11 April 2008

Acting Out

Hope and change has been the slogan of this political year. Unfortunately, politics has inspired little hope and has instead planted seeds of despondency that the United States is on a one way path to epic failure. All aboard the fail boat!

The immigration debate has inspired such despondency within me of late. It was highlighted by a small news story that slipped under the radar recently. Absolut Vodka ran an ad campaign in Mexico in which (in an attempt to celebrate Mexican heritage) it ran the slogan “In an Absolut World” over an image of 19th century North American, where all the territory west of the Rocky Mountains was Mexico. Outrage arose, not from within Mexico, but rather from several conservative groups and journalists in the United States that called for a boycott of the brand. Absolut apologized for its campaign and stopped running the ads; A politically correct, profit minded and truly “American” response.

This reaction is representative of the deteriorating status of Mexicans and US/Mexico relations in light of the immigration debate. All politicians are dealing with the influx of illegal immigrants into this country, but the kind of rhetoric and ideas that are being thrown around reveal a dehumanizing of Mexicans.

In this debate Mexicans and Hispanic immigrants coming from the south are referred to as problems and often as “illegals.” Some might argue that terminology is harmless, but I think otherwise. Referring to fellow human beings in such negative ways creates immediate prejudice and devaluing. As a result the identity we project on Hispanic immigrants is one centered on notions of rejection, objectification and immorality. We refer to them, not as people, but rather as amorphous entities that exist in the realm of illegality and encroachment.

The discourse of solution is not a positive one. Illegal immigration (and the millions are human beings associated with it) is referred to as a problem that needs to be rectified. Immigrants are objectified and treated as commodities as we decide their worth in our economy and culture, or as we decide which ones to ship back and how to do so. There is not talk of moving forward, only of creating stasis by cutting off the routes and purging our country of these dirty, illegal and problematic bodies that are corrupting true American values.

Stephen Colbert joked with Mike Huckabee about building a catapult along the border to fire illegals back into Mexico. The idea seems ridiculous, but his satire is not far off. It highlights the dehumanization of Hispanic immigrants. Not only are their identities essentialized to that of “Mexican” but they are considered inherently illegitimate. Whether we agree with it or not, the immigration debate has stolen the status of equality from Hispanic immigrants. We are living in a world where “freedom and justice for all” is a farce and instead, human status is determined by economic worth and genealogy.

To be Freudian for a moment, can we examine the illegal immigration debate, and responses like those to the Absolut ad, as an acting-out of some deep seated problem? I think we can. The crisis we are facing here is not one of population, jobs, culture or globalization. No, what we are facing is an identity crisis of a national sort.

We are facing many problems as a nation, namely our economy and our political reputation. As the European Union and China grow stronger our role as super-power is being contested. We are accused of anti-intellectualism. Culturally we are divided over gay marriage, abortion, religion and wealth. Every day I see hopeless efforts to establish and secure the idea of “America” and a greater number of individuals and ideas that contest such an identity at fundamental levels.

The role of the United States and our future is uncertain and possibly quite bleak. As a result we are acting out and building fences on our borders to keep out those seeking better lives. As we become ever so deeply involved in contentious conflict in the Middle East, we are troubled and take our frustration out on those illegals that indisputably have broken the law and assailed our “American” values.

This debate is not about immigrants, they will continue to come and there’s nothing we can do about it. If we were a healthy nation, we would have confidence that our economics and culture would adjust accordingly. What I see through examples like that of the Absolut campaign, is that these crises we face are more likely unhealthy and counterproductive projections of our own cultural and identity crises.

We are freefalling downward into a pit of cultural crisis and shutdown. We are so insecure with who we are a nation that we are threatened by the Spanish language. Eventually, we will end our descent and hit rock bottom. We will be confronted with tumultuous and violent conflict as we run out things to cover our problems. Shall we focus of catapulting illegals back to Mexico? Shall we continue to obsess ourselves with the lives of celebrities? Shall we fill the voids of our political lives with debates over tiny and insignificant questions and comment? Or, shall we being to look deeper and find those bugs and irks deep within our cultural being and face our problems and the world’s problems head on?

I have not yet completely resigned myself to the bleak outlook I have defined here. I still have confidence that what we need is simple change on our own parts. Instead of breeding dogma, we need to breed understanding. I hope that one day we will be known as the generation of understanding that rose to the great challenges we are facing now and moved forward.

01 April 2008

The Media, Inside Out

Well, it's been nearly a month since I last posted. I suppose my mind has been busy for more productive purposes.

Today, I shall focus on that brilliant entity that we all love, the media. The lovely Chelsea Clinton was at Butler University (my home) last week campaigning for her mother. Many are likely familiar with the incident that proceeded, the asking of the question about Monica Lewinsky. Likely because of a slow news day, this question and analysis of the question was everywhere.

I think that we students here have had an interesting opportunity to take a fine look at the media now. We have seen a simple little question blown into a huge national topic of discussion. We were also witness to all sorts of reaction to and reporting of this issue.

I think previous blogs here have shown my distrust and utter contempt for the media. Perhaps I'll reiterate anyway: far from informing us, I think the media does more to lull us into an ignorant acquiescence, where we are at the whims of emotion and sensationalism. And sensationalism, my friends, is exactly what we had here in the few days following the Chelsea question. I will not attempt to either refute or justify the question, it was asked and that's all we can really say about it. But suddenly the student who asked the question was being interviewed all over and CNN had the best political team on television picking over these words and Chelsea's words. For what? Because we need something to clamber over, something to divide, something to provoke empty rage and sympathy.

I also have another excellent perspective. I am a member of Butler's student newspaper, the Collegian. In one small report, the Associated Press reported that the student who asked the question was an editor for the Collegian. This is untrue, and I believe the confusion arose because one of our editors appeared next to the offending student on an interview. Nevertheless, we suddenly became the student's secretaries and we received hundreds of calls and emails from all the major new organizations as well as from citizens all around the country. Some were local Hoosiers who scolded us and said that they would never send their children to such a university. Others were full of praise for the student's bravery to ask the tough question.

What we see here is threefold. First, we see how an innocent mistakes occur can cause far-reaching consequences. I might also mention that our university was named incorrectly in numerous reports of Butler College, Butler in Pennsylvania and also Ball State University. Second we see the unruly reactions that we the people have been conditioned to have. How could this one student's moment of clarity (or lack thereof) in any way reflect on the education, environment and credibility of this institution? Were this the case, we must realize and take responsibility for the actions of our dear President. We didn't elect him you say? Well, we certainly did not choose the offending student to speak for our university. I am not contenting that we shouldn't have opinions and reactions to the things we see in the media, but we must consider the source of the material and why it has come to the media's attention in the first place before we attribute great value to our reactions. Finally, I combine these two insights and learn to further question the media in every way. We have seen how details become mixed up and changed, however minute they may be. After Chelsea left campus, life went on as normal, we certainly took note of the question, but we never expected to find it on national websites within hours.

Sensationalism. From a string of 20 words grows an unruly bush of misinformation, bad reporting, over-analysis and overreaction. In this world with the web, sensationalism breeds a careless sense of urgency, where it seems that fact checking is being passed up. I've gained new perspective on how realities are created within hours, realities that often vary drastically from creator to creator, person to person, news station to news station.

Think it out for yourselves. Realize that 90 percent of what you see on TV and read on any news source is bullshit, produced with corporate, political, personal and cultural agendas. Realize that very little of what is presented as fact, can be considered any sort of objective piece of information. For instance, from all the reports on the Chelsea question, I can assertain two things. One, that the question was asked. Two that Chelsea said what was quoted. That's about all the trust I put into this sort of thing. Any conclusions I come to are my own, perhaps to be shared, but not necessarily and certainly not to fill space on a dull day on the plant earth.

Perhaps most importantly, I beg that before we become emotionally charged over travesties, breeches of decency, tales of woe and of evil, that we consider the impact of our reactions, the far reaching impacts that your comments may have on a small collegiate newspaper bearing the brunt of a nation's outrage. These are consequences I have never considered before. Share the enlightenment.