By Ingrid Sapona
Today’s column is inspired by a Mutts
comic strip. If you’ve
never seen Mutts, you should check it out – it’ a sweet strip featuring Earl, a
dog, and Mooch, a cat. There are, of course, a few other characters – most of
which are animals – that appear from time-to-time. This past week a cicada has
entered Earl and Mooch’s world. In the first frame of today’s* strip Earl and
Mooch tell the cicada: “A LOT has changed since you cicadas went underground 17
years ago.” “Really?” says the cicada.
That got me thinking about what’s happened in my life over
the past 17 years. I was 36 when the cicadas last made an appearance. I won’t
bore you with the details, but I’d certainly have to agree with Earl and Mooch –
a lot has changed in my world over the past 17 years.
Reflecting on your life over 17 years provides a very
different perspective from the one you get when you look back over just a year,
as many of us do at New Years. To borrow a bit from the language of a fiction
writer, using a 17-year time frame helps you see more of the arc of the story
of your life. If you’re really feeling reflective you might think about the
period from 1979 to 1996, which would be two generations of cicadas ago. For me
that would be from the time I was 19 until 36 – a particularly formative phase
in most folks’ life.
Anyway – back to the Mutts strip. In the second frame the
cicada says: “Tell me, is there still war? Greed? Poverty? Famine?
Pollution?...” To this, Earl simply says, “Well…” But Mooch, in his endearing, lisp-like
voice, admits, “Yesh.” Then, in the last frame, the cicada says to Earl and
Mooch, “Sounds the same to me.”
As silly as it may seem, the strip really gave me pause. The
creatures’ innocent dialog hit on a reality about the world that’s been getting
me down the past few weeks as I’ve reflected on the general public reaction to matters
I think we ought to be working harder to change. For example, in a story the
other day marking the six month anniversary of the Sandy Hook shootings, the
reporter noted that since Sandy Hook, 5,000 more Americans have been killed by
As disturbing as that number is, the fact that the topic of
gun control has – once again – become a non-topic in the U.S. is even more disturbing.
The public clamour that came after Sandy Hook has just petered out. Like the
cicadas, I’m sure the subject will re-emerge the next time there’s a large-scale,
senseless gun massacre in the U.S. and then there’ll be some noise about gun
control but, once again, it will be quickly silenced by the gun lobby.
Then there’s the current outrage about metadata – a term
most of us had never heard of until a week ago. I find it interesting that much
of the discussion seems to centre around privacy. To the extent this is making
people think more about privacy, that’s great. But, framing the issue as merely
a matter of privacy is misplaced and somewhat dangerous, especially when people
say that we have no one to blame but ourselves because we willingly click on “I
accept” when we want to do things on-line.
I think the fundamental issue raised by the story about the
government using metadata relates to the adequacy of the checks and balances on
power, which is an issue the founding fathers raised in the 1770s. (In other
words, over 14 generations of cicadas ago.) In any event, I’m sure peoples’
interest in this will fade and it will find its place among other important –
but largely forgotten – matters like the hazards of deep water drilling, the
phenomenon of “too big to fail”, the economic disparity that was the focus of
the occupy movement, and so on.
You know, maybe humans are more like cicadas than we realize.
Periodically something causes us to “awaken” and then we make some noise, but
we soon retreat into a place where it seems safe to ignore what’s going on in
the world. So, is it any wonder that when we re-awaken, though time has passed,
nothing much has changed.
*I’m writing this on June 14, 2013
© 2013 Ingrid Sapona