Tuesday, July 04, 2006
One of my favorite scientific terms is “hopeful monster” used by biologists and geneticists to describe an anomaly or mutation in a genetic or evolutionary chain. A hopeful monster is a creature living in the hope that their mutation will work ultimately to their advantage and be co-opted into the species either through mimicry or reproductive success: someone or something that not only thinks outside the box but was actually born there. In other words, a freak. Given the role they’ve played in society, Freaks rarely receive the respect they deserve: without them, after all, we’d not only still be a British colony, we’d probably have never made it out of the swamp.
So it’s odd, when you think about it, how afraid we are as individuals of doing things unilaterally, how afraid we are of looking foolish, of being considered a freak. When I first started sticking up signs over freeways, the catalyst was sheer anger over an election so obviously stolen. This is a Democracy. In a Democracy you Count the Votes. Despite the dismal string of failures and degradations that’s come to characterize the Bush administration since then, freewayblogging for me has always been more about the medium than the message and given how easy it is to do, I’ve long wondered what keeps more people from doing it. I’ve had signs seen by a quarter of a million commuters per day stay up for days: although nobody had the initiative to take them down, nobody had the initiative to put up one of their own either. After more than five years of steady freewayblogging this still baffles me.
Although at least part of what’s holding people back is concern over the legality of it, (and let’s face it folks, if freewayblogging were illegal, I’d be in jail,) I think ultimately the thing that keeps people from speaking out in this, or any other highly public way, is simply fear of embarrassment, of being considered a freak. This is why we prefer to protest, on those rare occasions when we do, en masse: it’s safer that way. But while acting in concert may be more socially acceptable, strategically it makes no sense whatsoever: why cluster into groups with small signs seen primarily by each other when we could spread out and put signs everywhere? The only feasible answer is this: Because It Simply Isn’t Done.
Despite my efforts, freewayblogging remains a movement with a thousand sympathizers for every activist. To the nine hundred and ninety-nine of you who think it’s a good idea but will probably never get around to it yourself, don’t feel bad: were this not my pet project, but rather just a website I’d stumbled onto, I can’t say I’d even do it myself. I’d want to, certainly, and I’d think it was a fine idea… but I can’t say for certain I’d actually do it. In my case this would probably be more a function of my own laziness than fear of embarrassment or the law, but hiding somewhere among my excuses would be the simple fear of looking foolish... the fear of being a freak.
To the one of you out of the thousand for whom the risk of looking foolish is not a big deal, whether it’s sticking up signs or something else, keep doing whatever you can to make yourselves heard. You’re a Freak... a Hopeful Monster... and regardless of how poorly we may treat you for it, the rest of us are depending on you.
Happy Fourth of July Everybody...