[[Warning: There Are Spoilers for the Most Recent Season of "Game of Thrones" in this blog post.]]
Sometimes, when I don't feel I have anything to add to the conversation, I just stay quiet. The fallout from Tropical Storm Harvey has been like that for me. It's the sort of thing that makes you feel powerless: Nothing you can say will stop the flooding. You do your best, you say your prayers, you try to check in with people you know, or at least keep an eye on their Facebook accounts, and hope for the best. And somehow that seems insufficient.
Probably because it is. In 2005, when I launched The November 3rd Club, which would eventually evolve into Radius, we were went live with the sight in the middle of Hurricane Katrina.
In the first editorial I wrote: "It's the sort of catastrophe that "transcends politics," or so we're told. It's a phrase we hear a lot passing the lips of the best and the most naïve and the most world-weary, each for their own reasons, I'm sure, but even (especially) in the face of disaster, politics rears its ugly head. Accusatory voices rise to chastise the president for waiting to cut short his vacation to deal directly with the situation. Others point toward recent problems with FEMA, requesting money back from people it assisted in the disaster, although the assistance was rarely enough to cover the cost of rebuilding. Still others look to environmental damage and dire warnings left unheeded.
And still the masses huddle cold and anxious in the Superdome, their well-being dependant on a society navigating a course through ideology and culture, right and wrong, love and fear and a million upon million different interests to arrive at the inevitable conclusion that we're stuck with each other, and that we need to lend each other a hand when we're in need, even if we're never sure how best to extend it.
Sounds like politics to me."
A lot has changed since Katrina, but my opinion there has remained the same. To say that something is "not political" is increasingly a luxury of privilege. From the gas we put in our cars to the food we eat, to the nature of and compensation from our jobs to who we are allowed to love, politics permeates our life. The big kind of politics, the global negotiation between 7 billion people as to how to share space on this floating blue rock. It's an activity that we are, on the whole, not very good at. We have our bright moments, certainly, but we remain largely terrible with one another. I don't think anyone needs me to deconstruct the daily headlines and trot out statistic to illustrate that. Perhaps then that's why the moments of kindness and decency shine so brightly. We've seen a lot of it in the aftermath of Harvey: They illustrate the way we could be, maybe even the way we should be. But sometimes I look out at the world, and I think about that great scene in The Wire after Cutty's been released from prison, and is struggling with the idea of returning to his life. "The game done changed," says Cutty, to which Slim Charles replies: "Game's the same, just got more fierce."
And it has gotten fierce out there. If you had told me we'd ever get to the point where we had actual, unapologetic Nazis not only acting publicly, but with a modicum of support, I would have said you were being alarmist. I suppose I really thought we were mostly past that. Hell, maybe we were, for a bit, but all these old wounds are festering again, flaring up as the living memory of World War II and the Civil Rights Movement recede. Clearly, we've forgotten how horrible those evils were if we can consider taking on their mantles again: Nazis, White Supremacists, Klansmen ... every ounce as evil as any other terrorist group. The toxicity of it all is overwhelming, sometimes. Sometimes, it feels like the world has changed.
I don't think that's true, though. Game's the same, but time and circumstances have changed, and now we're forced to look at the world from a different angle. I think, as I get older, it becomes harder to remember that, and that's a fault I share with most everyone. Sometimes, I turn around and look at the world and suffer a deep system shock that I have to consciously override. I think people who can't override that system shock become rigid. Some of them go a little crazy. Some of them go a lot crazy.
I was think about that during the recent season finale of Game of Thrones, when Littlefinger died. Here was a man whose intelligence and cunning had taken him from nothing to spitting distance of the throne, yet who had failed to realize that the world around him had shifted. By the current season, his machinations almost seemed to be relics of the past, barely relevant in a world where Arya is a face-changing assassin, there is an army of ice zombies amassing north of The Wall and there's an invading queen with fucking dragons. The funny thing is, the Faceless Men, the White Walkers and the Dragons had always been there, but they had receded so far into history that they seemed ti be mere fairy tales. No one really believed in them anymore. No one knew to be afraid.
To paraphrase The Wire again, he wanted it one way, but it's the other way. That shortsightedness cost him his life.
People don't change, but times do, and so does context. Out here in the only partially scripted real world, Monsters we thought belonged to fairy tales, like zombies and dragons, are suddenly real and visible, and even though some people have been telling us they never really went away, lots of people across the political spectrum still seem to disbelieve their own lying eyes. They want our culture and politics to behave like it did in the past, and they fail to recognize the world around them. That's when things get dangerous. That's when people die.
It sounds so hopeless, but it's not The spark of kindness and selflessness we see stemming out of the disaster relief efforts in Texas and Louisiana? That's real, too. We are all these things, and seeing the truth of the good is just as essential as seeing the truth of the bad.
The Great Cover Song Challenge #4
The Fourth Great Cover Song Challenge is underway!
We've barely started, and the first entry has already been finished. Stay tuned, because this is going to be a wild one!