Bright Colors in Dark Times

A reviewer's duty and distance.

The following is a personal parallel drawn not between two incidents but two reactions to those incidents, and may be worthy of a trigger warning for some:

I rarely speak of politics; the quarrels seem as irrational and natural to me as any other discussion — one I’ve heard repeated a thousand times with little variance and am therefore bored by and walk away from. Where talking about politics matters, however, is when people could be hurt or are hurting as a result. As a (privileged) citizen of one of the most subversively restrictive nations in the world, I see how easy my daily life is compared to those facing ingrained opposition from the system of laws and the power structure that maintains them. I feel for those people but have no clue how to make it better, save by electing officials who promise the right things (but who never seem able to keep to their promises or recompense for dismissing their platforms and supporters). So I’ll continue to write about cartoons to help lighten the hearts and deepen the interests of fellow lovers of animation, but I want to assure readers that I’m not doing so with tunnel vision.

In the aftermath of 9/11/01, I remember calling my then main office in NYC to make sure everyone was ok but not being able to reach them. While an email later assured those of us in the remote NJ office that everyone was ok, it was blatantly obvious that a lot of people weren’t and many more would not be either. When I went to work at my second job at a liquor store, the music had been turned off, and the radio was tuned to a news station. I remember the daze. Nothing seemed real; it was as if I was suffering tinnitus, and its steady, high-pitched tone was a stream of un-changing news. It was absolutely numbing — shock, pure and simple. The amount of sympathy for others was astounding; locally, people seemed kinder to one another, and the world offered shows of support sopping in sincere tears. Then a white man came in to buy a bottle of booze, with his small child in tow, and told me a genocide joke.

Because he told it to another white man, he thought I’d be sympathetic. As someone who grew up with Muslim friends from India and Pakistan, I was appalled, rebuked his hateful stance, took his money for the bottle, and told him to never come back.

Leading up to the 2016 election, I was well aware of the undercurrent of hate, inspired by isolation, that flows through the less populated parts of my country and saw the growing crowds at Trump rallies further incensed by a charismatic narcissist. I’ve read history books on how WWII started and was dumbfounded that it only took 60+ years’ distance to hear, first-hand via televised/webcast political rallies, proposals for internment camps and the scapegoating of economic and domestic distress on foreigners. I felt ill, and my optimism dropped to new lows. But deep down, as someone who believes people are inherently good and ultimately reasonable, there was that pilot light, a spark, a sliver of hope. On the ninth of November, I once again found myself listening to the familiar sting of a news-tinnitus. I could not concentrate on anything in the following days except the influx of reports of hate crimes against and rising fears from members of the LGBTQ community, Muslims and Sikhs (because the average racist can’t be arsed to tell the two part), and so many others furthered by outrageously racist/regressionist cabinet picks by our soon-to-be commander-in-chief. And of all times, I had been assigned by a magazine to write three reviews: two about comedies and one about a homosexually charged ice skating drama.

I couldn’t.

I just couldn’t.

I started all three pieces before election day and remember feeling good about being ahead of schedule, but every day thereafter was a wash productivity-wise as I fell into news story after news story and read personal accounts and fears of those who had much more to lose than myself. How could I possibly write positively about something so lighthearted as comedy and progressive as homosexual representation in media when I lost all my laughter with the extinguished spark inside me and the nation I call home elected a man who appointed people passionately in favor of repealing the rights so freshly granted to LGBTQ people? Because I am cis- and white-privileged, I had far fewer obstacles to regaining my senses and resuming "normalcy" but still had to ask for an extension for one review after soldiering through the other two in a zombie walk of critique. (Apologies to readers of my articles in that issue if you take issue with the banality of my analyses.)

Since coming to, I’ve owned the sense of distance required by critics. The election ripping off that rose-colored veil under which this country operates shook my naiveté but had very little effect on me personally in the end. That does not mean, however, that I am unaffected; actions will speak louder than words, and calling representatives, even in my blue state, to make my voice heard to help those I care about acoss the U.S.A. (no matter how divided) will be a thing that has to be done regularly throughout the next four years. In the meantime, as it has always, art — the excellent, the mediocre, and the just plain awful — will continue to be produced and therefore must be judged. I will continue to consume and critique cartoons, hailing their highs and lamenting their lows. By doing so, hopefully others find a new story, a new character, a new visual experience that inspires them a little more towards who they were meant to be or at the very least discover an avenue for the temporary appreciation of sparks in a dimming worldview.

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