Today, I got my braces off. The total amount of time I’ve worn braces in my life amounts to about 6 1/2 years.
Plenty of kids get braces. It’s almost a right of passage. Your baby teeth fall out, you accrue $20-$100 depending on the Tooth Fairy’s generosity (and her inability to determine the fair market value of teeth), and the new chompers come in crooked. But not to worry! Someone is going to jam metal in your mouth (and maybe even outside your mouth if you were sentenced to wear headgear and be a social pariah) and give you a nice smile at the end. People who have perfect smiles are 78% more likely to have rich, fulfilling lives according to a stat I just made up.
While nice smiles are all well and good, orthodontics can also correct real medical issues. That’s why I needed them.
But back on September 10, 1997, I didn’t know that. Other things I didn’t know: my hair would fall out; my Magic: The Gathering cards would never gain value; and Third Eye Blind is not a good band. On September 10, 1997, I was a plucky kid who was ready to get my braces on because that’s what kids do. They get the braces, they get the straight teeth, then they get the money, then they get the power, then they get the women.
My orthodontist at the time was Dr. Bougas, pronounced, “Boug-hass”. But to a 13-year-old kid, it was funny to call him “Dr. Bogus” because I’m sure he had never been subject to that mispronunciation in his life. I was hitting comic gold.
I assume there must be a medical code of ethics where you’re supposed to inform the patient as quickly as possible that that their lower jaw is still growing and the braces have been put on too early. I have complete certainty that Dr. Bougas was 100% ethical, and that these things just happen. But somewhere in the back of my mind, I’ll always wonder…”Did you really want to lob petty insults at the person handling your medical care?” To put it another way: Were I in his position, I would have said, “That’ll teach the little bastard.” We can all be grateful I did not go into the medical profession.
On February 2, 2000 the braces come off. There are retainers and plastic mouthguards, but neither can fend off the inevitable. My lower jaw is still growing, the teeth are still moving, 2 1/2 years down the drain.
We cut ahead to August 23, 2004. I’m now a college student, and as you can see by the picture below, a college student who has discovered a potent combination of fast food and sadness (also, I swear to God I am not high in the photo). But the jaw has finished growing, the underbite is in full effect, and now it’s time to correct the bite. The key is surgery. The braces go on, the surgery happens, the braces stay on, and voila! Straight teeth (I may have glossed over the amount of technical precision and medical knowledge involved in this process).
My orthodontist is now Dr. Mary Lynn Crews. Allow me to take a moment to say that Dr. Crews is one of the nicest people I have ever met. There are plenty of friendly doctors, but Dr. Crews is like sunshine in human form. If more people were like Dr. Crews, the world would be a better place. I honestly believe that. Also, more people would have great smiles.
So we have a gameplan: braces go on, surgery happens, braces come off, life is better. And it will all work out because while oral surgery is expensive, my family has medical insurance. As all know, medical insurers have never dicked over anyone. They are above reproach.
As we start coming to the oral surgery, we finally meet with the oral surgeon (Dr. Crews provided the referral). For this story, he shall go nameless, but it seems like all is well. He approves of Dr. Crews’ work, and surgery is a go…until it isn’t.
The insurance company said they were going to pay for it and then they said, “Yeah, we’re not going to pay for it. We said we would, but now we’re not, because we’re insurance, and we hate you. Thanks for paying for your braces. Again. Money well spent.”
The braces stay on to do what they can, but it’s futile. They can only do so much, and they come off on January 3, 2007. And this is where I get the warning. Yes, it’s possible that the lack of surgery may not have any long term repercussions. However, it’s also possible that later in life it may cause serious medical problems.
In 2011, I’m at the gym. I’m on the arc trainer, doing my morning work out, and I feel a strain in the side of my neck. It’s weird because I don’t lift weights or do anything that would cause that kind of strain. The only thing I could do would be talking with my crooked underbite that turns out to be pulling on a rope of muscle. Now the “repercussion” is happening, and while it’s not intense or incredibly painful, I fear it’s a harbinger of those serious medical problems.
Since I have no plans to cease talking (I quite enjoy it and everything I say is deep and insightful), the braces need to happen. We need to take this to the end of the line. I have new insurance. And this time I have a plan (cue action movie score). I figure that the problem last time was that the oral surgeon wasn’t involved from the beginning, so that when the insurance came around to double check, he was somewhat indifferent. I had only met with him once, so there was no real reason or even much independent evidence to back up my case. This is conjecture, but I believe he was the weak link.
Now I go to Dr. Bankston because he’s on my insurance plan. He’s also super nice (not as nice as Dr. Crews, but few are; again—sunshine in human form), and after doing his own measurements, he concurs that surgery is medically necessary and not purely cosmetic.
But there’s a twist because with insurance companies there’s always a twist. They’re like the M. Night Shyamalan of businesses. In order to show how serious I am about getting the surgery, I need to put the braces on before the surgery is approved. That’s like saying, “I’m going to jump off this building and then you’ll see how serious I am about that net.” But I need to jump, and unlike the last two times, I’m putting my own money on the table. My parents are still contributing to the monthly payments, but now I’m paying for it too.
For those who were lucky enough to never need braces: don’t share this fact with anyone. No one wants to hear it. However, you may be wondering, “What’s it like to get braces? What fun did I miss out on?”
First, I am surprised at both the advancements and stagnations in the field of orthodontics. For example, before I even got my braces on, I was offered a choice between metal ones which were less likely to break and more likely to work faster, and clear plastic brackets, which weren’t as good but were also slightly less noticeable.
I chose good, old-fashioned metal because there’s no hiding you’re an adult with braces. No one is going to do a double-take when there’s a metal wire across your teeth. There’s also no forgetting you have braces. Every time you show up in that office, you’re well aware you’re the only patient in the room who doesn’t need a slip explaining why you were absent from social studies.
You’re also aware of how much time has passed and how far technology has come in only 15 years. Dr. Crews took over the office from Dr. Bougas, so I’d been going to the same building since 1997. There were no major renovations. The office never felt dated even though it didn’t really change. But where 13-year-old me had to wait patiently and observe the world, 27-year-old me could use a tiny computer to quickly access the Internet. It didn’t make me feel old as much as it made me remember that we live in the future, and perhaps we should be slightly more patient when waiting for webpages to load.
With this kind of remarkable advancement in technology, surely orthodontics had followed suit. How had we only come as far as plastic brackets (Invisaline wouldn’t have worked for me)? We now had lasers to fix people’s eyes; where were the lasers to fix our teeth? I live in the 21st century, and I demand laser teeth. Unfortunately, laser teeth technology is still a pipe dream (in only my pipes and only my dreams), so we’re back to the old ways. The metal ways.
But before I can get to the metal, I have to explain “spacers”. If you ever had braces, you probably know about spacers, which are the most painful part of the procedure (assuming you don’t have surgery). Here’s the thinking behind spacers: “Your teeth are fucked up, but we need to fuck them up a little more in order to fix them.” (I know orthodontists don’t talk like this; orthodontists should talk like this; cursing makes you coooool) Tiny bits of plastics are jammed between your teeth to make space for the metal bands that will encircle those teeth. You won’t be able to eat anything for about five days because it will be incredibly painful. Welcome to braces!
Once they’re done with the spacers, the braces go on. The third and final go-round for me began on April 11, 2012. Metal bands are placed around the back teeth (this time, the orthodontic procedure began after I’d had my wisdom teeth removed by Dr. Bankston), brackets are cemented on to the teeth, and then they’re all connected with a wire that will be tightened in order to move the teeth closer together. I find it fascinating to think that some engineering and medical genius figured out that this would straighten people’s teeth. I also applaud the enterprising patients who overcame their horror at having this done to them.
When you get your braces on, you’re given a list of foods you can’t eat. This list greatly upset me when I was 13, but over the years, I learned it was more like guidelines. For instance, the list says that toasted bagels are forbidden. I assume this landed on the list because some idiot kid bit into a burnt-to-a-crisp, stale-as-hell everything bagel and broke all his brackets and got seeds stuck inside his bands. Potato chips are also not allowed, and again, I’m sure somewhere down the line some patient messed up his orthodontics, blamed a bag of Doritos, and on the list it went.
After having braces for over six years, I will now tell you the foods that you really should not eat:
- Popcorn: Popcorn is dangerous because if one kernel slips behind your metal band, you’re going to be in a lot of pain, and there’s no way to get it out until the orthodontist can take off the band.
- Chewing Gum: Technically not a food, but you can’t have it. Chewing gum will get wrapped around your braces.
- Starbursts, Now and Laters, Taffy: They’re chewy enough to possibly pull off a bracket. However, gummi snacks like Sour Patch Kids are not. This demands a scientific study regarding candy elasticity.
And then there are foods you’d just be dumb to eat like uncut apples and corn-on-the-cob. You can do it, and then you can employ this bad-boy for the next half-hour:
It’s a tiny pipe cleaner and you’ll need it no matter what. Oddly enough, I don’t remember ever needing one until my third time with braces. But whether you’re eating bread, chicken, fish, or pretty much anything, you need the pipe cleaner and/or some serious tongue maneuvering/skillful suction. It’s not anywhere close to as sexy as it sounds and it didn’t sound that sexy to begin with. Yeah, it’s kind of gross. Read on to hear about my surgery!
Dr. Bankston does his due diligence, takes tons of photos and x-rays, submits them to the insurance company, they sign off, and we’re a go for April 19, 2013. To this point, I had never had surgery. I had never broken a bone or needed stitches. While I would agree that I’m very lucky, I would also point out that one’s risk of injury significantly decreases when you stay indoors and sit on a couch or at a computer (safety first, kids!). Now I would be getting stitches and a broken bone as an incision would be made high on my upper gums (you can’t even see the scar today) and my upper jaw would be moved forward.
Following the surgery, I had to stay in the hospital overnight with a bag of ice around my face, and then I spent about ten days recovering by staying bed, popping an occasional painkiller, eating pudding, and watching movies. How I ever made it through this ordeal, I’ll never know.
Then I had to wear a splint for about a month on my upper teeth, which prevented me from eating anything but soft foods, which gets very old, very quickly. I have come to despise oatmeal. However, pudding is still great. I lost ten pounds on the pudding diet! (I eventually gained it back)
When the splint did come off, my time with Dr. Bankston came to a close, and I was incredibly grateful for his terrific work (it also helped that he and Dr. Crews had worked together in the past, so there was almost no miscommunication or friction when it came to coordinating their work). The only strange thing about Dr. Bankston was that all the assistants seemed to refer to the patients as “sweetie”. It’s like when you go to Chick-fil-A and they say “My pleasure,” when you say, “Thank you.” It’s clearly a policy, but when an assistant who can’t be more than five years older than me calls me “sweetie” like she’s my grandmother, it’s weird. Not off-putting; just weird.
We then continued with the uneventful procedure of finishing up the orthodontics, and here I am with straight teeth, the ability to keep talking, and a newfound, lifelong fear of being punched in the mouth.
If you read all of this, thanks! It probably wasn’t the most entertaining read, but getting braces was a big part of my life, and I felt I need to document and share it. It was also my way of saying thanks to my parents who financially and emotionally supported me, and also to the practice of Dr. Mary Lynn Crews. Not only is Dr. Crews great, but so is everyone who works at her practice. If you or anyone you know ever needs orthodontics, go see her. It will be one of the best decisions you’ve ever made.
And while I’m not big on selfies, I figure this is one worth sharing:
After a one-two punch of the Falcons losing a close game on Monday Night Football and the Braves being eliminated after the normally reliable David Carpenter gave up the lead in the 8th inning, I’m wondering if it’s time for me to stop being a sports fan.
I know that’s awfully fair-weather of me, and that my attitude is why Atlanta is such a shitty sports town. But at the same time, these are kind of shitty sports teams because they’re bad at the worst possible moments. They don’t consistently suck. I assume fans with consistently crappy teams just accept them as lovable losers, or get a nice pick-me-up if their team should happen to win. Atlantans aren’t so lucky. The Braves and the Falcons have to give the illusion that they could go all the way. They have to give the illusion of a dramatic victory. And then they lose in a spectacular fashion. They lose on the most public stage possible, and the Atlanta fans get crushed.
The teams have been especially vindictive this year. The Braves won the division title for the first time since 2005. I had hope that a younger team might not have the baggage of older Braves teams that could never get past the first round of the playoffs. I was wrong. They were just as terrible. It would be nice to think that they’ll mature into a serious ball club, but that’s not going to happen. Something breaks in the Atlanta Braves when October comes around. And as for the Falcons, their weaknesses have emerged. After years of scraping by with thrilling victories, they’re now on the losing side and proving all their detractors right.
Detractors have plenty to crow about, and they’re not wrong. But as I tweeted both games tonight, I didn’t like myself. I felt like an absolute bastard who was clogging up people’s Twitter feeds with my negativity. A good sports fan is never resigned to failure. They hold on to hope until the last possible minute. They’re indefatigable. I thought I was a good sports fan, but I was wrong. And if I’m going to behave like I did tonight, then I shouldn’t get to call myself a Braves fan or a Falcons fan. I’m a spectator. I can cheer, and I can boo, but I can’t say I’m a fan. I’m as much to blame as the teams I’ve failed to support.
When the DOMA and Prop 8 rulings were announced yesterday in favor of gay marriage, I was overjoyed…for about 20 minutes. I wasn’t particularly shocked since I deeply doubted that the Supreme Court would pull a Dred Scott and do something horrible. The tide of history was turning, and perhaps if this ruling had come to the court twenty years ago, it would have been against gay marriage or punted. But the possibility of this terrible outcome weighed far more heavily on the minds of gays and lesbians. Whether the Supreme Court ruled for or against gay marriage, my life would stay the same. Thankfully, the Supreme Court mostly did the right thing and provided a victory to the battle, but not the war.
And that’s why my enthusiasm faded after about 20 minutes. First, the ruling on Prop 8 was limited to California, and it was limited on the grounds of those who opposed it (the Mormon Church instead of the State) rather than the fundamental inequality of the proposition itself. That fundamental inequality was addressed in the DOMA ruling, but DOMA can only apply to places that have passed a bill allowing gay marriage—currently 13 states plus the District of Columbia. There are 37 states left, and they have laws on the books making gay marriage illegal.
My concern is that yesterday’s victory will seem like the conclusion of the fight rather than what it is: a major victory in an ongoing conflict. I think of my gay friends in Georgia, and if they want to get married, they can’t live here. The federal benefits now allowed by the DOMA ruling will not affect them until they can be married. Their fight continues, but it continues in a red state. And every red state, especially in the South, is far from allowing it.
So how does that fight continue? Is it now every state for itself? I don’t know how national coalitions for gay and lesbian rights will proceed, but I’m afraid that there may be a divide and conquer mentality where pro-gay rights groups in deeply red states won’t have the resources to even begin mounting a serious battle against the deeply entrenched forces allied against gay marriage.
It’s important to remember that the fight is far from over, and that a new national strategy is needed because the battle now begins in the individual states. Thankfully, three more states will be on the side of equality by the end of the summer: Delaware, Minnesota, and Rhode Island.
34 to go.
I just finished re-watching George Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck. It was like stepping into a time machine, although not in the way of throwing back to 1953 and Edward R. Murrow’s fight against Joe McCarthy (not to dismiss the excellent historical portrayal of the era). It was a time machine into the Bush Administration, which is what the movie is really about. It was about a fiercely-divided America that had been fundamentally ruptured by the attacks of 9/11 and war-hungry response of the Bush Administration. We were at war not only with “terror”, but with each other. And our news couldn’t save us. The news we trusted helped facilitate a march towards war.
I was in college at the time, and being a college student is already far too quick with half-baked ideas. It’s the last time you can revel in the concept that you know everything (post-academic life quickly lets you know how little you know). I became a big fan of Michael Moore, because in the 2000s conflict, each side had its heroes. I look back and shake my head, but Clooney’s film, which I saw in my senior year, persists, while Moore is a joke.
Nevertheless, it was an intense time, and yet oddly simple. We saw the wedges and knew the problems insofar as the issues. There was a flood of information, but pro-war, anti-war was easy to understand. Meanwhile, there was a gathering financial storm that no one cared to notice, and now that we’re still suffering its aftershocks, we still don’t understand it. We know things are bad, but the reasons are too complicated, and intentionally so. You instinctively know that it’s bad for someone to fight and die on a lie. Or perhaps you’re persuaded by the “Fight them over there so we won’t have to fight them here,” argument. But how many people can explain a credit default swap and why that financial instrument was partially responsible for the downfall of our economic system. In a run-up to war, we will (hopefully) never again be so quick to accept information because we’re motivated by fear. But how do you stop a crime you don’t understand? Obama hasn’t taken any serious steps to punish those responsible for our economic collapse nor has he set up any measures to stop it from happening again. We still live in dangerous times. We just can’t clearly articulate it for a variety of reasons. There are so many distractions, so many opinions, and so many “facts” we glean from the Internet, the box that provides trivia and calls it knowledge.
Bush is gone and the world has tried to forget him (and he’s done his best to help), but I feel like we live in even more dangerous times. I don’t like thinking that because I know part of that fear is simply me getting older, getting stuck in my ways, looking at the future and fearing what’s to come. Namely, I fear a world where we’re all disconnected but think we’re closer than ever. Social networks will provide the illusion of intimacy just like a glance at a webpage or reading a single article will provide the illusion of knowledge rather the truth that we’re swimming in a sea of confirmation bias.
Earlier this week, the Bush Library opened its doors, but it was a small story (as such openings are) mixed in with news about flight delays caused by the sequester, and further developments in the case of the Boston bombers. The easy joke is to openly wonder if the Library contains a copy of “My Pet Goat”. I think back to 2005 when ridiculing and despising George W. Bush was a matter of course. I certainly don’t think Obama would have been elected without Bush. The extreme change of electing a black president couldn’t have been accomplished without a thoroughly reviled and unpopular previous president (it also didn’t hurt that Clinton ran a shit campaign, and McCain imploded by selecting Palin as his running mate). But our problems persist, but the political air isn’t thick in the same way. It’s the air of a stalemate rather than battle. Washington is broken, it’s broken behind closed doors, and the American people are exhausted from four years of intransigence.
Clooney tried to explore the difficulty of political change in his 2011 film, The Ides of March. It doesn’t really work since it’s a mixed metaphor where the movie is supposed to be about disillusionment, but because the disillusionment comes from such heightened circumstances (spoiler alert)–the candidate sleeping with a staffer and then the staffer committing suicide–it doesn’t ring true like Good Night, and Good Luck. It’s because it’s so much tougher to see where we are right now, and that’s the difficulty of the dramatization.
If I sound wistful for the days of Bush’s clear-cut-nation-dividing, I’m not. I’m absolutely rambling (but it’s for my personal blog, so who cares), but I wonder if I’ll be sitting alone on a Saturday night eight years from now, and looking back at a movie that makes me thinking about the 2010s, and the new kind of dread it inspired. Will it be about a herald leader not up to the task? Will it be about a political system that can no longer function because it’s been warped and twisted by time, culture, technology, and money?
Then I have to look at history, shake my head, and laugh a little bit because I feel silly. I feel that we have to hope because living in hopelessness is no way to live. Living in fear is no way to live. Of course, these sentiments are luxuries of a privileged life, and I write them sitting comfortably from my desk chair on my nice computer.
If I don’t stop soon, I’ll ramble on until dawn, so I’ll quickly finish by saying that on November 3, 2004, when Bush had been reelected, the world looked bleak. It’s almost ten years later, and we’re still here. Talking about what’s with us will keep me rambling until dawn.
I did not have a pleasant experience at Oberlin College. I made a few amazing friends and had the support of unbelievably gracious and loving family members in the community, but when it came to the actual college, I thought you had a bunch of sheltered liberals (and keep in mind, I’m liberal) who created some perversion of diversity by failing to understand that diversity has to extend beyond race and sexual orientation and tap into belief systems. If everyone is an “outsider”, then no one is. It created a safe space at the worst time to create a safe space: at the cusp of adulthood when the world is about to get unforgiving.
[Side note: I also reject the notion that the college was there not to prepare people for the outside world, but as an institute of learning. It's not learning when you're writing papers to appease a professor's ego. Write what they want to hear and you'll get good grades. It's playing the game of school, not the game of learning.]
When I was at Oberlin, an ethnic minority of students felt they needed a “safe space” where only their minority could gather. They needed this space on one of the most accepting, diverse, liberal colleges in the nation. And the college should have said, “Grow up. If you can’t handle it here, you’re going to crumble when you get out of the safe confines of our cozy campus.” They did not say that.
Oberlin now has had to face a popping of the bubble they created. Real racism has crept on to the campus, and the campus response has been typically Oberlin: “Let’s talk about it.” Yes, law enforcement is on the case and they should be on the case. But rather than send out the message that hatred exists in our world and the best way to deal with it is to walk with our heads held high and not let it deter from the noble goal of learning, Oberlin canceled class so they could have “a conversation.” I wasn’t in attendance, so I don’t know what the fuck there was to talk about. In a recent interview with CNN about the incident (the news has garnered international attention; I first read about it on the BBC’s website), Oberlin’s doofus president Marvin Krislov calling the conversation “courageous”. Yes, it’s courageous to talk about why hatred is bad.
During the interview, the anchorwoman says that they’ve heard from sources that the suspects are students, to which I would respond OF COURSE THEY’RE STUDENTS. After first hearing about the incidents, my immediate thought was, “Students are doing this.” As I said, you take a group of kids who have spent their teenage years feeling like outsiders. You bring them all in, and they lose their outsider status because everyone is an outsider and therefore no one is an outsider. Most students would find it a relief to find acceptance. But if you’re a young person (and I’m also willing to bet the suspects are freshmen or sophomores), and your identity is based around being an outsider, then your reaction is to be the intolerant person in a tolerant community. My biggest surprise isn’t that this happened, but that it hadn’t happened sooner.
And what came of this glorious “conversation”? Watch to the end of the video:
You have students running into the background chanting “Bullshit!” while the representative of the college tries to defend the college and therefore all of the students and faculty (there’s also covering his own ass, obviously). To Oberlin students, the President of the college serves two purposes: Representing “The Man” and raising money for the university (in that order). Nothing else gets in their thick skulls because their beliefs are never seriously challenged by anyone.
Oberlin isn’t a community of intolerance or hatred. It’s a community of ignorance laboring under the false impression that they’re progressive. There’s nothing progressive about turning away from education for a day so that everyone can have a meaningless group hug.
After last year’s painful loss to the Giants, I wrote about how I was proud to be a Falcons fan, and that it was important to be “hometeam”. I almost became a major hypocrite last week as it looked like the Falcons would never get over the playoff hump. As someone who is also a fan of the Braves, that one-two punch of teams that quickly get kicked out of the playoffs is almost too much. But last week, the Falcons performed in Falcons fashion: came on strong, lost the lead, pulled out a victory in the end.
That is both the greatest strength and the greatest weakness of the Atlanta Falcons. As my friend Brad said, “They play up or down to the opponent they’re facing.” Credit to Mike Smith for being the best coach in franchise history, but his style has fried every last nerve of the fans. We “rise up” because we fall down. A lot. With so much talent on the field, it’s peculiar and infuriating to see a pattern where we can cheer a comeback even though it’s from a hole the Falcons dug themselves.
The 49ers are a great team. They were the favorite, and we played them close. It wasn’t a blowout, and it’s always wonderful to see the Falcons fire on all cylinders like they did in the first quarter. I will still root for the 49ers in the Super Bowl because I don’t hold a grudge. They played a good game, and they deserve to win it all (I also don’t have any love for either AFC team).
But this blog post is about the Falcons. The pundits will likely pick them apart, which is fine. This team will probably never get the respect it deserves until it at least goes to the Super Bowl. The fans can wait because the fans will remain. The victory over the Seahawks was more important than the NFC Championship. The Falcons obviously wanted to go all the way, but the support from fans is stronger than its been in over a decade.
I will proudly wear a Matt Ryan jersey every time I watch the Falcons next year (and jerseys are expensive!). He makes mistakes, but he’s clutch. Today was just one mistake too many. But he’s undeniably matured as a quarterback, and I truly believe one day we’ll talk about him with the same respect people show Peyton Manning.
It will be hard to see Tony Gonzalez retire, but he’s earned it many times over. He will go out on top and as the greatest tight end of all-time. I’m honored that he played for our team and that he’ll end his career as an Atlanta Falcon.
We have so much talent on this team, but there’s undeniably more work to be done. I trust Arthur Blank, Thomas Dimitroff, and Mike Smith will do what needs to be done. They’re smart, thoughtful guys who know how to manage a team, and I believe the Falcons will be even stronger next year.
They couldn’t come back in this game, but they’ll come back from this defeat.
When I wrote about the Aurora shooting, I noted how that gun violence continues to happen whether we note it as massacres or ignore the single or double-homicides as if those crimes aren’t worthy of putting a spotlight on our atrocious, borderline non-existent policy on gun control. Gun violence wasn’t going anywhere, and there certainly wasn’t going to be any legislation. Sure, a bunch of people died because they had the audacity to see a blockbuster movie at a midnight screening, but what could we do? It was an election year, and the gun lobby is bulletproof.
Now the murders in Newtown have happened, I just feel sick and outraged. With Aurora, I was shocked, saddened, but now wholly surprised. These kinds of massacres went into high schools, college campuses, places of worship, and all kinds of locations where we should feel safe. But we didn’t want to imagine where the next horrific massacre would strike. We all knew it would. We knew it wouldn’t be too long to wait. We just didn’t know where.
There were other massacres after Aurora, but Newtown is unforgettable. And yet I feel outrage that we will forget. It will blow over like every other massacre. We’re already going through the motions:
- Confusion over the death toll
- Focus on the killer’s background
- Names of the victims
- Tales of heroism
- Stories of the victims
- Wait until the next horrific massacre.
In between, we have a “conversation” about gun control. In the 21st century, we take to our Facebook pages and Twitter feeds to share a link or a 140-character comment, and then move on with our day. We’ll also be sure to note how our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their loved ones, as if that means a fucking thing to the victims and their loved ones. Every parent who lost their child will forever be broken. That scar will never heal. Prayers and thoughts won’t provide any measure of solace.
There are no words for this, and yet I have to write and share my outrage because I just want to scream about how sick this makes me. About how I can’t stand this anymore. About what’s even more horrific about the massacre is how we allow it to happen again and again and again and again and again. It’s an unnatural disaster that we continue to accept.
Of course, who can take on the NRA? We all should because they support the murder of children. Guns aren’t a right, and even if they were, there’s no right worth having that allows someone to freely purchase weapons capable of mass murder and kill children. The NRA, an association that could just as easily support gun control as it does gun “freedom”, supports the murder of children. When they say nothing and when they do nothing, they say that it’s more important that people own guns than making sure that a madman can’t get a gun and murder children.
The NRA supports the murder of children. It is that simple. And in our silence, in our complacency, and in our fatigue, we share that responsibility.
I don’t know the exact answer to this problem. I’ve also heard cries that we need to do a better job of identifying and treating mental illness, and while I agree, we can’t legislate mental illness. We can legislate the tools that turn mental illness into a destructive force. But we don’t. We go through the motions.
Barack Obama has the chance to break the cycle. To say that this is the last straw. That maybe we shouldn’t wait until another madmen goes into a fucking nursery and creates another incomprehensible horror. But I don’t know if that’s in him. It’s likely no other President in history has been so aware of a possible assassination attempt. We are all incredibly blessed that such an attempt on his life hasn’t been made despite the vitriol and hatred that has come from his opponents. But it’s scary to go after the guys with the guns, because they don’t keep the guns for decoration. When they say that they’ll have to pry the gun from their cold, dead hands, it’s because they’ll be cold and dead after dying in a shootout. Someone with a gun-fetish only sees the resolution ending a bloodbath rather than reasonable compromise.
Again, I don’t have any answers but looking at the situation only makes me sad and sick and angry, and this post was the only way to maybe lessen that distress because I can’t listen to anyone else talk about “hopes and prayers” or recite the same statistics anymore. And I’m scared not only of the next massacre. I’m scared of how quickly we’ll forget this one.
Last night, I had an odd double feature of Death Wish and Christmas Vacation. It was my first viewing for both films, and while I found Death Wish the more entertaining of the two, both movies left me with some thoughts regarding their cultural commentary and the historical context that commentary was made. I posted my thoughts on Letterboxd (a fantastic site for keeping a movie journal), but in case those comments were to vanish for some reason, I wanted to keep them here as well (my site is indestructible). Keep in mind that these are not reviews but simply a collection of disorganized thoughts that I wanted to put down before I went to bed.
[Note: minor spoilers ahead]
An absolutely fascinating film. If the Bernie Getz shooting hadn’t happened 10 years later, I could have sworn it would be the influence for Death Wish. The film is borderline unapologetic in its values, although there is an awkward moment where a background character has to explain why Paul Kerney (Charles Bronson) is killing so many black people isn’t racist (she has a fair point, although it ignores the larger social issues, which falls in line with the rest of the movie).
Death Wish is an angry fantasy for anyone who has ever been a victim of a violent crime or known the victim of a violent crime. It reaches deep into the futility having crime seep into our safe worlds and show us how powerless we truly are. And the only solution comes not from the police, but down the barrel of a gun. It also helps that in the world of Death Wish, most criminals carry switchblades and not guns.
Oddly enough, the police aren’t seen as ineffective as much as allied against the individual rather than supporting the community. An entire department seems to mass around stopping Kerney, but they shrug their shoulders when his wife was murdered and his daughter was raped. There’s media sensationalism to the vigilante, but no character ever brings up the point that the cops are now investigating the murder of a criminals rather than the murder of an innocent women.
Of course, this all plays into the notion of the One Man Against the World fantasy Death Wish (winkingly?) embraces. The movie makes sure to position Kersey not as the outlaw, but as the noble gunslinger. He’s always looking for trouble, but he’s righting the wrongs the law can’t or won’t stop.
It’s also strange that the criminals gravitate towards Kersey; in one scene, a couple punks go through multiple train cars just to get to him even though there are other people on the train and he’s just some guy reading the newspaper. Bronson may not be intimidating (although we see at the beginning of the film that he’s absolutely ripped), but he’s also doesn’t convey weakness. Why would criminals target him as a victim?
It’s tough to tell if director Michael Winner is playing it straight, but either way, it’s a damn interesting and entertaining film. It’s heavy-handed as hell, and I honestly don’t know if it’s satire or preaching. Personally, I would like to see it as satire since I think that makes it a smarter movie. Then again, the film could also be played as a tragedy. Kersey is an honest, hardworking man and violence consumes his life and becomes his addiction. At the end, rather than give up his gun, he gives up on his family and moves away so he can kill more street punks.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
Billed as a “Christmas classic”, I was a little underwhelmed by Christmas Vacation. It wasn’t as funny as I’d hoped it would be, nor was it particularly memorable. The family dynamic felt like The Ref but with all the hard edges rounded off to a PG-13 rating. More often than not, the movie relies on slapstick and rarely finds a satisfying build-up and pay-off to its farcical elements. The best moments are when the Griswolds continue to unintentionally ruin their neighbors’ lives.
Where Christmas Vacation caught my attention wasn’t so much in its comedy, but in its values. Coming out a year after the Reagan administration, it’s a movie that champions the pursuit of the middle-class becoming the upper-middle class while still retaining good, old-fashioned American values. The Christmas miracle isn’t getting to keep the house. It’s getting to keep the house AND get a swimming pool. If your house has a swimming pool that not inflatable, then congratulations: you’re upper-middle class.
Meanwhile, Uncle Eddie (Randy Quaid) and his brood are the disgusting poor. They’re not necessarily bad people, but they’re uncouth, dumb, and most importantly, they mooch off the goodwill of the Griswold clan. Uncle Eddie may be good for kidnapping the wealthy, but he’s also the guy who expects you to open your wallet and pay for his kids’ toys because he’s too lazy to get a job.
Meanwhile, the film also doesn’t want to alienate the aspiring middle class by saying the wealthy (Clark’s boss) are inherently good. But they’re certainly not bad. They’re just misguided, and if they could only see how much a middle class family like the Griswolds appreciate Christmas, then the rich folks would realize that maybe they shouldn’t slash the bonuses of hardworking Americans. This dream scenario would truly be a Christmas miracle.
It’s also important that the Griswolds are a very specific kind middle class family. They live next door to the Chesters–a horrible, selfish couple who may be in the same income bracket, but they’re not REAL Americans. They don’t have kids, they don’t celebrate Christmas, they’re not friendly, and they simply don’t share the Griswolds values.
While I would like to give screenwriter John Hughes credit for crafting a ridiculously subtle satire of the American dream, his screenplay for Ferris Bueller’s Day Off shares the same kind of me-first values of the Reagan era. When the characters sing the National Anthem at the end, it’s not ironic. It’s taking national possession of the holiday. It’s not “Happy” Christmas, you British bastards. It’s “Merry” Christmas. If you don’t like it, you can get out.
We had the Olympics this past summer (where people seemed more focused on how NBC was ill-equipped to handle broadcasting time-delayed events in the digital age), but the real games begin this fall. Baseball playoffs are about to begin (go Braves!), football is in full swing (go Falcons!), and we’re about to have the Presidential debates (go America!).
If you don’t think politics is a game, you haven’t been paying attention. Policy is serious, but politics—particularly the way it’s covered—is a game. It’s a game that has far-reaching implications for the future of our country, but we hear about it in terms of a game. Who’s up? Who’s down? Who’s gaining? Who’s losing? Did Candidate X hit a home run with his speech? Did Candidate Y fumble the response to the question?
And tonight, the first of three Presidential debates begin. I hesitate to put the word “debates” into question marks because it seems too cynical. The candidates are responding to each other in real time, but the time is so short. Everything is condensed. Points and counter-points have to be rapidly delivered. But do these debates really tell us anything? The candidates are simply reiterating points they’ve been making for months. The format has changed, but the messages are the same.
But the debates matter for the small sliver of the population that somehow, for reasons that defy understanding, haven’t made up their minds. We’re not talking about Jack Johnson and John Jackson. Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have fundamental disagreements on the direction for our government. If you believe that government has an obligation to help its people, then vote Democrat. If you believe that unregulated businesses benefit the country, then vote Republican. The differences regarding social issues couldn’t be clearer: Pro-choice or pro-life? Gay rights or discrimination? Expansion of health care or go broke and die? And on the issues where there’s no daylight between the candidates—war on drugs, prosecuting financial crimes—they’re not going to change their positions.
Nevertheless, the debates will dominate our media landscape for the next couple of weeks because that’s where the game is played. For those who couldn’t be bothered to do research into the candidates, they’ll now get the biggest political ad possible. And at the end, the punditry will squabble over who won. Who was the most eloquent, who stumbled over a question, and who now has the edge.
Except there will be no edge. Strangely enough, even though they’re designed to convince independent voters, debates don’t seriously sway presidential elections in the modern age. The candidates enter at their current popularity and they leave at about the same level. This is entertainment, and no one becomes a Texans fan simply because they played well on Sunday.
Looking at where the candidates currently stand, Obama wins the election. The chattering class can go on about how close it is, but they’re looking at the nationwide poll, which would be important if Presidents were elected by popular vote. But we use the Electoral College, and as you’ll see, Obama is almost at 270 electoral votes. On election night, Obama may not have dominated the popular vote, but according to polling guru Nate Silver, Obama is likely to win the election. Republicans will harp on the popular vote all day, but it won’t matter as long as Obama wins it by at least 50.1%.
So when you tune in for the debates, remember that we’re watching condensed stump speeches, and unnecessary ones at that. The best thing that could happen is if Obama’s opening statement was “I killed Bin Laden, and Mitt Romney hates 47% of America,” drops the mic and walks away. I’d vote for that.
I know how dorky this looks. I swear I wasn’t trying to look cool. It’s just that everything looks cool when you slow it down to 2500 frames-per-second. Now I know why Zack Snyder uses it ALL THE DAMN TIME.