I am, of course, talking about left-handed people. Some 10 per cent of the world’s population are left-handed. Is left handed. Are. Is. Around. Pfleugh. That’s 0.73 billion. Fewer than a billion. That’s a big enough minority to be portrayed as a threat without quite being a significant constituency. We could move against left-handed people and there wouldn’t be enough of them to mount a campaign for justice. [If you’ve come here from Facebook, where irony is famously not recognised, you may need me to tell you that I’m not serious. The, ah, subtext here reads: the author is caricaturing a cynical form of political calculation.]
Big side-head, little paragraph. But wait.
Shouldn’t we find out more about these people? Why can’t they be like us? Surely, if we reasoned with them, they could be made to see sense and use their right – right, correct, geddit? – hands? [Yes, I know. Those were the days, eh?] No, sadly not. If you search the question “Why are people left-handed?” the little box at the top of the results concludes, “Left-handers are born that way.” You see? There’s no reasoning with these people.
If you then search the question “Why are people right-handed?” the little box at the top amends that to “most people” and tells you, “Left-handed people are more skilled with their left hands when performing tasks.” So we might infer a clear bias towards talking about left-handed people even if the question’s about right-handed people. They’re even taking over the questions. Although that does makes up for all those years of struggling with the moulded grips of other people’s kitchen scissors. Not that I make a habit, you understand, but. Oops. Have I given myself away?
Take the trip. If you then – sorry, just one more question – if you then take up the suggestion for a “related search”, and put in, “Are more people left or right handed?” the little box tells you, “Right-handed people are more skilled with their right hands when performing tasks.” Which is the kind of in-depth factual analysis that makes the internet so useful. The little box then goes on to impart some statistics before concluding with a statement about left-handed people that I won’t repeat. It includes the words “skilled” and “tasks”. Thank you for joining me for this trip along what Al Gore (at least) once referred to as the “information superhighway”.
Left-handed people aren’t obviously different – you have to watch their hands, duh – but they are deserving of whatever special attention we give to minorities. They’re not discriminated against, but they do operate in what we could call a post-discrimination environment. We have the word “sinister” from the Latin for left*. Despite globalisation, there are still cultures – guidebooks, at least – in which it’s apparently bad to eat with your left hand. We could go into the explanations for that, but let’s not. You’re an honoured guest if you sit on your host’s right. Among other “related searches” on my screen are “Why do left-handed people die earlier?” and “Why are left-handed people classed as witches?” Why ARE**? Not that I was distracted by that, you understand, but…
…today’s randomly discovered internet-fact is that around 5 per cent of people have at least one extra nipple. There are celebrities with extra nipples (and copious pics online). Although extra nipples are (were?) traditionally associated with witches – for feeding familiars, and yes, left-handedness was (is) also traditionally, et cetera – most people with an extra nipple are male. 98 per cent of them, apparently. End of digression. Left-handed people die earlier because of all those scissors, I think.
Cleverer. There’s the discrimination that bothers us – racism, sexism – and the discrimination that happens every day but goes unacknowledged. Spend long enough online*** and you’ll tire of the relentless drivel written by people debunking (sic) myths (sic) about left-handed people. There’s an industry devoted to asserting, with what passes for evidence these days, that for example left-handed people aren’t more creative, and it’s just a coincidence that a lot of creative people are left-handed. That for example left-handed people aren’t cleverer, and it’s just a coincidence that five of the last seven US presidents are left-handed. Obama’s left-handed, Trump’s right-handed, and I’ve just found a website suggesting that Michelle Obama is ambidextrous.
Maybe “good enough at working the US political system to get to the top” isn’t the same as “cleverer”, but never mind. If the point has to be rammed home that left-handed people aren’t special, although they are in a minority, maybe we should go for some affirmative action. We could go for all-left-handed shortlists, or quotas, or (if we accept the line that left-handed people think differently) we could campaign for more left-handed people on company boards. “A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research [a US entity] floated the idea that left-handers favour ‘divergent’ thinking, a form of creativity in which the brain moves ‘from conventional knowledge into unexplored association’,” says the website lefthandersday.com.
Don’t apologise. Oh. Wait. Bill Gates is left-handed. Oprah Winfrey too. James Cameron’s left-handed. I like Avatar (2009); is that ex-marine left-handed? Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) is, and get this. Must watch it again. Ridley Scott as well. Alien (1979); the creature? The film I actually watched this week was Divergent (2014), appropriately enough, which was more enjoyable than I expected, and then up came five minutes of The Fault In Our Stars (2014), with the same actress, Shailene Woodley, who is not listed as left-handed, nor are the directors of those two films, Neil Burger and Josh Boone – not anywhere that I found, at least. But I’m getting off the point. Angelina Jolie is left-handed. Whoopi Goldberg and Sarah Jessica Parker. Scarlett Johansson.
Winston Churchill. Prince William. Okay, hold the affirmative action. No need to apologise for the scissors. Nor indeed for that witchcraft question. To misquote the last-but-one line of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) – we’re here already.
*The word “dexterity” comes from the Greek word for right-handed, although note: online sources disagree as to whether sinister/dexterity come from Latin or Greek; Old French and Middle English also get a mention. Maybe I could leave that question with you?
**Find that question on Yahoo Answers. Best answer in my opinion: “I’m a witch and I’m right-handed.”
***It takes about thirty seconds.
But this really took me by surprise. Yes, I’ve read Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), the novel by George Orwell first published by Secker and Warburg, and yes, I could probably say something about Big Brother here. But … I suppose it makes sense. I’m guessing that the scene was originally shot with the actors standing in front of cameras and delivering their lines, with make-up and lights and trailers and people holding big boom microphones – and that the scene was “reshot” on a computer using digital widgetry. It makes sense to have a main character’s face consistent throughout, if you’re putting the whole thing in a box. But how strange to be the original actor and find that not only have you left; you were never there. So to speak.
Father? You there? I’m talking about the TV series Lucifer (2017-), which has now gone at least a season beyond the point where I stopped watching. Enjoyable, but I’ll wait until it’s complete and probably go back. I was checking that clip in hot pursuit of a thought process around heroes and anti-heroes, villains and good-bad guys, and there’s a brief scene in the first season where the policewoman seems to be starting to research this odd new partner that the plot has given her. It’s just a moment, and not unlike the similarly brief scene in The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) where Gandalf peruses ancient documents in search of more about the One Ring. Research gets a scene in these dramas, but just as an acknowledgement – not like forensic examination, for example, which often lapses into musical montage.
Anyway. Police officer. Research. That would have been an interesting route for the plot to take – I mean, what would you do? – but instead, spoilers, we head towards psychotherapy sessions for Lucifer’s father issues, dysfunctional family, et cetera, while meeting along the way a series of bad guys who deserve to be punished* – and who better to do that?
Psychotherapy trumps religion here, as does outside-the-box policework. Lucifer the TV character derives from Lucifer the graphic-novel character, and he embodies something for us here in the way that “the rebellion” calls out for our allegiance in Star Wars (1977 and beyond). Colin Wilson caught the wave of the fifties with a book called The Outsider (1956, Victor Gollancz), not The Insider – sorry, this sentence leaked in from a version of this blog post written in a parallel universe.
Holding onto scary old nanny. Once upon a time, the popular bad guy was Hannibal Lecter. Now, we have a contender for the role who joins us from a darker corner of our collective mythology – but trailing clouds of rationality and psychotherapy rather than any whiff of burning. For me, that’s the significant detail: the absolute denial that – how do I put this? – there could be anything under the bed. Myths aren’t allowed to speak to us these days.
Science has excluded the unknown (I smile at that statement even as I write it) so that even reason can sleep easily. Oh, and I think I’m right in remembering that Lucifer describes himself more than once in the series as a “celestial being” – rather than “infernal”, for example. Dad’s upstairs, I suppose, and this is a domestic drama focused on the paternal home. He’s a mixed-up kid, and “father issues” is a safe, tame, above all containable explanation. No wonder so many “indie” novels by young Americans bring back magic.
What scares us? Not terrifies us in that sense of a flat-out denial that there’s anything represented back to us by the mythology that we can’t psycho-analyse back under control, but what fears do we like to have around? The psychotherapist eating his patients? The celestial/infernal being who’s a good boy at heart? The Empire repeatedly building hidden weaknesses into its Death Stars? I wonder. They say something about us, yes, and we could get into that, but maybe also they stand between us and – no, look away. Don’t go there. They’re a tool for denial. Everything is under control and we can explain everything and let’s be afraid of this because, gosh, isn’t it scary, children? Those are our fallibilities, over there, lined up neatly, and – no, don’t look that way…
But if we can’t even rely on the faces in the stories staying the same…
Surely that tells us something too. As does the insistence that left-handedness (see up top) is just a matter of hand-skill. My library card took me to the graphic-novel section this week, where I failed to find Lucifer, decided against anybody else from DC or Marvel, but then thought: I can’t come away with nothing. So I reached out and took something at random from the non-Marvel/DC shelf. And that’s why I have on my desk Volume Two of Stitched (2013, Avatar Press), which is oddly difficult to find online (cue spooky music; remember the box in Hellraiser, 1987?). Story by Mike Wolfer, pictures by Fernando Heinz Furukawa.
I won’t be searching out Volume One any time soon, to be honest, but if you can tolerate – enjoy, I should say – a well-told story in which pretty much every character dies a horrible death (“true horror doesn’t stay buried in the sands of time – it transcends them,” says the back cover), then you might find it reassuring to know that there are still some bad guys, in this case lurking on a library shelf, who are unambiguously, without equivocation or rationalisation, splattered with red ink.
*Strictly speaking, they punish themselves, as is regularly emphasised at the ends of episodes.