Unshared Vocabulary

Throw away the worser part of it and live the purer with the other half

Hamlet

Suddenly, Seymour

They call the wind Mariah.

Just a little touch of star quality.

It’s the coming home together when the work is through.

Green finch and linnet bird,  Nightingale, blackbird,  How is it you sing?

If perchance you don’t recognize these lines as lyrics to songs from Musicals then you and I don’t share that commonality. If you can name the shows those lines come from you’re quite probably a gay man. As a sub-culture, in days gone by, gays created a camp language all their own. It was a defensive technique to subtly throw straight society off the track of their social intercourse. It created an in-group coherence amongst the sub-culture. It spoke one thing to straight society and something else to gays. Think Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz: there ain’t no denyin’ he’s just a dandy-lion, or was that dandelion?

I mention all this to show how people go about their lives wearing illusions like a facade of normalcy and distort language in service to the illusion. Alt-right racists have taken up a word, “cuck” that recalls an antiquated word, “cuckold” which means a man who is embarrassed because his wife slept with another man. Now the new word cuck implies a desperate desire for acceptance. This desperation leads to a man’s  “compromise of his beliefs and values, the desecration of his dignity and self-worth, and his inability to stand up for himself and what he deserves as a human being,” or, “a person who is acting like an idiot while using their opinions as fact” according to the Urban Dictionary. Actually, I think most of them have no idea of the word’s history they simply like the fact that it is a harsher sounding version of ‘fuck’ which is a no-no in polite society. Either way, it is used within insular right-wing groups to provide commonality and in-group cohesiveness – the sharing of a secret (and really butch sounding) language.

So, the historical subculture of gays and the as yet unnamed LGBTQ community created a language that could hide in plain sight. This was often used in popular culture by gay artists. The most obvious example is one of the few remaining universally known films,The Wizard  of Oz. It is still so beloved that I once had a student rebellion in my Intro to Theatre class when I suggested the Cowardly Lion was a gay character. I had to write a new lecture identifying all the elements that were subtextual references to homosexuality in the movie. Many students remained unconvinced.

Now that Donald Trump has opened the Neo-Nazi closet door there is a flood of assertive white supremacists out there and visible. And so, cuck, is part of our language. This made me wonder if, other than say a Leni Riefenstahl, there are any famous contemporary alt-right artists? Bigotry doesn’t seem to foster the sensitivity necessary to create fine art. Sure, you’ve got your Scott Baio and Lynyrd Skynyrd types, but is there an openly racist parallel with someone of David Hockney’s or Ian McKellen’s stature in art?

An online image search for as many variations of ‘alt-right art’ or ‘white supremacist art’ as I could conceive produced little more than political posters and graphic artists with political messages. The images tended to reflect clip-art tattoos, older nazi-style propaganda or have a Bauhaus influenced graphic style. There don’t seem to be, at least I couldn’t find, any significant artists willing or motivated to convert the passions of racial or religious bigotry into fine art. Now, this does not mean there hasn’t been art that is racist. Any art that is reflective of when it is made will carry the sentiments of that time and place. This is the job of art: to express the time and place in which it is created and the relevant questions for that time and place. Art, thereby becomes a historical reflection of those times.

If painting is a language and a person paints a green frog named Pepe, as Matt Furie has done, and someone takes that language and forces it contextually to mean something he never intended, as the alt-right has done to his character, then the art is being misused and abused and its language is distorted. Only people who wish to satirize the original intent of the art would do this legitimately, otherwise they would just be stealing. Why does the alt-right steal cartoon characters? Because they have no native artistic abilities of their own. A cartoon is the indicator of their capacity to use the language of art. Sophistication is the antonym of alt-right, a word that personifies crudeness, stupidity and vulgarity. Hillary Clinton called them deplorable, a word they soon adopted as their own. What illusion is being created by the name deplorable? To them it seemed to offer credibility.

The art-stealing, deplorable crowd is making a statement by their actions. They have abandoned intellect so they have no respect for intellectual property. They are tired of being told their fears are unfounded when they can quite clearly see that our last president was black and intelligent and sophisticated; they are frightened by that. They fell for the dumbest-acting con-man in the Republican primary competition.  They took pride in illiteracy, irrationality and contrariness despite the harm it is causing them. They relied upon their evangelical religion as a guide – believe, don’t think; have faith, ignore the rational, praise the foolish and be proud of your mindlessness.

They have cast themselves as the cuckolds of this scenario, they are being screwed by their 1% partners. How could an honest artist portray self-cuckoldry without mockery? It’s just dandy to be the dandelion, but it sucks to be the self-cuck.

Reinhold Anon

Serenity Prayer (1937)

  • Reinhold Niebuhr

“Father, give us courage to change what must be altered,

serenity to accept what cannot be helped,

and the insight to know the one from the other.”

Serenity Prayer

  • as used in AA today

“God grant me the serenity

to accept the things I cannot change;

courage to change the things I can;

and wisdom to know the difference.”

Despite a small controversy over authorship there is evidence that somewhere around 1937 Reinhold Niebuhr wrote the prayer in its original form. Today it stands in its revised form as a centerpiece of Alcoholics Anonymous ideology. Niebuhr was a protestant theologian and philosopher, he was not specifically addressing alcoholism as he created the prayer. The original prayer is about integrity, the current version is not.

The difference between the early and current versions of the aphorism illustrate a shift in the attitude of American cultural thought. The original asks that all of “us share the requested boon, whereas the contemporary version reads like a command: “God grant me”… (a personal favor). The attitude shifts from universal to singular and loses its altruistic beginnings. It makes the person giving the prayer the center of its purpose rather than society at large. Now, in AA this probably makes sense, given the problem is the unique disease, alcoholism, which is a personal issue. Something is lost, however, when the whole of society is left out of the picture; it is isolating. Much of Al-Anon’s writing talks about the effects on the family and friends of an alcoholic, the greater society is affected by the problem, yet the prayer is a solitary request.

The choice to specify ‘God’ over ‘Father’ makes sense due to the cultural shift in the 1950s where “In God We Trust” appeared on our money and “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. This was allowable under the First Amendment through the legal rationalization known as “Ceremonial Deism” which renders the word ‘God’ to the status of a token; it removes the significance of Gods as people conceive of them and replaces that with a generic place keeper. The God on our money is whatever you want it to be – Zeus, Prometheus, Satan or any other deity you may choose because ceremonial deism is the legal treatment justifying use of the word. AA and Al-Anon apply this ceremonial version of God in their use of the word. ‘Higher Power’ is the interchangeable alternate.

I believe the word, ‘Father’ does a better job of communicating the breadth and depth and intimacy of a power-holding authority than ceremonial deism does, but may carry negative connotations for some. Remember, I haven’t said a prayer since the late 1970s. We all have fathers, we don’t all have gods, and certainly not the same god. A generic symbol representing the elusive and undefined ‘higher’ power is somewhat nebulous and dilutes that power’s, power. It also has the effect of alienating the expanding population of non-religious people averse to the word: god.

The original prayer begins with courage, then serenity, then insight. The current version begins with serenity, then courage, then wisdom. Serenity is probably necessary as a prerequisite state of mind when dealing the horrors of alcohol addiction. One must be serene  while seeking insight or taking action. The order of the words is less relevant than the choice to replace insight with wisdom. I much prefer insight because most people think of wisdom, inaccurately, as something you absorb passively over time by merely existing in the world. Insight carries with it the active behavior of taking action, you look inside – insight. People gain wisdom through actively looking inside the situations of their lives rather than hoping to somehow become wise someday. “Insight” is an activity, while having wisdom granted to you through prayer is magical thinking. (The words, ’Magical Thinking’ are often intended to be derogatory, but they can be just as powerful as any thoughts in certain situations.)

To be honest, the current version of the prayer seems like a command to be magically granted a list of three things with minimal effort from the pray-er. While the original begins with an action on the part of the person praying: “give us courage to change what must be altered.” Well, who decided what must be altered? The person making the prayer considers it so obvious that it need not be stated. It is a request for assistance in an active pursuit, as opposed to seeking a gift for an immobile supplicant who requires help to even begin to address the challenge facing them.

Wow, I didn’t think it would be this harsh, but the more I delve into it, the more severe the current prayer seems to be. I see the main issue as a matter of integrity on the part of the person doing the praying. A person with integrity actively seeks first to understand, then deliberate the options, then makes and defends what appears to be the best choice of action. The process should be conducted with honesty and take whatever time and effort required to make an appropriate choice; that kind of deliberation is the foundation of integrity. I would respect the person making the first version of the prayer, but I may have pity for the person using the second version. Empowering a person engaged in active pursuit of a goal which shows their strength of character is a prayer I would expect a God to answer affirmatively.

The AA version of the prayer is more of a request to get started, it is an act of desperation. It comes from the futility of the situation. That desperation, is so overwhelming for alcoholics, their family and friends that the capacity for integrity no longer exists. The pit of that particular hell is so low that a cry for help is all that can be summoned. The plea for help is all the afflicted can muster and help must be given because the individual realizes they do not have power over it any longer. When one is powerless in the face of the disease, any power (even magical thinking) can be used as a crutch to stand again. Belief in that power will carry you through.

The purpose of AA twelve step plan is to provide a structure for whatever straw the person has grasped to help make it work for them. It is a template whereby will and faith are used to create a ladder out of the pit of hell. Over time the ladder becomes a platform over the pit, but the pit never goes away, alcohol is still the disease.

So, is it still necessary, once the platform has been established for the individual’s despair to be the central feature of their prayers? The integrity of the individual has grown with each new rung in the ladder and each new floor of the platform. Shouldn’t the growth and progress and success of the individual lead them to autonomous integrity? If that is the case then, at some point, the prayer should revert to its original form. The prayer still requires the same sentiments, but it should be given in the form appropriate for the pray-er’s improved condition. They are no longer in the pit; they have floored it over and regained credibility. They should speak the version of the prayer that reflects their re-born integrity.

It is my contention that the current “act-of-desperation” prayer keeps people desperate, even though the magical thinking of that version has already been transformed into active behavior – just look at the platform covering the pit as evidence! The prayer is isolating and depressing and it incites pity, it is not reflective of growth of the individual, and it has the effect of subjugating the individual to their past instead of acknowledging that they have moved on. Perhaps a version of the aphorism with its sentiments of courage, serenity, and insight is still essential, but the attitude of the speaker should reflect the progress they are actively making. Replace the communal approach of the original version over the ‘helpless individual’ version so it can personify the message of the Twelfth Step: to instruct others (all of “us share) with the knowledge and the re-formed attitude gained by the experience. It would be reflective of the journey and the restoration of integrity.

Orifice, Or a Face?

A Hole or a Visage?

We eat drink, smell, sneeze, speak, hear, breath and vomit through holes in the head: our orifices. There are two other orifices we seldom name in polite company, but they are no where near the face and, even though they are highly sensitive to touch and manipulation we allow them to be synonymous with shame. Probably because they are used to expel smelly waste products associated with having a gut microbiome, and eating food. Either that, or the heightened sensitivity of these secreted orifices and the arousal of sexual expressions of said holes and their fleshy surroundings can sometimes be embarrassing. They spend most of their time hidden behind layers of clothing and seldom, if ever, view the sun.

So, most writers have little to say about an orifice such as the ear or the nose which have little to do to actively engage in acts of sexual stimulation. (I don’t want to ignore the wonderful smells that are arousing, nor the sexual appeal of a tenor’s lyrical voice, but these physical structures are limited in their usefulness as far as mechanisms for sexual play. One seldom hears of ear-anal penetration for example. ‘Brown nosing’ is a derogatory term rarely used in erotic literature.) Most attention is focused upon the penis, the mouth and other penis-accessible orifices, especially the one where babies emerge, over a gestational period of time, of course.

Do you know how people oftentimes resemble their pets? The short grouchy butch guy with the bulldog or the fluffy-haired poodle owner. I wonder if the same thing exists between a person’s face and their own orifices? I mean a face is made up of eyes, skin and orifices so there is bound to be a correlation there, but how often do people resemble their lower orifice? I mean if someone calls you an asshole, it’s usually because you are a jerk and not because they have noticed any resemblance between you and your, well, you know. I mean how would anyone actually know except the guys at the gym, maybe, unless you are a porn star or something. Is it really what you want to be known for in polite society?

Just as the elevator doors shut:

“Hey, I know you from someplace.”

“Sorry, I don’t…”

“You used to have black silky hair, you’ve gone bald, man. I remember, you did porn and you looked just like your asshole.”

“SIR, PLEASE!”

“I never forget a face or an ass for that matter, you resemble your ass.” “Your porn was like watching the Patty Duke Show.”

A rare occurrence, I am sure, but we need to see more butts to know if the correlation actually exists or if I’m just talking out my ass. Maybe our photo ID’s should have a front view of the face, a side view, and an ass view. People would be saying: “Hey, Dachshund-ass” or “Is that a schnauzer in your trousers?

I don’t suppose I would be discussing this if today’s headlines weren’t about our beloved President Trump calling Haiti and most of Africa “shithole” countries. He sure has a way of lowering the level of world discourse.