Dear Mr. Brand,
We thank you, we really do, for trying to help us find meaning in our latest calamity. You might be right, but here on the ground it doesn’t feel like liberalism has failed us. It feels more like the bullies have taken over the school. It’s like they’ve locked the librarian in a closet, thrown all the books (except for the porno, sports, car magazines, and Archie comics) into a big bonfire and are now laughing like demons in the firelight.
It’s not like the rich kids were snubbing the poor kids. Some of the nerdy kids are rich and some are poor, just like the bullies. The nerds had been bravely going ahead with their computer programming, music, poetry readings, scientific experiments, and theater, trying to block out the noise in the hall but never knowing when the precious works of their hands might be jeered at, peed on, and kicked down several flights of stairs. Now this is happening every day, plus their lunches get stolen so they have to pack things they know the bullies will like, such as beef jerky and pop rocks, hiding breadsticks and cheese in the linings of their garments for their own sustenance.
It’s not like social class is keeping stupidity and power separate. It’s more like the petty thieves and drug dealers are now the rich kids’ best buds, and when they march together down the hall in herds they can’t help but swagger with pride even though they’re ugly and their moms dress them funny.
It’s not like the bullies were ever worse off than anyone else. Hell, no. Not like that at all. It’s not like they ever really envied the Mexican janitor (the one with the license to practice medicine) his job. They couldn’t care less.
In spite of our revulsion there’s a tiny bit of shame that we’re not part of this gang, and so we hold back expressing our true thoughts and feelings around them. We smile when they make eye contact and laugh at their lame jokes. If one of them talks to us we drop their names afterwards and then feel sick with self-reproach. (“Brad just said my t-shirt logo was awesome.” Somebody kill me.)
It’s like the girls can’t get mad when they hear dirty jokes. They have to giggle and make their own obscene remarks to show they can handle a joke as good as the next guy. And girls can’t wear hiking boots and plaid shirts now without being called “dykes” and “feminists.” They have to dress like Lolitas.It’s like the wanker girls who hang out in the school washroom all day saying, “Ew!” and “Oh, my Gaaaawd!” have been handed the keys to the kingdom; if one of them calls you a loser, you’re branded for life.
It’s not as if we’ve lost trust in the liberal promise of peace, safety, and tolerance, but now the boys have to hear themselves called gay for listening to post-rock. They have to make sure they don’t do anything that gets them labeled as really gay, like hanging out too much with one other guy, or worse, with girls they’re not dating. And forget about coming out of the closet. Just forget it.
It’s not like we’re sulking over the failure of our democracy and its commitment to justice. It just feels like the special kids have suddenly disappeared and nobody dares ask where they went.
You’re ever so right when you say that this crisis shows that change is necessary. But it’s like the senior that used to grab the freshman girls’ breasts graduated, partied his way through teachers’ college, is now our principal, and can call any freshman girl into his office, alone, whenever he likes.
You’re right about us living in a kind of post-apocalyptic world. It’s like toward the end of Pleasantville when Whitey rouses the other men to attack the innocents whose sexual awakening has caused them to flame into color. If it were just them, maybe we could talk some sense into them, open their hearts a little, hold them accountable to their own expressed values. The problem is, they’re working for someone else, someone hidden, someone with an agenda very different from ours and who we have no way of influencing because control has passed from our hands.
It’s tempting to think that the only choice is simply to change schools. We hear there’s a good one up north of here, but it’s only a matter of time before the bullies take that one over, too. We might just have to stick around and raise a little hell (in an organized, results-driven way, of course). Maybe a little tough love might help the talks along. If the only language they’ll understand is wedgies and verbal abuse, we need to get busy. As you say, communication is essential.
Your suggestions are welcome.
The Mindful Bard