Saturday, May 19, 2012

Role Models

I have no time for soapboxes. Whether they present in the form of overzealous MADD commercials, irritating Facebook statuses, overly preachy mothers in amateur plays, young hippies selling stocks in quasi-legitimate charities, or self-aggrandizing ex-jocks on television, I generally tend to smile and nod or flip the channel when someone tries to tell me what's good for me. Take MADD: it's not that I think drinking and driving  is okay, it's just that I feel that I personally have been beaten over the head with that particular message so much in 25 years that I could happily go another 25 without ever seeing another MADD commercial and never drink and drive in my life. (Likewise with the other stuff - I'd give to charity on my terms, and if I wanted to hear about your female empowerment within a particular academic field, I'd talk to you about it, not read my Newsfeed.)

And so it always went with the whole "professional athletes are role models" lecture that got thrown in my face every time I listened to Colin Cowherd's analysis of a professional athlete's particularly unsavoury act. I know kids look up to athletes, having once wanted with every ounce of my being to be the next coming of John Olerud, and there's no question that that one time in grade school gym class when a prepubescent girl complained about my spitting, Major League Baseball was partly to blame. But by the same token, I thought that it was a phase thing. I simply didn't think we needed the commissioner to make a statement about Josh Lueke for us to understand as human males that raping a bitch wasn't cool. Because, you know, once you're old enough to do that, you should be old enough to make your own decisions. (And remember that Eminem lyric about blaming the parents instead of Marilyn Manson for Columbine? Yeah, that.)

But then Brett Lawrie threw his helmet. And I learned something about people. I was watching the incident at work when it happened, and thought nothing more than, "No shit? He didn't? This is gonna be a story." Sure, as a Jays fan, I had a few optimistic thoughts about the ejection pulling the team out of their tailspin, but I mostly shrugged off the act itself as a laugh. Hey, look - the flashpoint rookie in baseball plays in Toronto! (Maybe my soft buy reaction is best expressed in the stat that a Blue Jay hadn't been suspended since Todd Stottlemyre. Todd Stottlemyre?! About time someone went apeshit.) I was greedy for Toronto coverage in the big American media machine, and ate up all the analysis of the act itself: overgrown child, defender against umpire autocracy, obligatory Downfall parody. Ate it up, that is, until a couple of days later, when a guy wearing a Blue Jays cap pulled into the drive-thru at my work.
Now I work in the fast food industry, which for all its pitfalls (being perennially underpaid, working anti-social hours, dealing with petulant human beings) provides a whole lot of insight into the human psyche. What are human beings like at their absolute worst? How do intimates behave when they don't think anyone else is watching? How do teenaged girls behave around university-aged guys who happen to be their superiors? Anyway, this Blue Jay superfan (he was also wearing a 1992 commemorative t-shirt) drove up to the drive-thru after being asked to turn off his truck engine.

"So it's my fucking fault you're deaf, man?" King Douche yells through the drive-thru window. My cashier attempts at first to assuage him, but within moments I'm forced to intervene in what has begun to devolve into a testosterone-fuelled shouting match, about very little other than a request by one person to have the other person repeat himself. I apologize to the douchey customer while strongly hinting he should probably drive away. Unfortunately the dude takes the opportunity to come in and engage my cashier in a nose-to-nose shouting match for the next 15 minutes, much to both of their detriments. Anyway, aside from the impact of the incident on my store itself, which isn't really the point of this post, it left me wondering: how much did the Brett Lawrie helmet toss drive this guy to seek out a fight at the next minor perceived slight in his life? There's very little doubt in my mind that, whatever we may have done, the service wasn't bad enough to provoke the Roid Rage reaction, and the Blue Jays gear gave the whole thing an ominous tint. Really, buddy? You need to relive the Brett Lawrie helmet toss at a fast food restaurant? I can't pretend to be a saint - I've had some pretty legendary explosions of my own - but it simply eludes me why he wouldn't take out his anger on something a little more relevant. Squash. Tennis. The bar on a Friday night. As fast food employees we're often the targets because we're trained to be passive, but that wasn't the case here. The guy was looking for a fight, and I'm not sure what our store did to antagonize him.

I guess the problem with my position on MADD is that I naively trusted that the average human being in our modern culture was intelligent enough to understand why imbibing and driving was dangerous in rational terms rather than requiring garish exaggerations about the effects of a joint on the human psyche. But the fact is, thousands of people still do it. People are all too often lacking in direction and/or slaves to their own interior moments, drives and needs. Hell, thinking back on it, I probably would have had more respect for the fellow's outburst had it happened prior to the Lawrie thing, because at least then it would have seemed as if his random rage had come entirely out of his own personal struggle with whatever his demons may have been (broke up with girlfriend, took one too many uppers before going to the gym?). See, at least then it would have been original anger. But what I saw was nothing of the sort. I saw a twenty-something-year-old's pale imitation of something a professional athlete did on a professional field, and there was nothing cathartic or purposeful about it. It was a harsh reminder that, just as people continue to drink and drive no matter how bad the ads get, some people don't give up their desperate need to emulate once they grow some hair on their balls.

So, in conclusion, maybe I should get off my anti-soapbox soapbox, and accordingly adjust my expectations for humanity.

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