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Food for Criticism

Ruth Miller

If you don’t like something that happens, how do you formulate your response? If someone bumps into you on the sidewalk, do you write it off as unintentional and let it go? If someone cuts in front of you in a line, do you get frustrated but take it as them being petty? Does your response vary with the offender’s intent? If a person takes something that belongs to you, what do you do? If someone takes something that belongs to your hall, what do you do? Does your response vary with the size of the group affected?

These are crazy times we live in today, and there is a lot of crazy stuff going on: the Israel/Palestine issue, African civil wars, Gulf War II: Attack of the Clones, LSU’s upset that destroyed the University of Georgia’s hopes for a national championship. Everyday decisions are being made that are literally writing history. These decisions represent compromises between often polar perspectives, and no compromise is universally welcome.

Times, they are a changin’, but something else has, too: the voice of public opinion. When did speaking up become “fighting the system”? It’s been argued that the American Civil Liberties Union is fading away because they no longer have the civil rights movement to champion, and that their campaign for freedom of speech is trivial. A group that defended the Bill of Rights during the 60’s, the ACLU is facing a formidable enemy in the USA Patriot Act and its “whoever smelt it, dealt it” approach. It’s not popular any more to stick it to the man, and the politically correct approach has become silence.

Silence is boring.

Look at music. In the early 90’s, there were lots of issues going on that affected people very strongly and many artists put this into their work. Nirvana produced anthems for the middle children of history. The West Coast/East Coast rivalry in rap, though deadly, was pivotal in the emergence of a new genre of music because it capitalized on an issue and made people care. Rage Against the Machine’s album Battle of Los Angeles is a compellation of battle anthems, and whether or not you were there at the time, you can still feel the power and meaning in soul of each song.

What happened to these artists? Nirvana didn’t survive to see 1995. Rap artists have moved on to themes such as playa haters, hos, and their shoes. Rage Against the Machine disbanded, and regrouped to form Audioslave, an excellent band, but one with a more passive, lovelorn tone. Then emo emerged, a genre devoted entirely to songs you can sing to yourself alone in the car driving away from a bad breakup. Songs that break the top 20 these days are typically love songs. Music as a forum for discussion is losing its grip.

Do we live in less controversial times today? Most definitely not. So what’s the difference? Why is society leaning toward silent dissent? Are we that afraid to offend?

There are two types of people in the world: the guy that walks into the gas station waving a knife and robbing everyone and the patient clerk who takes abuse from every person that walks into his store until he finally snaps and kills everyone in the store.

If something frustrates you, talk about it. This applies to more than just roommates. If someone is just being obnoxious for the sake of being obnoxious, calling them on it will probably make them stop. If someone is being obnoxious for the sake of personal gain, like many politicians these days, call them on it, too. Write to them, write to your newspaper, write to their opponent. There are as many forums for discussion as there are things to discuss.

The only great thing about politics is if something isn’t going well, the system will reinvent itself to correct that problem. But this only works if people are willing to admit that others have made mistakes.