Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Been quiet

Sorry, I've been quiet lately. I've been engrossed in Neil Gaiman's American Gods. While Gaiman's prose is not as lyrical as my favorite writers, he's spinning a good yard. I'm a little over halfway through it and I'm anxious to see if he can tie this up, make the connections, and take the novel to a deeper level. That's a good thing as I'm still intrigued and he's not showing all of his cards yet. There are some terrific moments describing fictionalized, but based on some fact events in American history in the book as well as a great depiction of life in Wisconsin (Lakeside). I loved it when a character in the book hears a waitress refer to the "yoopie" only to later come to understand that she meant "U.P." as in Upper Penninsula of Michigan.

So, um, news as of lately. I suppose I've been following what I refer to as the misery index. As I read of Mexican miners trapped, the terrible mudslide in the Philippines, drought in East Africa, the killings, torture, and rape of people in Darfur, and the on-going problems in New Orleans. These links come from a variety of sources: NY Times, BBC, The Independent, AllAfrica.com, and The New Standard (whose continued reporting on New Orleans has been incredible and puts to shame the rest of the nation's major newspapers which reflect the amnesia of a population reminiscent of a Charlie Kaufman film).

Gaiman references the misery index in his book. He discusses how humans tend to, not so much bury our heads in order to avoid the misery of the human condition, but rather tend to relegate the misery to shadows. Such miseries become a natural part of the landscape. They apply to both the beggar on the street as well as to larger tragedies such as those listed above. It's a survival technique. We are comforted that our "government", "NGOs", "religious organizations" and the like - something as nameless and faceless - without story - is seeing to these issues. Really, notes a Gaiman character, does knowing the story behind one starving child and feeling empathy for that child also reflect upon all of the other children in a similar plight? Does it reflect upon the child's brother who lies just feet away, also starving and helpless? He's got a point. We're overwhelmed in such circumstances.

And yet, we spend a great deal of time focusing on the stories of sports figures. Sure, there are fewer stories to tell, but one of the ways the entertainment world hooks people into their sales trough is by telling the stories behind the athletes. It is not good enough that we can marvel at the athlete's accomplishments in the arena. No, we must be told about the obstacles that athlete had to overcome to get to this point in her life. The more obstacles the better. It only engages us more and if the athlete doesn't meet the medal platform, then we can forgive her and console her with the fact that she overcame so much and she made it this far.

I'm not disparaging the athletes. They are caught up in the media world that they depend upon in order to pursue their career. I suppose I am disparaging the media. If only we spent a little more time focusing on the stories of people whose obstacles, at least at this point, are much greater than most in the west could possible imagine. Even so, the media cannot be solely to blame as Gaiman noted, it's a survival mechanism for us to eventually tune it out or to get caught up in one story to the detriment of the greater plight.

So, we carry on as best we can. My choice is to read these stories and follow up on them as best as I can. I prefer to look the human condition in the eye. That includes celebrating the triumphs and worrying about the tragedy. It doesn't make me any different than millions of other people. I feel helpless when it comes to the tragedies. I give when I can and I write my representatives and urge them to give more. That's really the point of this post. That, and to say, "Hello" to the readers.

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