Idols and Heroes

Hillary Clinton, celebrity culture and the importance of role models.

In the aftermath of the 2016 election, as I cried and mourned and questioned my place in this world and the logistics of making all of us actually fit into hell, I also realized a few things. While searching for a silver lining amongst the economically anxious white-as-shit clouds (there isn’t one), I found out how energized I’d been by one of the campaigns -one person in particular-, and how much my life had been lacking in that sort of guided passion.

I’ve been mocking the whole idea of having so-called idols for a while now, dismissing it as a lifestyle behooving only twelve-year-olds, but sort of in the way that closeted gay men become homophobes. See, I spent a considerable part of my adolescence kind of obsessively looking up to people I didn’t really know, but felt like I did, just because I liked their work and the jokes they told on late night shows. The inconvenient truth, though, besides Al Gore’s, is that all you really have are projections, carefully constructed personas, and a completely one-sided relationship (I suppose the former could also be said of virtually everyone in our lives, because how well do we actually know people, right?).

Growing up means, along with discovering that your mom can both lead a superhero-like existence, raising her child alone, and still be a flawed human being, becoming aware of the fact that Taylor Swift writing lyrics your heart could mistake as its own and displaying beliefs and behaviors that wouldn’t necessarily match yours aren’t mutually exclusive. And that’s okay. And that’s just an example, no shade.

Anyways, most of my grievances with celebrity culture come from the weight we as a society put on money and fame, how we equate them with success (and their lack with failure), and a life-long crusade against gossip magazines and TV shows (it really is no one’s business!). The root of it all might be less inspiring and power-of-the-working-class, though, since as mentioned in that Mike Pence metaphor earlier, I really want to be the worshipee, and watching seemingly undeserving people boast the title is always a little painful. If you’re lucky enough to not have the bug, it’s this particularly poisonous sting that bites into your flesh every time a pretty-faced youtuber gets a record deal, sinking deeper and deeper the older you get. But that’s a subject for another day.

This whole incredibly mature, spectacularly subversive mindset makes for a bit of a lonely journey. It can be very powerful to have the confidence to say “these people are humans, no better or more divine than you and me for having achieved their dreams, and said accomplishment is just the combination of hard work and almost too much luck”. But in your darkest times, if at your lowest all you can ask is WWIPD (What Would I Personally Do), chances are I’d personally quit trying to write that essay that is just “not happening” and go watch three hours’ worth of Chelsea on Netflix. That’s just how I roll.

And I think here lies the not-to-be-disdained value of having someone to admire: something akin to knowing that they did it by being hard-working and persistent, to knowing that it can be done at all, and to always keeping in mind why you wanted it yourself in the first place. I had a lot of fun writing songs before I even knew who Taylor was, but it might have stayed a childhood hobby had she not been, at least at that moment, pretty much the embodiment of what I wanted to do with that -before I could even grasp it. In my mind, having my own TV show has always been common daydream material, but that was all very abstract and distant until Lena Dunham made me go, “hey, I want to write a script! And I think I could do it!” (not that I am now any closer to a deal with HBO than I was at age thirteen, but I know how to format teleplays). I want to believe I would have picked these things up anyway at some point or another, because the mere thought of that alternative reality is both terrifying and nonsensical to me, but I guess “right place, right time” does not only apply to tangible job opportunities. Maybe it already exists in their inception. (Look at me, acting like I’m fifty-two and writing a tell-all at the end of a highly profitable career -both artistically and financially- in sunny LA. I should save this and release it accordingly. Don’t get cocky.)

Let’s get to it, because I know you’re dying to find out who it was that lit such a fire in me during the last election cycle. Was it Jeb Bush? Gary Johnson? Why no, your favorite moderate, John Kasich. No. The person whose voice will reverberate through my mind when it suggests that I give up, whose hands will steady my feet when they lose their way, and whose speech writers would tell me this is cheesy even for their standards, is Hillary Rodham Clinton.

I will always find it funny that all my life I’ve known her as that badass lady politician from the US, not sure how or why (sort of like you just know how to walk and talk and that Australia is not a country in Africa; you just do, since you’re like three), long before I ever heard of that guy named Bill. When I did learn that she was married to a man who had happened to be president, that was a cool bonus. A nice tale to tell at parties, I imagine, like the fact that she has a Grammy (which, I cannot stress enough, is awesome).

I’m not here to discuss Hillary’s policies (which of course I overwhelmingly agree with; a staggering 99% according to ISideWith.com. And she’s not progressive enough? What? Am I a closeted right-winger who doesn’t know it yet? I’ll kill myself). Nor have I come to defend every stance she’s ever taken in decades of difficult decision-making under misogynistic scrutiny, though there’s a great Full Frontal with Samantha Bee segment on that. I just want to talk about what she’s come to mean to me.

This has been the first American election that I’ve followed this closely, from eagerly consuming every single one of Stephen Colbert’s monologues during the primaries to gluing my eyes to CNN and a newly politicized Twitter feed July to November. For someone who really loves politics, with no amount of irony or cynicism gone into that statement, it’s been a wild ride. I begrudgingly witnessed the rise of Donald Trump, whom I never found funny. I was a bright-eyed Bernie Sanders supporter early in the contest, though we don’t talk about that. I got to see Ted Cruz’s demise, and reveled in it. I sang along to every celebrity “go vote!” music video, which I know are a laughing stock and exactly “why we lost”, but HOLY SH*T (You’ve Got to Vote) was genuinely hilarious and smart (thank you Rachel Bloom). I watched the then-presumed first woman president accept her nomination at the DNC, and cried a little.

I was paying complete and undivided attention to my TV screen when Barack Obama was first being sworn in back in 2009. I stayed aware of his campaign in 2012, rejoicing when he got reelected. In both occasions, though arriving at the end, I knew I was watching history being written, and the good kind. But last November, after an equal times exhilarating and agonizing race, I was finally ready to stress-eat all night while blue states were called and to celebrate the election of who I believed was going to be an amazing leader, as excited as a five-year-old just before Christmas, merry and proud going into the conclusion of my little foray into the American experiment. Alas.

I had such exciting plans for the next few years. I was determined to become a real political activist fueled by this new-found passion; a muscle, a voice (being just an educated citizen and avid retweeter of social justice manifestos would no longer do). I would use my art to effect change, with stronger confidence than ever before. I would work on turning those vague statements into a specific course of action. And when I finally stepped on American soil for the first time, my arrival the completion of a life-long quest, it would be under a Hillary Clinton presidency. It felt so right. Maybe too right.

As I said, I won’t be discussing her policies or career here, and I think not even why I believe her to be so incredible. There’s a good portion of me, and probably of many a heartsick liberal, now rushing to make Hillary into some kind of hero -an icon, a symbol-, much bigger than the actual person behind it; willfully neglecting the spots where we would find dissent, all in favor of a much larger narrative. I write this to say that I get it now. I understand the necessity of idolizing people, of garnishing the myth. I understand creating a lighthouse whose bulb points somewhere, in times when yours can’t find the way.

There’s no cute message of hope at the end of this. This is not Rogue One, but real life, and we’re all probably doomed now, one way or another. Yet instead of giving in to that oh-so-tempting nihilism, as one tends to do, I intend to honor Mrs. Clinton’s lessons and not go out without a fight. Which I’m not sure is something I’d be able to do on my own.

Hillary Clinton would write the hell of that mischievous essay. She would make it her bitch. I want to thank her not only for standing up for what’s right, but also for showing us how to do it. The more I’ve learnt about her, the more inspired I’ve been to do better, to bebetter. To work on improving the world around me in effective and concrete ways, to know that a setback just means you’ll push harder the next time; to claim my own life and the time that is given to me, with an urgency no one had sparked since that thing Gandalf told Frodo in the first movie (book, if you’re part of that crowd). Every kid needs a hero, and after a long period of mistaken animosity towards the very concept (I really wish Marvel would stop churning out twenty-five films every year), I think I’ve found mine.

It takes a village to raise a child, and a great woman to give them hope.

Also, can someone tell her to give me a hug? That’s all I need.

Notes:

*I feel like I just wrote a whole dissertation on that “DO IT FOR HER” Simpsons meme. Well, I’ve wasted entire afternoons more egregiously before. Have you seen Divergent?

*I don’t believe Mike Pence is secretly homosexual, and completely get why depicting homophobes as closeted gay people is all kinds of wrong, and super damaging; but this would annoy him, so.

*I know our obsession with fame as a society is nothing new, so don’t picture me all disheveled and yelling at a cloud. I’ve read the Iliad. Still troubling.

*For some, fifty-two might seem a tad too early for retirement, but I feel pretty pessimistic about the kind of world we’re heading into. Forget climate change and the incoming American kleptocracy for a minute, have you seen the numbers on white males in their fifties being brought down by that one extra burger? I don’t eat junk food, but still. I better don’t start if I live through World War 3.

*Seriously, Hillary owning a Grammy is my favorite fact about a historical figure ever. It always makes me smile, and I’m a very unhappy person. Why that alone wasn’t enough to get her Wisconsin remains beyond me.

*It’s probably valid to argue that feeling touched by an achieved politician and their platform and stanning a Kardashian or American Idol semi-finalist are two slightly different things, but I’m not sure what kind of point I’d be making then, so don’t lose yourself in petty details.

*Wondering about my weird attachment to America? I do too, a lot (though it’s really not as bad as it sounds. My opinion of national pride and all that is similar to that of organized religion). There are many reasons I could list and explore in depth but, just to get it out of the way, yes, at least some part of it is probably the result of aggressive cultural colonialism, but what can I say? I’m a cog in the machine! I’m sorry, Mr. Robot writer and creator Sam Esmail.

*In Chappaqua the trees mourn // for they know the dweller should be planting kernels on the White House lawn. That’s a line for my upcoming Broadway hit, Hillary: An American Musical. Expect me, Lin-Manuel. Mine’s got insecure white men too.

*I love you, Hill. Please keep being a bad bitch. We still need you to.

Image credit

Originally posted on Tumblr on 12/31/16

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