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Davis, California

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Them and us

I’m a huge fan of Gerard Butler. Why, you ask? Did you see P.S. I Love You? Neither did I. But I did see Olympus Has Fallen, a rah-rah, go-America movie with enough explosions and bad one-liners to fill a KFC family-size bucket and a fully-legal 20-ounce soda cup, and this masterpiece of cinema established one fact: America, much like Kazakhstan, greatest country in the world.

According to Gerard Butler and friends, “greatest” is the only acceptable adjective for a description of America; the Korean terrorists in the movie, however, feel “worst” fits more appropriately. Only these two extremes can exist.

We heard similar rhetoric and division across the nation last election in between the occasional (not occasionally) “legitimate rape” remarks. Obama hates America, Romney loves America; Obama loves America, Romney hates America. A them/us, hate/love, Justin Bieber/One Direction dichotomy of extremes has developed not only in politics, but also elsewhere, like in the gun control and gay marriage debates. And, my little sister tells me, in the JB/OD debate that exists and is an actual debate. She would know.

Extreme rhetoric permeates daily interaction. I hate that professor. I love March Madness. That Doritos Locos taco was incredibly delicious. But as Louis C.K. points out, what then do we do for the spectrum of in-betweens, the emotional gray area?

If I love March Madness — and I do — should I immediately hate the April Absurdity of Opening Day, or should I find a more apt, descriptive lexicon to convey my “I like you, but I’m not ready to move in with you yet” emotions about baseball? On a campus filled with Giants and A’s fans, I lean toward the latter course of action.

In her book on introversion, Quiet, Susan Cain interviews a reserved Christian pastor, a man who feels out of place in the Evangelical church which personifies so well the outspoken, forceful, all-or-nothing methods of communication and conversation present in our society.

Yet Cain discovers he loves God just as much as the most vocal Evangelicals, and his desire to do good is no less than theirs. He just communicates in a manner that has unjustly become associated with weakness and lack of conviction. It’s “loud and proud,” not “soft and some adjective that rhymes with soft.”

But those who speak softly often are the ones who carry a stick big enough to move the world, like Archimedes, a man of principles and principle. Cain opens her book by drawing on Rosa Parks for encouragement. Parks was an activist, sure, but far from a vocal one. And Cain contends that her shy, humble demeanor catalyzed action in the civil rights movement in the wake of her arrest more powerfully than the arrest of a Type-A personality would have.

In the gay marriage debate, supporters on both sides demonstrate and protest fervently. The drag queen with a glitter fishnet dress and the blue-collar Protestant Average Joe from Middle America, being broadcast on network news: who is to say who is more flamboyant? Both argue with equal vehemence, a rousing vehemence, a vehemence not expressed by the nine contemplative Supreme Court Justices who will decide the cases on Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act. They have strong beliefs; they merely express them in calm, quiet words. Except for Clarence Thomas.

Well, he did not.

So for all the hoopla in Olympus Has Fallen, I left the theater thinking the same thing I thought after The Avengers: The main message, logic and plotline of the movie must have been buried beneath the rubble during the fighting, because I sure didn’t see them.

Loud, extreme rhetoric has the same effect. Instead, let’s take a chill pill and look for common ground in our shared beliefs: love of puppies, fear of death, the greatness of America and/or Kazakhstan.

As Cain writes, “Conviction is conviction at whatever decibel level it’s expressed.” Then, one day, we might all wake up with stick big enough to move the world in our hands.

If you aren’t ready to move in with BEN BIGELOW yet, let him know at babigelow@ucdavis.edu.


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