How wistfully I recall the furor during my high school years as the school administration squared off against the insidious threat of what it called “Public Displays of Affection.” In those olden times, PDAs consisted of nothing more than handholding and mouth-to-mouth kissing, but adults seemed to think that if they allowed such behavior, our generation might end up spawning offspring who would take things even further when they reached high school age — surely, clothed intercourse on the dance floor, exhibitionistic butt-shaking, and similar apocalyptic distresses were in the future’s sorry cards if we weren’t properly reined in…
So, we kids resented the crotchety attitudes of those who made the rules and the judgments that inhibited us. Now those adults are mostly gone and we’re in charge and no less anxious to make rules when we feel they’re necessary. In some respects I’m more crotchety than I would have thought possible — I’m finding it nearly impossible to have any affection at all for public displays of any sort, and that distresses me quite strongly indeed. I look upon three recent sorts of “public displays” that have made the news and not only feel crotchety (wow, three times for that adjective in one paragraph!) but downright worried and nauseated. All three were worthy of the marching they involved, I believe, but were marred by an overabundance of crassness, selfishness, and stupidity.
Let’s take the non-violent marches that were meant to draw attention to alarming, recent incidents of police violence. (Yeah, take them directly to the principal’s office.) Orderly marches can be wonderful beacons of correction and change. March in the neighborhood, march up the boulevard, march down to City Hall! But when you march onto the freeway and stop traffic, you’re gonna piss off a lot of people who are actually on your side! If you say, “Yeah, but marching out onto the freeway is gonna draw more attention to our cause,” then I’d answer yes, but for the wrong reason. Here you’re forcing your message down the throats of people you’ve essentially kidnapped. You have restricted their movement and inconvenienced them when they are innocent of any wrong-doing. (The “give us back the streets” bicycle mobs that pop up from time to time are similarly deranged, believing that they’re more important than you. They’re not and never will be, so they can just bite me crank as well, matey.) By blocking the freeways, you are disrupting a great number of innocent lives. Why on earth must so many of us be taken as prisoners? Sure, dudes, I’d love to join your march and everything, but can I drive home first?
Next we come to all those Charlies who keep popping up everywhere. As of press time, I haven’t seen a photo of Charlie Sheen wearing a Je Suis Charlie button, but please, somebody, get him one. Up to now, only imposters have been wearing them and only self-serving narcissists have been saying the phrase. I think God Bless Charlie or Keep Charlie Alive or Charlie Still Lives would be more appropriate, but all these freakish pigs are determined to bring themselves into the equation. For me, Charlie is the collective name of all of that magazine’s artists and staff who were so callously murdered — martyrs to the cause of free speech. Nobody else can really be Charlie at this point, and anyone who claims to be so is a deluded prick. The phrase itself begins with “I,” which draws immediate attention to the speaker or badge-wearer and not to the martyrs. To align oneself on the same level as those martyrs is ugly and insulting. “I Am” (besides being the Name of God as revealed to Moses, but that’s for another time) is quite a claim in and of itself, but attach it to “Charlie” and, fella, you better mean business. Like, you’re about to die, and you know it, and you’re okay with that. It’s as true as you breathe and it ain’t just for show. Remember the movie Spartacus? When all those slaves stood up, one after the other, and proclaimed, “I am Spartacus,” now, that was a cause. Every one of those men knew he would be crucified as a result of saying it, and every one of them was. The sight of hundreds of crosses lining both sides of that endless road was truly horrifying and tragic, and it’s impossible to envision any witness later wearing an “I Am Spartacus” button, if for no other reason than the fact that buttons with messages hadn’t been invented yet. But also, of course, no one alive would presume to have the courage of those who had died. How times have changed. How easy it has become to put on a brave face and act courageous, and have a stupid public swallow it whole.
The third Public Display I’d like to shake my finger at until it wets itself is a re-enactment of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King’s march to Montgomery, which took place last month on the day before Martin Luther King Day. My heart leapt as I heard it reported on the CBS News, then wept when I saw some footage of the event. There, leading the march was Oprah Winfrey, producer of the film Selma, and members of that film’s cast all dressed in character! How charming that commemorating such a meaningful historic event meant so very much to those compassionate artists. I guess all the airfares and entourages could be written off as business expenses. It must have seemed like an irresistible photo op and a cheap way to get a lot of publicity for Oprah’s Oscar-shunned production. To me it seemed more than merely crass commercialism; it was an unbelievably pig-headed example of the delusions of the filthy rich and the depravity of the Hollywood mindset.
Too bad it’s so hard to shake the lingering aftertaste of so many Public Displays gone bad — events that leave their sting and their stink and are too repulsive to kss good-bye. Well, when one becomes fed up with the public aspects of life, there are always the timeless promises among the abundance of private parts. Hi-yo, Silver.