Dragon City Journal features contemporary cultural essays & graphics, on a variety of subjects, but mostly dealing with politics and government, film, cities and urban life, religion and metaphysics, and travel. It is a monthly or bi-monthly publication. There are also occasional book and film reviews as well as some fictional pieces. “Subscribers” are notified by email of the posting of new essays, and are encouraged to add comments express their thoughts and opinions.
Disgust and Dissolution in the Time of Covid
I don’t like waking up each day with feelings of contempt for my own country. About four decades ago I quietly dumped (when I did my last “Easter Duty”) the institution based on fairytales—the corrupt Roman Catholic Church—into which I was baptized as a baby without my consent. This left me with a secular-atheistic identity solely as an American citizen. Alas, that has not turned out as an amicable default.
I soon learned that when you are in a relationship with a country founded on a lie, just like in any relationship, you live a history teetering on enmity. This doesn’t mean that America is likely to crumble into something resembling Syria. Actually, it is more likely to evolve into something resembling a post-apocalyptic authoritarian police state (which it already is for people of color).
One of my complaints against the Catholic dimension of my schooling is that we were never informed, much less encouraged to devote our prayers for, White genocide of Native Americans, or the forced importation of native Africans. No, just the conversion of communist Russia and the conversion of souls of “pagan babies,” presumably to refresh the supply of innocent bodies for sexual-predator priests. Despite his Palestine provenance, America was Jesus’s country.
I ended up my formal education in the Maxwell School of Public Affairs and began my career as a professor I’m the very night Chicago police we’re bashing the heads of protesters at the democratic national convention in 1968. If I had any remaining waverings about fully contextualizing my approach to my subject, they were settled that evening.
I have since applied that pedagogy in lecturing stints in London, Paris, Hong Kong, and Beijing, often noticing surprised responses that an American professor would be willing to expose the hypocrisies embedded in American exceptionalism and the sinister elements of its vaunted “greatness.”
I am muffled now by my retirement but, thanks to the mobile phone camera and the Internet, there is no better confirmation then the disgusting Image of a policeman cold-bloodedly kneeling on the next of a helpless and pleading Black man until he is dead. It is an image that has been globally transmitted, a co-pathogen exposing the real America.
The lie is right out there in front of us every day, the hypocritical lie written by a gaggle of slaveowners that “all men are created equal.” “We must take ownership and care of our darkies because our White god created them as lesser beings” (or some shit like that).
Underpinning that lie was the hypocritical Christianity that operates as its own form of social oppression. These are the foundation pillars of a nation so absorbed in its notions of exceptionalism and an entitlement that it is the premise for “Pride goeth it before a fall.”
America is about to hit bottom. That is where the lie is—the original sin of its racism. The question is can it get up? And will it be the truth that finally sets it free?
What Do They Want?
It is ironic that in the Martian invasion that took place in the original War of the Worlds scenario the invaders were vanquished by a human virus-like the coronavirus common cold. Yup, we sneezed those nasty bastards off our planet. No, it wasn’t atomic weapons, heroes flying fighter jets and yelling “Yee-hah!” as their missiles exploded alien spacecraft, or makeshift EMP devices (as in the techno deus ex machina of the sci-fi I watched last night employed) that rendered alien invaders and technology helpless. Our imaginary stable, peaceful, divinely created society is always being invaded and threatened by menacing forces bent upon eradicating our species and taking over our real estate. It’s a good distraction from the historical fact that our species is pretty much its own worst enemy. But like longtime practitioners of Trumpian distraction, we conjure critters, macro, and micro, from inner and outer space, or just immigrants and foreigners from abroad, as malevolent adversaries. But, every once in a while we are reminded that it is something in our own nature that is the substance of that dark fear that haunts us––that like those sneaky little viruses, we are players in the infinitesimal battlefields of worlds large and small for our survival–our most basic Darwinian instinct, and that time, the long and the short of it, it is a war we are destined to lose. Our little allies from that Wellsian War of the Worlds have more often turned on us with a mindless, cold-blooded, furious survival of the fittest. And this protean Covid–19 bastard might be more adept at changing its homicidal arsenal than we have the capacity to respond.
I hold with Heraclitus that we cannot step into the same river twice. But the question that teases us in a time of pandemic and its enforced isolation and reflection, is what “new normal” awaits us. Some pundits opine that we will never be the same; others have it that we will reflexively return to thinking we are God’s gift to the universe, or more likely, that the universe is God’s gift to us. But I tend to split the difference on this one. I think we do not step into the same river twice. But in so doing, we remember that rivers can be cold and swift and that our very stepping in them alters their flow. It is a reminder of this reciprocity with nature that we must respect. Next time we may choose not to step at all.
But enough of metaphor (for the moment). What do those inclined to metaphysical explanations consider in these silent moments of quarantine? If “everything happens for a reason” what (and whose?) reasons account for microbial pandemics? There is always that good old Biblical fallback that pandemics are some divine smacking of our naughty backsides for worshiping the false gods of consumerism, celebrity, or even the abandonment of proper stewardship of our planetary residence. (Surely it is not for our lack of humanistic amity since each of our deities has their client base to consider.) But God’s little microbial tool seems to have little capacity or concern for a distinction between the deserving and undeserving. In that respect, it hardly differs from any other apportionment of divine blessings and curses. So, despite the fact that I concur with the notion that mankind deserves a good smack on the ass, I am disinclined to hang this one on the good ole Sky Fairy, if only for the fact that one can pick up a case of coronavirus in your church, mosque, or synagogue as easily as you can at your bar, gym, or nail salon. Frankly, I don’t think God gives a goddamn. It is only a us who obsess that there must be a reason for things to happen.
At least with those extraterrestrial invaders, we had a notion of what they might have wanted. But with these little shapeshifting microbial motherfuckers we haven’t a clue. Maybe that’s what we need to find out if we are to be victorious in this war of the worlds.
ICUs (Immigrant Care Units)
The face mask and the plastic face shield do not obscure the fact that the nurse speaking with and anxious voice into the camera, as an occupied gurney festooned with dangling bottles and bags of the infusions is rapidly pushed through the corridor behind, is a young Nigerian-American immigrant. She explains that she is exhausted by extended shifts, not getting enough sleep, and trying to make do with limited safety resources. She’s explaining, not bitching, and it is not lost on me that underneath that protective she is wearing a hijab.I’m eating my dinner and watching her on TV. I feel a pang of guilt at having bemoaned my minor inconveniences.
The doctor being interviewed has an ID badge with the name that twists the tongue of the interviewer. The name fits the tawny face that is from somewhere in the Indian subcontinent. He’s an ER doc, and he looks knackered-out, too. But the doctor who was interviewed yesterday was a virologist from Singapore.
Add to the dramatis personae of the front-line medical responders to the virus in the beleaguered hospitals of America’s major urban centers plays out there is the undocumented Hispanic EMT driver and the Haitian technician.
Lift up almost any N95 mask in these medical facilities and you will reveal and Ellis Island’s worth of American immigrants. Yup, these dark complexions and brown eyes are the faces that Trump and his battalions of bigots insist are taking American jobs. And but you don’t see a lot of White faces rushing into man those ER’s and ICU wards, putting their lives in danger to medicate and intubate bodies of any race or ethnicity. These are the people of Trump wants us to blame for our problems when, in fact, we would be in a far worse raging shit-storm of trouble were it not for the selfless heroes.
Right now, the only disease that rivals Covid-19 in this country is that good all Americans standby, hypocrisy. It is not those swastika-tattooed, confederate flag-waving, AR-15-brandishing assholes storming the statehouses that Trump cynically plays like political chess pieces, who have even an iota of the courage and compassion of these selfless immigrants. It should not take a pandemic to rip the veneer off our false democracy and egalitarian society and perhaps restore it to some semblance of its better days, but if it does, there might be some good blown in with this pandemic wind.
Think about it for a second: a pandemic would be a good time to get away with murder. Back in the bubonic plague days of the 15th-century, a time when bodies were just tossed out of windows to be carted off to mass burial places there wasn’t any diligent forensic work being done to discernment cause of death. Pandemics are definitely a distraction from the normal processes of life, and death and dispose of that person you are quarantined with who has flatulencia extremis.
I’m not suggesting hear that you just might want to get rid of somebody under the cover of Covid-19 (so put down that steak knife). No, this is just a catchy lead to my topic of the day, which is that it does seem that our morally challenged president and his lackeys at the DOJ and on his McConnell packed courts are taking advantage of the diversion of the current plague to spring some of his scumbags.
General Ryan has been avoiding sentencing and jail time for a couple of years now. So, under the cover of the pandemic, he has the balls to actually retract his own two guilty pleas, and attorney general Bill Barr removed his lips long enough from Trump’s ass to declare that he was dropping the case entirely, so we should forget that the good general never conspired with the Rooskies and lied about it to the FBI.
And then there was Paul Manafort, with his stock “I’ve just been caught masturbating” look on his face, prancing out of jail to serve the remainder of his all too short sentence in the comfort of his home. So, you don’t want to be standing in front of the jailhouse door and risk being run down by Roger Stone, George Papadopoulos, Rick Gates, or Michael Cohen in a Republican pandemic scumbag jailbreak.
Current Journal Post
Back in 2006 there was the Michael Richards incident. Since I never watched Seinfeld, I had no idea who this guy was; so the furor over his racial slurs on stage at some African-Americans in his audience who were disturbing his stand up routine or heckling him didn’t seem as newsworthy as Mel Gibson’s alcohol-fueled spewings of anti-semitism. There have been many opinions, and some analysis, of these behaviors, ranging from celebrity-bashing to “we are all racists”, and a lot of positions in between.
Incidents like this are always a good time to do a little attitude check on oneself. We all think that we would not do such a thing as Richards and Gibson, but more of us than care to admit it might harbor thoughts not too dissimilar than theirs. I have heard only a little analysis of Richards’s outburst (and only an inaudible recording of the original) but I am inclined to accept his subsequent contrition about the incident. Not that I really know the truth, but my hypothesis is that what he did was A) get very angry, and B) grope for something to say that would hurt or insult his tormentors. That would be racial epithets in this case. Similarly, I could get very angry at a diminutive person, for example, and say “you damned little midget!” Now I am not prejudiced against midgets. (Envious, I will admit at times, especially when I see them sitting so comfortably in coach airplane seats. But not prejudiced.) I want to make this particular midget feel bad, so I pick something he might be sensitive about, his size. I always call Bush “stupid,” or a “dim-wit.” Why? Not because I am prejudiced against stupid people. Hey, some of my best frie . . . . Never mind.
So that’s what I think Michael Richard’s did. But he did it in public and, unfortunately, he did not use what I would have termed, “the proper expletive.” But more about that in a moment. First, a few words about Mel. I do not put Gibson in the same category as Richards, as some people have. Gibson is a full-fledged bigot. You don’t make a film like The Passion of the Christ without having coolly thought out its implications and made conscious choices about representations of Jews, as he did, without being a bigot. Mel just got drunk, and when he needed to fulminate about something he hates categorically (as opposed to being frustrated and angry, incidentally ), he let it all out. I’ll tell you what Mel is, he’s a . . . well, hold on a little bit.
We all discriminate. We could not go through life without discriminating; we could not make choices without discriminating. It’s what we end up choosing that makes the difference. I respect my right, and yours, to discriminate, but I might not respect the results, especially if they are socially harmful, or bigoted. So, I really can’t stand Whitney Houston’s singing (You know, that screeching stuff they play in the supermarket). And I hate rap and hip hop music(?), too, especially when it is being broadcast from some open-windowed SUV. Does that mean that I am prejudiced against Blacks? Of course not. I love jazz, a major African-American contribution to the world. I love the music of the late Shirley Horn and the piano jazz of Oscar Petersen. I admire immensely the courage of Muhammed Ali, but I think Clarence Thomas is a jerk. See, I have discriminating tastes. That’s just among African-Americans; I could make the same distinctions among Jews, Chinese, Hispanics, probably Azerbaijanis, even Italian-Americans. Would that be bigotry? No, just discriminating taste. There is more range of character within any racial or ethnic group than there is between them.
The problem is that we all run around with some stereotypes of different racial and ethnic groups in our heads. Some people, like Mel, just prefer to go with those stereotypes and do not exercise discriminating taste. That “Jews are Christ-killers” stuff simplifies things for a bigot. Yet there are some things that seem to be “characteristic” of different groups. You know, they come out in jokes, like Asians are great a math, but they shouldn’t be allowed to drive. There are Polish jokes, Irish jokes, Black jokes, Jewish jokes, even Norwegian jokes on Prarie Home Companion, that all have some basis in cultural features or predispositions, all are told within their racial and ethnic (if not originate from them), and all are more sensitive when told by somebody outside those groups because that opens the matter to prejudice or bigotry. The classic example might be the use of the “N” word by Black comedians and actors, something that is socially verboten for non-Blacks to do. (If it had been the late Richard Pryor, rather than Michael Richards, the incident would have been one big joke.)
But having all these stereotypes around gives us a lexicon for insult when we are confronted with an incident that involves a person or persons who “fit” the stereotype. We reach for them when we need a verbal weapon, the same way we are inclined to call someone “fatso” or “big nose” or a “Rumsfeld.” We go categorical when we don’t have anything specific. Or, if we do, it just doesn’t do the job of insult. We can’t say “You rude large person cutting in line, please stop that,” when “Hey, fatso, haul your lard ass to the back of the line!” feels so much better. I’m convinced that was Michael Richard’s problem (not Mel’s), and it’s a problem that I might have the solution for.
It’s the “A” word. Yup, my solution is the “A” word. You know the one I mean. Seven letters; begins with A, ends with e. We’ll just say A**h*** here, OK, because the FCC fined CBS two-thirds of a million for Janice Jackson’s boob, and I think they already have it in for Dragon City Journal. I think we have to accept the great linguistic value of this word, a word we can uses as a “proper expletive” that will avoid the kind of problem that Michael Richards had. Why?
- it is racially and ethnically–even nationality neutral(“you Norwegian, you!”)
- it does not refer to size or appearance (you big . . . you ugly . . .)
- it does not refer to religion (which can spare you a fatwah)
- it does not refer to gender, or dubious gender (“you hermaphrodite, you!”)
- It does not refer to one’s political affiliation (although it’s in apt modifier for Republicans)
- it is anatomically universal (how’s that for euphemism)
- It’s easier to pronounce than sphincter.
- you can explete (ex-pleet, is that a word?) this word and make it sound like you are coughing (try it). So sometimes you can call a person an A**h*** without them even knowing it. (Really, try it, like a little cough), AND
- you are not making reference to anyone’s mother, or circumstances of birth.
Try coming up with another word like that. Betcha can’t do it.
Now, who would have thought that a distinguished journal such as DCJ would be recommending that people inure themselves to substituting a somewhat crude expletive in the place of things like the “Nigger,” “faggot” and “Fatso” and “Kike,” “Gook, “Wop,” “Sand Monkey,” “Wetback,” “SOB,” and the newly popular “Bitch and Ho,” and the rest of the lexicon that is used by bigots and racists, misogynists, or people who just want to strike a blow at somebody who is being an A**h***, but have not appreciated the aptness of a word that refers ineluctably and exclusively to their behavior.
Think about it for a minute. Those guys in the audience who upset Michael Richards; they didn’t deserve to be called the “N” word. But the rude way they were behaving? They sound to me like a couple of (cough) … A**h***s. Go ahead, try it. Oh, your British? Well, make that arseholes (That’s the way to Queen says it.) See, if it’s in another language, you can even spell it out.
©2020 James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 06.23.2020)