Years ago Jerry Lewis used to host the Muscular Dystrophy Telethonon labour day weekend. Stars, celebrities ,sports people, big contributors would make their pleas to the audience, and we would be tied to our screens for hours on end. For some reason that weekend was almost always a rainy one so there was little to do but watch.
My father was taciturn and not given to outbursts , his strong opinions easily read in his handsome face. Yet inevitably ,he reacted to the telethon almost spitting out his contempt, for he despised the segments, the heart wrenching vignettes of children twisted and wasted by the disease. Not particularly sensitive, yet he was infuriated by the use of children to tug at viewers’ heart strings. He felt it was cheap and ignoble to use the frailty of others to raise money- no matter the cause; the end, in this case, not ever justifying the means. And sadly after so many years, still no cure.
I recalled my father’s revulsion at the exploitation of children watching The State of the Union last night as the stories of unfortunates, from welders to policemen to the parents of servicemen were commandeered for Trump’s political edification of self. Now more than ever is the age of individuals and their narratives, a way to open out the inner workings of persons who are different or special. People/ viewers/ readers are more tuned into first person revelations, considering experience almost as valuable as fact for research or decision- making: at least there is an acceptance, particularly in journals that these accounts can provide validity and credibility.
And truthfully The State of the Union, made for a good “ show” , a way to connect with the hearts and minds of an audience, for this person called president. Mindful of my father’s reaction and my own sensibilities to difficult passages in a life, I felt it embarrassing and demeaning to watch someone paraded out for reasons that did not know involve the person themselves. During this scripted for television affront, a small baby, the child of a drug addict presumably, conveniently named “Hope” was abruptly woken from her sleep, her cover pulled down to expose her as artifact, to thunderous clapping. She screamed, rudely brought out from the security of her mother’s chest ( who did look uncomfortable) used for unsanctimonious purposes: votes, popularity, the edification of the demigod.
In Hebrew school or history classes where the horrors of the past were included in the curriculum, we could turn our eyes away from the human skeletons, the naked starving children running from the hideous intrusion of napalm, the huddled, the dead laid out prone and butchered in fields and in the streets, the starved, the slaughtered…; however, we were being educated into the evils of the world, that never again would or should we have to confront the terrors and stupidity of the past, the wars; and the photos were burned into our consciousness. These to which I refer were photos and movies, and often ,too, in forums survivors of holocaust and genocide, although objectified in the former, did speak for themselves in the later, the stories from their own lips, relating the atrocities of their own lives. They sat with their audiences or if they stood before them, they, the subject or focus of their own stories, not a sideshow for the gratification of another- but last night, the false self congratulatory moves of a person who cares more for gilt than race, colour, infirmity or need, yet attempting to pose as empathetic, a caring human,( in between clapping for himself), using the pain of others for himself.
Of course, these “ special guests” last night were not forced to appear, to stand, to wave, to have their stories shared. Note, however: they did not tell the tales in their own way, in their own time, they allowed Trump’s speechwriters to frame their pain, their endurance, their American triumphs for his purposes. Most held back tears as they waved or involuntarily, a tear escaping from a tightly clenched smile. And perhaps most ironically with my mind returning to the scenes of the devastated in WWII, was it to watch the young North Korean man, his eyes overflowing, brandish his wooden crutches. And I pondered that these crutches are like a red flag, a provocation to another crazy dictator, igniting another reason to let flourish nuclear genocide on the world, causing the death, destruction, the need for more crutches for more amputees among fields of the tortured and dead. Such a circus, such a ridiculous game, such a cruel terrible provocation by a stupid stupid man- who will be locked safe in his golden cage as the bombs fall and destroy, lauding the need for smaller weapons of destruction. A utopian dream, he falsely dismisses.
Not surprising that most events today are showcases, the CNNs of catastrophe of the week- from the Las Vegas shooting to Hurricane Harvey: opportunities for hyperbole and the manipulation of human tragedy for money and political obfuscation. The human stories are in deed human, but just as Facebook makes every personal detail public so too the boundaries are crossed, putting out there to the millions who gawk and could care less the private stories of people who have suffered. Unlike Metoo, where the voices of all sing together, in protest to end human tragedies, what we witnessed last night, was used to fan the flames of an egomaniac who cannot be trusted to keep the world safe. These narratives were mere chess positions appropriated for the biggest and most terrible show on earth.
I believe in stories. I believe in people telling their own truths. I believe in the multiplicity and authenticity of voices that can rock the world, not their usage for a showmanship’s ulterior motives: one of destruction that although inspiring the façade of hope, momentarily and superficially, is beneath the surface, a tottering rotten platform for manipulation.