Revisiting the Lizard

A meme one of my Christian Facebook friends posted to make a case for keeping illegal immigrants out of the U.S.

Twenty years ago, I published my first essay about the media and culture. The Lizard on America’s Shoulder described a phenomenon occurring in hyphenated TV markets, which was bombarding the viewing audience with a steady diet of bad news. In metropolitan markets where one big city dominated viewership, it was easier to avoid this, but in markets made up of multiple, smaller cities, it was extremely tricky. The idea in those markets was to place news bureaus in each community to assure all populations were served. The risk of doing otherwise was to send these viewers elsewhere where they were better served, and this could have drastic economic consequences for the TV stations.

Since the axiom “if it bleeds, it leads” is essentially correct, then the top stories from each of these smaller places are usually of a doom and gloom nature, so the newscasts in markets with two, three, or four separate communities flow with blood and guts coverage. This has a cumulative affect on the people watching who soon get the idea that they are surrounded by crime and bad guys. It’s not true, but it appears to be true, and so those regular watchers live their lives in constant fear, which has a corroding impact on the communities themselves.

I bring this up, because the internet has not only made this problem worse, but it has expanded the problem manyfold. Today – thanks to cameras everywhere – we not only learn of man’s inhumanity to man constantly, but we actually witness it throughout the day. No wonder we want protection from it all. Like driving past a wreck, however, we can’t help but look. The problem is one of perspective, and this is major contributing factor to the reign of Donald Trump and the Republicans (90% of whom now “approve” of the job he’s doing). Their law and order melody resonates with listeners, and it doesn’t matter if their warnings are factual or false; it just “feels” right. This is why the right – who has always exploited fear – has produced the almost fascist state that America finds herself in today. We don’t feel safe and are looking to the Donald and his ilk to protect us. It’s a trap, because – like most of the stuff we hear from the White House and the Republicans – it’s based on a false narrative.

The “lizard” is a reference to the wonderful little book “The Great Divorce” by C.S. Lewis. The story is of a bus ride from hell to heaven, where the ghosts are each given a chance to make their way through the pearly gates. One fellow has a red lizard on his shoulder shrieking filthiness directly into his ear. The ghost claims it’s been with him forever, and that the thing has driven him completely crazy. The angel at the gate tells him “You can’t go in there with that” and reaches for the beast asking, “May I kill it?.” The ghost jumps back and declares, “Don’t touch my lizard.” This is a metaphor for us and our willingness to hang onto things that are bad for us despite the cost to ourselves. The angel asks the question three times, and in the end, the ghost gives the angel permission to finally kill the lizard, and it is transformed a great stallion upon which the ghost rides to freedom. He turns out to be the only one on the bus who makes it through.

I’m a believer in cosmic mercy and cosmic justice, and I think that we are in our current conundrum deliberately. God (or whatever term you use) is indeed judging the world today, but it’s not the sinners who are at the wrong end of the stick. It’s the hypocrites with the Pharisaical spirit who’ve supported punishing the poor and the afflicted in the name of teaching them to fish instead of feeding them. They are the ones against whom the anger of the universe has risen, and they WILL be brought to their knees, because life demands it.

To the same extent that these people close their hearts and our borders, heaven’s gate will be closed to them. No matter how often they proclaim an inside track, the angel will stand there and say, “You can’t go in there with that.”

And there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

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