September 18, 2014

Too Soon

I don't generally go around bragging about my dad. I'm more of a go-to complainer. He can be unreliable in his travel planning, he can be a little myopic and insensitive, and he sets impossible standards when it comes to singing my kids to sleep. Or rather, singing for hours and hours without once pointing out that they SHOULD be going to sleep.

The truth is, he's a pretty remarkable guy.

He's also sort of kind of famous. For a while I was considering geekiness as a lifestyle choice- I learned HTML back in the days of AOL and dialup, I began learning a few other assorted (and now totally useless) coding languages, and I contemplated following his footsteps into the technology driven future.

I quickly learned that I would rather be covered in paint and children, and redirected my energy. But I learned a few things about geeks and nerds and the culture in general that put me off.

And the biggest was that my dad was kind of a celebrity. I instituted a rule for all future would-be suitors: If they knew who my dad was and fanboy-ed out about him, I would not, under any circumstances, go out with them.

Later in life, this has proven to be an excellent benchmark. I have a close friend who recently broke up with a total turd of a boyfriend. The sort of boyfriend who empties your bank account, trashes your credit, and then abandons you without any funds or resources 5,000 miles from home.

The day I met him he lost his cool completely, recounting my father's entire biography to me (as though I didn't know it), and informing me that he had edited Poppa's wikipedia page.

What I find most interesting about Poppa's celebrity is that the thing he was always most proud about is the thing I also take the most pride in on his behalf, and has nothing to do with the things that makes him sort of famous.

Poppa is known for his work inventing MIME- that's the standard that allows anything other than text to go over the internet. Fonts, colors, pictures, sounds, you name it- it's MIME.

But when he was fifteen he made history as the first kid to win a cash settlement after suing his high school.

Forty two years ago, my father sued his high school and won because his high school's principle had violated his freedom of speech. He, and many other students, were evicted from their Columbus, Ohio public school for wearing black arm bands on the anniversary of the Kent State massacre.

This was utterly historic. I don't say that as a daughter, I say that as the kid who stumbled onto this story while researching the history of nonviolent protest during the Vietnam War for a school project. He wasn't mentioned by name, but he was in the history book in the library. He still has the issue of Playboy he was written up in, again, not by name. It mentions that a fifteen year old student had successfully sued his high school. What Playboy added was, "proving that American teenagers still have the right to mourn their dead."

So, of course, when the news popped up of Urban Outfitters "vintage" Kent State sweatshirt... I couldn't help thinking about my dad.

Here's the thing about poking fun at the dead. It's all well and good until it hurts the living.

It's easy enough to forget that there were real victims at Kent State. It's been more than forty years. The idea of police killing unarmed teenagers is frighteningly mundane these days.

The grief was real then, and it's real now. And PARTICULARLY when the country is being torn apart by police violence, by protests marred by tear gas and bullets, when we forget the name of the unarmed teenager killed last month because we're focusing on this month, and we just don't have enough space in our brains to list the names of all the kids who are never going to go home again, it is unfathomably inappropriate to make jokes about massacred teenagers.

Is this the precedent we want to set? That given a few decades, Michael Brown is going to be a punchline? In twenty years, can we expect lawn signs that say, "Neighborhood Watch : Carry Skittles At Your Own Risk"?

The apology from Urban Outfitters, if you can even call it that, is beyond insufficient.

The fact is that we live in a society that is more and more tolerant of more and more violence. While we begin to have public conversations, REAL conversations about domestic violence and child abuse, we also move on and ignore misogynistic murder sprees (Santa Barbara et. al.) and mass child slaughters (Sandy Hook et. al.).

Let's not pretend this is okay. Let's not compartmentalize our indignation.

Let's be honest about what is and what is not acceptable for a society to embrace.

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