Light vs. Dark

When Joe Biden officially accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination for president this week in a forceful and, frankly, awe inspiring speech, he opened his remarks with a quote from the late African American civil rights activist Ella Baker:

Give people light… and they will find the way.

I’m not much of a light vs. darkness guy because I tend to see the world in infinite shades of over analytical grays.  This accounts for my lifelong disinterest in comic books and all things superhero and sword and sorcer-ish from the time I was a pre-pubescent up through the present day.

Sometimes I wonder if I ever would have made it out of young adolescence with all my limbs intact if I had grown up in the age of Harry Potter.  (Note: I’m the kid in the corner with his arms folded wondering why we can’t instead talk about Sutton Foster in Thoroughly Modern Millie).

Also me in the corner

Though I imagine I might have figured out a way to find value in Harry’s lessons.  I’ve pretty much had to do this as a writing mentor for any number of students inspired not only by the worlds of Potter, but by the actions in Marvel, DC, Spielberg and Lucas.

I try to temper my enthusiasm

Of course, the lesson in this is to not be so quick to dismiss out of hand something that is not your thing.  If you do it that fast it is likely the universe will actually put you in a place where you will absolutely be forced to keep dealing with Dumbledore or the inevitable Avengers 5, 6, or 7 until you can stop dismissing it from way up on the very high perch from which you sit and choose to judge.

Such was my experience listening to Mr. Biden – oh heck, let’s just call him Joe cause that’s what he likes anyway and that’s what fits these days when you’re speaking with or writing about him.

And Joe it is

As Joe talked of being the harbinger of light in these dark Trumpian times I had a knee jerk, split second intellectual reaction of imperious resistance.

He can’t possibly be putting it this simply in these horribly awful and complicated times, could he?  I mean, this isn’t Star Wars or a Marvel movie or even one of my students’ basic notions for an as-of-yet unwritten studio blockbuster.  This is real life.  And real life these days is….

EXACTLY about darkness and light.

Much to my surprise.

It helps that it’s color coded

This is because in that instant I finally got why many young people of all ages crave superheroes and sorcery.  When things go so bad all around you it helps to have a powerful figure of stature on a stage that big drawing the curtain back, looking you in the eye and assuring you that the power of the light inside you is enough to fight the darkness attacking you IF you deign to believe in it.

In fact, in this case it is especially powerful because, unlike most superheroes, you don’t have to fight the fight alone.  You have a whole force of ordinary people very much like you and if you simply pool your forces together you can together shine bright enough to…

*cough* *cough*

Well, I was gonna say light up the lights of Broadway, which explains so much of why I never gravitated towards superheroes to begin with.  But instead, let’s go with vanquish the darkest of enemies, and call it a day.

Because by now you know what both I (and Joe) mean by the metaphor.

There are some moments in time where simplicity rules no matter how complicated you think it all is and I want to get.

Well, this too

We’re living through incredible darkness at the moment, as Joe’s 25-minute speech pointed out.

  • There are 176,000+ Americans dead from COVID-19
  • There are 5.68 million Americans infected with the virus
  • The U.S. leads the world in confirmed cases and deaths
  • More than 50 million Americans have filed for unemployment this year
  • More than 10 million Americans will lose their health insurance this year

And yet this just in from the President’s counselor and all-around right hand gal Kellyanne Conway when asked about plans for this week’s Republican convention:

You are going to see and hear from many Americans whose lives have been monumentally impacted by this administration’s policies.  We definitely want to improve on the dour and sour mood of the D.N.C.

Ah yes, behold all the doom and gloom.

But, um, how will that strategy improve on the dour and sour mood of the D.N.C.?  I mean, if we actually have real Americans speak? 

Well, there might be a casting call going on right now since its just been announced that two producers from Trump’s The Apprentice have been signed to help guide the festivities and wrangle talent.But here’s what we do know at the moment.  The Missouri couple that a few months ago toted assault weapons at Black Lives Matter demonstrators, Mark and Patricia McCloskey, are scheduled to appear.  As is Nicholas Sandmann, that smirky Kentucky teenager who got up in the face of Native American elder Nathan Phillips at the Lincoln Memorial last year and tried to stare him down with a Cheshire cat smile that only the Church Lady could love.

Talk about darkness vs. the light.  Or shall we say, the Light vs. the Dark.

Ugh, fine, I get it.

Well luckily, I don’t have to because Joe did it for us in his way.  All  we have to do now is follow his lead and make the right – I mean left – choice.

Though admittedly I have a ways go with that.  On Monday, the night before the convention began and three days before Joe spoke, an elderly masked woman and I were riding up the elevator alone to the same floor in a medical building on our way to different doctor appointments (Note:  Don’t worry, I was only getting an allergy shot).

In any event, during the ride she suddenly turned to me and  said:

Excuse me sir, I’ve taken it upon myself to be the town crier, in this upcoming election you must vote for Trump.

To say the least…

To which I proceeded to say things to her I have never heard myself  say out loud to anyone and couldn’t print or put on TV.  This was after excoriating her on her feelings about Black and Brown people and telling her to turn off Fox News and educate herself.

Though before she accused Joe of being senile and having Alzheimer’s.  To which I shouted back at her down the hall (Note: We were no longer in the elevator):

Well, you should know about that!  And good luck with your message in Los Angeles….HONEY!!!

Yep

This is all another way of saying the light has probably come for me and us just in the knick of time.

Sutton Foster – “Gimme Gimme” (from Thoroughly Modern Millie)

Talking the Talk

Screen Shot 2016-08-01 at 11.53.22 AM

In the early 1970s the #1 talk radio station in New York was WMCA and at night it broadcast a program called The Joanne Ginsberg Show. She wasn’t a relative but she had the same last name as I did, and since even then I longed to be in show biz I figured it was worth a listen.

Aside from the requisite celebrities of the era – like John and Yoko (Lennon, that is) – there were political discussions… lots of them. It was also the not yet end of the Vietnam War and the majority of American teenagers like myself were repulsed at the idea of living in a country that continuously bombed women and little children thousands of miles away to oblivion – and at that time we actually saw their bloody carcasses on the network news each night – in the name of what seemed to be…well…absolutely nothing.

Aunt Joanie

Aunt Joanie

Being even more mouthy than I am now – yes it’s possible and, after all, I was a teenager – I decided to call up “Aunt Joanne” one night when an Army general or veteran or sergeant (who can remember) was on singing the patriotic praises of America and how proud he and all of us should be at our armed forces and every time the flag was raised.

Really, I thought? Proud? I’ll show him.

Channeling my inner Wonder Woman #LassoOfTruth

Channeling my inner Wonder Woman #LassoOfTruth

So I got on the phone, dialed the number and waited half an hour to tell the guy off.

Yeah, I’d like to say something to your guest, I bellowed at Auntie Joanie when she asked what was on my mind and told me we were on the air.

I’d like him to know that as a young person I’m sickened every time I see the military and hear the national anthem playing. As for the American flag, we’re murdering hundreds of innocent people halfway across the world for nothing. It’s draped on the coffins of soldiers who died for no reason.   I don’t know how anyone can be proud of that. And our government is just trying to get out of it by saying it’s “peace with honor….”

I’m paraphrasing a bit but trust me – words like military, horrifying, death, disgusting, sickening and I’m pretty sure nauseating were used more than once. Sensing that there was even more to come the elder Ginsberg wisely jumped in and asked her guest what he thought about that.   To this day I have no idea what he said. All I can recall is that he never addressed my sentiments – at all.   I was looking to do battle and, strangely enough, he was choosing not at all to engage.

A pretty fair representation of my interaction

A pretty fair representation of my interaction

I recount this all in light of our current national pastime of electoral politics – or as we like to call it – the best damn reality show the world has ever seen. How was it that some 40 plus years later I was cheering for retired Gen. John Allen at the Democratic National Convention when he screamed about love of country, common values, defeating evil and protecting the homeland?

Uh, no – it’s not because I’m older or my politics have much changed. It’s because his short but very pointed argument was put in a context.

We writers, directors, producers and actors should take note.

The General at the DNC, flanked by veterans of ALL colors

The General at the DNC, flanked by veterans of ALL colors

Gen. Allen’s speech directly followed that of Khzir Khan, father of a dead Muslim soldier, who challenged Donald Trump’s patriotism for his proposal of “temporarily” banning all Muslims to the country as well as his nasty, jingoistic hate speech towards Mexican-Americans, women, and pretty much any other peer (of any color, faith or sex) who dared to strenuously disagree with him. Mr. Khan, an immigrant and a lawyer – and clearly a very good one – topped it off by pulling out his own printed pamphlet of the Constitution, offering to lend it to him to read, because clearly he hasn’t and has no idea what’s in it. He concluded by telling him that he knew nothing about sacrifice because he has sacrificed “nothing and no one.”

Oh yes he did

Oh yes he did

But back to Gen. Allen. In a post 9-11 world – that means a time when Americans understand what it means to be attacked on the mainland in one of its major cities and financial centers – blood and carnage does not seem as shocking. This is especially true given the almost weekly bursts of violence and death by guns by our own hands, not to mention the bi-weekly, monthly or bi-monthly mass terrorist attacks of late all over the world.

Still, the reason I, and many like myself, instinctively cheered on a military man is that his words were a rebuke to Trumpism – or as I define it – a jingoistic knee-jerk reaction in support of all things American.

What's that cliche... lipstick on a pig?

What’s that cliche… lipstick on a pig?

To be clear, the precise words the former Marine commander was yelling were phrases like:

Every American in uniform, in the White House or at home…must be a force for unity in America, for a vision that includes all of us… Every man and woman, every race, every ethnicity, every faith and creed, including the Americans who are our precious Muslims. And every gender and every gender orientation.

I also know (under Hillary Clinton) our armed forces will not become an instrument of torture, and they will not be ordered to engage in murder or carry out other illegal activities.

So we stand before you tonight to endorse Hillary Clinton for president of the United States of America…We trust her judgment. We trust in her judgment….We know that she – as no other – knows how to use all instruments of American power, not just the military, to keep us all safe and free.

With her as our commander-in-chief, America will continue to lead in this volatile world.

We will oppose and resist tyranny as we will defeat evil….America will defeat ISIS and protect the homeland….America will honor our treaty obligations….We will lead and strengthen NATO and the Atlantic Alliance, and our allies in East Asia and around the world whom we have sworn a solemn oath to defend. 

….We will stop the spread of nuclear weapons and keep them from the hands of dangerous states and groups.

…I also know that with her as our commander-in-chief, our international relations will not be reduced to a business transaction.

I also know our armed forces will not become an instrument of torture, and they will not be ordered to engage in murder or carry out other illegal activities.

You see most Americans are not as different from 1970s American teenagers, or even millennial teenagers and up, than one might think. Most of us don’t want war or anything to do with it. But we are also realistic and no longer live in a fool’s paradise. We’ll fight, or might be inclined to listen to a justification for fighting even if we don’t want to if we understand what the hell we’re fighting for.   Or against.

What we, the overwhelmingly reasonable majority don’t want to do is to fight for no logical reason.   Or with each other.