A friend of The Observer’s had a baby the other day. The word went out the way such things do these days, not by town crier or courier pigeon or folks crowding around the party line down at the general store, but by way of photos sent down the electric superhighway: a beautiful baby girl, squinting into the bright lights for the first time, ever. Newborns always look a little pissed in photos, and who can blame them? There you are in your safe, warm little apartment and suddenly you’re pushed headfirst into this old, freezing world, full of honking horns and flickering lights, weird smells and Kardashians, a hundred-odd years to get your business handled if you’re very lucky, arriving just in time for Trump’s horseshit, the return of the poncho and dueling documentaries — Netflix vs. Hulu — on the failure of the Fyre Festival, in which a horde of poreless hairdos who literally get paid to look cute and a little tipsy in their sponsors’ clothes got scammed into experiencing disappointment, deprivation, sad cheese sandwiches and smelly Porta-Potties with the rest of us slobs.
Yeah, The Observer hates “influencers,” but we like babies. Not to hold or feed or diaper change, really — we’ve spent our time shoveling in that gravel pile, thanks, and it’s a young fella’s game — but as a concept. Babies, little griping poo machines that they are, turn out to be the ultimate expression of hope for the future, a much better barometer of the outlook for tomorrow than Meteorologist Barry Brandt, the Dow Jones or some phony who says they can turn the lines on your hand into a roadmap of where you’ve been and where you’re going. Japan, for example, is so caught up in catching Pokemon and building the ultimate Godzilla-fighting panda bear sex robot that they’re not really having that many babies anymore, the whole country on track to be a nation of old farts in a few decades, selling more Bengay than diaper rash cream. Here in America, the Folks Who Know These Things are seeing some of the same trends, caused here not by lack of effort or want to but by young folks so buried under student loan debt, shitty job prospects and the weight of knowing the world is going to be simultaneously drowning and on fire in the next 100 years that they’re just saying screw it and leaving the IUD in long past when they probably oughta be thinking about sending little astronauts tumbling into this world, pissed and scowling.
Every baby that appears before us on Doctor Zuckerberg’s Electric Book O’ Face, therefore, is a cause for celebration. Every one of those little suckers is someone pushing their chips and going all-in on a future that ain’t looking quite so rosy, to be honest with you. The Observer, cynical and bitter old turnip that we are, thinks: Can you imagine how screwed everything is going to be not next week or next month, but 40 or 50 years from now? Having a baby these days is the ultimate optimism — a money-where-your-mouth-is declaration that you believe human beings are smart and resilient enough to figure out and solve the problems that are bearing down on humanity now like a Peterbilt truck barreling up the fast lane toward our rearview mirror. Consider that people are actually choosing to bring a kid into a country that thought it was a good idea to elect a game show host as president. If that isn’t proof of a glass-half-full frame of mind, we don’t know what is. And, yeah, for all our crapola about optimism and investments and tomorrows, we believe it’s a choice women oughta be able to make, yea or nay, even after the cornbread is in the oven. Don’t @ me, anti-choice wingnuts.
The Observer is thinking about this, of course, because here we are smack dab in the middle of our own new beginning: the maiden voyage of Arkansas Times as a monthly, a switch from the weekly format the Times was published in for over 25 years. This newborn is also an expression of the ultimate optimism: that the job we all do here is worth it, too, even in an age where the once-steady and well-paying world of journalism has gone decidedly “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.”
What does the future hold? What mysteries will be revealed? We don’t know. But we’re not ready to cash out and skedaddle. The fact that you’re reading this is proof. There’s still work to do, and we believe in Arkansas enough to do it. So, welcome to the world, baby girl. Hard days lie ahead, no doubt. But as we tend to think when we lay eyes on every newborn: We’re confident this is the beginning of something beautiful, no matter how it all turns out in the end. ♦