Thursday, April 30, 2009

Tolerance or Bias?

Abraham Joshua Heschel, a rabbi and Jewish theologian, effectively reduced society’s ills to bite-size bits:

Racism is man's gravest threat to man - the maximum hatred for a minimum reason.

The problem to be faced is: how to combine loyalty to one’s own tradition with reverence for different traditions.

Above all, the prophets remind us of the moral state of a people: Few are guilty, but all are responsible.

No mere conundrums from the mid-20th century, these wise words demand action; however, human beings by nature seem to be self-deluding, especially concerning such matters. Surely programs, such as Affirmative Action and Teaching Tolerance, and mile-stones, such as an African-American president, have had an impact, but how do you evaluate progress when so much lingers below the surface? I guess one approach would be to examine popular culture. The success of Brokeback Mountain and Milk, suggests greater acceptance of homosexuals, especially given the plea in Sean Penn’s Oscar acceptance speech; in fact, greater acceptance has taken place (marriage is legal in six countries) and Brokeback equivalents have been produced around the world, e.g., I Can’t Think Straight.

Nevertheless, all of these movies featured attractive actors, and one thing western society does not seem to tolerate is unattractiveness. Tanya Gold immediately asserted that Susan Boyle wasn’t ugly on Britain’s Got Talent, just our reaction to her. Thus, it is extremely ironic that her story gets billed as one of an underdog, when the audience made her so. If you doubt this assertion read a few of these euphemisms. Although her performance evokes an emotional response for various reasons, for me, a rubber-neck reaction holds most viewers, an attraction to the car-wreck of bias. Although Susan Boyle does not suffer a mental illness, her behaviour is somewhat reminiscent of one who does.

Mental illness remains highly stigmatized in North America, despite many attempts to raise social awareness (a local favourite is Movie Monday). In order to foster understanding (and promote their products) Janssen Pharmaceuticals have developed a full sensory simulator, including wind effects and smells, of schizophrenia’s impact. Even the scaled down version (audio/visual only) evokes deep compassion. Dr. Pandina states it best, “It’s an awful, awful world, passed onto them while the real world passes them by.”

No comments:


Reverb plug-in