible for their success.  Day or nght, we are filled with delusions.  Sadly, it is those delusions that fuel this car, regardless of who is driving and who is in the back. 

And no one, apparently, has a good road map or knows how to read the signs.

(Note:  These are all unmodified pictures of road signs near where I live.  One of them is the road I live on.  
Care to guess which one?  I am betting it's probably not your first guess.)