Identity Politics: Resentments & Realities

In the last few years, American politics have become increasingly preoccupied with style over substance, in the avenue of political correctness, the culture wars, and identity politics. The latter issue hasn’t been discussed much yet on this website because hey! who needs to hear from another white male about race and gender issues? This may seem like a cheap joke or key point, depending on your point of view, but it cuts right down to why this has become incontrovertibly linked with political discourse today.

Identity politics (and how it’s stirred in conversation) breeds off a culture of resentment among alienated groups (privileged and disenfranchised, generally) while at the same time remaining all the more relevant, in times when a US president can’t even be bothered to condemn the KKK. Its genesis lies in the history of oppression of minority groups (Blacks, LGBT+, etc.) and the effective silencing of their voices resulting in what many believe to be a necessary template for defense. Its faults, as some would argue, lie in the abuse of where it’s applied and the mentality of “victimhood” it encourages; giving a victim the leverage of identity over an opponent in debate. Naturally, it’s a sensitive topic to discuss because discrimination isn’t some abstract idea for many people but to make some steady progress, let’s examine the criticisms and defense channeling this conversation.

Criticism of Identity Politics

Let’s divide the critics into two types: a) rhetorical and b) practical.

The former have problems with the rhetoric identity politics inspires. They charge that it inspires groupthink, which in turn compromises individual thought on complex issues and furthers the gulf between left and right. In common discourse, we expect minorities to side with liberals all the time, even though many of the matters dividing the Republican and Democratic parties have little to do with identity, e.g. gun control, climate change. We assume race and sexuality plays a major role in a Black or Gay person’s life which may be statistically sound but at times, possibly comes across as condescending and untrue. As the popular political commentator Dave Rubin has noted, “you as an individual are much more than your immutable characteristics.”

Plus, experience does not necessarily establish authority in an argument. We may not be able to fully appreciate another person’s struggles and yes, it may at times appear insensitive to even engage but debates should be run on good ideas, regardless of one’s “immutable characteristics”. This notion blossomed considerably when echoed by Obama in a speech commemorating the 100th anniversary of Mandela’s birth in July (when he said opinions should not be dismissed just because they are white or male).

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Practical critics think along these lines too but with goals in mind- i.e. beating Trump in 2020. As Sheri Berman opined in a Guardian piece (“Why Identity Politics Benefits The Right More Than The Left”): “Is our ultimate goal ensuring the compatibility of diversity and democracy? Then promoting the overlapping interests and identification that enable citizens to become more comfortable with differences and thus more tolerant and trusting, is absolutely necessary.” Left and right have been painted as stark opponents in the culture wars. A tough point, some liberals seem unwilling to accept, is that not all Trump’s supporters are racist white males. Okay, there are definitely some racists. And yes, a lot of his support was from white males. Their support did not rest solely on identity politics however. It derived from other places; chiefly, economic misfortune- a shared characteristic for people of all identities in many situations. In short, as Bernie Sanders would hound, the media needs to pay more attention to the issues!

In Defense of Identity Politics

Okay, so that’s all very good but racism, homophobia, and sexism are everyday issues affecting millions of lives. There are oppressive methods in place preventing Blacks from voting (by conservatives gerrymanders and legislators). There is a double standard for women and inequality of opportunities in many job sectors. LGBT groups are routinely subjected to the nastiest treatment and commentary for merely being who they are. So, in many respects, identity politics is something that has been thrust upon these groups rather than something they’ve sought out and just as the right are known to parry off cries of offense with deflections like “oh you’re just being PC”, is it not possible that identity politics helps their cause a little when it comes to such enduring prejudice?

In his article, “In Defense of Identity Politics”, Paul Von Blume writes that American society has been mechanized to the umpteenth degree to reinforce the status quo of white male privilege. When expressions like “just plain American” or “melting pot” are bandied about, he argues that while they may be “well meaning,” they really just brush over the historical “exclusion” of millions of its people. Direct, aggressive racism or prejudice in general does not necessarily tie this altogether. White privilege is maintained out of fear that the promotion of less enfranchised persons may lead to a decline in their quality of life (a concern that pervaded the “turbulence” of the 1960s). Michael Eric Dyson, a professor of Sociology at Georgetown University and Peterson opponent), has noted this much, writing for the New York Times in December 2016 that “the interests of the white working class have often been used by white political elites to stave off challenges to inequality and discrimination by black folk and other minority groups”. (It should be noted however that he’s been criticized for pushing identity politics to the extreme, referring to Jordan Peterson as a “mean mad white man” during a debate on political correctness).

To Conclude

White men like me will never fully appreciate the Black, Women, or Muslim experience, as diversified or as shared as it can be. In many respects, our culture and systemic prejudice has necessitated such labels as identity be used in the mainstream. It catches people’s attention when a meme or hashtag or article goes viral, encapsulating all the frustrations of “mansplaining”, whitewashed history, or privilege. It’s all very understandable but at times, overtly sensitive to the point debate gets shut down; e.g. with the above case between Peterson and Dyson, the former debater was immediately cast under suspicion (or an attempt was made) just because he was a white male arguing against political correctness. At times, this isn’t fair but there will always be exceptions in every case that define how we must study it. For example, a panel of all male commentators discussing abortion would seem ridiculous to most but of all females, rather reasonable. Also, “All Lives Matter”?

It’s a trying discussion which transmogrifies the collective into the personal experience. For all practicalities’ sake though, in light of recent political developments, it has become a “serious nuisance” underlying almost every political debate. In order for the Democrats to make some ground on those stubborn Trump supporters, there needs to be some attempt at reconciling the majority with the minority, whose interests don’t necessarily deviate from one another’s. The 2018 midterms and the 2020 election should return to the boring stuff that makes up most sane countries’ elections; economic opportunity- and that means to help all citizens advance, be it on an individual or group level.

 

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Jordan Peterson & Open Dialogue

Jordan Peterson & Open Dialogue

Much has been made of Jordan Peterson, the Clinical Psychologist, and his foray into the world of public intellectualism and politics. At times, his rhetoric seems deigned for ingratiating proponents of free speech and those sickened by the debasement of open dialogue into base proclivities and at others, for widening the gulf between liberals and conservatives. Does Peterson’s loyalties lie with the latter? I think that’s reductive but certainly there’s a case to be made that his words could do a whole lot more for that camp than any other figure stealing headlines.

Peterson became something of a fixture following his challenge of the Canadian government’s Bill C-16, which proposed to add “gender identity or expression” as a prohibited ground of discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act. His objection lay on the grounds, not of transphobia, but this being an assault on free speech (by inference of “compelled speech”). Naturally, some saw this as transgressive and petty. Peterson managed to ride a wave of popularity thereafter though, with a series of videos riling against political correctness. This led eventually on to a bestseller 12 Rules for Life, a self-help guide, whose insistence on personal responsibility (and not victimhood) became inextricably linked with the numerous issues he was being questioned on. These included feminism, a crisis in masculinity, and support from some members of the alt-right.

The thing is a lot of Peterson’s support is comprised of anti-PC white males. In the arena of identity politics, he’s been attacked by many because he doesn’t seem to disavow the more extremist parts of his base. Is this necessarily his responsibility? Maybe not but it becomes a worrying clause because conservatives really could do with an intellectual figure or at least his ideas. It gives them something the likes of Trump can’t- legitimacy. Dorian Lynskey illustrated this cohesively in a February piece for the Guardian on the “dangerous” side of this professor and his perceived image as “the cooly rational man of science facing down the hysteria of P.C”. He writes, “[His] YouTube gospel resonates with young white men who feel alienated by the jargon of social justice discourse and crave an empowering theory of the world in which they are not the designated oppressors.” A little ambitious on their part, yes.

Many have brought Peterson up on his defense of patriarchies as natural outcomes of history by asserting that that doesn’t necessarily make them desirable.  I wonder if perhaps both sides are being too hasty in this increasingly complicated dialogue. Yes, one could muster that the many elements constituting the history of mankind have resulted in the kind of society we now have but even with this viewpoint, that doesn’t mean all Peterson’s views are calculated to an anti-leftist agenda. In many respects, he’s a breath of fresh air because he dares to question the background behind things like the gender pay gap and the ideology surrounding humanities in universities. It’s also kind of nice to just hear an articulate figure coming from somewhere outside the left.

Even if he’s a troll benefiting from all this controversy, the liberals will take the bait however. In one notable instance, he clashed with Cathy Newman in a Channel 4 interview and came out all the more triumphant and heroic to his base by holding his own against an onslaught of accusations as to what his intentions are (e.g. is he against equal pay for equal work?!?) In others, he’s been protested with blaring horns during speaking engagements on campuses (to the effect that his free speech is quite literally being drowned out). His appeal has magnified significantly as a result of these instances and given the impression to many that liberals really are as hysterical and outraged as conservatives believe.

On the other hand, we can then return to his base of support/fans. They’re aggressive and the message that open, calm debate is the best strategy for discourse seems lost on them. Just look at the YouTube searches related to him. The titles are unabashedly biased and intended to only promote what these people already believe; e.g. “Those 7 Times Jordan Peterson Went Beast Mode” and “Jordan Peterson  Destroys Transgender Professor”. These are not the kind of fans you want. As Lynskey has noted, their “intense adoration  can turn nasty. His more extreme supporters have abused, harrassed, and doxxed several of his critics”. (That is to publish their personal details online.)  Again, he’s not wholly responsible but we can’t ignore the fact that his platform lends him major influence. Some have even referred to him as the most popular Western intellectual in the world today.

Academics are credible sources of wisdom. At least, they’re perceived to be. The problem is that Peterson may have become too big for his shoes. Maybe he does have a lot to offer in clinical psychology and helping young men take responsibility for their lives but now, his inferences have shaped new, highly impressionable ideologies that people are grappling with in quite a messy manner. I admit I find it difficult to distinguish between admiration and skepticism in his case. He’s an engaging and forthright speaker but for every seemingly sensible theory/notion he brings up (I always enjoy a bit of PC bashing), there’s a rocky generalization or embarrassing climate skeptic posturing.

Initially, I wanted to write purely on the dangerous aspects and repercussion of his espousing but a) Lynskey’s article does that both eloquently and in great depth and b) I don’t want to contribute to the idea that he’s just good or bad. He’s a complicated figure and his ideas have opened and added to our dialogue on a number of key issues governing the divide between left and right.

Impeachment May Not Be The Wisest Way To Go

Impeachment May Not Be The Wisest Way To Go

Firstly, let’s qualify this title before it’s misinterpreted the way so many others are. This is meant, by no means, as a defense of Trump, his policies, or his legitimacy as president. Rather, it is a simple, nagging thought bubble that submerges every now and then, prodding as to whether impeachment is necessarily the path we should take. Lately, I’ve been thinking no. 

Trump deserves impeachment. He never deserved to be president. He probably doesn’t deserve human form; perhaps a Horcrux but okay, sorry, not even that. To put aside the platitudes surrounding his level of deftness for a moment though, let’s consider impeachment: what it means, what its effect on America and the cultural hegemony would be, and why beating Trump in the 2020 election may unfortunately be the option best waited on.

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Like many other political figures, Lord Voldemort’s popularity has risen since the election of Trump.

Impeachment, as established by the U.S. Constitution, can come about as result of treason, bribery, or other “high crimes and misdemeanors”.  Trump’s probably guilty of these three in some form or another. The problem is these clauses are open to a wide spectrum of interpretation, particularly in the case of the latter. Realistically, as President Ford put it, it comes down to “whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history”. The House is of course controlled by the Republicans and so is the Senate. So straight off the bat, we have a problem there. But here’s a few other hard truths:

  1. Recently, Trump’s approval ratings have lingered in the mid-40s. This is not unusual for a president at this point in their first term. His support may have dropped but don’t fool yourself into thinking it’s gone.
  2. His support eludes morality and reason. Remember back in 2015 when everyone thought his bid was a joke? Remember when no-one thought he could beat Hillary? We need to stop thinking the ludicrous can’t happen.
  3. His endurance rests on: a) the flotsam of a post-truth world in which facts get lumped in with “Fake News”; b) the populist frustration that still exists with old Washington; and c) the inflammation of the Culture Wars and polarity between Left and Right

I’m not arguing that Trump’s levels of support cannot dwindle to the point of endangerment but for practicality’s sake, we need to accept that perception and emotion precludes reason, doubt, and logic at present. With regards to point 3.c. above especially, we must recognize that there’s a base of conservatives and even non-political individuals who’ve come to disavow much of what the far-Left are associated with; political correctness, identity politics, and liberal activist leanings in all areas of society (e.g. universities and the arts). Trump has fed off this polarity and taken things farther. Although there were some right-wingers who truly wanted “THE WALL” and a Muslim ban, there were also many people in 2016 who just wanted to stick it to the Left. They may be wrong- I won’t weigh in- but the image was drawn. That picture hasn’t changed.

Of course, you might wonder as to when impeachment should occur if not now. It is still possible, I suppose. Headlines continue to shock, even in recent days with that pantomime display in Helsinki. But impeachment, given the context above, will leave a  lot of people unhappy and they won’t rest easy. They will see it as a means of encroachment on their civil liberties, freedom of speech, etc. and bullshit. It may even result in further mobilization of the Alt-Right, who would then seek to take down the next Democratic president without hesitation. (Clinton and Obama experienced increased pettiness on this scale and it’ll only get worse). Of course, that problem doesn’t go away even if Trump’s defeated in election. The Republicans will likely stew as they always have but- it will be that much harder to justify supporting a president who lost by electoral means than one who was “done in”.

As aforementioned, none of this may even matter as the Republicans are in control and they, collectively, have no spine. A few figures have criticized Trump’s rhetoric on occasion (like in Helsinki) but for the most part, it has become normalized among their ranks. Democrats may make major in-roads this November but given the seats up for contention in Senate, are unlikely to take a majority there. Plus, the impeachment process would be long, as anything in politics, ever is. 2020 may seem far away now but it may prove easier to just wait out as was the case with Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson.

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Andrew Johnson was impeached but acquitted when it became apparent no-one would vote for his election (having taken over from Lincoln). Often regarded as one of the worst US presidents, he too seemed to scowl a lot.

So where should the Democrats’ efforts go? Undoubtedly, a strong and media-savvy candidate will be needed for 2020 but even if 2018 proves a success, the Democrats must not give up on the House and Senate as they continually seem to do just when their president needs them. They must also try harder across the whole country, given the disastrous electoral college system that’s screwed them over twice in recent years. They should also not consider themselves “above” attacking Trump. After all, his wacky branding helped him knock off candidate after candidate in the Republican primaries. At the same time, focus on the issues the likes of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren hark on about; be the party of welfare and increased minimum wage but not the party that gets bogged down by identity politics and PC agendas. Those Trump supporters may very well be for the taking given enough room in that area.

It all essentially comes down to restoring order and sense in a chaotic time. Impeachment’s appealing and Trump deserves retribution but eliminating the Horcrux itself won’t eliminate the whole  (all America’s problems). What he represents (or doesn’t) is far stronger than who he actually is.

Some Thoughts On Political Correctness

Recently, I watched a Munk debate on the motion, “Be it resolved, what you call political correctness, I call progress…”. On the pro-side, Michael Dyson and Michelle Goldberg argued for the necessary protection of targeted groups, who have been mistreated on the basis of identity, particularly in the case of African Americans. On the con-side, Stephen Fry and Jordan Peterson pointed out the indemnifying effects this cultural swing has had on free speech, thought, and the Enlightenment. The con-side won by 70% but the issue, which I had once seen as frustratingly stupid and obvious, was actually complicated for me.

As it stands, I still think PC culture is annoying and potentially dangerous in certain cases. Beforehand however, I had never really considered the pro-based arguments one might employ. I would like to discuss some thoughts on that part first. For while it may seem the “PC Police” conglomerate are out to make sure we never speak our mind, there is an inherent need in society to check those who would vilify certain groups with hate speech or false propaganda. Terrible things can occur as a result of blatant bigotry, like the Holocaust. Plus, on a subconscious level, images can be drawn of racial, religious, and cultural groups that become highly influential.

Certain conservative commentators spring to mind in this thread, like Alex Jones and Rush Limbaugh. It’s fair to have an opinion; even one that diametrically opposes yours. Is it fair to exert that however, when you sprinkle misinformation throughout your diatribes and have a expansive market for your voice? Here’s where things become foggy. Hate speech should be discouraged, challenged, and forcefully opposed, yes. To oppress and shut it down however only ever serves to create a greater furor. It emboldens the ridiculous too.

For example, Katie Hopkins. You ever heard of this banshee? She believes you can judge kids’s characters on their given names, and other such things. She came to prominence in some season of The Apprentice and has somehow managed to leach off public outrage in the UK since for her wild assertions. When she spoke at Brunel University in 2015, students organised a “silent protest” by walking out. Theirs was a view based on the idea of opposing controversial views and terrible guest speakers. Why even give these people a platform to speak? While I can wholeheartedly agree that was a dumb miscalculation on the university’s part, it only served to highlight the weakness of what some might call the “Regressive Left.” There’s a great deal more satisfaction to be gained in taking one’s controversial views down on the debate platform than there is in ignoring them. So when Hopkins later asserted that the students were “close minded”, she actually had some ground on which to stand. As Professor Richard Dawkins has argued, if you can’t have honest debate and face new ideas in a university setting, where can you? If those ideas are awful, take them down.

Of course, this kind of treatment hasn’t just been reserved for D-list celebrities. Walkouts and protests have been arranged for scholars, politicians, authors, and comedians as well. One of the most depressing examples was in 2014, when former Secretary of Condoleeza Rice pulled out of giving a speech at Rutgers University, over protests surrounding the Bush Administration’s involvement in Iraq. I’m not going to argue it was a worthy war or that she was an excellent Secretary of State but she is an important political and historical figure and such figures, should be heard, regardless of your opinion. Again, it’s much more satisfying to challenge these people in person. It also demonstrates that you can articulate in an intellectual manner just why these people are wrong.

To return to the pro-side of the aforementioned debate, I’d like to refer to Michael Dyson’s argument, which he based on the idea of White Privilege. I believe it is a harsh reality and it is fair, in a sense, to assert that White people have more to lose in a politically correct society than others do, who lack that societal advantage. Perhaps, it is agonizing for some groups to hear their very real concerns and fears being brushed of with assertions of overt-sensitivity. After all, White people, like me, have not had to deal with everyday racism or bigotry. Ours is an entirely different experience. It’s beyond our sphere of comprehension, for the most part.

Political correctness and racism/bigotry may correlate but that does not necessarily mean it is an adequate or sensible means of curing society’s ills. It’s actually a rather lazy means by which to tackle those doing the damage because a) again, when you try to silence them you only really embolden them and their base and b) it pushes us on the path to a different kind of oppression- an Orwellian kind in which group think (and to a degree, thoughtspeak) replace the freedom of individual expression and wide margin needed for intellectual debate. The reality is people say the wrong thing sometimes or express opinions indelicately. That is no means for justifying racism or sexism or homophobia (pay heed Trump supporters) but rather, a reminder that we learn best when we expose ourselves to all sorts of ideas and debate them openly. In the end, good ideas are good and bad ideas are bad, irrespective of identity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paul Ryan Fades Into The Mist…

Paul Ryan Fades Into The Mist…

It’s no secret that we here at the Washington Walrus hold Speaker Paul Ryan in low regard. It’s not that he’s as knuckle drawn and villainous as his contemporary right wingers, but rather that he’s so spineless and tepid in his approaches within this political sphere that he appears lame and useless as a result. In fact, we even covered this last year in a piece on just how pathetic he is, in case you want to read that.

Still, that word feels almost a little too cruel for this boy among beasts. Despite the level of authority and respect his position should merit, he has never really shined the way he should have- that is within the confines of a Republican snowglobe. No, he’s just been there somehow, haunting the halls of Congress like a a specter of mediocrity or Wormtongue-like essence- waiting for justification to leave; a legacy on which he can stand.

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Paul Ryan during his service years to King Theoden

Has he achieved any sort of legacy therein? Not really. He may posit that his conservative agenda, with the likes of tax reform, has seen great strides in recent months but this has only haphazardly come to proposal under the tumultuous reigns of a man who pays porn stars to keep their mouths shut. He may argue that he never really wanted the position of Speaker and merely stood in to keep the reigns on the severing factions of the GOP. Even within that framework, he has largely failed- as evidenced by the election of a man he refused to even support one month out from voting. In fact, he has largely traipsed a line of abandoning any so called principles we thought he had in favor of appeasing a president who’s put him down more flagrantly than most political commentators. He may say he’s leaving to be more than a “weekend dad”, but does his family really want him at home?

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Ryan wonders where it all went wrong.

Okay, so admittedly these musings are a little slanted. Let’s take a shot at assessing a more objective truth:

  1. He may very well miss some quality family time. Republicans are all about the family unit and Ryan, compared to many of his cohorts, does seem like more of a traditional Republican.
  2. Perhaps he needs some time to lay low and relax. The Trump Presidency has been an exhausting experience and Ryan hardly needs the stress of the job.
  3. Strategically, this doesn’t seem to be a promising year for Republican candidates. They’ll all be held, to some extent, accountable for all the chaos that’s ensued the last two years. By taking the LBJ route and removing himself from the game altogether, Ryan need not get entangled in what will surely be a contentious and hard-fought race. (Even if his team were confident he would win, it seems likely that the Democrats are due a comeback of some kind this year).
  4. Ryan doesn’t like ‘identity’ politics and that’s something you better get used to in 2018. Maybe the environment’s just become too toxic for a man like him. Maybe this party has just gotten too crazy for him.
  5. Maybe he’ll return in some years for a Presidential run or some sort of other role. Hypothetically, if he was going for the top job, a bit of a break might do him some good. To follow up on point 3, it’d allow him to escape the embarrassment of a potential loss and to remove himself from the tendrils of the Trump campaign; give him some time to become his own man again. He could even write a book and earn a few bucks.
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He also had a beard at one point…

When one considers these five points, Ryan’s decision becomes all the more logical but truth be told, we can’t determine exactly why it’s time for him to step down. His overturning, like Boehner’s some years back, seems unlikely, given his stature and position within the GOP. Indeed, even his frothy relationship with Trump has stilled, probably owing to his decision to deal with the President increasingly in person, instead of in a public forum. One would hope, he finally came to the realization that ‘enough was enough’, but that seems a rather hapless and gullible approach to understanding this.

It may not matter- at least for now, our attention will turn to who will contest his seat on both sides come November and who, thereafter, will take the mantle of Speaker in January 2019. With many pundits already speculating about a Democratic takeover in the House, liberals will undoubtedly read this as a significant blow to their adversaries but if history has taught us anything, it’s that the GOP always have something up their sleeves (even if unintentionally).

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Lessons From The Lewinsky Scandal: 20 Years On

Lessons From The Lewinsky Scandal: 20 Years On

20 years ago, the scandal that would define the latter part of the Clinton presidency broke on The Drudge Report. With the advent of the Internet Age, this story would take on a life of its own, exposing a changing media and political landscape traceable right through to today. Although the focus of the scandal would consume the next year’s news, resulting in the impeachment of the president, its elements and themes remain ever prevalent. In retrospect, we can now understand just how significant this cultural moment was for a) partisan politics, b) media sensationalism, and c) the online community / cyber bullying. Just how, you ask?

a) Partisan Politics

To be fair, 1998 can hardly be pointed to as the year in which partisan politics turned ugly. It’s not even when tensions began to spark between the Clinton Administration and the Republican majority. It is, however, reasonable to identify it as the year in which these tensions took a hold of the national consciousness and shifted the focus away from the issues to the ideological fronts on play. In establishing the impeachment process against Clinton in December 1998, the Republicans ushered in a new breed of malice that would become commonplace over the course of the next 20 years.

Of course, Clinton survived impeachment and his approval ratings even soared as the public saw past the petty under goings of the Ken Starr investigation but the bar for civility in politics was undoubtedly lowered. From thereon, the creed of the Republican Party became largely associated with winning on any level, as opposed to winning on the issues. Thus, support for Trump.

b) Media Sensationalism

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Again, 1998 wasn’t the year sensationalism in the media was born but it easily got vamped up a notch as every sordid detail was covered in this case- from the blue dress to the definition of what sex is (“it depends on what the meaning of the word is is”- smooth Bill, really smooth).

Now, I’m not saying it’s in any way appropriate for the president to have an affair on the job but to be fair, a president’s always on the job and it’s a private matter. The media loves a scandal, of course, so in many ways Clinton can be blamed for digging his own grave. (It is conjectured by many that he’s a self-saboteur.) What many pundits, anchors, and journalists failed to recognize (or rather, chose to ignore) at the time however was a) how distracting their constant coverage was to the political and legislative process, b) how distracting it was from serious issues that could have been addressed- e.g. the growing threat of terrorist activity or the rise of Smash Mouth, and c) how damaging it was to a young woman (which we’ll cover in a moment.)

It’s one thing to make a case out of a proper injustice in the system (e.g. Watergate) but unlike any scandal beforehand, save that, this was covered with more gall and obsession than could ever be justified. And whilst being frank about it, let’s put to rest the claim that Clinton’s evasiveness and lies damaged the moral fabric of America. Yes, he was wrong but also politically motivated like any of the Republicans going after him, to save his own ass so that important things could be accomplished. Of course, many of his greatest opponents, like Newt Gingrinch, would later come under fire for their own affairs. Somehow, that just didn’t leave the same mark on the mass media’s blueprints however.

c) Cyber Bullying

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Lewinsky at her 2015 TED talk

Today, you only have to load the comments’ section on any Youtube video to encounter the ugliest, most vile, and seemingly illiterate people around. In some ways, Monica Lewinsky was patient zero for this new wave of bullying (at least on a national level) and it took a long time for her to come to grips with what had happened, especially because the focus turned to her so immediately. As she remarked in her 2015 TED talk; “overnight I went from being a completely private person to being completely publicly humiliated.”

It could be argued that she hardly helped the situation. She, of course, had an affair with a married man and later admitted to having done this before, all whilst under the delusion that this could result in an actual partnership, swayed by the charm of old Slick Willy. (She even kept the dress…) Her mistakes were her own but the backlash was insatiable, as she struggled for years to find work and at every corner, was reminded of the shame she had brought upon herself and her family.

Years later, she became an activist against cyber bullying, relating her own experiences to those targeted on social media and other platforms: “I couldn’t count how many horrible things people online had said about me, but I could count when somebody said something face to face on one hand.”

This is symptomatic of what’s going on today and ties in with the points above, in illustrating the inner portrait of America that was being painted a la Dorian Gray style. I’m not saying things were perfect before this happened but in these three respects, they were a little nicer and political relations were a little more civil. When you lower your standards, it only gets harder to reach for a higher platform. Trump, the modern GOP, social media, and mass media have largely followed this line to to its natural next breach and where it goes next is beyond daunting.

 

When Hollywood Politicizes: The Oscars & Some Other Thoughts

When Hollywood Politicizes: The Oscars & Some Other Thoughts

On Tuesday, the Oscar nominations will be revealed and a maelstrom of ill-informed opinions will flood social media, ranging from whether the #metoo movement is appropriately being represented to what degree of whiteness this year’s festivities have lauded upon us. Of course, most of these people will not have seen the majority of these movies because a) most of them have only seen limited releases in America and b) people don’t seem to think before they enter the foray of the comments section (no doubt, a golden idea for Aaron Sorkin’s next outing.)

But hold on- this is the Washington Walrus- so why are we talking about the Oscars? Well, we thought with the Government Shutdown, it’d be a nice opportunity to delve into something a little different. Besides that, Hollywood’s been the focus of a lot of controversy lately thanks to the likes of Harvey Weinstein (well, not thanks… but you know what I mean.) So, sit back and relax with a few thoughts on what’s been going on lately:

Is Oprah Gonna Be There?

Maybe but people need to stop being stupid and suggesting she run for higher office. I mean, she’s a good interviewer  (if a bit emotionally exploitative) and that was a nice speech at the Globes but just because Trump’s lowered the bar so far, doesn’t mean we should resort to castigating intellectual political leaders and rallying around celebrity icons (albeit successful and smart ones). This kind of playful discourse might seem harmless but it’s what led to Trump getting much further than he ever should have. If we accept his leadership as a new level of normalcy, then we are in deep trouble.

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Oprah now wears glasses, a key point the mainstream media failed to pick up on. Although, she may have been wearing them for awhile. We’re not sure.

Do Female Roles Suck Compared to Males’?

Kind of. Jessica Chastain recently demonstrated with the help of an ever-giddy Jimmy Fallon the difference often found between male and female roles in movies. It’s a fair observation, especially for blockbuster franchises where women are often relegated to the role of eye-candy love interest, worrying mother, or deceptively kickass but otherwise entirely boring allies. To address this latter part in particular’ a “strong” female role should not necessarily mean that the female character is wholly competent or even treated as an equal (depending on cultural and historical context) but rather, that they are simply three-dimensional and complicated beyond what their primary role is supposed to be.

Take Sansa Stark from Game of Thrones for example- at first, she’s the annoying, princess aspiring elder sister of the much cooler Arya Stark. Then, for a few seasons, she’s treated like shit and learns to accept her role in an aggressively patriarchal and chauvinistic society. Then, she begins to understand the dynamics of these politics and drags herself away from an awful position to a point of both political and emotional influence. On the surface, it’d appear that she’s a useless, albeit sympathetic figure. But within this role, despite the frustrations she encounters at every turn, there’s depth there and an opportunity to explore a range of emotions. That’s a well written character.

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Sansa at her ex’s wedding.

How about Sarah Connors from Terminator. She’s initially unremarkable but soon toughens up and becomes a resilient rebel in the war against Cybernet. Is she perfect? No– she’s temperamental and not exactly the best mom. That’s good though, no character should be perfect- in movies, that’s almost just as bad as being useless.

So of course, the bigger, better, and meatier roles are still being given to men (just look at most theatrical posters) and this may be an issue with the fact that some male writers are just not that great at writing female parts because women can sometimes be confusing to us. An effort needs to be made to change this however, because variety is simply invaluable for the creative process. It’s good that there’s a female Jedi now. It’s good that there are female-led franchises (like the Hunger Games.) It diversifies the medium, draws in a larger audience, and inspires women. With that said, Hollywood figures and producers must also recognize that these movies must be treated with tact; a lazy idea with an agenda can be spotted pretty easily… Female Ghostbusters…

Is The #metoo Movement A Witch Hunt?

Liam Neeson recently caught a lot of flack for an interview he did in which he acknowledged the importance of this watershed movement, whilst asserting that it was a ‘bit of a witch hunt’. Matt Damon, faced similar criticism, when he pointed out the undistinguished degree to which each figure faced with allegations was being reprimanded. Many people are outraged because they feel the legitimacy of this movement could easily be undermined by the questioning of its execution by those, who for all practical purposes, exert influence in this industry. This is understandable. There are also a lot of emotions out there. Women can relate to harassment on a level men just can’t. Plus, it’s long overdue.

It’s a difficult topic to broach and there are not a lot of popular, alternative ways of thinking outside the central narrative. With that said, if people are not willing to admit an element of paranoia inhabits this discourse, they should be willing to debate the intricacies of it. That’s what people do in a democracy, no matter how ugly or offensive the arguments mustered against them are.

Recently, James Franco and Azis Ansari have come under fire. Both Globe winners, their immediate careers now hang tenuously over the statements made by them and others in the coming couple of weeks (although Ansari seems relatively in the clear). Franco’s case is the more interesting one as he was until recently, for many, a surefire nominee for an Oscar. That could very well still be the case but given the toxic environment that it would create as well as what appears to be a call-out from Scarlett Johannson at the Women’s March, it seems ever more unlikely. Has his treatment been fair? Well, due process doesn’t seem to exist anymore for the collective public (even though this is not a legal case) but his responses have, at best, been tepid. If someone’s making false allegations against you, why not respond to them appropriately and call them out for what they are-lies. Clearly, he’s uneasy about something or at least giving that impression, at the worst point possible, to the public.

Again, because this movement has been long overdue, there is an element of bullshit fatigue for women. In the past, many figures have been afforded enough wiggle room to overcome their controversies and continue working. For example, Casey Affleck won an Oscar last year, despite mass protestations online and one of the most memorable facial expressions ever delivered by Brie Larson.

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Brie won the 2015 Oscar for Room- which Casey may or may not have seen.

So what is the solution? To simply label it a “Witch Hunt” is to many, a way of undermining and thus, delegitimizing the movement. However, without some due process and recognition that the likes of Weinstein and Franco are not equal offenders, what can be said about the credibility of this cause? Clearly, we have no answer to offer but question marks are often just as good because they keep people thinking and thinking is never a bad thing (comment exceptions below).

So Should I Watch The Oscars? Is It Gonna Be Relentlessly Political?

I will- or rather, I will record and skim through it because it’s far too long and certain categories are boring (you know the ones).

It will be relentlessly political however. If you thought last year’s apology for 2016’s #oscarssowhite was encroaching (and it was), then prepare yourself for a a female win in every category (including Best Male.) Nah… but there will be speeches addressing all that’s gone on lately (as well as Trump) and there will be some half-assed attempt to draw parallels between today and what’s going on in Spielberg’s The Post. (Did you know when you were making it???)

Still, for the most part, I’ve always felt good movies were rewarded at the Oscars that otherwise might not have seen the light of day in a Box-Office driven market. They don’t always award the Best Picture category wisely (Goodfellas lost out in 1991 to Dances with Wolves). They don’t always go smoothly (last year’s La La Land kerfuffle). Most the speeches are pathetically cringeworthy (literally just type “Oscars Acceptance Speech” into Youtube.) But… the opening monologue is usually good and the forced grace by which the losers conduct themselves is something else…

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DiCaprio eventually won an Oscar for the feel-good The Revenant but for years beforehand, he gave his greatest performance on these occasions.

So that’s all! Any thoughts yourself? Will Meryl Streep blast Trump? Will the statue now be of a woman’s figure? Who will win?