Monday, March 1, 2010

Both Sides Now

So recently , the sad case of the Swedish Rapper and the Jazz Pianist lurched to its inevitable conclusion. I don't have time to rehash all the details, but the basic facts are these: slightly tipsy Jazz Pianist is crossing the street in Hollywood, Swedish Rapper drives pimped-out rental Hummer thru the crosswalk, angered Pianist swats hood of said Hummer, Swedish Rapper goes berserk, beats Jazz Pianist for time enough to attract the attention of an off duty cop, who attempts to stop the beating. It does not stop, Rapper kills Pianist with a kick to the head, and drives the Hummer over used-to-be-Pianist, while the cop is clinging to the windshield wiper slamming his badge on the window, as a sign that John Law takes a dim view of the proceedings. Th rapper was convicted, and sentencing is pending. Case closed. But that's not why we're here
Now, you would think that there's not a lot of room for " he said, he said" here. There were witnesses, including law enforcement, one of those involved is dead on the pavement and one is sitting in a Hummer texting his lawyer. So it's pretty cut and dried where the blame should go, right? Ah, but you didn't read the comment thread to the article describing the outcome of the case. And apparently, there are people willing to step up and defend a person's right to blow through an occupied crosswalk unmolested by jazz musicians who have the legal right-of-way. I'll be paraphrasing here, but you'll get the drift. "While I don't condone the outcome," said one -- and big of them to say that, that they're against murder and all, "if [the rapper] had rented that car, and [the pianist] had scratched the paint with his hands, [the rapper] could have been looking at a charge from the rental company. Pedestrians should be more careful.". Because the pedestrian is clearly the one with the power here, not the rageaholic driving 8000 pounds of shiny stupidity. There were actually quite a few brave sentiments like this, and the sad thing was, I was ultimately not surprised. The BpR strikes again.

The BpR, for those unfamiliar with abbreviations unique to me that I only just made up, is the Bipartisan Reflex. It's a nearly omnipresent trick these days, wherever there is a disagreement. And you can do it at home too, in these easy steps! 1) Remember, in any confrontation, it is axiomatic that both sides are dangerous, fringe extremes. Therefore, 2) the truth must lie somewhere between them, and probably exactly halfway. In the case we're talking about, the Jazz Pianist was clearly insane, or maybe just drunk. He had the temerity, the gall, the hubris, to expect to be able to cross a street at a crosswalk. Yet despite his obvious insanity, he still had a chance to escape his fate-- if he'd been a little more chill about nearly being run over, he'd still be alive today. The tragedy here, thus, is these two crazies coming into contact with each other, but that's life in the big city (no lie, several commenters basically took this position.).

Which is arguably true, but misses the central truth of this case and many others like it. What is the wrong thing that happened here? The traffic violation, yes, but mostly the beating and the murdering. It is NO WAY the Jazz Pianist's fault what happened. There, I said it and I'm glad.

I would also venture that this reflex is not, unlike breathing or finding the costumes of figure skaters idiotic, a natural thing. It's something we've been taught by rote, repeated over and over again, and if we want to meet the distinguished faculty inculcating us, it's important to follow the money, as it were. The people who benefit from the promulgation of the Bipartisan Reflex are those actual extremists in the game. For instance, if the jury had bought Mr Swedish Rapper's claims that he 1) he was just defending himself 2) he feared for his safety because there might have been a second attacker (perhaps behind the grassy knoll? Just askin'.), and therefore 3) he had to choose the most direct escape route in his 8000 lb. Tiny Penis Protect-o-Pak, which turned out to be over the body of the Jazz Pianist, he would be looking at a lot less time. And so it goes, from the streets of Upper Losangeleswood to the corridors of power in national capitols.

If you take nothing else away from this tale of urban street rage and comment threads gone wrong, take this: Just because there are two sides to every story, it does not mean they are equally valid. The next time you hear anyone describing someone else, who seems to hold fairly standard, even boring, middle of the road ideas-- akin to "I want to cross the street at a crosswalk" in their outrageousness-- as some disgusting, crazy, alien "other" whose heresies will bring all of us down if we don't eradicate him soon with any and all weapons at our disposal-- put your head down, and cross to the other side of the street. But look both ways first, you never know who's behind the wheel these days.

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