Tag: homophobia

Rancid Wine In A New Bottle

So this happened:

After much hype over Bill Maher’s invitation to host Breitbart provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos on his show “Real Time” on Friday, the two got along famously, bonding over their shared love of free speech and the unifying power of humor in a one-on-one conversation. It seemed that Yiannopoulos had found a warm embrace on Maher’s set — but then the broadcast ended and Yiannopoulos sat down with Maher’s other panelists for the post-show “Overtime” segment, which airs on YouTube. Two of those guests told the far-right prince what they’d like to see him do to himself. (Hint: It rhymes with “cuck.”)

And during that, this was said.

Maher said he didn’t see it that way. At the start of his conversation with Yiannopoulos, the host explained: “I think you’re colossally wrong. But if I banned everyone from my show who I thought was colossally wrong, I’d be talking to myself.”

Maher’s guest agreed, saying, “If you don’t show up to debate, you lose.”

The question of debate, and whether we should be debating someone like Milo Yiannopoulos, is one of only two interesting questions that he right-wing public bigot raises. The other is what it is about our culture that let’s someone as deeply banal as Yiannopoulos get so far in life when he has so little to offer.

We like to think of debate as a forum in which we calmly discuss rational proposals and through learned discourse arrive at sensible conclusions. This is easy to believe until you actually watch a debate. Debates are seldom won by reason, or evidence, or learned discourse. They’re often won by whoever can rattle off enough unexpected falsehoods to throw their opponent off balance. (This explains a lot about how Ted Cruz became a champion debater in college.) And Milo Yiannopoulos is, whatever else he is, a fount of falsehood. Before a TV host or panelist can start debunking his first lie, he’s already on to his third, and on television, where seconds count, this is the debating equivalent of the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique.

Further, debating someone like Yiannopoulos is inherently problematic because the mere act of doing so says that his “ideas” are still worthwhile debate topics among reasonable people. What are his ideas?

For his shopping trip to Gieves & Hawkes, Yiannopoulos calls for an Uber. The driver is a man, possibly because Uber’s algorithm has learned that Yiannopoulos rejects female drivers. Women, he says, have been scientifically proven to be worse at spatial relations, as have Asians. “It’s the only thing Saudi Arabia gets right,” he says about the country’s ban on female drivers. “Behind every racist joke is a scientific fact.”

He says he disapproves of all Muslims—except his boyfriend of 10 years. But it’s feminists who rile him most. During Gamergate, he targeted game developer Brianna Wu. Her address was posted on Reddit, and she received so many rape and death threats that she moved out of her home for a while and hired a bodyguard. “When you’ve faced difficulties in your life—growing up gay, being a minority, suffering from physical illness—you have two paths in front of you,” Wu says about Yiannopoulos. “Some people develop a fierce sense of empathy. The other side that’s available is to become something very dark. You can look at some of his poetry, when he was an adolescent, and it’s very clear he was hurting. He’s channeled that pain into hurting a lot of people and justifying it.”

So Yiannopoulos hates women and has contempt for non-whites. Are we supposed to be debating whether these are good ideas, sensible notions for a happier world? Are we supposed to hold a symposium titled, “Resolved: Behind every racist joke lies a scientific fact”, or does it lend racism a patina of intellectual legitimacy that it doesn’t merit because of its repeated and demonstrated failure as a way of looking at human beings? Racists like Yiannopoulos have been making the same fundamental errors for five centuries now. They’ve caused extraordinary harm. We know that. We can’t unknow it. Debating them is like debating people who think the Sun goes around the Earth or that Aristotle was more right about the descent rate of falling objects than Galileo was.

But what about Yiannopoulos’s feelings about free speech, the very reason Maher invited him on his show? Surely he has some thoughts of interest about that, right?

No.

For one thing, Yiannopoulos has not had his free speech rights violated. Never. Not once. At no time has any government–federal, state, or local–enacted a law, ordinance, or rule that prohibited him from expressing himself. Milo Yiannopoulos is, by any measurable standard, freer to speak than anyone I know. Simon and Schuster gave him $250,000 for his upcoming book. He gets invitations to banter and chatter on national talk shows. Major magazines interview him all the time. Hollywood stars have to shell out big bucks to publicists to be featured in the media as often as our supposed poster boy for censored speech.

What has happened is that at times when he’s been invited to speak, people who disliked what he said, mainly because they were the targets of his and his fans’ abuse, have talked back. Guess what? That’s free speech too. Occasionally, those protests have turned violent, and that is a shame. But it’s not a violation of his right to free speech. Yiannopoulos is free to speak. The public that hears what he says is free to react. And there’s no law that requires their reaction to be polite, so long as no one gets hurt.

For another, if free speech is a topic you want to discuss, there are many more qualified people to expound on it: journalists, lawyers, judges, historians. Yiannopoulos is none of these. He’s a brain stem attached to a keyboard (sometimes, when his interns aren’t doing his writing for him). He has nothing of interest to bring to the conversation. So why talk to him?

Yes, why?

Why has our culture let someone like Yiannopoulos get this far? What happened? Are we all this easily conned? Well, yeah. Yiannopoulos has found a way of hacking into our culture, bypassing what should otherwise be robust bullshit detectors.

Our culture has a fetish for putting old wine in new bottles. We reboot old TV and movie franchises, comic books, games, everything. We crave both novelty and familiarity, and like to get both at the same time if we can. Yiannopoulos is that in spades.  If he presented himself as a cranky Public Access TV host, ranting at us with an American flag behind him, or as a Klansman on the Jerry Springer show wearing his sheet and yelling “White Power” as the studio audience boos, no one would give a shit about him. Instead, Yiannopoulos says everything the racist, homophobic, sexist uncle you dread talking to at Thanksgiving says, but he wears eyeliner and pearls. Wild! Different! What can we make of it? If J.J. Abrams were to reboot the worst of five centuries of western civilization–and I’m not for a moment suggesting he would or should–he’d have created Milo Yiannopoulos.

We should probably rethink our affection for newly bottled old wines going forward. The past is full of rancid ideas unfit for modern human consumption, and the world is full of opportunists all too eager to be the their trendy new face.

UPDATE: I neglected to add Advocate In Favor Of Pedophilia to Yiannopoulos’s list of titles. I became aware of it only after hitting Publish. Here’s the video. Anyone feel like this is one of those topics worthy of debate?

I Understand You

lizza-trump-theories-1200Hey, you. White dude with the red cap. You with the gun rack in your pickup’s rear window. You who live in a white rural town where people are real and eat real food and have real values and go to real churches.

I understand you.

You think I don’t, but I do.

What? Did you think I was born in a city? Well, actually you’re right. I was. I was born in Santa Monica, CA. But I didn’t stay there long. I’ve lived in Ohio. I’ve lived in Texas. I spent six years of my life in rural Utah, and there’s a good chance my town was smaller and whiter than yours.

I understand you.

It’s not hard. I hate to break it to you, but you’re not that deep.

I know that people of color in your towns have to be careful how they act, lest they eat your shit. The only reason I got a pass was that I was passing. My skin is light enough that people didn’t know, right away, that I was “a n—–.” (They’d have felt no embarrassment at spelling out the slur.) I know that gays and lesbians have to hide who they are to avoid your violence. I know how religion binds your communities, because I saw, from the outside looking in, how it bound mine.

I know the stories you use to explain your lives to yourselves. I know you see yourselves as standing in a line. It’s a long line. At the front are the rich people, and you think that if you stay in the line, don’t ask for too much, and behave yourselves, the rich people at the front will one day shower you with riches and all will be happy. You don’t question why there has to be a line, or why you’re the one standing in it. As long as the rich people at the front pass down an occasional treat, it’s a sign of their goodwill. And as long as the darker people are behind you, which they deserve because they’re more unruly and impatient than you, and don’t talk English as good as you talk it, all is right and just.

This is the story your ancestors used to explain slavery to themselves. Most of the more southerly of them didn’t own slaves, but they hoped if they stood in line, one day they could. Later, under our nation’s 100 post-civil-war years of legal apartheid, your grandparents could still tell themselves that no matter how bad off they were, they were better than the “n——“. They could vote, get the front seat on the bus, and ogle a white girl’s ass without dying for it. And if any “n—–” tried to get in line in front of them, there were hoods to wear, crosses to burn, and branches suitable for nooses.

When this system of apartheid was dismantled, suddenly people wouldn’t let your parents, or you, use the word “n—–” anymore. You got yelled at for it, and that hurt, partly because feeling guilty hurts, but partly because that meant that the darker people had moved up in line a little. Soon, black people were on TV and in movies and ads. They played sports. They were cops and lawyers and business executives. Black bodies were closing in on your position in line. Some were ahead. And what’s more, it looked like some of your fellow pale people, ones who lived in cities and always made fun of you, were helping them cut in front!

Yeah, I think I understand you.

Then along came a black President, with a foreign, black name. He never could have been in line. Now he’s at the front of it! How can that be fair? The treats were supposed to come to you first! And when he sends something down the line to you, bails out your auto industry, stabilizes the banks, gets you health care, you’re bewildered. Where does that–you won’t say the word because you’re not racist–get off trying to help you? And why isn’t he doing more? And why is he also helping those other people you don’t like: the gays and lesbians and Mexicans and Asians who don’t live in your town because…well…any one of them who tries gets the message? Now you’re pissed off. And now those fancy types are telling you you’re racist and sexist because you’re angry about all the non-white, non-male people ahead of you. You’re not mad because you hate them. You don’t hate. You’re mad because people of color and women don’t deserve those spots. The rich people promised your grandpappy.

I understand you.

You never got mad at the rich guys or their promises, even though they’re made of lies. You’ll never get that they told your grandpappy to stand in line because they feared he might revolt and then died laughing when the poor sap fell for it. You’ll never ask why your grandpappy, or your pappy, or you, never made common cause with the people of color to take what the rich man was denying all of you. Instead, you’ll let the rich guys pollute your land, air, and water if it means a job. And you’ll elect the smiling toady the rich man asks you to vote for so he can go to Washington and make sure that no uppity people ever try to give you health care, education programs, housing assistance, or the right to form a union. Why would you want those things? The rich guys at the front of the line will be passing down a treat for you anytime now. Anytime.

I understand you.

At last, one day, the rich guys stopped passing their treats down to you. They took your factories away and left you. And that confused you. Where’d the line go? Where’s your shower of riches? They couldn’t have been fibbing all along, could they? No. It must be the fault of those liberals in Washington. They regulated them too much. They drove them away. They’ll pay for that, them and the city slickers in Hollywood who make jokes at your expense and sip lattes and drive nice cars and know Jews. (Not that you’re antisemitic. Why would we think that?)

Idiots. You think voting for Trump upset the elites in Washington? They’ll adapt. They have money, influence, and time. They’ll be here long after Trump’s gone to Orange, Rapist, Con-Man Heaven. You may think by electing Trump you threw a brick at Washington Elites, but you hit poor people, the elderly, the vulnerable, and yourselves. After four years of Trump, your pockets will be emptier, and his fuller. Your towns will still be sucky and poor, and you’ll still be sad, paranoid, and angry. But maybe, if you’re good, Trump’ll send you some of those Trump Steaks. That should tide you over, because now that he’s at the front of the line,  the wait for the shower of goodies can’t be much longer. You’re so close. Right?

Yeah, I understand you.

 

Stupid Things Great Writers Say

Let’s start with V.S. Naipaul, Nobel Laureate of 2001:

I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think [it is] unequal to me.

I’d be interested to see Mr. Naipaul put to a blind test. The closest thing we have online comes from The Guardian and from Nicole Bernier at Beyond the Margins. I took both, scored 60% accuracy on The Guardian’s test, but only 29% on Nicole’s test–my first eight answers were wrong. Statistically this makes me an average guesser, nothing more. Maybe Naipaul’s could hit 80% or better on both. Maybe that’s why he won the Nobel. (I kid, but don’t assume it’s because I love.)

The whole thing did get me thinking more broadly about the jackass pronouncements of brilliant writers. It’s strange. A author writes a compelling piece of fiction. It moves us, scares us, or makes us laugh. The author certainly has demonstrated a skill at spinning amusing and illuminating lies, but many try to translate this into erudition of a more general kind and turn authors into sages.

Given the nonsense a lot of brilliant authors take seriously, we should be at least a little more circumspect about doing this.

D.H. Lawrence, modernist author:

You have a Sam, a fat slow fellow, who has got slower and more slovenly as the weeks wear on. You have a master who has grown more irritable in his authority. Till Sam becomes simply wallowing in his slackness, makes your gorge rise. And the master is on red hot iron.

Now these two men, Captain and Sam, are there in a very unsteady equilibrium of command and obedience. A polarized flow. Definitely polarized.

The poles of will are the great ganglia of the voluntary nerve system, located beside the spinal column, in the back. From the poles of will in the backbone of the Captain, to the ganglia of will in the back of the sloucher Sam, runs a frazzled, jagged current, a staggering circuit of vital electricity. This circuit gets one jolt too many, and there is an explosion.

‘Tie up that lousy swine!’ roars the enraged Captain.

And whack! whack! down on the bare back of that sloucher Sam comes the cat.

What does it do? By Jove, it goes like ice-cold water into his spine. Down those lashes runs the current of the Captain’s rage, right into the blood and into the toneless ganglia of Sam’s voluntary system. Crash! Crash! runs the lightning flame, right into the cores of the living nerves.

And the living nerves respond. They start to vibrate. They brace up. The blood begins to go quicker. The nerves begin to recover their vividness. It is their tonic. The man Sam has a new clear day of intelligence, and a smarty back. The Captain has a new relief, a new ease in his authority, and a sore heart.

There is a new equilibrium, and a fresh start. The physical intelligence of a Sam is restored, the turgidity is relieved from the veins of the Captain.

It is a natural form of human coition, interchange.

It is good for Sam to be flogged. It is good, on this occasion, for the Captain to have Sam flogged. I say so. Because they were both in that physical condition.

It’s a good thing old D.H. was always broke. I’d hate to think what would have happened if he’d ever employed a housekeeper. Lawrence claimed that such a master/servant blood bond, strengthened through horrific violence, is infinitely preferable to contemporary employer/employee relationships. I don’t know. I’ve never much liked being an employee, but I’ve always been gratified to know that I could sic cops on any boss who raised a hand to me. I get that modern capitalist relationships have their alienating drawbacks, but Lawrence’s cure seems far worse than the disease.

Ezra Pound, modernist poet, rabid anti-semite:

You let in the Jew and the Jew rotted your empire, and you yourselves out-jewed the Jew.

And the big Jew has rotted every nation he has wormed into.

Your infamy is bound up with Judaea. You can not touch a sore or a shame in your empire but you find a Mond, a Sassoon, or a Goldsmid.

These gems came from Pound’s Italian radio broadcasts, made in support of Il Duce. I take it a close reading isn’t necessary. Pound gets credit for a great deal in literature. Certainly without him James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, and Ernest Hemingway would have had a rougher time getting their work out and noticed. Pound advanced 20th century literature. He also advanced 20th century fascism and gave intellectual cover to people who murdered millions out of bigotry. I’ll leave the question of which is more important to you.

Orson Scott Card, renowned sf author, homophobe:

 Laws against homosexual behavior should remain on the books, not to be indiscriminately enforced against anyone who happens to be caught violating them, but to be used when necessary to send a clear message that those who flagrantly violate society’s regulation of sexual behavior cannot be permitted to remain as acceptable, equal citizens within that society.The goal of the polity is not to put homosexuals in jail. The goal is to discourage people from engaging in homosexual practices in the first place, and, when they nevertheless proceed in their homosexual behavior, to encourage them to do so discreetly, so as not to shake the confidence of the community in the polity’s ability to provide rules for safe, stable, dependable marriage and family relationships.

As a man of letters, Card doesn’t bat in the same league with Pound and Lawrence, but he is a figure of renown with the science fiction community, which by now must be well practiced in separating an author’s work from his personality. I wish them luck with that. With every statement like that, and Card just keeps on making ’em, it gets harder.

Henry Rollins, the rock and roll raconteur, once said that if you read the graffiti that your favorite band left backstage at a venue, your opinion of the band would plummet. The same is true of writers, and it’s going to get worse. Once upon a time, an author could cultivate a kind of semi-divine detachment from the audience, speak rarely, and every so often toss his work to the crowd the way John D. Rockefeller tossed dimes to the nobodies. But now, authors have to be on Facebook and Twitter, and have to push to do blog tours and interviews and speaking gigs, and thanks to the internet, every weird, stupid thing we say lives forever.

I’m not sure how to feel about that. What I try to do is ask myself whether the thoughts I express today will look barbaric twenty years from now. At the same time, I think about the bullet Shakespeare dodged. As far as we know, no one wrote down all the racist, sexist, monarchist shit that he surely must have thought.

Michelle Shocks

Charles Krafft had me asking the question of how far artists can go round the twist before screwing up impressions of their work. Now comes Michelle Shocked. I’d never been a huge fan of her work, which doesn’t mean I didn’t like it if someone put it on a stereo. I just never bought any of it. Still, her public persona as I knew it would have had me put her on the 100 Celebrities Least Likely To Sound Like Fred Phelps list, if I’d ever bothered writing one.

I guess I’m glad I didn’t.

At Yoshi’s San Francisco on Sunday night, singer Michelle Shocked pretty much shocked her audience by saying, among other things, “God hates fags and you can tweet that I said so.” This came about 90 minutes into the show, in the middle of a rant against gay marriage, e-mailed James Patterson, who was there. Something like two-thirds of the crowd walked out.

 

From the looks of things, Michelle Shocked has successfully alienated most of the music community, including fans, bookers, and her own publicist, which is a considerable achievement in one night. Assuming she can’t put the whole thing down to having recently switched to Ambien, her harangue has wrecked her career. (The only fans she could pick up with her tirade live in Topeka, and I don’t get the impression that they have enough spare cash to keep M.S. in the lifestyle to which she’s accustomed.)

Her case is similar to Charles Krafft’s, with one possible distinction. Krafft’s holocaust denial forces a wholesale reevaluation of not only his character, but also his past work because it incorporates fascist and white supremacist imagery. I’m not sure if any of M.S.’s song catalog depended on “ironic” incorporations of homophobic imagery–I’m guessing none, given how much her rant surprised her fans–so while M.S.’s career might be spoiled and her character stained with bigotry, her past work might be able avoid the taint of her disgrace.

UPDATE 3/20: Apparently Michelle Shocked has issued an apology.

I do not, nor have I ever, said or believed that God hates homosexuals (or anyone else). I said that some of His followers believe that. I believe intolerance comes from fear, and these folks are genuinely scared. When I said “Twitter that Michelle Shocked says “God hates faggots,” I was predicting the absurd way my description of, my apology for, the intolerant would no doubt be misinterpreted. The show was all music, and the audience tweets said they enjoyed it. The commentary came about ten minutes later, in the encore.

 

And to those fans who are disappointed by what they’ve heard or think I said, I’m very sorry: I don’t always express myself as clearly as I should. But don’t believe everything you read on facebook or twitter. My view of homosexualtiy has changed not one iota. I judge not. And my statement equating repeal of Prop 8 with the coming of the End Times was neither literal nor ironic: it was a description of how some folks – not me – feel about gay marriage.

 

Umm…okay. I suppose it’s reasonable to take her at her word on this and move on, except to say to M.S. that if she should, in the future, find it tempting to describe or make apologies for intolerant Christians, she might want to run her remarks through a few drafts, and by a few trusted friends (including some outside the believing community), before dropping them on stage.

 

Are You Pondering What I’m Pondering?

A couple of days ago I did the Jeopardy Online Test. I most likely passed, but I’d be a damned sight happier if I hadn’t vapor locked on the Oscar Wilde question.

History tells us that when Europeans forget how to stop pursuing policies that have no chance of working, things get ugly. (Not that we don’t really suck too.)

Barack Obama’s choices to do his inaugural benedictions make me wonder if only awful preachers volunteer to do the job.

My love of history and my love of movies are both satisfied in this AV Club discussion of capturing history on film.

Literature is doomed. Has been for centuries.

Jacob Soll’s review of Ben Kafka’s book about paperwork’s meaning in the modern world. Yes, I am nerdy enough to think of this as a must read.

Later.