Tagged: current events

What the hell happened last night? #RIPlarryshippers and twitter nonsense

monty_python_holy_grail_script_048_whole_scene

While twitter trends are unpredictable and oftentimes not a good reflection of what is actually happening in the world at that moment, there is one amorphous group that can be counted on to consistently be in the top ten: they are of course, the various pop fandom groups made up of preteens and teens (mostly) that back one singer, tv show or band and work hard to defend their identities. They go by cutesy names like “gleeks”, “directioners”, “twihards”, “beliebers”, etc. and they can be found all over twitter fighting the good fight.

Preteens and teens are especially good at doing this because they literally have all the time in the world. They have absolutely nothing better to do than to sit online and stoke virility. Their trends have become so common that seeing something like “#43millionbeliebersstilllovejustin” trending is par the course on twitter, something to be ignored and skipped over as more serious trends like “Cairo” or “#badbandnames” engage your attention.

Last night though, the preteens rose their little idol worship obsession into something more: the collective consciousness of the rest of us. Sometime on the night of August 16th, a hashtag began trending that was obscure enough to beg for the uninitiated to click it “#RIPlarryshippers”. Who was Larry Shippers? Did the world lose another celebrity struggling with substance abuse and paying for a life of excess? No.

Reading a few tweets exposed that Larry Shippers wasn’t a person but in fact 14 young, fresh faced One Direction fans who, like sunni and shiite muslims, had been recently engaged in a sectarian war with other One Direction fans over whether two bandmates (Louis and Harry) were romantically involved. It’s apparently a big deal if your version of a big deal is following the lives, rumors and Public Relations releases of pop bands. Unfortunately, it took tragedy to remind these preteens that even if Louis and Harry weren’t together, ALL Directioners were deserving of life. The tragedy was the alleged suicide of 14 (or 28 or 42 or 56?) “Larryshippers” (Larryshippers = people who were pro-louis and harry having sex) after a scathing documentary that was released on England’s Channel 4. So damaging was the documentary, so tasteless and unfair, that teens were driven to suicide over just watching it. It was like a more efficient “Ring” video.

Also it happened to be complete nonsense. It is, without a doubt, not true. Not one scrap of evidence supports that a single child killed themselves over the Channel 4 video. It simply did not happen. But that wasn’t going to stop the Directioners who were really gaining traction with this thing.

Manufactured outrage is nothing new. Fox News has built an entire network on the premise. People love to feel outrage. I suspect it has something to do with the simplicity of it. Channel 4 is a “hater” and because it hates One Direction (probably from jealousy), it made an unfair and untrue documentary that was so mean that it drove kids to suicide. Immediately after the outrage began, One Directioners started posting anti-bullying pictures and numbers to suicide hotlines. It’s well meaning, but completely misdirected. The message being lost when the same “anti-bullying” fans threaten to kill people working at Channel 4 for being mean. It also assumes that a documentary picking on One Direction fans is somehow driving people to suicide, which it wasn’t. These kids are at risk of bullying and do commit suicide sometimes, but for all the uninteresting reasons that most kids do.

The general sense of bafflement (as an outsider) continues as you watch other “fandoms” come to One Direction fans’ defense. Directioners started retweeting this picture, taken from a tweet of a belieber:

belieber tweet

Which then led me to learn that until recently One Direction fans and Justin Bieber fans had been engaged in a twitter war (as a preteen there are lots of wars you need to keep track of, none of which have the names Syria or Egypt in them).

I would give almost anything to watch this night unfold from the perspective of the Channel 4 team that made the documentary. So many emotions were probably at play. I’m sure there was a mix of bafflement and surprise, but also perhaps a sense of powerlessness. Do they need to respond to something so silly? The public at large would probably mostly miss the fake, viral, twitter story but still… a bunch of preteens were going around saying that their tv show just killed 14 (or 28 or 56?) Larryshippers. I still would love to find out what they made of the situation. As far as addressing the outrage, Channel 4 wrote a piece about itself and calmly documented the oddity of the rumors.

It would be easy to believe that this type of event is unique to the unchecked speculation machine of the 21st century Age of Social Media, but I’m not so sure. The faces are probably younger (adults move on to more mature forms of gullibility such as Birther movements and Death Panels) but the premise of an unfounded claim whipping an ignorant group up into a frenzy is a common human experience: think Jews poisoning wells rumors common in the Middle Ages, or Salem Witch Trials.

As I wrote before, these events are probably extremely satisfying to those who allow themselves to become wrapped up in it. It’s so rare these days to be able to freely and openly lose yourself into a self-righteous, targeted outrage frenzy. The sense of community it builds – as proven by the uniting of even the bitterest of enemies: Beliebers and Directioners – has to feel great. It’s also rare to be able to feel like you are really having an impact and by seeing your group’s hashtag trending or retweeting a picture you are made to feel as if you, individually and in a group, have contributed to the success of something big. That’s gotta feel pretty satisfying.

As a whole, the experience of fandom is replacing religion. And here politicians and clergy were terrified that science would destroy people’s belief in God, when it has now been replaced by worship of another kind. It is only when looking at fandom as frantic as this that the Old Testament’s God’s commandment to not worship any god but Him is so reasonable. I guess, in his mysterious way, God knew that in 4000 years he would have to compete with Harry Styles and his smile.

Harry-styles-puppy

A dangerous threat indeed.

But what is also remarkable is how much fandom borrows from religion: Unquestioningly loyalty, policing of group membership by self-appointed members, fanaticism, fantasy, and even group ritual.

One of the things that struck me about last nights twitter event was how many Directioners invented ways to show solidarity with their (not at all) dead comrades.

It’s enough to make a Directioner get dizzy. If I wanted this much group enforced shared ritual I would be Catholic!

Over-analyzing the rap game: Kendrick Lamar is a Kardashian

From: Goodreads.com

From: Goodreads.com

If you’ve been on social media recently you will have noticed that the rap world is in Game of Thrones level turmoil. Headlines abound. Kendrick Lamar blasts other rappers. Kendrick Lamar scorches other rappers. Kendrick Lamar hostile verb other rappers. In his new freshly leaked song* (*meaning “released by Kendrick Lamar’s people at a pre-established time”), Kendrick Lamar spends a great deal of time “calling out” other big name rappers and declaring himself – in no uncertain terms – the King of both the East Coast and the West Coast (why it took so long for rappers to discover manifest destiny is beyond the scope of this article).

I heard the barbershops be in great debates all the time
Bout who’s the best MC? Kendrick, Jigga and Nas
Eminem, Andre 3000, the rest of y’all
New niggas just new niggas, don’t get involved
I’m usually homeboys with the same niggas I’m rhymin’ wit
But this is hip hop and them niggas should know what time it is
And that goes for Jermaine Cole, Big KRIT, Wale
Pusha T, Meek Millz, A$AP Rocky, Drake
Big Sean, Jay Electron’, Tyler, Mac Miller
I got love for you all but I’m tryna murder you niggas
Tryna make sure your core fans never heard of you niggas
They dont wanna hear not one more noun or verb from you niggas
What is competition? I’m tryna raise the bar high
Who tryna jump and get it? You better off tryna skydive
Out the exit window of 5 G5’s with 5 grand
With your granddad as the pilot he drunk as fuck tryna land
With the hand full of arthritis and popping prosthetic leg
Bumpin Pac in the cockpit so the shit that pops in his head
Is an option of violence, someone heard the stewardess said
That your parachute is a latex condom hooked to a dread

Rap fans ate it up.

That was the point.

You know what else was exactly the point? What happened next. What happened next was this: The rappers who were (and weren’t) named spent the day responding to Kendrick Lamar in kind. More headlines came in, more page views were achieved, more hashtags were made trending.

Kendrick Lamar could be a great Kardashian

Kendrick Lamar could be a great Kardashian

Obviously the rappers eviscerated in the song played their part (they knew the role well) and responded with come backs, drama and vows to get lyrical on his ass. Secretly, they were probably giddy. The only thing that can make someone swallow their ego is the prospect of making big money to do so. That’s what this latest spat of drama means. Dollars all around. Stoke the fires of manufactured drama and the public will pay for the privilege of being along for the ride, such is our addiction to intrigue.

Big K.R.I.T. (one of the rappers named) said it best:

Gladiator shit not in its combative sense, but in its sense of spectacle. Rap has always walked a very different path then that of other genres of music. Calling people out, creating drama and sadly, even actual violence, are all part of its legacy. It’s like a less regulated pro wrestling saga, where age old feuds and convoluted backstories (complete with betrayals, sacrifices and shaky alliances) play out in the public eye and raise the stakes of the music. Tupac and Biggie engineered such a masterful publicity feud that it still plays out daily for their legions of fans who have not forgotten (it also ended, sadly, with both promising rappers dead).

This is all so reality TV. Real Housewives of Compton called by any other name would seem as shamelessly self indulgent. This is no different than what Keeping up with the Kardashians does so well, and like a reality producer who knows when the drama is in need of a boost, Kendrick Lamar recognized that the rap game needed someone to rake the coals.

What this means in terms of money can only be positive. Loyal fans in both camps will feel it is their duty to vote with their wallets. It’s the only way, aside from ineffectually dissing one another on Youtube videos, that they can support “their guys”. Us vs Them is a helluva drug and one that leads to a vested interest in winning something. The feud is amplified further by social media algorithms that act as a feedback loop as more and more people see trending topics about Kendrick Lamar and chime in, making the topics trend even stronger.

Whether or not Kendrick Lamar is lyrically King of the rap game is of little consequence, he’s certainly the King of playing the rap game.

Republican National Clowns: The RNC’s latest unintentional joke

stooges

Recently, CNN and NBC separately announced that they would be airing documentaries about Hillary Clinton. At best, that should have aroused an “Oh, that’s cool” response from anyone. If you have been following politics in the last, let’s say, two decades, or if you plan on following politics into, let’s say, 2016, Hillary Clinton is a person of interest.

Television has always been a medium of guessing at the public’s interest in people and events and anticipating a demand of that interest. That’s its entire business model. People want to watch things with people and things they care about: Hillary Clinton being an obvious choice. This whole thing seems so darn reasonable and straightforward that it should come as no surprise that the Republican National Committee, the head of the GOP, has overreacted badly to it.

You see, Hillary Clinton, three years away from a 2016 election, already terrifies the GOP. This isn’t baseless worrying, Hillary Clinton has a sizable lead in popularity and name recognition over pretty much anyone else in the potential candidate pool. Hillary Clinton (despite early jabs by Republicans) is fast tracked to the DNC’s nomination for President. But let’s not lose our heads, all of that is still three years away.

Republican's Wife: "Honey, you were shouting in your sleep. What's wrong?" Republican: "Nothing. It's nothing. Just a bad dream."

Republican’s Wife: “Honey, you were shouting in your sleep. What’s wrong?” Republican: “Nothing. It’s nothing. Just a bad dream.”

The GOP, already hurting after two sound presidential defeats (by a socialist, atheist, Muslim no less) are worried. So when they heard about these two documentaries they promptly freaked out. They needed to prevent these documentaries (which they assumed would be pro-Clinton) from airing. The only problem is that stupid “freedom of the press” and, gasp, “independent private industry” were working against them. So they played the only card they had.

In a letter to CNN and NBC, RNC chairman Reince Priebus said that if CNN and NBC didn’t drop the documentaries, he wouldn’t allow either network to air the Republican Primaries. In other words, Mr. Priebus threatened to take his toys and go home.

Obviously, threatening to not air your own party’s primaries on two large networks is kind of like punching yourself in the face to avoid doing the dishes. The GOP wants attention for its candidates, that’s how it gets people inspired to vote for one of them. The only way this threat has any sort of bite is by the fact that in recent elections the GOP primaries have become wildly popular with people just tuning in to watch a train wreck. It shouldn’t even be considered controversial to say that the typical Republican primary is filled to the brim with absolute clowns: Literal jesters with no hope of appealing to a national audience but allowed to share the stage – and sometimes win a straw poll or two – with Presidential hopefuls that actually have a chance. Last election’s was a doozy.

We had Herman Cain – Pizza mogul, 9-9-9 flat tax proponent, Pokemon quoter, sexual harrasser, all around idiot.

We had Michelle Bachman – Climate change denier, gay basher, insane person.

We had Rick Santorum – a frothy mixture of homophobia, idiocy and religious zealotry.

We had Donald Trump – Billionaire, blow hard with less brains than hair.

We had Ron Paul – a crazy person’s crazy person, paranoid, racist and kind of weird looking.

And watching the debates was like watching a beauty pageant with ONLY Miss South Carolina’s.

So by threatening to pull that circus off the air for CNN and NBC, the networks do miss capitalizing on the sheer rubbernecking potential of a group of people who know people are laughing but aren’t quite sure if it’s with them or at them. For television ratings, it’s as close as we get to a “sure thing” without being a Two and a Half Men rerun.

Like Rick Santorum, it too is popular for irrational reasons

Like Rick Santorum, it too is popular for irrational reasons

Of course, NBC and CNN will risk alienating the increasingly alienated GOP and air the documentaries. No more than ever, they have to. Interest in the two documentaries is probably higher now than ever. They also can’t be seen as backing down to a political party (not after the outrageous PBS Park Avenue cancellation debacle that seriously harmed the reputation of that highly reputable network). The show must go on, whether the RNC likes it or not.

My only consolation to the RNC is how stupid they are being for thinking this is going to noticeably sway the 2016 presidential election. By assuming that Hillary Clinton is the de facto nominee, they are losing sight of a history filled with “de facto nominees that end up kicked to the curb”, most recently in the form of Hillary Clinton herself by a young upstart from Illinois who went from unknown to presidential nominee in less than two years.

The RNC is also mistaking NBC and CNN for Fox News. I can see how it’s easy to do. They are used to networks that broadcast unfiltered propaganda for the Right and understandably assume that other Networks must operate the same way. It’s the “thieves think all people steal” effect. CNN has responded to this unreasonable demand by telling the GOP to wait and see before overreacting.

The GOP has assumed that any documentary focusing on Hillary Clinton must show her in a good light. High praise from the Right, if you think about it. Maybe what scares the GOP about Hillary Clinton the most is the fact that they are closet fans of hers, secretly wishing a GOP candidate would emerge that was half as interesting and half as popular as the woman in the pantsuits.

How was “Asian Girlz” possibly made?

Another week, another outrageous act of racism (or two). This week, we were treated to the unveiling of a ridiculous song that is audibly awful as well as racially offensive. “Asian Girlz” by something called Day Above Ground (a band that looks as if Creed were headlined by Mark McGrath and then re-imagined as a boy band… Jesus Christ, I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence.) is by any rubric a truly racist song. What’s really criminal about it though is just how mind numbingly dumb it is. But here is the thing: dumb racist things are all over the place. On Twitter, on Facebook, on Youtube, and everywhere you look you can find videos and comments that are really insensitive, that isn’t surprising (people are awful). What is surprising is how a professionally produced video for a band was able to go so wrong. How many eyes have laid eyes on this abomination and thought, “Yeah, this is fine.”?

I famously wrote about another racist song as the inaugural post for Jamesonstarship.com but “Accidental Racist” by Brad Paisley and LL Cool J pales in comparison.  That song was, at least, accidentally racist. “Asian Girlz” revels in it.

Also spelling “girls” with a “z” is dumb.

The song is nothing more than a list of asian stereotypes thrown together in a string of lines devoid of logic or larger meaning. The video is a master class in sexual objectification. You can’t help but feel pity for the young woman whose sole contribution was dancing provocatively and faking an orgasm in a bathtub (She has since expressed regret for her role in the video).

I’m sure the band thought that this was just a fun and lighthearted attempt at being “funny”. The song certainly tries to be funny, but it doesn’t even achieve that. What’s left is just stereotypes aimlessly thrown about and nothing redeeming. There are also curious lines such as:

17 or 23, it doesn’t matter to me.

Okay…

Or: Come and sit on my lap or we’ll send you back

Awesome sentiment fellas.

But again, if this were simply a self made youtube video it could just as simply be dismissed as a poor decision by a band of idiots. Instead, many people saw this before it was released and either didn’t realize it could be construed as racist or didn’t want to speak up. This seems to happen a lot more than it should.

ktvu_asiana01

Something is systematically wrong here.

Clearly, there is disconnect between how things are conceptualized and how things play out, even by people whose job it is to avoid these very kinds of situations. I, of course, can’t be sure, but my instinct tells me that Day Above Ground wouldn’t consider themselves as racist. They are quick to point out that one of their members from Indonesia. While that isn’t a compelling defense of what is unmistakably a racist song and video, it does suggest they have no intention of being overtly racist. Instead, they are just ignorant. So they are just like most of us. We need to look at this because it will help us better ourselves.

This is why diversity is important. This is why things like Affirmative Action and workplace non-discrimination laws are monumentally important. It’s not that people are not well meaning, most people are. But their perspective is so narrow – mostly white, mostly male, mostly heteronormative – that they begin to forget that other perspectives exist. When only one perspective is being shared, and in a lot of industries that means the perspective of the “Boy’s Club” but also the perspective of white culture, it’s hard to identify places where problems are for people you can’t empathize with.  And from that white perspective, “Asian Girlz” seems silly and harmless. After all, can’t we poke fun at stereotypes? Like on the blog “Things White People Like”? Unfortunately no. From the perspective of minorities, it can be demeaning and derogatory.

The sad fact is, it probably took Day Above Ground all of 30 minutes to come up with the stereotypes they used throughout the song. Those stereotypes reduce an entire continent of people to a simplistic group of “proto-asians” who, you know, eat white rice and throw ninja stars and are good at math! That level of insensitivity should be unacceptable. It would also be obvious if the band, its producers, managers and film crew, took some time to shift their perspectives.

One of the biggest differences between white Americans and American minorities is privilege. That eye rolling, groan inducing term that makes internet commenters cry “reverse racism” and become defensive to the point of catatonia. Despite its threatening nature, it applies here. White people have the privilege of being beyond hurtful stereotypes. We are able to laugh at our own expense in a way that other groups cannot without feeling the slight tinge of doubt that comes with asymmetrical abuse. As usual, Louis CK explains this best and hilariously:

This article wasn’t intended to turn into a “give me a break, white people” thing (although I love writing those and lately it seems like all I do is roll my eyes and say “give me a break, white people” when I go on Facebook), but it’s a problem and one that this case – and recent others – illuminate. It seems that the answer to “How was ‘Asian Girlz’ possibly made?” is “By not adopting a perspective that seems unimaginable to most people in places of privelege: that stereotypes can hurt.”

George Zimmerman is a victim of gun culture, too

George-Zimmerman

As we continue to struggle to comprehend how a man can shoot an unarmed teenager and not be legally accountable, it’s worth noting the larger players in all of this. George Zimmerman seemed well intentioned, if overly zealous. The problem is, he was sold a fantasy propagated by gun rights activists and the National Rifle Association that sent him, unwittingly, on a collision course with an incident. Unlucky break for George that he picked the absolute worst scenario in which to murder someone. I do believe that he probably didn’t plan on nor want to kill an unarmed teenager on the way back from the store holding nothing but skittles and iced tea. I also believe George Zimmerman wanted something to happen on one of his patrols, if only in that romantic and idealized way all of us fantasize about “what ifs”. In his case though, the “what if” became reality: heartbreaking and tragic.

From this lens, George Zimmerman isn’t a monster – or even overtly racist. Instead, he was manipulated and exploited by a movement that did not care about him further than as a cow to be milked of his money in exchange for guns and the facade of safety and control over imagined (or over-reported) threats. The National Rifle Association doesn’t kill people, but they give killers the tool they need to effectively do the job. If that were the only thing they did they would simply go down as despicable moneygrabbers, but they just can’t seem to leave their true intentions laid bare like that. Buying their product isn’t enough, we have to love them too.

To achieve that goal, they have to control the narrative. In a world where gun violence is increasingly directed at the gun owners themselves, or his or her family members (and disproportionately female), it must be hard to justify wanting more guns on the streets rather than less. To ensure profits, the narrative has to be unhinged from reality in such a way as to somehow convince a large section of society that they need guns in the home to ward off threats from outside the home. It isn’t hard. Especially when you play upon ingrained and deeply held beliefs about “other” groups.

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Source: Wikipedia

Trayvon Martin had the misfortune of being born an “other”. George Zimmerman, while not Caucasian, still grew up in a society in which black men are portrayed on TV, movies and in the media as disproportionately violent, aggressive and troublesome. It’s an image that the NRA has cultivated, with great success, into a selling point. Protect your homes. People not like you are out there. Watching Trayvon slowly walk down a quiet, residential neighborhood must have seemed like something out of “The Wire”. He certainly looked like they said he would: He had a hoodie. He appeared in no hurry. He was black.

As a white male I don’t know what it’s like to be suspicious. Before writing this I walked across the street from my apartment to pick up some cat litter from a convenience store a block away. I took my time. I checked my phone. Stopped to answer a text. Kept moving. If I noticed a man following me in his car I would have been freaked out. Then again, I’ve never been treated with suspicion . I am given the benefit of the doubt. Young black males in our country aren’t given that luxury. In 2013, LaVar Burton (the reading rainbow guy) explains how differently he has to act around police officers than a white person. That should be viewed as unacceptable. That is unacceptable.

In all of this, it’s important to note that Trayvon didn’t “owe” George Zimmerman anything. I’ve heard it asked “why didn’t Travyon just stop and explain to Zimmerman that he was walking home?”, but I can’t believe that this question is what it has come to. A boy shouldn’t have to justify himself to a strange man just for being black while walking down the street. That should be viewed as unacceptable. That is unacceptable.

But again, I don’t believe that George Zimmerman was a racist, intentionally looking for a black boy to kill. I think he was taught by cowards – who hide behind innuendo and plausible deniability – to look for young, black men when patrolling his neighborhood. They don’t say “young, black men”, that would be racist. They call them “thugs”, “urban”, or “gangsta”. They mean young, black men.

The “Stand Your Ground” law, much discussed in this case, is not a form of institutionalized racism on the scale of Jim Crow laws (as some had claimed), instead it is a loophole that allows racism to seep into vigilantism that the George Zimmerman case perfectly illustrated. Essentially, the law says that if a person feels “threatened” then they have the right to kill the aggressor and aren’t required to “retreat”. I’m not being facetious when I say that the “Wild West” that this law is clearly based on wasn’t even as dumb as that. Presumably, even Wyatt Earp would have seen how that has the potential for about a prairie sized amount of interpretation and wiggle room. Again, the NRA and gun rights advocacy groups who were instrumental in passing the idiotic, racist and impractical “Stand Your Ground” law in Florida (and other states) have safeguarded themselves from criticism, but make no mistake, they have blood on their hands. “Stand Your Ground” is nebulous and contrary to the entire reason we have laws. It’s why George Zimmerman can be acquitted of a murder he definitely committed. It has such a “gee shucks” naivete as to be nearly impossible to prosecute against. How do you prove what a “threat” is? Can a racist, who views minorities as inherently threatening, shoot anyone he pleases as long as he thinks they look sufficiently “urban”? But even more absurdly, it gives asymmetrical power to the holder of the gun (the NRA must be thrilled). Because guns kill quickly, and fists often don’t, the “threat” is the man swinging punches.

That is why George Zimmerman is free at its most distilled. The defense was able to successfully argue that because Trayvon was using his fists as weapons and George Zimmerman was clearly losing the fight (the one he instigated) that Trayvon deserved to be shot. Presumably, if Trayvon had a gun and felt threatened by George Zimmerman when he approached him he would have been in his right to kill him. But only one person had a gun that night. Fists take time. Bullets are quick. Trayvon isn’t here any more to defend himself and George walks free. That should be viewed as unacceptable. It is unacceptable.

So, in a weird way, George Zimmerman was wrapped up in something larger than he realized. He had been promised a fantasy that reality didn’t deliver. He had to learn through murdering an innocent boy that the idea that guns are defensive measures against intruders or aggressors is a false one. Unlike the simplistic world view that gun culture perpetuates, we live in a world of gray. Often the aggressors are our friends, or our family. Sometimes they are us. Our children, too. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as watching for the black guy in the hoodie. That lack of predictability may be scarier, it means a loss of control – and guns have always been marketed as tools of control in a scary world – but realizing that means less of this. It can’t bring Trayvon Martin back but it can, hopefully, prevent the next time. That should be viewed as possible. It is possible.

Exploring rock bottom: CNN is in a league of its own

0728n_submarine

Yesterday, while actual news was probably happening, CNN decided to run a segment on racial division in this country. What’s wrong with that, you ask? Nothing, if it managed to display even a speck of perspective or insight. Instead, it was Don Lemon (who has always seemed like a pretty smart guy) walking around the streets of New York asking people about different racial slurs written on index cards (apparently, writing hateful words on cards makes it less offensive or something). Think of it as the Tonight Show’s Jaywalking segment but with the n-word and probably the same amount of laughs.

Next, Don Lemon brought the issue back to the studio where he held a panel of experts to discuss the topic and this was the headline:

N-Word-vs-Cracker

Now, I am glad they managed to get some actual African Americans on to the show so they could talk about their actual experiences with the n-word, Fox News would have just had Fox and Friends discuss it with Glenn Beck.

GlennBeck5

“Obama has a deep seated hatred for crackers” – Glenn Beck

But what’s insane is the premise itself and the implications it suggests.

The n-word is obviously worse than “cracker” and here is a test to prove it: which word did they abbreviate? Which word did they feel was so hurtful, vile, and offensive that they didn’t even put it in the title of a segment specifically about that word? I think they answered their own question.

I don’t plan on discussing the issue any further, I’ll leave that to the Youtube comment section (probably for a video about skateboards or zebras), but what is remarkable is how low CNN is willing to go for someone, anyone, to watch it. It’s no secret that CNN has been flagging in the last several years. Losing to Fox News over and over again when Fox News is nothing more than a propaganda machine built for the Right has got to sting. Luckily, they still have a high profile murder trial or two every year to help buoy those numbers but other than that… let’s just say the vultures are circling the studio. And so it’s unsurprising that CNN is swinging in any direction it can trying, desperately, to get viewers. The problem is they keep going in the direction of cheap views and not in the direction of earning the trust of a viewership that would be interesting in coming back for more.

Human interest pieces are okay. High profile court cases are okay. But do some ACTUAL NEWS. Those fluff pieces should break up reports on Syria, or congressional hearings, or investigative journalism that uncovers something important. There is a reason that the NSA was watching a Fox News guys email, an Associated Press journalists email and NOT a single person from CNN, what could they possibly worry about from the network that brought you the “n-word vs cracker: which is worse?” Segment?

But, of course, CNN takes every month’s declining viewership numbers to mean they have to go dumber. With their tunnel vision, they fail to see that what they offer is so below substantive that people can’t even bring themselves to tune in once, and other networks are reaping the benefits of a empty shell where a once big news network had been. They are aiming so low now that they can only shoot their own foot. But hey, maybe they can do a human interest piece on it: “The news network that’s dead inside: The CNN story” tonight at 11.

Paula Deen doesn’t think she’s racist, and that matters

lev24

Butter Queen Paula Deen has found herself entangled in a damaging lawsuit involving a former employee of hers, who alleges that the TV personality and “down home cooking” chef and her brother Bubba (seriously) peppered workplace conversations with racist remarks and jokes. This week, the disposition she gave at her trial was released and among the numerous gems that lay bare her inherent racism are these:

Deen testified that she probably used the racial slur when talking to her husband about “when a black man burst into the bank that I was working at and put a gun to my head.”

“I didn’t feel real favorable towards him,” she said, referring to the robber.

Jackson lawyer: “Have you used it since then?”

Deen: “I’m sure I have, but it’s been a very long time.”

Then later she recounted having used, or been around her brother when he used, racial slurs in the context of jokes, saying:

When Jackson’s attorney asked Deen if she had ever used the N-word, Deen reportedly answered, “yes, of course,” and listed specific times she had done so. Regarding racist jokes, Deen allegedly said, “It’s just what they are — they’re jokes…most jokes are about Jewish people, rednecks, black folks. … I can’t determine what offends another person.”

The world reacted with an outrage that lacked the self awareness to realize that these two examples are instances where we have either been guilty of racism ourselves or have been guilty by association as they were said to us and we laughed politely or ignored it.

What Paula Deen has admitted to saying doesn’t make her special or even particularly racist. It just makes her dumb or brave enough to say it to a less than sympathetic audience who was ready to tar and butter her from the second they smelled this week’s outrage machine beginning to churn.

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What gets lost when we publicly out and shame a celebrity for their racial indiscretion is the deeper, more troubling fact that their views aren’t uncommon. If we really hope to make a positive change towards a less racist society this is the most inefficient way to do it. We can’t simply change people’s minds one by one when they mess up (and they inevitably will since racism tends to pervade a person’s thoughts and speech no matter how hard they try to control it in mixed company). That is, for one, ineffective at curbing racism generally, but even worse it allows the rest of us a cop out as we can point to them and declare “racist” without ever having to turn that microscope back towards ourselves.

I wonder how well any of us would do during a three hour interrogation about our racist jokes, or racist family members, or our racist attitudes. I’m guessing Paula Deen would fall somewhere around the average racist mark. Half of us would be worse. That should scare us.

What’s also important about this Paula Deen story is how unapologetic she seems about the whole thing. She truly feels like she has done nothing wrong. Let’s take a look at how, by pulling apart the examples I quoted at the top of this article.

When Paula was working at a bank in the 1980s, she was robbed at gun point. Obviously, this was a terrifying experience for her and she testified to using the N-word when later describing the assailant to her husband. When asked for a justification for the racial slur she said the most telling line she could have: “I didn’t feel very favorable towards him

That is the deep racism I am talking about. It’s the idea that we should be tolerant and “nice” towards minorities as an act of good will, but the second they cross certain lines or violate a white woman’s sense of safety, she feels justified in using a racial slur in regards to him. If she had just said he was an “uppity black”, people would have lost their minds. But this is no different. Minorities cannot be truly equal when the terms of their equality are tied to acting a certain way, being a certain way, and speaking a certain way. That’s still racism.

The second example I cited was her use of jokes. Paula seems to think that all jokes are in someway or another, jokes targeting a particular group of people. She listed “Jews, rednecks, and blacks” as some of the groups jokes are about. If you get past marveling at her ability to say that out loud with no sense of reservations, you would realize that for a large portion of the country, this is probably dead on true. Jokes are about targeting “others”. You make fun of them, and your friends laugh at how different they are. This is probably one of the most ancient forms of joke telling in existence because of how easy it is. A outside group’s behaviors or beliefs seem weird to us and it’s up to the would be comedian to harvest that sense of weirdness. What Paula doesn’t understand is the damage these jokes cause when we are trying to create a just and equal world. It draws lines between people instead of circling all of humanity. Jokes are kernels of truth surrounded by a meaty shell of the absurd, but if that kernel of truth comes from a place of xenophobia or hate or even merely condescension, the joke itself becomes a vehicle of racism.

None of this should surprise us. This should all sound familiar. And that’s the point, Paula Deen is a victim of her culturally ingrained racism when you remove self awareness and the conscious effort to be less biased. As her sponsors jump ship to swim towards another one that has yet to take on water, maybe Paula Deen will start to wake up or maybe she won’t. When Michael Vick went to jail for dog fighting he was probably my least favorite person on the planet, but I now believe that he somehow had not even known dog fighting was wrong. He grew up so ignorant of the larger abhorrence to dog fights by people who view dogs as cherished members of our society (if only other animals got the same placement) that even questioning what he was doing was beyond him. Since then he has seemed legitimately horrified at his previous behavior and contrite when speaking about it. It reinforces the fact that education and diverse perspectives can have real, meaningful impact in a person’s thinking where Nike voiding their sponsorship cannot.

I just hope Paula Deen takes this opportunity to learn why she is wrong and not just how she got caught up in another celebrity take down scandal.

The Gospel according to Fred: The Westboro Baptist Church…literally

creation of adam

Well that didn’t take long. A mere day after the terrible news that Moore, Oklahoma was hit with a devastating tornado that left dozens dead and hundreds injured and a path of destruction that is absolutely breathtaking in its scope, the attention seeking hate group Westboro Baptist Church led by attention seeking hate group leader Fred Phelps tweeted out an explanation to the question on many people’s minds: “Why did this happen?”

According to them it’s about basketball.

Yep. the death and destruction was brought upon a random suburb of Oklahoma City because a basketball player who plays for the Oklahoma City Thunder told another team’s basketball player that he was proud of him for coming out of the closet. It’s so great that God gave us the Westboro Baptist Church because His punishments would be EXTREMELY hard to decipher if they weren’t here to connect the dots.

I’m going to assume that the members of the Westboro Baptist Church mean what they say, because the alternative is even worse. The idea that a group would spout this hateful vitriol and NOT mean what they say is entirely more offensive. So, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt (how very Christian of me), and take them at their word. Here is what the world looks like when you are member of this congregation:

The Biblical God is heavily active within the modern world. He has a chosen people, Christians – well, some Christians – and he hates pretty much everyone else. He hates a lot of things: scientists, homosexuals, politicians, Americans (generally), Americans (in specific groups), the troops, minorities, the Chinese. The list goes on and on. He hates a lot of people okay? Almost anything you can imagine doing (and I’m not that imaginative) he hates as well. When a person, especially if they are well known, does something or is someone that God hates, he lashes out. But not right away. And not the person doing or being the thing He hates. Maybe a couple of cities over. Or a city in an entirely different state. So by Jason Collins coming out of the closet, it was only a matter of time before God got payback for his transgression: Which was telling people he was gay. Remember, he’s been gay for his entire life. So it was the telling people he was gay part that really must have irked God. And then, he was probably going to let it slide (don’t say God isn’t merciful), but then God was browsing twitter and saw something that he COULDN’T let slide: Kevin Durant sent a tweet expressing support for Jason Collins. It was then that, according to the WBC worldview, God decided that in a month he would level two elementary schools…11 miles away.

OK thunder to moore

According to the Westboro Baptist Church, God does this a lot. He has an incredible amount of beefs – many probably overlapping within the same person or community – and His only way of expressing himself is through knocking things over. Maybe the Teletubbies had it right. It’s sounding more and more like God is a giant sky baby.

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God gazes on his wondrous creation and dreams up ways to murder it

It gets creepier. God also hates entire countries (he has a huge problem with China for reasons that only Fred Phelps seems to fully understand) so he will occasionally send earthquakes or landslides or Django Unchained over to their lands in order to punish them for, actually I don’t know on this one, being Chinese? Living in China? Seeing Jamie Foxx’s junk? His punishments are beginning to look less like “teachable moments” to enlighten the sinners of the folly of their ways, and more like violence for its own sake. God is The Joker, a chaotic force hellbent on nothing more than causing fear and pain.

The Joker in The Dark Knight is portrayed by H...

God’s begotten son: Heath Ledger (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And sadly, God is apparently a bumbling idiot. Neither able to anticipate upcoming sins or reverse the tides of change that seem to be rising all around Him, he rages on. In an increasingly directionless fury, he lashes out like a confused and stubborn shell of a once All Powerful being. The Westboro Baptist Church have intentionally and unintentionally been left behind (not the Kirk Cameron kind) in a world that has increasingly embraced diversity, science and compassion. This is no country for bigoted men, not any more. Fred Phelps is a living, breathing representation of hating what you don’t understand. He doesn’t understand the world and he hates it and his God hates it. It has often been noted that the image of God tends to reflect that of the people who worship it. No truer could this be than with the Westboro Baptist Church. A clan of closed minded, bigoted Americans worshiping a closed minded, bigoted, hateful God, what are the odds? So if we were to imagine what God looks like to this family of imbeciles it would have to be a reflection on the family themselves. Not a sun baby, nor a Joker, I imagine their God looks a little like this:

Fred Phelps

Fred Phelps (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How sad it must be to live in a world you hate, surrounded by people you hate, doing things you don’t like. How uncomfortable and cruel it must be to live with a family that teaches you that people deserve to die because they think differently than you. Theirs is a small God. A God concerned with hall monitoring and strict rules. A black and white world divorced from moral wrangling and self doubt. It’s a world of cowboy hats and wood paneling, and not at all about truth seeking and compassion building. Fred Phelps will one day die, and when he does he will have left this Earth having never once experienced the joy of uncertainty or of changing his mind or the thrill of reaching out. He will close his eyes, release his last breath, and hope that he will soon join a God who doesn’t mind exterminating dozens to avenge a tweet by a basketball player. How bizarre.

Justin Bieber BOOED (and it doesn’t matter)

Last nights Billboard Music Awards was full of insanity. It also might have been one of the most interesting awards shows in recent memory because at least it tried. It was full of watercooler talking fuel, flying kicks and a demonstration to the younger crowd why Prince is the greatest. I would love to include a video of Prince killing it but it’s Prince so good luck finding one. Here is a Perez Hilton article that has the video embedded (for now).

miguel leg drop

Even though Miguel’s painfully awkward and painfully painful Power Ranger kick to a fan’s head will get the most attention (and by this point I’m sure my grandparents have even seen the memes so if you’re working on one delete it now, you’re too late), we can’t ignore that Justin Bieber. Got. Booed! Take that Justin!

Huffington Post:

Justin Bieber was booed at the Billboard Music Awards, despite winning two awards and performing twice.

The “Beauty and the Beat” singer was accepting the Milestone Award when the crowd seemed to erupt in boos. Looking a bit confused, Bieber went on to assert that he thinks only the “craft” and his music should be considered, arguing that “none of the other bull” mattered.

English: Justin Bieber at the Sentul Internati...

We love to hate you, Justin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Despite the deep-seated schadenfreude we as a society have towards Justin Bieber and despite the fact that he makes this ill will worse by constantly characterizing himself as some sort of victim of “haters” trying to keep him down (the “everybody said I couldn’t do it” routine is getting beyond tired, especially now that he has close to a trillion dollars), we need to keep some perspective here.

Justin Bieber got booed, which I guess serves as a validation to the millions of music critics out there who are brave enough to stand up to a 19 year old boy singing primarily for 13 year old girls and are willing to put their reputation on the line to make fun of Bieber’s music. What a relief it must have been to finally see people hating Justin Bieber. That has literally never happened before and I bet it felt good to finally prove that your musical instincts didn’t lead you astray. You’ve proven once and for all that you are a straight shooter who knows when a song is garbage and no sorry I can’t go to the Pitbull concert with you, I’ve, uh, got a thing.

But before you rejoice too much at a clear victory for legitimate music let me say this: Justin Bieber was booed by people who willingly went to something called a “Billboard Music Awards” show. These people, collectively and on average, probably have the worst taste in music in any room in the world. Getting booed by this crowd is like NASA getting criticized by Michelle Bachman: I find it hard to care.

It is also unclear why they were booing. It was probably for reasons as dumb as:

1. Selena Gomez fans who still feel jilted by the breakup.
2. One Direction fans who hate Justin Bieber for the same reason Star Belly Sneetches hated the ones with no stars upon thars.
3. Maybe they were huge Anne Frank fans?

So, music hasn’t been saved after all. In fact, its as bad as it always was. Justin Bieber won some awards. He got booed. He called himself an “artist…[who] should be taken seriously.” And maybe he should be. Remember the Jonas Brothers once said they were the next Rolling Stones and screw those guys right?

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Harry Styles (left) seen SNUBBING Justin Bieber (right)

Bringing a kitchen knife to an online virtual gun fight: Amy’s Baking Company eats it

Angry Mob Simpsons

If you haven’t been sitting online all day or, you know, care about important things, I will forgive you for not knowing about the supernova scale meltdown of husband and wife team at Amy’s Baking Company. What started as, perhaps, the most ridiculous episode of Kitchen Nightmares with Gordan Ramsay of all time (including Gordan walking off of his own show) has cascaded into an online public relations disaster for the horrible owners. The Huffington Post gives us the backstory:

One has to wonder what possessed Amy and Samy Bouzaglo, the owners of Amy’s Baking Company in Scottsdale, Ariz., to behave the way they did on last Friday’s episode of “Kitchen Nightmares.” It’s saying something that host Gordon Ramsay comes off as the reasonable, even-keeled one.

The British chef walked off the program for the first time in the show’s history, after the couple’s antics and finger pointing proved unsurmountable challenges. Some of the more memorable moments: the couple pocketed the waitstaff’s tips, admitted to firing more than 100 people, picked a fight with a customer who’d been waiting an hour for his pizza and served up pre-made frozen raviolis.

While it is impressive that owners Amy and Samy were so awful that they failed at a show called “Kitchen Nightmares”, what happened next is just pure insanity. After the episode aired, their Facebook page was, as tends to happen when you willingly invite publicity into your place of business and then spend an hour making everyone hate your guts, inundated with negative comments about the owners and how they ran their business. Being completely reasonable people, they apologized for their awful behavior, explained it was stress and personal problems, and vowed to make big improvements to earn the respect of their customers again. Nah, just kidding. They flipped out completely.

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This was followed by increasingly angry and increasingly caps locked messages that had the only real effect of making the Internet’s self appointed warrior bees swarm.

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And just like that, Amy’s Baking Company set themselves up to feel the full wrath of millions of people who thrive on this kind of thing. The troll campaign began in earnest.

Eventually, maybe a concerned friend or relative, called Amy’s and said something along the lines of “Hey, I know you’re upset but, and I’m just spitballing here, maybe you should get rid of the messages that call all of your potential customers and the world as a whole godless morons. Again, not my place but like, maybe even just delete every message and call it a night?”. Sensing their entire business in jeopardy, the intrepid owners deleted all messages, took a break and hatched a scheme to damage control what was clearly very severe damage:

The Grinch

“We’ll say it was a ‘hacker’. Yes, that’s what we’ll do.”

So they said they were hacked. And it worked about as well as when Anthony Wiener tried that excuse. That is to say, it backfired miserably and made them look even worse. I think Amy and Samy might be proving those AA meetings wrong, there really is no such thing as rock bottom. The hole can just keep getting deeper.

While most people either enjoy the terrible owners getting their (pre-made, store bought, microwaved) just desserts or find themselves relishing the sheer idiocy of these people with unabashed abandon, I can’t help but feel a little bad for them. Sure they are entirely responsible for their terrible behavior, but they are also victims of a world that they do not understand. The internet is a wonderful place, and I’m sure they were excited to establish their official restaurant facebook page, but they clearly did not understand how this medium fully works. It was like Cortes’ first meeting with the Aztecs. The disconnect between the two parties was a wide margin.

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“We call it “twitter” and it is our God.”

Samy, the chief writer of the facebook posts, did not know that the world online works very differently than the real world (although, ironically, it works nearly identically to MTV’s “The Real World”). He seemed to be under the assumption that if somebody has a problem with him, they need to settle it in the traditional fashion: Someone insults you, you insult them back, they insult your mother, you tell them to step outside, you throw a few haymakers, friends break you up, you go home and tell your friends how they should have seen the other guy. But on the internet, it’s an ethereal target. There is no location at which to direct your fury. You become a babbling maniac, made even more frustrated by the fact that no one seems to be getting hurt by your attacks. Even worse, the internet doesn’t care about what you say, just as long as you say it. They are like your older brother: They are just looking for a reaction. If it’s in caps lock then even better.

It was like shooting fish in a barrel. Samy and Amy had absolutely no idea how the internet works. At various times they threatened to sue Yelp and Reddit. Get the FBI involved. Challenged the entire internet to come to their restaurant to fight. Didn’t know who Patton Oswalt was. I mean, these guys were clearly out of their league here.

The only consolation that these people have is that they will inevitably get a few interviews with Matt Lauer and Jimmy Kimmel or at the very least Opie and Anthony, and most likely (because we have passed the Rubicon of even appearing to care about anything) they will be approached by TLC to make a show that will last a couple of seasons. So Reddit is claiming victory here (yay, we made stupid people look stupid!), but to the losers go the spoils.

matt lauer

“My smile says I’m happy. My eyes say help me.” (source: http://www.nydailynews.com)