written by Katherine Clarke:
To preface this piece, I would like to quote my younger brother. In a written conversation, about a year and a half ago, he shared the following:
You’re extraordinary because you see the world’s flaws – and thankfully you’re smart enough to ‘understand’ that while they are not always fair, they are an inevitable force we all must face. Life is about dealing with other people. It’s totally unfair, biased, annoying, and infuriating at times, but the world is random, and we have to accept the uncertainty and the inability to control others. Being the center of a crowd is a powerful position to be in – to say and do the right thing. You have the power to be that person. And I say that with total disregard to you being short-statured. I don’t believe you are aware of the power your presence commands, Kate. Because of the ridicule I fear you only ever feel ‘little’ when you need to simply be Royal in your own way. People are right; you are intimidating because you’re strong-willed.
My brother’s supportive email correspondence came to mind after noticing two recent posts on Chelley’s Facebook wall. The first post captured her reflection on Lent: “I’m giving up beating the shit out of myself. No negative comments, no self hate or criticizing my face, hair, and body. Hoping it sticks.” And the second post highlighted an article detailing a concert review of Miley Cyrus’s performance onstage during her “Bangerz” tour. The news article was originally posted via Chicago Sun-Times’ website. And illustrated on her wall, Chelley stated the following comment in reference to Mark Guarino’s “Concert Review: Miley Cyrus at Allstate Arena”: “The use of the m-word and the fact that someone chooses to be a part of something comparable to a ‘carnival of curiosities’ is mind boggling.” Chelley is right. And my own evaluation on the subject is an attempt to justify why I agree with my friend’s point of view. Yet, before I could finish drafting my collective thoughts, editors at the Chicago Sun-Times removed the “m-word” from their web-based article. A victory, indeed.
I want to revisit the content in Chelley’s post on Lent. For Lent, I, too, am giving up beating the shit out of myself. My mother once told me, “Bitterness, Kate, can destroy a woman’s beauty.” I can’t compete. I surrender. My mother – she’s right. I did not sign up for the haggard look. The original Chicago Sun-Times post was tragic. The language it used to identify a person’s short-stature was a tragic blow toward the understanding of humanity. And we all know the Nursery Rhyme that suggests we should not fall victim to name-calling, right? “Sticks and stones will break” our “bones,” but the connotations of certain words will “break” our spirits, too. But instead of beating myself up, I invite my audience to consider this message.
Aaron Sorkin is a well-known playwright and film director who coined the phrase “Tragedy Porn.” The term was featured in the first season of the popular HBO television series The Newsroom – a drama Sorkin created, produced, directed, and scripted. Its context (i.e. Tragedy Porn) describes how news stories can become something similar to a “reality show” that audiences will “indulge in” purely for “entertainment”; however, the information shared in the rundown is often tragic on a distasteful level. Case in point – Miley Cryus’s recent antics and the “midget” backup dancers she employs on stage. And to revisit my brother’s honest and compassionate thoughts, he said: “You’re extraordinary because you see the world’s flaws…they are an inevitable force we all must face.” It’s neither fair to see nor hear the media use such vulgar language to point out a rare demographic – dwarfism.
I do not like facing this ugly stigma that gets more attention in the media’s spotlight than the intellect and literal happiness I share with my students in an academic, college classroom setting. And I find myself asking why? Why is “Tragedy Porn” in the A-Block and not the normalcy that is my life? I can’t help but wonder if society fears the power I possess? Believe it or not, my brother, in the same written conversation, answered my question:
People like to watch destruction, not be a part of it. But I think it’s easier to join in with someone who’s passionate about something. Your success in leading a conversation will come when you find a way to shift the light successfully on “America.” Write from your experiences, your observations, your wishes, your ‘understanding’ of what it is like to be a short-statured woman in a world full of contradiction and fallacies, not from your distaste and disappointment.
My brother is talking about assimilation, and again, he is right. I am a part of this country. Langston Hughes said it perfectly – “I, too, sing America.” I am a part of this world. My students appreciate the information I have to offer them. And yes, some of the information stems from my own experiences, observations, and wishes. They can see my intense passion and strong desire to promote the power of the human mind and its ability to engage inquiry. That reality is NOT tragic. It’s awe-inspiring.
I can go the other route and continue to offer reasons why I am “disappointed”; that is, disgusted by the internal feeling that often keeps me up at night. The feeling that convinces me I must fight in order to prove my integrity as a woman – to show “America” I am not a caricature referenced in a “Tragedy Porn” sensationalized mess of a news story. But I can’t do that. I won’t. It will make me bitter.
The Bully-Centered Mentality, post Charles Darwinian, Survival of the Fittest world we live in capitalizes on the power it can hone by belittling individuals the Status Quo deems unfit. It’s a ruthless competition. Both the media and those who participate in the freak-show of a “carnival of curiosities” create the spectacle that brands this erroneous image of dwarfism. It is difficult for me to ignore that bitter reality. It is a sour, unpleasant taste my palate does not care for.
Again, my brother said it best: “It’s totally unfair, biased, annoying, and infuriating at times, but the world is random, and we have to accept the uncertainty and the inability to control others.” So I will return to Chelley’s comment on Lent: “I am giving up beating the shit out of myself.” It’s the right thing to do. And I think it’s safe to call my brother the Oracle. Extracted from the same written conversation:
Kate, the media perpetuates these phantasmal lifestyles, but these days, humans crave stimulation more than anything – it’s our lethal legal drug. Technology has completely changed who we are as people – we eat for pleasure, not survival – kids fight for recognition, seeing it as success to be the next Laguna Beach idiot or Real World superstar – but you and I both know there is an actual real world out there.
I hope the media chooses to push the envelope, but in a different kind of way, in a way that is so far removed from the degrading “Tragedy Porn.” As an alternative, I hope the news can offer a stimulating story on something that hasn’t been told. A story about the beauty of intellect, intuition, and sincerity. A story about those who are extraordinary, positive, and STRONG-WILLED. That’s attractive. That’s desirable. That’s power. Is it possible for the Status Quo to recognize, accept equally, those who are different have the potential to command great power?
“The Blackout, Part I: Tragedy Porn.” The Newsroom. Dir. Aaron Sorkin. HBO, 12 Aug. 2012. Television.
Clark, William. “Re: A Worthy Conversation.” Message to Katherine Clark. 12 Oct. 2012. E-mail.
Guarino, Mark. “Concert Review: Miley Cyrus at Allstate Arena.” Voices.Sun Times.com. Chicago Sun-Times, 8 Mar. 2014. Web. 8 Mar. 2014.
Hughes, Langston. “I, Too.” The Harlem Renaissance: Hub of African American Culture, 1920-1930. Ed. Steven Watson. New York: Pantheon Books, 1995. Print.