Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Politics of Image

(Photo from Portland Japanese Garden)

Generally the holidays eclipse any impulse I have to follow politics. Despite my initially idealistic nature, I spent much of my 20s and 30s denying that I had strong political inclinations. I used to tell people who asked (and this makes me cringe) that I selected the Commander-in-Chief based upon the image s/he presented to the world. While this is a valid element of leadership, image is hardly the total package.

Many of us in the U.S. (in my opinion, particularly women) tend to adopt this strategy of political laissez faire because for some reason politics in our culture is associated with stodginess, dogmatism, or something best left to someone who “knows about these things,” someone always other than ourselves. It seems that the idea of politics has become stitched to the idea of something that cannot be understood by those of us outside of the realm.

I have come to believe that this is in exact opposition to what politics should be, which is a community-oriented, community-benefiting endeavor, and that indifference, aversion and apathy can have tragic consequences. To this end, I’ve been more political this year. I want to add a caveat here by asserting the notion that political doesn’t necessarily mean that one is immersed in the world of lobbying, parties, and negotiations—in my opinion it should be much more closely aligned with the realm of ideas, activism, and compassion. Wikipedia states that the definition of politics is: Politics is the process and method of making decisions for groups. Although it is generally applied to governments, politics is also observed in all human group interactions including corporate, academic, and religious. IMO politics is about being communal, how we interface and define our boundaries with others. It should not necessarily imply that we must gain power over others; compete for the lion’s share of financial resources (hording for ourselves more money than we can figure out how to spend while others struggle to eat or preserve their health); demand that others adopt our perspectives on religion; or dictate how people should express their personal outlets such as love, creativity, physical inclinations, etc.

With much soul-searching I conclude that as humans in this world we have an obligation to pursue our lives without ever intentionally causing physical (or emotional) harm to others or the environment. Other than that, I do not believe we should be dictated to in how we express our individuality. Referring back to my opening notion about image and politics, I recall a day in the not too distant past when I visited the Portland Japanese Garden. As I approached the entrance to the garden a woman came toward me, walking with an extraordinary sense of purpose. She wore a lovely hat, gloves, a finely-tailored, spring-weight suit, and clutched a handbag that reminded me of one my mother might have worn. She tottered just a tiny bit on her sturdy pumps, and as she drew nearer to me I could clearly discern that she was a man. We smiled pleasantly at each other as we passed, and I presumed by his expression of resolve that this was one of his first days out as a cross-dresser, and that he was exalting in his claim to be able to express this impulse. He made me happy; he was so free and exuberant in his embodiment as a mid-century woman. He was friendlier than most people I encounter. Unfortunately, instead of reciprocal smiles and greetings, I could see that everyone around me craned their necks, tripped over themselves, gawked in more than curious ways.

My group instantly launched into diatribes about how bizarre and unnatural this was, how creepy he was. They made fun of him, but I retorted that I thought he was wonderful, that his freedom of expression released his inner desire to connect, and that he walked prouder and smiled more than anyone I had encountered in public for quite some time. Why should it matter to me what someone wants to wear? Why is it a human impulse to insult, isolate and condemn unusual people rather than celebrate them?

This post was going to be a post about the President’s news conference last night, but I’ve happily digressed. Here is a
link to the President’s sadly vapid address, chalked full of the usual inanities, the tired talking points, the redundant 2nd grade catch phrases like “it’s tough work,” “this is a tough job,” “the enemies of liberty,” or “it isn’t easy.” Read it, ponder, consider being more political. Although now he suddenly professes to a willingness to "listen," he still peppers his address with absolutes. The leader of our country is still drawing his line in the sand—it’s us and them. You know everyone outside of America, especially all those Islamic folk, just hate our love of freedom. We are lovers of freedom, and anyone who opposes us just hates our love of freedom. Toward the end of his speech he says, "And I encourage you all to go shopping more."--priceless!

I’d rather encounter a newly discovered cross-dresser expressing himself with originality and joie de vivre any day!


At 5:04 PM, Anonymous megdlan said...

After reading your post, I'm especially glad to have missed the "speech" that Bush gave. I heard that it was carried on several channels the other night. Just reading a few of the lines makes me want to hide in humiliation for having such a vacuous leader.
I like what you said about politics. So much muddled up context has been thrown onto the term that it barely resembles itself anymore. You’re right in that politics exist in any group – as any “policy” is a derivative of decisions made by the group – or so it should be.
In our case, we’ve (generally speaking, and I include myself) so dropped the ball, and abdicated our responsibility to participate, that what we collectively have allowed ourselves to be ‘ruled’ by ruling powers whose own interests often are in deep opposition to what would be good for us overall. I hate to see how truly malleable and sheep like most of us are, how often we take the easier softer way while praying for some miracle to come along and bail us out. (Do I sound pissed off and cynical? Oops). We like to think of ourselves as individuals, in control of ourselves and our lives, and we are so completely hoodwinked. Rather we are puppets on strings, made to move on call and so feather-light we dance, or tremble, at the slightest breeze.
Well, I suppose it is terrible blog manners to go on a tirade, and then cut it off mid-rant, but I’ve been summoned by my husband to get on home, in other words, my strings are being pulled, and I have no choice but to be swept away…
Merry Christmas…

At 4:00 PM, Blogger Jan Bear said...

And how do you suppose some of those would respond to the friendly cross-dresser in the Japanese garden?

At 4:40 PM, Blogger Pamela said...

Jan, I may understand what you are implying with your somewhat cagey statement and accompanying link, but can you elaborate or be more specific. With your point of view more clearly articulated, I'm sure I can better engage an answer.

I generally avoid "supposing" when it comes to my percieved assumptions of how someone completely outside of my realm of experience might respond.


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