The Tragedy of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman

In which the Elegant Bastard argues that seeing and hearing are not necessarily worthy of believing.

Sometime in the near future, a Florida jury will render its verdict in the Trayvon Martin – George Zimmerman case. That verdict will be largely irrelevant. Truth and Justice long ago left the building, disgusted by the muck and mud being trucked in by the armies of special interest.  The case is now trapped in the centre of a screaming crowd so vast it would have filled the Roman Forum, where, thumbs down , it would have stood and cheered the death of both protagonists.

The Martin-Zimmerman case is a carefully choreographed and scripted spectacle. Was Zimmerman a man suddenly in danger who therefore had the right to defend himself? Or was he a racist? A drop out? A man with a history of violence? A failure who strutted his little-man walk around his gated community, drooling over the idea that he was the original American hard-ass, worthy of respect and deserving of his balls? Who knows anymore – and in much of America, who cares.

Was Trayvon Martin the world’s cutest and most innocent ever teenager, targeted by that nasty fat  white man when all he was doing was spending his time helping old ladies and loving babies and grinning photogenically? Or was he just another pot head, a jewelry thief, an unstable and oft abandoned man-child, a cracker-hating racist with a growing fascination with guns, an angry young man serving out his third school suspension in one year. It doesn’t matter anymore.

What matters are the needs of the duelling narratives.  

We have the Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton Good Parents` Narrative, a tear-stained many-hankies story of life-long love and oft declared devotion. Their “Mother’s-love” and “Father’s pride” sound bites have featured prominently in media reports.  It’s a marketable angle and it sold. No mention is made of the fact that Trayvon lived with and was fed, housed, clothed, schooled and disciplined for most of his brief life by another woman, Alicia Stanley, a lady being kept far away from the camera. No one mentions that “Mother’s Love” is seeking financial compensation for her son’s death or that “Father’s Pride” is rumoured to be preparing a multi-million dollar civil suit following the criminal trial. There are dollar making machines out there – book deals, speaking tours, and more. But this potentially lucrative narrative needs perfect grieving parents and perfect grieving parents need a perfect dead child. No wrinkles, please!

Then we have the Race in America political narratives. The day the case first broke, long before anyone was arrested, demonstrations broke out in cities across America. To any observer, they seemed well-planned, a bit choreographed and big on rhetoric. (Does anyone remember the threatened “Million Hoodie March”?)  Black Democratic Leaders and the NAACP fulminated, the usual activists breathed the usual fire, professional media manipulators manipulated, and thousands – or hundreds – or dozens – it was never really clear – shouted their approval: “Zimmerman is guilty.”  “End Profiling Now!” “Justice for Trayvon!” “Am I Next?” And on and on and on.

The Politics of Race in America is both Big Politics and Big Business. Rhetoric aside, many groups and individuals have a powerful and vested interest in keeping groups divided. Fanning hatred, resurrecting feelings of victimhood, pointing accusatory fingers and creating guilt have many times proved themselves to be effective ways of raising profile, gaining political office and generating dollars. Outrage is forever sexy. Truth is … whatever. Yes, it works far more effectively if the marketed anger is squeaky-clean virtuous; it should not be tainted. Trayvon must be nothing less than saint and Zimmerman nothing more than sinner. It is for this reason that we have watched commentators tie themselves in knots trying to explain away Trayvon’s racist utterings while at the same time castigating his step mother for suggesting Zimmerman was not motivated by race. It is why conservative commentators attacked the “white Hispanic” label some applied to Zimmerman by arguing that those who used such a term were themselves racist.

We cannot forget the Save Our Guns narrative. Now the dynamic changes. Now the story is a tale of prowling delinquents, possibly armed, of drug deals gone badly, of possible threats to the great god Property. Enter that law-biding-just-tryin`-to-help-the-folks-at-home-good-old-boy-George, out there keeping a neighbourly (armed!) eye on things, and what happens?  The poor boy’s rolling on the ground fighting for his life. Oh Mr. and Mrs. America! Can’t you just feel the fear?

This narrative can be more flexible. Zimmerman’s heroism need not be as perfect as Trayvon’s virtue. The story is really the concealed danger lurking everywhere in gated communities populated by people able to afford good guns. That Trayvon wasn’t armed was initially inconvenient, but now they have text messages suggesting that he was “fascinated” by firearms. Good enough. That’s a wrap. Not perfect Zimmerman; Perfect Fear.

Let’s not forget the Your Right To Know media narratives, proof again that America’s biggest White-Black problem is not race. It`s media driven false dichotomies:  Left vs. Right, Good vs. Evil, Red vs. Blue and so on. It’s the hand-wringing “Oh My God No!” stories constantly pushed by the news media and then manipulated by competing power brokers. Nothing sells more ads than crisis, conflict, hate, war, disaster and tears. It’s Ryan vs. Biden, Spy vs. Spy, Superman vs. Lex Luthor and now, Trayvon vs. Zimmerman. Gray is only good in dress slacks.

And of good or evil, which sells better?  That’s easy. If the Second Coming of Christ coincides with riots over a Zimmerman verdict, the CNN lead will be, “Suspicious birth in Bethlehem. Now back to Florida and our main story. Over to you, Wolf!”

One last narrative is worth a mention. Since the story broke, aging and has-been “stars” have been all over it, finding a way to use one side or the other to get their faces back in front of any camera anywhere. Cher, Roseanne Barr and Spike Lee are among the worst offenders with the latter two tweeting Zimmerman’s parents’ address, resulting in a deluge of hate mail and threatening calls. In Lee’s case, absurdity was the order of the day as he gave out the address of the wrong Zimmerman family. The much-frightened and angry elderly couple promptly sued.

What happens after the jury retires sometime today will be at best accidental justice. There will likely be rioting in either case as rioters are more about excuses than causes. And all over America, people will continue to shout or plead or demand or pray for a certain verdict. It will not matter to them whether the outcome is true or false. They have a necessary narrative to defend and they don’t really care what Zimmerman did or did not do or who Trayvon really was. They need the verdict that brings their chosen narrative to a successful close. Whether they need to hate or they need to believe or they need to feed the greed, they will let nothing interfere with satisfaction.

As for the rest of us, we need to remind ourselves of what we already know –  that often, when we turn to what we are told is news, we are encountering well polished sales pitches, complete with practiced tears, orchestrated outrage, rapidly assembled crowds, deftly prepared sound bites and carefully concealed motives. We will be asked to shed a tear or shake a fist.

Much better, I think, to leave the crowded forum, eyes dry and hands in our pockets. We can then take an invigorating walk while we examine what we’ve been given. We can unleash our inner sceptic and let it do its necessary work. (We should remind ourselves that this is necessary practice since we still have the Hernandez, Tsarnaev and Holmes trials coming up.) This reflective process will not be as noisy or exciting or cathartic as what’s going on back in the arena, but it will be decidedly more elegant.

And Truth and Justice might just then stand a chance.

We will return the “The Taxonomy of Cyclepathic Behavior” soon. For those interested in the impact of well-shaped bums on GPS fanatics, the answer may be found at http://wp.me/p3cq8l-19

 

 

The Boston Bombing: A Child, Waiting for his Father, was Murdered Today

Thoughts as we all prepare to return to the marathon.

A child, waiting for his father, was murdered today.

We do not yet know whose hate created this or whether the bomber owned that hate, borrowed it, or had it thrust upon him. We do not know where it was born or by what route it slouched its way towards Boston. We do not know why. We know only what we need to know. A child, waiting for his father, was murdered today.

Days, of course, will pass, and as they do some details will emerge. These will be seized upon and a variety of talking heads will tell assorted tales, each claiming that this information is in some way essential, that only with it can we know.

We may be told about the ethnicity, the gender and the nationality of the bomber. Some will urge us to consider and to understand, citing historic hurts or ancient bonds of blood. They may cajole, or plead or even lecture us, a touch of practiced outrage in their voices. They will tell us that we need to know what they know.

They are wrong. Whoever set off the Boston bombs gave up ethnicity, race, gender and tribe at the precise moment of detonation. Such things are markers of humanity. They cannot afterwards be claimed by anyone who destroys them in others. To kill is to argue that all human characteristics are worth less than some crazed idea or pestilent need. We may have heritage or we may have hate; we may not, as a killer, own both. We therefore do not need to know this information. We know what we need to know. A child, waiting for his father, was murdered today.

Other experts will caution us to consider a possible religious motive. Again they may urge us to be understanding, to be aware of a bigger picture.  I would argue that we need no bigger picture. What has any god to do with this? The gods of my acquaintance have all been rather fond of people – even when we misbehaved a little – and all were certainly fond of children. Each claimed to have created us all, and the stories of that creation were all loving. The story of the Boston bombing would move such gods to tears and then to rage.

Sin, we are often told, is in the idea as much as it is in the action spawned by the idea. Sin therefore comes before the act. If those who set these bombs and killed these people did so in honour of their god, then at the moment they even contemplated the idea, deep within them their god died. The only religious man I’ve ever known to contemplate the killing of a child for love of god was Abraham, and he prepared to sacrifice his own child, not some other parent’s. No, there was no god involved in this. We know what we need to know. A child, waiting for his father, was murdered today.

Could we really learn anything at all by trying to know the killer? What is there to know that is not immediately evident? The killer has no eyes. No one who could see the Boston streets at that moment could possibly destroy such happy chaos. The killer has no heart. No one capable of love could ignore its presence everywhere in the scene. The killer has no soul; the howling desert winds of hate and self-loathing would long ago have shrivelled that. And the killer has no genitals or if so, they do not function, for no human being capable of creating a child willfully destroys an 8 year old boy. Did the killer give these up or were they snatched away.  We do not know. That sadness happened yesterday. We only know what we need to know. A child, waiting for his father, was murdered today.

Why do I repeat that? It is the only thing I have to take me forward out of this. I cannot address the hates that might have made the monster. I cannot soothe survivalist concerns or explain away the misinterpretations of widely disparate religions. I cannot undo years of abuse committed a street, a state, a country or a continent away.  I cannot cure insanity in the world or disorder in the cosmos. I can only rule my own very small world and ensure that to the greatest possible extent it is a place of safety and comfort for any who enter it. I need to do this because I know how fragile it all can be. I need to remember that a child, waiting for his father, was murdered today.

And I do so for one other reason, and here I make no apology. There will come a time when the individuals or groups who did this will be apprehended. Then will come the whirlwind – of words and justifications and explanations. Depending on the identity of the guilty, we will hear talk of “political realities” or “regional disparities” or “the poison of poverty” or the “history of exploitation” or the “consequence of American expansionism”. We will have pundits here and politicians there and celebrities, celebrities just everywhere. There will be so many who will try to own this and bend it and spin it and use it, so many that we may find ourselves confused when it is finally time to impose justice. At that time, I want us all to have the strength to know what we need to know.

A child, waiting for his father, was murdered today.

 

Of Rob Ford and his Tribe of Little Men

In Which the Elegant Bastard Determines that Size is Not Everything!

Despite my status as the oldest (only) male in my family, I have made it a point to impose few rules regarding the behavior of others. True, this has as much to do with the fact  my family regards rules as bulls do red flags, ants a picnic and televangelists a dollar than it does with any notion of “live and let live”. Still, I have on occasion drawn my own lines in the sand, circled my wagons (difficult as I have only one) and stood with my back to my wall.

The issue is simple: the naming of descendants.

People being people, the need to name babies comes along fairly regularly. I am rarely asked my opinion regarding whether or not new off-spring will be sprung off. Therefore, given that I will be required to share with these new arrivals everything from a last name to the scandalously small amount of dark meat on a turkey to post-mortem unspent money, I claim and defend my right to exercise certain naming rights.

My rule is this: under no circumstances will any child whose diapers I might change, buy or stand within olfactory range of be named Genghis. Attila is also off limits, as are Napoleon, Charlemagne, Tamerlane and Thutmose. I do not jest! Let those with expectations of beneficiary status take warning – I ain’t just whistlin’ Dixie here. (I will also not allow the name Dixie.)

My intransigence has nothing to do with iambic or alliterative weirdness, although none of these first names would go well with Smith, Ali, Singh or Li. It simply acknowledges the fact that children named after the great military heroes and butchers of the past rarely go on to great and glorious lives in the present.

Allow me to offer two final proofs of the above. The first is self evident. Have you ever met a cute little sprite with blond curls, a pink dress and a lollipop whose parents had named her Boadicea? Of course not! Add to that fact the following:  Toronto, the Big Little city on the shores of the Big Little lake is experiencing some fundamental and profound pain. To many, it has gone from wannabe World Class City to Local Joke, even as its downtown towers multiply and grow taller. (Our city planners seem to have decided if they can’t have the biggest they’ll at least have the most!)

The reason?  In 1969, a male child was born and carelessly named. Here follows a tiny bit of Scottish history.

In the early 1300’s, a man by the name of Robert the Bruce, born of a powerful mother and an obedient father, spent much of his early life joining whatever army happened to be winning at the time. He ended up being both King of Scotland and a major figure in that nation’s roster of heroes. Legends abound, not the least of which was one cackled often by my grandmother, who delighted in telling me that Scotland’s greatest king was famous for gnawing on the bones of those he slaughtered, something that I never doubted given my own early experiences with Scottish cuisine. Still, while this might explain my attitude towards haggis and oatmeal, how does it relate to Toronto’s recent history?

Because, Dear Reader, our large and decidedly imperfect mayor is named Robert Bruce Ford. The poor wee mite never had a chance.

A large group of over-weight men are outside trying to determine what exactly one does with a football other than bounce it noisily and repeatedly off the pavement and each other. Forgive me while I go and make a suggestion.

You shake your head at “wee”, I know, but size is not merely to be measured in vertical achievement, horizontal displacement and in the case of Wee Robbie, tonnage. The breadth, height and length of things may interest engineers, cooks and the occasional pervert but those of us in search of Truth know she will not be quantified so easily. And so we recognize that ‘wee” here refers to the inner Robbie, the one we have observed wolfing down KFC, giving the finger to passing motorists, introducing adolescent football players to maiming tactics and public transit, suggesting that cyclists killed in traffic were asking for it, and otherwise making it perfectly clear to all that he is no renaissance man – or even a renaissance mouse!.

A recent article in Toronto Life alluded to any number of reasons why our Robbie does not generally play well with others. There are references to a powerful mother, a father at once too generous and too demanding, an older bigger brighter sib (o.k., not bigger!), a mother-in-law who makes all the stereotypes too true, a failed football career, and a mound of other baggage designed to make one both little and aware of one’s own littlehood. And so perhaps it is to compensate, to appear to be as large as he wishes he were, that he turns – as so many have before him – to the public stage, or in his case, the political arena. Which forum is chosen matters not at all; the essence of both is performance. And Robbie performs.

Sadly, he achieves mostly faint sound and feeble fury. As he struts and frets, as he smoulders and gesticulates, as he stabs his finger at invisible enemies and thrusts his belly forth in an awesome display of … well … belly, he achieves only noise and in a very limited way, spectacle. It’s as if a gladiator arrived at the forum without his sword or a lion without its teeth. In his mouth, language is badly served, and his mix of fatuous argument and flatulent style will no doubt give birth to whole new synonyms for fart. Yet he will persist. He will flail and fail. He will run after his name and his dream of greatness. For once the “Chain of Office” is well-named.

Does it appear as if I pity Wee Robbie? It would be easy to do so. I recall seeing him on his feet at Toronto City Council, spreading his arms as he made an entirely forgettable point, and he did rather look like a man attending his own crucifixion.

But I don’t. One cannot pity a puppet. And whatever else Robbie may be, as gross and gargantuan and ghastly as he is, he is not his own man. He is servant to a larger master. As soon as he entered the public consciousness as something potentially more than a crackpot voice from the wasteland, he was seized – caught – captured. He was taken by … The Other.

Some of us will now spend a brief moment or two exploring the existential concept of “The Other”. The rest need feel no guilt whatsoever if they choose to explore either naps or chocolate.

The normal example used to explain “The Other” requires you to imagine yourself as a peeping Tom, or, in the politically correct 21rst Century, a peeping Mary. As you kneel at your peephole, staring at whatever or  whoever busily doing whatever, imagine that you hear the floor creak behind you. Dying inwardly, you stumble to your feet while desperately fumbling with any loose ends. Shame thrusts itself upon you. You turn to face the judgmental gaze of … The Other.

In that moment, you have been captured, judged, labelled and defined. You will now be forced to rebel against that judgment, thereby being weirdly controlled by it or you will take the easier road, yielding to it and playing out the part it assigns. Wee Robby took the second path.

Yes, Dear Reader, I hear you.  Who, you ask, is Robby’s Other? Sadly, it is us, or rather, some of us, or rather, many of us, or rather, most of Etobicoke, Scarborough, York, North York and large chucks of Toronto. We are Wee Robby’s Other. We pull the strings to make him dance.

Have you ever trained a puppy? Puppy does his good boy dance and we lean forward, praising and offering a cookie. Puppy does a different dance and out comes the rolled up newspaper. (Be advised that this is a metaphor and that this technique does not work well on real puppies. It will, however, work superbly with Tim Hudak.)

Consider Wee Robbie in this light. He mutters about liberal downtown effete elites who screw the working stiff and tens of thousands of self defined stiffs lean forward offering cookies. He argues that subways belong to Scarborough by right and act of God and only Fat Cats and Pinkos would deny them their due. Scarborough chucks him under his little chins and offers even more cookies. He slams the lefty conspiracy (gays, cyclists, environmentalists, light rail lovers, men who don’t spit) that unfairly has more than you do since they have tickets on the gravy train and cookies avalanche in from everywhere. In short, he embodies the oldest commandment of all: Hate Thy Neighbour.

What we call Ford Nation is largely a Nation of Haters. They seethe inwardly, attributing the loss of their dreams to all around them. Everyone else is “in it for themselves”, a “rip-off artist”, “selfish”, a “cheat”, “not a real man” or  “a bitch”. Only they are patriotic hard-working Joes blessed with a little common sense. (And if they cheat a little on their taxes, so what. It’s their “hard-earned” money and “everybody else does it” eh?)

Wee Robbie simply says out loud what they may only whisper. And if he someday chooses not to speak the words they dare not, they will abandon him to his former littlehood. In fact, in the same way that Don Cherry’s jackets will need to get louder, so will wee Robbie.

Shouldn’t we then pity Ford? But why? Look at the man! If anyone were ever over-cookied, it is he! He will waddle on. Wrapped in self-love and swollen with the bile of others, he will avoid self knowledge unless some inconvenient law finally swats him down. Even if that does happen, he will seize on Noble Victimhood and charge thousands to deliver after-dinner speeches. Wee Robbie shall have cookies wherever he goes.

No, save your pity for Ford Nation. They rally around him as they have around others like him and they will continue to do so, worshipping in him their own unspeakable image.

And no one ever gives them cookies.