More on Identity Politics

Yesterday an article from New York Magazine popped up in my news feed. It was shared by an acquaintance, a comedian who often had (surprise) witty things to say and interesting things to share I might have missed. I didn’t pick up this month’s physical copy of the magazine as I sometimes do, and judging by this acquaintance’s introductory comments, it had a lot of criticism for a certain sect of what I consider to be hyper-liberal political thought: basically, he made a joke about trigger warnings. This ought to be good, I thought.

The piece, written by Jonathan Chait (an author I’d never heard of before, nor did I bother to look at his byline when I read the piece) can be found here: http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2015/01/not-a-very-pc-thing-to-say.html

However, if you’re somewhat connected to political rhetoric via Facebook (aka: if you’re a person), you probably already know about this piece. It seems to have rankled the usual suspects for reactionary political “news” pieces (Salon, Gawker, et al). Which is fine, if not predictably annoying. What makes me feel like a crazy person is gawker’s response, though.

http://gawker.com/punch-drunk-jonathan-chait-takes-on-the-entire-internet-1682078451

In seeking to rebut a piece that finds much to be wary of in a small but growing subset of the left (“no platforming”, as briefly discussed in a previous post), Gawker decided that their best bet was to

1)Attempt to discredit Chait’s piece by pointing out that he is a “sad white guy” in the (*removed: subheading* FIRST SENTENCE OF THE ARTICLE. This is in spite of the fact that a healthy chunk of Chait’s piece is devoted to pointing out that liberalism as a whole suffers because of no-platforming, not just people of privilege. The first example he uses is a Muslim, elsewhere he describes a collective of progressive female writers.

2)Dedicate more than 2/3rds of the article to character assassination in a way that blatantly proves Chait’s initial point. Gawker’s response was not to engage Chait’s argument and debunk it in good faith, it was to write a very long screed about how Jonathan Chait “just doesn’t get it” and nobody should listen to him. Basically, Gawker’s rebuttal was that Jonathan Chait is just mad that he is not progressive enough.

Slate published a much more reasoned and intelligent counter, one that more or less argued that Chait’s tone was muddled and inflammatory (I could be convinced on the former and don’t really agree with the latter), and also accused him of cherry picking some of his more damning bits of evidence (I don’t think that Chait’s piece was intended to be a ‘sound the alarm’ type essay, but more of an examination on a growing but still small subset of leftist political thought that he finds abhorrent and views as detrimental to liberalism).

http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2015/01/28/jonathan_chait_s_anti_political_correctness_essay_unpacked.html

That said, I can appreciate Slate’s piece (authored by J. Bryan Lowder, a writer and editor for Slate’s LGBTQ section “Outward”) because it engages Chait’s argument in good faith and rebuts the argument rather than the author. It’s a prime example of how to actually disagree with somebody in a manner that doesn’t make you look like an oversensitive, thought-policing moron who doesn’t understand the inherent risks associated with trying to establish an objective moral authority around subjects that are eminently debatable. Lowder clarifies and brings levity to many of Chait’s broader points, including this fine paragraph (in which the author recounts his own experience with being faced with the kind of digital outcry that Chait describes):

“Here’s the problem with all this: I am actually not ignorant or unenlightened as to why a genderqueer person might think a special pronoun is desirable. (And indeed, I support that person’s right to ask their family and friends to use their preferred pronoun.) I have read and listened to explanations for this small point of social justice etiquette many times, considered it at length—and still I maintain that it is not an appropriate thing to demand of strangers and publications. On this point, I and those critics will have to disagree, and considered disagreement delivered in good faith does not make me a conservative bigot, nor does it necessitate an apology or “further reading” or silence on my part.” (My emphasis)

This is the heart and soul of both pieces: there is something insidious about a subset (again, a small but growing subset) of people who call themselves liberals finding it appropriate to respond to good-faith intellectual arguments with what amounts to little more than ad hominem attacks and character assassination.

Privilege is real. Privilege-induced myopia is also real. But attacking the character of anybody who doesn’t conform to your ideal of what the world should be is not only real, it’s a frighteningly anti-progressive tactic for supposed liberals to use, particularly when the objects of said attacks are, in point of fact, not just “sad white guys”.

The Worst Commercial In The Entire World

So, since the Cowboys have been out of contention, the Super Bowl isn’t until Sunday, and I don’t have ESPN, I’ve been in a football drought for the past few weeks. To cope, I thought I might revisit what has become known to me and other football fans as The Dumbest Commercial of All Time:

http://www.ispot.tv/ad/7Cip/nfl-shop-vikings-bengals-eagles-steelers-cowboys-family

A quick re-cap, for those of you who can’t access the video or who just don’t give a fuck about the commercial but want to keep reading this post anyway (who ARE you?!?!?): this is an ad for the NFL fan shop, the organization that deals with all merchandise sales from every professional football team. The gist of the commercial is that a family from Minnesota (presumably, but who knows, given this clan’s bandwagon tendencies) started out as a Vikings family, but then due to the different roads life took them down, they wound up with a bunch of other team colors flying in their family photos, which means everybody gets to spend a ton of money at the NFL Fan shop HOORAY!!!

That’s not why this commercial is the dumbest commercial of all time, though. What starts as a decent premise (We’re rival fans but we love each other! Buy more shit!) quickly takes a sharp left turn off of the Reasonably Saccharine freeway and pulls straight into Bullshit-Crazyvile. The initial setup is that their Vikings fan son met a girl from Philadelphia (gross), moved to Cincinnati (GROSS) and they had kids. Then, for some goddamn reason these HARDCORE FOOTBALL FANS decide they need to dress their little kids who have no allegiances of their own in Bengals gear. Everybody knows that priority #1 for new parents of football fans=indoctrination. Those parents would be competing with one another for their kids’ love and a subsequent warm body for their Viking/Iggles faithful.

It gets worse from there; as the commercial progresses, the reasoning behind why the members of this milquetoast family of fair-weather football fans take on new allegiances gets more and more ridiculous. Next up is the daughter, who while still a Vikings fan, randomly runs into Emmitt Smith on the street and then “NEVER LET US FORGET IT”. Uh, OK, so she had a chance encounter with a legendary player from a franchise she should, by all logic, not give two shits about, but inexplicably takes on the Cowboys as her “second team”?

That pales in comparison to a jump that is so mind-bogglingly stupid that future broadcasts CUT IT OUT OF NEW AIRINGS, presumably because people savaged it so badly. The youngest son moves (I guess for college?) to Pittsburgh, and eats so many goddamn cheeseburgers (dubbed the world-famous “Roethlisburger”. Somehow I doubt think that one is showing up on any Chinese travel guides, but whatever) that he “becomes a fan of the guy, too.” So your son loves burgers so much that he decides to become a Steelers fan and drop $150 on the jersey of a confirmed rapist? Man, you guys have shitty values.

The commercial concludes, “And that’s how we became a Vikings, Eagles, Bengals, Steelers, Cowboys family”. We’re then treated to a sight that makes my eyeballs crave combustion, the family all sitting down together for a photo in their assembled gear, which isn’t terrible in and of itself, but that daughter (who may or may not have had a tryst with Emmitt Smith in a hotel room while at a conference) is wearing a COWBOYS HAT WITH HER VIKINGS JERSEY.

This has never happened in the history of ever. Worst commercial of all time. F minus.

I Wanna BEEEEEE A PART OF IT

I spent a good chunk of time outside of New York recently, both in Texas and abroad, and as usual, the people I ran into usually wanted to hear about how life in the Stinky Apple really was. It’s great…for the most part. As a transplant, I get a kick out of hearing about everyone’s “Truest New York Moments”. That is to say: a moment when they saw, smelled, or heard something so profoundly disgusting and awful that their brain kicked back around to defensively embrace it with a perplexed smile and to proclaim “THAT’S NEW YORK!” This usually happens on or around the subway. Without further ado, and in no particular order.

My own stories: The most physically unpleasant was being in a train car where somebody clearly shit their pants. This has happened multiple times. The worst part is, the third time it happened, I was too tired and had a seat, so I didn’t switch cars even though I had five more stops.

Less than two months after moving here I saw a crazy and/or homeless guy nearly get into a fistfight with a lesbian couple on a crowded L train. Not really that gross but it felt worth noting.

My personal favorite: my brother and I were waiting for a G after a housewares trip to Target. Across the platform, a homeless guy was sleeping on a bench, facing us. At one point he stirred, unzipped his pants, pulled his cock out, and began pissing off of the bench and onto the platform without getting up, then rezipped, which was considerate given the circumstances. Nobody was on the platform at that time, but moments after the guy took care of business, a woman carrying shopping bags came down the stairs. I was in a quandary: did I yell at her and inform her of the situation, potentially provoking the hobo’s wrath, or did I say nothing, and watch her get her shoes covered in vitamin-deficient urine? Luckily, the woman looked down, saw the puddle of fresh liquid, saw the homeless guy snoozing away, put two and two together, and gingerly stepped over the piss without breaking stride. A true New Yorker.

My brother: He was waiting for a train and saw a guy dancing back and forth on the platform, facing the gap, while slurring in a sing-song voice. Eventually, my brother deciphered that the guy was singing “Please God, let me pee”, partly because the guy then turned around and started pissing directly onto the platform while people were there.

Just the other day, he observed a guy in a subway car, drunk out of his mind in the middle of the day, eating smelly roach-coach chicken out of a styrofoam container, and then throwing the bone onto the floor. The gentleman then proceeded to light a cigarette and stretch out across an entire bench. After he finished his leisurely smoke, the maestro then proceeded to walk to the space between subway cars, while the train was still moving, and take a piss.

My gf: She told me about seeing a girl in a skirt menstruate on a seat and then leave the car (she was wearing a skirt, presumably with no underwear, which might be the most disgusting tale of all). The good samaritans aboard the subway saved at least two or three people from sitting in the crimson puddle, but one guy came on with headphones in and didn’t hear anybody yelling at him until it was too late. Once he had sat down he noticed people looking at him in revulsion, removed his headphones, and was informed that he was sitting in period blood. His response was to look down at his seat and go “Awwwwww, man!” He then hesitated for a moment, and shrugged. What else was there to do?

Gf’s roommate: I heard this story just yesterday. If I remember correctly, she said when she was first in the city, at 16 or 17 years old, a guy got on the train and proceeded to walk up and down the car with his exposed, fully erect penis on display, then situated himself inches from her face and began spouting gobbledygook.

…NEW YORK, NEWWWWWW YOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOORK!!!!

A Few Quick Words That Are Not Mine

I was talking with two old friends about the emerging popularity of “no-platforming”, a perceived increase in the left’s tendency to police language, certain positions, arguments, etc as invalid, often to the point of being censorious. Two direct quotes from those guys (who are both white, straight, cis-gendered males, I should point out):

“if your life goal is to only hear things you agree with, you might as well stay home.”

and

“Saying bad things about people is fucked up, but not having the capacity to do so is a lot worse.”

The Hero We Deserve

OK, so maybe Marilyn Manson isn’t a hero. But I swear, it’s hard to find much to dislike about the guy.

I remember when Manson first came to prominence, back when I was in middle school. I also remember hearing stories of how awful and disgusting he was before I had heard even a second of his music. All of the usual Manson legends got around my school: that he was a Satanist, that he sacrificed animals onstage, performed sex acts onstage, the infamous “rib” story, and of course, the bizarre and totally false associations made between him and the Columbine shooters (who, it turned out, hated Manson).

It wasn’t until I was about to graduate high school that I finally decided to give Manson a whirl, and purchased his then-new album “The Golden Age of the Grotesque”. I had always known that Manson was a bit of a media manipulator, that his whole shtick had to do with making the public lap up all of the nasty tripe he shoved at them, but the sheer hilarity of his MO didn’t become apparent until I listened to that album from start to finish.

Marilyn Manson has always been serious and absurd at the same time. It’s not too difficult to see that his initial, more organically weird impulses got pumped up by a factor of 1000% once he realized that sensitive/dumb/fearful people would bite the lure and run with it, and that feeding the sensationalist engine that powers most modern media is a tried-and-true method for generating a rollicking good time. What makes Manson’s shenanigans all the more powerful and slyly hilarious is the way that he never gets too insistent on any one aspect of his personality, constructed or otherwise. The man is a walking bag of contradictions, regularly gets caught in lies in interviews, and generally behaves like a nutjob, or as Trent Reznor once referred to him, a “dopey clown”. The thing is, Reznor said this in an effort to sadly comment on how far Manson had fallen, but from where I sit, it seems like a “dopey clown” was what Manson has always been, and the way he always wanted it. He’s an exercise in the absurd, a living, breathing gonzo-splatter hodgepodge of uniquely American excess.

His latest album, “The Pale Emperor”, is no less stuffed with Manson’s signature outlandish, tongue-in-cheek antics, but something about this latest effort–a more stripped-down, less electronically enhanced collection of droney blues-riff type tracks–seems more sincere. In the past, Manson may have been content to let his freak flag fly and call it a day, but tracks like the opener, “Killing Strangers” or the deliciously sinister “Mephistopheles of Los Angeles” hit a chord that resonates with more sincerity than Manson seemed interested in–or perhaps capable of–in the past. Manson’s instincts were never wrong, but his artistic strokes were always very broad; the general idea was amorphous and fleeting. This time around, the self-proclaimed “God of Fuck” is still winking the entire time, but his commentary has more gravitas.

Rock Critics in the 90s constantly referred to Manson’s album “Mechanical Animals” as Manson’s take on Bowie, but “The Pale Emperor” seems a much more apt comparison, to me, despite the absence of glammy production and beefy hooks. Manson’s pop sensibility is still there, but the finished product–one that combines the Antichrist Superstar’s yowling, ghoulish vocals with guitars that sound like they might have been recorded in one take inside a barn–reminds me a lot of a more stripped down and meth-addled version of Ziggy Stardust.

I read somewhere recently that audiences these days have a growing problem with ambiguity; there’s an intense need for closure, for a takeaway, and we tend to be frightened and/or dismissive of art that gives us neither of these, but only instills a contradictory combination of dread, ecstasy, revulsion, and howlingly funny satire into our brains without ever quite presenting itself as a fully formed narrative. Manson’s still not interested (or again, perhaps incapable) of giving audiences anything too well-formed, but that slippery brilliance has always been part of Manson’s charm, and it’s most of the reason he’s still so relevant, decades after a Columbine he had nothing to do with.

On Ballghazi

As another Super Bowl looms in the not-so-distant future, so does another scandal rear its ugly head. Of course, if I’m towing the party line of non-legacy media I should probably write it as “scandal”, since so many people seem convinced that every single facet of DeflateGate (the more popular, and less awesome version of Ballghazi) is ridiculous.

To recap, after the New England Patriots gave the Indianapolis Colts (oh yeah, I forgot to state up top that this is about football) a sound thrashing this past Sunday in the AFC championship game (45-7 was the final tally, I believe), it came to light that 11 out of the 12 footballs that the team had been using while on offense were deflated well below league standards for psi. The upshot of this (depending on who you want to believe/how much of a homer you are) is that the Pats were playing with balls that were easier to grip and catch, especially in the rainy conditions that existed in that evening.

The fallout has been big. First there were waves of speculative reports, followed by stories claiming that this type of ball-tampering was pretty common within the league, despite being blatantly against the rules. Then the NFL ruled definitively that there was foul play involved, and are now debating the extent of the penalties the Pats will undoubtedly face.

Predictably, most of the MSM is going apeshit. This is the second time Bill Belichick has been caught with his pants down, following the “SpyGate” scandal of 2007, for which he was fined half a million bucks and the Pats lost their first round draft pick. The narrative now has mainly been one of “if this is what we know about, imagine what we DON’T know about”, which strikes me as a little Glenn Beck-esque, but may be more or less accurate, going by my gut feeling.

To be sure, the media, and ESPN in particular, has beaten this story to death (inasmuch as a story can be “beaten to death” over the course of three days), but the reaction from football fans and Patriots fans especially has been nothing short of mindboggling. The mood on the ground seems to be that the entire thing is ridiculous because…well, no real reason has been given, other than a lot of derailment arguments that don’t really answer the question “Why is it unreasonable for news organizations to report on a team with a long history of success being caught cheating for a second time in the past 10 years?” Among the non-arguments:

1: Deflated footballs were not the reason the Patriots won that game.

True, but that’s not really the point, is it? Nobody is arguing that the Pats would have been dismantled by the Colts if not for the 2 psi reduction in football inflation that happened Sunday. But it’s against the rules, and when you break the rules, you’re supposed to be punished, right?

2: Everybody does it.

Possibly true, but it seems strange that we’ve heard little of this supposedly widespread practice until the Pats got busted. And once again, that’s not really the point, is it? It should also be pointed out that Pats fans are flexing their illlogical homer muscles like mad with this argument. I actually saw a friend from Boston say something to the equivalent of “Teams do this all the time but it was never a big story until the Pats got caught!” Well, no shit. Kind of hard to get upset about somebody breaking the rules until they get caught, isn’t it?

3: IT WAS TEH WEATHERZ!!!!111

You can’t really make the above arguments and make this one at the same time. “I’m not saying we cheated but IF WE CHEATED it wouldn’t matter because everybody cheats and we would have won anyways.” Regardless, this one has been pretty much debunked since none of the Colts balls were improperly inflated while 11/12 of the Pats balls were. How much more proof do you need.

I’ll go on record as saying I don’t think the Pats should have to vacate their AFCCG win or forfeit the Super Bowl, but c’mon Pats fans. They fucking cheated. AGAIN. Stop trying to dance around it. That said, I’m still going to watch the Super Bowl. Unsure who I’m going to pull for now, as I really hate both teams/fanbases.

A final thought: this whole thing happened because, for some unfathomable reason, the NFL has each team provide their own footballs for every game. The officials inspect each ball submitted by the team (something like 2 hours before kickoff), give them a quick spotcheck, and if nothing is obviously amiss, hand the balls back to the team and they have full access on the sideline. Why in the world would anybody do this for any reason OTHER than to allow a team to tamper with the balls it provides? Just have the damn officials hold onto the balls the entire game, for crying out loud.

Oh, and Belichick is obviously lying through his teeth in that press conference video. Notice how he gives a very Clinton-esque response to all questions. “I’ve never talked to anybody about air pressure.” OK, but did you deflate the balls? “I have no explanation.” Never once does he flat out deny that he cheated, but he says a lot of stuff that makes it seem like he’s denying it without having to come right out and say so. Pathetic, really.

Oof. What a shitty end to a great season.

Last Night in Bushwick

I headed back to my old stomping grounds, Bushwick (in actuality, I live less than two blocks inside of the BedStuy border, but it’s fun to be melodramatic) to see Ajai perform in a comedy show at Lot45. This is one of many new bars that have opened up in that section of Bushwick, that features a stage, a huge space, a food trailer outside, etc. The only other time I’ve been there was to perform a reading for “Bushwick Nightz”, and they packed it in then, but last night, it was quiet, quiet, quiet.

To be fair, it was a Tuesday night in the middle of winter, but there were still a number of people in attendance, most of whom, it seemed, had come specifically to watch the comedy show, or had decided to stick around once the comedy show began. It started off with a series of off-color but harmless (I thought) jokes about a birthday boy/friend of the emcees, that seemed to put the audience on guard and things never really improved from there. Ajai said the space had something to do with it–the way the seating and the stage were arranged leant more of a “TV watching” feel to the show, rather than the tight communal aspect that is necessary to really get an audience into the swing of things (ie: laughing).

That seemed accurate, but the crowd itself also seemed more than unwilling to give the comedians even the smallest of chuckles. I don’t know if that was a stereotypically Bushwick “too-cool-for-school” vibe, a stereotypically neo-liberal “I can’t laugh at anything even remotely controversial” vibe, or some combination of the two. More than one comedian was pretty frustrated at the stony audience, and I have to say, as an audience member who really and truly loves comedy, I was getting pretty frustrated as well.

Have we become so enamored with ourselves that we can’t stop and appreciate the people who are taking risks, getting down into the deep and nitty-gritty, and maybe, just maybe, making us think a little outside of our comfort zones? I mean, none of these guys were A level comedians but the way the audience was reacting you would have thought that a third-rate Andrew Dice Clay had started telling jokes about how all fat girls are asking to be raped.

Maybe I’m reading a little too into it. Maybe the comedians just had an off night, but something about that crowd made me wonder whatever happened to fun.