Lead Us Not Into Temptation

Imagine a controversial feminist, much maligned for incendiary rhetoric about gender relations. Scheduled to make a speech to like-minded people in some bastion of conservatism, she is approached by male critics, doused with several drinks, and pursued down the street by an angry, shouting crowd, quite plausibly out to do her physical harm.

This scenario shouldn't be hard to imagine; outspoken women of all political stripes get death threats and abuse all the time. Most of us would condemn it. Most of us would be dismayed by the attack on our hypothetical feminist.

Yet too many of us are willing to cheer when the person doused with drinks and pursued down the street is saying things we find to be horrific and evil.

Take the oozing pustule Daryush Valizadeh, better known as Roosh V. Roosh — whom we have mocked before — is thoroughly awful in every way. He's a vocal anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist, a proud rapist of women too drunk to consent, and generally a grotesque dehumanizer of women. He wrote a piece suggesting that rape should be legal on private property. Though he now claims it was satire, it's a testament to his persona that it's perfectly plausible that he meant it literally. At the very least, it's satire in the Ann Coulter sense, meaning that he wrote what he thought and then just punched it up a little bit.

Naturally he's controversial. Just as naturally, he has fans. Nobody ever went broke telling folks they're right to hate the people they already hate, and that all their ills are the fault of the people their foes. Roosh planned a Canadian tour, which predictably was met with a petition to deny him entry to Canada. In other words, people used their free speech to petition the government to use force and state power to exclude someone based on his speech. That's a worthy subject of its own post, but put it aside for now.

While in Montreal, out in the city looking for women to whom he could be a repulsive tool, Roosh had several drinks thrown on him and was pursued down the street by an angry group shouting obscenities.1 Many responses have been amused, triumphal, or approving.

It's beyond my modest abilities to feel empathy for Roosh; I won't pretend to. There is in my gut, in my lizard brain, a visceral joy at seeing him humiliated and threatened.

But we try not to order society via our lizard brains, and that's a good thing. Now, if we were to govern by my lizard brain, that would be perfectly acceptable, because my deep-seated hates and fears and instincts are all reasonable and proper. The problem is all those other damn lizard brains out there, worn by lunatics with different hates and fears and instincts. Roosh has a lizard brain too, and so do the losers willing to pay sixty bucks to hear him talk about how evil non-plastic women are. When we unleash the lizard brains — when we give into the temptation to ignore the distinction between speech and assault, between insulting and attacking — we will find to our great regret that the majority of lizard brains don't work like the ones we see on our carefully moderated Twitter feed. Most lizard brains are really fucking scary. For every lizard brain cheering when someone we hate gets chased down the threat by a screaming mob, there's two our three lizard brains ready to cheer when that happens to someone we agree with. I am more afraid of the consequences of normalizing and condoning this behavior than I am gleeful about the humiliation of an awful person.

I'm not saying you shouldn't revile Roosh. I'm not one of the people saying we need to respond gently to Roosh so his speech won't be chilled. Quite the contrary. Revile away. But keep your hands to yourself. Drench people in words, not beer. Let your words pursue them down the street.

Yes, I know. This is "concern trolling" or "slippery slope fallacy" and lack of perspective and sympathy for the devil and so forth. But go out unto the internet and look around and see the freaks and scum and extremists. Then come back and look me in the eye and tell me it's a good thing to encourage that crowd to react to speech like this.

News, nihil obstatrics, and gynecommodity

In the gossip-driven feeding frenzy that keeps alive the tawdry tale of rising and declining wannabe John Edwards (now with video), the New York Daily News wins quip of the day :

Hunter had been hired by the Edwards campaign to videotape the candidate’s movements, but this one is said to have shown him taking positions that weren’t on his official platform.

The commodification of sexual scandal is nothing new, of course, and in times like these more than ever the media are motivated to regard as "news" whatever will maximize sales.  Thus, there's a regrettable tendency to spew rather than eschew.

What's cheapened in yellowing press, beyond the players' tattered reputations, is a factor arguably worth conserving: the vitality of sexual allusion as a literary device. Continue reading….

Didgeridoo and Multiculturalism Too

Both Patrick and I have blogged about the limits of multiculturalism — about the fact that something is not admirable simply because it comes from a different culture.

Today's example: Didgeridoos. You know, didgeridoos. A publisher in Australia came out with a book called The Daring Book for Girls encouraging girls to do various things that I guess are "daring" in the context of a culture that still encourages most of them to play with bright plastic dolls. In a not to multiculturalism, one of the things girls were encouraged to do is to learn to play the Didgeridoo, an Australian aboriginal instrument.

Big trouble.

But the general manager of the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association, Dr Mark Rose, says the publishers have committed a major faux pas by including a didgeridoo lesson for girls.

Dr Rose says the didgeridoo is a man's instrument and touching it could make girls infertile, and has called for the book to be pulped.

. . .

I would say from an Indigenous perspective, an extreme mistake, but part of a general ignorance that mainstream Australia has about Aboriginal culture," he said. "We know very clearly that there is a range of consequences for females touching a didgeridoo, it's men's business, and in the girls book, instructions on how to use it, for us it is an extreme cultural indiscretion."

Dr Rose says the consequences for a girl touching a didgeridoo can be quite extreme.

"It would vary in the places where it is, infertility would be the start of it ranging to other consequences," he said. "I won't even let my daughter touch one…. as cultural respect. And we know it's men's business. "In our times there are men's business and women's business, and the didgeridoo is definitely a men's business ceremonial tool."

Leave aside, for a moment, whether multiculturalism should compel us to respect views that noisy hollow sticks are magic. Why should we respect the sentiment that girls should not play the didgeridoo? Just because it comes from another culture, which we are bound to respect under the rubric of multiculturalism? We wouldn't respect a sentiment from our culture that girls shouldn't do something because it is unfeminine or a province for boys or something. To be perfectly blunt, why should I respect sexism just because it's dressed up in some foreigner's funny hat?

This Is Exactly Why I Keep Getting Spam From Dominos and Cuervo

The odd thing about Cracked is that buried in with the boob and fart jokes are nuggets of genuine trenchant social commentary. Albeit social commentary involving boob and far jokes. It's been that way since I read it as a third-run competitor with Mad a quarter-century ago. This time, in The 5 Creepiest Advertising Techniques of the (Near) Future, Cracked manages both funny and genuinely unsettling as it discusses and skewers the increasingly intrusive information gathering and marketing techniques used against us, and how they reduce our privacy. Good show.

"Bullshit!" some of you say, "I'm an iconoclast, I'm hip and I reject your mainstream culture! You can't market to me."

Actually, your attitude makes you a member of a very lucrative and sought-after marketing segment. Just ask the makers of Jones Soda and Converse Chuck Taylors, they'll tell you where the money is.

Sci-Fi Convention Proves Titillating

Look, I'm in complete agreement with the theory that women's breasts should not be objectified or made mythic, and that a great many gender inequities and social problems could be reduced if men could be conditioned to get past the bodily fixation and maintain eye contact.

I'm just pretty sure that this laudable goal is not best accomplished by encouraging Sci-Fi convention attendees to ask women for permission to grope them.

[Read more…]

Screwtape Acquires An iPod.

He listens to it at his office in the United Kingdom's Ministry of Culture.

That is why Margaret Hodge, Britain’s culture minister, expressed such negative sentiments about The Proms recently. The Proms is an eight-week summer season of orchestral classical music that takes place in Britain every year, most of it at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Hodge had nothing to say about the musical experience of listening to performances at The Proms. Instead she focused entirely on the audience. She observed that ‘the audiences for many of our greatest cultural events – I’m thinking in particular of The Proms – is still a long way from demonstrating that people from different backgrounds feel at ease in being part of this’. In essence, she was arguing that one should judge the merits of a concert on the basis of who’s in the audience.

The linked article, concerning the state of classical music in Britain, and a feared government assault on bastions of middlebrow culture such as classical music programs at the Royal Albert Hall, is worth reading for anyone who worries about the influence of politics in art, or the state of middlebrow (to say nothing of highbrow) culture in general.  The article includes a horrific incident in which Ms. Hodge praises garbage such as the television soap opera Coronation Street, because lots of people watch it.  All of this is of less concern in the United States, where art has to find its own patrons, but it's a problem here as well.

For those wondering about the title of this post, it's a reference to a character created by that old cultural snob C. S. Lewis, a character who would deeply appreciate Ms. Hodge and her like.

Screw Communal Experiences, I Want a Footrest

Mark at I Watch Stuff seems to drift somewhat beyond ironic mock-irritation into the realm of genuine scorn in discussing the advent of high-end movie theatres in America.

Australian conglomerate Village Roadshow has begun a 5-year, $200 million venture to create a line of swanky, upper-class cinemas that boast "plush reserved seating, special parking privileges and upscale food and beverage offerings with seat-side waiter service," (no exclusive water fountains?) plus "a 40-seat-maximum patron capacity and an even higher-end atmosphere [than existing deluxe theaters]". But, of course, such luxurious amenities come at a price: an inflated $35-a-ticket price tag, just high enough to keep out the hoi polloi.

[Read more…]

I Want Bruce Willis to Play the Top Hat and Kevin Spacey to Play the Iron

Hollywood continues to view us as mindless fucking idiots.

Universal Pictures has announced a six-year partnership with Hasbro to produce at least four feature films based on branded properties.

The properties include “Monopoly,” “Candy Land,” “Clue,” “Ouija,” “Battleship,” “Magic, The Gathering” and “Stretch Armstrong.”

I swear this could be an article in The Onion and I wouldn't know it. Old ideas based on old properties? Check. Industry buzzwords combined with feral marketing strategies? Check, check, check:

“This deal gives Universal access to some of the greatest brands in the world,” Shmuger and Linde said in a statement. “Hasbro’s portfolio of products has tremendous emotional resonance with children and adults. They offer an exciting opportunity for us to develop tentpole movies with built-in global brand awareness, which is a key component of our slate strategy.”

Really, where does it end? As the article points out, we've already had a movie based on a TV show that was a vehicle for selling toys. Why not a movie based on Coke? Or Rebok? Or some sort of feminine hygiene product?

The day my kids say "Daddy! Daddy! Can we go see the Candyland movie?" is the day I say "No you cannot — because the people who conceptualized it are soulless vermin. And also because Brad Pitt is totally mis-cast as the Lollypop King."

White People Enjoy Meta

There's been a minor buzz in some segments of the tubes regarding a blog called Stuff White People Like. The blog is a list — up to #71 as of this writing — of things that white people like and others, we are led to understand, do not. Sushi and bicycles, for instance. Or being the only white person around.

Some of the stuff is banal stand-up-comedy white-folks-do-this-black-folks-do-that. There are occasional flashes of wit, as in this entry on white people liking difficult breakups:

Once breakup proceedings have been initiated, a white person is immediately thrust into the center of attention in their circle of friends. During this time, they are permitted to talk at great lengths about themselves, listen to The Smiths, and get free dinners from friends who think “they shouldn’t be alone right now.”

It is imperative that you do not attempt to kick them out of their misery by saying things like “get over it,” “there are other people out there,” or “I don’t want to read your poem.”

But mostly I'm not terribly impressed. First, as is pointed out in the comments to nearly every entry, this appears to be less a list of things that white people like and more a list of things that twenty-to-thirtysomething urban hipsters like. To the extent it is intended as trenchant commentary on race, it fails on that basis alone. Also, the observational humor about such hipsters is occasionally funny, but not funny enough to explain the odd noises of rapture it inspires in some corners.

That's not to say it's a waste of time. I'm enjoying not so much the smug content, but the comments. There you'll see America's profound ambivalence about race and the discussion of racial issues — the accusations that the blog's central notion is inherently racist, questions about whether ethnic observational comedy is healthy or damaging, and racial generalizations (some no doubt pretend, some no doubt sincere) on the same theme, overt and covert racial hostility. All the neuroses come out to play.

Is it possible that this was the point all along — that the blog is not designed for its rather slight ostensible purpose, but to showcase how people would react? Your guess is as good as mine. But that seems like the sort of thing that twenty-to-thirtysomething urban hipsters would like to do.