Thursday, May 17, 2012

When Sad Sacks Go Scapegoating

The 1980s were in many ways a glorious time: Sarah Palin as a political entity did not exist, and I made it through the decade with my own spotless mind mostly unsullied by knowledge of Gallagher, though I might at some point have vaguely known "Oh, yeah, some guy smashes watermelons onstage and gets comedian cred for it." I definitely know, from reading the baby album my mother assiduously kept during my initial few years of life, that on my first birthday I threw large chunks of cake off the edge of my high chair, watched the chunks smash themselves against the floor below, and laughed my adorable baby laugh at what I then felt was the pinnacle of human comedic achievement.

But (I'm not bragging here, just stating a fact) I stopped finding comic value in smashed food around the same time I started kindergarten, which might explain why I never got into Gallagher as a teen -- because I was too old for his target audience. Still, I guess I did know a bit about Gallagher after all, enough at least to feel disappointed when a friend showed me this two-year-old article in The Stranger: Gallagher Is A Paranoid Right-Wing Watermelon-Smashing Maniac.

I cringed at this part:
Then Gallagher gets a tin pie plate. He opens a giant can of fruit cocktail and pours it in. He opens a can of some Asian vegetable—water chestnuts, maybe—and pours that in, too. "This is the China people and queers!!!" he screams and takes his sledgehammer to the thing with a fury that is no fun at all. Wet chunks of China people and queers fly everywhere. The hateful, bitter old man laughs. I cannot believe Bill Hicks is dead and this motherfucker is still touring.
Another friend of mine suggested Gallagher might have been driven over the edge due to family problems; apparently, he had some shiftless brother try stealing his act, and a cartload of relatives hoping to catch a free ride on the "celebrity in the family" gravy train.

Still another friend of mine made similar excuses for teen mother turned reality star Bristol Palin last week, after Palin defended the traditional American family by criticizing the president, the president's pre-teen daughters, gay people and the TV show Glee.

Confession: I sneered a bit when I shared this on my Facebook page, noting "When I worry about the decline of the traditional American family, I always seek advice from unwed teenage mamas who dropped out of high school. So does the Wall Street Journal, apparently." I later noted, with mock contrition, "I need to stop being so catty regarding Miss Bristol, though. There but for the grace of 60 IQ points go I." 

My soft-hearted friend then protested, "I can't get catty about Bristol Palin, because fuck, if I were a teenage pregnancy case and my mom was in a national political campaign, I'd be screwed up too."

Which was my initial thought, too, until I realized: vast is the difference between screwed up and mean-spirited. You can be a depressed and screwed-up mess (as I arguably was at the age Bristol Palin was first thrust into the national spotlight), but that doesn't automatically make you mean enough to take your misery out on an entire class of people you don't even know. In many ways I qualified as an unhappy teenager and young adult, but never dealt with it by lashing out at gay people, China people, black people, different-religion-than-me people or any people who I knew bore no responsibility for my unhappiness.

If I could speak personally to the likes of Gallagher or B. Palin I'd urge them to quit blaming gays or "China people" for whatever they think's wrong with America. More to the point, I'd urge them to quit blaming these groups for their own unhappiness.

That's the problem with kicking a scapegoat -- it's not only bad for the scapegoat but bad for you, wasting all that time and energy on the scapegoat rather than your actual problems. We could deport or even murder every gay person and China person tomorrow, and Gallagher would still be a miserably unhappy old fart who's justifiably mad at his family. Glee could be canceled and every queer in America turn frat-boy hetero tomorrow, and Bristol Palin will still be a high-school dropout whose kid's babydaddy abandoned her. Gays and Glee didn't make Levi Johnston a stupid irresponsible horndog or Bristol Palin wont to sleep with him sans effective anti-pregnancy precautions, anymore than "China people" made Gallagher's family become reprehensibly greedy.

Dealing with your problems is better than deflecting them onto others, guys. Trust me on this.


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