January 18, 2010
I remember going to school within the United Independent School District in Laredo, Texas. From third grade all the way to high school, I went through the system, did the state-mandated training for the state-mandated test, ate the food that couldn’t decide if it was gravy or mashed potatoes, and was in the badly-funded art and science programs, so you can imagine my surprise when I found out that my district is apparently in league with anarchists, Marxists, and terrorists. And the source of this destructive influence?
That wasn’t onomatopoeia. It’s the name of the website that is apparently going to lead our children down a long, dark road that’s going to make The Road look like the Yellow Brick Road. BrainPOP is actually a website that helps educators by offering games, lessons, and puzzles. I went in for a few minutes and remembered things like Bill Nye, Beakman’s World, and games good teachers use to help lessons stick.
According to a letter written by a concerned citizen named Phillip W. Dyer in the local paper this morning, if you go to the Social Studies section, then to Culture, then look at the icon for War a the bottom… that little symbol? The one no bigger than a baby’s fingernail? That black fist is a sign for the Black Panthers. And leftists. And communists. And if you’re not careful, this symbol will lead our children down a road to terrorism.
The author then says educators are unqualified and people in charge of making decisions for our district are pushing leftist agendas on our children by exposing them to these symbols. I don’t have a subscription to the site, according to my mother, who is an elementary school teacher here, the site contains general information presented in a way that elementary school teachers can use to explain complex topics. There are games, quizzes, and other tools to make learning fun for an audience that may be starting to think its job prospects don’t go further than a paper hat. The interesting thing is that the letter goes into what can only be described as mental spasms towards the end as the author rants about the danger our children are in. They could be indoctrinated by seeing this symbol! No, I’m not kidding. The author actually believes that seeing a little black fist will help convert children into terrorists.
I think it’s how people think that if you hang around gays you become gay. Like living in Indiana made me blond. Right?
Oh right. I’m not blond. And I still don’t really care for the Colts.
It’s things like this, such as Glenn Beck’s excruciatingly painful art analysis a few months back, that make me wonder if people really understand the nature of symbols.
When analyzing any symbol, you have to have some information of who used it. We have nothing, absolutely nothing, to gauge the website author’s politics, if any. We do, however, have the writer’s fears. Instead of analyzing the website, we can analyze the writer of the letter to the editor. If he sees all this danger, would it be too much to ask if he looks for it? If I’m afraid of getting dirty, I’m going to see dirt and grime everywhere. Is this man so afraid of corruption and leftist ideas that he sees them everywhere? I can’t help but think of a witch trial where everyone accuses their neighbors of being in congress with the beast if they don’t say “bless you” after someone sneezes.
Is the little fist on the BrainPOP website the same as the Black Panther symbol? Well, yes, and while the symbol is also used by Marxists and anarchists, it has other meanings. During the Spanish Civil War, it was a symbol of anti-fascism and a gesture of the liberty the revolutionaries fought for. Women’s liberation movements have also used the raised fist as a sign of solidarity, as have the recent Tea Party Protesters, the Jewish Defense League, the National Equality March, and Food Not Bombs. Otpor!, the youth organization that helped overthrow Slobodan Milošević, also used the symbol.
What Beck and a lot of people don’t realize is that the same symbol can mean different things based not just on who uses it, but what the new symbol looks like. Take the symbol on the far left corner of this website. What does it mean? A few people know, but it has its own meaning to me. You can guess all you want, but that will be the meaning YOU give it, and it will likely mean something completely different from the meaning I gave to it.
Let’s look at another symbol: the cross. Oh dear. Between this and the picture on the top, I can already hear the ol’ inbox filling up. Two lines perpendicular to each other. All sides can be the same side, one short end on top, whatever. Make it red, and suddenly you have a symbol for any of the various organizations affiliated with Red Cross. Put a flame nearby and you have the symbol for theUnitedMethodistChurch. Put the cross itself on fire and you have a Klan rally and very angry phone calls from the neighbors. To many Christians, it is a symbol of hope, joy, and power. To those who are critical of Christianity, it is often a symbol of repression.
What about a swastika? It’s outlawed in Germany. A black swastika in a white circle on a red background is infamously associated with Nazis, but the same symbol, sans colors, represents eternity and a host of other spiritual ideas in many Asian religions. In fact, the symbol itself was a popular good luck charm in the United States before the Nazis adopted it. Now, it’s forever stigmatized even though it is still used for religious purposes.
The five-pointed star, often called a pentacle when one point looks up, is a poplar symbol for many neo-pagans, witches, and occultists. It has a myriad of meanings, including the five senses, harmony between four elements and the soul, and at one time it represented the five wounds of Christ. Put it upside down and elongate the bottom point and now you have a simplified form of the Seal of Baphomet. This last little meaning has made many, especially Christians, weary of the five-pointed star since they instantly associate it with devil-worship.
Snakes? Oh geez, let’s just make this one quick. Knowledge, cunning, poison, underhandedness, wisdom, Slytherin, take your pick.
Okay, maybe that last one is a stretch, but it does highlight my point. A symbol gets its meaning from the person who uses it. Symbols carry no meaning unless someone gives it to them. If the author of the letter wishes to say that the black fist means the Black Panther party, that’s what he wishes the symbol to mean. Maybe the creators on the site just used it because it can also mean strife seems to denote some kind of conflict. In the end, what we really get is not a page-turning analysis of the site, but rather a back door into the writer’s mind. There could be a hundred thousand reasons why the company chose that image, and yet you want to hear the sad thing?
This letter to the editor probably will turn a lot of parents off BrainPOP. I’m not trying to make this a promo for the site, but any tool that helps teachers is a breath of fresh air. Trust me. If I’d had something dependable to use with my students, I would have used it. Many will take this symbol, this one 30×30 image and hold it high as proof of the larger conspiracy to turn children into anarchic communist leftists with ties to the gay agenda. Also, they’ll eat babies.
At least that’s the fear people who look for witches all share. Their world is apparently so fragile that anything can topple it.
Watch out. There’s a symbol out there that wants to melt your brain.