Here’s link to my essay, TAKING PICTURES, published in the Kenyon Review Online on October 23, 2013. There is also a link to the podcast version of the piece.
Here’s link to the letter I wrote in response to their October 20 frontpage piece on Marina Abramovic.
August 28, 2013
The Bradley Manning case is a postmodern crisis to smack our political theories, even as the relentless “masculine” assurance of U.S. foreign policy clutches its sabers and rattles. Is Bradley, (now Chelsea?) unstable, shifting, disloyal to the very genitalia s/he was born with? What’s apparently so scary and unforgiveable about Manning, and, without the obvious gender issues, Edward Snowden, is their refusal to sit still and take what they are given. Court-martialed for revealing “privileged” information to the very people who were supposedly paying for the privilege (we-support-the-troops Americans), Manning slips aside, taking full responsibility and even culpability for the reveal; guilty of collateral damage no one can prove occurred (not all the king’s men nor all the king’s horses). But the threat of what he did, the possibility of its disruptive capability, remains to determine an essentially life-ending prison punishment (in Snowden’s case, banishment at best). Unlike some of the crimes these two (three?) revealed, there are no bodies. Outside of military courts the rule is: no corpse, no case; but not so for military justice. The “corpse” is now the crime of revealing hysterically hoarded information, the release of a secret ruled more antisocial than the real crimes it revealed. Information is indeed power, and in government the old fear rises up that the revolution might begin, that the people, so armed, may themselves rise up.
As a woman now, Bradley has more balls than the people who want him in prison. Manning was a man. He manned up. He did the right thing, something significant, brave, reckless yes but with a callow commitment we will never get from politicians or most “leaders” including, most frustratingly, our President, who should know better than to trust the old guard. A braver man than Obama, someone whose confidence came a bit more securely pedigreed (FDR perhaps) might have triangulated the Manning and Snowden cases to make the larceny, the lies, and the killing in our names more punished then the leaking. Obama still has a chance to do so, via a pardon, but that surely won’t come until the end of his term, if it comes at all. For far too many Americans, Obama himself, not unlike Manning, is unstable. He could slide into blackness, into “representing,” and that must never be allowed to happen.
The Manning problem is that Manning is not the Hero. As we have known, so thoroughly that even 80’s pop announced it, “We Don’t Need Another Hero.” We need human beings who act on ethical grounds, who see the goals of human freedom and dignity as increasingly blocked by the very forces (and it is always force) sent to depose and then re-impose “freedom.” Remember that one of our recent incursions was titled “Operation Enduring Freedom.” How do we respond when someone does lands a punch for actual democracy, something brave and thus reckless as all bravery is, putting into practice what many of us preach? He must be put away, out of sight, politically killed, before he shape-shifts, becomes a she and thus something we will feel even worse about. He can’t really be “killed” because we are sophisticated savages. We will put him in prison, with other militarized misfit men, so that his switchiness, his instability, can be wrecked, mocked, further ruined, and his personhood marooned in the liminal, but with no context to express itself in. That’ll teach ‘em to think out of the box!
Is part of our Manning problem the realization of this significance, the change-causing result of his/her actions? For those of us who rail against the reign of debauched reason, who blog and bloviate and write editors and hope that someone is listening and leaning-in to our commentary, Manning (and Edward Snowden) come as reality checks. Their acts made the lumbering ship of state list and pitch and fire back. It’s perhaps the enormity of the canon with which the mighty ship responded that stuns; we thought Obama and his crew were on our side, the side of “speaking truth to power,” but we were squeaking, and they were stalling. Manning (and Snowden) acted first and spoke later, and for that they shall be punished. We assure ourselves that we are a society that aligns itself with David, but we are now surely the most gigantic Goliath.
Yes, Manning is crazy. How could his human being, so frail yet so fierce, be other than that? One wants to be respectful to this young person’s complexity, but perhaps it is we who have made Manning plural, bifurcated, have forced a complex soul into an unsustainable binary; you are a man, you are a woman. You are either for us or against us. You are an American, you are a traitor. You are a soldier, you are a citizen. These should not be oppositional. We have made it so. In order to survive in post-modern culture with integrity deeper than self-advertisement, you must be crazy, off-center, confused at best. Take your meds, bury yourself in social media (not live society), unload on your therapist(s) if you can pay for them or your job deems you worth keeping sane, load your gun, focus on (your own) family, shut up and shop. Crazy behavior must be rehearsed and displayed on “reality” shows, as it is not for the public forum. Citizens, public forums are not for the public. You don’t properly know how to know, so best to engage in the diversion of elections and leave knotty knowledge to the truly knowing, who know what to do because they have been doing it forever.
If Bradley had taken the appropriate meds, would he have fully become Chelsea, an eager young woman taking up arms in Afghanistan to defend home and country? The focus on Manning’s gender dysphoria seems to suggest this. I don’t buy it, though perhaps this is the essential breach between politics and art, between art and society. One encourages stability and an increasingly illusory civic cohesion. The other, disruption and interference in assumptions. But when that civil society condones uncivilized tactics, such as the murder of unarmed civilians, it’s crazy-making, begging the dramatic act as the only eruption possible to change the culture.
Had Manning taken an AR-15 (or the military equivalent) and gone officially crazy, as did some fellow officers, wiping out entire families in a militarized zone, there might at very least be a template, a narrative we have now been anestheticized to understand; bad apples, you know? But he cracked open in a very different way. Manning is a man and a woman and a lost child who found something and thought the world might be set right if when he saw something, she said something. But both voices, blended or distinct, drown in the backchatter of fear. The rest of us watch and claim sides.
July 10, 2013
In Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, Miss Prism misplaces the baby whose care she is momentarily careless of. The baby, deposited in a handbag abandoned in a train station, suffers a trajectory of life circumstances that ultimately land him pretty much where he would have been had he not left the perambulator to begin a life of accelerating deceptions. It’s the getting back to the bag that provides the drama.
We in the U.S. are caught in the misprision of PRISM, unsure of just who dropped and who picked up the baby, and who is misrepresenting whom. This baby of metadata is one none of us seem to have met, let alone named; just how has this ravenous baby been left unattended? Is a minor functionary’s act careless theft or patriotic responsibility? Is our future more promising because of his action, revealing an entire country as being careless and asleep at our own station? We try to do the right thing, but are so confused and just put the baby down for a moment. We must trust those in power, as they are ever so earnest, and we believed them from the start. Changing our mind now could expose us to comment. Fussing over information gone missing, prizing a privacy few of us exercise, might we notice there are worse things happening in the neighborhood?
Such as: an armed vigilante blasting away an unarmed youth in the privatized streets of America. George Zimmerman was armed with a gun and accompanying need to see his target as guilty of something. The NSA possesses possibly incriminating data (and power to prod people with really big guns). Edward Snowden was armed with his ethics and moral outrage, Treyvon Martin with his fists and a bag of Skittles. Revealed with all the data handed to them, NSA has to do something big; someone somewhere has to be guilty of something to justify all this ammo. The rising action of the play demands it, just as did Zimmerman’s foregone conclusion. In a recent exchange with journalist/student Madiha R Tahir at the Univ. of Wisconsin, an NSA recruiter got all caught up in the tautologies of defining on whom and why “we” spy, revealing that, really, everyone is potentially an adversary, even allies. And “… reporting the info in the right context is so important because the consequences of bad political decisions by our policymakers is something we all suffer from.”
Some lessons from this prism:
If you are going to attack someone in most of the United States, do it with a gun. Shoot them before things get out of hand; this proves you are more serious about protecting yourself than the other guy (conveniently dead). This is the American way now; we either have too much information, overwhelmed by the possibilities of data storage, or we shoot from the hip.
Get the data, then determine if you need it.
Only consumers give away such data for free. For corporations (and governments) it’s proprietary (to them, not us). We mortals are mere content.
If you have information the citizens of a country need to protect themselves from their government, protect yourself from that government by departing that country before the big reveal. The U.S. has the longest arm in the world, the real worldwide web.
Being armed with the vote or mere citizenship is risky; you can be disarmed when the risk is determined to have passed (farewell Voting Rights Act) Better to have a gun.
Passports are pliable, permeable documents. The U.S. is the World State.
Just because someone says they are earnestly protecting you does not mean they are.
Presuming the U.S. Government tracks down and captures Snowden (such power is what we have been paying for all these years), should he use one of the tactics available to Zimmerman, the “Stand Your Ground” defense? His former employer will undoubtedly be threatening him with “great bodily harm.” That’s what our prisons are for. Misprision indeed.
© 2013 Jeff McMahon
Two new essays of mine published:
1. PULL FOCUS published online in the TCG Innovation blog, curated by Caridad Svich http://www.tcgcircle.org/2013/05/pull-focus/ I also encourage you to look at the other very compelling responses to the concept of “Innovation”
2. WHAT IS IT WORTH? published, both in print and online, by Performance Research. Volume 18, Issue 2 “On Value” This essay describes some of the research for my current project, WHAT IS IT WORTH? The journal has offered a link which allows 50 colleagues to access the essay free of charge! http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/y5vWgveZCXu82vQVSZIr/full#.UdGlbJVH2Qk
The Boy Scouts of America have announced that they will no longer ban or expunge young men from their ranks based solely on their sexual orientation or preference. They will, however, continue to ban gay adults from serving as scoutmasters or in leadership positions. This schizoid decision, in the contemporary American tradition, contains an internal contradiction, somewhat akin to our attitude towards arts funding; it’s fine to have arts in the schools, but we really can’t afford to support such activity as an actual career when these students become adults. Thus the BSA will accept gay youth, but will not allow adult gay mentors, leaders, exemplars. Once again, gay youth will have none but negative stereotypes to aspire to. This is American progress.
My essay on Martin Cox photo show, Stranded: the twilight of the ocean liner, has just been published in the May/June 2013 issue of Gay & Lesbian Review.
GUNS, WORMS, AND HEELS April 20, 2013
In the future, whenever I feel fearful, inadequate, and afraid to speak truth to power, I shall comfort myself with the knowledge that I can never be as cowardly as a majority of the U.S. Senate.
Gore Vidal, in his novel Myron, repurposed the names of five censoring Supreme Court Justices and other bluenoses to denote body parts and sex acts; i.e. “He thrust his enormous Rehnquist deep within her Whizzer White.” Those senators selling the safety and security of Americans to the NRA deserve the same treatment. Let’s at the very least use our quavering demi-democratic senators (earnestly earning lower-case) as placeholders for weakness and squeaking untruths to power. These elect have proven to be more afraid of a voter with a gun (and a checkbook) than a maniac firing a gun at one or more of their constituents. We run for actual cover while they run for political cover and the next fundraiser.
So let’s try using “heitkamper” (Heidi Heitkamp ND) for a pol who can’t say no to a pistol, putting the fetishes of the few against the needs of the many, (94% of Heitkamp’s state wanted the bill passed). A “Pryoritizing” (Mark Pryor AR) politician shall be one who perceives “vagueness in legislation subject to interpretation” when confronted with a direct threat to his financial supporters. A “begicher” (Mark Begich AK) bespeaks one who advocates “fixing a broken system” by opposing any possible fix.
For fairness sake, we should include some particularly egregious republican representatives, who could buck their party but didn’t. So a politician who is “flaking” (Jeff Flake AZ) is a politician promulgating lies made by financial contributors regarding proposed legislation. An “ayotter” (Kelly Ayotte NH) is so afraid of “potential overreach” by government that she decides not to reach at all, except to shield “law-abiding gun owners.”
Why resist letting “boozmania” (John Boozman AR) be a frenzy for going after crime with “the full extent of the law,” knowing such law doesn’t exist. Tripping off the tongue is a “corker” (Bob Corker TN) for anyone whose excuses don’t withstand the light of truth: [this proposal] “creates uncertainty about what is and is not a criminal offense when it comes to gun ownership.” A “heller” (Dean Heller NV) might denote a decider who publicly contemplates a change of heart, but privately has no such intention. Someone “grassley” committed (Charles Grassley IO) shows one’s commitment by offering an “alternative” to insure defeat. And there’s “cruzing” (Ted Cruz, TX): lecturing others in order to cover your own ignorance or lack of concern. Max Baucus (MN) provides us with “baucusing”; caucusing to count only the votes of the minority (polls of Montanans found only 25% against background checks). Thus armed with a language full of life, let’s reload:
A seasoned heitcamper, the senator pled for lenience for the poor little pistol, who could not have known of the danger it caused, pryoritizing that to pass a law banning the use of firearms might lead to the confiscation of every red-blooded tyke’s water gun. Indeed, being a begicher from the more economically depressed areas of the country, he was happy to turn attention to the impossibility of ever solving anything without bullets. His fellow Senators, in a fit of boozmania, denounced attacks on freedom enshrined in laws they well knew had never passed the august body, so grassley committed were the members of the party to achieving absolutely nothing of value at the greatest possible cost. Such cruzing was of some concern to the other party, but their own baucusing indicated such objections came from the mere majority of their constituents. Hellers all, they knew no one would remember in a few days.