Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Fruits of Freedom

Your Stripes - Buffalo Tom (mp3)
Liar - Tonic (mp3)

Freedom is a Lie.

Freedom with a capital F, the notion that a human being is free, means having the ability and choice to lie, to deceive, to subvert. In other words:

Freedom = Deception

While I'm sure this is an entirely unoriginal idea, it came to me most recently while listening to an NPR Morning Edition story on women in Basra struggling for freedom under the oppressive shackles of their culture, especially prior to the American insurgence.

One woman confesses to going home at night and putting on makeup, then washing it off before leaving her home the next morning. "It allowed her, she says, to feel more feminine in the confines of her home," the reporter says.

Presently, in a more liberated Iraq with her increased freedom, she is described as follows: "She's dressed in a white jacket and a form-fitting purple satin skirt. Her toenails are painted with silver glitter. Her makeup looks like it was applied with the giddiness of a teenager. Still, she's afraid."

Now, read carefully this Iraqi woman's comments to the reporter, as she's made up like a teenager and trying to mimic Carrie Bradshaw. Everytime I hear it or read it, it knocks my head sideways: "The civility is temporary. The problems in Basra won't end because all we do is cover these problems up. They do not attack the cause."

My wife manages our church's very successful summer camp. Two days ago, she was hemming and hawing about one of her 17-year-old counselors who wears these mammoth diamond earrings. She didn't think it was appropriate for him to wear them while shepherding around kids at a summer church camp, but she didn't want to "infringe on his freedom."

Iraqi women equate Freedom with makeup and fashion?
Teens equate Freedom with earrings and tattoos?

Have I gone mad?! Are Amigos falling from the sky??

Perhaps it will betray my own desperate need to come across as high-minded and intellectual (although quoting The Three Amigos prolly shoots that goal in the proverbial foot), but when the hell did satin skirts and tats become symbols of the Freedom for which we are willing to send our soldiers in harm's way to protect? Why do we insist on equating individuality and freedom of expression with what goes in and out of our nostrils?

And can I express how troubling it is that Iraqi women seem to have managed to catch up to our superficial obsessions in the blink of an eye? If Freedom was Mel Gibson, they apparently skipped the Braveheart stage and went right into What Women Want.

These thoughts were giving me mental indigestion, so I continued processing.

One of my biggest personal pet peeves is the equating of freedom and individuality with permanent splotches of ink in our flesh, piercings of one sort or another, or even clothing items. I look at these people, modestly intelligent younger folks who have permanently altered their flesh so they could "express themselves," and wonder, Couldn't you just write something?

Others need to free themselves with surgery. Bigger chest. Bigger dick. Different reproductive organs (that don't reproduce). Bigger lips. Fake muscles. Smaller stomach. These people feel imprisoned in their own bodies and are convinced that doing one thing or another to alter their appearance means personal Freedom.

Hell, who am I to say they're wrong? Maybe doing this stuff really does free them.

There's a new movie coming out about people who fantasize and fetishize the notion of being crippled. They get off by riding in wheelchairs and wearing leg braces and scheme about permanently disabling themselves. I chuckle thinking about women with fake tits and Botox and fake lips watching the trailer and having this conversaition:

"Wow, those people are messed up."
"What kind of messed up person gets turned on thinking about being crippled?" "Seriously."
"So, when's the next time you inject botchulism toxin into your face?"
"Next Tuesday. Can't wait. My eyes are looking so crinkly and old, I can't even look in the mirror. When's your lap-band appointment?"
"Two weeks. Can't wait. Once that's done, and now that my tits are huge and firm, I'm gonna be the hot slut my husband has been fantasizing about."

Our screwed-up notion of Freedom actually goes back to the mythological (or not) Garden of Eden, where our two protagonists bit that damn fruit just so they could feel Free. We claim the serpent deceived them, but did it? It might not have told them the whole truth, but it didn't lie.

Until A&E bit in, they didn't really understand right from wrong. They didn't really understand sin. They were like infants, morally. They had two simple rules. That's it. (1) Don't Eat That, and (2) Don't Eat This. They did what they were told and never thought much else about it, kind of like vacuum cleaners or weather vanes. But after they ate, they were suddenly aware of the notions of deception, of lies. ("The serpent deceived us!")

Yes, they were Free.

And what's the very first thing they do? Cover themselves. Adam & Eve were the planet's first fashionistas. The fruit made them aware of their own imperfections. I'd bet a thousand bucks that Eve immediately started smearing various berries on her face, thus inventing rouge and lipstick as well. Then come Cain & Abel and their immortal tale of murderous envy. Cain wants to Keep Up with the Joneses so badly he kills for it.

Deception. Fashion. Envy. These are the first first-fruits of Freedom.

And here's what rankles me. Whether I like it, whether my higher mind accepts it, whether it annoys me, we cannot have Big Freedom without Insignificant Freedom. Iraqi women can hardly start to grasp equal rights if they can't even wear pants. Most teenagers don't even know what a "fireside chat" is, so maybe they need to equate Freedom with that treasure trail tattoo before they can grasp Guantanamo Bay and rendition.

We must crawl before we can walk. Sometimes we must crawl because we're in a small space or someone Jeff Gillooly'd our leg. I am wrong to agonize about people fixating on the superficial Freedoms if I truly hope that they might one day appreciate or concern themselves with the larger ones.

Therefore, I raise my drinking glass -- albeit with shaky and uncertain hand -- to this wonderful bastion of Freedom:

I'll try to only throw up in my mouth as opposed to all over someone.

"Your Stripes" is off Buffalo Tom's third album, Sleepy-Eyed. "Liar" is off Tonic's third album, Head On Straight. Both are available on iTunes, although I personally recommend purchasing each band for selective songs rather than entire albums at a time.


Bob said...

The plight of the women in Basra seems different from the rest of the discussion. Aren't they made to "cover" when they are outside? Don't they risk violent treatment, humiliation, perhaps stoning, if they wear the makeup outside? That makes greasy colored stuff made from whales a pretty powerful symbol of freedom, I think.

jbradburn said...

Bob - you're right. The problem in many islamic communities is that women have no rights. They are basically children in the eyes of the sharia law...It's not the same plight as a 17 yo wearing a diamond ear-ring or tat. Now, an employer shouldn't have to hire that dolt if that's not the image he wants to present when dealing w/ his customers. (In other words, if your wife managed this thing and is responsible for hiring these kids - she should have every to say, "Put that ear-ring in your pocket.")