Will It Get Better?

This week I had intended to talk about something else but sometimes life gets in the way.

This week an American soldier got booed and scorned publicly at a political debate for asking a question.

This week yet another young person – in this case a 14 year old boy in Buffalo, New York – killed himself because he could no longer take the relentless bullying he endured at both his school and from his online community.

This week I publicly acknowledge – both of these events are connected because both of these young men (certainly compared to me they’re young) are (in the case of the 14 year old it’s “were”) gay.

Stephen & Jamey

This week I thought about a famous quote:  “People get the governments they deserve.” (FYI, it’s been attributed to everyone from French philosopher Alexis deTocqueville to 60s Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson and is usually intended to those of us lucky enough to live in a democracy).

This week I decided that what is important is not who said it (or any variation of it) and in what context, but rather

  1.  Is it true?  – and –
  2. Can it be applied to other areas in life?

This week I decided – the answer is – “yes.”  To both 1. and 2.

This week there are two clips I must ask you to watch and listen to.

The first is from Anderson Cooper and centers on the 14 year-old Buffalo boy, Jamey Rodemeyer.  It features footage of Jamey doing an “It Gets Better” you tube video just four months ago to encourage other gay youth to stick it out and not feel bad about themselves.  It also features footage from a right wing evangelical Christian leader proclaiming that a. bullying is merely part of growing up, and b. the opinion of a current member of the U.S. House of Representatives noting the “gay problem” and the legitimizing of this group in mainstream society is a more serious problem in this country than terrorism.  [On the latter point, I couldn’t help but think of this as the “Jewish problem” many Germans talked about pre-World War II and wondered if this Congressperson (her name is Sally Kern) was pondering some similar “Final Solution” to take care of what she sees as our current problem.  She needn’t worry in the case of Jamey – he found said solution without her.]

Watch the entire video here

The second is a short clip from the Wednesday night Republican candidates debate when Stephen Hill, a young soldier who, thanks to the recent overturn of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” respectfully by Skype (or maybe it was on a pre-tape) came out as gay and instantly gets booed.  He soldiers on (as our men and women in uniform do) and asked the candidates across the board whether they would reinstate said policy.  Needless to say, Sgt. (or Soldier?) Hill did not receive the public support or even answer he had hoped for.

And the second video here.


This week I was reminded of something I’ve known for a long time but sometimes choose to forget because I have a pretty good life free of this insanity – the booing of this soldier, who is far more brave than I will ever be, and the fact that not one candidate on that stage spoke up to chastise the audience for booing a man of uniform in a time of war, is undeniably connected to the toxic atmosphere that pushed young Jamey to his death and will push other young Jameys to the same fate in the coming months and years.

Can we do better?

This week I acknowledge that it’s a lot more fun and entertaining to talk about film and television and why they’re great or why they suck and what this says about us as a society and how artists can make a difference in the world.

And how you can be a great artist.

And how you can fight all the self-doubt.

And how we all have a lot more in common on that score than we are all willing to admit.

And how, as a wise person who at one point I didn’t particularly like but then actually grew to like very much told a group of people I was in from all economic backgrounds and from all over the country that — “you’re more alike than you’re different.”

This week I’m particularly thinking about this last quote and wondering whether it is really true.  Because unless I’m mistaken, it’s not unreasonable to think that Sally Kern and her kind don’t feel this way at all and, in fact, are looking at their own “solution” to some of what (or whom) they consider society’s problems.

This week I’m considering whether I bear at least part of the responsibility for not speaking up (and doing) more when something like this happens.

As some of you have been nice enough to say – I do talk a good game.   But this week I have decided to take whatever brains, talent and cleverness I have (limited though it might sometimes be) to work on a new project that will try to change things in a more active way.  (More on that at some future date).

This week I’m hoping that – in whatever small, big or in-between way you can see fit – that you can take some small or larger action and try to do the same.  Because in no way, shape or form do I think or believe this week represents who we are.  Or – what we deserve.

13 thoughts on “Will It Get Better?

  1. Every time we have witnessed sterotyped behavior by depicted homosexuals, blacks and Jews, etc. in film or television it is an outrage. The comfort level of audiences of these depictions is deplorable. Must the young gay kid in GLEE be THAT effeminate and outrageous, must the cruel, drug addict murderer be balck, must the scheming, money gragging merchant be a Jew, or the thick, eye lided Italian instantly Mafioso? I blame lazy writers and studios for shoving this hate inducing shit down our throats, and for us who apparently are still willing to view it, and do nothing about it. Let’s start with refusing to attend any movie that depicts it’s star
    brandishing a gun in the movie poster art. I have.

    branishing a gun in the poster art.EVERY new movie poster that has

  2. Will it get better? No. (Alas.)

    It has repeatedly struck me that humans are lacking in empathy and I’ll go to the dictionary just to be sure we’re on the same page — “Empathy is the capacity to recognize and, to some extent, share feelings (such as sadness or happiness) that are being experienced by another sapient or semi-sapient being.” You see a failure of empathy in the bad way people treat their neighbors, the way the rich ignore the poor, the general prevalence of cruelty to animals, dolphins, whales, chained dogs, and beaten children. Empathy for the suffering of others leads to compassion, a desire for action to alleviate the suffering. And that compassion leads to maxims like the golden rule (“One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.”) That rule is a cornerstone of human rights that was processed through the political discourse of the French and American Revolutions. But why are we sure that there is still a problem with human beings and that many are “empathy deficient?” One big indicator is that the United Nations feels it has to explain empathy to the citizens of Earth.

    “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” —Article 1 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    That was written in 1948 and yet we’ve had plenty of atrocities since then. So where does empathy go wrong? Why does it fail to guide our behavior more often? Konrad Lorenz and some other evolutionary biologists have suggested that it is our aggression and lack of empathy towards our own kind that has allowed homo sapiens to be the dominant predator on the planet. Think about it — humans kill and eat just about everything. In war humans will decimate whole populations. No other species has every been as effective at aggression on a planetary scale. Our aggression is the source of our success and wealth. Empathy wins few wars and few prizes. If we were all highly empathic, there would be less conflict, less competition, less room for Darwinian evolution. Evolution has spent 1,000 generations evolving aggressive predators who will not be able to adapt quickly to our modern, hot, flat, crowded planet.

    And the cultural moment is devoid of empathy. Republicans can’t empathize with Democrats. Fundamentalist Christians can’t empathize with Islam. The melting pot has been replaced by an internet tweeting with a million personalized channels. Society is breaking into small factions intent on protecting their own interests and turf. Empathy be damned — let’s head for the lifeboats, bomb shelters, and swiss banks before the double-dip hits.

    • Perhaps degrees of empathy coincide with where society is generally at the moment. e.g. the tougher the times, the less empathetic we get. Though that doesn’t seem right because in the moments after 9/11 the world was probably at its most empathic towards the US. There is a lot of validity to what Lorenz and his ilk say. But I’m going to choose to believe that just as we have the killer survival instinct so do we have that the flip side of uber empathy given the right situations — this dichotomy might be a reason why we as a species have become genetically dominant — and yet this dissonance could be the very thing that could cause our destruction.

  3. “Sometimes the truth isn’t good enough. Sometimes people deserve more. Sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded.”

  4. If you need volunteers for your as yet unannounced project, I’m game.

    Also, good post. Very good post!

  5. Keep us posted on the upcoming project. I want so badly to do something, I’m just not sure where to begin.

    • Will do. And I think even each of us speaking up in our daily lives is something. So — there is always that. Because, I promise you, that cumulative effect is what causes the biggest change.

  6. Walt,

    I spend most of my time in the company of artists, teachers, social workers, and therapists and know that there is empathy in abundance out there. There really are people who care about others and who work to make things better for everyone. They may not be as plentiful as the aggressive folks you mention and they may not be in positions of significant power, but they are there, trying bit by bit to make the world more livable, more compassionate, more humane. I don’t disagree that there’s a lot of bleakness out there and that at times the darkness may seem insurmountable, but there is hope and goodness and joy out there too. We just have to keep at it, like water wearing gradually away at a stone until it creates a mighty river. As Sting once wrote: “We go crazy in congregations; we only get better one by one.”

    • I agree, Ray. And certainly am encouraged that you are out there doing the work you’re doing. I try hard not to paint everyone out there with the same brush and certainly know what you’re saying is true. I also think one way to fight back is to shine a big light on those aggressive folks and what is being done in the name of — power? religion? anger? ignorance? intolerance? evil? On any given day I choose my own adjective…. That helps. And often does make it better.

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