A couple of weeks ago, I noticed a crude spray-paint job on Dino Rossi's name on the large campaign sign in the yard of an insurance place near where I work. The McCain/Palin sign had a penis painted on it.
Yesterday, I noticed that our neighbor's Obama/Biden sign had been torn up and the pieces thrown into the gutter and the bushes.
I will probably never know what motivated the sign-destroyers. But I'm inclined to imagine what motivated them, to construct a little narrative in my head. I imagine that the people destroying the Republican signs were 14-year-old-boys on a tagging mission, with no political motivations at all, and the signs simply attracted them by being larger than most campaign signs, like little billboards, the kind of campaign signs you see along the highway. Or maybe they think McCain is a creepy old guy and Sarah Palin is hot, which might explain the penis. Or maybe they actually do have nascent political leanings, albeit clumsily and stupidly expressed in 14-year-old-boy fashion.
(The part of the narrative I don't get is why the insurance place has left the defaced signs in place -- does it please their sense of aggrieved self-righteousness to look at the spray-painted penis and think "that, that's exactly what those horrible Obama supporters are like."? Or are they, like, really old and out of touch and they haven't even noticed? Maybe the insurance place has already gone out of business, and the signs were actually put there by whoever puts them up all along the highway and nobody really takes care of those, so now I have to go see if the insurance place is open for business because I'm curious. And who puts those highway signs up anyway? Large vacant lots are running 90 percent for Dino Rossi!)
I'm having more trouble imagining the Obama sign-destroyer. Was it one of those deeply angry people you see shouting "terrorist! Kill him!" at McCain/Palin rallies? But how did that person end up in downtown Bellingham? In a college neighborhood? Was it a college Young Republican (do they even have those anymore?) drunk, wandering the streets in a daze, able to focus only on his visceral loathing of the very shape of the letters that make up Obama's name? Or maybe there were a few of them, roaming the streets in a pack, and they dared each other?
And I've been kind of assuming that the sign-destroyers were male, but maybe they weren't. The spray-painters, almost certainly, but what if the Obama-sign-destroyer was female? In fact, what if she was a deeply committed Hillary Clinton supporter who was simply overcome with sudden rage because the sign didn't say Hillary/Whoever?
In fact, it's easier for me to imagine a drunken college student as an enraged Hillary supporter, rather than as an enraged McCain supporter. So, now, that's the person I imagine doing it, and now I'm kind of amused to imagine her as a women's-studies major who was deliberately trying to get in touch with her female anger power and maybe now she is deeply embarrassed to have done such a thing, especially because now she is a litterbug as well as a vandal, and now she will go up to their house with a new Obama sign and apologize and make friends and vote for Obama after all, so, yay! Happy ending!
Of course, I am just making all that up.
But, making stuff up is what humans do. Our perception of reality is largely narrative-based.We make up stories ourselves, and we turn to the people around us for assistance in constructing narratives. We turn to the media. News outlets are less about informing us of facts than they are about supplying a coherent reality narrative. These narratives are, usually, sort of, based on facts. But our brains probably don't care. Studies on how memory works seem to reveal that our brains don't automatically make a distinction between fiction and non-fiction. We don't store it in a different place or recall it any differently. A non-fiction narrative simply has an additional "this really happened!" tag.
The four people in the presidential race right now are, in fact, real people*, but in our minds they are characters. Even people we know really well are, sort of, characters to us. People we have never met can hardly be anything else. We cast them as this, we cast them as that -- there are the roles we want them to play, the roles they choose to play, and the roles they succeed in playing.
I think Republicans wanted McCain to play the role of elder statesman, but he hasn't really done that -- in fact, he hasn't picked a consistent role to play -- and so they are finding it hard to support him, because in the absence of a positive role to play, he has sort of defaulted to playing the doddering old fool. Instead, the role of elder statesman is being played by Joe Biden. Sarah Palin is playing Boudicca, the Warrior Queen defending the homeland against foreign invaders.This role is rather unnerving to people, because in this play "foreign invaders" are not only actual foreign invaders, but also anybody who is not a Republican.Still, she is an interesting character. She is such an interesting character that there are many people who see her as the hero of the piece, but only if they agree with her definition of "foreign invaders." Other people see her as a likely candidate for villain.
(I think maybe Hillary Clinton was playing an American Democrat version of Margaret Thatcher. Maybe?)
Obama is playing the role of how we like to remember John F. Kennedy -- after the announcement of the space program, say, before we all knew about Marilyn Monroe. He's playing Kennedy only better, a dream of Kennedy, what we wanted him to be, what we made him -- a symbol of our youthful optimism, our technical know-how, our can-do spirit. He's not only playing Kennedy-only-better, he's inviting us to play along, to play 1960-Americans-only-better. Better, because this time, post civil rights and feminism, everybody gets to play. Whether Obama wins the election or not -- whether he becomes president or not -- he is playing the hero in this story.
Unless you think Palin is actually the hero, in which case Obama becomes the false hero, the villain with the smiling face who acts like the hero, but he'll betray you in the final scene.
*Except possibly Sarah Palin. I think she might be a robot.