Monday, April 14, 2014

In Which I Use The "In Which. . ." Title Structure and Then Ramble On About Non Music Related Things

I'm going to break my own rules here. I didn't post anything last week and I'm trying to stay consistent, and I want to put this somewhere. So this isn't a music post. It is a post about Game of Thrones, with some possible spoilers from last night's episode "The Lion and the Rose." But it's not just about that. It's more important. It's about bullying. So read on, but I do ramble on a bit.

The entire series of Game of Thrones has managed to have a sense of dread just hanging there. Even if you haven't read the books and don't know how fragile every life ultimately is in Westeros, from the very beginning there's an oppressive spirit hanging over the whole thing. Maybe it's the reality of feudal life and how easy it is for nobles to just discard common folk or even other nobles. And nothing leads to a bigger sense of fear than a mad tyrant king with no sense of morality. Enter King Joffrey, who is really just the ultimate bully. There are characters you love to hate and characters so evil you love them. Joffrey is neither. You hate him, for sure. But I'm not sure you love doing it. Clearly you need him to exist for the purpose of the story, but ultimately, I think what makes him work so well is that you never have any sense of enjoying anything he does. Every moment he's on screen you either want to slap the taste out of his mouth or you recoil in very real discomfort at what he does. There are very few characters that have ever accomplished that for me. The only other one that comes to mind is Henry from Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.

Last night's episode featured a scene that perfectly captured what bullying is and what it feels like. If Joffrey is a character you just can't help but hate, then Tyrion is a character you can't help but at least respect. Sure, he's aligned with the villains of the story, by blood, but that is just part of his tragedy. He's the ultimate outcast. A dwarf whom few love or understand, especially not his own family. He's smarter than everyone in the kingdom. He possesses true honor, loyalty and compassion. And we all want him to win. We all watch, constantly waiting for him to be the hero. And for a very brief and complicated time, he was. But last night's episode had him as the target of of a level of public mockery and contempt and all out bullying that causes nightmares for some of us that ever suffered anything remotely similar in real life. It was painful to watch this man endure in a scenario that had no realistic way for him to fight back. To watch all those faces in the crowd who were equally uncomfortable watching but were too afraid to stand up and say enough, but instead offered pity, or the painful reality of seeing those who silently cheered the bullying on, is almost too much to bear for the prolonged scene. The sense of fear that has permeated the entire series was never more present here, not because you fear for Tyrion's life, but because you fear for his dignity. That is the real target of bullying and a lesser man might have broken down or attempted a futile and knowingly fatal resistance. Sure, we had seen Joffrey do much worse to Sansa among others, but I think Tyrion being who he is, makes this that much more harsh. This is is Joffrey's own uncle, after all.

What a hero should look like.
It's easy to tell victims of bullying to fight back. And I do think there is truth to that, but for years, that was the only message. Stand up to bullies and they'll stop. Every sitcom had that "very special episode" where this happened and in many cases, the bully even became the victim's friend. I can tell you that played out pretty much exactly that way for me with one of my childhood bullies. I challenged him to a fight, pretty much kicked his ass (except that another kid who was also bullied was too afraid to suffer the consequences of letting me beat him, so he pushed me off when I had the bully pinned down with my knee on his head), and he knew I wasn't going to take it anymore. We became friends on equal footing. Great. Except I'm willing to bet that's actually rare. I'm willing to bet that the kids getting bullied today for being too fat, too skinny, gay, slightly different, nonathletic, poor, the wrong skin color, not stereo-typically attractive, don't fit expected gender roles, have a speech impediment, are sick, or whatever idiotic reason it might be, I bet many of them can't really fight back and expect similar results. I bet bullies today are more vicious. I have no proof of this beyond stories we see in the news that may very well be sensationalizing the whole thing. But I do think we've gone beyond kids being kids in our society and I know exactly who's to blame: Society. Specifically, social conformity. Instead of just teaching kids that they shouldn't bully, we should be teaching all kids to be different, to be themselves and to accept others as they are. Instead, we want them all wearing uniforms in school. Dressing the same. Looking the same. Talking the same. Following the same gender roles and patterns with no deviation. It's bad enough that kids will be naturally struggling with wanting to belong, we don't need to reinforce that desire. Shayera starts Kindergarten this fall and I'm not worried about her being bullied as much as I am about her personality being squashed by the robotic nature of our school system and culture in general. It would seem my work is about to get that much harder if I want her to be her own individual, but I digress.

Well, it is a music blog.

Tyrion managed to hold on to his dignity by a thread last night, though who knows what's next for him. But what about the others? What about those who laughed? What about the people who watched and did nothing? What about the kids at school who do nothing? Or worse, join in, in spite of themselves, just because it might be the cool thing to pick on the nonathletic kid with the crooked eye? What about the ones that only offer pity while trying to come off as the good ones? The ones who might tell the fat girl "you have a very pretty face, though" as if that was a compliment. What is the lesson for them? Because it's not just about bullies and victims. All it would have taken last night is for enough people at that wedding to say they'd had enough of the king and that would be it. And well, spoiler alert. . . .

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