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The Stony Lonesome: Role Models

Oh, look! Wake Your Fat Ass Up! America is doing yet another segment about the unrealistic expectations of physical beauty propagated by the media and how they are turning our teen girls into bulemic chain-smoking would-be runway reeds. How very daring, original, timely, and feminist! It couldn't possibly be that by making the paternalistic presumption that teenage girls are so stupid and vain as to believe that these painstakingly manufactured and enameled Barbies represent an attainable ideal we are selling them woefully short.

Granted, I am about as far removed from teenage America as its possible to be, but the last time I was in any kind of proximity to teenage girls — when my currently 30-year-old niece occupied that demo — she and her friends appeared unaffected and unconcerned by these images and perfectly capable of distinguishing between real humans and the anomalous sexbots hawking their makeup.

Supermodels are freaks, plain and simple; no different from conjoined twins or supernumerary appendages in their frequency of occurrence and no less demanding of attention, but suggesting that exposure to the 99th percentile of feminine beauty is somehow damaging demeans women in general and teens specifically. You may as well call out the professional sports leagues for their glorification of unattainable levels of coordination and physical prowess and its negative effect on boys. All over the world, young athletes dream of making it in the NFL or NBA or La Liga, but the fact is that the genetic lottery produces only a very small, very specific number of people who can hit a major-league fastball or find a receiver downfield while evading a blitz. Does this mean that we should salt the NFL with 150-pound defensive linemen or safeties with 6.2 speed in order to reassure our youth that it's okay to be normal? Certainly not, because our youth are not idiots and fully aware that they will never be LeBron James or Kendall Jenner.

There is a far more dangerous assertion long perpetuated by the media, a false confidence booster which does basically the opposite of what is claimed the unrealistic images of female beauty do to erode the self-esteem of young girls. The writers and producers of situation comedies would have us believe that no matter how fat, stupid, mean, abusive, poor, or humorless a man you are, you can find an impossibly beautiful woman to marry you.

From the very dawn of sitcoms a paradigm was established for couples in which an overweight, overbearing, lower-middle- class dolt is paired with a gorgeous wife, though she was sometimes outfitted with a working-class accent and tough-cookie demeanor to underscore her supposed accessibility. On the few occasions when the husband was not morbidly obese, he was so completely clueless that he could barely tie his shoes without the patient direction of his beautiful, intelligent (but shrewish!), long-suffering wife. Leading our fatties and dingbats to believe that they have a shot with women like Leah Remini or Jami Gertz or Wilma Flintstone is not doing them any favors.

Interestingly, two glaring exceptions in which the paradigm is stood on its ear are the sitcoms Good Times and The Jeffersons, Florida and Weezy being powerful, intelligent, capable, strong, overweight women married to irascible hotheads, although Flo's James was bullishly macho and George J. a strutting, preening twerp. The message seems to be either that virtues besides physical beauty are esteemed in the African-American community, or that black men dig big women.

Speaking of erroneous and/or disturbing reports on morning news programs, the other day I suffered quite a shock at the hands of National Public Radio. There I was, minding my own business, starting my day in the usual way — coffee and Morning Edition — when I heard a chillingly familiar voice riding the airwaves, a creaky West London alto that conjured visions of Cruella DeVil and another sharply attenuated villainess I happen to be acquainted with. Could it be? I thought. Is it possible? Has she contrived somehow to torment me even here, where an added bonus to society being protected from me is that I get protected from society, or at lest the part of it that features Anna Shaw? Sure enough, when the report came to a close, I heard, “That was Anna Shaw, executive” whatever of blah-blah...

After the name it was all flashing lights and grinding noises in my head, and after I regained consciousness I wondered first what she'd done to merit the airtime, and then what became of the poor reporter. NPR reporters are a gentle breed, kind, diffident, and helpful, and if that one wasn't actually killed and eaten, he's probably even now in an asylum somewhere trying to reassemble the shards of his shattered psyche. Poor fellow, he could've been covering tsunamis or Mexican drug cartels, but instead was thrust right into the teeth of the dragon.

As all with-it sophisticates, i.e., the Stony Lonesome readership, know, Morning E. repeats on a two-hour cycle, so I'd have a chance later to hear the entire report. No way was I going into it unprepared, though. First I made myself another cup of joe, extra-strong. Then I went into the bathroom for 30 minutes of reinforcing affirmations into the mirror. "You are a strong, capable, man," I told myself. "You are safe. She can't get you here. The fence is electric and the walls are very thick," and more stuff in that general line.

Next I did an extended Sirasana (headstand) pose, fortifying my brain with oxygen-rich blood that it might gain the necessary vigor and resilience to withstand the coming onslaught. When the hour rolled around I was ready, seated in a position of power and gazing heroically into the distance.

Turns out all the flap over repurposing the Old Coast Hotel to benefit the house-free caught the attention of the national media, and rebutting Ms. Shaw's explication of the program were a couple of local business and political figures who said, basically, "Well, we've killed all the fish, cut down all the trees, and since we're too stupid to think of anything beyond exploiting natural resources all that's left for us is to pimp the scenery, and how can we profitably expect to do that when the scenery includes such un-scenic blots upon the landscape?"

My takeaway, both from the aforementioned and from the reportage in these pages, is that they consider the relative luxury of the Old Coast as just too good for the address-challenged.

They feel that the current policy of criminalizing their condition and housing them at Low Gap is working just fine. Hotels are for real people and rewarding the homeless' lack of ambition will only perpetuate the problem.

In order to take a position on this issue, I guess you need to ask yourself two questions. One: do all human beings have a right to shelter, and two, does the state have a responsibility to house its citizens? I say yes, on both counts. See, life is a crapshoot. You might get born with a place reserved for you at the money trough. You may hop from the womb into waiting arms and the persistent attentions of two loving parents. You might, if you're lucky, receive patient instruction and care in the matter of your development. You may be supported and encouraged in your endeavors and steered from that which might harm. You may be able to gain the necessary skills and confidence to negotiate what can be a confusing and dangerous world.

Then again, you might spend your gestation period marinating in jug wine and nicotine. You might enter into a world of indifference and neglect. You might learn at an early age how to take a punch, but not why you have to. You might know little beyond anger, confusion, and fear until that first time you experience whatever soothing panacea first works its magic on your brain, and then you might never want to face the world without it again. You may, if you're part of this latter group, consider the American Dream as fanciful a notion as magic beans or enchanted frogs, and your marginal existence may at some point include scrabbling for shelter and sustenance on the streets.

Would it actually break the economic back of this country to ensure that everyone who wants it can be warm, dry, and fed? I doubt it, just like I doubt that implementing a program to do so would create a nation of parasites content to live off of government largesse.

I believe it's the right thing to do. I believe we're all in this together. The people on the streets don't they feel like the rest of the world is against them.

What are we assuming about potential tourists to Fort Bragg, that they must be shielded from unpleasant reminders of social pathology? From where will they be visiting, 1 955? I'm sure they can stand a little reality. I wouldn't include Harrison St. on the tour, but why not, as the group ambles down Franklin, point out that grand edifice and say, "And here is the Old Coast Hotel. Built in 19-whatevs by yadda-yadda, it was unable to weather the recent recession and has since been reimagined as a transitional housing facility in which some folks who've suffered some setbacks are given an opportunity to rebuild their lives." At which point the yahoos would say something like, "Huh! How about that?" and form opinions of FB as a responsible, forward-thinking city.

This town was built by loggers and fishermen, not interior decorators and floral arrangers. If people wanted a sanitized, utopian vision of America, they'd go to Disneyland; Fort Bragg is an oyster with some grit in it.

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