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riot in the streets: commuter inconvenienced
it's a small world dammit
by jael mchenry (@JaelMcHenry)
pop culture

It occurs to me I am not doing my duty as a global citizen.

I'm not caring enough about the world these days. Environmentally, socially, politically, and in all other ways, in the immortal words of Austin Powers, I'm spent. The fact that I can quote Austin Powers in a column in which I intend to berate myself for my lack of political awareness only confirms the problem. I am a child of pop culture, not pop conscience.

And it's not my lack of political awareness that's the problem, not really. I'm aware. Or at least I'm semi-aware. You don't live in Washington DC and maintain a complete ignorance of international issues. I work three blocks from the White House. My bus was rerouted around the IMF/World Bank protesters. The international is local: on the radio, in the newspaper, on the FOX5 10 o'clock news.

Yet my only interest in the international is, really, local. I care that I had to take the Metro instead of the bus on Monday, and that cabbages were apparently thrown at IMF officials on the American University campus. Should the World Bank cancel impoverished nations' debt? I should care. Do I? Not much.

What has happened to me? I was idealistic in my youth. Now at the ripe old age of 26 I find myself thoroughly unconcerned with world politics. Not opposed to them, mind you - not saying that those commie pinko protesters should stay the hell home, or that the US should keep out of Kosovo - but simply having no opinions on matters that, when I was younger, transfixed me.

At 18 I left small-town Iowa for college in Boston. (Sometimes I hate that my life sounds like a sloppily-written novel, complete with a summer in France, but most of the time it just amuses me.) I wanted to grasp the international. I went to International Orientation, took French and Spanish, majored in IR, wrote papers on UNESCO, got all upset about "collateral damage" of the Gulf War. My junior year I even spent a semester in Washington learning about international politics, visiting embassies, hearing guest lectures from Croats and Serbs, obsessing about the impact of NAFTA. Maybe I overdosed. Maybe the closer I looked at international politics the more I realized that the organizations were powerless and that lately the United States hadn't done anything, not a single thing, I could be proud of. But I don't think that's it.

Maybe my focus has evolved, from international to domestic policy. I don't have any opinion on trade with China and I don't give money to help impoverished African nations. But ask me about gun control, and I'll tell you. Ask me about welfare reform and red light cameras and the legalization of marijuana. I have opinions. But I won't fight for them and I won't march for them. So it's not that I have given up strong international opinions for strong domestic ones. It's not a matter of giving up one for the other. Also not it.

So what do I feel strongly about? I'm trying to figure that out. Maybe I have, at this point in my life, developed a galloping case of the selfish. If I won't argue about the third world or urban decay or farm subsidies, what will I argue about?

John Cusack. Margaret Atwood. God.

Let's get God out of the way first. He exists. You are entitled to worship him however you see fit. End of argument.

But really, what I talk about, what I fight about, is creation. Movies. Books. Occasionally, paintings or poems. Creative writing, past or present or future, the assemblage of ideas into words or pictures. Given the chance I will debate endlessly about the brilliance of Margaret Atwood's Lady Oracle as opposed to, say, Toni Morrison's Paradise, and I will passionately defend Grosse Pointe Blank as one of the finest movies of the last five years. I'm not saying these things are as important as American interventionism or censorship of free speech. They're not. I acknowledge they're not. And maybe that's it.

Maybe I only argue when there are no consequences for losing the argument.

Clearly matters of religion and faith are not the same as matters of novel and film, and I don't mean to imply that they are. But for me there is no consequence when you and I debate religion, because at the end of the argument I will still have the same faith I did when I started. There is no consequence when you and I debate whether Groundhog Day and a certain episode of the X-Files were making exactly the same point or exactly the opposite point about the inevitability of fate. Why? Because it doesn't matter.

So pick a fight with me. I'll argue. Calmly, rationally, but I'll argue. And however the argument ends up, whoever "wins," I won't care. And as I look back over my political leanings it occurs to me I never did. It doesn't make a difference to debate foreign policy because I never made foreign policy. It doesn't matter how I weigh in on the ever-so-controversial matter of Elian Gonzalez because my opinion has no bearing whatsoever on where the little boy lives.

And maybe that's why I gave up caring. Because caring about something or someone that doesn't care back is a losing proposition. Some people feel that they can make a difference, and sometimes, they do. If I debate the relative brilliance of Titanic and American Beauty, I don't really intend to change how you feel about these movies, not really. So when the conversation ends and no one has budged an inch, it's fine.

Maybe it's easiest to accept that you can't make a difference when you tell yourself you never intended to.


Jael is tired of being stereotyped as just another novelist/poet/former English teacher/tour guide/"Jeopardy!" semifinalist/bellydancing editor-in-chief with an MFA who was once an overachieving oboe-playing alto newspaper editor valedictorian from Iowa. She was also captain of the football cheerleading squad. Follow me on Twitter: @jaelmchenry

more about jael mchenry


new year's revolution
suggestions for pop culture improvement in 2010
by jael mchenry
topic: pop culture
published: 1.4.10

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topic: pop culture
published: 10.4.06


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