Once there was and there was not …
… a man, mid 40s, wide awake at 2:24 AM, staring at his keyboard trying to fulfill a promise to himself and his editor that he would write a weekly column. He is a weak man at this hour, considering not to ever write again when newspapers of his day via the Internet have become bathroom stalls where any reader with a keyboard can scribble nasty notes and tell the writer to shut up because the reader thinks the writer has no substance.
It’s not a good week or a good world when it starts off with the writer seeing a Chihuahua pup defecated in a two-by-six glass cage it shares with a Poodle pup in the storefront of a pet store at the intersection of Vermont and Lexington in Little Armenia. Not that there is anything wrong with a Chihuahua pooping, but when the Poodle walks over to the feces and eats it, then the injustices of the world cloud any sane mind, and the week continues with visions of all things that can go wrong and have gone wrong.
Thanksgiving is about being grateful and eating, but the writer isn’t grateful. Rather, his ego isn’t. He watches people who can’t pronounce “Artsakh” or did not care enough to learn how to pronounce “Artsakh” ask for money for Artsakh’s children. Many times they asked for money for the children of sushi.
He watches a correspondent report from Armenian villages, not succeeding in connecting to the people he is reporting about. The writer knows from decades of media practice that stories about real people connect the viewer to the issue being addressed. He’s disappointed that the reporter didn’t spend more time meeting the people, getting to know them, or appreciating them as humans. He’s disappointed he saw random Armenians as caricatures of villagers, poor folk with no water.
The writer watches rapper Chris Brown – accused of beating his girlfriend Rihanna – make an appeal for donations. Was a violent, abusive man, because he is famous, supposed to be appealing to our people? Are we saying since there’s domestic violence in our community, perhaps we would identify with Mr. Brown and donate?
The writer watches men and women who won’t dare pronounce Armenian names walk around and ask phone bank teenagers to read donor names off index cards. He watches the control room staff cut away from one of the most talented hosts in mid-sentence during the most poignant pitches for donations.
He watches donors, who drove out to the studio on a holiday, get snubbed and not say their peace. He hears hosts announcing the half-right names of schools. He watches students who diligently raised money for over a whole year to give to their peers in Armenia get ignored. Some don’t get to mention the amount of their donation. Others don’t get a chance to perform their rehearsed speeches.
But Chris Brown gets applause and the head of a gossip site, TMZ, gets to make a pitch. Is that who we are as a people? Domestic abusers and paparazzi appeal to us?
Is this all we can offer our nation for a show that costs half-a-million dollars to produce? That’s quite expensive just to hear mispronounced names of donors for six hours. It would be cheaper to buy a page of advertising in our community newspapers or on one of the many local and international Armenian channels. After all, these channels and newspapers need your support too.
Surely television can be more potently used to move people through images, words, and carefully crafted stories about poverty, community, and the importance of giving, of being human.
The writer is comforted that Armenians continue to make an effort to work together. He’s happy that the Himnadram or the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund and Kirk Kerkorian’s United Armenian Fund (UAF) are able to bring our organizations and churches and schools together for a united cause. Wouldn’t it be great if those two were also one?
Then there is more heartbreak.
He returns to Los Angeles from the serenity of the land of Saroyan to hear that an unprecedented pan-Armenian cultural event celebrating 21st century Armenian music and musicians is being sabotaged.
For more than six months, nearly a hundred people have come together to organize a spectacular entertainment and awards show at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles on Sunday, December 13. Legend Charles Aznavour, rocker Serj Tankian, pop stars Nune, Tata, Karnig, Harout, Armenchik, rappers, flamenco guitarists, are all scheduled to be under one roof to celebrate our vibrant culture, acknowledge the culture makers, share their art and music.
Several competing businesses, three television stations, local bands are all coming together. Hayastansi, Beirutsi, Amerigahye are all joining forces. Investments have been made, and people are working hard to create a pan-Armenian event. But a businessman from Armenia, knowing this event has been planned for months, unveils last-minute plans to hold a comedy show in Pasadena featuring performers who appeal to the same crowds who would go to the music and music video awards show at the Nokia.
The writer is saddened. This intentional double-booking is beyond a simple faux pas of two dinner-dances on the same night. It’s beyond two lectures in our church halls on the same day. This act is similar to two simultaneous and competing April 24 marches in LA, something we simply don’t do. There has always been a civility in our community where, for example, the Diocese and Prelacy churches in Fresno have for decades scheduled grape blessing picnics on different Sundays. That, after all, is what community is about.
He thinks community is supposed to be about circling the wagons against that brutal world of dog-eat-dog and dog-eat-poop. He think community is about taking up arms to collectively fight for community aspirations like cultural preservation, seeking justice, and ensuring positive cultural acceleration.
He wonders: Why do we call ourselves a people or community if we come to it to treat it and its members as our enemies? Why do we take our own people’s name in vain and call ourselves Armenian when all we can show for it is degradation of our character, the belittling of our names, the forgetting of our language, the non-attempting to say our names properly, the preferring of non-Armenians over Armenians to do the work we are doing inside our community for our community?
What is it that we are truly doing when we try to defeat members of our own extended family? Why do we sabotage other Armenians rather than build them up and celebrate their successes?
He asks himself: Are we really a community? Are we really a nation? Or did we sell-out decades ago and just want to keep up appearances?
Then the writer obsesses about the puppy eating poop. His mind’s eye sees the painting by Goya of Saturn eating his children. He keeps thinking of the Biblical references to parents eating their own children. He thinks about Hollywood and how it’s a dog-eat-dog business, but he can’t reconcile his mind with the idea of dog-eat-brother or the image of dog-eat-poop.
If we eat our young, he thinks, if we eat our brothers, if we celebrate criminals and criminal acts, if we eat poop, who are we today and who will we become tomorrow?
There’s no hope in this story, in his story, because sometimes reality overwhelms hope and you – the reader – see puppies eating poop, because you see Armenians sabotage other Armenians. There is no hope when you see people make money by putting the word “Armenia” on humiliating and demeaning television images of our people.
There is no ho
pe when disgusting Armenian stories are broadcast into each American home and into homes around the world. And the images are of Armenians killing Armenians over money and films of murderous teen thugs beating up innocent people. These are stories of thieves, of Armenians snorting cocaine, boys groping girls while sitting naked in saunas. And our nation’s name in its tricolor identifies all those behaviors as the Armenian character.
Nations, ethnic people, Native-Americans, African-Americans, Muslims, Hispanics have waged costly court and public relations battles to change the stereotypes of their people in global media, and Armenian television shouldn’t build negative stereotypes for a quick buck from their own community. It shouldn’t reaffirm to millions that the Armenian names of criminals they hear on the evening news are truly representational of a nation of ten million around the world.
As a people whose Diasporan identity has focused on seeking justice, how does the writer – how do you – react when some among us know nothing about cultural dignity, have no integrity, and shame us by their selfish greed, lack of transparency, and loss of any positive sense of community.
Sorry to be vague, but shouldn’t someone figure out a way to license the words “Armenia” and “Armenian” in this litigious and Babylonian century, so that we can preserve our culture without it being hijacked by the ruthless among us who have no sense of right and wrong?
Perhaps when we can copyright and license the name of our people, then we can decide to do something like the annual celebration of our culture, of all of our arts – like the music awards – on Thanksgiving Day next year.
Perhaps we can book the Nokia, charge people double the price of the cost to the event, and share the revenue with our poverty-stricken brethren in the Homeland.
That should bring in the one or two million dollars that the pedestrian among us – donating $20, $50, or a $100 – cobble together to add to the amounts pledged by the millionaires.
Our nation’s patrons would give as always with or without a show on television.
Rock & Roll.
And three apples fell from heaven: one for the storyteller, one for him who made him tell it, and one for you the reader.