Wednesday, August 15, 2001

Don't Offense Me In

Everybody but the Unabomber, Howard Hughes in his twilight years, and whoever else makes seclusion a way of life knows that Politics and Religion shouldn't be parleyed about during parties. Or during pep rallies, pinochle games, polite conversation, et cetera. Which isn't to say that they aren't - parleyed about, that is - and mercifully so: Surely no other subject matter is as interesting.

Come to think of it, Politics and Religion is the ONLY subject matter. The world would be a mighty quiet, not to mention scarcely populated, place if it weren't.

But try convincing those who steadfastly play by society's rules, those who'd rank a mixed-company discussion about stem cell research as horrifying a prospect as attending a funeral in a getup borrowed from Pamela Lee Anderson of that. It simply can't be done; I know.

See, for close to a decade now, circumstances beyond my control force me to hobnob and mingle with two of these very sorts of people: we happen to have certain pals in common. And, while I understand that it's important to certain individuals that they cultivate the company of people they can safely take anywhere, I can also understand what it was that made Greta Garbo, J.D. Salinger, and countless Dungeons & Dragons fiends "vant to be alone." Those poor hermits must've met one-too-many of the easily offended.

I, on the other hand, am myself offended by the easily offended. Sure, they always know what fork to use and the exact thread count of Regis Philbin's newest necktie. What they don't seem to know, however, is that their rabid aversion to talk of all things "provocative" betrays more of their views, or lack thereof, about such things than any offhand, "Jeez, that Bush is really an imbecile" or "I hope they find Madalyn Murray O'Hair" ever could. They don't seem to know that all social commerce is, at its heart, political and/or religious in content -from the bully who routinely beats up the new kids (playground politics) to the dinner guest who recounts every minute of the three-and-a-half weeks she spent in Tibet (newfound religion).

I'm offended by the sorts who appoint themselves Social Director, believing that they alone know what's suitable fireside chat. They'll interrupt a spirited debate about, say, the extremely close presidential election of 1960 (when Kennedy operatives stole enough electoral votes to keep Dick Nixon down for another eight years) with an amusing account of a recent "Will & Grace" episode, confident that, once again, certain unpleasantness has been successfully averted. Still, rather than leave in a huff (and perhaps miss dessert), I usually try to be a good sport about such things. I'll even ask pertinent questions like, "so, why do you think that "Ellen," probably the wittiest sitcom ever, was yanked? Is it because mainstream America only laughs at make-believe gay people? Tired old gags and stereotypes?" Most of the time, however, my good sportsmanship just makes these people bristle all anew.

And I'm most offended by the sorts that take themselves so seriously they'll out and out snub anyone with a conviction or two different from their own. Methinks these sorts spend so much time despising the misconceptions of others that they fail to realize that they get about as many party invitations as Saddam Hussein.

Then again, maybe they like it that way. I've heard that the "highly evolved" have no use for the lesser of us (which would explain why so many of them, given a choice, would take an all-expense paid trip to a monastery over one to Disneyworld - Epcot Center and Busch Gardens tickets included.)

As for me, some of my favorite people are indeed my ideological opposites. I've had more fun with a card-carrying Peace and Freedom backer than I could ever have with somebody whose idea of a stimulating evening is exchanging recipes over an intimate dialogue about what constitutes the "right" preschool. I've spent many a delightful weekend in a snowy cabin with a strictly vegan family, the head of which would rather go sledding in the nude than wear the fur coat I once offered him. (Fortunately, his wife rememebered a sarape she'd thought to tuck under the backseat of their VW microbus.) These weekends have been as entertaining as any others spent in close quarters with friends, maybe even more so. I mean, I don't get that many opportunities to argue the virtues of a razor with other women I know, nor do I socialize with anybody else as willing to argue the merits of hemp as these people are. But what I find most refreshing abiut these people is their open-minded, anti-kneejerk approach to Politics and Religion; they're about the only parents I know who seem to realize that blaming Marilyn Manson for the ills, the Columbines even, of society's youth is pretty stupid. Apparently, no one else from my generation remembers listening to Alice Cooper. If we're not careful, we'll forget how to laugh at ourselves, too. (Famed theater critic and dipsomaniac George Nathan feared such a thing for his own generation: "I drink," he said, "to make other people interesting.")

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to my pappy's clear-cut property to shoot some birds with my new Chuck-Heston-approved rifle. Just as soon as I finish this cigarette.



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