Blind Spots

Blind Spot. Image courtesy of pegasusnews.com

Blind Spot. Image courtesy of pegasusnews.com

Last week-end I had lunch with a friend and, as always, the conversation was great, ranging over everything from books and education to politics and religion. It was a fabulous time, full of recreational thinking and awesome insights, including one that I hadn’t known to expect: My blind spots are back.

I’ve got cultural blind spots so big that I often get lost in them  before I even know I’m off the map.

This isn’t a new realization. I get it every so often, usually when I stop thinking on autopilot and encounter something contextually unexpected. In this case, it was a Coke ad, or rather, the response to a Coke ad.

During the Superbowl, Coca-Cola ran an ad featuring Americans from different cultural backgrounds doing normal people things, like dancing and swimming and laughing, while the song, “America the Beautiful” played in the background. It was nicely done and inclusive. Honestly, I barely thought about it. But a lot of people did and here’s why:

“America the Beautiful” was sung in multiple languages. Apparently, this wasn’t ok, because the response on Twitter was, shall we say, vitriolic. You can see both the ad and a selection of vitriolic tweets over at Public Shaming, (a site that does, I must admit, have a left-leaning slant).

So, all of this goes down and I’m mostly unaware. I’d seen the ad but, like I said, I didn’t really think about it, mostly because I don’t drink soda. So when my friend referenced the openly racist nature of the Twitter response, it took me a second to process it, because it honestly didn’t make sense. I mean, what kind of problem could people have? Right? It’s Coke. Whatever.

See? Blind Spot.

Here’s the thing. I live in California. I grew up in San Francisco  and, for the most part, the only other places I’ve lived were New York City and West Hollywood. In short, I have always occupied a socially liberal bubble. (There was a brief, nine month stint outside of Dallas but, in that time, the bubble ceased to exist, which was interesting. It re-inflated after I moved back to California).

Without imposing a value-judgement one way or the other, let’s just say that I’m not often forced to process differing cultural views. Sure, I went to Catholic high school, but it was in 1990’s San Francisco, so all five teen pregnancies were accommodated without judgement or fuss (right down to special desks) and not one, but two gay male couples went to prom (without getting killed with sticks) in the four years that I was there. Homosexuality, multiculturalism and sex where just part of my landscape and, to a great degree, they remain so.

Which is why when I encounter a response like the one on Twitter, I get thrown off. Because, due to social self-selection (i.e.: having friends with similar cultural beliefs) and geographic location, I’m essentially insulated from opposing beliefs, which is why the media – both social and otherwise – is so valuable.

The Internet is essentially my safety net. Through regular news scrapes and general browsing, it ensures that I’m exposed to the world beyond my ideological nose. I just can’t get lazy – it doesn’t work if I only read my favorites (sorry Slate, Salon and Nerve). My surprise during lunch with my friend was a wake-up call, one that I periodically need, because, for all my talk about discourse, I’ve been getting mentally lazy and complacent. Apparently, to paraphrase Doc Holliday, my hypocrisy knows no bounds.

So, more than anything, this post is a reminder for me to get off my mental ass and see what’s going on beyond my comfort zone. Because blind spots are scary. They’re a weakness. Blind spots are where things hide. As someone who hates surprises, I need to reclaim a bit of that territory before something unexpected bites me on the ass. Figuratively speaking, of course. I’d prefer to be the mountain lion, and not the deer.

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10 thoughts on “Blind Spots

  1. I see your point and agree with you ‘in both respects’. On the one hand, yes it’s great that you are opening your eyes to view points that you might not see living in your ‘liberal bubble’, but isn’t it also nice that you are not one of these overly PC people who do not immediately take offense by every little thing that comes up? This is not to say that the people who complained about the commercial did not have a point about America the Beautiful being sung in another language. Personally I think they did. I just think there are other issues where people get carried away and sometimes it is refreshing to find someone who doesn’t.

    • Thanks for that. I think that one of the reasons people on both sides of the ideological divide, meaning both liberals *and* conservatives, take offense so quickly and often get “carried away” is that ideologies and beliefs are such personal things. They reflect not only who we are but how we see ourselves, so when someone asserts a conflicting point of view, it doesn’t feel like simple disagreement – it feels like a personal condemnation. As HappyCrow wrote in the comment above, “Fanatic: a person who divides the world into fellow fanatics, and bad people.” This is where I think it’s easy to get tripped up. The only thing that keeps me from going to that particular place is that I don’t identify *personally* with my ideological beliefs. While they all reflect certain things about me, they are not, individually or in total, who I am, so in that way, it’s hard for me to take offense. Of course, I’m often surprised when other people do – blind spot 🙂

  2. I took the example from a fictional character in a short story, who gets his world rocked and, as he and his are splitting to go their various ways, decided to, paraquoting as best I can, “dedicate my life to the study of dangerous assumptions.”

    The internet is great for that; also horrible. I’m currently catching all *manner* of vitriol, hate, and narsty words from some animal rights activists who can’t comprehend that good people could possibly not be just like them.

    Fanatic: a person who divides the world into fellow fanatics, and bad people.

  3. Yes, we all have blind spots, and sometimes they trip us up good. If we are smart, we use them as an opportunity to grow.

    What I found interesting were the counter comments about Katherine Lee Bates being lesbian and leaving the GOP because of their growing xenophobia.

  4. Pingback: What’s Up, PC America? | goingrogue666

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