Tagged: opinion

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!

“Hyperloop” sounds like something out of science fiction… good.

futurama

I’ve written in the past about ideas that, while not entirely feasible, are still helping push our society forward in the direction of a better tomorrow. With science and technology, it is often just as important to be ambitious as it is practical, unless we want ours to be a country of stagnation – comfortable but lagging in every way that matters.

It seems straightforward. Innovation and progress are goals to strive for, and for a long time that’s what our country fawned over, but in the past few decades those ideals have been replaced by fear and xenophobia. Often xenophobia takes the shape of fearing people different from ourselves but it also applies to ideas different from what we know. America is now a country desperate to hold onto a perceived past – imagined more than real – of a simpler time and devoid of shades of gray. It fears what it doesn’t know and doesn’t seem to want to learn.

Conservatism, even it’s name suggests an inability to move forward, is built on fear. It’s chief weapon is fear, and it is swung wildly and ferociously in all directions. What is opposition to immigration reform if not a form of racial fear? What is opposition to climate change if not a form of environmental fear? What is opposition to gay marriage if not a form of sexual fear? Progressivism has it’s flaws, but it often in the form of caring too much, not too little. It dares to try to change things. Conservativism clings on.

I didn’t intend to write this as a way of bashing conservatives, but it is important to note their popularity in America as a testimony to how far we’ve fallen. Instead of approaching the changing geopolitical, social and environmental challenges with gusto and a will to always try to better ourselves, we’ve allowed an entire national political party to provide a giant hole in the sand for defeatists and pessimists to stick their heads in.  And that’s because fear is easy. It’s easy to be small, and isolationist, and enjoy the sense of superiority that tribalism provides no matter how objectively false it is. What is harder is doing something.

That is why, when an ambitious plan comes out by a creative thinker it is crucial that we let it thrive.

Also, he gets his fashion advice from Ricky Gervais apparently

Also, he gets his fashion advice from Ricky Gervais apparently

In many ways, Elon Musk is the best of what American capitalism can provide. When people think of that “entrepreneurial spirit” that is so often trumpeted by politicians and cited by frauds like Donald Trump to justify their wealth, it should be for people like Elon Musk that they look to as the defining argument.

Elon Musk, a South African-American inventor and entrepreneur, is bold. While still in his 20s he co-founded Paypal, that site you use to securely shop online. It was enough to make him rich, but he didn’t rest. Next he co-founded SpaceX, that privately owned space program that is still the only one that has ever launched a nongovernmental space craft into orbit and successfully docked with the International Space Station. (Musk has said in interviews that he was inspired by Isaac Asimov’s Foundation book series, so give another point to the power of science fiction as a motivator.) Finally, he went on to co-found Tesla Motors and still works as head of production design. He’s a guy who gets things done.

Now, he wants to get it done quicker by moving people from Los Angeles to San Francisco in times that conventional transportation cannot come close to matching.

Wired.com describes his plan:

Musk’s proposal to revolutionize mass transit is called the Hyperloop. It would transport passengers in individual aluminum pods powered by turbines and solar energy in above-ground tubes, cost $6-10 billion to build, and make the trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 35 minutes.

But it only exists in a 57-page alpha white paper. And if someone grabbed the idea and ran with it today, Musk says it would still be 7 to 10 years away.

It began with an idea similar to the vacuum tubes used to shuttle the check from your car to the bank. But maintaining that level of vacuum for hundreds of miles, according to Musk, was untenable. “The basic calculations for energy was enormous,” Musk said during a conference call. And it’s also incredibly dangerous. So Musk enlisted a dozen engineers from Tesla and Space X to start playing with the idea. They wanted to use to existing technology, require as little land as possible, and get the pressure down inside the tube, determining that about half-bar of pressure was the sweet spot. And now Musk and Friends have released it to the world.

Two tubes — one for each direction — would be mounted on pylons spaced between 50 and 100 meters apart, and Musk envisions the Hyperloop running alongside Interstate 5 in California. Because it’s elevated, there’s less environmental impact (farmers can still use their land), it can be built to withstand earthquakes (using the same technology as buildings in the Golden State), and would have solar panels mounted on the roof.

“There is way more surface area on the top of the tube than you need [to power the Hyperloop],” Musk says. “You would have more power than you could possibly consume.”

Inside the tubes, each pod would be mounted on a pair of skis made out of inconel — the same metal that SpaceX uses to handle high heat and pressure — with air being pumped through small holes in the skis to create an air cushion. Combine that with magnets and an electromagnetic field, and you’ve got levitation with very little drag.

Now this is years away from being a reality. That’s fine. In fact, that’s a good thing. It gives us a vision for the future that is beyond the next 140 character tweet we’ll read. It should motivate and inspire, and more importantly, remind the next generation of would be engineers that, to paraphrase Edward R. Murrow, they come from a country that is not descended from fearful men. America can still do great things, if only we have the courage to dream of them.

See, told you.

See, told you.

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.

220px-TrayvonMartinHooded

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.

Former “Apprentice” contestant willingly humiliates herself on TV

katie-hopkins

Taking a cue from her former “boss” Donald Trump, Katie Hopkins – best known for her general awfulness on “The Apprentice” – decided to take a truly awful opinion and make the case for it to a national audience. In this instance, her awful opinion was that as a self-professed intelligent and high class (read: arrogant) Englishwoman, she thinks its a good idea to decide who her children play with based on whether they have certain names (particularly if she thinks their names are of a working class nature).

Yeah, I’ll wait as you process the idiocy.

Her argument appears to be that since parents who would stoop to name their child “Tyler” (Oh, she really hates the name “Tyler” for some reason) must be unintelligent, uncivilized mouth breathers, their offspring must therefore be poison and cannot be allowed anywhere near her totally well adjusted, emotionally whole children. She literally admits to not allowing her children to hang out with working class families.

Again, this isn’t a disposition or an interrogation or a leaked internal email, SHE WENT ON NATIONAL TELEVISION TO SAY THIS. It’s hard to understand why she thought this would be perceived as a good idea, although maybe she was under the assumption that there is no such thing as bad press. I think it’s safe to say that we could make an addendum to that old maxim but adding: Unless you’re advocating class discrimination based on the name Tyler.

Luckily, the usual sense of deference towards even the dumbest of guests was soon forgotten as the sheer lunacy of the opinion and the complete and total smugness of the person expressing it washed over the hosts of the show as well as the actual, justifiable outrage of their second guest who was there to argue for the the controversial opinion that names have little to do with the character of the child or the parents (and yes, I’ve read Freakonomics, guys). What followed was a hilarious and brilliant take down, brick by brick, of the facade of superiority Katie Hopkins had tried to cultivate.

Thank you, This Morning, both for having Katie Hopkins on and then systematically exposing her vapidness. But folks, I beg you, please don’t stop allowing your children to play with kids name “Katie” just because of this bad apple.

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.

Alec Baldwin doesn’t seem like a bigot, so why did he say those awful things?

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“Also: An idiot, a blowhard, a bully, and wearing thin”

A few days ago, after attending the funeral for James Gandolfini, Alec Baldwin got home to find that a reporter working for the the UK’s Daily Mail had written a (really dumb) attack piece criticizing Alec’s new wife for allegedly updating her twitter during the funeral. Alec Baldwin is not a man who calmly or rationally handles any thing so he disproportionally reacted in a fashion that Alec Baldwin may well go down in history as making an artform out of.

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Ending there would have been bad but of course he continued:

Buzzfeed has a roundup of the tweets in which Baldwin labels Stark a “toxic little queen” and a “lying little bitch.” And that’s hardly the worst — see tweet #5, the one about where Baldwin would like to stick his foot.

So like a child getting spawn killed in a game of Call of Duty (editor: is this how we get the youth page views?), Alec Baldwin resorted to the worst and most pathetic insults he could think of, and just like the child, he gay bashes. Because when you’re angry at someone and you want to hurt them, they can’t get any worse than being gay, right? It’s getting old, I’m getting sick of it, and we need to be more vigilant in our condemnation of this kind of behavior (especially when its our friends, the ones who value our opinions and want our respect). But I’m sure Alec Baldwin will get tarred and feathered because at this point we’ve been doing it so long and so frequently that we don’t really know how to stop.

But…

Even while the world collectively scrambles to get another hit of pure, uncut outrage – this time targeted at Alec Baldwin – we must admit that Alec Baldwin isn’t really a homophobe. Not in the traditional sense, not in any sense. Unlike Paula Deen whose revelry in “Southern Culture” makes it unsurprising to find that she has a backwards view on what is appropriate and what is racially insensitive, Alec Baldwin is one of the “good guys”. As he correctly points out in his (non)apology letter, he does have a lot of ties to the gay community. As GLAAD correctly points out in their response to his (non)apology, he has been a huge supporter of gay activism and has donated both time, money, and recognition to gay rights issues.

Let’s face it, Alec Baldwin doesn’t hate gay people, not even a little. Which is why it may seem odd that he can so publicly and hurtfully attack a person using shamefully ignorant slurs. But a closer examination makes it a lot more understandable (if not justifiable).

Just like when Paula Deen tried to explain her use of the n-word as being in response to an aggressive act by a black man, making her “not too happy with him”, Alec’s use of gay slurs arose out of a place of anger. In Alec’s case, judging by his tweets, he was beyond the point of rational thought and was seething with a blind anger only felt by Rocky Balboa after Ivan Drago kills Apollo Creed or Alec Baldwin when his wife got attacked by a gossip magazine writer. In that state, the prefrontal cortex that is in charge of impulse control and “better judgment” is suppressed and your reptilian lower brain has the upper hand. It’s in this state, I would argue, that the deeply normalized beliefs are allowed to come out unfiltered. And the n-word and gay slurs that come out of even kind and caring people seems to suggest that what we normalize is kinda nasty.

FC 250 Grand Marshal, Paula Deen

Hey y’all, I’m mere months away from losing it all! (Photo credit: Bristol Motor Speedway & Dragway)

We’ve got work to do as a culture, and that means from the ground up, to reduce the subliminal levels of hate towards the gay community. It’s easy to laugh off an angry bigot crying about marriage being ruined because same sex couples get to share it too, but what about the implicit stuff? What about gay jokes in movies and on TV that aren’t meant to be taken seriously but still lightly suggest that there is something different about gay people? What about “no homo”? And what about the stereotypes that Jason Collins is helping to dispel but still pervades sports that gay people can’t play at the same level as straight players? These are examples, and by no means a complete list, of areas in which we are still struggling with the inclusion of LGBT people into our larger in group. And when Alec Baldwin got mad enough, he went there. That’s not a good sign.

GLAAD was right to accept his apology, even though they are already experiencing intense backlash for their perceived capitulation to a “celebrity”. But with these cases, we have to take the whole scope of the person into consideration before we declare them unredeemable. In Alec’s case, as I’ve already said, I think it’s safe to say he’s done more good in the gay community than bad. Even though this recent outburst was wrong, it should be embarrassing for Alec Baldwin, but not damaging for the gay community. The people who are overtly homophobic (like, for example, owner of Chick-fil-a, Dan Cathy) aren’t really huge fans of Alec Baldwin anyway, and the people who are fans (or at least like him on 30 rock) are probably not going to go around beating up gays.

Anderson Cooper tried to highlight the hypocrisy of the relative pass Alec Baldwin is getting compared when he tweeted:

Yes, I’m sure they would be vilified, but let’s remember that unlike Alec Baldwin, many conservatives are actively pursuing to withhold rights from homosexuals. If they gay bash, it comes from a place of truly hating the idea of gay people. Alec Baldwin is just an angry blowhard with zero impulse control, but one who still thinks gays should be allowed to marry.

Instead, if I were Alec Baldwin and in anger I said something as vile as he has, I would feel like absolute shit. And that’s good. That means you don’t want to think that way. That means you’re truly sorry for what you said. And that means we should forgive him, if not forget his transgressions.

Blinded by the Right: Justice Scalia’s weird dissent on DOMA is unsurprising

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If you know me or read this blog you’ve probably sensed this already, but I’m kind of passionate about gay rights. I’ve always had the philosophy best espoused by the great and talented wizard of Twitter, Rob Delaney:

Today, the Supreme Court took one more step towards that truism and struck down the antiquated and morally bankrupt “Defense of Marriage Act” (or DOMA to those who like their moral bankruptcy in a short vowelly form). Justice Kennedy wrote of the ruling:

“The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion. “By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.”

Well said. Also obvious. Also late. But well said.

What does this mean for the gay couples that are married or want to marry?

The federal Defense of Marriage Act defines “marriage,” for purposes of over a thousand federal laws and programs, as a union between a man and a woman only. Today the Court ruled, by a vote of five to four, in an opinion by Justice Kennedy, that the law is unconstitutional. The Court explained that the states have long had the responsibility of regulating and defining marriage, and some states have opted to allow same-sex couples to marry to give them the protection and dignity associated with marriage. By denying recognition to same-sex couples who are legally married, federal law discriminates against them to express disapproval of state-sanctioned same-sex marriage. This decision means that same-sex couples who are legally married must now be treated the same under federal law as married opposite-sex couples. (Source: SCOTUSblog)

But while cheers could be heard from the halls of the Supreme Court to the halls of twitter, not everybody was happy.

English: Antonin Scalia, Associate Justice of ...

Antonin Scalia, wiping his glasses on his “fun zone area” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All four justices who opposed it (all conservatives *yawn*) wrote dissenting remarks but by far the unhappiest of the robed ones was Justice Antonin Scalia. In a head scratching dissent, he managed to contradict a ruling he made just yesterday, denigrate his own position, and otherwise flail around searching for a reason to be upset by this ruling. From Business Insider, which wrote a great article summarizing it.

Antonin Scalia dissented from the decision on the grounds that the court did not have standing to take the case.

He wrote:

The Court is eager—hungry—to tell everyone its view of the legal question at the heart of this case… Yet the plaintiff and the Government agree entirely on what should happen in this lawsuit. They agree that the court below got it right; and they agreed in the court below that the court below that one got it right as well. What, then, are wedoing here?

He also speculated that the majority justices are trying to hide their plan to issue a more sweeping ruling in the near future:

My guess is that the majority, while reluctant to suggest that defining the meaning of “marriage” in federal statutes is unsupported by any of the Federal Government’s enumerated powers, nonetheless needs some rhetorical basis to support its pretense that today’s prohibition of laws excluding same-sex marriage is confined to the Federal Government (leaving the second, state-law shoe to be dropped later, maybe next Term). But I am only guessing.

He criticized the majority for not fairly representing the views of Defense of Marriage Act supporters:

I imagine that this is because it is harder to maintain the illusion of the Act’s supporters as unhinged members of a wild-eyed lynch mob when one first describes their views as they see them.

Then he got really angry:

To be sure (as the majority points out), the legislation is called the Defense of Marriage Act. But to defend traditional marriage is not to condemn, demean, or humiliate those who would prefer other arrangements, any more than to defend the Constitution of the United States is to condemn, demean, or humiliate other constitutions. To hurl such accusations so casually demeans this institution. In the majority’s judgment, any resistance to its holding is beyond the pale of reasoned disagreement. To question its high-handed invalidation of a presumptively valid statute is to act (the majority is sure) with the purpose to “disparage,” “injure,” “degrade,” “demean,” and “humiliate” our fellow human beings, our fellow citizens, who are homosexual. All that, simply for supporting an Act that did no more than codify an aspect of marriage that had been unquestioned in our society for most of its existence—indeed, had been unquestioned in virtually all societies for virtually all of human history. It is one thing for a society to elect change; it is another for a court of law to impose change by adjudging those who oppose it hostes humani generis, enemies of the human race.

He ended with a bit of concern-trolling, saying today’s decision on DOMA was bad for both supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage:

Some will rejoice in today’s decision, and some will despair at it; that is the nature of a controversy that matters so much to so many. But the Court has cheated both sides, robbing the winners of an honest victory, and the losers of the peace that comes from a fair defeat. We owed both of them better.

But if he were just honest with himself, his anger would make a lot more sense. It’s not that gay marriage is unconstitutional, or the court was wrong to strike down DOMA for this legal reason or that, Justice Scalia is just anti-gay. He just doesn’t like gay people, the gay “lifestyle”, or the idea of gay people marrying. He mistakes his emotional revulsion to gay marriage as rooted in an intangible legal violation (and if he could only find it, he would show them all!), but if he reflected on it, I think he would have to admit – if only to himself – that it is actually his personal homophobia getting in the way. He wouldn’t be the first to mistake intolerance with righteous indignation.

Nobody wants to view themselves as a “hater”, or a bigot, or a homophobe. Intolerance goes down so much easier when there are justifications for it. That’s why the Bible’s (scant) judgments on homosexuality are so convenient. And why the idea that there is a “gay agenda” influencing our culture is so alluring. Both allow Justice Scalia and people like Justice Scalia to feel comfortable holding an uncomfortable moral position.

Let’s not worry too much about Justice Scalia and his rationalizations for opposing this ruling, after all, they probably weren’t meant for us as much as they were meant to quiet his own inner doubts. As gay couples marry and raise children and not destroy the fabric of our society, the fragile positions that homophobia stands on will continue to crack. The voice inside Scalia’s heart will grow louder, and his positions will seem more sad, until – hopefully – one day, he’ll catch a glimpse of himself in a mirror or store window and the voice will be too loud to ignore and he’ll have to listen as it says again and again: you are wrong.

Feel Good Story: the ASL interpreter at Bonnaroo

Even though I try to be aware of challenges people different from myself experience (even “checking my privilege” here and there), it is to my great shame that I had never really given deaf people’s interaction with music much thought. If I thought of it at all, I probably assumed that there wasn’t much, that it was an experience wholly unknowable to a person who couldn’t hear. That misinterpretation was blasted away at extreme decibel levels last week when a video from the Bonnaroo music festival surfaced showing a American Sign Language interpreter KILLING IT along with the Wu-Tang Clan. Take a look:

What’s more embarrassing about my ignorance is how obvious it is that deaf people can still enjoy many forms of music. Duh. First, many of the deaf can still feel beats, giving them an experience of the tempo, rhythm and force of a song. Second, music (especially rap music) is often more about the lyrics behind a song than the notes played with it. A well written line can be just as powerful to a person reading it rather than hearing it (I should know, I have about a million books that testify to this). So it should be a given that musicians have hearing impaired fans too. Again: Duh.

Holly Maniatty signs at a Phish concert.

Holly Maniatty (source: Slate.com)

After watching the video I looked up the woman behind the assume dance moves and ridiculously smooth signs. Her name is Holly Maniatty, a professional ASL interpreter who has made somewhat of a name for herself as being one of the best concert and festival interpreters around. And for good reason. The amount of time and effort she puts into researching an upcoming show is nothing short of awe inspiring. According to her own estimates, she spends around 50 to 100 hours researching the entire catalog of work of whatever musician she is working with. Along with that, she has to study the movements and style of each artists as well and tries her best to mimic it for the benefit of those watching her when not watching the artist him or her self. She describes it best here:

“[Eminem] has a very specific body cadence,” she said, “and if you’re able to mimic that, it almost looks like you are him. Jay-Z’s got a big boisterous chest-out way to rap sometimes. So you have to watch the different performers and watch how they move the body because the more genuine you are to their way of presenting themselves as an artist, the more equal of an experience the deaf person is going to have.”

While ASL at concerts and festivals is on the rise, I’m guessing the people don’t pay her anywhere near enough to deserve the kind of professionalism and energy she brings. But I’m glad she does it anyway. She represents a world I want to live in. It’s not enough to accommodate people who aren’t “like us”, they deserve more. We need to change the conceptualization of disabilities to one where they aren’t considered a separate group but instead that their needs are just another challenge that needs to be met when organizing events. We can do it, we just have to try and Holly Maniatty tries. Clearly talented, she is bringing concerts to people who for a long time were left out, not because of their own limitations but because, like me, the concert organizers didn’t stop to think or didn’t bother to ask the hearing impaired whether they wanted in. The organization that Holly works for is called Everyone’s Invited, and it seems like they are ensuring that everyone is. Duh.