And so it begins… I have that phrase tattooed on my left foot wrapped around a quill pen. It was an impulse buy and, luckily, one I do not regret. I moved from Pennsylvania to Colorado, roomed with some people I met through Craigslist, didn’t know a soul for hundreds of miles and I was there. This was the beginning for me. I bought a bicycle, probably the first time I rode one since I was 12, and that took me everywhere I needed to go. It seemed only logical to swing by the tattoo shop and decide to get a tattoo.
My intention was to walk in and look at the examples they had sprawled across the walls and just pick whichever one stood out to me. But, to my surprise, they didn’t have a “choose your tattoo” wall; the man said I could look through some portfolios if I’d like. And so I did. I flipped through pages of a few portfolios while texting with sisters and friends about whether I should get one or not. Whatever phone I had at the time allowed me to set up it up so there was a quill pen “writing” my letters rather than just my cursor. And then I had my “aha” moment. So I walked over to the guy behind the counter and said, “I want a tattoo on my foot of a quill pen writing the phrase ‘and so it begins.'” He asked me if he could take my idea and draw something similar because the one I described was pretty common (although I have yet to meet anyone with that tattoo). So I obliged and asked how soon I could get it done.
Later that evening I arrived back at the shop and he showed me what he came up with and I was totally fine with it. I think he was a little surprised as to how flippant I was over something I’d have forever, but neither of us mentioned it. I sat in my spot with my leg bent and he got that ink ready and started drawing. We made small talk and I let him know I was there studying Composition and Rhetoric/English, so naturally he started talking to me about books. He mentioned one titled, Bear vs. Shark. He explained that it’s a satire about how saturated with the media our country has become and how we get passionate about these competitions that are thrown in our face through all media outlets. The book asks: Given a relatively level playing field — i.e., water deep enough so that a shark could maneuver proficiently but shallow enough so that a bear could stand and operate with its characteristic dexterity — who would win in a fight between a bear and a shark? The main character in the book won a writing contest that takes him and his family to Vegas to see the fight of Bear vs Shark. I can’t remember everything he said about the book but he sold it well. I later bought two copies off Amazon. It’s a book that has stuck with me for almost a decade now.
From my lens, this past election season was just that–two unlikely competitors fighting their way to become the champions. They gave in to what America had expected from the media and ran with it. It was the most reality tv-like, mud-slinging, tasteless campaign runs that I’ve ever witnessed. And we ate it up. As much as people said “I can’t believe how trashy these debates have become.” Or “ugh, those rallies are nonsense.” We still tuned in. We still read the articles and watched the clips and focused as much as we could on what was happening in each debate. We still drove past billboards telling us which of the two to choose, we had ads interrupting our YouTube videos, internet radio stations, even satellite radio was speaking politics to me when I specifically chose that over terrestrial to get away from the advertisements. We watched tv commercials telling us how terrible one candidate was over the other. And in the end, who won? The person who put on the best show.
In this book, it’s based as a rematch. The shark won the first battle and this was the rematch the country had been waiting for. It was a pay-per-view event much like boxing and MMA matches. It was on every television, radio show, newspaper, magazine, etc. Even if you thought you weren’t going to pay attention you were brought into it. You would be so exposed to the media spectacle and the hype surrounding it that even if you knew nothing beyond the sound bytes, you now felt you were aware enough to determine who will and who should win. The bear and the shark in this novel are computer animated. It’s not real but it becomes the utmost importance to everyone. For us, Hillary and Donald are very real and it was extremely important to pay attention and become informed and cast our votes and hope the one that is best for our country wins. But the importance of that “battle” fell on the same lines as a show of computer animated animals fighting. And while the latter may be from a fictional book, our behaviors as the audience look the same. Pick up the book and see how the fans from each side mirror the supporters of our presidential candidates. The shirts. The hats. The language.
So many paid attention to the candidates of the 2016 election as entertainment. Even before there were only two, we were tuned in and were able to make jokes and laugh about what a shit show this was shaping up to be. As it got closer to the final showdown and a winner would be named more and more of us became entrenched with how we believed the outcome would be. You were a shark person or a bear person, and if you fell anywhere in between you were perceived as an outcast. Just pick one of the two, damnit! Supporters of Hillary Clinton would flood social media with sound bytes of Donald Trump to the point that you could not forget about his fraud, his alleged sexual assault cases, his bragging about taking advantage of women, his distaste for minorities, and the list goes on. Donald Trump supporters would flood social media with sound bytes of Hillary Clinton talking about a case she was assigned in the 70s as a defense lawyer, of her coughing, of her sneezing, of her laughing, of her referring to some of Trump’s base as deplorable. And then in between those sound bytes you had completely malicious and deceiving news stories that were propaganda and downright lies. And somewhere between all that you had actual legit, truthful reporting. Only about a week ago a man drove hundreds of miles to a pizzeria with gun in hand to “investigate” crimes he heard through a fake news article that was circulating the web. It was an outlandish claim that there was a child sex ring happening under the floors of this establishment and Hillary Clinton and those on her campaign team had a big part in it. Most people can hear these ridiculous claims and know that it’s completely fabricated. And a bunch of other people will read, not be too sure, and start researching a little and then acknowledge it wasn’t true. And then there’s the rest of the people who can’t seem to separate reality from fiction. A catchy headline from the truth. We’re all guilty of believing celebrity gossip or a bogus claims thrown into the entertainment industry at some point. But these are common people. This is a restaurant owner being accused of running child prostitution within his establishment. If too many ppl believe something that some other guy decided to simply make up and publish one day, his entire way of providing for himself and his family would be gone. And while Hillary Clinton and John Podesta are familiar names and high profile politicians, the tabloid speculations and manipulation has gone too far.
It’s been years since I read this book and I remember not feeling totally sure about how it ended. We were built up to this huge event and then just kind of left at the end with not a lot to hold onto. While I’ve never been one to fall into the hype of sports events and entertainers, I do follow along with politics and the people running our government. It feels rather uneasy that we have made it to a time when choosing our president becomes just as much of a spectacle as something that is actually intended for entertainment. And as it’s happening it seems unprecedented yet it was completely predictable. The entire election season, that stretched almost two years, had been shameful and embarrassing. As the results were rolling in, the outcome carried right along with the ongoing theme and rests as shameful.
And with all the advertisements and propaganda and news and stories we, the voters, were confused about what we were hearing just as Bachelder, the author, intended to keep his readers confused throughout his novel. I can’t even recall how many times my mind took an escape from the political landscape this past year and stretched back to the day I was getting a tattoo and learning about that ominous Bear vs Shark. Maybe I should open it back up again too. I don’t know what any of this tells us about the future of our country; but I do know we need to stop following the hype and start learning the facts. Because no matter what anyone says, facts do still exist.
And in a world where that is now questioned? I’ll leave you where Bear vs Shark by Chris Bachelder leaves us as we wait for that final match up:
The shuttle driver, an anarchist with some vague cult ties, says, “Well here we are.”
Mrs. Norman says, “Isn’t it something?”
From his father’s lap, Curtis stares out the bullet-proof shuttle windows at the desert arena.
The dictionary says dome means house of God.
And so it begins….