I have a social media fetish just like millions of people around the world. I wake up in the middle of the night and think, “That was stupid what you posted yesterday. Why even engage with that stuff?”
Even my stepson advised me to back off on the political end of the Facebook posts. He’s not the only one to tell me that. My son and others have said, “Relax, it’s not going to change anything.”
Part of me accepts that. Another part of me, the competitive side that has been part of me since Day One in this world, believes that it’s important to demonstrate that not everyone is complicit in a corrupt worldview.
Earlier this week, a longtime associate and dare I say “friend” with a small “f” and Friend with a social media Large F, sent a photo through Messenger that I found pretty stupid and offensive.
This friend/Friend has known me since 2000. He very well knows that I believe strongly in civil rights for all. We’d talked at length over the years about religion and politics. When I published a book titled The Genesis Fix: A Repair Manual for Faith the Modern Age in 2007, he read the book and had lots of questions about how it intersected or contradicted his own background with his Catholic faith.
So I’m sure that some small synapse in his brain at least considered the possible response when he clicked on my name and sent a pic with the face of former football player Colin Kaepernick photoshopped into a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader outfit with a caption that read something like, “He’s found a new team.”
The commentary below the picture was just as enlightened:
So I responded. And in my response I included an explanation of the real reasons why Kaepernick thought it important to protest by taking a knee during the National Anthem.
My Friend’s big response? “He’s disrespecting the flag,” he said.
But that comment is wrapped up in so much recent history and ancient prejudices it’s going to take a bit of work to unpack it all here. The campaign against Kaepernick has components of racism, false machismo, jingoism and fearful envy of “the other” all wrapped into one.
Unpacking it anyway
So I explained in return that the flag has already been disrespected in the manner in which patriotism in general has been commodified for entertainment purposes by the NFL. That football league views the military as a moneymaker and the Army sponsors games as a recruiting tactic.
Now we all know the economic system in the United States is supposed to be based on capitalism. That means nearly everything we touch, including the supposedly sacrosanct tradition of Christmas, (the War On Christmas!, screams Fox News) has long been whored out for commercial causes having nothing to do with Christianity. So this isn’t about naivete toward economic realities. We all know the NFL exists to do one thing: make money for the owners.
The players are a commodity within that business model. I personally think the player selection system amounts to a form of glorified slave trading, evidenced grandly by exercises such as the NFL Draft, which is one of the most demeaning bits of programming on all of television. But in this Reality TV world where fantasy supplants reality, the players are glorified hunks of meat because that is the one thing people really like to believe in. They’re superheroes in a banal world. Fantasy Football only proves that outlook.
But I’ve met and talked with a number of NFL players. Their lives in the game and after their career are often a confusing mix of “love of the game”, football lore and the raw desire to find alivelihood. But here’s the cogent fact we need to consider: Most football players are expendable within a few years. Here’s another cogent fact: “According to a 2009 Sports Illustrated article, 78% of National Football League (NFL) players are either bankrupt or are under financial stress within two years of retirement and an estimated 60% of National Basketball Association (NBA) players go bankrupt within five years after leaving their sport.”
So this idea that pro footballers are automatically millionaires for life is a massive lie. That makes the National Football League a massive lie.
Durability and CTE
A few stalwart players stay in the game for 10-20 years. Yet many more wind up with crippling injuries from which there is no recovery. Ever. Players are getting bigger and stronger and faster by the year. Perhaps the human body reaches limits of how much it can take at some point?
And then there are players suffering CTE, the brain discombobulation that comes from sustaining too many concussions over the course of a football career. Granted, players choose that risk and are ‘compensated well’ in the pursuit of a football career. But are they really? Is the risk of ruining your brain truly worth a few years of supposed glory?
Take a knee
And thus when players “take a knee,” their cause may seem to be focused on civil rights, but there’s something more as well. The original purpose of “take a knee,” if we can even break it down that far, was to protest treatment of black people in America. Too many black people are arrested with no real cause, and numerous black citizens are brutalized and even shot dead by police.
This is because America has an ugly, nasty history of racial prejudice that it cannot seem to reconcile with the rights guaranteed to all in the United States Constitution. The only thing those players are protesting is one simple question: Where is the equality for all?
But the inflammatory question that stands in front of the simple ask is this: Why does brutality and institutional racism and white privilege persist in a society that claims to have advanced? Because it has not. So, take a knee and call attention to that.
But when it comes to protesting these issues, the institution of pro football prefers to ignore and chastise the players for their actions when they “take a knee.” But then, it took decades for pro football to admit that the game was ruining the brains of the very players it hired to perform for entertainment. So it’s no surprise that something so subtle as a social issue related to prejudice might be hard for football to address. That’s because it falls outside its business model. Yet somehow fans of the game see to shove all this under the rug and ridicule a player with the brains and guts to point out the egregious nature of it all.
While some teams have wonderful records and great relationships with their athletes, others still impose sanctions on the players under their employ. Where’s the consistency? Now the President of the United States sees fit to bitch about football players “taking a knee.” It is apparent our nation has an identity problem that has nothing to do with identity politics.
Thus it pays to back it up a bit, and consider all the contradictions in “respect” that we’ve just covered. That’s what I attempted to point out to my “friend” who saw fit to send a really stupid meme through Facebook Messenger.
Lacking a justification for his actions, he finally resorted to condescension toward me:
“Sorry Chris, I know you have been through a lot in your life, but I need to be surrounded by friends with positive attitudes and a sense of humor. Yours is missing. It’s better if I unfriend you now so I don’t upset you. So sorry. Bob”
I’d just been dumped into someone’s social media junkyard.
Big loss, huh?
The social media junkyard
That action by my so-called Friend made me realize that social media is a junkyard in general. Human beings are great at creating lots of junk.
In the old days, when there weren’t so many people in the world, people built their homes on hillsides and just tossed their junk out the window and down the hill. That was called a midden. Here’s the meaning of that: “A midden is an old dump for domestic waste which may consist of animal bone, human excrement, botanical material, mollusc shells, sherds, lithics, and other artifacts and ecofacts associated with past human occupation.”
Well, I’ve sorted through a midden close to my own home. The forest preserve where our high school cross country meets were held was once the site of a farmstead. There was a small home that stood near the railroad tracks. It was perched on the edge of a steep embankment. All down the hill there were half-buried remnants of antique bottles, old metal cans and whatever else the long lost occupants of that home did not want.
Midden for humanity
What we all need to realize is that the earth is one large midden for humanity. Our plastics even clog the oceans. Even the slopes and peak of Mt. Everest is a midden of dead bodies and human waste. Our very atmosphere is stuffed with carbon dioxide from industry, agriculture and transportation activities. Now the entire climate is heating up. We’re steeped in the remains of our own waste.
Now we’ve abstracted that concept through social media. People dump their garbage on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter and Instagram every day. There are even social media apps such as Snapchat and others that cover over the contents within minutes of its import. Junkyard mentality is alive and well in this world.
Clearing my head
While I was out cycling last night, I felt entirely in tune with my bike. The temps were seventy-five degrees and dropping due to a cool northeast breeze blowing west off Lake Michigan. I started at 5:15 and rode until 7:00 p.m., arriving home just as the sun was going down. With four miles to go I stopped to text my wife that I was nearing completion of the ride, since she worries if I’m out there past sunset.
When I got home I realized something had truly changed in my mind. I’ve come to understand that living in the social media junkyard and constantly sorting through its contents may not be the best way to live. Like the day that I realized anger had consumed enough of my life and it was time to put forgiveness to work, I believe a sea change has come.
There are still things to learn from the midden of social media. We all know people who wander through a Goodwill or thrift shop learn and find treasures there. Not all junk is worthless. And not all objects and ideas are junk. There have been links I’ve followed on social that have bettered and even changed my life. So I’ll keep looking for those.
But the junk spewed out by people such as my “friend” who felt compelled to shit on my social media lawn and then blame me for protesting does not need to be tolerated. I’m the Colin Kaepernick of my own life. So I’m making a vow to myself to “take a knee” when corruption besets me. But I’ll also get up and run past the junkyard. If there’s something there that’s worth seeing, I’ll stop and check it out. But the crap that people pump out just to prove they’re alive and not well? Who needs it?
Run right past the junk yard.