Owning Our Shit, or, If We Can't Be Bothered To Do It, Who Else Can We Expect To Fix Our Mess?
--Except for The Hero who will if you are a VERY lucky Good Girl show up to rescue you at the last minute from the charming (or deceptively-bland) serial killer whom you stupidly trusted and now in whose cackling clutches you are helplessly caught--" that was the message of each one that I perused, which admittedly was the message of my parents and the whole adult world, only with more explicit gore and sex. The covers, like the authors and titles and synopses, were pretty much interchangeable, with a lipsticked screaming mouth or terror-and-mascara-widened eye on a ghostly-white background, or, sometimes, for variety, an ominiously-silhouetted female on a shadowy cover.
This one fell into the latter style.
So, yeah, not looking to be my cup of tea, but again when you are trapped without stuff to read - well, you know how it goes - and it turned out to be a lot different than the cover indicated, with women doing their own rescuing (the exception being a six year old child) as well as some of the evildoing, and a Bechdel-Wallace pass as one of the protagonists is mentored by an older FBI agent, and a lot of focus - which was only tangential to the plot, not THE plot nor the hinge upon which the solving of the plot turned - on the problems of being Native American in the American Northwest which I know from listening to people who've lived there as well as from my reading is far from being the unbigoted fantasyland imagined by white liberals around the country, of being adopted and having lost one's identity, of the "well-meaning" adoptive parents' erasures, of the patronizing and exoticising and generally obnoxious behaviors that a majority of majority Americans don't consider to be racist but don't inflict on anyone but minorities--
Then there's the surprisingly - make that astonishingly - sympathetic portrayal of the housewife who filed a false report of physical abuse, and the story of her husband slowly coming to realize what a shit of a spouse and parent he was, how "but I didn't hit her!" is a feeble excuse for the objectification and using of her that he did do, and the sketchiness of some of the other ostensible "good guys" of our society, an ongoing acknowledgment of the realities of our rape culture that would get accusatiosn of man-hating were it written by a woman, all combined with a low-key, semi-remote but not impersonal style, shading into lyricism when describing the landscapes and cityscapes of Washington State, and a distinct downplaying of the fear porn aspects of the serial killings for the genre.
So it made for a pleasant surprise, a page-turner rather than a wall-banger (particularly after the grotesque disappointments of The Amber Room in which the "strong" female judge who is initially presented as the protagonist turns out to be nothing but a Faux Action Girl who continually screws up (seriously, she trips, and her girlish gasps of dismay alert the bad guy when they're hiding behind a curtain) and has to be rescued, rescued, and re-rescued by her ex-husband, until in the end she realizes that she just wants to be a Traditional Good Wife & Mom and gives up her political ambitions and bitchiness to submit to the dude who's the real protagonist of the story, because this isn't an old Alistair MacLean novel where heroines are allowed to be intrepid, it's a post-Backlash piece of crap. No, I'm not reading anything else by Steve Berry, unless I'm being paid to.)
A few loose ends, and all in all a somewhat slight read - more air than substance in the end - but still not a waste of hours, and enough to make me look at the used bookstore for more by the same author.
The only other James Grippando book they had was not about the same characters, which was a shame because I would have liked to read more about Andie and her expanding relationship with Isaac and Victoria et al, but though a lot more of a melodrama - old-style hard-boiled rather than Martha Grimes-ish - I found When Darkness Falls initially engaging and intriguing, since it has a Miami in which Latin@ characters are a majority onstage, one of the protagonists is also ethnically-mixed and rediscovering his Cuban heritage, another is black and was once convicted of murder under faulty evidence, yet another protagonist is struggling not just with adjusting to a recent disability but the grating treatment of "well-meaning" others that results from it, and the female cop's constant battle to be treated as an adult and equal is real but not the whole of her character, in the course of the mystery's unfolding. As far as socially-aware mainstream pop-culture product goes, it would seem to be hard to find anything to complain about, given the state of things.
But when I got to the end, I let out a frustrated sigh, because Grippando had managed to write several hundred pages about truth & reconciliation and the past not being over and the atrocity of medicalized torture in the name of law and order in the context of Argentina through the 1970s without once making mention of the US role in empowering the junta then and after.
How can you write a historical novel about the "Dirty War" and its enforcers without mentioning the SOA? How can you have a former government torturer relocating to the US and becoming a high local government official here, without acknowledging the connections between our leaders and theirs, our torture manuals and theirs? How much willful ignorance does it take - or wilful dishonesty - to do the research that Grippando claims to have done to learn about the Disappeared, in his afternote, to write about the Sylvia Quintela case and leave out US complicity in the right-wing regimes of South and Central America - not just Kissinger's and Reagan's embrace of Videla's regime, but also Pinochet's Chile, or Bolivia, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador - the list goes on, and of course this is only in "our" hemisphere and doesn't include the sundry satraps and their CIA-enabled atrocities from Athens to Jakarta all in the name of "Democracy" throughout the past century. To portray the atrocities and political struggles of the other American nations as entirely detached from our intervention, and to present them as something that comes into our peaceful, normal little world with its unglamorous familiar crimes and villainies, comes from outside to bring chaos - as Grippando does - is a lie that cannot be pardoned as "just fiction."
It's the kind of lie that describes contemporary American use of the classic forms of water torture employed by the governments of Europe in centuries past as "stooping" to be as bad as the Chinese - a self-serving, self-exonerating deception even in the midst of a mea culpa, yes, guilty - but not as guilty as others, so we're STILL okay!
So what has all this to do with the baking of bread, so to speak?
Well, for this Philosopher it has to do with the old intersection between American exceptionalism and Liberal exceptionalism, with liberal hawkery, liberal snobbery towards the imagined Undistinguished Masses of Benighted Others at home and abroad, and the uncritical, indignant embrace of capitalism by purported Progressives, and with the extent to which these imperial creeds infect American feminism - and a similar sort of Female Exceptionalism which is rampant in the blogosphere, in which women's complicity in sexism as both enforcers and enablers gets handwaved or plastered over as unimportant or even something which it is bad and wrong and anti-feminist to address.
I have been essentially unable to read Feministe, Pandagon and Feministe for a long time - I skim them occasionally and randomly to see if there's anything I should be aware of going down - for the simple reason (there are others related to formatting etc but they're not the primary ones) of of the "Waiting For Prince Charming To Rescue Us From Sexism" mindset - the refusal to examine our own submission to patriarchal norms, and say "This is wrong, even if I don't know how to stop it, don't dare stop it, can't bring myself to stop it, still that doesn't make it a good or helpful thing for anyone to be doing, even me" - and to borrow as ever from Rabbi Hillel, if I am not for myself, then who will be for me?
But being "for myself," for the honest, does not mean we wink at our own failings. If I am only for myself, then what am I, indeed?
Since when did it become wrong to point out that we participate in our own oppression, because we can cash in on it, and this is still wrong, even if we do benefit from it--? Since when did animal hoarding become immune to criticism because it's done by women? Since when is it only the most egregious examples like Phyllis Schlafly or Ann Coulter who may be condemned for cashing in on patriarchy-promotion, and not Mrs. Shmoe who does the same on a smaller scale?
If it's okay to gold-dig and wrong to condemn it because "A woman is just doing whatever it takes to get ahead" - then can I lurk outside the local watering hole and cosh old guys for their wallets, since I'm a woman and I need to get ahead? Anybody got no problem with that? And if so, why? Why is it wrong for me to do that, and not to lie to a man that I love him for his money? And if a woman of sound mind and body is beyond criticism for participating in or enabling the abuse of her daughters (or sons), because she is to be considered too weak to resist the overwhelming power of male domination, no matter what her situation - then how are the old arguments against giving women the vote wrong? If we are really that useless and incapable of moral judgment or action, then we are just big children who shouldn't be allowed out of the house. And yet this is not recognized as the anti-feminist tripe it is, by far too many bloggers and commenters at Feministing and Feministe and all around.
Seriously, it is insulting to the women in far more male-dominated situations past and present who nevertheless do and have since forever done their own resisting and refusing, to claim that we are all so hapless and pathetic that we can't even be expected to try to pick up our end, that we just have to wait around for men to get ennobled and enlightened and stop using/abusing us. It's reducing ourselves to less than full humans, in order to escape even the most minimal and reduced culpability for what we have done or failed to do. If it's fair to criticize fathers for abuse and neglect, then it's equally fair to say that a mother who chooses to look away from the abuse of her children by SO or son is a failtastic parent, and that being a woman is not in itself sufficient defense against responsibility unless being a woman is intrinsically the same as being a minor child or being non compos mentis. Failings don't become less failly just because they may be more commonly found in one half of the population. Cravenness doesn't become admirable or less destructive just because we're the ones doing it.
And women who choose to live down to the worst stereotypes of sexism, because "they need to take care of themselves/who are we to condemn them for just getting ahead?" - well, it's not unfeminist to say that they're hurting us all, by validating those stereotypes. And so are those who refuse to allow criticism of such behavior. I mean, why can't I mug drunk dudes? Hitting people isn't unfeminine, just ask any child. (How about if I use a pink sock and pink aquarium sand?) But I doubt that anybody defending using "sex appeal" and pandering to the patriarchy to get ahead financially, would excuse my pocket-picking spree on the same grounds. But it is just as much predation, and a more honest form of it.* Why not exonerate the banksters and the OSHA-ignoring, employee-injuring/killing corporatists who are likewise just "doing what they have to to get ahead", too?
But then, it's not so surprising given the insistence on self-exoneration from responsibility for economic, ecological, political actions while simultaneously boasting of American superiority due to democracy which is nothing more than to say We All Have Done It, Yay Us! Except Not The Bad Stuff - but likewise getting bent out of shape when it's pointed out that well, okay, our responsibility is mitigated because we don't have that much power, really, the vaunted American democracy doesn't mean all that much because the Senate's in the pockets of the biggest bidders and the Congress goes even cheaper (and always has) - we want the plaudits for our country's collective good deeds without the corrolary of accountability for failures and wrongs, we want the immunity from consequences but not the admission of powerlessness and weakness that is required for it.
It is not impressive. And it is, indeed, self-harming behavior no less than substance abuse - narcotizing the conscience to avoid pain. "You must be the change I want to see in the world - I don't want to have to change my ways!" - nope. "Do as I say, not as I do" didn't work when Terence was using it as a punchline in old Rome, two thousand years ago and then some.
We have to be willing to say - I benefit from these wrongs (even if I also suffer from them), and I can't do much, if anything, about them, even with my one vote. This admission-of-powerlessness is very much against our American mythos, against the Narratives we tell ourselves of autonomy, of superior beings being able to transform the world by sheer force of will - and also of our freedom from sin cooties, from moral contamination, from culpability.
But just as the proverbial first step in solving your problem is admitting you have a problem, the first step in being part of the solution is acknowledging that you're part of the problem.
If you can't do that - if you can't accept that yes, Virginia, there is a worldwide problem of exploitation of the poorer by the richer nations as well as the poor by the richer within nations and it makes possible everything from affordable gasoline to on-sale blue jeans to cheap chocolate to keeping the office supplies costs down at the office to your iPod and my computer monitor - then how the hell are we ever going to gather together the worldwide "people power" necessary to end it? If we can't talk about the horrors of, say, factory farming because it makes us uncomfortable because we don't LIKE to think about how our cheap chicken and chops are provided us, how the hell do we expect there to ever be the necessary political pressure to battle the profiteers? How can we on the one hand complain about complainers about our talking about rape culture, because it makes *them* feel discomfited, when we insist on shutting down discussion of corporate exploitation and how this is the foundation of the whole worldwide capitalist system because it makes us feel icky?
Any more than we can legitimately and with intellectual honesty object to male chauvinism as excercised by males, when we insist upon looking away from male chauvinism as exercised by fellow females (unless they are avowed Republicans and in positions of undeniable power, at least) --How can we object to men objecting to being made to feel icky for not standing up against their peers who make rape jokes or otherwise dehumanize and objectify women to get power and affirmation and the pleasure that comes from them and don't even think about the victims, when we silence in sundry ways those who stand up against their peers for the ways we all objectify and dehumanize others to get what we want, and don't even think about it?
How can we condemn conservatives for refusing to listen to the need to change our ways to save the environment when we don't want to hear people talking about the need to recycle because it might make those of us who don't like to recycle ourselves feel guilty? How can we stop our leadership from brutalizing the weaker, when we put our fingers in our ears and shout down anyone who points out that it's doing so - because by the act of pointing it out, we become psychically tainted with their wrongdoing and cannot deal with our own profiting by it and thus enabling of?
How does denial change the world for the better?
Yeah, it is majorly unpleasant to realize that you are part of the system and part of a larger whole that hurts people, no matter how obliviously, no matter how tiny a cog you might be in it. Believe me, I know all about that as an ex-Republican "prolifer."
Feelings are real, but ultimately irrelevant: boils need to be lanced, and sometimes it's going to hurt a lot. But it always hurts more the longer you put it off. Nobody's going to come along and rescue us from ourselves, top-down salvation, Prince Charming riding up to save Snow White from the Wicked Stepmother's spell. The upper eschelons of government/society/business only respond to sufficient pressure from below - it wasn't the PTB that created the EPA out of the goodness of their hearts because they suddenly began to care about avian mortality, but as a half-measure in response to public outcry that followed the work of Rachel Carson who mainstreamed the work of many, many other naturalists professional and amateur alike for decades making people ask what price profits and to whom (which is why the heirs of Olin Corp. hate her so much to this day.)
It was never thus - it was always in rx to indignant, outraged, because discomfitted people who had been made uncomfortably aware of the abuses being perpetrated in their name/for their sakes/and upon them unwittingly. Who gave a shit, in this country, about our collateral damage - until forced to witness it in newscasts of burning children? (Why do you think that war profiteers now own news channels?) You think it was fun being alive in the Sixties and having a conscience? Plenty of people couldn't cope, and retreated into isolation and authoritarianism. But the change that has come, such as it has been, has always been forced tectonically from below - by those who weren't willing to hide from responsibility and the pain that it inevitably causes.
Try it - try admitting, "Yes, I am part of the problem. Yes, I benefit in ways I can't even begin to enumerate from the exploitation of people both near and far. No, I am not okay with that. No, I can't singlehandedly accomplish the end of ages of systemic worldwide exploitation that all the reformers of all past centuries have so far failed to accomplish. But I am not going to stop doing what little I can, because I don't like to feel guilty & so would rather frolic in denial."
*Don't worry, I'm not really planning on harvesting the cash of the unwary at closing hour. It's too cold these days to lurk in alleys at 1am...