At Lewis News is an article by columnist, Greg Szymanksi, Mom, Who Lost Son In Iraq, Talks About ‘Disgusting’ White House Private Meeting With Bush. The mom is Cindy Sheehan, who testified June 16th at the Downing Street Memo Hearing called by John Conyers. Ms Sheehan also spoke about the same meeting with Bush with Amy Goodman.
Ms. Sheehan experienced Bush as uncompassionate, arrogant, cold, hostile. She looked in his eyes and saw, “This is a human being totally disconnected from humanity and reality. His eyes were empty, hollow shells and he was acting like I should be proud to just be in his presence when it was my son who died for his illegal war! It was one of the most disgusting experiences I ever had and it took me almost a year to even talk about it.”
In her interview with Ms. Goodman, Ms. Sheehan said, “I was on CNN…with Larry King talking about this, and there was another mother who had met with him, and she said that she supports the war and the President, and she said he was so warm and everything and gentle and kind, and when my family and I met with him, I met a man who had no compassion in him.”
Now, I have no doubt that Bush would be arrogant, unfeeling and hostile, as that has been my experience of his voice and manner on television and everything for which he stands is toxic to the popular good, the environment and future generations.
But it’s interesting how he can be perceived so differently by two different families. To one he appeared to be gentle, warm and kind, and to the other he was arrogant and hostile, not even bothering to know the name of Ms. Sheehan’s son who was supposedly being honored.
Are there two Bushes? Or was he displaying to Ms. Sheehan the same manner as he had exhibited with the other family, and her experience of it was different. Don’t point me in the direction of a psychology magazine and study of facial expressions and what they may or may not mean. I’m more interested that you can have a manner that is perceived by half the population as genuine and by the other half as false and yet we trust actors to reliably portray expressions, and good actors seem to do so with uniform response.
The response evoked in me by Reagan’s demeanor was the opposite from many, including, for instance, my in-laws. I saw Reagan as insincere, playing the smiling, paternal father figure, neon broadcasting, “I’m such a friendly dude, you can trust me!” My in-laws saw and heard a leader they desired who was honest, sympathetic, strong.
What makes the difference? And why such a radical split in perception?
I’ve had some plays produced and they tended to evoke a response of either “I hate it” or “I love it, we need more like this.”
Some people were said to flee in a panic.
A complaint I heard often enough, which surprised me, was, people expressing that characters were so distasteful that they were entirely unsympathetic. And I mean the kind of lack of sympathy where someone would ask why should they care if they didn’t “like” a character.
What, my characters were going to have to win personality contests?
I had never had to like a character to like a story, a movie, a play, a book.
I like “Shakes the Clown” and if you look up the few online reviews there are of Shakes, one complaint you’ll read is that the character is so distasteful there is again no sympathy had by the viewer.
Anyway, this complaint surprised me, as a young writer, because I could feel complete sympathy with characters without liking them. “Oh, but of course you would,” you may be thinking. in relation to my own plays, but those who liked the plays also saw the characters as complex and honestly portrayed. They didn’t complain about not being able to feel sympathetic. They intuited and understood sympathy where a number of other people couldn’t find it as they were put off by not being able to like a character. Those who didn’t find that sympathy seemed, at least to me, to want a character who at some point, as far as I concerned, would abandon their nature and become instead a theatrical convention.
My characters received criticism also because they weren’t saved. One play was found offensive by many because the female protagonist, instead of rallying and becoming a strong survivor, sank straight to the bottom. People wanted her to turn around and win. I could understand their wanting her to do that, but it wasn’t the character. It wasn’t what the play was about.
I did at one point write a play about a character with whom the audience could be sympathetic. Based on a friend of mine with borderline personality disorder who died of AIDs. We ended up not having much to do with each other toward the end, and it tormented me, but he had an emotionally abusive side and during the last year couple years it accentuated and I was unable to finally talk to him anymore. And it was as if he was demanding it happen, that it end that way. In some ways the play was dishonest. I wrote a lot of how it had been, but then gave it a good ending where love and understanding wills out, instead of the friendship being hacked apart by some really ugly scenes and finally irreparable. At year’s end the play was written up as one of the best two new plays performed that year. A play where I’d written how I’d wished something had been, instead of the way it had actually been.
I’m not saying my writing was without flaw at all. Indeed, though the people who loved the plays tended to be passionate about them (just as those who hated them were passionate in their hatred of them), I later saw every one of them as lacking and to my husband’s dismay chucked them all.
Still, I’m talking about that split in reception. Some of us look at the faces of Reagan and Bush and feel trust and warmth, while others of us see a facade intended to curry a positive response. Those who perceive Bush as displeasing and toxic as his policies think how can anyone not see what we see, hear what we hear? This can’t be explained away as our not liking his policies and that dislike of his politics influencing our perception, because there are perfectly charming crooks.
I mentioned the other day the accepted nature of two-facedness in American society, despite its saying otherwise. And it has been a historical complaint of some cultures in their confrontation with the Euro-American, the saying one thing and doing another. I read that Americans are supposedly more honest with their facial expressions than other societies and I have to wonder at the studies because of this history. I think of what people want out of theater, movies, stories, and wonder at the accepting of what one wishes instead of what is, and what role that plays culturally in our perceptions of physical expression.