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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Tank, or Gentleman Scholar

Image courtesy of http://en.wikipedia.org

If there were ever a man like a mountain, Tank was not that man. Physically, he was more of a molehill, though his intellect towered over men three times his size.

Upon his birth, Tank had very nearly been named Theodore for his mother’s favorite brother. But Tank’s father, in a rare burst of filial interest had insisted that he should name his son, and that his son’s name should be Tank, not for any particular reason, except, perhaps, that he’d been drunk.

Despite the name’s dubious implications, it had gone on the birth certificate, and so Tank had been “Tank” for the entirety of his life, save, in quiet moments, when his mother had coo’d “Theo” in his ear. It was the distant memory of his mother’s voice that sallied him through years of quizzical looks and disappointment, (on his father’s part, at least), for the fact that his physical prowess failed to match either his name or his mental acumen.

How he would have loved to be Theodore – perhaps then he wouldn’t have been quite such a disappointment. Theodore’s did not lay bricks for a living, nor did they brawl or curse or spit. Theodore’s sipped brandy in book lined rooms and thought important thoughts, pausing, only briefly, to write the most important ones down. Theodore’s became scholars and architects, and left the brick laying to men named Tank… though not this particular Tank.

In awesome defiance of his father (and to his mother’s quiet pride), Tank excelled academically. His first very good school led to a second very good school, which in turn led to an impressive university career. It was at university that Tank discovered, and pursed, his love of etymology.

Tank’s calling found him one afternoon, as he was researching his own name. It was indeed true that the verb form of “tank” meant “drunk,” and had since 1893, but the noun form held a special light of hope. In the original Portuguese (brought west by way of India in 1616, from the Gujarati “tankh”), the word referred to an underground reservoir of water, and it was to this idea of hidden depths that Tank held firm.

His desire for Theodore slowly waned beneath the weight of his etymological studies and academic success. By the time he published his magnum opus, a thirteen volume tract called simply, Names, Tank was at ease with himself and his once dubious moniker, signing notes of thanks for various scholarly offers and congratulations, With Most Cordial Regards, Dr. Tank McGuinness.