Quasi-Empathetic

Confession time:

I cry every single time that I watch The Hunchback of Notre Dame. . .

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Smile while you can.

and it is not because it is the most underrated Disney movie of all time. What truly gets me in the film is the scene during the festival of fools. My main man Quasi is stoked to finally be accepted by his peers. He even gets crowned KING – but unlike most movies, this is not an altruistic act from the crowd. He is only crowned because they believe that he has the most hideous mask; however, one guard in the crowd thinks it is a good idea to throw a tomato at Quasimodo. Apparently, everyone attending the festival is an asshole and joins in on the humiliation. And although I know what will happen each and every time I watch this scene, the tears remain consistent.

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Imagine longer hair and you have me 25 minutes into the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

I used to always be a bit embarrassed by my reaction. After all, I was crying over a fictional character going through a fictitious experience – yet now I know there is a deeper reason. It is not Quasimodo that causes me to cry (for he really doesn’t want to hurt me, he really doesn’t want to see me cry) – it is a testament to the animators’ ability to tell a story, and my own character. To quote the man behind my tears, Victor Hugo once said, “Those who do not weep, do not see.” I suppose that while watching The Hunchback of Notre Dame, I submerge myself into the film – I am not watching, I am seeing. Although the two seem similar, they are actually quite different:

Watching –  look at or observe attentively, typically over a period of time.

Seeing – be or become aware of something from observation or from a written or other visual source.

Unlike watching, seeing involves more activity. While watching, information stops once retained. Watching is a passive act. With seeing, information that is retained becomes processed, and it is through this process that connections can be made, allowing for empathy.

Up until recently, The Hunchback of Notre Dame would be the only time anything on screen would move me to tears. I did not cry as Mufasa died nor did I shed a single tear in Titanic – only Quasimodo resonated with me, he not only rang the bells of Notre Dame, but the bells of my heart. However, within the past two years, this was no longer the case. My eyes were like dynamites, ready to go off at any second. Here are some recent examples:

  1. Inside Out – as Bing Bong acts as a martyr and instructs Joy to “take Riley to the moon for him.”
  2. Community – “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas,” in which Abed envisions the entire study group as stop motion to cope with his absent mother.
  3. Queer Eye – every single time one of the participants revealed their new transformation and then said goodbye to the Fab Five.
  4. Forrest Gump – Forrest discovers that he has a son and immediately asks if he is “smart.”

These tears are not always a result of sadness. They stem from compassion (and typically cartoons). Yet this epiphany did not enter my mind until recently (ironically, this involved real people).

During my visit to the Georgia Aquarium, I watched a Dolphin Show. There was a segment in which one of the trainers had a child from the audience perform in the show. A crowd of 200+ people watched as a ten year old boy “trained” a dolphin. As the boy instructed the dolphin, we all saw the trainer discretely send signals to the dolphin – however, the entire crowd cheered for the boy. In that moment, all of us became united under a single cause: to make the boy believe. Yes, this is incredibly corny, but against my better judgement, I found myself tearing. I immediately tried to hide my tears – what was I crying for? When did I become such a baby?

After wracking my brain for some odd moments, a new question emerged: Why was I criticizing myself for experiencing the most heightened form of compassion?

Empathy.

In that moment, I was moved at how the entire crowd was able to function as a collective just to make one little boy – that none of us knew – believe that he was able to control dolphins. How absurd. How spectacular. How magical.

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Laverne illustrating the concept of watching from her speech at the cathedral (1996).

We are constantly told that there is no use in crying over spilled milk, and let’s not forget that it is banned from basseball as well. Big girls don’t cry (thanks Fergie). Boys don’t cry. However, to fully invest yourself into the life of someone else, real or imagined, is an incredible gift. So I say, crybabies, rejoiceth! In those tear-jerking moments, we stop watching, and we tear down the wall that we build to separate ourselves from others – after all, take it from Laverne, “Life’s not a spectator sport. If watchin’ is all you’re gonna do, then you’re gonna watch your life go by without ya.

 

 

Unapologetically Pulling the Trigger

I was going to need a few more Hypnotiqs to fall for this guy’s shit. . .

For New Year’s, my boyfriend and I decided to visit the Poconos for a little getaway, with a possible potential of snow (joke was on me since a week after we returned, a bomb-cyclone visited NYC and now I am sick of the snow). During our first night, we attended a live performance from a band, yet during the performance, I had a nagging itch (and certainly not one that made me want to dance). The band seemed innocent, a bunch of elderly men singing covers of love songs for honeymooners so buzzed that they probably thought Stevie Wonder was actually performing, but it wasn’t the inability to hit every note that bothered me. It was the lead singer.

“How is everyone feeling tonight?”

Slow, quiet applause (I assumed that this meant content. Perhaps louder and faster applause would have implied happiness. Or maybe, and this is what my clap meant, I am hesitant to let you know so show me your vocals first and then I will decide).

“Alright, alright. Fellas I want all of you who is with a lady tonight to raise your hand.”

A bunch of people raise their hand enthusiastically (a teacher’s dream).

“Okay, okay. I want you to take your hand, and put it on your lady. And – and,” licking his lips as his right hand moves towards his left shoulder. Slowly, he moves his hand to his chest, “And place it right here.”

Laughter from the audience. Annoyance from me. Perhaps I was not buzzed enough to find the humor in this. I reminded myself that I was in a resort that was geared towards couples, until I heard:

“Mhmm. Mhmm. Oh, oh. So-sorry. I didn’t mean to touch myself,” he chuckled as he reached for the microphone to begin singing. In case my retelling is not clear, he pretended to be aroused as he instructed the men in the room to synchronize grope their women.

At the moment, I felt like I was being hypersensitive when I realized how uncomfortable the entire gesture made me feel. I looked around the room and none of the other women appeared bothered, so I attempted to shrug it off and continue listening to the music. Notice how I said attempted? I could not shake the discomfort, and the more I tried to neglect the feeling, the angrier I felt myself becoming.

Throughout the entire performance, he would begin each song with a disturbing monologue. It seemed like it was getting progressively worse. For instance, the last thing that I heard him say was during his attempt to get the women in the room to scream “Hallelujah” since you know, Uptown Funk wanted to give it to us.

“Girls hit ya . . .” he sang as he pointed the microphone to the audience.

“Hallelujah” (and I have never heard a sadder one).

“Aw come on, I need better than that. Girls hit ya . . .”

He was met with the same response. So naturally he did not give up and continue singing the song, instead he resorted to his comedic talent (that someone once made the mistake of telling him he had):

“Fellas, I know you gonna make your wives hit that Hallelujah tonight. Yo-you know, even if they still aren’t sure what’s going on.”

I grabbed my coat. My boyfriend and I left. At first, I apologized to him. I felt bad because there were so many couples watching the performance yet I was the only woman who seemed to be so offended that I had to remove myself.

But what was I apologizing for? I did not cause a scene, although looking back on it now, I would have certainly been justified for doing so. I was afraid that I would be judged and labeled as a prude because, as I have heard before, I “wasn’t able to take a joke” at the moment. Yet the last time I checked, jokes were meant to be funny. Instead, I was being exposed to misogynistic microagressions that were meant to be presented in the form of a joke. I am tired of uncomfortably laughing at jokes like this because I am afraid of offending the person who is subjecting me to them. If the person feels like their “joke” is appropriate enough to tell, my response should be appropriate enough to experience – without any apologies. Through allowing comments like this, we are allowing these microaggressions to thrive and develop into the gruesome aggressions that we read about daily. Through providing our ears, we are allowing an unwanted visitor to enter our homes and become a tenant. It is 2018, we should no longer be oblivious as to who our visitors are! I will no longer subject myself to anything that makes me feel that I am less than because I wasn’t born with a penis.

Some people reading may be chuckling and thinking that I am overreacting, that I am simply some man-hating feminist who has been triggered. Which you are absolutely right. I am a feminist. I do hate men, but only because I hate people as a whole (this is partially a joke in case you, the reader, are also getting triggered). What is so bad about being triggered? To be triggered, I have to care enough about something. To be triggered, I have to be aware of my surroundings. Being triggered is what allowed me to pull the trigger and walk out of that shit performance.

I googled the band while I was writing the article, and while I can not say that I am surprised, I am disgusted that what I experienced is his signature material. I am not surprised because just like originally I feared, countless of women, and even men, may have felt uncomfortable yet chose to laugh because it was easier. Seeing the laughter, the singer continued to deliver his comedic gold. However, if more people expressed their discomfort,  I am sure that he would find that when he rubs his gold, he would simply find pyrite. Finding a piece of shit on the floor and concealing it in shiny wrapping paper does not make it any less of shit, rather it is more telling of the person who attempted to disguise it. He may not be aware that his “jokes” are offensive, but the very fact that he doesn’t know this, reveals that he is no more of a man than he is a comedian.

 

How To Be Black

On my most recent trip to Barnes and Noble, my boyfriend and I were on the quest to finally obtain a copy of Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance, a book that we have been meaning to read together for a while now. We found two copies but the covers were badly damaged so we were escorted to the Humor section to find some more. While waiting for the associate to check the back stock, I began to scan through the shelves and found How To Be Black. As I glossed through the first two pages, I found myself laughing (out loud) for real, not the “I will type lol with a stone cold face” way. This was enough to warrant its purchase.

I can imagine how it appeared. Me, a white girl, walking alongside my black boyfriend, carrying a book entitled How To Be Black. Will I be undergoing some initiation to further our relationship? Is it mere anthropological research? Or am I dating him as a mere cover for my desire to be of another race? And that is exactly the beauty of the book, and we are only discussing its title. The uneasiness that it evokes clearly demonstrates that we do not exist in this postracial fallacy that we desperately want to exist. Race continues to drive institutions and society itself. Racism exists.  Continue reading

The Demon

Greek-orthodox is one of the most refined and strictest religions out there, and my grandma is the most religious person I know; making it only natural for me to cause a disruption in her most sacred haven: church. My mother would bring my siblings and I a few minutes before Communion would start because she knew our limited capacity to behave ourselves there. I was feeling under the weather, but having no choice, I found myself at church that Sunday morning. I waited impatiently for the fifteen minutes before Communion, which felt like six excruciating hours. As we walked up to the alter, I could feel that something was going to happen, but ignored it, surely such a thing wouldn’t happen in church. I was barely able to tell the priest my name, or swallow the wine. Sensing that something was wrong, either through the holy spirit or common sense, the priest questioned my appearance, and patted me on the back, wishing that I would recover soon. Thus, the miracle happened only where miracles could. I felt it, and I couldn’t stop it. I turned to the audience and regurgitated our Savior in front and on the shoes of the first two rows. Ever seen the Exorcist and how the priest looked at the little girl when he realized she was possessed by the devil? Now just picture that face stricken upon the faces of around twenty churchgoers. I looked at what just happened and waited for some kind of divine retribution, but all that followed were mutters along with looks of disgust. I quickly headed out escorted by my mother and to the bathroom to wash up.  The previous jokes about me being a demon child seemed to finally make sense.

The First Kiss

The magical moment of a first kiss is a memory that will most likely last longer than the relationship it entailed. A combination of butterflies floating in your stomach along with the sparks of your lips meeting; at least that is what you believe you feel until you kiss another. I was in the park with my soon to be boyfriend, soon to be ex-boyfriend, sitting on the bleachers chatting and watching two dogs roam through the green fields. We decided that we wanted to have a romantic walk through the bicycle trail so I began to step down the bleachers, until he stopped me and I was facing him directly one bleacher below him. The moment I so desperately dreaded finally arrived and our lips touched. Then I felt it, I was falling for him, and I realized this as I began to leave the bleachers. Now let me make this clearer using better words, I plummeted, tumbled, and literally fell off of the bleachers. It seems that the bleachers gave me the feelings of a first kiss more than my actual first kiss gave me. The embarrassment caused me to become flustered and red in the face; not to mention the scraps on my knees felt like sparks. However, being a typical teenage boy, he interpreted that my reaction was simply due to his lips, therefore he could not stop himself from chuckling, “You are really falling for me.” My first kiss itself would simply be unforgettable if that fall did not happen, and the universe most likely took pity and caused the fall to happen so that I would be able to experience the true feelings of a first kiss.