Guns, Sex, and Social Stories

There’s always time for a quick revelation.

Like when after reading way too many takes and post-takes and post-post-takes on the Aziz Ansari incident (I won’t even bother linking), you finally read one that reminds of you of something totally not related and yet totally exactly the same that you’re like, holy shit, this is a sociological pattern if there ever was one.

I’ll quote directly, because that’s how I roll. I will also add the caveat that I actually have not read the entire article because this connection is too obvious to let a commentary go even five minutes stewed.

The Aziz Ansari case hit a nerve because, as I’ve long feared, we’re only comfortable with movements like #MeToo so long as the men in question are absolute monsters we can easily separate from the pack. Once we move past the “few bad apples” argument and start to suspect that this is more a trend than a blip, our instinct is to normalize. To insist that this is is just how men are, and how sex is. (Lili Loofbourow in The Week)

Let me repeat for effect: “… so long as the men in question are absolute monsters we can easily separate from the pack … [once we] suspect that this is more a trend than a blip, our instinct is to normalize.”

What does this pattern — the pattern of separating monsters but normalizing systemic violence — remind you of?



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On Racism, Republicanism, and Stereotypically Shoddy Logic

Here is how I arrived at the conclusion that racism exists: firstly, because we talk about. Why would we talk about it if it wasn’t a thing? Just because it is a thing I don’t see doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

Let me be clear: I’m not usually one for calling people racists (story perhaps at a later date), or any other kind of blanket identifiers, but I won’t hesitate, after careful consideration, to say thy are behaving in a racist (e.g.) manner or exhibiting racism (e.g.) or racist (e.g.) tendencies.

In reading and discussing–or arguing about–a few recent Slate articles on racism in the Republican party (one creating an argument for neo-racism in the Republican party and the other about middle-aged white men, whiteness, and the Romney campaign; I recommend reading the articles because they can make their arguments better than I ever could) I am reminded of an inalienable truth I learned in childhood: jokes are funny because they have kernels of truth. As tools of humor, stereotypes fall into the same category. Likewise our baseless assumptions about social structure also contain kernels of truth.

An episode of NBC’s new sitcom The New Normal presents us with a superb assumed-truth-stereotype: the incompatibility of blackness and Republicanism. The seemingly well-off, white, openly racist and homophobic (also sexually repressed) grandmother is delighted to meet a fellow Republican in Democrat-laden California, forgiving him his transgression of blackness. In our stereotype-defined social outlooks, this is what we least expect: the black Republican. It’s kind of funny, if only because we are inclined to see it as inherently contradictory. Why? Because Republicans are, obviously, old angry white men.

This stereotype of the Republican Party being the white man’s party, though not categorically true (as the exception-to-the-rule rule teaches us), must possess a kernel of truth. It must also, following a particular path of logic, be racist. Stay with me for a moment as I summarize thousands of words written by better writers than I:

The South is Republican (stereotypical and political truism). The South is Confederate (historical truism). The Confederacy is racist (historical truism). Ergo so too must be the South and, particularly, the Republican South. Can we extend this to say that Republicans are or the Republican Party is racist? Rather, does the Republican Party exhibit racist tendencies? I’d be inclined to err on the side of “yes,” mostly because my Kernel of Truth Logic means stereotypes can be used in proving their basic contention. (If there’s a stereotype about it, it must be partly true: if there’s a stereotype about no black Republicans, then there must be very few.) If we are inclined to think of the white South as Confederate (racist) and simultaneously of the white South as Republican, then logically the Republican party is Confederate and/or racist and all this must be at least partly true. I don’t necessarily agree with this, just following a path.

That’s settled. Now, I want to consider not the role of racism in modern politics, but the baser argument that racism HAS a role in modern politics, or modern society, particularly the South. I’ve proved with shoddy logic that it does, but I believe I have some empirical evidence in support of this conclusion.

The minuscule optimist inside me is hesitant to accept the kerneled truth of this racist white Southern Republicanism stereotype (though intellectually the arguments are, if not compelling, at least interesting) but then again my white upper-middle class suburban life has been wonderfully and misleadingly absent of racism. All white Southerners could be racist Republicans (I do not believe this); how would I know? Still, in this sheltered upbringing and subsequent, also somewhat sheltered, life experience, even I have encountered racism’s remnants.

Here are two small anecdotes in support of the theory that America is not done with racism:

My only real brush with American Southern Racism (I’m branding it) was in the third degree. My friend and I were driving from Houston to New Orleans and he made sure, repeatedly, I knew “we can’t stop in Vidor. Whatever we do, we can’t stop there.”
“Why?” I asked. Until that point, our discussions of race had extended only to talking about our own, and never in any substantive or broad sociological way.
“My friend just told me not to go there unless I wanted to get shot.” Or maybe he said lynched. Either way.
The implication was clear, but so unreal that I was half-tempted to stop there for some racism-tourism. You’ll be happy to know pragmatism won the day.

I then thought of East Texas, probably inaccurately, as this racist backwater that didn’t reflect Texas or the South on the whole. (I think a lot of terrible things about Texas, but being racist isn’t one of them.) That must be where all those old-school racists are, I thought: in tiny Bayou hamlets hiding in their legacies of hatred. But then I came across a line in one of those aforementioned Slate articles which made me recall another small nugget from my annals of childhood memories.

In the late 90s, controversy and conflict (both internally and nationally) over the Confederate flag flying atop South Carolina’s State House was coming to a head. I will not pretend to parse the meanings of the Confederate flag; suffice to say sighting it causes discomfort. A local artist–we lived in New Jersey at the time–was making statues of individual slaves aboard slave ships shackled to their wood slat “beds”; tucked under each statue’s head, while he lay in skeletal and near-death eternity, was a triangle-folded Confederate flag. These slave statues were a protest against South Carolina flying the flag, against the Carolinian and more broadly Southern legacies of the Confederacy and slavery. My parents acquired one of these statues and it now, as it did then, makes me cringe. I cringe partly because of the realism of the art (look at me, the critic) and partly because it is a constant reminder that the Confederacy still matters in a very real way.

My (thankfully) limited exposure to Southern racism nevertheless forces me to conclude the undeniable: slavery’s most virile offspring, racism, is alive and well. Whether it’s in the United States as a whole, in the Republican party, in the white South, or in some combination thereof, is not for me to say conclusively; but the evidence is certainly intriguing.

Badlands, retrospective.

(And by retrospective, I mean it happened a while ago.)

I like maps. I had spent hours visually analyzing the selection of westward route choices — freeway? state highway? around the cities or through? risk? reward?

I left Maine in the morning. I climbed the Poconos/Adirondacks/Appalachians (and feel free to let me know which mountains I was actually crossing). I skirted the Great Lakes. Quick change, pizza, bed, and toaster waffles. I rolled over the grassy midwest, detoured north to close the door on a nagging old relationship and rescue my art, waffle iron, and Nintendo 64 from the gaping abyss of a six-month-old break up.

I (full disclosure) nibbled an Adderall and as the sun set, like a cowboy a thousand miles too far east, drove west. Rolling hills flattened out into infinite planes. Perhaps I’ll build a mathematical matrix to represent the great plains of South Dakota along I-90. The buffalo herd is at (103, 37), don’t kill too many or you won’t be able to carry them back to your wagon.

As fortuitously incidental, and thanks to a suggestion from what essentially turned out to be a flavor of the week, the Badlands rose around me as the sun rose from behind me.

Camera and tripod in hand, amphetamines in blood, and awe in heart and mind, I slowed my pace to absorb this strange, stolen glory.

Badlands, sunrise.

I did not go out the way I came—avoiding cities, creativity and efficiency in route—in the North and out the South. Into the heart of Pine Ridge, the largest and most fundamentally heartbreaking and devastating open air human prison in my personal memory. The eighth largest reservation in the country, but I experienced it as eternal. Hidden by miles of barren lands and political gambits from the public eye and consciousness, I was in a world where the buffalo roamed free but the people were fenced in. Inversion, pen.

Entering Pine Ridge, I saw the land browner, surrounded by fences, geospatial politics delineating land appropriation and supremacy. Leaving Pine Ridge, I saw the grass grow taller and geologic formations more impressive. Public use land, preservation over reservation, imposed government over indigenous freedom. In and out, in and out, the boundaries increasingly clearer, then fences increasingly higher, or perhaps this was just my imagination, or my anger growing.

I move through a small town, which perhaps once thought it could attract tourists, but instead showcases only dilapidated pick-up trucks and run-down buildings.

Passing through

The dirt road, as it has been dirt since leaving National Park boundaries, left my small town behind in a cloud of dry red dust and I, like every else, forgot and neglected her, leaving her to waste away as per socioeconomic hierarchies required.

My radio blared the Oglala Sioux tribal station, the only station I could get. As I moved between fences—free like a buffalo, penned in like the Sioux—what I can only describe as chanting and, unimaginatively, traditional music (honest or cliche?) accompanied me on my objectively stunning yet subjectively depressing drive.

I came to established farmland, to bigger, ostensibly wealthier small towns, to state highways, eventually to Wyoming, to gas stations offering “cowboy coffee” with a handwritten sign next to the hazelnut and French roast, eventually to cities and interstates and, short hours later, within view of my snow-capped Rockies. I followed the spine of the Continental Divide until I crossed into my little hamlet, South Dakota far behind me, as it so goes.

This is a scam.

Dear World,

Never, ever get it into your head that you might want to go to law school.

Here’s why:

1. You have to take the LSAT, which is actually not to terrible, except for the $130 or so price tag. But its horrors are exacerbated by the fact that kids-who-try-too-hard are spending hundreds more dollars and months, if not years, of their lives studying their insecure little tuchases off, which means that even once you shell out the sticker price you are still about to get f***ed because they had nothing better to do.

2. Because the law school admissions process is run by a cartel fondly known as LSAC (law school admissions council), every law school says you have to let them (LSAC) assemble your credentials, with a stupidly-acronymed service-for-purchase CAS (credit assembly service)…for another $124. I mean, come on, I think I am perfectly capable of coordinating a couple documents and sending them to the right place by the right deadline. But no; they’d rather test the depth of my pockets rather than my actual coping-with-the-world skills. F***ers. Look, if you want to be entrepreneurial and try to make money off of kids who are too lazy to assemble their own credentials, fine. But I think it’s akin to extortion to make it mandatory for the rest of us.

Yes, this is a true story.

3. THEN, you have to pay an application fee to each school. Which is pretty much okay, except they run generally about $75, which is high compared to undergrad. But it’s the combined costs of application fees, CAS, LSATs, and the fact that I can’t actually get in to law school because I chose to save my money and my time by not killing myself over my LSAT score that makes this just adding insult to injury.

This whole scheme is morally reprehensible. But the Catch-22 (because there always is one) is that I can’t do anything about it…because I have to use it to get into law school.

F. M. L.

I liked Margin Call.

I am thrilled to report I spent $9 of funemployment money seeing a movie about the financial crisis. I was thinking about seeing Blackthorn, the Butch Cassidy sequel, but decided Margin Call would be more appropriate to the zeitgeist: it was supposed to make me angrier at the world and propel me deeper into my anti-establishment ideologies.

But rather, it made me take a step back and think more deeply about the roots of this movement and some its major influences. It reaffirmed many of my criticisms of our society and my conviction that a portion of the movement is not being entirely honest with itself. (Incidentally, I liked the movie. It tells the story with more sensitivity and complexity than it’s being told otherwise.)

The most honest and expository moment of dialogue in the movie:

“Shit, this is really gonna affect people.”
“Yeah, it’s gonna affect people like me.”
“No, well, real people.”
“Jesus, Seth. Listen, if you really want to do this with your life, you have to believe you’re necessary, and you are. People want to live like this in their cars and their big fucking houses they can’t even pay for. Then you’re necessary. The only reason they all get to continue living like kings is ‘cause we’ve got our fingers on the scales in their favor. I take my hand off, well then the whole world gets really fucking fair really fucking quickly and nobody actually wants that. They say they do but they don’t. They want what we have to give them but they also want to, you know, play innocent and pretend they have no idea where it came from. Well that’s more hypocrisy than I’m willing to swallow so fuck, fuck normal people.”

Like all business, Wall Street operates on the premise of supplying a product for which there is a demand. We wanted, and Wall Street provided. How much can we blame the dealer for the habit?