Social media has become the new reality. Not that rumor ever had much trouble before the internet, but now our cultural memes explode so fast that we have to be wired constantly to keep up. And what we see makes us afraid. The other day I came across a story on channel 7 WSPA website out of Spartanburg, South Carolina. I don’t suppose I have any business needing to know what was going on in South Carolina, but the headline “Mysterious ‘woman in black’ spotted in Tennessee” got my spidey sense going (or my Men in Black sense, but that’s just a bit cumbersome). Was this a female urban legend who shows up after UFO reports and warns the witnesses to keep quiet? The truth is much more mundane. She’s a woman, dressed in black, walking south from Virginia, currently in Tennessee. Police say she has a name and she’s from Alabama. Since she’s all over social media, however, people are worried.
She’s on a Bible mission one woman has claimed. A Blues sister in black? Others claim she’s from an Islamic nation. Some implicate the Pentagon. When someone exhibits unusual behavior our minds turn to religious causes. Why would a person dress in black and walk down the highway? It’s just not done! Must be religion. On YouTube apparently a video shows her arguing about religion with a man in a Wal-Mart parking lot. Where’s the element of surprise there? If there are any firmly fixed social markers they are surely Wal-Mart and religion. Time to be afraid.
Scarcely a day passes when I’m in New York that I don’t see someone doing something peculiar. It’s the new normal. I suppose religion is sometimes the motivation, but I wouldn’t know. The gospel can be pretty difficult to identify definitively these days. You can’t trust someone just because they dress in black any more. After all, we’ve seen agents K and J battling aliens on the big screen since 1997 and there doesn’t seem to be much preaching involved. There is conversion, however, and just a dash of conspiracy theory. That’s more like American-style speculation. Internet fame is remarkably easy for some. Put on your black and walk down the road. And if you see Johnny Cash along the way, there will be no doubt that this is newsworthy indeed.
Bible-thumper or alien?
Posted in Bible, Current Events, Just for Fun, Movies, Popular Culture, Posts
Tagged Internet, Men in Black, South Carolina, Spartanburg, Tennessee, Virginia, Wal-Mart, Woman in Black
I first discovered Edgar Allan Poe as an adolescent who believed monster movies actually represented physical malefactors. By the time I was writing high school term papers, Poe had become my favorite author, and I delved a bit into his sad life story. It has taken a few decades for me to realize that no lives really fit into the prepackaged paradigms that we’re sold. We think of Poe as a writer, but he was also a man who wandered from place to place, dying in Baltimore and nobody really knows why he was even there at the time. Sure, he had lived in Baltimore fourteen years earlier, but his fractured career had taken him many places in between. Having nothing but his published writings and gut feelings to go on, it seems to me that Poe was a man who felt unconnected to any single place. His view of the world made others uncomfortable, as even a cursory reading of his obituary demonstrates. He may have been attempting to find a place to belong. Maybe that’s why I’m standing here in Baltimore next to his burial place.
In a world characterized by xenophobia, having a sense of place can be a matter of life and death. I often wondered, as a child, at the fact that I was born in a different state than either of my parents, and that my mother was born in a different state than either of hers. Where was my place? I really didn’t start to travel until attending seminary, and since then I’ve lived in many places. At times I think of Poe and his peregrinations—not that I would dare compare myself to him; Poe was a genius in a world that couldn’t understand him. I am merely a disciple.
On a recent college-visiting trip, I found myself in Charlottesville, Virginia, where Poe spent a few weeks as a student before being forced out by his debts. Later that day I was in Baltimore, and I could not neglect a stop to pay my profound respects. Throughout my life I have felt a connection with writers whose work I admire. Perhaps as an erstwhile dabbler in the literary arts I feel as though I might somehow connect to the guild. The sense of knowing, I realize rationally, is entirely one-sided. Standing here in Westminster Cemetery, however, feels like being in the presence of a friend. Even had I lived in the nineteenth century I would unlikely have ever met Poe, just as I am unlikely to meet most of the authors I read who still walk among us. Maybe I just feel no fear of rejection—call it a sense of place—among the deceased, unquiet spirit who is Edgar Allan Poe.