Sunday, January 10, 2010

Symbols

If you were going to embed in a character a sign or symbol that conveyed to the reader that this individual is not to be trusted, what would that sign or symbol be? Why, of course, it would be the lapel pin American flag.


Too bad you won't be around to see the actual results. Guess that means you'll have to do a story about it to fulfill that serving of curiosity about what is likely to be made when archaeologists of the future discover all those lapel pin American flags.

All you can tell of a politician's agenda when seeing such a pin on his or her lapel is a desire to be reelected. Not wearing such a pin implies one's anti-Americanism or lack of patriotism. Wearing one means a kind of perfervid orthodoxy or a sensitivity to wanting to defuse such criticisms as those that go without conspicuous advertising. If we extend the metaphor a touch, it is of a piece with those who wish to proclaim their religiosity by wearing the cross, the Star of David, the om, the Crescent and the Star, or whatever other sign they chose as proclamation that they have in a sense taken refuge behind the inherent power of a symbol. You do not distrust such persons to the degree that you distrust those who wear the American flag, although now that you think of it, you might be ready to change your mind, or at least look more closely at the image of the wearer that comes through to you.

And isn't that the way the matter devolves for you: Each thing needs to be seen for what it is in and out of context. You are most comfortable, it seems, wearing all your causes and beliefs as though they were pins or symbols or campaign ribbons, but not in such public display. It is helpful for members of the military or of law enforcement to wear designations of their rank, a sort of convenience when it comes to establishing who's in charge. As you know very well, you are not always aware of which mindset or emotional response resident within you is in charge; sometimes a hint is helpful.

Yesterday, on Andrew Sullivan's blog, you saw yet another kind of demarkation in a quote attributed to Bill Clinton on the occasion of his appeal to the late, lamented Edward M. Kennedy for Kennedy's endorsement of Hillary Clinton as POTUS. "A few years ago," Bill Clinton is quoted as having told Ted Kennedy, "a guy like that [Barack Obama] would be getting our coffee." You hope the reference related to Obama's relative newness to big-time politics, but since it could be interpreted as racist, the allegation is one more stroke of tar on Bill Clinton's reputation and an urgent reminder to you of the possibilities for interpretation, misinterpretation, and imputation, through words, deeds, signs.

There is no doubt of the human condition being class oriented and of the signs, symbols, and behavior that serve as markers. You don't need an American flag on your lapel to remind you of your citizenship or the obligations inherent in that citizenship. Nor do you need a medallion or device to remind you of possible religious preferences you might from time to time express. What you need most and seek most are the words and stories that convey dramas where the conundrums and outcomes of interest to you are played out and your own sense of devotion to articles of faith and catechisms and stations of crosses that are illustrations of your own quest for understanding, friendship, and devotion.


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