Monday, July 15, 2013

Bad Theatre In Oakland

Bad news on a hot night in the South.  It's not the heat, that's not so bad, but the humidity.  As smothering and unwelcome as an unbathed paramour in your bed, and just as likely to give you diseases.  The air is damp and tempers are short in the wake of the George Zimmerman ruling in Florida.  For those of you just joining us, a neighborhood watchman (Zimmerman) shot and killed a teenage boy by the name of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida.  Some gink with a gun ended some kid's life.  The claim was self defense, and under Florida's "Stand Your Ground" laws, that's all it takes for an acquittal.  Race is an issue here.  I didn't follow the trial, read up and draw your own conclusions.

Of greater interest, at least at the moment, are those short tempers.  Numerous protests, rallies, and petitions have sprung up in the wake of the verdict.  According to sources, protests turned ugly in Oakland, with vandalism and the American flag being burned.  Ye gods!  Folks are even lighting "blunts" in the flames of old glory.  Here lies the Great Society.

It is that flag burning that interests me at the moment, particularly in terms of its theatricality.  What is it to burn the flag of a nation?  In my days with the Boy Scouts, we burned numerous American flags as a form of respectful retirement.  Piled them on the grate and up they went in a hot nylon conflagration.  Melted the grate at one point.  And it always felt strangely subversive.  But somehow, I'm not sure that is what our protestors were getting at here.

Let us also set aside flag burning in a foreign context.  When protestors in Yemen, Hungary, or Canada burn an American flag, it is generally a pretty clear indication of displeasure with American policy.  That's not quite what is at stake here either.

These people burn the flag out of anger.  But I don't think it can be said that they "hate America."  And as much as "patriots" will drape themselves in Old Glory and poo poo these "children" as throwing a "tantrum" or wrinkle their nose in "disgust" and simply dismiss these protestors, they miss the point in a way that few have since the days of Spiro Agnew, or maybe Michael Dukakis.  This rage comes from a feeling that they are no longer (and some would submit never really were) partners in the American project.  They are acting against the symbol because it is the only thing left to act against.  And as for the gentleman lighting the "blunt" in the flames?  Who can blame him?  When the frustration grows enough, just tune out and let the THC take you on a ride, enjoy the colors.

I will not pretend to understand things further than this.  Oppression and privilege exist, institutionally, in this nation.  I'm lily pale, myself... and there are few photos of me outdoors because of the massive lens flair I cause.  But for all that, I benefit.  I cannot say what happened between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin that night.  But I know the system has run its course for better or worse.  But we should not ignore the inherently theatrical act of protest here.

It is bad theatre, to say the least.  Bad vibes.  But it is also the kicking and struggling of a people who feel they do not have a say.  We as a people ignore this at our peril.  It might just be the biggest show of the year.

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