Friday, June 28, 2013

Not everything needs a connotation

Congratulations gay people! DOMA was called unconstitutional - as well it should have been because that's exactly what it was. Whether you're for or against gay marriage, I'm sure you're not for the government weighing in on it and calling it legal or illegal. If they can say that gay marriage is not marriage at all, then they can say that straight marriage is not marriage. I know that's highly unlikely and not a worry, but the point stands that if we leave it up to them, we lose control of our own lives. Nobody wants a nanny state (unless you're Michael Bloomberg, of course).

So, go on and get married my gay friends. You now have the same right to lose half your shit as the rest of us. And with gay marriages on the books, that's more dependents, more combined insurance policies getting paid on each month. Maybe my premiums will go down. All joking aside, I'm glad for you. Truly, truly I am.

To the extreme right that invokes scripture, by the way, I'm not going to argue against scripture because A) it's not my place and B) it would be moot because you don't hear anything anyway (this coming from a born and raised Roman Catholic that can still say the Lamb of God in Latin). So what I will say is this: let's pretend that your scripture is 100% right and it's a sin and all that jazz. At the end of the day, that scripture and The Constitution still have nothing to do with one another. So make a religious beef all you want, that doesn't hold water in the world of legalities. And for the record, divorce is a sin too and I doubt that 50% of Americans now divorced are all non-Christians.

Anyway, I'm working on arriving at the point. In spite of all the gay people being gay about it being legal to be gay and married (let's just use all definitions at once since this is about connotations in the first place), do we have to assign sexual preference to just about everything so we can make a point?

This is very specifically in reference to The New Yorker cover with Bert and Ernie watching the SCOTUS repeal DOMA; Ernie with his head on Bert's shoulder. In the event you haven't seen it, here you go; I'll pick up after the jump:


There you have it. So here's my opinion. Why do Bert and Ernie have to be gay? Why do they need to be straight? They aren't either. They are just Bert and Ernie. In a world where our children are exposed to so much more at such a younger age, does this even need to be part of the equation? And I'm not saying this to make them anti-gay. I just don't see sexuality in either of them. Besides, Ernie is too goofy to be sexual and Bert is too grumpy to be loved (usually because Ernie is acting like a moron). 

The target age for Sesame Street is 3-6 years old. That isn't published; that's my take on it because the characters have ages. Elmo is/was 3 and a half years old. Zoe is 3 years old. Big Bird is 6 years old. Let's split the difference and call it 4 and a half. The only time a 4 and a half year old is talking about sexuality is then we put it in his/her face. That is not something they are inherently curious about at that age, plain and simple. So let Bert and Ernie spend their time worrying about sharing, Rubbery Ducky and whether or not Ernie has bananas in his ears (you can tell I was a watcher) instead of creating a non-existent relationship around them.

Just in case you think I'm going off the deep end by even considering this, I'd like you to read the following statement, issued by The Children's Television Workshop, just two years ago:
Bert and Ernie are best friends. They were created to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves. Even though they are identified as male characters and possess many human traits and characteristics (as most Sesame Street Muppets™ do), they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation.
So, do we need to draw context around their relationship? Does it need a connotation? I don't think it does, and in my business I can't stop talking about the importance of context. And there's the rub, the context determines what needs context. I care about context in my business, but 4 year olds aren't watching Sesame Street for business.  So, in my book, Bert and Ernie are just Bert and Ernie. As The Children's Television Workshop said in another statement in 2007, they "do not exist beneath the waist," let alone use the area below the waist between nap-time and lessons on sharing.

And Cookie Monster still eats cookies. And kids can be kids.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Respect the rules

So many people on the Internet are proud of Roy Costner IV for throwing out his approved valedictorian speech and reciting The Lord's Prayer after he was told not to. He is becoming a hero who stands up for what he believes in. He is quoted as saying, 


I decided God is such an important part of my life. I feel like if we take Him out of school, it's going to hurt the school more than help. But I've noticed this past year more types of arguments, more types of fights going on that I think could be prevented with bringing God back into school.

Just so the world knows, I happen to share his Christian faith. I think it's an important part of life, just as he does. I think a little more faith (regardless of style, name, or particular ways of practice) couldn't hurt anyone and would probably make people a little better overall. After all, major religions have one common thread - "Don't be an asshole."

However, I recognize that not everyone agrees with me. The freedom I have to believe a certain way is extended to others who may choose to specifically NOT believe the same way. I can't run around saying "God is good" without expecting at least some people to say "No he's not." And I can't get mad if some people think that way. To avoid these kinds of situations, arguments or other religion-fueled difficulties, we just remove religion from public arenas. This is not oppressive like the religious fanatics want you to believe. We are not censoring your thoughts or beliefs. We're censoring your mouths. It's the old cliche - "if you've got nothing nice to say, then say nothing at all" rethought. You think being a Christian is being nice. An atheist disagrees. What makes you or them right? Nothing. It's personal. It's intimate. 

So this valedictorian is told he can't use religion, agrees, has a pre-approved speech, takes the stage, rips up his speech and turns the rostrum into his own pulpet. If a Muslim did it for Allah, people would freak out. If an atheist did it just to say that God does not exist, there would have been a riot. So why is it ok that he did it in the name of Jesus? It's not. You want your religion respected? So did everyone in the audience that happened to have a faith that was different. You just happened to be sitting in the buckle of the Bible belt where you were the majority. Try that shit in a melting pot like New York City where there's one of every kind of person in most buildings. You can't spout your own very personal beliefs and think that EVERYONE will likely agree.

I have spent about 3-4 hours between yesterday and today looking at articles and reading about 2,200 user comments. I have found some very clear cut reactions. Those against this kid talk about the separation of church and state, respecting everyone's own beliefs even if they differ from his, and the rules in place by the school and school district. Those supporting him have (almost, but not quite exclusively) made comments about Godless people being filled with hate, saying that because of God he will be successful in life, and they have made snarky, sarcastic comments saying that maybe if he wasn't white and went on welfare he'd be better accepted by the left. Of those two overarching themes, which seems more hateful? Remember, that I am an advocate for the right, conservatives and Republicans overall; yet here I am arguing against my own for going WAY overboard.

I honestly don't care what his topic was. My issue is that his topic was something the principal told him was off limits. I don't care if the principal said "You can't mention chewing gum" and he did a speech about chewing gum. He's a valedictorian, so presumably intelligent. He knows right from wrong. He knows the rules. He was given one and willfully and purposefully broke it. The act of ripping up the approved speech on stage shows that the intentionality was to take a stand more than it was to pray. And that is what pisses me off.

You are 18, man. At what point were you given the right to spit in the face of the administration that was appointed to those positions? When did you become above the rules? You need to get out in the world and make your bones and earn the right to change the system. You can't just stand up and do it your way because you feel like it, you arrogant son of a bitch. You're a kid. So you want to talk about respect for religion? How about your elders? The rules? Your peers? Differences in people? Personal beliefs? Wait a minute, this isn't about any of that, is it? This is all about you. It was graduation, there was no tomorrow for you in high school so you thought you'd make a splash. I'd hold your diploma if I ran that show until you made amends, not for being overtly religious, but for being blatantly and purposely defiant of the rules. I'd put you back on the news to apologize for your petulance. 

I don't care what your GPA was. I don't care how intelligent you are. It takes more than IQ to make the world go round. You need to work on your EQ. You need to know how to deal with people and know your place. I'm not proud of you for taking a stand, although I do respect your ability to get yourself heard. Now, stop being self serving about it and do some good in this world - real good, not your version of it.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Equal is bi-directional

So, today I am officially sorry I advocated for equal rights for gay marriage. To be fair, I didn't really advocate exactly for that as much as I told all the haters to mind their own damn business and let the gay community do whatever they want. I have always had a bit of a chip on my shoulder toward all minority groups when it comes to one specific thing - solidarity within the group. As a middle class, white male I'm constantly told in a Voltaire like fashion that I live in the best of all possible worlds and everyone else has it rough. Yet as I poke around for jobs I find that my choices for ethnicity are often preceded by a question that simply answers "hispanic/latino or not hispanic/latino."And by answering the latter, I'm automatically not in some preferred group. The only preferred group I get is veteran status, but I had to give 10 years of my life to that cause by choice and hardship, and it doesn't really count for much with employers. Hispanics were born into their preferential treatment. And I get that that everyone is thinking that it's this way because of the hardship they endured. Well as I always say, it's really hard to say both, "Look at me; pay attention to me; give me what I want" and "leave me alone so I can be equal to everyone else" at the exact same time.

Today, however, there is the other part of the solidarity clause that really lights my fire. There is Black Entertainment Television, Telemundo and channels in native languages that I can't pronounce, but Heaven help me if I made a "middle class, white male channel." People would scream about segregation and discrimination, right? Don't even pretend it is any other way.

Before I even tell you what has me rowdy, I want to talk about the equals sign. We've seen a lot of that lately, haven't we? Red equals signs on even redder backgrounds adorned the profiles of people all over Facebook, Twitter and every other social network imaginable. Here is some history. Equals comes from the Latin word "aequalis"which means "uniform or even" and that comes from the word "aequus," which means "level, even, just." By all rights we are talking about two things on seemingly opposing sides that bear no difference to one another.

Now, in 1557 a Welsh mathematician named Robert Recorde used the symbol for the first time (although the lines were much wider). He called them "Gemowe lines" which meant "Twin lines" from the Latin word "gemellus," for twin). The point of those lines is to indicate not a difference, but rather specifically no difference.

When the red equals signs began appearing all over the digital landscape, it was not about gay marriage, was it? No, it was about marriage equality. For the first time, progress had been made in the mission and it was not "me, me, me" or "I want" anymore. It was "we all deserve because we are all people, not to be labeled or identified." Equals. Twins. Level. Uniform. Just.

Today, the gay community has launched its first ever gay-only social networking app. It started in China and is preparing to make its way around the globe, if the creator has his way. That sounds fairly discriminatory to me. I am on Facebook where you can be gay or straight. I am on Twitter where you can be gay or straight. Now, "Zank" is a place for gays only. It is not dating. I support dating sites that cater to these demographics as gay, straight, fetish, etc and that's purely from a mathematical algorithm reason. It makes sense to keep it separate for simplicity's and function's sakes. This network, however, is just about social networking, no different than the people you meet on Facebook or how you sync up with folks on any other network.

Can I make a straight-only network or will I be labeled as the 2nd coming of Hitler? Why can't that just be my target demographic? Because to exclude someone is discriminatory? Is that what Zank does to straight people?

Most importantly, it's not about whether we open the gates to other groups or not. It is about them (any group) saying "existing social networks aren't targeted toward us." Why? Do you go to movies differently from straight people? Do you cook differently? Is there some special way that gay people throw a bowling ball or read a book? Do you feel different about the cliffhangers of your favorite shows simply because you are gay? If it is just about meeting people then sexuality matters not, my friends.

So, if you want equality, then be equal. Do not lock yourself behind digital walls for "gays only" and then complain when you're not part of the rest of the party. Do not scream you just want to be same as everyone else by letting us know how different you are. And do not play play the hypocrisy game so far to the hilt that you do the same thing you railed against. I think even Napoleon the pig would say that's just a little too Orwellian of you.

It is bi-directional. It goes both ways. (Please pardon the word choice. I am using them as they are defined, not colloquially as they apply to sexual preference). And to think that just a month or so ago I began to think that we were making real progress on our approach to healthy integration and loving one another as humans and voiced out against the conservatives in favor of harmonic resolution and just a 4 weeks later the offenders of the treaties are the ones lobbying for them the hardest.

Just act equal and you'll be equal. Distinguish yourself and we'll know you're different.