Thursday, September 3, 2015

not nearly as funny as you think it is

Simcha Fisher, Patheos Catholic blogger and mother of nine, writes about Slate education reporter Rebecca Shuman's confession that she photographs herself flipping the middle finger to her sleeping baby.

You read correctly:  a reporter, on education mind you, for a national online publication, published an article--with photographs--detailing her delight in giving vulgar hand-gestures to her own child.  Because, apparently, the seven-month old has trouble getting to sleep.

I'm not terribly concerned with Shuman's piece.  The photo alone suggests that she, an elite, well-educated and well-employed journalist, feels empowered enough to do basically whatever she wants...and then tell us all about it.  It's this last part that really grinds the gears;  why do we need to know this?  What benefit does Shuman's article and her photos serve?

Fisher's response is direct, honest, and devastating.  It's also has some direct and NSFW language, so be warned.  Fisher:

This is bullshit, and I’ve said so more times than I can count. It makes us into worse parents when we expect to be joyful and grateful all the time. Raising babies is hard, and there are lots of times when it just plain sucks. I recall telling my pediatrician, in a moment of sleep-deprived candor, that I wasn’t actually going to throw my always-screaming baby out the window, but I sure felt like I wanted to.

Simcha expresses sympathy and understanding for frustrated parents who need to blow off some parenting steam. Hey, the woman's given birth to nine children--I think she knows what she's talking about.  The need to release tension, though, isn't absolute.  Fisher:

But listen to what I said: the demands of babyhood are awful. That does not make your baby awful. One of the first things you need to learn, if you want to be a good parent, is to make sure you know the difference between “fuck this situation” and “fuck this baby.” The former is a universal experience. The latter is grotesque.
But why? The baby doesn’t know the difference, and I believe this mom who says she loves her baby. Isn’t this just some harmless, if tasteless, venting? Does it really matter what goes on around the head of someone who doesn’t and can’t understand what’s happening, which is really just a joke anyway?
But this, Fisher correctly argues, is precisely the point.  Human dignity extends to all, and Shuman does care for her child.  So....it's precisely because the baby is, well, a baby that such gestures are problematic.  They dehumanize the powerless--the very people we're all called to defend.  Fisher:

Just because someone can’t fight back, that doesn’t mean we can use them. Just because someone can’t fight back, that means we can’t use them.
Recall the infamous Army Private Lynndie England photos from Abu Ghraib. .....

No, the Slate writer’s baby isn’t be tortured. But there is something chillingly familiar about “HA, you can’t fight back!” attitude. You don’t need to look up your Aristotle to know that some things just aren’t funny. Even if it makes you feel better.
The very worst thing that you can do to another human being is to use him. I used to think this was just some abstract theological formulation meant to neaten up the codification of sins. But now I see that objectification of human beings lies at the heart of every sin. That’s what it always comes down to.

Fisher's article parallels Schuman's photo with Lynndie Englan's Abu Ghraib pic.  The resemblances are uncanny--and frightening.  It's one thing to view Schuman's photos in Slate--where's the harm there?  We all have problems with our designer children....or so the breezy dismissal goes.  Fisher hits a home run with the Abu Ghraib comparison:  the condescendingly reassertion of power and objectification strike us as wrong....but in one instance we condemn yet in another we pass it off as a mother's frustrations.  But Fisher reminds us:  such objectification is sinful.

And she's also right--that objectification appears everywhere.It's not nearly as funny as we think it is.
And we all, sadly, fall into the trap--but that doesn't mean we can't fight the temptation.

Read it all  here.

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