The Doctor Is In

in Poetry

Dr. Wes

Acts of Violence


This probably won't be one of my cheerful columns, because the last few days I have been preoccupied with varieties of violence. It just seems like everywhere I look someone is engaging in some sort of violence. Sometimes it's physical and obvious like the wars in the middle and not so middle easts. Or you've got stupid mailbox bombing violence. Other times it's psychological and social violence right around here.

The funniest example of the latter appeared in Saturday's Times in the, erk, Dilly Dally Alley.

Stealing people's voice is always an act of violence.

Come to think of it, right there, calling the comics pages the Dilly Dally Alley -- there's some psychosocial violence in that, isn't there? When did that start? What were they thinking? It's like those silly names some restaurants give to menu items so you can't order anything without sounding stupid. "We'd like one Dilly Willy Burger and two Dally Pally Patty Melty Welties. Oh, and Alley-Size those please." Inducing retching is a form of violence that doesn't get all the attention it deserves.

OK, but that wasn't what annoyed me Saturday. What annoyed me Saturday was the "guest" strip, Lola.

As best as I can tell, Lola is meant to be an endearingly crotchety woman of advanced years, who goes around saying endearingly crotchety things that are meant to be amusing. I don't know, I don't usually read it, but Saturday's strip caught my attention because of the appearance of a homeless stereotype, a bench-sitting bearded knit-cap-wearing shopping-cart-near-by guy, "Carl."

Lovable Lola establishes her inherent goodness at once by asking Carl if he is ready to go to church. Carl says, "Can't -- I've got a hangover," thereby rounding out the constellation of the stereotype and providing that hook that every good strip needs, making us want to read more.

In the next panel, Lola sets up the gag by saying, "You're becoming like family, Carl..." The figures are inked over to encourage the reader to hurry on to the zinger. And there it is in the last panel: Lola turns her back to Carl, and says, "I know, because sometimes I feel like smacking you."

Ha, ha! She meant THAT kind of family. She meant the kind of family where she is the one in power and she gets to hit the other members of the family and get away with it. Isn't that hilarious?

No, it isn't. It also isn't hilarious to suggest that an appropriate way to draw an alcoholic homeless man into mainstream community is to threaten him with violence if he doesn't go to your church with you.

An even subtler kind of violence has been becoming popular in, of all places, Seattle's social service workers and those connected with them. Some of the people who are in favor of proposed changes to the Noel House mission are resorting to a rhetoric that includes specifically attacking the idea of a homeless community.

Ordinarily, attacking an idea is not what I would call an act of violence.

But the idea under attack in this case is the idea that the people who are most affected by the proposed changes form a people at all. By destroying this idea, supporters of the Noel House changes would forever deny the homeless women who live at Noel House or any other homeless any right ever to speak on their own behalf.

If there is no community then there is no voice. If there is no voice, then you might as well have clipped tongues. Stealing people's voice is always an act of violence.

© Dr. Wes Browning:
2129 Second Ave., Seattle, WA 98121 (206) 441-3247

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