I was struck by Stephanie Dolan's opinion piece "You're not all Hemingway" in NUVO's Nov. 4 edition. But, let's just say, it wasn't in the best possible way. As a frequent contributor to NUVO, I read Dolan's essays from time to time. To keep up with the Joneses, I suppose. She does have a folksy charm about her writing that is often funny, but I think she lost her way with this one.
The thesis of this op-ed seems to be that most of us will never amount to the likes of Obama or Albert Einstein, or Elvis. Therefore we dumb fucks should put our hands over our eyes—and put away our smartphones—when violence explodes before us.
Dolan's example is one ripped from current newsfeeds. You probably recall the story about the white school resource officer who knocked a seated 15-year-old female African-American student to the ground and subsequently dragged her across her classroom in Spring Valley High School in South Carolina back in late October. Other students recorded video of this incident with their smartphones.
"The teenagers who recorded Senior Deputy Ben Fields violently subduing a 15-year-old student who refused to comply when she was told to leave her math class didn't waste any time in posting those videos online. There was no thought to the consequences of those postings. There was no second-guessing rash actions. They thought only of the attention they would receive and the ways in which they could insinuate themselves into the issue by having their names attached to this story."
But maybe there was something else going on. Maybe these students wanted to get their eyewitness accounts – recorded in their cellphones—out to the public before the whole affair became a he said/she said type of deal. What's wrong with that?
But according to Dolan, "these people need to sit the hell down and shut the hell up."
I'm wondering if Dolan would have the same point of view if this 15-year-old victim had had her back broken—or been paralyzed as a result of the officer's excessive force. I'm wondering if Dolan had the same response to the shooting of Black motorist Walter Scott by white South Carolina police officer Michael Slager on April 4, 2015. Recall that this incident came to the attention of the public through a bystander recording it by cellphone. I could go on. Suffice to say it's because of the "interwebz" and the fact that "everyone has a voice," through the democratization of technology, that we know about such incidents.
It seems that Dolan believes that internet savvy high school students are somehow in league with Rachel Maddow and other progressive media voices. I don't see it. And her contention that the "liberal media" is always coming down on the side of the "underdog" recalls the red meat thrown out by the likes of Fox News and Dana Loesch to their largely older, white audiences.
And Dolan's contention that the right to have cell phones—and to procreate—should only be awarded to those who pass an intelligence test, recalls the more sordid elements of our nation's past – the eugenics movement, Jim Crow laws – and not in a good way, even if she was saying these things tongue-in-cheek.
But her crowning insult to high school students everywhere – and to her readership as well — is the pithy title of her op-ed: "You're not all Hemingway."
Ernest Hemingway might best be known for hunting elephants in Africa as for his novels and short stories. But he was also, arguably, the greatest prose stylist of the twentieth century. He wrote in a terse, simple style that recalled his work as a newspaper reporter. In the wake of World War I, a war in which Hemingway served as an ambulance driver for the American Red Cross, he wrote A Farewell to Arms. It was a novel in which the devastating costs of that conflict – and the lies that led to it – were laid bare in plain language.
In the novel, his protagonist Lieutenant Frederic Henry talks of the language of that war:
"I was always embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious, and sacrifice ... I had seen nothing sacred, and the things that were glorious had no glory and the sacrifices were like the stockyards at Chicago if nothing was done with the meat except to bury it. There were many words that you could not stand to hear and finally only the names of places had dignity."
I've always been moved by those lines. And I've always been moved by his point here — that the language itself, whether ornate or ordinary, becomes obscene in the service of lies.
And I've often recalled those lines when George W. Bush and his administration led us into war by lying to the American public — manufacturing phrases like "the axis of evil" and "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."
Such language is meant to subvert the democratic process. To the extent that the internet provides a counterbalance to narratives based on lies — whether it's the narrative about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction or the narrative of liberal media dominance or some other false narrative — I'm all for it.
I'm all for students turning their smartphones towards acts of abuse and uploading for the world to see. I'm all for bystanders filming acts of violence taking place on the streets, whether it's directed at innocent civilians or at the police. I'm all for non-sanctioned raw video contradicting official statements of police departments, school boards, and congressional oversight committees.
No one should ever think that they are too small or too insignificant — or too young — to have a voice. Let everyone have his or her "global mouthpiece."