The Pussy Hat

In the lead up to the Women’s March last weekend, Pussy Hats were a thing. Women and men unified in the quest for pink yarn, a set of needles or a hook, and set out to make pink hats with little points on top.

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A sea of pink decorated the marches. Samantha Bee joked that if you want to get white women unified in a cause, you should just give them a craft. (I think there’s some truth to this statement; it’s not just a satirical comment.) I did set about making a pussy hat, but didn’t finish. So instead, I wore my pink Mickey Mouse/Cheshire Cat ears. I figured that a literal pussy hat would suffice to represent. I’m still going to finish the hat, and I’m still going to wear it with pride.

Before the march, a couple blogs were sent out about how the pink hats were in fact acts of gender normalization. In one article, author Holly Derr writes,

Not to rain golden showers down on the pussy parade, but I’m not sure that pink, cat-eared hats are a great symbol for the largest women’s march in years. The infantilizing kitten imagery combined with a stereotypically feminine color feels too safe and too reductive to be an answer to the complex issues facing women today. For example, while the March claims intersectionality as central to its platform, and the Pussyhat Project claims to be speaking for both cis- and transgender individuals, the latter’s conception of what it means to be a woman is remarkably narrow.

Which, of course, gave me pause. I’m no fan of pink, because I do feel that it is overused as a color of girlhood, but I am a huge fan of having animal ears on my hats. The accusation of this being both infantalizing and stereotypical is a fair assessment, and was that something I wanted to endorse?

She goes on to write,

Furthermore, the Pussyhat Project is engaging in a form of gender essentialism, which asserts that the gendered characteristics of femininity are directly linked to the biological characteristics of femaleness and, specifically, the presence of a vagina. This binary is one that feminists have fought against for years, arguing instead that femininity is a social construction assigned to femaleness and that females can be feminine or masculine or any combination of the two, as can males.

Gender has become a tricky conversation, and it’s one that I honestly can’t discuss. I’m  comfortable with my gender and sex, and American culture rewards me for also being willing to play within certain expected norms (such as being straight, a mother, and willing to wear a dress). This has afforded me a place of privilege. But I have enough compassion and empathy in my heart to know that the struggles of many of my friends and family are real…but I can only provide sympathy as an outsider. That’s a difficult place to have to reside.

So what message do I want to send with the Pussy Hat? I like the fact that they’re pink and distinctive. This means that they’ll stand out. Imagine, now that the march is over, seeing a woman wearing this hat. It’s like a call to solidarity. When I was driving up the New Jersey Turnpike on my way home from the march, I would see women in line for the bathroom, and it was like, “Yep. We’re in this together.” And, for me, the issues we’re marching to protect aren’t just those for women. They are the issues of common sense and compassion that will have an impact on EVERYONE. To reduce the hates down to a gender issue ignores the larger message that they’re trying to send. Plus, it ignores the fact that women chose to do this. This is how women chose to express themselves: by throwing stereotypes back into the face of the people who reduce them to stereotypes.

What are your thoughts on the hats and what message they send?

I also see something else in the hats. I see pink Bat Hats. Yep, like Batman.

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So, I’m going to be like Batman, and be the vigilante hero America deserves.

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The Women’s March

I’ve never done anything like this before, gathering in a protest. Sure, I’ve been plenty pissed off about things, but nothing ever quite ignited the fire like this recent election. Judging by the number of folks I saw in Washington, DC, this weekend, their fires have been ignited too. 

There’s a lot of rhetoric around the march that it and the entire of the New Women’s Movement is about protesting Donald Trump. That’s far from the truth. It’s about protesting a president who continues to make abusive comments about non-white men, a culture that accepted the abuse by voting for him, and a cabinet full of folks that have all mentioned wanting to repeal some facet of equal rights. 

We’ve accepted a lot since 9/11, and all Americans have been suffering. Obama made some progress and headway in trying to make things better, but was met with so much opposition that nothing ever passed that was perfect for everyone. Someone was still going to get hurt. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that there was support for a candidate who promised change rather than more of the same–that’s what got Obama elected the first time. 

But now, politicians are promising to target certain groups and rights, leaving enough of us marginalized. 

This is the first time in my lifetime that there’s been this much energy behind a cause. Even Occupy pales in comparison. We just couldn’t say no. We had to be involved. We have to do something.

When I first heard of the march, I knew I had to go. Specifically, I had to go to the one in Washington. So I did. I was joined by a friend from Pacifica and his wife. He’s been an activist a lot longer than I have–I think he said his first march was 1963–but remarked that this was by far the largest one he has ever seen.

The rally started with some excellent speeches and events. The crowd was larger than expected. The organizers kept doing speeches in an attempt to convert the event into a rally. Except that they didn’t tell anyone that is what they were doing. So people just started marching. The set route went by the wayside. People walked over the Mall, the Washington Monument, the buildings around the Mall, streets… the crowd just made it happen.

And everyone stayed groovy. I was worried at one point that people were going to lose their cool, because they didn’t know about the change of plans. It also seemed in the moment of confusion that we didn’t know how to make the march start. Yet the energy of the March and the Movement couldn’t be contained. It carried us forward. 

I’ll make another post about some of the stuff I posted on Facebook and share my photos. But for now, let me say one thing:

I’m grateful that I felt called to be a representative for all of us, and I promise to continue doing the work. It is my hope that, regardless of political beliefs or religious convictions, we can can unify around the good of humanity, for the entire planet. Our decisions and actions today will impact generations to come. Our decisions and actions today know no national borders, have little respect for personal security, and really could give a damn about your moral values.

Joseph Campbell once told Bill Moyers that the most important myth of our era is that of the planet. That includes all her people, the environment, and her physical geography. Let’s unite in love, and not be assholes.

More to come…

Post-Election OMG

unnamedI did finish the Lego Disney castle awhile ago, but the election (the feverish last couple weeks leading up to it and the time since) has moved my attention elsewhere. I’ve spent–literally–every night since Halloween playing Lego: Batman on my Xbox. Well, specifically #2 and #3. #2 is cool because it gives you an opportunity to explore Gotham, and #3 is interesting because it’s more about the wider DC canon (especially Green Lantern) than it is about Batman. For the record, the first Lego: Batman is my gold standard video game by which I measure all others, even the classic games of my childhood Atari and Nintendo days. Whoever had the brilliant idea of having a the player go through a Batman adventure only to unlock and go through the same adventure from the perspective of the villain is totally brilliant.

There’s a lot of conversation that needs to happen about this election. Not so much the “Why the fuck did this happen” conversation but more the “what can we do to make things better?” This election, whether you supported Trump or Hillary, was an exercise in the American Shadow, the nightmarish underbelly of the American Dream. It’s not just our constitution and civil liberties in jeopardy–but the entire fabric of the American myth.

When I was writing my dissertation, I was stuck on the chapter about New Orleans Square. I knew I was going to write about pirates, ghosts, and shadow, but I couldn’t quite figure out why or how. I think I spent more time on this chapter than I did on the rest of the dissertation.

One day, it struck me. I was watching the Walt Disney Treasures: Tomorrowland collection about space and the atom, and the answer hit me in the face as though it had been staring at me the whole time. The Cold War. I had the history of the colonies, the frontier, and the foundations of American utopianism, but I didn’t have the why Disneyland now answer. The Cold War. The heart of the modern American Dream dates back to the mass consumerism of the Great Depression, but the stress, the shadow, the Doubt…that stems from the Cold War.

I was raised as a privileged person. Part of that privilege was the belief that the Cold War was a thing of the past. Yet, somehow, I knew it wasn’t. I intuited that we’d replaced Communism with Terrorism and that we weren’t done with the Shadow. Which is why the chapter was called: The Shadow of Doubt.

Going through this election was a super-impossible challenge. The results of it still have me reeling. It’s difficult to know what needs to be done next, but I suspect the answer lies in the fact that we need to start rewriting the myth. Define the American Dream on the utopian principles that inspired the Founding Fathers (and Mothers) rather than on our ability to have stuff. Our privilege.

It’s not an easy proposition, and I know that. So that’s why I’m playing Batman.

Meanwhile, check out my book, available on Amazon.com.

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Why, oh why, Did I Watch the Debate?

I made the mistake earlier this week of watching the first presidential debate. This debate affected me more emotionally than previous debates ever have, and no amount of very yummy Shiner Oktoberfest could drown my sorrows. Ever since the 2000 election (the first presidential election I was old enough to vote in), I’ve followed politics and media more closely than my happiness would prefer. My interest comes not simply because of political interest, because my liberal arts education actually accomplished what it was supposed to do.

When I was an undergraduate at the University of Houston, two classes had the greatest impact on my view of the world:

In Fall 2000, I took Fascism and German Cinema with Sandy Frieden. On the first day of class, she introduced herself as “a liberal, a feminist, a democrat, and a Jew.” This rather frank introduction gave her an air of authenticity that kept me hanging on every. single. word she said throughout the class. Plus, the sheer exposure to Nazi propaganda and reviewing it through a critical lens exposed me to the power of media that I hadn’t considered up until that point.

In Fall 2002, I took Propaganda and Mass Communication with Garth Jowett. He had us looking more critically at American media and how propaganda techniques are used in both political media and in entertainment to influence cultural perceptions. I remember the fondly when he came in lecturing about then-president George W. Bush. He pointed out that one needs to worry about a world leader who would actually say in a press interview, “After all, this is the guy who tried to kill my daddy.” I later heard that soundbite thanks to Michael Moore, and was even more horrified by the context of that line.

Anyway, in the middle of all this was, obviously, 9/11. It’s hard to go through such a transformative educational experience and not turn a critical eye toward how we, as a country, responded to 9/11 and the aftermath that ensued. This is a difficult perspective to have, and I question whether or not the skepticism that it’s given me is actually healthy…

So it’s even harder to watch political debates like the recent one between Hillary and Trump without massive discomfort. Regardless of one’s political leanings, the debate was a Propaganda Peep Show. All of Trump’s oratory techniques and Hillary’s composure during the entire event was all carefully orchestrated to convince members of either party, and I think it was successful. Liberals are more disgusted by Trump than ever, and I’m going to assume (my Republican friends don’t speak up much around me) that the opinion is mutual on the other side. What really got me, though, as a liberal, feminist, socialist, was that I found myself actually thinking “Yeah! I could vote for Hillary!” I was persuaded. That’s how propaganda works. It’s some external force persuading you to think a certain way, and without you even knowing that it’s happening. That’s what made Nazi propaganda both horrific and successful. It’s what makes me so frightened of Pro-American nationalist rhetoric. It also concerns me that we’re setting up a cultural vibe where the voices of rationalism and reason just can’t be louder than the voices of irrationalism.

As a mother, this election bothers me more than the previous elections. While Mitt Romney wasn’t my first choice for a president, I felt that his politics were far more balanced than several of his fellow Republicans. I was more frightened, since I lived in Texas at the time, about the local elections that were very clearly making an effort to systemically restrict women’s access to healthcare and equal rights for the state’s constituents clearly not in bed with Big Gas and Oil.

This election has me in a panic. It’s not just my daughter’s future on the line, but Just About Everything That Makes America Great is on the line. Our immigration policy, so poetically etched into the base of the Statue of Liberty, is being challenged. Healthcare and student loan reform–my two primary issues–will be thrown back onto the table. And nevermind all of the other stuff that politicians have to deal with. Queue shameless plug for my book for further insights into my thoughts about What Makes America Great. Perhaps it’s a little Mickey Mouse (okay, a LOT, since that’s, you know, kind of the thesis), but I do think that Disneyland perfectly exemplifies American Utopianism and has, in turn, shaped our expectations for cultural constructs.

This is a major turning point for our country. The decisions in November (President, Congress, and Senate) will be game changers, but of what sort depends on the outcome of the elections. Meanwhile, we have to listen closely to the rhetoric. Hillary’s recent campaign about “Is this the president we want for our daughters?” asks a valid question, and it’s the question that will ultimately determine how I vote in November.

Some Further Thoughts on Instructions

Yesterday, I wrote about The Lego Movie and instructions. Last night, as my Munchkin game group taught the game to a newbie, I gave instructions a further think.

When was the last time you read The Instructions? Let’s back up a second–what are The Instructions?

Perhaps I’m a little biased in a particular direction, but my answer to that question lies in myth. I take that very broad Campbellian definition of myth that myths are the stories and guides that define people as a culture or as individuals. But I don’t consider these stories as just “stories.” A story can be, literally, a story. It can be a novel, a film, a comic, a play, etc etc etc. But a story could also be a football game, a business journal, a textbook. It could be a dance party, a furniture store, or a 3-course dinner. In other words, anything can be storied if we ascribe any special meaning to it.

There is no universal rule to what can become storied. Each of us find our myths in different things. Jung’s now-legendary story is that he once asked what his myth was, then remembered how much he enjoyed building with blocks as a child–so he built himself Bollengen tower.

As it happens, I’m attracted to the literary form of stories, so I have the tendency to talk about myth from the perspective of an armchair-Lit major. So for that reason, books, films, and media are, for me, The Instructions.

So, when was the last time you read The Instructions? For most of you, my dear readers, you probably read some form of Instructions recently. Perhaps you read a religious text, or a scholarly text. Perhaps you read a Cookbook, or a comic book. But did you actually read them? Absorb them? Take them to heart? Allow yourself to be changed by them? Or did you read The Instructions with the sole intent of not following them?

What do The Instructions mean to you?

Lego Instructions Are Useful

My research frequently takes me down a rabbit hole in pursuit of “the American identity.” I frequently find laudatory analyses of American individualism, the symbolism of the rugged cowboy, and many, many questions about the faults of American iconography and imagery since World War II. American myth and media is filled with savior-type heroes who are either saving the worlds by themselves or are rallying the people to save themselves, or are rallying with other superheroes to save the world together.

Enter into this discussion, The Lego Movie (2014).

*Spoilers may follow.*

We can poke fun at the fact that the Wise Old Man figure is a Master Builder/architect named Vitruvius:

Or that the secret hide-out of the Master Builders is a sky-city named Cloudcukooland (reference: Aristophanes, The Birds):

Or even that there is a Kragle gun:

This movie is filled with all of the expected cliches: Lots of jokes, an unexpected hero, father atonement, so on. For our purposes, I want to consider a very, specific turning point in the film.

Emmett, the construction worker who is marked as “The Special,” finds himself stranded in the ocean with a bunch of Master Builders. The Master Builders have tried to vanquish Mr. Business through rebellion, lawlessness, and their original constructions. Emmett, in an inspired moment, encourages these self-righteous Masters to follow the instructions, because that’s exactly what the bad guys aren’t expected.

All Lego sets come with an instruction book. Piece by piece, page by page, one can successfully build the model on the outside of the box as long as one follows the directions. These instructions become the tools of mass control in this film. Everyone is expected to follow the rules and deviating from the rules is severely punished. As such, Emmett has never actually had any of his own building ideas (except for a double-decker couch with coolers in the seats), and has a “prodigiously empty” imagination. The Master Builders, on the other hand, can see useful pieces anywhere, and can turn seemingly random blocks into vehicles or other useful tools. Haven’t we all found ourselves in similar dualities? Having that one friend who wants to follow the instructions versus that other friend who would rather dump all the pieces on the floor and see where the imagination takes them?

As someone who always follows the instructions, I personally find it frustrating that I can’t build an awesome spaceship out of random pieces, but I find it even more frustrating when people buy Lego sets then mix all the pieces in with their other pieces and have a giant bucket of random Lego pieces. My Lego sets, when not put together on display, are in Ziploc bags, sorted by set for easy reconstruction (no, I don’t sort my pieces beyond the overall set. I like the fun of the dig for that 1-pip, clear blue piece needed in step 150).

The instructions are the means of mass control in this Lego land. The God-like Father (Will Farrell) treats his Legos as models and collector items, not as the toys his son sees them to be (overtly, this is the point of the movie–to bring Father around to enjoying his Legos are the toys they are). But they also provide the secret to infiltrating the Infinity Tower and were almost successful in stopping Tako Tuesday.

In the American identity, we favor the rebellious Master Builder mentality–that the only way to overcome something that makes us unhappy is to break the rules. But what if the secret to change comes from rebuilding the system from within instead of without? This is a constant conflict in our society. Americans want community, but they don’t want to be herded into sameness. They want change, but not necessarily at the hand of revolution. (As always, I’m speaking to a generalized middle.) So what The Lego Movie seems to be telling us is that the first point of rebellion is to follow the instructions. And then, everything can be awesome.

The Hobby Lobby Decision

Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled in the case, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. The overt argument in the case is whether a company with a certain set of religious values can be required by the government to provide contraceptives to female employees under the Affordable Healthcare Act. The Supreme Court ruled 5-3 that companies do NOT have to meet this requirement. My Facebook feed since the ruling has been aflutter with criticism about how this is a major step backwards for women’s rights, because this decision allows a corporation to decide–for religious reasons–how to control a woman’s body. As far as woman’s rights, yes, this sets a nasty precedent. There’s also a lot of nuance to the discussion about how birth control can be accessed by women, and, as one might imagine, the Internet is divided on this ruling.

If you want, here’s the Supreme Court document. I haven’t read it, and don’t really intend to.

My concern is less about the implications for women’s rights, which is a major concern, don’t get me wrong. My concern is that this ruling effectively ensures that a corporation–a business–has personhood with the rights and liberties of the Bill of Rights, and that this corporation can make decisions that impact all of its employees that supersede government regulation.

Take a moment and think about this.

I mean, really think about this.

Whatever your opinion of government may be, a corporation is not a person. It’s not even a governing entity. But this ruling, and other rulings over the last few years, grants that power to the corporation.

Let’s stop and consider what a corporation is. It’s a hierarchical, micro-civilization that functions in service to some service. At the top of the hierarchy sits a CEO, like a king or queen, surrounded by his or her Board of Directors. This limited elite, with a few other Chief Officers, are the lawmakers in this hierarchy. The Presidents and Vice Officers that sit below them are the enforcers of this law, and so on down the food chain to the largest population in this micro-civilization: the basic employee, the frontline trooper the public has immediate interaction with who must put on the happy face that represents the corporate values.

The corporation is not a person, nor does it function as a collective entity. That limited elite who sit at the top of the food chain spread their values down to the bottom, and the decisions of this elite may or may not be in the best interest of the workforce.

I know what you’re thinking, why doesn’t the employee just find a new job or why don’t we as a consumer just not shop there? Well, yes, but corporate control is growing–and we’re letting it. Increasingly, we as employees are encountering difficulty not having to compromise our own morals and values in service to a corporation. Increasingly, we as consumers are facing a limited pool of consumption options. 

I write this blog not because I want to try to persuade you to see things my way. If you support Hobby Lobby, by all means continue to do so. By the same token, respect my decision to no longer shop there.

No, I write this blog for another reason. As a student of the Humanities, I have spent my share of time delving into a wide range of history, myth and religion, and culture. As a teacher of the Humanities, I have lectured about the relationship between lack of government oversight, propaganda, and the fall of the Roman Empire. I’ve lectured about the power of the Church in Medieval politics. I’ve lectured about how Humanism and Nationalism helped bring about the Renaissance. I’ve also devoted a lot of research to American mythology and how Disney used it to feed mid-century Nationalism, while also nurturing the American hunger to consume. The American people need to wake up and pay attention about corporate control.

But I don’t think we will. And that’s where I I find myself feeling very, very sad.

Side Note: If we think of consumption as an addiction, then corporations are our drug dealers. Or, if we think of consumption as a religion, then corporations are our cult leaders. Either perspective is problematic to the needs of the people, because the people are denied their own personhood in the service to the dealer or cult leader. But corporations, the embodiment of mid-century white privilege, have leverage and can get away with much more than drug dealers or cult leaders. If we as a culture can stop consuming, perhaps we can reduce their power. But the Stop Shopping movement is small, radical, and not taken seriously. Perhaps we can educate a generational shift and teach the children of today how not to consume.

Side Note Number 2: Another problem is that American consumption, or at least the right to consume, is seen around the world as equal to freedom and “democracy.” We need a world-wide shift, and it *could* happen if everyone got on board. We are globalized enough to enact such change. My skepticism of humanity leads me to think it won’t happen, even for all my Disney-colored optimism.

Side Note Number 3: Yes, I’m a consumer, and I admit it. My recent year in poverty has restructured much of my consumptive behaviors, but I’m still consuming nonetheless. One way to change consumptive behaviors is to unplug, and for some reason, I can’t bring myself to do that. And in that way, telecomm corporations have won this round.

This Problem of Poverty

I’ve seen a few things across my Facebook recently, ranging from “Welfare is a handout!” to property owners putting spikes outside their front doors (presumably to prevent people from sleeping there–seems like a dangerous liability issue to me). Such comments concern me because they don’t reflect what poverty is. Now, I’m not going to pretend to be a holier-than-thou expert on poverty. Rather, I’d just like to throw my perspective into this very complicated subject. Because I can. So there.

“Poverty” is defined by the OED as “the state of being extremely poor.” “Poor” is then defined as “lacking sufficient money to live at a standard considered comfortable or normal in a society.” Already, I have a problem with this understanding of poverty. There is an episode of the Twilight Zone that can illustrate this. The episode is 1961’s “Rip Van Winkle Caper” (season 2). A group of men steal a ton of gold and hide in a secret cave, cryogenically freezing themselves until their crime blows over. The plan was to wake up, and be free and wealthy. Not all of the men wake up–their machines were damaged–and the remaining men end up fighting amongst themselves for how they were going to divide the gold. In the end, one man is left, and goes in search of civilization. Since this show is filmed in California, the search for civilization inevitably involves a trek through the American desert. Along the way, he trades a bar of his gold for a sip of water. Eventually, he spends his last brick of gold, but dies from dehydration all the same. The man who watched him die, gets back into his car with his wife, and tells her: “Can you imagine that? He offered this to me as if it was really worth something.” (Rod Serling was a genius.) In another example, Sir Thomas Moore (1516) envisions a Utopia where gold isn’t a currency, but instead marks the slaves apart from the rest of the citizens.

My point is that what defines “money” is subjective to a society. What we use to define money this year will eventually change (perhaps not during my lifetime, but that depends on whether one is listening to the ecologists or not). More importantly, as long as one lives in a system of Civilization, understood from an anthropological viewpoint as a means of managing a large number of people in a fashion that necessarily requires a hierarchy, there will be poverty. In any society where there is a class system (manifest or latent), there will be poverty. Someone has to be excluded from the privileged class, and, historically, it’s the largest percentage of the population within the society. This is not the result of “lower classes breeding too much” or any such nonsense. Nor is this the result of “poorer people have sex more because they’re less educated.” Also baloney. People in privileged states like to tell themselves such stories to justify themselves. So now, I turn to Jung.

In Aion (or CW 9.2 for us hip Jung folks), Jung defines the shadow as:

The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge. (par 14).

Jung speaks specifically to the individual, but his theories reflect well into the larger society as well. People in poverty, the Poor, or anyone who does not meet the status quo of the privileged, become the social shadow. Think about this: in a Capitalist Democracy (or Republic–whatever the USA is these days), in a society that defines privilege and success on how much money one has, then those that fail to meet those measures are pushed aside.

Let me back up a minute. The “shadow” as Jung uses it is that part of the psyche that is buried in the unconscious. If one imagines the actual shadow (and get a good, long sunset shadow for this image), our bodies represent our conscious selves, while that shadow on the ground represents our unconscious life, formed by our dreams, our experiences, but also by our identity formation that “keeps” certain characteristics in our personality and buries others. The shadow has a tendency to not be ignored. In the individual, the shadow appears that moment when you say or do something uncharacteristic. Or it may weigh you down, leaving you unfulfilled and unsatisfied in life. We all have a shadow. We can deny it, but it will play its part on us if we don’t do something about it:

Unfortunately there can be no doubt that man is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected. (CW 11, “Psychology and Religion,” par. 131)

I struggle with Jung’s definition of the “collective shadow.” Much of his writing comes at a time in history when the “collective mind” was something to be avoided in the West, thanks to a fear of Communism and the European events of World War II. So he writes about how the “collective shadow” manifests as war (but I can’t find that quote). In my reading of Jung, it seems that the collective shadow manifests among the people, especially when the enemy cannot be easily identified (just what does a “Terrorist” or a “Communist” look like?). When we start projecting our shadows onto our own people, then we can hear many of the debates that are all over the news these days, and we start hearing buzz words like “entitlement.”

Again the OED: Entitlement is “the fact of having a right to something.” An entitlement isn’t a guarantee. It isn’t even a privilege. It’s simply the “right to something.” So I have a “right” to education, a “right” to welfare, a “right” to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And the reason I have these “rights” is because “rights” are “morally good, justifiable, or acceptable.” (again, “morally good” is also definable by the civilization. This kind of subjectivity is why poverty is such a murky issue!)

Confronting the collective shadow of poverty means facing and accepting that a particular dark underbelly of the culture is entitled–has the right to–the same privileges and opportunities of the higher players in the hierarchy. American individualism permits this–by our bootstraps and cunning, we can rise from rags to riches, and we should be rewarded for our hard work. Once power is achieved, no one wants to let it go easily, and the idea that someone could rise from rags to riches threatens that security.

Whenever contents of the collective unconscious become activated, they have a disturbing effect on the conscious mind, and contusion ensued. If the activation is due to the collapse of the individual’s hopes and expectations, there is a danger that the collective unconscious may take the place of reality. This state would be pathological. If, on the other hand, the activation is the result of psychological processes in the unconscious of the people, the individual may feel threatened or at any rate disoriented, but the resultant state is not pathological, at least so far as the individual is concerned. Nevertheless, the mental state of the people as a whole might well be compared to psychosis. (CW 8, “The Psychological Foundation for the Belief in Spirits,” par. 595)

Right now, the USA is in the first state–that pathological state. Our collective shadow is staring us in the face because of a failure of the American Dream to withstand the power of Economics. With the housing crisis seven years ago and the ridiculous amount of student loan debt that is crushing a large piece of the population, those who had to turn to welfare to help them through a phase of poverty changed face from the usual expectations. It was easier as a society to believe that poverty = “minority,” to write off the state of poverty as a problem of the “black people” and the “brown people.” But in the last several years we’ve seen increased numbers of highly educated “[black, white, brown, red, yellow] people” living in a state of poverty, or hard-working “[black, white, brown, red, yellow] people” in a state of homelessness because of a bad loan or a hurricane. Or older people who find themselves unemployed for longer than the requisite 8-month window because they’re too old, or their skills are outdated, or they are asking for too much. The face of poverty is no longer as clearcut as it used to be.

Is there a solution? Not an easy one, because the first and foremost thing we have to do is rewrite our Myth of Poverty. Anytime such an overturn of ideas needs to happen, it takes at least a generation. A few well-meaning adults (read: “Elders”) have to teach the new generation to see the world in this way, who then come to accept it as the norm. And while this can work, the inter-generational conversations are still speaking different stories, making the tension between New Ways of Thinking and Tradition that much more difficult. I’d like to say we could eradicate poverty, but that would also involve taking away the tax cuts of the wealthy. I’d love to say we can all live in harmony, but that would involve restructuring civilization as a whole. One last Jung quote:

Filling the conscious mind with ideal conceptions is a characteristic of Western theosophy, but not the confrontation with the shadow and the world of darkness. One does not become enlightened by imaging figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. (CW 13, “The Philosophical Tree,” par. 335)

Poverty isn’t a partisan issue. It exists. How we handle it speaks volumes to how we handle the shadow. When one speaks of “compassion,” it’s meant to motivate us toward Jung’s idea of enlightenment. We can’t all give money to the guy sitting on the corner with his dog. But we can acknowledge how we address poverty in our communities. Pretending it isn’t there isn’t an option. Fighting government bills that increase access to resources shouldn’t be an option either (the hit to the economy of not providing public assistance is far worse than what we do provide). Yes, there are trolls out there who abuse the system, preferring to live in a state of poverty than try to get out of it, but the larger majority of people in poverty would really like to get out of it. Because poverty is a state of mind. It weighs on us like an anvil around the neck, the world on our back, while trying to push a bolder up a mountain all at the same time. Oh, while walking on hot coals.

And yes, I’m speaking to American poverty. Much attention is given to African poverty by major celebrities, who want to address poverty but don’t want to face the problems in their own backyards. The USA is still a country of privilege, but that doesn’t mean we’re distributing our resources wisely. If we want to maintain the illusion that the USA is the world’s anchor, we need to sort out these social issues, among others that run the very real risk of breaking down the Matrix.

[Since all of my books are in boxes, I’d like to thank jungcurrents.com for Jung’s quotes.]

NOTE: One thing I’m not addressing in this post is the perspective of poverty by those who live in it. If poverty is the cultural shadow, as I’m claiming here, then those who live in the state of poverty are the shadow elements. Because I have spent the last year living–struggling–in poverty, I won’t be able to delve into this perspective until I’m in a safe place to heal from the psychic wounds this past year has given me. I invite anyone who is willing and able to share their perspective–of being the shadow, vilified simply for being poor. And with permission, I’d love to share it here.

Downton Abbey Took a Violent Turn and I’m Not Happy About It

***This post is inspired by a recent broadcast of Downton Abbey in the US, and contains spoilers.***

When it comes to violence in the media, I have a few criteria I like to follow:
(As a note: I’m not a big fan of violence. I don’t condone it. I would love a world without violence, and maybe someday such a world will exist.)
1. Is it gratuitous? My gratuity line is significantly lower than most of Hollywood–thanks to my Walt Disney-colored glasses and parenthood–but I can appreciate that some violence is supposed to be there. For instance, you can’t have Romeo and Juliet without the death of Tybalt, and The Shining or Titanic wouldn’t have made such an impact without characters freezing to death. But did Johnny Depp really need his eyes ripped out in Once Upon a Time in Mexico or did Doc really need to chop off his fingers in Escape from Alcatraz?
2. The obvious intent behind the film. I allow Quentin Tarantino, Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock to get away with their violence because they are either presenting dark satire or handle the violence artfully. A movie like Caligula haunts me with its gratuitous sexual violence (it is an art porn, as it were), as do many horror movies. It may be sacrilegious, but I even find the two major acts of violence done to Luke Skywalker in Empire Strikes Back unnecessary. There isn’t significant character transformation by his experiences.
3. Who is the violence against? Who doesn’t cheer when the Evil Queen falls to her death?
(I don’t buy into the argument that violence in media causes violence in real life. Violent people are violent in their nature. Violence in media is a response to something in the culture. Think there is too much violence? Then, please, rethink what media you consume. Through embargo can we get the moguls to give us new themes. But if 100 years of Hollywood is any indicator, we like the catharsis of violence. Victorian repression doesn’t work either. Oh well.)

This is all getting me to Downton Abbey‘s recent episode, Season Four Episode 2. I binge-watched the entire show, since it airs the hour before Sherlock, which returns this weekend with Season 3. It is well-written, such that I imagine that fans cried at the same points, laughed at the same scenes, held their breath at the same time. The characters are fairly black and white. By the end of the first episode in which they appear, we know who to love, who to hate, and who to pity.

Come to think of it, Aristotle would be pleased with this show, if he were writing The Poetics today.

So Anna’s brutal rape is a matter of controversy. Not only is she one of the most loved and selfless characters, but how it was presented recalls the old cinematic trick of careful montage editing. While an opera singer performs for the entire house (upstairs and downstairs), her screams echo through an empty hallway. The performance is full of light, while the hallway is dark. I’m not remembering which silent film dealt with a rape in much the same fashion. This type of distancing effect tugs at our heartstrings: we are connected to the show (if you’re a faithful watcher), but this scene confuses us. Anger for Anna or joy at operatic beauty?

A commentary I read pointed out that the scandal of her situation could ruin her career as a Lady’s Maid and mark her publicly forever. Such is British society. Julian Fellows did her a favor of writing her attacker from her class, even if she can never have justice. Another commentary, or maybe the same one, suggests that how this is handled in coming episodes will make or break the season. And Fellows himself suggests that it had to be Anna.

Even knowing writer’s intent and show purpose, I’m not in favor of this one. If Fellows needed to rape Anna, did we really have to see it? After all, we were spared Matthew’s war and car accidents, Thomas’s coward shot (how on earth did he get away with that?!), Cora’s fall, and do on. So why this?

Yet another commentary suggests that this event is designed to speak to the fate of Downton Abbey in a time when the family itself is losing its grip. Downton Abbey is meant to represent a microcosm. Through the disguise of a period piece, I suspect the primary commentary is about the tension between nostalgia and the ever-changing face of the planet. Through a piece at the time when Britain stopped being an empire and the class divide became less rigid, we can read a commentary about the connectivity of the world and how easy we can go from place to place through the Internet. How much easier it is to be a self-made person with the right resources, or not.

Perhaps Anna represents Britain, or the West, or the Earth. Perhaps the rape of her is the rape of our planet of her resources. I suppose I’ll know more on Sunday.

*Please no spoilers about what happens next if you already know.*

Projection and Johnny Depp (and Miley Cyrus, too)

The recent hubbub about Miley Cyrus and the recent VMAs has gotten me thinking about Johnny Depp. Or maybe it was a dream I had last night about the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction. Either way, my thoughts on Miley and Johnny both have to do with the same thing: our projections.

Johnny Depp experienced an exponential growth in his fame in the 2000s, arguably with the success of Jack Sparrow. Prior to the 2000s, his roles have been unusual–Edward Sissorhands–or they have spoken to a special Aphroditic place in our culture–Don Juan. With Jack Sparrow, however, Depp played (and rather well) a character right out of our cultural shadow. The Pirate pillages and plunders, and riffles and loots, and we’re not supposed to look to them as heroes. Indeed, we wouldn’t have seen Jack Sparrow as anything but another Blackbeard had it not been for his support of the Will/Elizabeth diad. In the popularity of Jack Sparrow, Johnny Depp went from being “that weird actor” to “The Sexiest Man Alive.” And it was thought for several years that is presence in a film or on marketing materials would guarantee success–blockbuster (and I mean financial) success. He continued to make successful films with Tim Burton (a relationship that I tend to trust for “good cinema”) but he also made some less successful films. Let’s consider those a moment (in no particular order):

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides: I love the franchise, but without Will and Elizabeth, Jack Sparrow seems lost. I’ve heard rumor of a Pirates 5, but I think it would only work if they tied up some loose ends (such as Will Turner’s son).

The Rum Diary: I liked this one, but I’m among an elite few. I think this one failed because people were expecting Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and got something else entirely. I appreciate Depp’s attempts to keep the works of Hunter S. Thompson alive, but it’s really not the time for him right now. Mythically, we need someone else.

The Lone Ranger & Dark Shadows: I lump these together because they are an attempt to revive an old television franchise for a new generation. Both were expected to do well–but how can they do well when their target audiences don’t even know the shows? Dark Shadows becomes yet-another-vampire-movie and the Lone Ranger, which I haven’t seen, doesn’t fit in our mythos that presently doesn’t have space for an old fashioned Western (exceptions: sci-fi westerns–Star Trek, Firefly–and historical fiction). Because of our apocalyptic myth transition, we are hungering for saviors. It shouldn’t be surprising that Marvel films are doing so well.

I saw a headline this morning that said that Depp is thinking about stepping out of the limelight. What’s happening to Depp is akin to what happened to Charlie Chaplin. For Chaplin, the public wanted the Little Tramp so badly that they weren’t interested in The Great Dictator, when he used his medium to send us a warning about what was happening in Germany. Our public wants Jack Sparrow so badly that we aren’t interested when Depp actually gives us cinema with a purpose.

I would love to say that we’ll stop projecting our Aphroditic expectations onto Johnny Depp, but I only think that’ll happen once we get someone else to project onto. Rather, I would love to see Depp take on roles that go beyond the “Johnny Depp” brand and challenge us to see him in new ways. We’ve seen Leonardo Di Caprio do this many times. While on screen, he’s clearly Leonardo Di Caprio, but he is also a character actor like Depp, and successfully challenges us to see him as Howard Hawks, J. Edgar Hoover, and Gatsby. Depp has convinced us to see him as Hunter S. Thompson and as John Dillenger, and yet we just want Jack Sparrow.

Back to Miley. Why is it that we continually see young female celebrities needing to exert their adulthood through sexuality? Why can’t we just let them grow up and stop being “that girl next door” (or Hannah Montana)? The Disney girls seem to fare less well with the transition into adulthood than others. We want them to continue being our image of what a role model for girls should look like, but we forget that we need role models for young women as well (otherwise they’ll look at Bella Swan from Twilight). Women just don’t have decent role models because women are still fighting the sexual role defined by a male-dominated Hollywood. I don’t consider myself a feminist by any stretch, but I can appreciate that need for role models, and the need for those role models to push back at our projections and exert her independence. (which, by the way, is what the Disney Princesses and heroines of the 90s did.)