Friday, October 12, 2012

Political Discourse

One of the general rules of polite society is that you don’t discuss religion or politics at the dinner table. In my family of origin, this rule goes straight out the window whenever we get together. I come from a tribe of peoples who enjoy a rousing conversation as a family meal winds down. Our tribal leaders are both retirees who make full use of their cable news outlets of choice – “Lamestream” media for Dear Mama and “Faux News” for Good Ol’ Pops. (Note my attempt to stay neutral…) And when I say they make good use of these networks, I mean they take in enough of the day’s news to emulate the pundits who exist solely to stir the pot. In the morning, they give each other a good pummeling over yesterday’s news while sipping their morning coffee. When they’re not otherwise occupied throughout the day, they stockpile ammunition for the next day’s coffee talk by watching their favorite news programs. They haven’t killed each other yet, so it seems their routine is working for them.
(Note to my fellow Gen-X-ers: Cable network news is like MTV for the elderly retired people. It’s all they talk about on the rare occasions you can peel them away from it.)
(Note to my younger readers: Back in the olden days, when cable only had about 30 channels, Music Television [MTV] featured music videos and the artists who made them. All day, every day. We watched MTV incessantly because the Internet didn’t exist yet. Did you hear me? We made it through high school WITHOUT THE INTERNET!! AND WE LIKED IT!!! We didn’t have cell phones either, because they hadn’t been invented yet. Back then, phones had these strange rope-like appendages called “cords,” and they were attached to the walls of your house. The part of the phone you held in your hand didn’t have a QWERTY keypad on it – you had to hold the phone up to your head and speak into it. With your voice. You had to share a phone with your whole family - and you had to wait your turn to use it. And if you wanted to call your friends late at night you had to plan it in advance so that they could call the weather recording [ask your grandparents what that was] and pick up the call waiting so their phone wouldn’t ring and get their parents all mad n'stuff. AND WE LIKED IT!!!)    
You just got schooled, Sonny.
Where was I? Oh yeah. Politics.
When the Extended Family Sassyfats gathers round the dinner table, we usually end up talking politics. Sometimes religion creeps in, but since it’s an election year the political discussions take center stage. My brothers usually take on the role of Devil’s Advocate to keep the conversation flowing. Sweet Little Sister and I usually argue against whatever point the brothers are trying to make because, let’s face it, old habits die hard. The two siblings-in-law, who I’m sure wonder why the heck they married into this crazy family after every holiday meal, trade commentary amongst themselves as they stay out of the fray. And the chi’drens – the dear, sweet, innocent chi’drens – they leave the table and go watch stuff on YouTube they shouldn’t be watching while the grownups are distracted. (Pooping animals, anyone?) Ain’t nothing like family time at Sassyfats Central.
Imagine my parents’ delighted surprise when an old friend of mine recently flew out from LA to look for a job in D.C. She’s staying in the area indefinitely, and she’s close enough to the family to join us for the occasional Sassyfats Sunday dinner. My friend (we’ll call her Sunshine) is what you might call a political wonk. She lurves her some discourse. She has a Masters degree in international affairs and she reads policy like it’s interesting. In short, her opinions aren’t just strong, but they are also well-informed. Sunshine also happens to be a very sweet and accommodating person – but when politics are on the table, a little switch gets flipped in her head and she goes into full-on debate mode. Our happy-go-lucky Sunshine gets all serious and stands her ground without fear or hesitation. It's always disarming to people who think it will be easy to get her to back down. And it’s fun as hell to watch.
Sunshine and Dear Mama agree on a lot of political stuff. Sunshine and Good Ol’ Pops do not. We learned at Sunshine’s first dinner with us that Sunshine and Good Ol’ Pops can both get rather passionate about their positions when faced with a strong-willed opponent. So passionate, in fact, that the rest of us dropped out of the conversation and watched them argue back and forth, our heads snapping to and fro like we were watching a fevered tennis match. We started sprinkling in some color commentary for our own amusement, but they pretty much ignored us.
By the time they were both thoroughly lathered up, we started inserting ourselves into the conversation to bring the volume down a little. They realized they needed to chill a bit. So they ultimately agreed to disagree… over ice cream.
The Great Peacemaker
Not that politics are off the table. Quite the contrary – now that we’re just a few weeks away from the election they’re both just as frothy as ever. But it's different now. They know they won't change each others' minds, so they don't get all yelly. They just trade barbs as they point out how horrible, evil, and stupid the other's side of the aisle is. It’s not unlike watching tiger cubs play – they might look like they’re mauling each other, but it’s all just for funzies. No harm done.
Now when either of them throws out a political comment in a non-political conversation, the rest of us know it’s our cue to break out the popcorn, get comfy, and enjoy the show. The side bonus is that I don’t have to read the news any more. I just check in with them every couple of days and learn both sides of whatever issue and form my opinions from there. So their debates aren’t just fun to watch – they’re bona fide edutainment.        
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1 comment:

Go on, spill yer guts!