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Henry: The Real Meaning of 'Unacceptable'

Mike Henry
Mike Henry

After we left the STD Free Clinic the other day, and that red-headed meter maid lunged at you with her government-issued machete, you told her calmly that her conduct was “UNACCEPTABLE.” I admired your restraint at the time, but in retrospect I have concluded you should have had a more forceful response to her attempt to cut you in half. Then I remembered you matriculated at the Harvard School of Government, where they teach future functionaries how to respond to natural or man-made disasters by saying the deadly conduct or event is “unacceptable.”

I know what “unacceptable” means when a politician or his/her spokesthing says it. IT MEANS NOTHING. IT IS THE SAME AS SAYING “UH-OH.” It also means not one thing is going to be done about it. I recently heard a Congressman quoted as saying it was “unacceptable” that Homeland Security was missing 14 million face masks and a large volume of hand sanitizer requisitioned and paid for a year ago by the Agency to prepare for a pandemic threat like the Ebola virus. I once bought a half-dozen yard work face masks from the hardware store and I have used hand-sanitizer several times, so I know what I’m talking about. 14 MILLION face masks and GIANT VATS of hand-sanitizer would be hard to misplace. But that’s not the point.

The point is the Congressman’s use of the word “unacceptable,” now the go-to response for any crisis, from Gaza bombings to hurricanes and floods; the scandal du jour from the IRS, VA, or NFL; Rootin’ Tootin’ Putin’s annexation of Crimea and his Ukraine invasion; or the latest jihadist outrage. And if you tell me one more time the public is smart and can see through these non-responses, I will smite you, smite you again, and you will thus be smitten.

The public is not smart, and I have proof. Cable channel TLC is airing a new Sunday night reality series entitled “Alaskan Women Looking For Love,” about five Alaskan women traveling to Miami to find the man (men?) of their dreams. TLC is an acronym for The Learning Channel. The Learning Channel anticipates that millions of members of the public will learn from this show. Not to be outdone, Arts & Entertainment cable channel has announced its new reality show, “Love Prison,” where a couple dating online, but yet to meet each other in person, are marooned on a desert island for a week to determine if they will continue seeing one another.

Unlike Discovery Channel’s “Naked and Afraid,” where the two strangers are stranded naked on a desert island with no food or water, the couple on Love Prison’s island will be clothed. “Dating Naked,” VH1’s contribution to the genre, features naked strangers on a blind date. You cannot see me, but my right hand is raised and my left hand is on my wife’s church bulletin.

I swear what you’ve just read about these new shows is true. So is the following: the cable channels mentioned are uniformly excited about these new shows, and expect tens of millions of members of the public to tune in, naked or clothed. In a recent sidewalk survey, fewer than 10% of those questioned knew about ISIS or ISIL. But over 90% of the same people knew which celebrities’ online accounts were recently hacked to expose naked photos of their bodies, including their public (used to be private) parts.

And get this. Not only celebrities, but members of the public you claim are smart post nude photos of themselves on their phones, computers, and other devices. They must have no mirrors at home. Do an online search for “how long does it take to travel eighty miles if you are driving eighty miles per hour,” and watch the two citizens of voting age try for ten minutes to figure out that puzzler.

If by now you’re not convinced, go online and watch a few classic episodes of Jerry Springer or Maury Povich. Pay attention to the antics of the featured citizens and the audience. Each of those geniuses is eligible to vote. AND THEIR VOTE COUNTS AS MUCH AS YOURS. If this doesn’t depress you, you’re not paying attention. Ignorance is metastasizing in the U.S.A. If asked about it at my next interview on Al Jazeera, I will say it is UNACCEPTABLE.

Michael Henry is a writer in Oxford. A graduate of Tulane and Virginia Law School, Henry published his seventh novel, Finding Ishmael, in April 2014.

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