Whatever happened to the freak show? It never died out. It just found a new home in television. TV likes to give us simple morality tales and easily packaged bogeymen. By gawking at the pain and rage of others, we are encouraged to take comfort in our own lives. No matter how bad we are, we are not like THEM. The Government, organized religion, and the media all use fear as a tool to keep the masses in line and to divert them from questioning the status quo. It doesn’t matter whether it’s immigrants, minorities, heavy metal bands, or gingivitis; institutions need to sell you monsters to generate a market for their toothpaste and dogma.
One such monster used to be Gary Withrow. Claiming the center ring of such venues as “Donahue”, Gary spent his twenties as the leader as THE young white supremacist in California. As founder and leader of the White Student Union, he was embraced by the Ku Klux Klan and other organizations. He was the leader of the future. He led mobs of skinheads in acts of violence. He was the poster child for racism.
It didn’t end there. Gary took a day job at a casino. A Jewish woman, a co-worker, reached out to him with care, compassion, and eventually love. Gary renounced racism and all aspects of his former life. His former friends weren’t so quick to let go so a group of skinheads beat Gary very badly on a couple of occasions. The second time, they allegedly tried to nail their former friend to a cross.
Phil Donahue now had a complete story arc, but was it really the end? Elizabeth Thompson doesn’t think so and neither does Gary as she presents in her film, “Blink”. Winthrow’s popularity sprung from his embodiment of the ugly “white trash racist”. Good white liberals could point their fingers at him and deny their own more subtle forms of racism.
Gary’s real story is far more complicated. His old beliefs were a gift from his bitter, violent, alcoholic father. Gary ran away from home at age 14 and lived on the streets of San Francisco until his capture by the youth authority for mischief. Intelligent, he went to college, but fell isolated by his class and background.
Post-revelation, the anger and rage didn’t just go away. Gary moved to a small town to get his head together. There, he met an Hispanic woman, Maria, who would become his wife, and an Hispanic martial arts instructor who would become his friend.
Even ten years after breaking with his past, every day is still a struggle. Older but haunted, Gary has had to learn how to connect with others. While they would have been targets of violence at an earlier time, Gary’s new wife and friends provide the comfort zone where he can find the only peace he’s ever known.
Thompson demonstrates that hate and rage doesn’t pop out of a void, nor does it disappear into thin air. Change is a process that probably never ends, but it’s worth it. More importantly, everyone is capable of it. We just need to work for it and look at the world with open eyes. Maybe if you blink, everything will become clear.