Are we too safe?

I’m sitting in the Arvada Public Library working on my capstone project reflection paper. (It seems the school cares more about how I feel about my work than how strong the actual work actually is. Fortunately, I have a superb adviser that cares more about the poetry.) As I wrote yesterday, bloggin is an escape for me, and here I am when I should be fleshing out a paper due on Monday or Tuesday. That’s tons of time!!

I went to a screamo concert the other night with my brother. I didn’t mosh, but I had the itch. But it wasn’t that bad of an itch because the crowd was pretty lame. Security was letting people do what they want (as long as people weren’t getting trampled and falling over) and only a handful of people were really into it. The bands were lively and rockin and screamin and one guy got on the mic and said, “Denver, you’re pretty weak right now.”  My brother and I laughed about the concerts we went to in high school, where blood was smeared across the floor when the bands were finally done. Bumps and bruises appeared ifrom body surfers and we were usually tired from jumping and slam dancing. Not so poetic, but really fun! What has happened in the past 10 years that a bunch of kids go to a concert and stand around rather than beat each other silly. And then it hit me.

Car seats.

Kids are strapped down and locked in every time we take them somewhere. Once they grow out of the car seat, they get a bigger one. Then a booster seat. It’s safer for the kids and it’s the law. Heck, my wife and I just bought this massive thing (looks straight off of the Mind Eraser at Elitch’s) because we want our son to be safe in case something happens. Let’s take this to the melodramatic nth degree though. We want our kids to be safe. We give them plastic shells with seat belts until they’re 60 pounds or so. They swim in antibacterial hand gel whenever they can get their grubby little hands on the stuff. We give them hundreds of shots to help their bodies fight off disease (ask the autistic kid’s parents about how that works out). So when immunizations become unsafe, parents don’t have their kids shot (that sounds so wrong). I heard a statistic that if less than 90% of the population is immunized, then the immunizations won’t work. We’re headed to something like 80%. So in being safe, we’re jeopardizing safety. Hmm.

This is fun being emotional and dramatic. Let’s keep going. We take care of traffic danger with car seats and air bags (which the scars on my arms say are not safe at all, especially for tall guys). Now there’s school danger. Shootings all over the place. So systems are put into place so kids can be safe in public. This is good–I don’t want to get shot at when at work. I want to talk about literature for Pete’s sake!! Who’s Pete? I dunno, but we’ll press on. So it becomes safe to homeschool (I know many families home school out of necessity–geographic location, family situations, etc) regardless of the consequences (social, self-discipline, etc.). It doesn’t surprise me either that the majority of home school families are conservative Christians. Oooo, Christians love playing it safe. We’ve created our own safe sub-culture with safe music, safe literature, safe life styles, safe toys, and school is just another addition to the gated community. All of this safety is wrapped up neatly and stamped with a “the world can’t touch me, I’m an American” sticker. I think too many people have the mindset that if we leave the world alone they will leave us alone. Yup, the terrorists love that idea. I don’t think we realize that people out there want to kill us and they will sacrifice anything to get to that end.

It’s funny how an easy going crowd at a screamo show got me thinking about all of this. And I know it’s dramatic. But in the literary world, where Kenneth Goldsmith is causing a stir by saying that no poetry is new, nothing is new, only regurgitated and synthesized.  But what if poets are too wrapped up in their car seats, to afraid to unbuckle and look at the possibility of creating, however influenced? What if the vocal established poets are happy in their booster seats, happy that their ideas are limited to a school zone? I would say we are too safe resulting in a mellow, meaningless unconsciousness. As Owen Barfield writes in Poetic Diction, “Great poetry is the progressive incarnation of life in consciousness.” On so many levels, we aren’t writing good poetry.


6 thoughts on “Are we too safe?

  1. And … what would being “not safe” look like? Can poetry be “not safe” in a packaged, insured, car-seated, airport scanned, self-esteem-inflating culture like ours? Take Shakespeare: writing in what was essentially a police state. Marlowe spying for Walsingham (Frances or Thomas or both). Heads on London Bridge pikes. Public burnings. Dis the Queen and there goes your noggin bump-bump-bump down the cobblestones. Now poetry then was not safe, and was even less safe under Cromwell.

    Our police state is softer, though. It wears the mask of democracy, so even while we build the biggest “embassy” on the face of the Earth in Iraq and plan for the second biggest in Pakistan, even while Goldman Sachs posts massive “earnings” created from pickpocketed taxpayer money, even while Americans die every day from the lousiest health care system (though quite profitable for a few) in the developed world—we continue to feel safe. Well, most poets with their tenured professorship may be safe—for now, at least. And as long as that’s true it will probably also be true that the elites who own this system will be safe from them….

    Whew! Now I feel better….

  2. I’ll see about a moshing poem!!

    I wonder if we’ve become so pre-packaged to allow poetry to be (safe or not). Barfield (I don’t know if it’s Poetic Diction or Saving the Appearances) writes that as society evolves, the need for myth/art/spirituality wanes on a cultural level. A case in point is the mess in Iran and the entire Middle East. The poetry is fantastic because it matters, it’s real, it’s raw.

    And healthcare is another safety issue–pay lots of money to have coverage or have the government take care of me…yikes. It sounds lose lose to me. If we as people were taking care of people (what if my $1k a month went to keeping others that were sick healthy rather than provide me peace of mind that if I wasn’t, I would be taken care of) then this mess of the ever-growing-government pie may look a little different.

    But do I have the courage to be that “unsafe”???

  3. Yes, the question becomes, which is more important: great poetry or a life relatively protected from risk? I’d not choose medieval Germany risk, or 19th century India risk, or 1970s Vietnam risk—would you? For poetry?

    I have to believe that a deeply imaginal life is possible here and today. No…?

  4. Ahhh, now we’re the crusty old guys bagging on the young…these whippersnappers don’t know jack about concerts. Why when I was a kid, my buddy Jeremy came out from a concert not knowing who or where he was. Now THAT was a show!!! (the Crucified’s reunion show at Cornerstone ’95.) Anybody remember the Mortal/Prayer Chain show in ’94? The Gothic Theater shows? Ahh, the good ole’ days!

    Anyway, you have a great point. I don’t remeber if was Ben Franklin or Winston Churchill who said something to the effect of “when a people gives up freedom to gain security they deserve neither.” I don’t have time to look the quote up, but it is a great thought and very pertinent to what’s going on in our country today.

    As evangelical Christians, we’re especially bad – reference the subculture comments – tending to under emphasize Jesus’ comments about being salt and light. Sorry kids, wearing a “this blood’s for you” t-shirt doesn’t cut it! We need to be revolutionary, authentic and genuinely different – not safe. That’s one big thing I love about getting to work at Commission every year – it gets teens to go out into the community where they live and do big things where their peers will notice…and lives are getting changed as a result. Not safe to be sure…but effective!

    So…anybody up for C-stone ’10? 😉 😉 😉

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