Friday, April 07, 2006

Judas, Spotted Owls, Bogeymen, and the "N-word"

Judas, the bogeyman of the Easter story, seems to be getting a facelift. Apparently not the greedy turncoat, he was instead the trusted confidant only doing what was asked of him according to a recently released Gospel.

It is interesting how, at times like this, texts which were seen as set and sacred and to the minds of many delivered fully translated and edited, are revealed to be the work of political wrangling. So it is with many of our narratives, they are works of politics and the bogeymen are constructed.

I've been seeing busses with advertsing for a movie called "Hoot," with the tag-line "It's time to stand up for the little guy." The image is of three kids standing between a bulldozer and a cute little owl (looking spotted). Kids protecting cute little owls against nasty developers. No doubt every bit as formulaic as any other Hollywood, kid's movie.

But what is interestng is that it is owls that are getting the protection. The anti-environmentalists have a narrative in which the spotted owl plays a special role. For them, the spotted owl represents what is wrong with caring about nature -- it shows how out of touch liberals care only about silly little birds they will never see and nothing of the people who live near them, their jobs, lives, or property rights. It is a strawman argument designed to justify a lack of concern about the world we leave our kids. If you are green-minded, then you prefer spotted owls over families and you are not the morally upstanding person you think. By not being worried about the environment, I am more moral than you. It is another classic example of the sort of inversion of values that Nietzsche pointed out.

What is interesting is that this is a deliberate effort to undermine that narrative, to take the spotted owl back as a symbol. To reclaim it much in the same way that Dick Gregory and Richard Pryor tried to reclaim the word "nigger" in the 60's and 70's -- by embracing it in a way that re-assigns its meaning, you counter those who use the symbol against you.

Judas and the spotted owl were bogeymen whose image may be getting a make-over. Others that we could reclaim?