I am in such an agitated mood this morning. First, I got yet another solicitation from Google Ads. But Google Ads BANNED ME FOR LIFE a few years ago. I spent a long time composing a reply to the most recent one. I explained the situation, and then asked that if they weren't going to tell me why I'd been banned, and their form letter was correct that there was no appeal for this lifetime ban, that they at LEAST take me off the mailing list imploring me to join the club I'm not allowed to join.
I worked pretty hard on it to get the right tone and to use the right words and to not make it anything I'd be embarrassed later to have written. Then I noticed it was a no-reply email address.
Then I got an email from Amazon about their latest deal from a business that is not Amazon. I was pretty sure I'd already "managed my subscriptions" to remove messages about deals from their partners, but I thought maybe I hadn't done it right so I clicked that link again. No: I'd done it right, but this one was categorized as an ELECTRONICS offer, not a PARTNERS offer. Because it was an electronic item offered by a partner, I guess. It's not like this is RUINING MY LIFE, all I had to do was delete the email, but it's just kind of IRRITATING on top of an ALREADY-BAD mood.
Then, I've been continuing to mull over an article excerpt I read somewhere that said The Help was a bad book because it made it seem as if only bad people owned slaves. I thought that was an extremely good point, and not something I would have noticed, and I was glad to have had it pointed out.
But this morning I started working out why I didn't think it was right in an all-the-WAY-right way. And why, if it WAS right, I came away from the book feeling horrible and embarrassed and stricken---as opposed to thinking "Whew! At least _I_ wouldn't have been like THAT," as you'd expect me to think if the mis-portrayal had been effective.
I find that kind of thinking very agitating and frustrating. I'm a slowwwww thinker, so there's all this time of me "feeling like something is wrong but not being able to figure out WHAT IT IS, or HOW TO SAY IT," and that kind of thing leaves me snappish and irritable because I'm working so hard at it but I'm not finding an answer, or I FEEL an answer but can't ARTICULATE it, or things keep legitimately interrupting my focus to ask for breakfast or to be brought to the bus stop. It riles me up unpleasantly as I sort it out---and especially as I imagine the whole new task of trying to communicate the thoughts to anyone else, and then imagine having to listen to them knock those thoughts down Facebook-fight-style.
But here's a piece of what I came up with through much wrinkle-browed effort, and will now wrinkle-browedly try to communicate without screwing it up:
I was remembering the book Switch (I reviewed it here, after the part about Rob Lowe), which is a book basically about getting people (including yourself) to do what you want them to do. One sample challenge was a situation in another country, where they wanted old men to stop paying young women for sex: it was spreading disease like crazy. They didn't think a moral campaign would work, nor a health campaign.
Instead they made a series of ads featuring a sleazy old guy who preyed on young women, and they gave him a name I've forgotten but it started with F. So in these ads, F____ would be pursuing a young woman and looking pretty foolish and unattractive doing it, and then someone in the young woman's life (a friend, a relative, the waitress at the restaurant) would say to the young woman, "Oh, gross, you wouldn't hang around with an icky old F____, would you?" And this name-starting-with-F became a cultural term, so that old men who pursued younger women were associated with this sleazy character, and younger women felt like it would be gross to go along with that, and their behavior actually changed as a result.
Were these ads fair? Did they accurately represent the older men as ridiculous icky sleaze-bags, and the younger women as creatures to be pitied and rescued from their own dimness? Of course not! The real-life old men and the real-life younger women had multi-layered personalities like everyone else---and they were an assortment of good/bad just like everyone else. Some of them were sleazy, but many (maybe most) of them were perfectly nice people, and probably attractive too.
The idea behind the ads was this: if people think to themselves, "Hey, perfectly nice and attractive people do this," they feel comfortable doing it themselves. But if it is widely agreed that only a weak person drinks too much, only a heartless jerk has affairs, only a poorly-brought-up person thinks it's okay to shoplift, and only a bad parent slaps a child, only an ignorant unlikable person would be racist---then it becomes harder to participate in that behavior without compromising my sense of self, and my sense of self MUST include the information that I am a basically good person, and so my inclination is to avoid those behaviors or to feel very uncomfortable if I participate in them.
This is, I think, something that is done in many areas where we as a culture have agreed that something is wrong, but haven't figured out how to get everyone on board behavior-wise. In television and movies and books, then, we see these behaviors deliberately associated with icky people to make it unappealing---just like in an obvious children's television show. Wife-abusers are shown as mouth-breathing cavemen in sleeveless t-shirts (despite how many of them are bright and wear nice suits and go to church), in order to try to make people think "Ick. Is THAT how that comes across? I don't want to be like THAT. I would rather be associated with that pretty girl." Not this always WORKS, or never BACKFIRES, but that's the idea.
I'm talking here about the messages we receive from ENTERTAINMENT---the ones where we're not supposed to NOTICE that our behavior and attitudes are being influenced and that our characters are being worked on. Associating bad behaviors with bad people is a way to get the behavior we want out of people. But certainly in non-entertainment arenas the information that good people owned slaves, and that smart well-dressed men beat women, and that some cultures have made a project out of obliterating other cultures, should be explicitly stated and fully accepted, and everyone who studies the subjects should understand it, and it should be emphasized carefully in schools and discussions.
In fact, I think we should take it further: not only do we need to realize that any of us, if we'd lived in that time, could have been perfectly comfortable owning slaves, we need to realize that any of us, ANY of us, could have been comfortable with it, if we had lived in that particular set of circumstances. ANY of us, no matter what our skin color or nationality, could have gone along with it: not just "us, if we'd been our ancestors, but also "us, if we'd been our ancestors' persecutors." That ANY group of us could enslave or kill or discriminate against any other group of people, and that this is why it's so important that we all learn on many levels and by many methods how terrible such behaviors are.
So, basically, two thoughts:
1. If what we want is to influence behavior, it can help to use fiction to connect a bad guy with a bad behavior.
2. It's important for us to understand that, born into the right circumstances, most of us have a capacity for the kind of wrongdoing we considering astonishing in historical people. And it isn't only the descendants of the wrong-doers who need to consider their potential for evil, itt's every single one of us. History has shown that wrongdoing isn't based on skin-color or nationality, but on humanness.
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