Thursday, September 3, 2015

Josh Duggar, Christian Marriage, and Hypocrisy

The recent hacking of the Ashley Madison adultery website exposed names and information from its approximately 37 million members – among them, a couple of prominent, family values patriarchs. One critic pounced on that hypocrisy to try to paint traditional Christian marriage itself as sexist and hypocritical.
The most famous name to emerge from the hacking is family values promoter and reality TV star Josh Duggar, fresh off the disturbing revelations of his teenage sexual molestation of his sisters. Duggar released a statement in which he judged himself “the biggest hypocrite ever”:
While espousing faith and family values, I… became unfaithful to my wife. I am so ashamed of the double life that I have been living and am grieved for the hurt, pain and disgrace my sin has caused my wife and family, and most of all Jesus and all those who profess faith in Him. 
He went on to admit that for years he had been “publicly stating I was fighting against immorality in our country while hiding my own personal failings… I deeply regret all the hurt I have caused so many by being such a bad example. I humbly ask for your forgiveness.”
Also exposed in the hacking was one half of the popular Christian husband-and-wife vlogging team, Sam and Nia Rader. Sam had opened an Ashley Madison account in 2013, before the couple’s YouTube fame. They recently released a video in which Sam clears the air about it, claiming that he and his wife had already worked through the issue together and she had forgiven him. Unlike Duggar, Sam Rader attests that he never met anyone through the cheating site or had an affair.
Skeptics might say that both of their statements are insincere and a cynical PR spin, and perhaps they are. The hypocrite “deceives others by creating the appearance of virtue while succumbing to vice,” as Christopher O. Tollefsen puts it, so we don’t know if they can be believed. Certainly Duggar’s wife, family, friends, and supporters may find it difficult if not impossible to trust and forgive him his betrayal. “The only vice which cannot be forgiven is hypocrisy,” declared essayist William Hazlitt two hundred years ago. “The repentance of a hypocrite is itself hypocrisy.”
Being Christian doesn’t necessarily make us better than anyone else; it means that we strive to hold ourselves accountable to our values. Sometimes we fall short – perhaps even more often than not. That doesn’t invalidate the values themselves; nor does it mean that all who fall short are hypocrites. But preaching a code of behavior that we sometimes don’t live up to makes us targets for scorn. Had Charlie Sheen’s name popped up among the Ashley Madison accounts, no one would have leapt to condemn him because Sheen has no standards in this regard to fall short of. But let someone with religious standards do so, and some critics are quick to pounce.
Enter Slate’s Amanda Marcotte. She took the hacking as an opportunity to claim that the Ashley Madison episode provides a “peephole into ‘traditional’ Christian marriage,” which emphasizes the wife’s submission to the husband’s moral leadership. Marcotte claims that the scandal reveals what “this call to male responsibility and protection can look like in practice.” As examples, she zeroed in on Duggar’s and Rader’s moral failure. 
Here’s why Marcotte is wrong to single them out and use them to smear Christian marriage:
First, the 37 million Ashley Madison accounts range across 53 countries and everywhere across America, with the exception of only three sparsely populated zip codes. Surely among that legion of cheaters there were husbands of all faiths and political stripes. But Marcotte focused on two notable Christian-right figures, because they are easy, politically correct targets in our culture, because they espouse a moral code she doesn’t ascribe to, and because she has contempt for their belief in the complementary roles of husband and wife.
Second, Duggar and Rader are not examples of what that relationship looks like “in practice” – they are examples of the failure of it. They are not representative of faithful Christian husbands – they are representative of those who succumbed to temptation.
Third, I don’t know what is in Sam Rader’s heart or what transpired between him and his wife when he confessed his transgression – and neither does Marcotte, who seems to assume, a lĂ  Hazlitt, that his repentance is fake. Regardless, Rader was correct when said in his video message that we are all broken, even Christians. All of us are fallen, all of us are weak, all of us are hypocritical sometime about something. All of us need forgiveness.
And unlike what many including Marcotte seem to think, Christians do not consider forgiveness a convenient get-out-of-jail-free card. “It's so easy!” Marcotte sneered about Rader’s announcement that “I have sought forgiveness from God, and he has forgiven me, so I have been completely cleansed of this sin.” Again, I cannot speak for his sincerity, but true contrition is not an easy, rubber-stamped absolution. It is a humbling and sometimes painful process of acknowledging guilt to oneself, to the ones we have wronged, and to God. It means empathizing with the pain we have caused others, sincerely asking their forgiveness, and then earning that forgiveness and their trust all over again through a conscious commitment.
To err is human, as Pope famously wrote, to forgive divine. Josh Duggar and Sam Rader may be hypocrites, but that is a human failing, not only a Christian one.
From Acculturated, 8/31/15

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Curse of the Participation Trophy

Last weekend Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison posted an Instagram photo of a pair of “participation trophies” that were awarded to his two sons – and apparently to everyone else on the team as well – by their sports league. Harrison announced firmly that he is returning the trophies because they weren’t earned.
“While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do,” he wrote, “and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy”:
I'm sorry I'm not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned and I’m not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best...cause sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you to want to do better...not cry and whine until somebody gives you something to shut u up and keep you happy.#harrisonfamilyvalues
James Harrison has lived his own lesson about earning success. The youngest of 14 children, Harrison was a walk-on at the Kent State University football team, went undrafted by the NFL in 2002, and was cut four times by pro teams before going on to become a five-time Pro Bowl selection. “James is the type of person who will say: ‘I will prove you wrong. I deserve to be here,’” said Harrison’s best friend. Harrison, now 37, seems determined to instill that perseverance and fortitude in his boys, who are 8 and 6 years old.
The photo subsequently went viral and Harrison’s “family values” met with approval from every corner of the internet. The very fact that his principled position was so applauded indicates not only to what degree our culture has become infected with an entitlement mentality, but also to what degree many Americans have had enough of it. They recognize what should be obvious: that if everyone gets a trophy, then the trophy is meaningless; if simply showing up is praiseworthy, then the praise is worthless.
There is a scene in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland in which the Dodo Bird is asked to declare the winner of a running competition, and without considering how far each participant had run or for how long, he announces that “Everybody has won and all must have prizes!” While reasonable people may find this nonsensical and patently unfair, it unfortunately describes an attitude toward children that has become prevalent among many educators, coaches, and child development experts.
Their theory that shoring up a child’s self-esteem is of primary educational importance has led to an obsession with protecting young people’s feelings at the expense of actual education, even in institutions of higher learning. Safe spaces, trigger warnings, and other politically correct shelters encourage insularity and infantilism rather than the broadening and maturation that should be the point of education.
In her book All Must Have Prizes, the brilliant columnist Melanie Phillips addressed the intellectual failure and moral relativism at the heart of such an educational doctrine. A Rousseau-influenced, “child-centered” approach meant that education was no longer seen as “the transmission of knowledge but as a therapeutic exercise in self-realization,” as Phillips put it. The result has been neither better-educated kids nor kids with better self-esteem.
Gill Robins, a British educator and author of Praise, Motivation and the Child, complains that handing out prizes for all is “very patronizing” and “simply doesn’t work” in terms of molding children’s behavior or laying the groundwork for their ability to understand the world. “How can the self-esteem of a person possibly be nurtured by telling them that they are as good at something as everyone else, even when they know that it’s not true?” And yet “our thinking is still weighted down by an outmoded belief that we can shape a person with daily bribes.”
No decent parents want their children to feel like losers. But attempting to prop up a child’s self-esteem with hollow participation trophies ensures not healthy confidence but narcissism. Jean M. Twenge, author of The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement, writes that “[T]he ‘everybody gets a trophy’ mentality basically… builds this empty sense of ‘I’m just fantastic, not because I did anything but just because I’m here.’”
Of course, it’s important to encourage very young children to attempt new things, and to reward them with praise for the effort, regardless of how successful the attempt. You don’t want them to be afraid to try. You want them to know they have your unfailing support. But gradually they must be challenged and allowed to fail. At some point the training wheels must come off, and they must experience falling down and learn to get up and try again. They must develop – the hard way – a realistic sense of their own talents and of the sometimes boundary-pushing mental and physical effort required to actually accomplish something. Authentic self-esteem comes from striving and achieving, not from empty praise and condescending trophies.
Perhaps the widespread, approving response to James Harrison’s stand is an encouraging indication that parents are once again embracing common sense, and that failed educational theories are headed the way of the Dodo.

From Acculturated, 8/20/15

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Is Frugality the New Living Large?

The news that rap mogul Fifty Cent filed for bankruptcy not long ago surely raised a few eyebrows. After all, he seemed the very epitome of living large – but then, living large is something of a fickle illusion. Recent history is littered with examples of entertainers who rocketed to fame and fortune, only to come crashing to earth ignominiously, stunned when the seemingly endless good life abruptly fizzled out: Fifty’s fellow bankrupted celebs include MC Hammer, TLC, and Toni Braxton (twice), to name just three well-known examples.
Athletes too can suffer the same financial fate: boxer Mike Tyson, basketball’s Scottie Pippen, baseball’s Jack Clark, and many more. While players are active the money faucet seems like it will never stop flowing, but in a few years it can dry up – and for shortsighted athletes, who often have no other job skills, their savings dry up just as quickly. In 2008, the NBA Players’ Association claimed that 60 percent of pro basketball players go broke within five years of retirement. That is a sobering statistic.
Or it should be, anyway. But athletes in their prime are living in the eternal now of youth, and feeling invincible. Even when they do have one eye toward the future, most have no conception of how to manage the bucks they rake in.
Vin Baker, for example, spent 13 years in the NBA, playing in four All-Star Games. But alcoholism and a string of bad financial choices such as a failed restaurant combined to wipe out nearly $100 million in earnings.
“When you make choices and decisions and think that it will never end, and then you get into spending and addiction and more spending, it’s a definite formula for losing,” Baker said. Asked what advice he would give other players, he said, “I’d want guys to not take the money for granted. It can be here today and gone tomorrow… As quickly as that contract can be signed, there are a hundred things that can also ruin it.”
When Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie first came into the NFL, he had an addiction also – to spending money. “I was out of control,” he said. Cromartie blew all the guaranteed money from his rookie contract – about $5 million – in his first two years in the league, on luxuries like nine cars, two homes, jewelry, and hangers-on.
Cromartie now shares his hard-earned financial experience with teammates: “I want to help others learn from what I did wrong,” he said. “I tell the young guys, ‘Don't spend any money the first year and a half of your career. You don't know what will happen after that.”
Baltimore Ravens guard John Urschel reportedly lives on $25,000 a year and even had a roommate last year to keep expenses down. Urschel made $564,000 in salary and bonuses as a rookie in 2014. His deal is worth $2.3 million, but only the $144,000 signing bonus was guaranteed. If he gets cut, the team owes him nothing, so Urschel is keenly aware that he needs to make the money last.
Toward that end, he drives a used 2013 Nissan Versa which he bought for $9,000. His modest ride looks rather hilarious in this tweeted photo of it between the massive, expensive vehicles of a pair of fellow players, but I don’t think anyone will dare ridicule the 308 lb. Urschel about it.
Another example is Detroit Lions wide receiver Ryan Broyles, who was drafted in 2012. His contract was worth over $3.6 million, more than $1.4 million of which was guaranteed. But Broyles had seen other athletes blow through their stash, and he was determined to avoid that. He met with a financial adviser who urged Broyles to figure out his means, set a budget, live within it, and invest the rest.

Broyles says that he and his wife have lived on about $60,000 a year throughout his career so far. Everything else has gone toward ensuring that his post-football monetary future is set. He drives a Ford Focus rental car during training camp and he still has his 2005 Chevrolet Trailblazer from college. “Whatever comes, it's just a blessing,” he says. “But I got the mindset of a businessman off the field, I'll tell you that.”
Broyles now coaches others on finances. Earlier this year he traveled to Washington, D.C. to speak to students about financial planning. He is working with VISA and the NFL on promoting financial security and planning.
Players like these are becoming the new role models for up-and-coming athletic superstars. HBO has even centered a new show, Ballers, on a former-athlete-turned-investment-counselor (played by Dwayne Johnson) who tries to knock financial sense into athlete clients before their dream jobs turn into nightmare unemployment.
My friend Eric Matthews, a wealth advisor and associate vice president at the Beverly Hills investment firm LourdMurray, represents entertainers and athletes. I asked him if he is seeing a trend of budget-consciousness among his clients, or if the temptation to live large is still too great.
“I think the lure will always be there,” he answered:
I have a rookie wide receiver I am working with now. He got back from rookie camp and already wants to own a big tricked-out SUV in addition to the sports car he wants to buy. He's living on the minimum and isn’t even guaranteed a spot on the roster yet. He wasn't talking like this before rookie camp. Now that he's back I saw the twinkle in his eye for stuff. I have to remind him that he didn't work this hard in high school and college to get to this level in his career to blow it all on cars and trucks. We have to think bigger picture. It is starting to resonate deeper the more time I spend with him, but it takes time and education. There is a whole world for these guys to discover still.
But Matthews does see a greater financial awareness, especially among younger clients:
Millennials and the iGeneration want more transparency. Many want to know where others went wrong. I always tell them that we need to focus on what we can control, and the hard part that a client can control is their behavior. A lack of money discipline is what really hurts guys.

The good news is that many young players are wising up to the foolish and illusory nature of living large and embracing the advantages and stability of frugality. As Eric Matthews told me, “What these young players are realizing is that they don’t need to be the next example of a broke athlete.”
From Acculturated, 8/17/15

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Ronda Rousey Proves ‘Strong is the New Sexy’

For women frustrated by our culture’s intimidating standards of beauty and sexiness epitomized by say, the Victoria’s Secret Angels, the good news is that there is a new feminine body image ideal in town – and it belongs to Ronda Rousey.
It’s been a big summer for the mixed martial arts champ Rousey. In June she appeared in a romantic role playing herself in the Entourage movie. That wasn’t her first film – Rousey had previously appeared on the big screen alongside heavyweight action stars in The Expendables 3 and Furious 7, and is now apparently slated to star in a movie version of her autobiography, My Fight/Your Fight.
Fresh off that Entourage appearance, in July she scored ESPY awards for Best Female Athlete and Best Fighter (in a category that included four male nominees). A few days after that, she put down her trash-talking UFC opponent Bethe Correia in a mere 34 seconds to retain her women’s bantamweight title. That’s par for the course (if I may mix my sports metaphors) for the undefeated Rousey, who routinely forces her opponents into submission in less than the first minute of the first round, and who owns the record for the shortest match (14 seconds) in UFC championship history.
But the most significant and unexpected development came this Tuesday when it was announced that she would be the next model to spice up a Carl’s Jr. burger commercial. The fast-food chain is known for its sexed-up ads featuring barely-clad supermodels dripping hot sauce as they indulge orgasmically in a burger. Previous models have included Jessica Simpson, Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian, Emily Ratajkowski of “Blurred Lines” infamy, Kate Upton, and Charlotte “the new Kate Upton” McKinney – all sex symbols in the traditional vein.
The choice of Rousey signals not only an interesting change of direction for Carl’s Jr., but also an acknowledgement of a new standard for female sexiness. The kickass Rousey is no mere sex kitten. Her intimidating physical power and animal intensity, combined with a disarming grin and wavy blonde mane, are making her the face (and body) of a new kind of sex symbol.
They earned her, for example, the cover of ESPN the Magazine’s The Body Issue 2012, in which she posed discreetly nude, as well as an appearance in the 2015 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. For the latter, the 5’7”, 135-lb. Rousey actually gained weight intentionally – no doubt a first for an SI model – because “at 150 pounds, I feel like I'm at my healthiest and my strongest and my most beautiful.”
She may carry herself with a pantherish confidence now, but in a Cosmopolitan interview last month, Rousey revealed that she once had her own body image issues:
I grew up thinking that because my body type was uncommon [i.e., athletic], it was a bad thing. Now that I'm older, I've really begun to realize that I'm really proud that my body has developed for a purpose and not just to be looked at.
Rousey elaborated on this a little more explicitly when she countered critics recently who called her too “masculine”:
I have this one term for the kind of woman my mother raised me to not be, and I call it a do-nothing b*tch. A DNB. The kind of chick that just tries to be pretty and be taken care of by someone else. That’s why I think it’s hilarious if [someone thinks] my body looks masculine or something like that.
Listen, just because my body was developed for a purpose other than f*cking millionaires doesn’t mean it’s masculine. I think it’s femininely badass as f*ck because there’s not a single muscle on my body that isn’t for a purpose, because I’m not a do-nothing b*tch. It’s not very eloquently said but it’s to the point and maybe that’s just what I am. I’m not that eloquent, but I’m to the point.
Yahoo! Beauty editor Bobbi Brown was bowled over enough by Rousey to call her “the new face of beauty.” In an interview with Rousey, Brown gushed,
I saw this beautiful picture of you and it stopped me because you were in a bathing suit and you have the most beautiful strong body. Before I even knew who you were I said, “Oh my god this is the new face of beauty.”
“We are trying to push strong as the new sexy as much as possible,” Rousey replied.
Indeed, and it’s working. Ronda Rousey and other star athletes like Serena Williams and skier Lindsey Vonn (both of whom Rousey beat out for the ESPY this year) are proving that strength is sexy in men and women. They’re helping to free women from the media’s expectation (demand, really) that their bodies are merely to be looked at. They’re inspiring women to aim for a healthy new ideal. Most women can’t strive to meet the body standard of a genetic lottery winner and professional mannequin like Gisele Bundchen, but they can strive to be strong and purposeful and to adopt a winner’s perseverance. In other words, they can strive, like Ronda Rousey, to be “femininely badass.”
From Acculturated, 8/7/15 

Friday, July 31, 2015

Why We Love ‘American Ninja Warrior’

Two weeks ago NBC’s American Ninja Warrior bested The Bachelorette in the coveted 18–49 ratings demo, after the two raced neck-and-neck all summer. Last Monday night the finale episode pushed The Bachelorette to victory again, but ANW has proven to be the summer’s surprising hit. Its popularity has confounded Slate’s television critic, who asked, “What’s the source of the show’s hypnotic appeal?”
Good question, but Slate offered no answer, except the fascination of “watching dozens of men and women fall off obstacles that could only be dreamed up by a borderline sadistic ringmaster very familiar with the interactions of muscle groups.” But that explanation doesn’t do the show justice.
American Ninja Warrior, now in its seventh season, is the big-budget American version of the Japanese original in which contestants run an insanely demanding obstacle course (even the original version has produced only three winners in 31 seasons.) Currently hosted by commentators Matt Iseman and Akbar Gbaja-Biamila, ANW features amateur (and occasionally professional) athletes taking on a torturous array of physical challenges.
The contestants try to survive increasingly difficult stages of obstacle courses to earn a trip to the finals at “Mount Midoriyama” in Las Vegas where, as Slate pointed out, no competitor has successfully completed even the third of four possible levels.
Some of the extraordinarily demanding challenges require contestants to use only a crossbar to haul themselves up a tall “salmon ladder”; to swing from nunchuks suspended over water; to use only their fingertips to cross a lengthy narrow ledge; to run up a daunting, 14-foot “warped wall”; and to overcome other obstacles that all require superhuman levels of agility, flexibility, grip strength, and most importantly, mental discipline.
But its popularity can be attributed to more than just the expectation of watching people dunked ignominiously in the water underneath each obstacle. First, rather than the staged melodrama and backstabbing of many reality TV competitions, ANW instead emphasizes skill, sportsmanship, and the drive for personal excellence. There are plenty of “guilty pleasure” programs (like The Bachelorette), and an abundance of reality shows that seem to reward bad behavior, but too few that touch viewers in an inspirational, uplifting way. ANW presents mostly ordinary (but extraordinarily disciplined) men and women striving for extraordinary achievements, which compels viewers not only to cheer them on but also to want to give it a go themselves (the number of applicants is up almost ten times from the previous season). Even I was tempted to try out for the show, until I came to my senses.
Second, apart from the astounding physical demands, it features a variety of competitors from all walks of life, from the young (you must be over 21) to the old (the oldest contestant was 72) – whose personal stories and motivations, presented in short profiles, are often very touching. Some, for example, compete in order to serve as good role models for their children, or to honor the memory of a lost loved one. Yes, a one million dollar cash prize awaits the winner, but it is clear that most if not all of the contestants are motivated not primarily by money but by more personal reasons, and by the ambition to earn the Holy Grail title of the first American Ninja Warrior.
Third, the show is devoid of the ugly arrogance evident in too many other reality TV competitions. Instead, the community of ANW athletes exhibits a camaraderie, mutual support, and good sportsmanship that are too often lacking even in professional sports.
Fourth, the show teaches perseverance and how to fail gracefully. Surely it would crush one’s spirit to train hard all year and come so far only to fall short. And yet the contestants rarely react with anything less than momentary disappointment and a smile. They often tell the interviewer immediately afterward that they intend to get back to training and try again next year.
Fifth, ANW is a welcome, family entertainment alternative. I watch the show with my five-year-old and two-year-old daughters; we all find it fun and exciting and even inspirational. Maybe one of them will be the first American Ninja Warrior.
In short, to answer Slate’s question: we love American Ninja Warrior because it ignites in us the desire to be and do our best, to reach higher and achieve more. And that beats a guilty pleasure like The Bachelorette any day.
From Acculturated, 7/30/15

Friday, July 24, 2015

3 Doors Down Singer: Chivalrous Hero or Pathetic ‘White Knight’?

Chivalry may not be dead, but it says quite a bit about the status of its health when a public example of it draws such attention and inspires such polarized responses as one instance did last week.
Alt rock band 3 Doors Down was playing to a full house in Broomfield, Colorado, when something caught frontman Brad Arnold’s eye that incensed him. He abruptly stopped his bandmates in mid-song before addressing someone in the audience near the stage.
“Hey, hey, homie, you don’t hit a woman,” he said angrily as the stunned audience listened. “You just pushed a woman out of the way to get in a fight, you d*ck.” (Arnold later apologized to the crowd for his uncharacteristic profanity.)
When concertgoers realized he was calling out a man for abusing a woman, they erupted in cheers. But Arnold wasn’t done: “Get him the hell out of here,” he ordered security. He then said something else that was lost in the concert noise, before forcefully reminding the man in the audience: “You don't hit a woman, dude.”
The band’s guitarist Chris Henderson shared a video clip of the incident online – it’s been viewed well over 2.5 million times – and later released a statement to E! News, which read,
You see people fight in the crowd all the time. In the past Brad has said for people to calm down and love each other but this was ultra aggressive in our eyes. It was so aggressive that he stopped the show for the first time in 15 years to address it head on with the guy.
The reaction to Brad Arnold’s very public scolding was generally supportive, and rightfully so. After all, he had not only interrupted his own show to come to the defense of a woman who was being roughed up, but he had sent a loud and clear message to everyone in his audience – and to anyone who saw the video clip online or read about it – that it is simply wrong for men, who are generally bigger and stronger, to hit women. “That's why I posted [the video],” Henderson said. “I thought it was chivalry at its best."
But not everyone was impressed by Arnold’s honorable gesture. The commenters beneath online articles about the incident fall into three categories, as they always do when chivalry is the topic: those who cheered the fact that the rumors of chivalry’s death are greatly exaggerated, to paraphrase Mark Twain; egalitarians, both male and female, who assert that no one should hit anyone, man or woman; and those who angrily reject the notion that a man should ever come to the defense of a woman.
That final category includes radical feminists but more often a subset of men’s rights activists who call themselves Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW). It’s impossible to know how large a community they are, but the more disturbingly angry and misogynistic members are becoming increasingly vocal on the internet, and their opposition to chivalry is positively rabid.
For example, one such commenter at snarled about Brad Arnold, “What a pathetic white knight. Such woman protectors like him are the feminist filth that turned the country into the misandrist mess it is now.”
(In MGTOW terminology, the formerly heroic symbol of the “white knight” is now a contemptuous label for “beta males” who treat women with deference and respect. MGTOW blame white knights for aiding and abetting the feminism they so despise for ruining their world.)
That same commenter linked to an internet placard called Hurt Feminism by Doing Nothing, which is not an official MGTOW motto but pretty adequately sums up their attitude toward chivalry:
Don’t Help Women
Don’t Fix Things for Women
Don’t Support Women’s Issues
Don’t Come to Women’s Defense
Don’t Speak for Women
Don’t Value Women’s Feelings
Don’t Portray Women as Victims
Don’t Protect Women.
“Without White Knights,” it concludes, “Feminism Would End Today.”
To give you even more explicit evidence of the attitude of such self-proclaimed “alpha males”: on a Reddit thread about the 3 Doors Down incident, one commenter was even more obscenely incensed by Arnold’s actions than Arnold himself was about the guy he scolded:
Does no one realize sometimes a b*tch deserves it? F*ck these white knight pr*cks. I'm going to go [here he inserts a very colorful expression that describes using a woman for selfish sexual gratification and then dumping her] some slut at a bar this weekend just to balance the karma.
It would be easy to dismiss such viciousness as the bitter ravings of a few internet bullies who can’t get a date, except that these (admittedly extreme) examples are indicative of a broader male frustration, confusion, and resentment about what manhood means today and the role men should play in a world radically changed by feminism. The attitude that “chivalry is nothing but male stupidity,” as one MGTOW commenter asserted, has become tragically all-too-common.
In a culture that has bred such an attitude among too many men, the chivalry that Brad Arnold expressed instinctively is in diminishing supply. It is a quality of character that needs not just celebrating, but cultivating.
From Acculturated, 7/23/15

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Danger of a Pop Culture Presidency

Once upon a time in America, it was believed that the President of the United States should have the gravitas and proper sense of priorities to distance himself from the triviality of showbiz. Then along came television, and Nixon poked fun at himself on Laugh-In, Clinton played blues sax on The Arsenio Hall Show, and Obama slow-jammed the news with Jimmy Fallon. Now anyone who aspires to occupy the White House is expected to show that he or she is just as comfortable hanging with celebs as mingling with heads of state. Welcome to the era of the pop culture presidency.
In his recent book Celebrity in Chief: A History of the Presidents and the Culture of Stardom, presidential historian Kenneth T. Walsh argues that celebrity is an indispensable part of the modern presidency, and that presidents who handle celebrity better are more successful. While what constitutes “successful” is arguable, it’s true that a comfortable engagement with pop culture has become an important selling point for presidential candidates.
Walsh’s book was reviewed recently by Tevi Troy, who traced the interaction (or lack thereof) between our presidents and the pop culture of their time in his own book on the topic, What Jefferson Read, Ike Watched, and Obama Tweeted: 200 Years of Popular Culture in the White House. Pop culture is the most influential arena, Troy notes, in which to connect with the American people – especially the politically coveted younger generations – and for capturing their imaginations. For example,
The most astute presidents of the cinematic era, such as Clinton and Reagan, have understood that movies tell stories about themselves and about the country that can reach voters with no interest in political speeches but who hold great interest in what is taking place on the silver screen.
There is an obvious political advantage for the President or candidate who not only has his finger on the pulse of the culture, but who can manipulate it through the gravitational pull of his own charm and charisma.
Troy believes that presidents who distance themselves from pop culture and focus on reading can show a seriousness of purpose that some voters appreciate. But the truth is that Americans have a healthy suspicion of bookish intellectuals as leaders – and rightly so. Leadership is primarily about vision and charisma, not intellect. Through our history it’s been more important to Americans for our presidents to have the common touch than to be well-read or well-educated, and today that means a president who understands pop culture.
And no president understands it like Barack Obama, a man “shaped by popular culture more thoroughly than any other president in our history,” says Troy. Obama has won two elections in no small measure because of his shrewd understanding of, and what Walsh calls “his constant and unusual” engagement with, pop culture. He chats on late night talk shows, hangs with Jay-Z and BeyoncĂ©, and jets out to Hollywood periodically for fundraisers. He has successfully appropriated the hipness of movie stars and rappers, and raised the bar of presidential cool to heights Bill Clinton could only dream of.
Is that a problem, you might ask? What’s wrong with a President who “gets” young people, who is relatable and cool? In an era in which singer Bono is out there doing the work of a world leader himself, why install some boring old fart in the White House who probably doesn’t even listen to U2?
The harm is not in having a President with personality and a sense of humor, and it’s perfectly understandable that he or she would take advantage of the platforms pop culture offers to reach voters, including the vast swath of the American public that might not otherwise pay attention to politics.
The danger is that a President who takes time out to trade comic barbs with Zack Galifianakis on Funny or Die, or be interviewed by a YouTube star best-known for bathing in Fruit Loops, not only diminishes the dignity of the Presidency but unwisely gives both our allies and our enemies the impression that the American people and the Leader of the Free World are fundamentally unserious.
The danger comes when voters are seduced into the orbit of a leader or candidate not because of his or her character and positions on the issues, but because of a shallow aura of cool.
The danger comes when a President becomes a personality more outsized than the office of the Presidency itself, when he or she not only hangs with celebs, but becomes one.
We live in dangerous times. Nothing would make them worse quite like an American President empowered not by the trust and respect of what Jefferson called an informed electorate, but by a corrupting cult of celebrity.
From Acculturated, 7/20/15

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Introducing Ann Coulter

Just found out I'll be introducing Ann Coulter this Friday at this Horowitz Freedom Center event at the Four Seasons...

Friday, July 10, 2015

Michael Eisner Isn’t Sexist – Internet Vigilantes Are Just Out of Control

Another day, another internet outrage.
Last Thursday Goldie Hawn and Michael Eisner were in conversation onstage at the Aspen Ideas Festival when the former Disney CEO went out on a very precarious limb as he mused about women and comedy:
From my position, the hardest artist to find is a beautiful, funny woman. By far. They usually—boy am I going to get in trouble, I know this goes online—but usually, unbelievably beautiful women, you being an exception, are not funny.
Then he proceeded to saw off the limb he had crawled out on. Hawn responded that she owes her sense of humor to having been an “ugly duckling” growing up, and Eisner countered that “You didn’t think you were beautiful”:
I know women who have been told they're beautiful, they win Miss Arkansas, they don't ever have to get attention other than with their looks. So they don't tell a joke. In the history of the motion-picture business, the number of beautiful, really beautiful women—a Lucille Ball—that are funny, is impossible to find.
He was right, at least about the getting-in-trouble part. Internet umbrage predictably ensued. “Former Disney CEO Michael Eisner Tells Goldie Hawn 'Beautiful Women... Aren't Funny' (And The Internet Explodes),” read a misleading Huffington Post headline. He had accidentally reopened the wounds inflicted back in 2007 by Christopher Hitchens’ Vanity Fair essay, “Why Aren’t Women Funny?” That polemic had inflamed feminist ire at the time, much to the amusement of the gleefully controversial Hitchens, and Eisner had reignited it all over again.
“Whatever possessed Eisner, who is neither funny nor beautiful, to make these inane remarks is unknown,” Vulture sneered. Hypable dismissed Eisner as a desperate dinosaur terrified of change in a “post-patriarchal” world, whose statement “has no place in a civilized, post-invention of fire society.” Slate’s go-to feminist Amanda Marcotte called Eisner a “daft sexist” whose comments were classic “mansplaining” about women. For the final nail in his coffin, she even linked to scientific evidence suggesting that women are just as funny as men.
But Eisner never said they weren’t. There are plenty of examples of real sexism in the entertainment industry that warrant attention without getting lathered up over an imaginary or harmless offense. Eisner wasn’t trying to hold women up to a separate standard. Most comedians – male and female – are not extraordinarily attractive. Certainly there are examples of funny, attractive actresses – maybe even many, depending on how lax your standards are. But extraordinarily attractive and funny? Rare, by definition. Eisner didn’t mention men, because he was talking about women; it was in the context of complimenting Goldie Hawn by elevating her to the level of a Lucille Ball, who is sort of the gold standard of beautiful comediennes. Would it have been more acceptable if Eisner had told Hawn, “There are many, many beautiful comediennes, and you were merely one of them”?
Context is everything when quoting someone, but internet vigilantes often don’t even bother to look past the headline, much less read deeply enough to consider the context. All they needed to get fired up in this instance was Eisner’s comment that in his showbiz experience it is “impossible” to find really beautiful women who are also really funny. Should he have said “impossible”? No, because of course it’s not impossible. But that harmless exaggeration doesn’t warrant hanging him in effigy.
As comedians such as Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, and The Office co-creator Stephen Merchant have complained lately, we as a culture have become boringly prudish and hypersensitive to even the most innocuous violations of politically correct orthodoxy. No public or even private figure can speak casually anymore without risking triggering the tiresome Angry Villagers of the internet, whose torches and pitchforks are always at the ready.
As Jon Ronson notes in So You've Been Publicly Shamed, the internet has engendered “a great renaissance of public shaming… coercive, borderless, and increasing in speed and influence.” It is “like the democratization of justice.” Except that this “justice” is actually the ruthless condemnation of the insatiable mob, for whom every careless phrasing, every off-color joke, every unintended offense is a felony, and the punishment is always personal destruction. Then the mob moves on to the next outrage and the next target.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Should ‘Gone with the Wind’ be Banned?

This Tuesday marked the anniversary of the 1936 publication of Margaret Mitchell’s Civil War-era epic Gone with the Wind, one of the bestselling novels of all time, which also became one of the most beloved movies of all time. But in light of its nostalgic view of Southern slave-owning society, has this classic become a racist relic that must be shunned in our time?
Gone with the Wind has sold tens of millions of copies. Its author Mitchell won the 1937 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and the David O. Selznick-produced film starring Vivien Leigh as tenacious Atlanta belle Scarlett O’Hara and dashing Clark Gable won eight Oscars (out of 13 nominations) and is still the most successful film in box office history (when adjusted for inflation). It was number six on the American Film Institute’s 10th Anniversary Top 100 American Movies of All Time in 2007. Up until a week or so ago, few people would have denied it that celebrated place in history and in the hearts of movie lovers everywhere.
But that was before the shocking massacre of nine members of an historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, at the hands of a white supremacist. In the wake of that atrocity, public revulsion for the Confederate battle flag, with which the murderer had posed in personal photos, led to hysteria about banishing that symbol of American slavery from view – no matter where or in what context it was found.
Not only were there calls to remove it from government building flagpoles across the South, but Amazon, eBay, and retailers from Sears to Walmart banned merchandise with its image. Apple withdrew historical video games and apps featuring the image from circulation. Even more irrationally, TV Land pulled reruns of The Dukes of Hazzard from its lineup, and the replica iconic car from that 1980s show, with a Confederate symbol on its hood, will no longer be sold.
The rush to put a “banned-aid” on America’s re-opened racial wounds didn’t end there. The New York Post’s Lou Lumenick wrote an op-ed last week titled, “‘Gone with the Wind’ should go the way of the Confederate flag,” in which he argued that,
If the Confederate flag is finally going to be consigned to museums as an ugly symbol of racism, what about the beloved film offering the most iconic glimpse of that flag in American culture?
While not “as blatantly and virulently racist as D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation,’’ Lumenick wrote, Gone with the Wind’s “more subtle racism’’ is even “more insidious,” romanticizing as the movie does the institution of slavery, and painting the Civil War as a noble lost cause.
Lumenick acknowledges the great qualities about GWTW, including “its gorgeous Technicolor photography and its unforgettable performances” not only by Leigh and Gable but by Hattie McDaniel, the first black performer to win an Oscar. But he wonders, “[W]hat does it say about us as a nation if we continue to embrace a movie that, in the final analysis, stands for many of the same things as the Confederate flag..?”
While not calling for an outright ban on the film, he concludes that this “undeniably racist artifact” should be consigned to the dust heap of history along with the Confederate flag. I’m reminded of efforts to do the same with the novels of Mark Twain because they feature characters who casually use the N-word, which was in common use at the time but which virtually everyone but the rap industry and marginalized pockets of white trash finds abhorrent today.
Thankfully, Lumenick’s argument and such extreme examples of excising the Confederate battle flag from history were met largely with cries of disapproval, and even with accusations that they resembled Orwellian-style revisions of history.
History is what it is – or rather, what it was. We cannot change it, obviously, but neither should we deny it, rewrite it, or delete “unacceptable” aspects of it from our cultural consciousness. Even as just a symbolic response, condemning educational Civil War games, The Dukes of Hazzard, and Gone with the Wind in response to the Charleston shooting was a childish and pointless gesture.
This is not to say that each of us shouldn’t be allowed to make our own moral judgments of art, as well as aesthetic ones. But there is a danger in banishing works of art of which ruling elites have capriciously declared that we should no longer approve. We must have the sense and sensibility to recognize that historical novels or movies are born of their time and place.
To expect works of art to conform to politically correct sensibilities, and to remove them from sight when they do not, is a cowardly and even totalitarian act which also exposes a fear and incomprehension of art. To allow shifting socio-political blind spots to obscure our vision leaves us all less enlightened about not only the past, but ourselves.
From Acculturated, 7/2/15 

Monday, June 29, 2015

‘Ballers’ is the Anti-‘Entourage’

Prior to the premiere of HBO’s Ballers last Sunday, the new show was being touted everywhere as “Entourage with football players” instead of movie stars. And there certainly are superficial similarities: superstars and their hangers-on, glamorous clubs, and an easy abundance of babes, money, and drugs – not to mention the same team of producers and filmmakers (Mark Wahlberg and Stephen Levinson) behind both series. But on a more substantial level, the two shows are in stark contrast to one another.
While Entourage features an ensemble of leads, Ballers centers on big-screen action star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Spencer Strasmore, a former pro football “Golden Boy” whose promising career was sidelined early by an injury that shattered not just his knees but his dream of sports glory. Now munching painkillers like Tic Tacs, Spence is trying to move forward with his life as an investment counselor, working for a very unsentimental boss played by the scenery-chewing Rob Corddry, who is constantly pressuring Spence to “monetize his friendships.”
In Entourage, Vince and his boys are living the dream – or at least, working toward it. In Ballers, Spence’s dream is already over. In the pilot’s opening scene, for example, Spence literally dreams that he’s back on the field, the roar of the crowd in his ears – and then his eyes snap open to hard reality.
That reality requires him, as an investment counselor, to try to knock some maturity into other players who are still living the dream but are too shortsighted and immature to grasp that one day – any day – theirs too will be over, leaving them forgotten, unemployed, and without any job skills. Much of the tension in the show stems from Spence’s efforts to instill in these players the need to live with more thrift, common sense, and thoughtfulness about their futures.
The half-hour pilot is loaded with examples of such players with too much money and too little sense. An NFL superstar crashes his Maserati with his mistress inside, killing them both and leaving none of his assets to his wife. A rookie player has already spent his $12 million signing bonus and needs to borrow three hundred grand from Spence to keep his hangers-on – some of whom he doesn’t even know – afloat. One former player whose life no longer has any purpose is reduced to applying for work at a car dealership, where he isn’t even remembered as a player. Hot shot wide receiver Ricky, played by Denzel Washington’s son John David, is an impulsive bad boy whose behavior is ruining his all-star career. All in all, a rather unsettling premiere for a show ostensibly categorized as a comedy in the vein of the lighthearted Entourage.
In a quiet monologue that shows the charismatic Johnson has real acting chops and is more than just a million-dollar smile, Spence tells the arrogant young Ricky,
You better wise the f*ck up, ‘cause you got one contract left and when it’s done you’ll be out on the streets with the rest of us. You keep f*cking up like this, you keep acting like a little kid, when it’s done – and you’re done – you’re gonna be broke and miserable.
“And you wanna know what the worst part about it is?” Spence continues. “Nobody will give a f*ck about you. I been there.” He pauses and sighs, and you do indeed believe that Spence has been there. “You need to grow up.” The twist is – minor spoiler alert – Spence himself is still learning that lesson. The $300,000 he loans to the rookie he wants to sign as a client leaves Spence himself broke.
In future episodes things may change, including the tone, which is only occasionally and mildly humorous. But so far Ballers is getting mixed reviews because it isn’t quite the amusing, hedonistic joyride fans of Entourage were expecting. In fact, Ballers is the anti-Entourage. It’s not about living the dream; it’s about waking up and growing up before the dream becomes a nightmare of purposelessness and wasted lives. And in that important respect, Ballers may surprise its critics with real depth, and may disappoint those looking only for an Entourage-style fantasy.
That’s a good thing.
(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 6/25/15)

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Everything You Know About the World Comes from Movies

Premiering this Friday is The Wolfpack, a documentary about six brothers who grew up almost entirely isolated from the world in a Lower East Side apartment in New York City. Most of what the Angulo boys did know of life beyond those walls came from the family’s collection of thousands of VHS tapes and DVDs. Their real lives were strictly circumscribed by a father who feared the city’s crime and corrupting influence, but “as far as movies went,” said one of the boys, “we had all the freedom in the world.”
So movies became their world — or at least, the world as filtered through the lenses of visionaries like Quentin Tarantino, Terrence Malick, Francis Ford Coppola and Christopher Nolan. The brothers, now ages 16 to 23, became passionate movie lovers and even made home movies in which they re-created scenes from favorites like Reservoir DogsPulp Fiction and The Dark Knight. Now two of the boys are starting their own film production company, Wolfpack Pictures. The documentary explores what happens when our worldview is shaped entirely by the dreamscape, the larger-than-life characters, the self-consciously crafted dialogue, and the soundtrack of film.
But in fact, Americans today aren’t much different from that “wolfpack,” as the Angulo brothers were nicknamed. In the last hundred years, Hollywood has increasingly served as our teacher. Yes, unlike the sheltered Angulo brothers, we all have our own personal experiences of the world beyond the big screen, but most of us aren’t aware of the extent to which movies have become our shared experiences, and have molded our cultural worldview.
We largely get our history through movies, for example: from Birth of a Nation to Selma, from Spartacus to Lincoln, from Lawrence of Arabia to Argo, our understanding of the past resembles less of what we may have read (or more likely haven’t read) than of what we have seen and heard onscreen. Biopics like Ali, Ray, and The Aviator change the way we perceive famous figures – and the way we literally see them. When asked to picture General George Patton, for example, it’s difficult not to see George C. Scott, or to imagine Elizabeth Taylor when we think of Cleopatra.
The problem with this is that movies are more myth than truth. Historical dramas, for example, are rarely accurate except in the broad strokes, and sometimes not even then. This is not to say that filmmakers are purposefully rewriting the past (although many are); it’s just that screenwriters inescapably have to reshape history to fit the structure and dramatic arcs of effective storytelling.
As a result, a decent amount of what we see onscreen is made up or perhaps even contradicts the historical truth. And studies have shown that unless viewers are told specifically which elements of an historical flick are not factual, they tend to absorb the false equally with the true. This is why film makes such successful propaganda – more so than any other art form. “For us,” Lenin once said of his Communist brethren, “cinema is the most important of the arts.” He didn’t mean aesthetically, of course; he was referring to its indoctrinating power.
More than any other art form, movies now bind us together culturally. Hollywood is democratizing all culture into pop culture. The touchstones of Shakespeare, the Bible, and Mark Twain are gradually being replaced by our shared references from Star Wars, The Godfather, and Titanic. Even on a personal level, people will claim that they understand movies are not real life, but in fact, we often internalize scenes from them more deeply than our own memories.
Twenty-five hundred years ago Plato told his allegory of the cave, in which people are like lifelong prisoners chained in a cavern, facing a blank wall. Their reality consists entirely of blurred shadows that dance on the wall, projected by things passing in front of a fire behind the prisoners. Plato argued that only the philosopher understands that these dim shadows are not the true, vivid forms of reality. Not too unlike his prisoners and the Angulo brothers, we have grown up with a fading ability to distinguish the forms dancing on cinema screens from the real world.
(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 6/18/15)