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Ben Werdmuller

Open morning pages: land of crazy sleeves and disempowerment

5 min read

One of the things I've found hardest since moving here has been losing my sense of humor. I don't mean that I found everything deadly serious as soon as I moved to California (that would be insane, because, well, it's California) - but my sense of humor is somewhere between sarcasm and surrealism, and I find that people just kind of stand and stare at me if I start using it. Maybe they always did, internally, and were too polite to mention - it's kind of hard to tell, to be honest, because it was Britain - but here it's overt.

What I'm left with are some weak dad jokes and terrible puns, which at least elicit rolled eyes and low, gutteral groans. I mean, at least I have that.

Except John Oliver exists, who is basically nailed-together pieces of surrealist sarcasm, so if I'm going to be honest with myself, which everybody should be, at least when it's not emotionally inconvenient, it's probably that I was never that funny to begin with.

Ouch. But you know what? At least I know this. Now I can finally move on with my bland, witless life.

One of the nice things about living in America is the way they wear things on their sleeves. You're never going to be left wondering if someone is interested in what you have to say, because they will literally interrupt you halfway through saying it if they aren't. If someone hates you and wants to undermine your work, they will tell you explicitly before they do it, like an extremely frank James Bond villain.

That's in stark contrast to Britain, where they'll be very polite to you, and you'll only find out three years later and completely by accident that they think you're boring or they want to undermine everything you stand for as a human being. And if it's the latter, it's because you've broken some unwritten rule that you didn't know existed, had no way of finding out existed, and is probably handed down from generation to generation through subaural whispers. I don't know. I broke the unwritten rules like a bull wandering amiably through a china shop looking for a gift for the owner of the last china shop it wandered amiably around.

I don't think America is actually crazier than many other countries, but because it wears everything on its sleeve, the crazy is there too. It's hard to argue that this is refreshing, exactly, but to be honest I'd prefer it to be out in the open than hidden behind closed faces.

Take Jade Helm, the realistic military training exercize that's commencing in Texas today. If you go and search for it on Twitter, as I did this morning, you'll find a stream of racist lunatics yelling about Obama invading America, as if that was semantically even possible. But at least you know: here are the lunatics. You can stay well clear.

What doesn't make sense to me is why, when America is so open about being crazy or violent or bigoted, it's so completely uptight about sex. Perhaps it's because it's so religious, but I don't think that's it: there are plenty of religious populations that have a much healthier attitude. It's a lazy point to make because so many people have made it before, but if you're questioning the citizenship of the democratically elected political leader because his dad was African, it's totally fine; if you're showing a nipple, or suggesting that a 16 year old should have access to effective birth control so they don't get pregnant at a time that could derail their entire lives, that's taboo. Movies where people literally explode are considered to be less offensive than movies where two people have sex with each other. (Moral conundrum: if there was a movie where two people exploded while having sex, what would be the most shocking part? Could two explosions make love? What then? But I digress.)

The real, sober answer: it's not so much sex that's still taboo but the empowerment of women. Things that in other developed nations aren't even real conversations are still core values here, and the same people who question citizenships and use the Bible as a go-to justification for anything they can think of (irregardless of the true meaning or intent) consistently vote against a woman's right to choose what happens to her own body.

These two things collided yesterday when a bigoted right-wing campaigner known for releasing videos that were loose with the truth (there's the crazy) released one about Planned Parenthood (there's the womens' empowerment). Immediately, the Republicans (there's the crazy) started talking at length about how Planned Parenthood should be defunded (after all, their entire reason for existing is to empower women). The Republican Party has become the party of right-on-the-sleeve lunatic bigotry, and disempowering women is something that appeals to their core base. The video was misleading at best, but truth, facts and research aren't things that crazy cares for.

Sometimes I find the transparency refreshing. Other times, like yesterday, I find it irredeemably depressing. Maybe I have lost my sense of humor after all.