INTO THE WOODS: Finding fear in the hearts of bullies

Jan 17 • FEATURE BOTTOMNo Comments on INTO THE WOODS: Finding fear in the hearts of bullies

Ouch!” I started. My 21-year-old daughter Gwen’s elbow caught me in the ribs. “OK! I’ll read. Back to the ‘Tao of Pooh.’”  

One of my evening routines is reading aloud to Gwen. Of course, given the Zen of Gwen, reading her “the way of Pooh” gives me a double dose of wisdom I can’t fully absorb. Most 21-year-old women don’t enjoy their father reading to them, but Gwen’s not most 21-year-old women. She has severe disabilities and doesn’t read. Her stereotypy makes her movements a bit spastic, like Serge Kovaleski—the reporter our president-elect mocked and Meryl Streep cited in her Golden Globes speech.

Gwen and I love Meryl Streep, but we had slightly different opinions of her speech. For me, there are three things about Donald Trump I won’t forget after Jan. 20: His documented “grab ‘em by the pussy” comment. His documented “I could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and not lose votes” comment. And the incident in which he mocked Mr. Kovaleski. As much as these artless acts trouble me, I would have rather heard Meryl sing “It’s the Last Midnight” from “Into the Woods” at the Golden Globes.

Gwen agreed with Meryl’s choice to share her perspective on the president-elect’s long record of public bullying. Apparently, Gwen and Meryl believe the First Amendment applies to artists as well as TIPs, or Twits in Power. (I think “Twit” should apply to persons in power that impulsively react defensively to insults by using Twitter. Gwen inspired “Twit in Power.”)

Gwen and Meryl also seem to believe art is at its root a little subversive, and its role in the village is often principled resistance to TIPs. This helps explain why authoritarian/conservative and even friendly fascist regimes historically look to control art and the press or delegitimize journalists and artists. When they’re not burning books, they’re bashing the press and characterizing artists as “in a bubble” and “out of touch,” kind of like the president-elect often does. Sometimes they simply fail to compete to keep film artists in their state—kind of like NC’s former governor, Pat McCrory.

Why keep people around who threaten power?

Gwen and I are still a bit puzzled over why any president-elect would bother to respond to mock anyone or respond to anything said at the Golden Globes. Trump’s translator-in-chief, Kellyanne Conway, may be on to something when she advises (whenever Americans are puzzled by what her charge actually says and does) we should ignore his actions and look beneath to see what’s in his heart. One of the enduring lessons of Hundred Acre Wood is the truly powerful are known for their poise and what’s usually in a bully’s heart is fear. Fear may be the simple reason why an artless bully of a reality TV personality impulsively tweeted an attack to an actual artist. 

Art isn’t impulsive. Art is a path which requires courage, reason and a lot of time. For every overnight Justin Bieber, there are tens of thousands of artists that work crap jobs for next to nothing for years. Sometimes they serve our nation in the military—like Elvis, Jimi Hendrix and Adam Driver—only to be lumped in with “out-of-touch elites” when something one of them does catches fire for 15 minutes. Actual art is kind of like the opposite of impulsive fear-motivated bullying.

Even after spending hours at Pooh’s Thinking Spot, Gwen and I still can’t grasp one defense of Trump’s mocking Serge, which was neatly summed up by a Facebook comment from one of my more fascist friends. (I have a few fascist friends; they’ll come in handy in the next four years.) Anyway, she commented, “The liberal press and Meryl Streep got it wrong. Trump wasn’t mocking the disability. He was mocking the person. He used the same gestures and voice to mock Ted Cruz.”

My bad. Should Gwen feel relieved knowing our president-elect is an equal opportunity, non-discriminatory mocker-in-chief? Should any of us feel better?

“Ouch!” Once again, Gwen lovingly smacked me back into the moment. She wants to watch “Into the Woods.”

“Agony!” I said.

If we move deep “Into the Woods” after January 20, we’ll need to remember Pooh’s Thinking Spot and all the lessons of Hundred Acre Wood to survive and thrive. And when disappointed, as part of comprehensive resistance, we’ll need to do what Meryl Streep, Carrie Fisher and other artists have done for centuries:

“Take your broken heart, make it into art.”

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