Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Politics Intrudes

The curmudgeon and his faithful sidekick
Self-portrait taken at Smith River, California

Twenty-five years ago there were two parts of my life battling for supremacy. On the one hand, I was in the midst of writing my doctoral dissertation. On the other, I was increasingly active in the gay political scene in Montana. The two came together in the form of Jerry Falwell and the so-called Moral Majority. The Moral Majority, like its fear-based successors, had latched onto the newly visible gay and lesbian community to boost their income and their hold over a bewildered population. All demagogues need a scapegoat to divert attention from their own failings, and Jerry Falwell was no exception. By claiming that God would punish America if America tolerated homosexuality, Falwell joined a long line of historical figures who have flourished by renouncing personal responsibility and blaming a marginalized group for all current problems, real or imagined. As I became more and more deeply involved in the struggle for visibility and acceptance of Montana’s gay population, I kept running into representatives of the Moral Majority who were intent on keeping gay people invisible. As the only minority that can hide from its own family members, gay people have long known how to “pass” in society. The question is why should we? And just how did the Moral Majority tie into my doctoral dissertation? I was a literature major, specializing in the literature of twentieth-century France. The author I was studying had written eight beautiful novels, full of magic and mystery, and I loved his fiction. Unfortunately, he had also written reams of anti-Semitic diatribes in newspapers and magazines tied to the Fascist movement in France. So powerful were his political writings that in the period following the liberation of France in the mid 1940s, he was the only literary figure executed for collaboration. My professors at the University of California were not pleased that I chose to study Robert Brasillach. One of my advisors asked me point blank “Why would you want to study that horrid man?” But at the time I started my dissertation, I was in love with literature and had been away from politics for quite some time. The further I got into my work, however, the more I had to come to terms with Brasillach’s politics. As I studied the words of the French Fascists, I came to a startling realization. The writings of the French Fascists of the 1930s and of the Moral Majority and its kin in the 1980s were identical. Oh the French blamed the Jews and the Moral Majority blamed the homosexuals, but that was the only noticeable difference between the two. I wish I could say that as we’ve moved past the 80s, things have gotten better. They haven’t. In many ways they’ve gotten worse. The Moral Majority was followed by the Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family, The Traditional Values Coalition and on and on. In addition to Jerry Falwell we got Lou Sheldon, James Dobson, Pat Robertson, James Kennedy and their ilk. These are dangerous men.

A lighthouse shines to protect from hidden perils
Battery Point Lighthouse with gulls
Viewed from the beach at the east end of Front Street Park
Crescent City, California

For twenty-five years I have felt like someone crying in the wilderness because whenever I would compare these wolves hiding themselves in the garb of the Lamb of God, to the supporters of Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, people would tell me I was over-reacting. But now I learn I’m not alone. Yesterday, taking advantage of having the car in for service at my nearest authorized Volvo dealer—which just happens to be in Medford Oregon, 110 miles away—I picked up a few things at Barnes and Noble. One of my purchases was a 2006 work by Chris Hedges, an author I had first read a little over a year ago when I heard him interviewed on Air America. His book Losing Moses on the Freeway struck me as being a pretty accurate view of the state of religion in America today. His new book, American Fascists—The Christian Right and the War on America, appears to confirm my own belief as stated above. I won’t go into more detail at this time, as I’ve just begun reading the book. But the opening pages are Umberto Eco’s essay Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt. Please wake up, people. The country you love is being stolen from you and you’re sleeping through it. The nightmare world described in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale could be our world more easily than you know. To all those who insist that “it can’t happen here,” all I can say is, “Yes, it can and is happening here and now.” It may already be too late to stop it. Make sure your passport is valid and close at hand, and pray that they don’t close the borders before you can get out. With a President who lies continuously and acts as if the laws of the land have no power over him; with a fear-based Patriot Act in place to strip you of your freedoms as American citizens; with a Congress that for six years has acted as a rubber stamp for the imperial President and has exercised no oversight, abrogating its role as a check and balance to the power of the Executive; our Constitution is becoming as poor a protection as the teepee-shaped covers over the picnic tables in Crescent City’s Front Street Park.

Do they really think this will protect picnickers from the rain?
Picnic tables at Front Street Park
Crescent City, California

Another of the books I picked up yesterday is Vincent Versace’s Welcome to Oz. I found this book in the Digital Photography section at B&N and I carried it away from that area in search of a table or comfy chair where I could sit and study the book, deciding if it was one I needed. Unfortunately, before I could find a chair or table, I found the regular Photography section and the oversized Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer’s Life 1990-2005. As I have mentioned before, I consider Annie Leibovitz to be THE American photographer of our time. I had read about this book, and had, again as I’ve mentioned before, watched the PBS American Masters episode dedicated to Leibovitz. I knew that sooner or later I’d have to add this book to my professional library, so…. By the time I made it to the check out line, I’d completely forgotten about Versace. This was probably one of those “fate steps in” moments, because once home, I learned that Welcome to Oz is ostensibly a manual in the use of Adobe Photoshop—a program I do not own. The book is so well written, however, that it is a joy to read, and even without that particular photo editing software, I already realize there is much I will learn from the book. I was especially taken with this paragraph in the author’s Introduction:

It is of ultimate importance that you create only those images that you find worthy. Others cannot like what you do not. I know that my harshest critic sits in the same chair I do. I offer you this thought--there are enough people in the world who want to beat you up; don't help them. Create images that please you. If you think you have an image with unfulfilled potential, don't discard it as worthless. Determine what about the image should be different and then transform it so it becomes an expression of your voice.

--Vincent Versace

There is truth in this for all of us, whether we are photographers or not. Please, set aside time each day to create images that please you. Don’t help others beat you up. Give expression to your voice—YOUR voice. That’s what I’m trying to do here. Thanks for coming along for the ride. (And I’ll keep you informed of what I learn as I work through these two books.)

Get in Line!
Pigeons at Front Street Park
Crescent City, California

Finally, today would have been Mother’s 93rd birthday and Grandma’s 123rd. I know they had a happy joint birthday celebration today.

Weather: Mostly clear, chilly, highs in the 40s, snow in the forecast--YES SNOW!
Photographs taken: 110
Mood: Content but lonely--I miss my mommy, Gary, and the three kids in Montana.

1 comment:

hotproof said...

An excellent post. I couldn't have said it better regarding the problem with demagogues. Blind trust in so-called leaders may take the whole collective entity into a downward spiral, similar to the swirl of toilet water flushing.

Nice job with the lighthouse photo & tying that symbolic image with your post shedding light on people taking the wrong path.