Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Annotated Republic of Mansfield

Decomposing "The Republic of Mansfield" Microfiction

It's been many years since I last published a Microfiction.  Most were published in a Xerox magazine that I co-published in the mid-eighties in NYC called "Silicon Daze".
Every once in a decade or so I attempt resurrecting the Daze in digital formats but soon get overwhelmed by time and circumstance.

The Republic of Mansfield, unlike previous stories, is more complex and political than anything I've written before.

These days I sit on a Regional High School Board in Connecticut and I sit on a sub-committee that has been evaluating school building needs.

After years of study and unaffordable architectural proposals, the committee is pursuing selling and swapping  the Regional school assets to the University of Connecticut.
The existing school and property sit in downtown Mansfield right next to UConn.  It once belonged to UConn and these days, due to University growth the property and assets hold real value.

At this point in time, we're just doing due diligence in attempting to find out if UConn and Region 19 have something feasible enough to take to voters to approve.

Behind the scenes, two University psychology lecturers organized a Facebook webpage group opposing the Board's initiative to bring the matter to a vote assuming such a negotiation were feasible.

At stake for the citizens of the Region is an opportunity to afford a state of the art new high school as opposed to affording little more than routine maintenance on the existing school.
And clearly the existing facility has exhausted its mission as a viable 21st century high school which will be costly once the reality becomes obvious.

In very short order, the website critical of any attempt to vacate the existing school for a new one began manufacturing FUD [fear, uncertainty and doubt] at an alarming rate.
Furthermore, the tactic was truly affecting the community at large. In an attempt to simply eliminate as much of the disinformation as possible, I (citizen me) answered as truthfully and bluntly as possible whatever concerns were being raised.

In equally short order, the responses I was getting was that everything I refuted with fact or reason was either a lie, propaganda, or proof I [and the Board] had surreptitious and self-serving motives.
It was not only obvious that few if any of this cohort were interested in facts but they began to behave like traditional hate groups who have no interest in community good at all. Nor were they interested in eliminating rumor, innuendo, or red herring arguments from the discussion.

As a fan of Daniel Kahneman, I was aware that his prescription for attempting to talk sense to say Climate Change deniers is to change the story or provide a different narrative that clears the intellectual -cough- constipation.

My thought was that this group was as likely to treat pure fiction [satire] as an opposing truth that they were compelled to reject because they rejected everything from the outside. Just such a story needed to be hatched.

I spent a week or so constructing a framework loosely inspired by the David Foster Wallace book, Infinite Jest but instead of a massive volume the story would fit on a single sheet of paper as my previous stories had been done.

The Republic of Mansfield was the setting, a self-entitled set of fascia characters representing a typical Mansfield family. Beneath that, Mansfield could be any well-to-do white American town.
One [serious] theme on the Facebook site warned of ghosts. I used that idea to create subliminal doppelganger character counterparts who remain invisible to the casual reader are those who live in the community who are unrepresented and who assume no entitlement status.
The STEM reference was based on another criticism. The cadence of the story - one dubious act after another intended to suggest objection while reading like business as usual. 

The pivotal theme of the story hinges on the double-entendre phrase "role model" or "roll model". It refers to an obscure scholarship once earned by a couple of EO Smith students for creating clothes made out of duct tape. The actual students have nothing to do with the story except as archetypes nor does the scholarship - the duct tape roll becoming the story 'glue'.

I liked the idea that the authentic students we graduate are often metaphorically duct-taped together enough to survive high school and move on. And the students of entitlement need the same metaphorical duct tape as reality catches up with fantasy.

With that in place the rest of the story is little more than a composite of character sketches and cut-up rumor segments exaggerated to fit an entitlement mentality. The fascia parents - helicopter parents showering money and favor on their children.

And  their, "mirror, mirror on the wall... who's the fairest of them all.. " children to become the royalty of academic nations.

The subliminal characters enjoy no such special treatment, borrow to get ahead, and get no special attention.

The "space garbage cans" are loosely related to yet another rumor found on the Facebook group page that alluded to UConn chemical spills in the town of Mansfield. For the story, what better solution than imply such things could be shot into outer space instead of dumped locally?  But why stop there? In a world of IPOs, why shouldn't everyone on the planet shoot their toxic garbage out to distant worlds?

And the EO Smith "special place" is being forever stuck in EO Smith as if in a Twilight Zone episode where the wish of never leaving and never changing is granted. 

By now you're probably wondering why I bother deconstructing the satire. Well, the story apparently *was taken seriously" in some fit of literal interpretation. So, in fact, the fiction - a satirical rumor construct wrapped in mock science fiction wrapped in first person narrative has taken on a life of its own.

Here it is:

"So the other day, I hear a story about an EO Smith graduate that is a bit entertaining that I'd like to share. It's about a young lady who graduates from EO and goes off to a big University and winds up in a STEM program or something like that.
In pretty short order, her dad, a cynical guy who thinks money can corrupt the system proves that he's not so cynical after all. Maybe her mom from what I hear is quite the charmer all on her own, is involved as well.
Anyway, the dad. Well he and the girl cook up a cock and bull narrative about sending a garbage can into outer space and the whole world can throw something into the garbage can for a price. The garbage can is special because dad may have a financial interest in the manufacture of the can.
So the family invents a special academic grant that they self-fund and the University that cannot say no to cash... well... graciously devours. So far so good.

And wouldn't you know it that the academic grant could apply to just about any worthy student in the University Department and is a glove fit - believe it or not - - wouldn'tcha know it- - son of a gun - - for the daughter.

Before you know it, the daughter is now given a special title because of the entanglement of the garbage can's very special interest to a government agency dedicated to sending junk into space! Who cares if the narrative reads like the back of a Fruit Loops box.

By now the spin is out of control. The media picks up on the daughter as if she's running a government agency program! She becomes a cover model for a magazine celebrating the hard earned achievements of women everywhere. What else can the poor girl do but unfriend everyone she went to high school with? Now she's a *role model*.

By now, what started out as an insider nod-and-wink "family assist" has taken on a life of its own. Kids all over the world want to put their trash in the garbage can and pay money to do it. Dad is in heaven. So the family entangles the younger son in the garbage business to manage finances.
So I say to the guy telling me this story, "So what happened? I have some trash I'd like to throw into space and crash into a planet too."

The fellow just shakes his head and says, "Nobody knows. The evidence was thrown into the garbage can. But what we do know is that they love garbage and they love EO Smith just as it is."
Heartwarming stuff. Kind of choked me up when I thought about the special place EO Smith has for this family.

I love inspiring stories."