The Disney Version: Fooled Me

The Disney Version: Fooled Me

Reasoned civility is suggested in these troubled times, but decisions affecting millions of lives continue to boggle the mind. More and more again. How much outrage do I have left? How high can my blood pressure go? How much muck could a muck raker muck if a muckraker could rake muck? I’m trying to stay away from provocation, but the universe keeps dropping incendiary objects in my lap, and if that isn’t a troubling image, I don’t know what is.

Now, even now as I seek mindful unattachment, a story arrives with implications that are simply too hefty to leave unattended.Apparently the bold lie is nothing new in the American story.  I thought I knew something about betrayal. What a fool! What a patsy! But the truth will out and duplicity must be revealed for the perfidy it is.

Here goes.

Speaking of a partisan issue that will not be shared in this screed, my wife suggested that an unmentioned unfortunate propensity in human beings was analogous to that of lemmings, willfully seeking extinction by following each other over the edge of a cliff. She’s not wrong about the human analog, but the allusion to lemmings reminded me that I’d heard someone suggest that lemmings do not, in fact, leap to their death. My memory was that the story grew from a misunderstood segment of one of the nature films pumped out by the Disney studios in the 1950’s.

I remembered the film, one of the many in the True Life Adventure series, some of which remain highly regarded. In fact, as I stumbled upon a description of the series, three in the series won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Film. Two of the three probably deserved to be highly regarded – The Living Desert and The Vanishing Prairie. Both left me with greater appreciation of the world around me, and both inspired something like a rudimentary sensitivity to environmental issues. The third, however, White Wilderness, was a fraud.

98% of the film presented a highly edited but essentially accurate picture of a wilderness most of us would never see. Climate change has guaranteed that the film remains one of the few opportunities to see the Arctic as it was, so much of the film has value. Later, nosy purists discovered that one of the most entertaining sequences, that of a polar bear cub sliding down an Arctic ice mountain, was actually filmed in a studio in Calgary. Disappointing, perhaps, but bottom line, as it were, the bear was an actual bear, and it actually slid. The image had sustained appeal, however, and perhaps was among the inspirations for the brilliant advertising campaign designed for Coca Cola by my friend, Ken Stewart. Polar bear cubs have been sliding down holiday setting since 1993 and I, for one, never tire of bear cubs, or Clydesdale horses, for that matter. There is not time enough today to address the bizarre rumor that the bears have been pulled from the shelves because they were “too white”. Let’s leave that one alone and return to the Lemmings.

By now you’ve jumped to the obvious observation that the mass extinction of lemmings was staged. It was, and I thought that was the extent of the polar lie, but, no, mes amis, it gets much darker.

Let’s start with the notion that contrary to every instinct in nature, an entire species decides to just give it all up, take the leap, and leave all worries behind. Unlikely at best, and problematical. Let’s say that lemmings do just as the Disney team alleges. Ok, where does the next generation of lemmings come from? Do they keep a spare set somewhere on ice? Is there a lottery? Do only male lemmings over the age of procreative power gather annually for the rite of final passage?

Then too, does virtual extinction happen at the same time of year in the same location? How does it happen that a camera crew is on hand just as the lemmings get the itch?

Well, clearly the lemming myth is piffle, and I have to wonder why it has had such staying power as an urban or polar legend? I bought it until I didn’t… because pictures don’t lie. I saw the critters in the air. I saw the heaps of extinguished lemmings. Man, what more did I need to tuck that reality away in the box of things not to be questioned?

Naturalists among us already know that the lemmings don’t even naturally exist where the scene was filmed. Want dark? In order to film in Alberta, a province without a coast, the Disney team had to import lemmings, buying the little cuties from Inuit children in Manitoba who gladly scooped them up for sale. Want darker? You can get lemmings to move, but if you want the off-the-cliff shot, you have to throw them over the edge, which is exactly what some sure-fingered Disney minions did. 

Do lemmings move in large groups? They do, and some do not survive immersion in cold water if they have to ford a river. I’m pretty sure, however, that “goodbye cruel world” is not their anthem as they scurry in search of food and shelter.

I’m grateful to my wife for using a phrase that pushed me into digging up some dirt on the Disney version. Some stories take on a life of their own, it seems, even when they are most unlikely to be true. Good to be reminded, and good to take a moment to honor the fuzzy little rodents, uprooted from their adopted Manitoban home, and flung from a cliff in Alberta.

Unruly Customer Behavior?

Unruly Customer Behavior?

Once able to wake, hear the birds, smell the flowers, pet the dogs,  I now wake, open the computer and scan the headlines shouting from the five news sources I continue to support.  Am I driven by fear or hope?  That’s a question I choose not to entertain, but I am occasionally surprised – by a story and by my reaction.

Today’s Boston Globe featured this headline :

“F-bombs, tantrums in front of children, making staff cry: Mass. restaurant owners describe unruly customer behavior.”

The article describes damage done to humans working in restaurants on Cape Cod, behavior that should be described as boorish, churlish, and downright dangerous.  The article describes restaurant owners trying to deal with pent up demand and shortage of labor, but finding that underpaid and over-abused staff have been treated with such ugly anger that trauma counseling may be as necessary as a jump in salary in order to keep working folks behind the counter.

The first observation I make in scrolling headlines today is that I jumped to the assumption that the story was about yet another of the former President’s outbursts in response to an inquiry into his business ventures, predatory behavior, or another case of perceived  lese majeste.  I almost skipped what I assumed was a familiar story, but I had just enough sensibility left to pick up the reference to unruly customers.

It’s an interesting example of a brain battered by scene after scene of deplorable behavior over a period of five years.  I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in recognizing that the geophysical climate may not be the only climate ravaged in our time. What might have been considered unacceptable behavior is in some quadrants, the norm.

The second observation is that the very sharp folks at the Globe did not feel the need to identify the literal elephant in the room.  

Pent up demand?

There is often pent up demand after a major upheaval or disaster; I may have missed the temper tantrums after the pandemic of 1918 to 1920, after the dust bowl, after World War Two, after Tornadoes, and hurricanes, and floods.  Did rationing of food and gasoline cause ordinary citizens to toss off F-bombs  at gas station attendants?

Nope.  What we have here is evidence of a cultural shift we saw coming but relegated to the arena of partisan politics.  Starting with “Lock Her Up,” what we used to call dialogue has become hyperbolic anger at forces some believe to be operating undercover. The cumulative effect of gaslighting at the start of the former president’s candidacy has simultaneously stimulated outrage and affirmed violent response to perceived insult or injury. In addition, the now familiar strain of Q-stained libertarianism which was the public face of the White House has seeped into everyday encounters.

Civil: It’s interesting and terrifying to see an essential word vaporise in one generation. Civility is a word used to describe behavior that is not simply polite or courteous but operational in showing regard for another person or another person’s ideas. Civility is a necessary attribute of civilization and the expedient that allows people to live next to each other. As far as I know, there have been louts, bullies, and yahoos around every corner for quite some time, but the culture, as a whole, found their behavior uncivil. 

The transition from “Lock Her Up” to the insurrection in January depended on an accretion of uncorrected incivility, in that instance, particularly dangerously contrived, delusive, manipulated sedition. On Cape Cod in July, incivility looks like swearing at a teenager whose orders for  ice cream cones have slowed their delivery. A customer telling a waitress that he hopes she will be hit by a car leaving work is not simply discourteous; that is not pent up demand.

Did the author of the article intend my interpretation of the events recorded? Maybe, but I expect that we’ve become so accustomed to living with ugly that we can no longer see the forest or the trees. This is an alarming article. Tip the person who serves you dinner; thank the person who hands you an ice cream cone. That’s all we have left – kindness, regard, civility.

Whose Flag?

Whose Flag?

It’s Complicated

The Patriot Front, a group of about two hundred white supremacists, marched through Philadelphia on the fourth of July weekend. Like the Klansmen they so admire, they wore white face coverings and carried American flags. In January insurrectionists determined to capture the Capitol and reverse the outcome of the Presidential election carried American flags, some of which were used to bludgeon the White House and District police.  American flags surrounded the noose and gallows intended for use in Vice President Pence’s last public appearance. Three Percenters, Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and MAGA Civil War insurrectionists carried American flags.

That’s my flag.

Both political parties have traditionally wrapped themselves in stars and stripes, but over the past five years, the flag has become a particular symbol of support for principles and personalities I find dangerous and offensive. The flag, like the national anthem and patriotic holidays, has become so politically weaponized that those of us who do not subscribe to Trumpian rhetoric hesitated in flying our flag on the 4th.  The statement we intended to make was a celebration of our history and the struggle to secure democracy, but  those who walked or drove by our lawns are trapped in symbolic shorthand; in flying the flag, we worried, did they see support for the nation or for the insurrection?

It’s complicated.

I’m a veteran. I pay my share of taxes and give to charities. I worked as a Teamster in a steel slitting factory to earn enough to go to college. I was a teacher for forty five years. My wife and I raised three genuinely good children, now young adults.  They pay their taxes too. I love baseball, football, and corny movies. I am grateful for all those who risked their health to protect ours.  

I’ve voted in every election since 1968, not always for the same party, but always for the person I thought the best able to secure the democracy I believe in. If you had to give me a political label, I’d say I’m a progressive Democrat, an aging fan of the New Deal, of little guys getting a fair shake, of a country that believes in opening doors and feeding children.

As a child my brother and I helped my grandfather raise the American flag every morning. I marched in Memorial Day parades and placed American flags on the graves of those who had given their lives in service to the nation. I choke up when an American athlete receives a gold medal as our anthem plays and our flag waves.

That’s my flag.

It’s complicated.

I believe it’s my right and my duty to love and protect the nation’s founding principles and its flag. There’s too much at stake to let my lawn, empty of flags on the 4th of July, stand as evidence of my timidity in displaying my brand of patriotism, so I bought two emblems this July, both the same size, both standing together on my lawn – the American flag and a large Black Lives Matter sign. My support for that movement is not the only statement I need to make, but the statement I chose to make on the 4th of July as white masked bullies march through Philadelphia carrying my flag.  

For today, it’s not that complicated.