Wonderful fights between narcissism and worthlessness

Daily Show, Colbert Report, and Inclusion

[Trigger Warning: Discussion of transphobia and rape culture with examples of transphobic comments]

I remember when I actually struggled with keeping up with every Daily Show and Colbert Report. The details are fuzzy, and it sadly may have been because I couldn’t take time from playing World of Warcraft for any other entertainment media, but it was during college, when I would stretch morning and night for general flexibility, and while I watched all of Avatar: The Last Air Bender and the first season of Arrested Development that way, it was mostly a weekend affair; Tuesday to Friday was watching last night’s episode of The Daily Show in the morning and The Colbert Report in the evening. Religiously. Fanatically. Maybe it was that devotion, or my lack of knowing about my privileges and the experiences of discrimination others face, or a less comprehensive view of the issues tackled by the shows (I didn’t get news from anywhere else really) that allowed me to keep watching with such abandon. At some point I started to have disagreements with the occasional false equivalencies or jokes that targeted a discriminated party lazily, or meanly, or sanctimoniously. As I became more progressive, something I’d always thought myself to be while basically not being hateful or regressive and generally empathetic through college, I became less able to enjoy The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. There were still amazing episodes, their media takedowns were still biting, and there were (and are) a lot of high points. But the low points stood out more, and I no longer wanted to watch every episode. These days I don’t watch most episodes.

But! I’ve been trying to get back into daily stretching lately, and because any TV I watch online I watch with my partner (and I will not deny her a single episode of Polar Bear’s Cafe because I watched it alone stretching!), I’ve been watching Daily Shows and Colbert Reports. While watching Oct. 31st‘s episode, between the Trump blasting and Chris Christie praising, Colbert had a Hurricane Sandy joke. A few of them, but of course one was, “Is that a dude’s name or a girl’s name?” The Colbert Report’s had this problem before (a lot, and so has the Daily Show: http://transradical.tumblr.com/post/20587052007/stephen-colbert-doubles-down-on-transphobic-joke, with a link to a more comprehensive list in that post), and transsexual people aren’t the only group to be the butt of simple jokes laughing at states of people’s existence. The first night of DNC coverage had jokes about Charlotte being known for exotic dancers on the level of “HAH HAH STRIPPERS” and within the first ten minutes Jon Stewart called a woman “it” after featuring her giving Jason Jones a lap dance. And I’m not in any way qualified to discuss it as a white male, but their coverage of race fluctuates in who is the butt of the joke and can echo some really horrible sentiments racists whole-heartedly believe.

The Daily Show and Colbert report don’t have this problem, really. It is not born out of Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert’s writing staff as though of whole cloth. Society has this problem; these two shows reflect it. Jokes about men looking like women and women being manly get laughs in our society, as do racist jokes, jokes about strippers not being human beings, and on, and on, so they get laughs on these shows. And, as in the rest of society, it’s a signal, that if you’re in the privileged group? Enjoy the good parts, the great parts, the parts that make a Stewart/Colbert ticket (if there would ever be one) likely to be a national contender in any election cycle, that make Jon Stewart the most informative news source for many people, and worry about the discriminatory jokes if you care. If you don’t, well, whatever! You can skip it! But if you’re in the minority, it’s a signal that you will have to put up with being laughed at for who you are as a human being, an experience unique to you, to enjoy the Fox News take downs and good comedy. You HAVE to deal with that part of it, even if you can deal with it. And if you can’t, you don’t get this entertainment option, and we’ll leave you to deal with it alone. Whatever!

But the transphobia stands out for the skill with which it isn’t handled. I’m a huge proponent of criticism, GIGANTIC proponent of it, and while free speech debates are almost universally derailing, I do agree that the answer isn’t to make joke topics illegal or verboten completely. Although, with certain cases like rape, we’ve proven that society supports rape and defines what a rape joke is to the point that you can’t trust most people to make light of the topic without targeting victims, or being triggering, or not being able to craft any sort of punchline that isn’t “You got raped!” But you’ll still get laughs for all this shit because society’s determined rape is funny. Being raped, the word, the emotional trauma being ignored and families/friends siding with the rapists, all of it! Great humor!

And society treats transphobia and transsexuality in the same manner. They’re both just hilarious topics, huh? What, you want to be a man but were born with qualities that make me think you are and should be a woman? HAH, HAH HAH, HAH. And as with rape, this trivialization through comedy makes all the dismissiveness, isolation, and violence against people who are transsexual easier to be carried out. And it is systemic of our society, but there’s a unique hurt that comes from seeing it so freely mined for “comedic effect” on the Colbert Report and The Daily Show. From the transradical Tumblr article above:

Now these statements aren’t nearly as horrible as what’s being said elsewhere in the media. But what’s rather disappointing is that this is coming from what is generally considered ‘with it’ progressives who should know a lot better. I’ve noticed that there race commentary is often somewhat unfortunate, however, I’ve always been impressed that the queer jokes on each show are usually done in a very conscious and aware way. I mean, they often feel like the kind of jokes my friends and I would tell. In contrast, the derogatory references to trans people seem to have no real purpose.

BAM. Nail hit on the head. The Daily Show overtly and Colbert with his subversive personality have always promoted the idea that homosexuals are equal people deserving of rights and the reaction against it is hilariously outdated and wrong. Sam Bee often plays a caricature of what conservatives and misogynists believe women to be, and effectively. And I may feel more uncomfortable with certain race jokes the shows make than others, but I can admit it always seems a product of a thought process that took more than a second, even if it ends up with racist tones. But the butt of every joke involving transsexual people is at their expense, othering, and lazy to a level usually reserved for Adam Sandler’s jokes about everyone who isn’t Adam Sandler. The transphobia needs to be called out, always, and if this is ever a concern that registers on their radar, it’ll not be a bumpy road but a valley full of mountains. But the end of that road is the same general respect for transsexual people (and inroads to respect for the entire QUILTBAG group of sexual and gender identification including the distinctions often ignored) that other minorities get on these shows, a potential boost in empathy for the cis-viewers at home who view themselves as progressives but laugh along with every man-hand joke, and it (mostly) means a viewing experience for transsexual people where once a month they don’t have to be informed by otherwise progressive people that they are weird and people unlike them are normal. And even if we get just that last thing and no change in the thoughts or treatment of transsexual people in society at large, it’d still be an important step, one that’s continually unmade, and it’s getting pretty fucking sad.

Leave a comment »

Objective Truth and Other Derailing Tactics

[Trigger Warning: A LOT of misogynistic tropes and language on this post]

Spent today being bed-ridden and catching up on some http://manboobz.com/ while fighting the illness demons. There were plenty of great, depressing, holy-shit-I-think-a-human-believes-this posts Futrelle was bringing to light, but one was especially interesting. And by interesting, I mostly mean bizarre. It was a post regarding Susan Walsh (http://manboobz.com/2011/08/04/susan-walsh-chartbreaker-part-2/), a blogger I admittedly don’t know anything about, who had a really bizarmazing chart as part of an article entitled “The Economic Effects of Promiscuity” that manboobz already featured, described as “In an attempt to sketch out the economic costs of sluthood, Walsh cobbled together an extravagantly convoluted mess of a flow-chart based on little more than a few bad assumptions and what she insisted was common sense.” It’s worth checking out too, reading like a car crash of conservative and Men’s Rights views on what happens when a woman DARES to have sex that flies in the face of their value structure.

The chart in the above link, however, was a weird attempt to glossy up complete opinion as science by presenting it as a chart. It has a lot of gross assumptions behind it, first and foremost that women and men can be boiled down to a universal attractiveness number from 1 to 10, and THREES are sleeping with EIGHTS?!?!?! It’s presented as a handy visual guide to what we ALL KNOW is true, namely that the sexual revolution of the 70s weakened marriage (so many assumptions tied to this one; marriage is automatically preferrable to non-marriage, this wasn’t women freeing themselves from bad or abusive marriages but rather promiscuous women being freed to go get slutty all up in society [FEMINISTS!!!]), this lead to more promiscuity in general because, duh, out-of-wedlock sex is promiscuous, and returned us to a less equittable sexual power dynamic from caveman times that marriage had helped to equalize. Because all men are powerless when confronted with a cute girl and can’t be faithful if there’s more than one woman in existence near them. Unless she put a ring on it. In Walsh’s article the weakening of marriage and strengthening of promiscuity also means women can date “up,” which is tied entirely to the 1-10 ranking (a 4 now has a chance with a 7, which she didn’t when…. marriage?) and flies in the (so very assumed) natural tendency of 9s to date 9s, 7s to date 7s, and 2s to be happy they snagged a 2 and we don’t beat them for being so god damn ugly. UGH. It’s tied to an article also trying to argue opinions on sexual dynamics in terms of economics. SEXUAL economics. Which reads as though the birth rate dropped out and humans are dying off(this is a hypothetical, despite actual people in the world believing this is currently happening) and we fed a bunch of dating reality shows to a computer to figure out how to save the human race. Fun aside: in bullshit chart #1, Walsh ties delayed (or ELIMINATED! ! !) marriage to delayed (OR ELIIIIIIMINAAAAAATED ! ! ! ! ! ! !) having of children, which is then immediately tied to declining birth rate, which is an economic cost, that combined with men going to prison means EVENTUAL ECONOMIC STAGNATION!!!!!!!!!! (That last use of Caps Lock and ten exclamation points is actually hers, no shit)

Again, I’ll admit this has been my first, and so far only, exposure to most of these sexual economics ideas, and while there are a lot of echoes of misogynistic tropes (which I tried to bring up above), most of the arguments were so bogged down on economic talk as to be impenetrable. I’ve read a bunch on game theory (the feed women input until sex theory, not the mathematic one) and the general ideas around it, and the idea of the “sexual marketplace” strikes the same misogyny chords as (and seems to be a part of?) game theory. But it’s such a bizarre use of science, to the exclusion of the people being “studied” by it, and at a certain point reality. It assumes if we had all of the variables we could predict every person’s actions, which may very well be true , but when you’re debating the idea of women’s choice by trying to quantify the number of atoms in her hair fibers and what that says about her choice in men, you’re so far afield of the point. It reminds me of the debate around free will. Do we truly have it if a universe identical to ours had the exact same conditions down to the subatomic particles and electro-magnetic forces? That question fascinates me. But when we’re discussing whether people should be held accountable for their exercise of free will, I don’t care whether the concept is an illusion, and it’s derailing to discuss.

In a comment thread on http://glpiggy.net/2011/08/05/boobzmans-argument-without-an-argument/, a rebuttal from a Men’s Rights Activist to Futrelle’s piece on the chart, Futrelle comes on to debate a bit, mostly a point that is apparently popular to this idea that women dating up is leaving 80% of men out in the cold (the cold most likely being not getting a yes to every sexual advance, sometimes virginity). There’s further quantifying of the fact that people are literally seen as sex numbers from the writer of the rebuttal: “If marital rates were higher before the Sexual Revolution then that would imply that there was more equal pairing. I mean, why would 8’s mix with 4’s just for the hell of it?” This exchange and one following about whether all women are hypergamous see Men’s Rights Activists taking the ball of “We can state cold hard truths that apply to all members of X” and run to the fucking endzone with it. MRAs love to do it with feminists, who are all the same writhing, evil hydra of misandry of course, and it’s a central tenet of the numbering system. But it also helps this idea that there are biological “truths” (because the points being argued as biological truths can sometimes be citing statistics that only prove a percentage of people behave a certain way) that are true of all humans, or all women, or all people going through X or Y.

This sentiment of putting biology before people just becomes increasingly absurd as it is further contextualized, focusing on the minutest facets of biology, to the exclusion of other biological trends, mutations, and (HERE’S THE BIG ONE) society. So often talk of society only occurs in reference to a collection of humans all following and/or responding to the same biological trend, and rarely is society causing anything itself. It’s how you can have a discussion of primates being attracted to swollen, red asses and use it to explain men loving women in a red dress but not cover the fact that society decided pink was for boys before it decided that pink was for girls. It’s how you can have a discussion of American women, almost as undefinable as global women, as though they are a homogenous group.

I want to have a paragraph here that says, “No group is homogenous.” for a full page, but I’ll hold back. But that’s really important to understand. No, really. People can’t agree on an encompassing definition of feminism, or atheism, or theists really, which are mere labels, and people think they can state a truth or trait about an entire gender, 51% of the world population, that isn’t anthropocentric (or transphobic, when people say, “Well can’t we all agree that women have vaginas?”), that crosses all cultures, all races, all lived experiences and family histories, all socio-economic classes, and applies to EVERYONE. Okay, alright, MAYBE there’s one or two exceptions, but you know I’m right! *Assumed trait of all women* is just how it is!

Ah, but yes. All American Women are Not to be trusted! All Women are whores! All Women have control over All Men simply due to having a vagina! All Women have a vagina!

Technology further complicates this, of course. In an information age where most heavy-grade lifting is done by machines, the natural biological strength advantages of an average male over an average female are receding faster than the god of the gaps. But I think what makes this science talk around sex so bizarre to me is the fact that it obscures understanding. These are things that feel as though they should be quantifiable, and they are being quantified until you lose sight of an important fact: you’re trying to describe the actions a human being will take, a person, assumedly at least 18 to boot, and using SO. LITTLE. And while it echoes societal misogyny and social norms so often, it’s still legitimately shocking to read someone state, “That woman is a 4. That man is a 7. They do not belong together, and in fact there is no reason they are together other than the weakening of marriage by the sexual revolution.” Which is also for them to assert, “I am objectively correct. If you have different beauty standards, you are wrong *AND/or* I have completely correctly interpreted society’s standards of beauty, and they are worthwhile to apply.” And to assert, “Enjoying the same activities is nothing. What is a book, what reads a book, what is book. There is no love, only a biological numbers game. All elderly people, especially those past procreation age, do not have relationships for love, only economics, due to inaction, and/or for their spawn.”

And, because I don’t think I could intone robotic human talk while also integrating frat-boy misogyny any better, a commenter on Walsh’s chart : “The point is that most men can get sex from women who are 2-3 ranks below them fairly easily. That’s not to say that all female 7s are quick to put out for male 9s and 10s – only that the average male 9 will be able to easily find a slutty female 7 if he wants. And when a female 7 hooks up with a male 9, it means a male 7 will probably have to settle for a female 5 if he wants to get some.

The problem for average beta guys – say, guys in the 5-6 range – isn’t really that they can’t find girls below their level for sex; it’s that most of the girls who are that far below them don’t give them boners. They’d prefer girls at their own level, of course, but those girls are putting out (or holding out ) for male 7s and 8s.”

Leave a comment »

Are We Better

So I wonder if ANYBODY ELSE watched last night’s debate? Nah. Probably not.

I was pretty surprised that it was so enjoyable; live-tweeting these things has become my favorite adult activity, but I’m also increasingly aware of the scripted spectacle quality, and it’s becoming less comforting that Mitt Romney’s blatantly lying knowing he and the president are both able to accuse the other of flat-out bullshitting and Mitt will be supported by people not following up or checking in with Fox News to ALSO say ‘Obama was wrong’ with no fact backup. Ten minutes of fetishizing clean coal from both candidates was also touching (of my negative emotion core). Still, between an aggressive no-bullshit Obama and Sensata, it’s been a good week to think Mitt is such an abominable choice for president that you want to vote for Obama, even though he’s not being held accountable for drone strikes, what his “support” of gay marriage has actually been (mostly silence, no legislation), and his relationship to insurance companies, bankers, and corporations in general. Mostly because, while these things and others may not have hope of improving under a second Obama term, Mitt would take the ball and run so much further with them along with a solely Republican focus on women’s vaginas and what they do with them.

Of course, I’m most worried, more so than any potentials of a Ron Paul presidency, of what Mitt could mean for welfare, social security, Medicare, education and loan funding, infrastructure funding, progressive tax rates, and literally any other issue impacting the poor and elderly. Every time someone brings up Mitt’s business experience as though it’s either unequivocally good OR that, yeah, he WILL balance all of our debt forever in four years (on the backs of the majority of Americans leaving them to fend for themselves) I want to throw up my hands and say, “You’re wrong and that is morally wrong.” I try not to think I’m a better human being than conservatives or libertarians, but there’s a societal narrative that putting others above yourself is objectively good I conditionally agree with, and it’s jarring that the same people who’d probably agree that Billy Zane in Titanic taking a spot on the lifeboat over a woman or child is evil AND that the money you earn is indicative of your worth as a human being (you gross assholes) see nothing wrong with hoarding their own money and charging that people who want food who can’t afford it are the REAL villains and they are the REAL victims.

There’s a very real conversation that could occur around taxes and Mitt’s 47% comment, about government competence and the issues surrounding how we pay for social services in a faltering economy and aging population. It’s much like the conversation that needs to occur about the global population that is in no way occurring when the debate starts and stops at the question of whether baby souls are being crushed by Obama’s abortion camps. Contrary to the political debate’s reality, it doesn’t need to be derailing bullshit when someone wants to talk numbers, until they start spewing “NO NEW TAXES” and nothing else. I will gladly pay more in taxes personally to build up welfare, unemployment, and Medicare, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care if that money is spent efficiently and well.

At some point, it feels like the left’s argument can simply be, “You’re a monster and wrong and our ideals are better than yours.” And it feels like the only thing making that a bad argument to make isn’t the intricacies of the issues and the absoluteness of the statement but that it allows for a creeping sense of superiority that can make assholes of us all. If the right is going to claim they are the stewards of charity but only on their terms and also you don’t deserve food or shelter, it’s legit to claim they are not worthy of being the stewards of charity nor deserving of an opinion on the social safety net.

And while it’s also a symptom of the simplification of the news media, there’s something so disturbing about the conservative rallying cry being “Not MY tax dollars!”

Mostly, what keeps me from embracing that opinion is there’s nothing good about thinking yourself better than other human beings. It’s why I want to talk to my mom about her support for Mitt Romney (most likely. She’s getting Republican Party fliers in the mail), but I won’t. I’m worried about that attitude of being morally right manifesting in a horribly assholish way. I don’t think I can come off articulate or non-aggressive, and I know she doesn’t get news from reading or television so I have no idea what her sources are or, if it’s Fox News secondhand, how to bring up everything wrong with that. Politely anyway, if I can do it at all effectively. Because in my head, there just comes a point where I want to say in frustration and anger, not at her, but about Mitt Romney to her, this is the man who views your only human worth as your paycheck. This is the man happy to use you as rhetoric but will not support you in government, not knowing he’d have a chance at re-election and that the tea party’s not going anywhere and wants women subjugated to any embryo that forms. This is the man who wants you to slowly lose your home and starve to death if you get into a car accident driving the hour to and from work this winter (we have bad winters. My mom still tells me to be careful driving and she’s not really being patronizing), who thinks you should have just worked harder if you need assistance, which in this example would I guess mean waking up at 4a to drive to your 9a job in a car-less street. Or buying a Hummer or Semi to be unassailable on the road. This is the man who views your two children having to pay a cent for college as YOUR fault for not being able to send them full ride, not his fault for cutting Pell grants to make sure his tax cuts and military spending increases are “revenue neutral.” This is a man who doesn’t care about you until you head a corporation and barely tolerates you if you have a job.

And at some point there’s really no need to say anything other than, “You’re immoral. Fuck you.”

1 Comment »

Strawmen and Support

Strawmen are my favorite derailing tactic by a mile, although I’ve noticed I use them for sarcastic jabs way too often for how often I vilify straw feminist imagery. A strawmen can be any horrible lie you want it to be and can derail a debate from the main argument to so many subtopics by introducing and then fixating on a point of contention, contrived or not. And it’s hard to argue it as total bullshit because, as a 7 billion plus member species, it’s likely someone, somewhere has opinions more extreme than the strawman.

Of course, strawmen are total bullshit despite this. When people evoke a strawman to debate a point, they mean to slander a group or an ideology that just is not represented as a whole by a strawman (or stereotype when it goes down that road). One on my mind today is Mitt Romney’s attempt to dismiss reality with the idea that not having health insurance is fine and no one dies from non-access to medical care. It’s a hyper version of his $10,000 bet with Rick Perry to show us he doesn’t understand what money means to most people, with an odd use of strawmanning; in this case, the strawman is actually every American, with the bullshit qualities that we’ll go to the ER no matter what, always be prescient enough to know when a condition is life-threatening, not actually have that debate about whether symptoms are of something that can be slept off or not, and also no one gets bills. Someone will take care of that (insanely expensive for most Americans but not Mitt Romney) ER visit’s cost!

One of the many insidious ways this turns a debate is in it’s accusatory power. What? You support feminism? You mean you ACTUALLY support THE ENSLAVEMENT OF MEN? What? You support homosexuals? Why do you want our CHILDREN ABUSED? And etcetra. Feminism is a great big diverse flagpole, almost as much as theist really, and to think you can say anything definitive is ludicrous, as is every claim the Men’s Rights Movement makes. But if you’re debating what someone says and they accuse you of being an evil man-hating feminist, once you’re debating THAT point, you aren’t debating what the other persons aid anymore, and you’re probably not getting back to it.

The main issue is derailing debates, believing false realities, and caring more about how you are perceived or “winning” a debate than figuring out truths and being truthful prevents a lot of very necessary conversations. Global warming’s history is weird as fuck in the public sphere, really. And it seems to be becoming the normal process for public ideas and discussions: two sides are set up, sometimes deliberately, and both start spinning the truth, trying to win favor, be seen as “the good guys,” and turn any issue, no matter how impactful or important to work out (like whether global emissions will allow enough methane to escape from melting ice caps into the atmosphere to make life unsustainable on our planet long term due to runaway greenhouse effect) into another politicized, ideological, disconnected-from-reality debate.

Opposing the MRM is not opposing the idea of men having rights, no matter how much they scream it, just as opposing the FRC doesn’t oppose families no matter how much they insist people are by promoting “alternative” families. It is in fact opposing their opposition of families while hiding behind and busing the language of family support, just as the MRM lies about the reality women and men face and promote discrimination against women. That’s not to say men don’t have issues unique to them that absolutely need redress; male sexual assault victims need support and a voice and need for their rape (in prison, by family, anywhere and everywhere it occurs) to be viewed as serious and not a punchline and needs opposing. But you don’t need to interrupt efforts to end the victimization of women to do so. We can support more than one thing. And painting feminists as an opposing side, lying about the realities women face, and co-opting the issues men face to promote an ideology of bigotry towards women has the potential to harm men’s rights and their particular struggles while also just plainly discriminating against women and opposing their equal rights. No matter how hard they insist they have the best interests of men at heart, co-opting their issues to try and entrench your privileged position in society by turning men against women harms men too.

It also, of fucking course, harms women and equal rights, and remains completely reprehensible as yet another vomit-inducing and effort-derailing tactic and that’s enough to oppose the “Men’s Rights Movement.”

Leave a comment »

Words on Women, Minorities, and All Who Face Discrimination

 

The formatting on this one looks weird. Time to find out how fucked it is!

Lately I’ve been in a big funk, and I’m noticing my fall into old, bad habits. I picked up the new World of Warcraft expansion, as I knew I would at some point, and it’s been legitimately fun, even if the general chat in the first expansion area two nights in a row has been full of divisive, us-vs-them political debates. Honestly, this wouldn’t be that bad if in doing so I haven’t also been avoiding Twitter and only reading cherry-picked articles on Shakesville for the news. I’ve been slow to job-hunt as well, and, as always, I have one month’s worth of bill money. Tonight is the vice-presidential debate, and I will try my best to go to Twitter jail. I’m also writing this article after a nine-day lapse in writing. As much as I’m desperately trying to stay seperate from the world (by constructing a nice, cushy bubble), I can’t let that happen.

I guess it helps that my greatest moment of sadness came last night when I brought up Joseph Gordon Levitt’s comment that hot girls aren’t funny to a vent room and got agreement… with JGL. Which was punch-in-the-gut surprising, and very sad, but it was sadder still when one person went on to state plainly that no women are funny. And that’s still not why this is sticking with me and my saddest moment all week. It’s that I just failed to counter him in the moment. Afterwards I thought of plenty; that humor is subjective; that to write off every woman based on gender, 51% of the global population, is ludicrous; that it also posits that you are convinced not only that your culture produces no funny women but that every culture also can’t come up with anything; that we can say ANYTHING about all women, as we can’t say shit about ALL men; that there are female comedians who are able to work on the road (my two examples were Tig Notaro and Sarah Silverman, which was responded to with “Your example of a funny, attractive woman is Sarah Silverman?” dismissively). Ultimately anyone saying that no women are funny can at most say “I find no women funny and trust no other women to be funny,” which says nothing about the nature of women and humor and everything about the speaker. But absolutely none of this came during the actual discussion, or after, as it just didn’t come up again.

And while I sit with all of these afterthoughts, it depresses me to know I couldn’t bring any of them up at the time of debate. Nor is this surprising; I’m rubbish in the moment at formulating ideas, even if they are my own long-held ideas. The greatest quality of writing for me is the ability for writing to be meditation on a thought. That moment when you learn something new you believed but couldn’t put to words before working towards it, or make a discovery by laying premises bare, is one of the best feelings as a writer. There are a lot of great nuggets to writing, borne out of (and making worth it) the absolute self-defeating bullshit that is part and parcel with the process (sometimes, and I’m mainly yelling at writer’s block). And I’m happy for that, because I am not a good in-the-moment debater, so at least I can take all of that and work on it later, coming to grips with my failings, my incorrectnesses, and my ideas.

Where this is complicated, for me, is Twitter. Often, debates via tweets take on the mantle of conversational, real-time debates. People are thinking quickly, typing quickly, and having a back and forth only delayed from oral debate times by seconds. Sometimes this isn’t the case; sometimes a response comes minutes, even hours later because someone needed time to digest a tweet or conversation before responding. Sometimes people work different shifts too, and conversations happen like a game of online Risk, in hours-long turns punctuated by short flurries. I’ve had all sorts of Twitter conversations, but often when debating and discussing it’s a real-time debate held over Internet connections. Sometimes this means poor word choices, less powerful retorts, confusion, trouble expressing ideas, and anything else I typically struggle with in real-time debate.

So this (part of the) convo with the creator of the Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian game…

Ben Spurr@Bendilin

@SublimeBeeEssry Several people have beat up games of them, & it certainly wasn’t “privilege” that made them mature enough to shrug them off

 

Timothy Clouser@SublimeBeeEssry

It’s not maturity. Privilege helps insults hurt less. Because they carry no institutional weight. A woman threatened w/ physical @Bendilin

Timothy Clouser@SublimeBeeEssry

violence is also being threatened with the fact that violence can more easily happen to her than a man. Men still get assaulted. @Bendilin

Timothy Clouser@SublimeBeeEssry

Women get assaulted more, and more easily, and have less support. @Bendilin

 

…led to these comments:

6 Oct Jacob@heartytruths

@SublimeBeeEssry @Bendilin That is terribly sexist of you to say.

Jacob@heartytruths

@SublimeBeeEssry Of course I mean you, the one that implies women are more frail than men.

 

I’ll actually agree that I didn’t do enough to not imply women are frailer than men. With easily, I meant that women are conditioned in society to be submissive, not fight back, and worry that crimes carried out on them can escalate into violent crimes if THEY, as victim, aggravate the situation, as well as the flip side of those assumptions for male attackers, but that isn’t really implied by the term “easily”. As well, when I said women are assaulted more, it was a nod to the statistics, not an implication of frailty. However, none of that is conveyed in one word with “easily.” “Easily” leaves just as much room to take my words to mean I think women are inherently weaker than men, and are victimized more because of it, and need the protection of men like me. Which are gross, sexist ideas, but, while @heartytruths has three tweets as of this reading (the two above and one attacking Ian Miles Chong) and could easily be a bad-faith debater, someone in good faith could easily assume what they claimed to of my intent, and, as always, my actual intent isn’t fucking magic. Word choice is vastly important, and I’ve shortened words and sentences into a confusing mess before; I’ve also chosen bad words that can mean the opposite of what I’m trying to say. I need to pay more attention to my word choice.

This specific idea, that women face institutionalized discrimination and quoting cases of it can be seen as saying women are inferior, is topical, as the Supreme Court is hearing a case on Affirmative Action. As with the simplification of women’s victimization (and people who use welfare, see also: most media narratives), affirmative action is often seen (erroneously) as a policy that lets minorities into institutions and affords opportunities over more-qualified white people. There’s a whole ball of awful made up of the assumptions in that mindset, including that minorities in general can’t get opportunities by their own merits, that racism is truly over and/or in no way affects people anymore, and occasionally that minorities need affirmative action to get an equal shot because white candidates are generally superior (usually couched in less racist terms, but that’s the thought behind it).

Affirmative action isn’t a statement that black people need help because they are inferior, mentally or otherwise; it is a reaction to the fact that any person without privilege is as capable as the privileged if you take that privilege off the table, and black people still face institutionalized discrimination from birth and thus get less opportunities throughout life than their white peers. It is a statement that there is institutional racism hindering black students and not white students that needs addressing, as well as a statement that that discrimination can kick in as early as pre-natal care and still afford minorities less chances at college admissions and job and housing opportunities even if the people deciding on these things have no racial biases. Someday affirmative action will need repealing; I want to say hopefully, but I have trust that society will continue to become increasingly progressive, and that we will address and solve institutionalized discrimination against race, gender, sexual orientation, belief, all of it. Eventually. But that day where someone faces no discrimination based on their race is a tremendously long day off. Just as racism didn’t end with the fourteenth amendment, nor with the Civil Rights Act, it did not end with and has not ended due to Affirmative Action. Affirmative action remains a powerful tool for combating institutional racism, and, if anything, we need more tools, not less.

Leave a comment »

True Freedom of Speech

[Trigger warning: Rape as an act is mentioned in my post; it becomes unavoidable in using the Tosh incident as a jumping-off point. I try straying from specifics to keep this as general reading, but there are mention of Tosh and links to more triggering material.]

I was keeping up a great pace of every 2-3 days for awhile there, but life’s been hectic and I’ve been in a very bad and sad mood that’s sapped my motivation and made my thoughts all negative, which is no headspace (for me) to write in. I have two ideas for blog posts that I need to develop, so hopefully this week will be better. One is the intersectionality of the assumed nature of people and the words they say (which I’ve written about before) and the other is about pop country music that I have to get around to researching. I have most of my thoughts, but I want to get all concrete with examples and shit, and that means reading a bunch of country song lyrics (spoilers it may not be the most flattering of pop country!). Soon, hopefully; I’d actually love to get back to having a few blog posts mostly written and waiting the next weekend I get free.

But I do have a topic to cover today. As always, fuck Daniel Tosh is a great way to start a blog post. Nothing new that I’ve heard about him; in fact, it’s back to the rape “joke”(I airquote because I have never seen a joke structure in what he said) incident. In the aftermath of the audience member’s story breaking, there was a lot of vocal support for Tosh, and while there were plenty of people happy to get vitriolic and agree with Tosh’s harassment and make further threats, most (that I saw) were making this the time to defend free speech by defending Tosh’s right to say what he had said. And I am about to write paragraphs on this and the complexities of it, but I feel that many people, who had differing comfort levels with jokes about rape, genuinely wanted to defend free speech primarily, and not just use that argument to fawn over Tosh or support his ideas on women and consent. If the argument is that comedians should be allowed to say what Tosh said and that Freedom of Speech is near-sacred, then, BASICALLY (again, about to get way into this), I agree.

No, really. I agree with that argument as it is often worded. I staunchly oppose censorship, and the first amendment is sacrosanct to me. The answer isn’t to start banning words or phrases, or topics, or limit what a comedian can say. So, I very much agree with that sentiment. But in the Tosh incident and others that have occurred lately where people being dissected and taken to task for saying reprehensible things are defended under the banner of free speech, I never see a speaker having their rights restricted or fought; most incidents prove they have intact freedom of speech. What I do see are supporters, either of freedom of all speech or the person who said some shit, coming together to bully and silence, to take away the freedom of speech from those on the other side raising objections and criticizing. Freedom of speech applies to points AND counterpoints.

When I use words like bully and accuse people of silencing tactics, I want to be very clear: I don’t assume malicious intent for most vocal critics. There are obviously hateful bullies telling someone who can’t take a joke to kill themselves or leave the Internet permanently, but that feels like a minority, and I trust most more than that. But the effect of treating criticism as a suppression tactic is to then suppress criticizing speech. I think many people view criticism itself, especially negative criticism, as inherently attacking someone’s freedom to speak, but I disagree completely. I’m defining criticism to exclude criticisms like, “Die.” or “This fucking sucked.” I’m defining it as critique of certain aspects or the whole of something. It can be insightful, it can miss the mark by a mile, but if there’s some actual critique, I love it.

I think there’s also confusion that being able to talk about anything and putting no topics off-limits (which I agree with and support) means supporting every instance of discussing race, sexism, QUILTBAG folk, etc. Which it doesn’t, and shouldn’t. In the discussion that followed Tosh’s harassing “joke,” there were plenty of examples brought up of triggering, violent and bad jokes on sexual assault, but also articles from people, including feminists, defending free speech, giving examples of jokes about rape they thought were good, and still lambasting Tosh as an enforcer of rape culture, as a prime example of how, in a rape culture, this can be brought up, and often, and made a joke, and still be bad and wrong and Tosh can just be a particularly aggressive, triggering example, not a lone case or still needing to work on the material.

True freedom of speech is a lie, and for very good reason; in the same way I am not allowed to do certain things, like stab people who make me angry, I am not allowed to say certain things, like fire in a crowded theater, because my freedoms don’t supersede theirs and there can be severe consequences to certain words. And this can get unbelievably grey, which is why we have a system of courts and not a bunch of separate judges to cover cases and make one judgment for each they handle, but it’s pretty easy to think up a few examples of something you could say that would offend someone. There’s a rise in people taking pride in being “off-color,” “Non-politically-correct,” even straight out saying they don’t care if they offend someone and will say anything, but I’m confident there’s certain things they wouldn’t say a certain way to certain people. I purposely used certain three times there; there’s a huge difference between discussing some perceived neglect of the grandkids with your mother-in-law gently but honestly, and opening up a dialogue with, “You’re a horrible grandma. Hey, I’ll say anything to anyone!”

Comedians also wield unique power on stage. Humans want to laugh, and agree with a crowd, and these are both powerful tools a comedian can leverage in making a social point. As importantly, in most comedy shows, the comedian is the only voice that”s heard; there’s no rebuttal from another comedian, and no one stands up to speak out if they disagree with a conclusion or conceit the comedian makes. Emphasis on MOST comedy shows. It’s why social comedians are a class; in this environment, a joke about discrimination in the work place and women being bad drivers can often end up with the same power as each other, especially depending on societal norms. Social comedians can use these unique circumstances of a comedy show to discuss topics that people would otherwise tune out for, or not want to think about, and the guards that drop when people are looking to be entertained make it easier for ideas to be seeded and take root and grow into great big idea trees that are pretty hard to change, no matter how incorrect or regressive they are.

And remember, Glenn Beck is as much a social comedian (I think? I hear shit, I’m not digging further than the recounting of A Christmas Sweater I heard) when making jokes as any comedian laying into Republicans. That power serves whoever wields it equally; victim and victimizer, privileged and oppressed.

This is further complicated by the fact that some people just don’t get a joke that’s otherwise not -ist (blanket term for -isms that are horrifying). Sometimes the idea is right but the words aren’t and who the joke is targeting gets confusing. Comedians can invent a character that says racist or sexist or Islamophobic shit straight, and hopefully it is setup in such a way that the crowd understands we’re making fun of the character holding such views. Because it’s not always self-evident; having someone say the earth is flat or using a redneck accent is going to be understood as mocking that belief by more people than having a fratboy say he would never rape a girl, but getting a girl drunk is just foreplay. Another tremendously important question to ask for any joke that is about a sensitive topic is: who’s the target? Comedy’s a powerful tool to attack the privileged in society, but it can just as easily be used to attack victims, and this is often at the heart of why rape jokes don’t work; a joke that treats someone getting sexually assaulted as a punchline or as such a zany thing to say that no one would expect (when in actuality it’s a go-to joke turn) is on par with pointing at an old man who says he fears hes becoming obsolete and laughing. No metaphor, no greater point or addressing of the situation, just “Ha ha, old!”

Society’s conventions are so important to this and how much care is needed in talking about a subject. What society treats as acceptable is tantamount to these discussions; the United States’ rape culture makes it easy for people to defend Tosh while the state of race relations and what society will deem as racist saw Michael Richards defended far less and turned into a punchline with no career. It would be harder to find people saying Michael Richards’ voice was censored, yet if Tosh’s show was taken off the air there would be a vocal backlash against Comedy Central. And while I don’t know that it’d be wrong, I don’t think I’d want to see Tosh’s show taken off the air for his “joke” (given the time that’s passed and his new season and brand new show on the network, I’m sure this is SUCH a possibility), although a few clips from Tosh.0 were posted in the aftermath that make me question how this is just now becoming an issue. I’d rather see society grow less accepting of Tosh’s othering brand of humor and being a shock comic by attacking victims and making jokes about sensitive subjects because they’re sensitive, dropping his ratings to the point Comedy Central lets him go.

I got to interact with Patton Oswalt over this incident, actually, who was tweeting and re-tweeting in support of Tosh initially, but as his Facebook page and Twitter feed was flooded with people’s thoughts from both sides, there was a great, nuanced discussion of freedom of speech, Tosh’s comments and rape culture. Patton took the viewpoints of people disagreeing with his defense into account (which is seemingly rare and also doesn’t mean agreeing with dissenters). One of the best points of that discussion was Patton’s insight that this incident, Tosh’s words, were a pretty bad motivator of the conversation about free speech and limits on comics that was occurring, and I could not agree more. There’s a larger discussion about taping of comedians and internet backlashes going on that political correctness and offended crowd members are unilaterally lumped in with, and it’s interconnected for sure, but I think privilege and stereotyping is coming into play as these discussions continue to occur, and where a case-by-case approach is needed, people are relying on their assumptions and generalities and being further supported by societal norms. People with valid criticisms are lumped in with trolls and haters, and a woman standing up to say rape isn’t funny is lumped in with drunk people wooing. Discussions about how rape is joked about become rape is always funny, or never funny, or you should be able to make any joke about it ever forever and no one gets to say anything back or its censorship.

So often I don’t think people truly take into account what being offended can mean in reality and conjure up the image of a Christian grandma getting offended that Daniel Tosh talks about sex and swears. They don’t think about victims, or friends and families of victims, or people with a particular amount of empathy, or people who don’t want to hear yet another joke where rape’s the punchline (or about how gay men do it IN THE BUTT. Isn’t that weird? Or about the myriad of stereotypes of black people, asian people, transsexuals, and on and on). Comedy can be a great way to deal with otherwise unassailable topics, and rape can be one of these topics to be dealt with through comedy. Some people don’t want to hear any rape jokes, at all. It’s why trigger warnings are amazing online; they allow people to deal with topics on their terms, when and if they’re ready, and avoid them if not. And some people still view this as a form of censorship; anyone should be able to say anything and it’s ALL up to YOU to deal with it! This works for the internet as well as changing the channel or leaving the theater works in real life. It’s far more difficult to work around with a live comedy show; maybe you came for one comedian and find yourself getting triggered by another. Maybe you do get up to leave and get booed anyway, and jeered, and told you’re being too sensitive. There are people who view booing or a crowd’s negative reaction as something wrong and stifling of freedom of speech, interrupting the comedian’s performance as much as a heckler. But I view them as criticism, albeit simple, unfocused criticism. And booing can certainly be used as a heckle. But criticism’s great. It’s not censorship as a class of response to art, and it challenges the art to stand and weather it if wrong, or change for the better if right. And it is just as valid an expression of free speech as the art it addresses.

 

With regards to empathy for the offended, this post-Toshbacle post is a great read and touches on a lot of what I have in this post, but there’s a particularly great sarcastic breakdown of a fictional thought process that covers censorship, doubts of victims in a rape culture, and much more: http://austin.culturemap.com/newsdetail/07-12-12-14-37-the-best-response-weve-heard-to-daniel-toshs-misquoted-rape-jokes/

Leave a comment »

I watched an Action Movie (Dredd)

I have been listening to La Roux hardcore since watching the trailer for Dredd, and listening to the trailer to listen to the song cemented this film in my head. I originally only wanted to see Dredd to see if it passed the Beichdel Test (video from Feminist Frequency here on the Test) because, from the trailer, it looked like a pretty typical action movie with cop elements, so seeing THAT be one of the hallowed few to pass the Beichdel Test would have filled me with endless glee. I also still identify as an action movie fan even though the genre seems to be eschewing closer to its dumb and sexist roots lately (big names in the genre: Expendables, Transformers) rather than develop or break new ground despite the example and success set by Inception and, to a certain extent, The Hunger Games.

*SOMEWHAT SPOILERS AHEAD*

The rookie Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) is one of two primary on-screen women as her and superior officer and judge Dredd (Karl Urban) mow through groups of thug dudes on their way to judge Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) [I AM THE BACK OF A DVD CASE], head of a drug ring / gang that controls a 200-story apartment building. I’d summarize the plot more, but really, the plot’s a macguffin to get to action and character interaction, which are both pretty great (more on the action in a bit). Dredd’s mentoring the rookie Anderson, they go to the apartment tower because of three murders, they bust in on a lil drug den and take a lackey who could give up the whole drug ring, so Ma-Ma takes control of security and the whole tower and tells the denizens to bring the judges to her. Cue the survival and eventual vengeance-on-Ma-Ma mission while also keeping the lackey with them. Watching the trailer, I saw the rookie was a woman, I saw the head villain was a woman, and I saw a shitton of mindless violence, and I giggled at the thought that this movie, looking every bit as action as the Expendables, could pass the Beichdel test with flying colors.

The film solidly fails the Beichdel test though. Anderson speaks to three women in the course of the film. The first is a superior officer the judges report to at the beginning of the film, but it is to give her assessment of Dredd, a man, and also to reveal Anderson’s a psychic. The second is a random apartment-dweller who Anderson either knew before being recruited as an orphaned child to Judge training or mindread for a name just to get a foot in the door, but the woman, while helping them, makes it clear she’s doing it because she’s worried her husband will run afoul of the judges. Iffy. The third is a corrupt woman judge who is hunting the rookie. It’s about 5 seconds long and one-sided; the corrupted judge tells Anderson to put her gun down because she’s backup, Anderson psychics that it’s bullshit, and she murders the corrupt judge. I guess maaaybe this could count as a pass? But it’s not really a qualifier.

What surprised me most was, despite failing the Beichdel Test, this movie was actually fairly progressive in its depictions of women as well as race, the first despite Anderson and Ma-Ma being the Smurfette of most scenes and only being in the same room twice (the second time being the final confrontation where Anderson gets hit in a shootout with the last remaining thugs and stays down anyways). Dredd has the same problem most films do where racial diversity means black people, and the main three characters are white, but the screen is shared pretty evenly between both races. There are black judges, the superior officer who interviews Anderson at the start of the film is black, the character who tells Dredd and Anderson about Ma-Ma and her gang running the apartment bloc (which has an ethnically diverse resident group) is black, as well as the lackey who the judges apprehend and who they keep as they navigate the building. The gang members who get mowed down as action fodder are also a pretty even mix. It makes the world feel as though black people are included as much as the white people and don’t just fill a niche or act as a minority.

Being that most characters that aren’t part of a crowd are being shot, there are only two women who get much characterization: Anderson and Ma-Ma. Ma-Ma, as the head of her gang, is genuinely great, especially given the action genre. The only tropes she falls into are non-gendered and character-based: we know nothing except that she’s the head of the gang, brutal, ruthless, and wants to control the city through the use of the drugs she produces. Usually this blank slate character is male, so having a woman is a progressive casting choice alone, but Dredd also avoids feminizing the role, which I appreciated immensely. Lena Headey plays the role straight and wonderfully; Ma-Ma doesn’t rule with sexuality, but with an iron fist. She punches one guy in the face for his failure, orders her gang around in a way that lets us know she cares shit-all about them save her number two (who is a man who she is in no way sexual with yay), and runs a knife up her tech expert’s stomach to “motivate him” to do better during one scene. She’s every bit the bosses of other groups of bad guys in other action movies, and it works in a weirdly feminist way.

Anderson is a bit more complicated, but also handled very well by the film. Anderson does fall into some tropes, but they’re identifiable as rookie tropes and come off as such. Her interactions with Dredd fall into the rookie-ranking relationship, which has Dredd mostly quizzing her on deserved sentences and growing throughout the course of the film to see her as ready for duty. She has to deal with the ramifications of actually killing people in the field, and when they kill their first group of be-gunned thugs, Dredd leaves it to her to kill the one left alive and coughing out blood, trying to beg for his life. It affects her, more so when they get help from the apartment-dweller who just wants to ensure her husband’s safety and, looking at mantle pictures, Anderson sees the husband is the man she executed. This could have skewed to death and the horror of war affecting her as a woman, but it sticks to non-gendered impacts and trends. She is visibly shaken by the horror of her actions and Dredd’s seeming flippance towards them (they’ve been judged, no wrong done!), but it’s subtle. She never breaks down in tears, and by the end of the film she’s both ready to confront Ma-Ma, not withering or traumatized into inaction, but also ready to voluntarily quit being a judge afterwards, having realized the horrors of violent conflict and wanton death may be too much to bear given they happen to very real humans.

The one troubling scene sexism-wise is between Anderson and the lackey the judges cart around for half the movie. Dredd begins to interrogate him, which equals beating the shit out of him, when Anderson tells Dredd to stop and steps in to do it psychically. Her and the lackey end up in his mind, which is visually them in a darkened room where images flit across the screen as he thinks of things. Of course, he thinks of fucking her to try and shock her (which she isn’t shocked by, although he has some other shocking thought we don’t see that gets to her a bit later), but while the film makes it clear Anderson’s in control and it’s all mental, visually it plays out; Anderson unzips her judge’s uniform exposing a bit of side boob and then it cuts to her naked back, as well as showing full-body sex with creative use of shadows to cover up genitals (although that may have been a body double, it was good shadow use). Further on in Dredd, the lackey gets free and takes Anderson hostage by overpowering her, taking her to Ma-Ma and then being put in charge of killing her. When she was taken hostage my heart sank, but to the movie’s credit, it’s both playing the rookie-ranking trope that a lot of films use for male stars and then goes on to completely subvert it. Anderson lets the lackey threaten her with her judge’s gun, which then flashes “Incorrect I.D.” and blows his hand off. She then makes her own escape, beating the shit physically out of some goons and killing a corrupt judge before rescuing Dredd from a shootout with the other corrupt judges after he ran out of bullets and got shot. It makes the use of damsel in distress, however temporary, justified while leaving out most of the baggage that comes with the trope.

Ultimately I’m not sure the better handling of women in this film than most general films, let alone action ones, may have been intentionally breaking tropes against women as much as breaking action film tropes. The way Dredd handles violence was surreal and unique. The movie’s an almost by-the-books killfest with action, blood and gore everywhere, but the directing choices elevate the way Dredd uses and comments on violence. Some shots linger repeatedly, uncomfortably on dead bodies, and others present violent death as a fact of life for this civilization. The first five minutes of the film have Dredd chasing three suspects in a van through city streets. A random person is hit by the van and leaves a bloody crack in the windshield and then you see him tumbling viciously before Dredd nonchalantly drives around him. After crashing their van one guy escapes on foot and shoots a few people; next scene their blood is being cleaned up by a street sweeper while they remain dead on the ground. Dredd eventually corners the last suspect who’s taken a hostage, judges him, sentences death, and then shoots him in the mouth with an incendiary round that melts his face off brutally. The hostage looks like she’ll freak out, but then she doesn’t and thanks the judge. Dredd has this same sort of play with your expectations throughout. Anderson uses her psychic powers throughout the movie, so when one of the corrupt judges, believing she’ll either get to shoot first or Anderson will hesitate and she’ll still shoot first, tracks Anderson down, we know how the scene will play out, but we also have some expectations of how that will look. Mine was not, “The corrupt judge will confront Anderson in a hallway, say she’s backup, get psychic-sensed and then get a round of bullets to the chest all in the span of five seconds.”

But that’s why I enjoyed Dredd so fucking much! It genuinely surprised me, while also not disgusting me with the treatment of its characters. The terrific acting from the main cast helped, because there are plenty of comic book quips and dialogue that could have fallen flat, but in trying to break from action genre tropes, Dredd managed to surpass them and deliver an excellent, enjoyable, and somewhat progressive experience.

Uh…… 3 stars I guess?

Also, quick point: the visuals were top-fucking-notch. The drug at the center of the drug ring is a future-drug called Slo-Mo that slows time down to 1% normal passage, and visually in the film also saturates colors and applies a rainbow effect, like a shimmering bubble. It’s gorgeous, used amazingly throughout the film, and spectacularly in one scene where it quick-cuts between slow drug effect shots and quick realtime shots. Almost makes me wish I’d seen Dredd in 3D. This didn’t fit in the piece really, but shit was it ever great.

Leave a comment »

Lance Mannion: Useless in Mitt World

I just read an interesting piece: http://lancemannion.typepad.com/lance_mannion/2012/06/useless-in-mitt-world.html. I wrote originally here (https://sublimebeeessry.wordpress.com/2012/09/13/mitt-romneys-smart-he-also-has-no-heart/) about my current idea for why Mitt can’t relate to human beings, and I still think his choking privilege is the main reason for that complete unstoppable disconnect that produces moment after smiling-during-a-press-conference-for-an-attack-on-America moment, but the above piece by Lance Mannion (Is that… CAN that name be real?) makes a persuasive case for an interesting idea: that many conservatives, specifically our would-be president Mitt, view our society and the people within it purely in economic terms:

What has happened is that the people running the economy and who see the the point of a society as serving the economy are measuring and valuing everything in economic terms, including people, whom they reductively assess as resources or costs, that is as things to be exploited or controlled.

Bad enough, spiritually and psychologically, feeling that you are of no more worth than a lump of coal or useful only for your ability to dig up a lump of coal.

Which prompts an interesting question:

What happens when they decide you are a cost?

Leave a comment »

Oh Humanity and Forgiveness

I cannot think of how to start this article, so let me say, fuck Daniel Tosh. It’s the best way to start any article, really. But in all that came tumbling out across the Internet in response to his harassment of a heckler with a threatening rape comment, little came from Tosh himself, exemplified by his “apology.” In a single tweet, Tosh said: “all the out of context misquotes aside, i’d like to sincerely apologize j.mp/PJ8bNs” Which is saying three things:

      1. Your version of the story is not to be trusted, playing into cultural narratives about mistrusting the stories and voices of women, especially harassed women

      2. Here’s a link to said story, just so we’re clear who lacks context and misquoted me (along with the fact that followers of Tosh can now find it easily and also be brought up to speed on why the Internet’s yelling at him

      3. “I’d like to sincerely apologize”

i. I have problems with in general, but especially here as the lead to his “apology.” Before I show the least bit of a hint of remorse, let’s just make it clear you’re wrong. ii. can be problematic, but given that comedians have routinely sicced followers on people disagreeing with them, I don’t think Tosh had any explicit malicious intent, although the tweet does implicitly connect i. to the blog post he links. But my big huge mega problem is iii. Because using the word sincere as part of a two-word apology is just grossly misunderstanding what a sincere apology actually is. Infuriatingly gross misunderstanding.

So, earlier this week, I was blown away when I found this:

Ladies and gentlemen, during tonight’s Lantern Run, I made a terrible mistake with my language, one that I immediately recognized as hurtful, embarrassing, and just categorically inappropriate both personally and professionally. Giant Bomb has certainly been known to “work blue”, but that kind of language simply has no place on Giant Bomb–and, frankly, in the world at large–not now, not ever. I was shocked myself when it came tumbling out, and instantly felt like the worst piece of shit in the world. Context is meaningless, because that word comes with too much of its own hurtful baggage to ever possibly justify.

I want to be crystal clear here: I’m saying this not because of some corporate mandate or some fear for my job. I’m saying this because it’s important to me personally that I acknowledge the significance of what was said, and to own it. I feel miserable because that’s not me, and it’s horrifying to me to think that someone would take that awful outburst as some sort of implicit approval to use that word. That shit is just indefensible. As such, the archived version of the Final Lantern Run will be edited, though I wanted to make sure that this message got out there first, and that people know that this isn’t a cover-up.

All I can ask for now is forgiveness for my gaffe. If you can’t manage that, I understand, and hope that you can at least give me a chance to prove that I am better than what you saw of me in that deeply regrettable moment of frustration.

This. This is a true sincere apology (Note also he does not say I sincerely apologize even once, although he’d have earned using the word). In doing further research, the term he used was the homophobic f slur, reportedly randomly and not at anyone, but also reportedly he facially registered he’d done wrong and apologized on the spot, offering this further apology and explanation on the forums.

Knowing barely anything about Ryan Davis or GiantBomb.com, I may be lacking some key context, but this sincere apology really stands on its own. So often in calling out an incident it’s impossible to escape from calling out a person due to their actions. And I believe it is worthwhile in every instance to call out sexism, bigotry, homophobia and general shittiness. Those discussions are always worth having. At the same time, I believe human beings in general are fallible, capable of error, and capable of growth.

Personally, a large uninhibitor on my Tweeting and my writing is the idea that, if something is wrong, or offensive, or blinded by privilege, the best way to find that fact out is to say it. If I don’t catch it before saying it, chances are I’m not going to understand why it’s wrong, why my particular phrasing, or word choice, or timing, or conversation I’m injecting my opinion into make it the wrong thing to say. It doesn’t mean I never think before I speak, but if I’m thinking of holding something in and can’t quite say why (and can’t say it’ll hurt anyone), I should say it and let my wonderful audience (mostly for Twitter, but people read this too! =D) let me know exactly why what I said was pig-headed, offensive, privileged, or otherwise insensitive or incorrect.

This model relies on forgiveness and people not judging me for one statement but for all of my statements. Another example of the epidemic of celebrities saying shitty things was Joseph Gordon Levitt, in response to a press junket question about working with Emily Blunt in Looper, said, “She’s funny … and let’s face it, most pretty girls aren’t funny.” While my partner disagrees, moreso after that bullshit comment, I enjoy Joseph Gordon Levitt. I loved him in Third Rock From the Son, I thought he was great in the role he was in for The Dark Knight Rises, and I generally enjoy his screen time. Looper itself looks interesting in a “It will pass to the $1 theater” way, and he was also in an Autotune the News video. But none of that reveals anything about him as a person; the sexist statement does. So that’s all I really know about Joseph Gordon Levitt as a person. And it’s easy to assume further sexist views are held or that he’s actually a pretty nasty guy, NOTHING like his screen persona, or maybe he’s a “nice guy.” You know. The kind that hate women and view spending time with them as payment for the opportunity at the sex. But it’s harder to think of him as a generally decent person in a patriarchal society that’s always held this certain assumption, implanted and reinforced by said society, that is just now being challenged by other people. I truly believe Levitt held this sexist belief prior to stating it, but I know nothing of how flexible it or he is. How open would he be to people telling him WHY it’s such a wrong statement, why it upholds harmful gender narratives and can hold women back, especially costars like Emily Blunt?

There’s a flipside to that idea: how closed would he become as people scream at him, no matter how correct they are. For famous film star Joseph Gordon Levitt, I’m not too worried; the tools he’s acquired to face people telling him his movies suck and he should die, while misused when someone’s aggressively and angrily telling him something right for a change, will likely get him through without seeing one of the stars of the new Batman film withdrawing from society because the Internet was too mean. And I haven’t seen him making any tone arguments or references to blogs or anything of the sort, as Louie C.K. Did in his response on The Daily Show after Daniel Tosh’s incident. I saw one apology where Levitt indicates he meant what he said either to point out the cultural narratives about pretty women or to joke about those narratives, and where he apologizes more for not choosing the right words than for what he said, but, while problematic, it also worked to some degree. It pointed to a human who doesn’t have this all figured out, who might still be working through these issues, but also growing.

Online, personally, I often end up in disagreements with either Men’s Rights Activists or Anti-Choice, Pro-Life people. And the lesson I want to take away from the GiantBomb apology, the Tosh apology, and the Levitt apology is that humans are different. I so often try to empathize with other people, but I worry I’ve been too unforgiving with certain people I disagree with. That’s not to say there aren’t things that make forgiveness/empathy less and less achievable. Some people, when confronted with hurtful or -ist comments, double down, both supporting and furthering their harmful views. Some make the issue about them, and their feelings, and how much THEIR reputation is being hurt. Some anti-choice people call all pro-choice people murderers, and most Men’s Rights activists believe feminism is oppressing men and women are all whores. There are unforgivable comments, always. But I want to start approaching people I disagree with, even if I have reality on my side (see MRM), with less hatred, less mocking (I like sarcasm a bit too much I think), more tolerance and more willingness to listen to their views. I also still want to call out all incidences of sexism, bigotry, homophobia, transphobia, you name it. But I want to have some level of empathy and potential forgiveness for the people making low-grade horrible statements, the soft MRAs, the privileged people who say something offensive and truly don’t know why it was wrong to say. Sometimes the apologies make it easy; sometimes not. Sometimes, as with Tosh, there’s a history that makes it all too clear that their apology is a recognition that bad PR is forming and must be dispersed. When that history or knowledge of a person is lacking, however, I’m starting to see benefits in giving the benefit of doubt.

1 Comment »

Health Care and the Game of Politics

I hate Medicare being discussed as a policy point with no fucking hint that anyone talking about it- politicians, talking heads, news media- realizes human beings use Medicare to seek medical treatment for either a better quallity of life or to literaly stay living when otherwise they would die. I also love how often medical bills are discussed in non-life-threatening terms, as though the choice between treating yourself and having credit to participate in our economy again has no weight and is “just money,” but then again it’s a news culture that can reference the idea of welfare queens as though it’s a construct like postal worker. It’s all about Medicare as a bargaining chip for budgets or votes.

Also, Mitt Romney lying about it. Fuck you. Good luck getting elected! Then please balance the budget on the backs of the elderly, poor, and most enfeebled among us.

It reveals the heart of modern politics in the United States; politics being so removed from the idea of different groups presenting different plans for improving the lives of their countrymen that a presidential candidate can run on repealing a law about healthcare without having ANY replacement for it and get people to vote for him.

This American Life has a great two-part series on the United States’ health care system and how it got this way, and it detailed the failings by the three major groups in health care: doctors, insurers, and us, the patients. It ran during the height of the health care debate before legislation was passed, and the most fascinating part of it was that it’s not just doctors, or us, or health insurers, although there are individuals in each group to blame. It’s all of us as a collective. and there are trends that are happening from each corner to cause the spiraling costs of health care. The piece somehow made me weep for the death of the HMO, which worked wonders for controlling costs but at the expense of patients’ demanded care. A death that coincided with the rise of doctors forming groups to raise prices and compete with insurers’ control as representatives of patients. The series also covers how, often, people demand treatments they don’t really need, and how most people would agree both that other people could get tested less, and that they do not receive too much care. They cite a study that found 33% of all medical testing done in the United States is unnecessary, and also presented a moving story of a doctor standing up to a patient’s father that outlined why giving each patient extraordinary testing is best for everyone involved in any individual case (a trend the doctor bucks), while the rest of the podcast details how everyone getting what they want is the main problem, and, basically, everyone needs to sacrifice. The two pieces ultimately made it abundantly clear that what we needed to reform health care in our country was control and restraints. Mostly of moneyed interests, but also of the groups involved so that people can seek out medical treatments and a country doesn’t come crashing down.

I still weep for the loss of any sort of public option from Obama’s health care reform law. It quickly became evident it just didn’t have a chance in our current political climate. See: the debate afterwards being “Repeal it!” “No, don’t repeal it! Noooo!” instead of any debate about strengthening it to provide for Americans or ways to improve parts of the current legislation (like cost control measures)(perhaps with a public option to compete at set prices?) and why their current iterations fail. It’s insane that for-profit, private insurance companies get to lobby lawmakers who set their regulations. That insanity happens at all levels, but we’re talking health care currently, so that’s the insanity I’ll focus on. I think there can be a place for lobbying in a better government than America has, but someone representing a company would never get to talk to a senator. Ideally, campaign finance reform would be long since completed, and a separate research body would have been set up specifically to research issues before they come up for debate or to perform research on pressing issues before legislation is drafted (fuck, there’s some jobs! Thank me later Washington). Lobbyists could present their data, and then it would be checked for fact and slant (research-wise, by divining if any profits would come to a company if their proposed solution to an issue was implemented if it’s at all unclear from research alone) alongside general research. There is always expertise that comes with working in a field, and there will always be room for that expertise, but experts are always (for now) people, who can be self-interested or motivated to craft a story from selected facts, and politicians (for [hopefully] now) are often not public servants first and are easily led astray by moneyed interests from providing for the public good. Our healthcare law could only occur in this political climate, a climate where reaching out to insurance companies for their ideas on their place in healthcare can be a real thing that really happens, and that should be a national embarassment.

Leave a comment »