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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Chris Rock: College Audiences Are Too PC

The college circuit used to be where many newer, edgier comedians built their audience and reputation, and where some established comedians remained relevant by connecting with a new crop of fans. But in recent years those fans seem to have traded their funny bones for a very humorless hypersensitivity toward the feelings of others.

In a recent, wide-ranging Vulture interview, comedian Chris Rock was asked for his thoughts on the controversy back in October about talk show host and comedian Bill Maher speaking at UC Berkeley’s commencement. Ironically, considering that this is the 50th anniversary year of the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley, students disinvited Maher over remarks he had made about Islam that some found “racist and bigoted.”

Curiously, it was the university that stepped up in support of free speech over student objections; the administration reinstated Maher’s invitation, asserting in a statement that it fully respects and supports Maher’s right to express his opinions and does not intend to “shy away from hosting speakers who some deem provocative.”

“Well, I love Bill,” Rock answered, “but I stopped playing colleges, and the reason is because they’re way too conservative.” Politically conservative, the interviewer asked? Rock’s response says a great deal about the current state of American youth in higher education:

Not in their political views — not like they’re voting Republican — but in their social views and their willingness not to offend anybody. Kids raised on a culture of “We’re not going to keep score in the game because we don’t want anybody to lose.” Or just ignoring race to a fault. You can’t say “the black kid over there.” No, it’s “the guy with the red shoes.” You can’t even be offensive on your way to being inoffensive.

Maher wasn’t the only commencement speaker this year to have been confronted by politically correct sensibilities: Condoleezza Rice at Rutgers University, International Monetary Fund head Christine Lagarde at Smith College and former UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau at Haverford College were all successfully shut down. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, women’s rights proponent and fierce critic of Islam, was denied an honorary degree at Brandeis for similar reasons.

Political correctness, Chris Rock said, is “stronger than ever.” The atmosphere on today’s campuses is that of intolerance of anyone and anything that could conceivably give offense, that challenges students’ biases and makes them feel uncomfortable. Thanks to the comforting embrace of Orwellian speech codes, safe spaces, and trigger warnings, too many young people place a high priority on the protection of their feelings and beliefs. They’re wary of testing received wisdom and expanding their horizons, and they cling to favored illusions while wrapping themselves in the force-field of victim status. The result is a reflexive sensitivity that renders the comedy routine of someone like Rock completely toothless and pointless; hence, no more college tours.

Rock told his Vulture interviewer that he began to notice this dismal state of affairs “about eight years ago. Probably a couple of tours ago. It was just like, This is not as much fun as it used to be. I remember talking to George Carlin before he died [in 2008] and him saying the exact same thing.”

Carlin, of course, was an uncompromising champion for free speech. “Political correctness is America’s newest form of intolerance,” Carlin once complained,” and it’s especially pernicious because it comes disguised as tolerance.” He was surprised by the censorship from “the politically correct people on the campuses,” and groused about the tortured, evasive wording forced upon everyone by the “Political Language Police” in a misguided attempt to avoid being judgmental. “Politically correct language cripples discourse, creates ugly language, and is generally stupid,” he declared.

Universities exist – in theory, anyway – to open up students’ minds, not circumscribe them. But political correctness is so much the “new normal” that the students themselves have become their own intellectual jailers. It may take another couple of generations of hard work to dismantle that and reopen the American mind. Too bad Chris Rock abandoned that field, because comedy is a uniquely powerful tool for challenging one’s perspective and saying what cannot be said.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 12/15/14)

Monday, December 15, 2014

New Bond Girl is a Bond Woman

Late last week the producers of the Bond blockbusters officially announced the title (Spectre) and cast of the 24th installment of the franchise, including the return of Daniel Craig as Bond, James Bond. But all the buzz about the announcement has been centered not on Bond himself, but on the newest – or rather, the oldest – Bond girl.

Fifty-year-old Italian actress Monica Bellucci has just made history as the oldest Bond girl in 50 years of Bond movies. This smashes the record held by Goldfinger’s Honor Blackman, who was 39 when she played Pussy Galore back in 1964. The gorgeous model-turned-actress Bellucci is older than even Bond himself – Craig is 46 – which has happened on only a couple of previous occasions through the decades. The Washington Post, which actually charted the ages of the Bonds and their women throughout the franchise’s history, proclaimed that “James Bond finally falls for a woman his own age.”

Bellucci has had a brush with Bond girlhood before: she nearly got the role in 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies that ultimately went to Teri Hatcher. At the time, she was already a star in Europe but it was before her leading role in Malena, which brought her greater attention in America. She went on to appear in Hollywood films like Tears of the Sun opposite Bruce Willis, the Matrix films, and Passion of the Christ, in addition to a boatload of productions in Europe, where the glamorous Bellucci is a household name.

Not everyone in the media applauded the inspired and well-deserved casting of Bellucci. In the dismissively-titled “‘Spectre’ Casts 50-Year-Old Bond Girl For 007 to Do Sex To,” The Daily Beast’s Amy Zimmerman complained that “the Bond series still has a long ways to go if it wants a cookie for being feminist-friendly.”

But why should Bond be feminist-friendly? That’s not his style. Audiences for five decades have enjoyed his unapologetically masculine swagger, wry quips, stylish menswear, and sleek sports cars. As Monica Bellucci said: “James Bond is our fantasy – the ideal man. The man is a protector, he is dangerous, mysterious and sexy, and a perfect English gentleman” – i.e., not feminist-friendly.

As for the women: yes, they’re archaically called Bond “girls” but there isn’t a single actress in Hollywood who wouldn’t leap at the opportunity to play one. And why wouldn’t they? Bond girls are strong, fun, independent characters with professions that have included spy, assassin, nuclear scientist, and oil heiress. They kick ass and look sexy doing it. Sometimes they kick even Bond’s ass. Sometimes they’re deliciously evil, sometimes good, and Bond doesn’t always have sex with them – like Olga Kurylenko, Craig’s Quantum of Solace costar.

Sure, sometimes (mostly in the earlier films) they’re sexual diversions, but sometimes Bond actually falls in love with them, like Eva Green in Casino Royale. He even resigned from the Service in order to build a future with Green’s character – until she betrayed him and died, leaving him emotionally scarred for the next two films. Would it have been more feminist-friendly had he married her and they lived happily ever after? Considering how radical feminists feel about heterosexual marriage, probably not. Would audiences have embraced a softer, domesticated, monogamous Bond? Almost certainly not. So the love interest must die so that the iconic Bond we know and love can go on.

Zimmerman’s kneejerk condemnation of the films for their perceived sexism comes apart in the details. For example, she mentions that Naomie Harris’ character in Skyfall is demoted from field agent to Bond’s “devoted” secretary – “not exactly a Lean In-approved take on the modern corporate world.” But Harris’ character wasn’t demoted – she had the full confidence of her superiors but took herself out of the field because she decided being a field agent wasn’t for her. And she didn’t become Bond’s “glorified secretary-cum-booty call” – she is the secretary for M, the head of the British Secret Service and Bond’s boss (who for seven films was played by Dame Judi Dench – a feminist-friendly aspect that Zimmerman neglected to consider).

By the way, Naomie Harris is 38, nearly breaking Honor Blackman’s record herself. So at an age at which most actresses are panicking about narrowing opportunities for roles, Bond “girls” can still be sexy, smart, stylish, and lethal when they need to be. What woman doesn’t aspire to that?

James Bond films are more successful than ever at 50 years old because they’re sexy, fun, action-packed, over-the-top escapism starring a man’s man who has been one of the world’s favorite fictional characters since Ian Fleming’s novels first appeared in the ‘50s. They’re not meant to be taken too seriously – but at the same time, they’re more feminist-forward than the killjoys give them credit for.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 12/11/14

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Victoria’s Secret is Sexy, not Sexist

It’s that time of year again. Christmas, yes, but I’m referring to the annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, which won’t air until December 9 but is already being greeted by the predictable tut-tutting from those who wrongly conflate “sexy” with “sexist.”

The extravagant show was actually staged last Tuesday in London. Irked by the “tawdry caravan” of lean-limbed, wild-maned, high-heeled, spray-tanned Victoria’s Secret Angels, the UK Daily Mail’s Sarah Vine lit into the dazzling celebration of genetic perfection, asking, “How did 50 years of feminism end in this?

It’s not looking feminine per se to which Vine objects – she concedes that “it is perfectly possible to make it in a man’s world without looking like one” – but she draws the line at what she repeatedly called Victoria’s Secret’s trashiness. “The brand’s website looks like a soft porn magazine,” she complains. “I imagine it gets a lot of traffic from teenage boys. Like most cheap and tacky things these days… it’s annoyingly successful.”

But it’s not successful because of teenage boys; it’s not successful even because of men, since men generally don’t buy lingerie for their partners. Victoria’s Secret raked in $6.6 billion in 2013 and controls 35% of America’s lingerie market because women want to feel sexy and desirable, because pretty lingerie helps them feel that way, and because VS works that angle spectacularly well. Even the models are chosen, according to VS, to appeal to its female customers, not to men.

This is precisely what disturbs Vine – that VS has convinced women that they are wearing its products because they want to, not because “they are expected to.” This doesn’t give VS’ customers much credit for making up their own minds. But Vine and many others like her are further troubled by what they see as the objectification of women by Victoria’s Secret, which is “a world where how you look doesn’t just matter; it’s the only thing that matters”:

No other quality is required. Forget kindness or intelligence: can you or can you not get into this see-through lace body? And if not, why not? A degree in astrophysics? Don’t be ridiculous, woman. What you need is a rhinestone thong… It makes a mockery of everything that modern women stand for — and invites us to be complicit in our downfall.

That is really going too far. VS sells lingerie, so naturally the focus is on the female body and on sexiness. Objectors like Vine who take such umbrage at VS are confusing sexy with sexist. Sexiness is not oppression or even objectification. It and other qualities like kindness or intelligence are not mutually exclusive; in fact, more often than not, sexiness blooms out of a woman’s other qualities, and the lingerie is just the icing on the cake. Is Vine saying that a woman who indulges her sexy side with a rhinestone thong can’t also be kind and intelligent? Victoria’s Secret may be about seduction, but it is not seducing women away from pursuing that degree in astrophysics.

As for Vine’s accusation that VS’ models promote an idealized standard for women’s bodies: of course they do. The models who look fabulous on the runway and in the famous VS catalog serve as inspiration for women who want to envision their idealized selves in sexy undies. If VS marched a parade of frumps down the runway instead, the show wouldn’t capture 9.3 million viewers, and women would look elsewhere for attractive lingerie.

I do grant one point of Vine’s argument. She notes that Victoria’s Secret’s parent company L Brands recently launched Pink, “aimed fairly and squarely at the teen market.” She worries that there is “a real danger” of the younger generation being sexualized before their time. As the father of two little girls, I too have my concerns about age-appropriateness and think VS should be careful about grooming girls to become customers too young.

Despite all the skin on titillating display, the annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show that Sarah Vine derides as “trashy costumes, echoes of strippers and sleazy nightclubs, nudity and downright lecherousness” is not quite as Bacchanalian as all that. It’s simply a fun, glitzy, and yes, sexy pop culture event. The show doesn’t crudely demean or limit women; it simply celebrates their sexiness. Even astrophysicists don’t want to be cerebral all the time.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 12/8/14)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

WaPo: Believe Rape Accusations Even if They’re False

As the shocking allegations of a fraternity party gang rape at the University of Virginia come unraveled, progressives whose cause is to condemn America for a so-called “rape culture” have chosen to double down in defense of the apparent falsehood. The Washington Post even ran an astoundingly un-American piece that suggests we should believe rape accusations, regardless of whether they are true.

Rolling Stone, the music and politics magazine that can stay relevant only by sexualizing everyone (including terrorists – remember its dreamy cover photo of Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev?), broke the lurid story only to have it fall apart thanks to unconscionably sloppy journalism. But progressives cannot let the truth get in the way of the agenda, so Zerlina Maxwell rushed to fill the breach with the aforementioned WaPo piece initially entitled “No matter what Jackie said, we should automatically believe rape claims” (“Jackie” is the victim’s pseudonym).

The thrust of Maxwell’s piece is that “the costs of wrongly disbelieving a survivor far outweigh the costs of calling someone a rapist.” She begins by saying that many people

will be tempted to see [the collapse of the UofV gang-rape allegation] as a reminder that officials, reporters and the general public should hear both sides of the story and collect all the evidence before coming to a conclusion in rape cases. This is what we mean in America when we say someone is “innocent until proven guilty.” After all, look what happened to the Duke lacrosse players.

Exactly – look at what happened to them. But then she goes on to reject that reasonable restraint: “In important ways,” she wrote, “this is wrong. We should believe, as a matter of default, what an accuser says” [emphasis added] – after all, false accusations are “exceedingly rare,” she claims. But then she quotes an FBI statistic that 2-8% of allegations are false; that is not “exceedingly rare.”

In any case, it wouldn’t matter if the figure were only 1% - in this country we don’t suspend the presumption of innocence just “to offer our hand of support to survivors.” Maxwell disagrees: “The time we spend picking apart a traumatized survivor’s narration on the hunt for discrepancies is time that should be spent punishing serial rapists.”

It should go without saying, especially to someone with a law degree like Maxwell, that we shouldn’t be “punishing serial rapists” if they haven’t yet been proven to be serial rapists. She has created a false choice between believing and disbelieving the accused. It is not the job of law enforcement to believe or disbelieve a victim’s story; it is their job to determine if a crime has been committed, to investigate it, to examine the evidence, and then to act accordingly. Maxwell wants to reverse that process; too bad if the accusation falls apart under later scrutiny.

And what of the man she’s willing to falsely if temporarily accuse of the ugly crime of rape? Well, he would have “a rough period” for the duration of the investigation, Maxwell generously concedes. For example, he might lose some Facebook friends – yes, she actually wrote that. But when his name is cleared everything will return to normal. Certainly no one would suggest that a real rape victim’s trauma is not significant, but Maxwell is willfully ignoring the damage done to a man falsely smeared as a sexual predator.

Her op-ed was so stunningly and self-evidently wrong that it incurred a wave of Twitter wrath and negative comments, resulting in either Maxwell or the WaPo editors backing off and replacing “automatically” in the headline with “generally,” which is little improvement.

“Democratic strategist” Maxwell is of the school of thought, and I use that word loosely, that we live in a rape culture and if only we taught men not to rape, then women would be relieved of the burden of having to protect themselves from it (“strategist,” by the way, is the title given to someone has no official authority or function except to serve as a media mouthpiece for talking points).

Rape culture is the theory that sexual assault becomes normalized when a culture condones the objectification and trivialization of women. Radical feminists have managed to push the term to the forefront of our conversations about the sexes today, promoting the ugly notion that all men are literal or latent rapists who need to be deprogrammed out of their acculturated misogyny.

As I’ve written before for FrontPage, America doesn’t have a rape culture any more than we have a murder culture. We have a culture that considers both to be heinous violent crimes. We have a culture so unforgiving of rape that even false accusations of it ruin men’s lives. We don’t “teach” men to rape, and the vast majority of American males would never even consider such a depraved act.

According to 2013 Bureau of Justice statistics, the estimated annual rate of female rape or sexual assault victimizations in this country declined 58% from 1995 to 2010. To cite this is absolutely not to trivialize the terrible violation that is rape; it is not to suggest that anything more than zero sexual assaults is acceptable; and it is not to encourage complacency. It is only to emphasize that not only are we not enmeshed in a rape culture, but things seem to be improving significantly.

However, there are violent deviants who will and do rape, and the world will never rid itself of that evil minority. That’s just reality, but it’s not the utopian reality that progressives insist upon. To believe that we can simply teach that rape is unconscionable – which we already do – and that the crime will then disappear is a childish and useless utopian fantasy.

When a pregnant teenager in the Sudan faces death by stoning for being gang-raped, that is a rape culture. But a privileged Western woman like Zerlina Maxwell is insanely focused on smearing innocent men in order to peddle the myth that American culture is little better.

(This article originally appeared here on FrontPage Mag, 12/8/14

Dept. of Ed. Supports Classroom Memorials to Michael Brown

If you are mystified as to why the left strives so hard to make martyrs out of such unlikely role models as Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin, both killed in self-defense, just keep in mind Rahm Emanuel’s credo: “Never let a serious crisis go to waste.”

Within days of the shooting of Brown in August, a “Professor of Science and Education” named Christopher Emdin posted (and then updated in October) a piece for Huffington Post entitled “5 Ways to Teach About Michael Brown and Ferguson in the New School Year.” That article was given new life when a link to it was tweeted by the White House Am-Af Ed just after Thanksgiving. It included the acronym for “in case you missed it” – indicating that the administration thought the article’s content important and valid enough to bring to people’s attention once again.

What is Am-Af Ed? It is the U.S. Department of Education’s Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, an Obama creation designed to improve educational opportunities for blacks in America. But of course, educational excellence doesn’t mean the same thing to the Alinsky protégés in the White House as it does to most Americans. To the radical left, education is about mobilizing, galvanizing, and deploying armies of social justice warriors.

The Am-Af Ed tweet also included Twitter links to: left-leaning PBS; Teaching for Change, whose motto is “Building Social Justice Starting in the Classroom”; and Rethinking Schools, whose mission is “social justice teaching and education activism… to build broad democratic movements for social and environmental justice.” See a pattern developing there?

Teaching for Change devotes an entire page to “Teaching About Ferguson” to help indoctrinators – I mean, educators – enable students to “be proactive in their own communities” – because apparently it’s less important to give students of color an education than it is to pump them up for community action. The page is replete with items about the history of racism in America, along with positive references to Malcolm X, radical historian Howard Zinn, and the Black Panthers. That would be the same Black Panthers whose recent plot to bomb the Gateway Arch and murder the Ferguson police chief and a St. Louis prosecutor was stalled because the racist thugs ran out of EBT credit. What a standard for academic excellence they set.

Emdin’s Huffington Post piece urges that educators “set the appropriate tone for the school year” by focusing on “events and issues that mean something to students,” especially “youth of color” – by which he means the Michael Brown shooting and what he calls “the recent events in Ferguson.” Those “events” now have expanded beyond Ferguson and include rioting, burning, looting, and murdering, and the harassment of Christmas-caroling children for good measure. It is “imperative that teachers find a way to bring this issue into the classroom,” he writes, otherwise “we are loosing [sic] opportunities to make powerful connections” – because successful community organizing depends on ramping up racial grievances and victimhood. Never mind the powerful connections that a good education would instill in students’ minds.

His 5 steps to not letting this crisis go to waste begin with asking students what they have heard or know about Brown and Ferguson. From there the indoctrinators – oops, there I go again – are to connect the Brown shooting to other, similar controversial black deaths such as those of Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner, to make students “more sociopolitically aware” and to develop “emotional awareness, empathy, and other skills necessary to be informed citizens.” Actually, emotional awareness, whatever that is, and empathy are unnecessary to be an informed citizen; they are, however, necessary in order for youth to be manipulated by progressive race-mongers into believing that feeling trumps facts.

Third, Emdin recommends that students “write letters to all those who are involved in the shooting. This includes politicians, police officers, the families of victims of the violence, and even the deceased.” This apparently helps “students lean [sic] how to write while conveying emotion” – because again, emphasizing emotion is a critical element in community organizing. And while the students devote all this time to writing emotionally-charged letters to everyone involved in a case in which the evidence supports the white officer’s story and demolishes the racially self-serving lies initially spread about the shooting, the rest of their education languishes on the sidelines.

Emdin’s fourth proposal would ordinarily beggar belief, except that by now, nothing that emerges from leftist propagandizing in the American educational system should surprise anyone. He recommends that students create a memorial to Brown on a classroom bulletin board, to “honor Michael Brown and other people who have been victims of police and other violence.” That’s an actual memorial to a man who initiated violence against a cop after strong-arming a local storekeeper in the commission of a crime. That is the man that Emdin and the Department of Education want to hold up as an inspiration to youth of color. This, Emdin claims, helps teachers to “form classroom solidarity” [emphasis added] – because classroom solidarity, and not the development of individual critical thinking skills, is crucial to “rethinking schools.”

Finally, Emdin wants teachers to “carry the theme for the rest of the year” to get the students “beyond meaningless assignments like writing and talking about what they did over the summer... [They] begin to see the classroom as a space where the teaching affects real life, and where assignments have meaning” – because without the transformative goal of racial payback and social justice, readin’, writin’, and ‘rithmetic obviously have no real life applications.

Are such recommendations really ways in which Af-Am Ed intends to produce educational excellence in students of color? For all of Christopher Emdin’s lip service to the “critical thinking skills” he claims his plan promotes, it will produce not academic excellence but more dumbed-down youth animated by racial anger – just the way the Alinsky protégés want it.

(This article originally appeared here on FrontPage Mag, 12/5/14

Beyoncé Stands with Rioters in New Video

Just in time to add fuel to the Ferguson fire, superstar singer Beyoncé has re-released a video for her dirge-like, 2013 single “Superpower,” in which she makes rioting against law enforcement look hip and romantic.

The overlong video opens with an image of the Black Power fist – a hint of things to come. Then the camera finds Beyoncé striding in super slo-mo down a stretch of urban Los Angeles devastation in a flesh-baring outfit that is difficult to describe; suffice it to say that, like too much fashion today, it is runway-fabulous but no one would wear it outside of a Beyoncé video. The salient point is that her getup inexplicably pairs this semi-nudity with a niqab, which she draws up over her face, exposing only her eyes.

This apparently displeased some Muslims. Twitter lit up with complaints such as, “Dear Beyoncé: Do you think you’re going to get away with wearing a version of Islamic head-dress, niqab, while promoting your Demonic music?” Another tweet: “Quoting our holy Quran and dressing in a niqab isn’t a fashion statement you dumb beyonce.” In the video’s context, it’s possible that Beyoncé intended for the look to be more Occupy Wall Street than Islamic. Or perhaps she was wearing a niqab to make Muslim head coverings sexier and more culturally acceptable. If so, it failed to convince at least one feminist, who lashed out on Twitter: “Sorry, Beyonce. Probably not in the best interest for women’s rights to make the niqab fashionable. Just sayin’.”

Back to the video. Beyoncé is gradually joined by a growing crowd of chic, wannabe revolutionaries sporting edgy hairstyles and clothing that looks like a privileged designer’s ridiculous fantasy of how urban youth dress. Some of them conceal their identities with gas masks and scarves, Occupy-style, because they know they’re about to commit crimes.

The dirge drags on as Beyoncé pouts, scowls, and growls. Her mob smashes car windows with baseball bats, hurls Molotov cocktails, and burns cop cars while Beyoncé sings: “The laws of the world never stopped us once/’Cause together we got plenty super power.” Except for the music and the ultrachic posturing, it suggests the real-life “sensitive urban zones” of Paris, where immigrant “youth” go on nightly, car-immolating rampages and challenge the police in territorial skirmishes.

As the song draws mercifully to a close, the privileged Beyoncé – having peeled off the niqab and donned a camouflage jacket that costs probably $3000 – faces off with her defiant, multicultural mob of chiseled cheekbones against a line of cops in riot gear. She stands next to a man in a balaclava reminiscent of her niqab. The two of them clasp hands Thelma and Louise-style in anticipation of the confrontation to come. The message: rioting, property destruction, anarchy, and attacking cops are cool – and nothing influences youth more than the aura of cool.

Who cares, you ask? She’s just another left-leaning celebrity exposing her own political ignorance. Why is her video important? It’s important because Beyoncé is arguably the biggest entertainer in the world now. With over 118 million albums sold, she is the top artist of the 2000s, with 17 Grammy awards, a Golden Globe nomination, and untold millions of fans worldwide. Her pop culture influence is incalculable, and pop culture – not politics – is where the progressive control takes root. When Beyoncé weighs in on an issue like the Ferguson tinderbox, her fans absorb the message and pump their fists along with her.

The video was actually first released last December, long before the August 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson. Why would Beyoncé believe that this is an appropriate time to put it back in the public eye?

Keep in mind that she is married to rapper Jay-Z, who has none of Beyoncé’s talent but all of her racial supremacism and political radicalism.* His song lyrics are replete with profanity, racial slurs, misogyny, glorification of violence, and expressions of racial grievance – not to mention anti-police hatred. “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” boasts of giving “a middle finger to the law.” A music video titled “No Church in the Wild,” which “Superpower” resembles, celebrates anarchy and depicts police trying to quell a violent riot. And “99 Problems” features a verse about blacks being racially profiled by the “motherfu**ing law.” In 2009 he released a song in honor of the newly-elected Obama entitled “My President is Black” (imagine if a country singer back in 2005 had performed a song called “My President is White”). The massively wealthy Jay-Z (he and his wife have a net worth of $1 billion) has also been a supporter, or at least an exploiter, of the Occupy movement.

The two are arguably Obama’s closest, and certainly most famous, friends in the entertainment industry. MTV even described their relationship with the President as “a mutual affection society” and Jay-Z’s friendship with him a “bromance.” In September 2012, Jay-Z and Beyoncé hosted a $40,000-per-person fundraising reception which took in more than $4 million for Obama’s re-election campaign. Subsequently the dynamic duo were given State Department permission for a grand, whitewashed tour of the Communist utopia in Cuba, where Jay-Z appeared wearing a Ché T-shirt (in solidarity with a murdering coward who held musicians and blacks in contempt).

Music entertainers have a long tradition of anti-establishment, anti-authoritarian lyrics aimed at a rebellious youth audience. I don’t expect Beyoncé to come out with a pro-police anthem or an ode to Darren Wilson. But to re-release a video that openly advocates violent conflict with the police at this time of heightened tension between blacks and law enforcement is irresponsible at best, and incitement to violence at worst. The fact that Beyoncé is so closely linked to the President of the United States makes it all the more unconscionable, albeit unsurprising, since the “post-racial” Obama, who urged protesters to “stay the course,” hasn’t lifted a finger to quell the violent animus over Ferguson.

* Some of what followed was excerpted and paraphrased from the Horowitz Freedom Center’s Discover the Networks resource site about Jay-Z.

(This article originally appeared here on FrontPage Mag, 12/4/14)

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Benjamin Watson’s Wisdom About Ferguson

Amid all the dark news from Ferguson last week, my Acculturated colleague Chelsea Samuelson still managed to find “rays of light and hope” emanating from the rioting. Another bit of inspirational positivity came in the unexpected form of a viral Facebook post from New Orleans Saints tight end Benjamin Watson, who touched literally hundreds of thousands of readers with his honest introspection about the racially charged controversy.

Following his Monday night game against the Baltimore Ravens, the 33-year-old Watson wrestled with his feelings about the grand jury decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting of Michael Brown. Watson decided to write them all down: his anger, frustration, fear, embarrassment, and ultimately his hope. That Facebook post has garnered, as of this writing, more than 732,ooo “likes” and over 404,000 shares.

“I'M ANGRY because the stories of injustice that have been passed down for generations seem to be continuing before our very eyes,” he began. Then he made an interesting observation about the cultural milieu in which such confrontations take place: “I'M FRUSTRATED, because pop culture, music and movies glorify these types of police citizen altercations and promote an invincible attitude that continues to get young men killed in real life, away from safety movie sets and music studios.”

He went on to talk about his determination to go “the extra mile to earn the benefit of the doubt” when people view him, a black male, with suspicion. He expressed his embarrassment over the lawless looting that “confirms” and “validates” black stereotypes. And yet he’s hopeful, “because I know that while we still have race issues in America, we enjoy a much different normal than those of our parents and grandparents... And it’s a beautiful thing.”

I can vouch that it is a beautiful thing, because I’ve been around long enough to witness that sea change in race relations – although I also believe those relations in America have dipped in recent years to their lowest ebb since the 1960s. Nevertheless, Watson’s positive perspective is a welcome relief from the relentless race-baiting that goes on in the media.

“The only way we can move forward in any of this is to talk about it and to be honest,” Watson told a sports reporter in the locker room. “When it’s simply hatred, violence, finger-pointing, those sorts of things… and sometimes you feel like doing that, yes, but on the other side, it’s important to think about how you feel, why you feel about it, and take time to listen to how somebody else feels because of their life experiences.” If only Watson’s reasonable voice had a more prominent media presence than that of some of the self-designated civil rights leaders who are exacerbating racial tensions in Ferguson rather than resolving them.

Then Watson turned, in his Facebook post, to a religious interpretation of the controversy and its solution:

Ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem. SIN is the reason we rebel against authority. SIN is the reason we abuse our authority. SIN is the reason we are racist, prejudiced and lie to cover for our own. SIN is the reason we riot, loot and burn. BUT I'M ENCOURAGED because God has provided a solution for sin through his son Jesus and with it, a transformed heart and mind. One that's capable of looking past the outward and seeing what’s truly important in every human being.

The cure, Ben Watson wrote, for incidents like the shooting deaths of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin “is not education or exposure. It’s the Gospel. So, finally, I’M ENCOURAGED because the Gospel gives mankind hope.” His Christian take on the current racial strife may be unsatisfying for some, but it’s the only perspective I’ve heard that offers hope and understanding for Ferguson.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 12/1/14)

Justifying the Rioting

Rather than denounce the shameful lawlessness demonstrated by many “protesters” demanding “justice” in the wake of the grand jury decision about Officer Darren Wilson, progressives are doubling down by posting rationalizations for the rioting.

Marc Lamont Hill, for example, author of a book on “hip hop pedagogy” who hilariously describes himself as “one of the leading intellectual voices in the country,” tweeted, “The story of ferguson tonight is way bigger than looting or violence. People are angry. People are hurting. They're killing us with impunity.” This is nonsense. People don’t loot and burn down neighborhood businesses because they are angry and hurting; they do so because trumped-up racial controversies give a criminal element the cover to commit crimes against business owners who had nothing to do with the controversy. Rioters steal big-screen TVs and Nike sneakers because they’re hurting? Ridiculous. They steal them because they are opportunistic thieves.

The hugely popular Gawker site, in an article claiming that “riots are good,” actually argues that “rioting is economically efficient”: “Since state authorities are always and everywhere most concerned about capital and business interests, threatening to impose costs on them via rioting should have a similar impact on police incentives” – by which it means that destructive rioting now supposedly discourages the police from shooting innocent black males later. What it really dissuades economically is businesses starting up or rebuilding in a neighborhood devastated by looters. The costs it imposes are not on the police, but on the victimized local business owners and their employees. But then, celebrity gossip is Gawker’s strong suit, not economics or common sense.

Perhaps the most unintentionally comical defense of rioting is from Mask Magazine, “an online style + living magazine for antagonist youth.” With a title that could have come straight out of the satiric site The Onion, “Hey, Step Back with the Riot Shaming” explains irrationally that “[People of color] are criminals because we are seen as criminals.” [emphasis in original] So, simply being viewed with suspicion causes people to commit crimes? The writer argues (actually, he doesn’t “argue” anything; he just spews a lot of whiny victimhood) that blacks don’t “own” neighborhoods; there are black-owned businesses, he concedes, but in the next breath he claims that “we don’t have shit,” and so apparently it’s all right to loot and burn the black-owned neighborhood businesses that he says blacks don’t have.

Even before the grand jury decision, as early as August right after the shooting of Michael Brown, a site called the New Inquiry put up a piece with the straightforward title, “In Defense of Looting.” It was Marxist, racist agit-prop written by a guy whose bio identifies him as “a member of the punk band Vulture Shit.” Here’s a sample: “Only if you believe that having nice things for free is amoral, if you believe, in short, that the current (white-supremacist, settler-colonialist) regime of property is just, can you believe that looting is amoral in itself.” Here’s another: “Looters are only stealing from the rich owners’ profit margins. Those owners, meanwhile, especially if they own a chain like QuikTrip, steal forty hours every week from thousands of employees who in return get the privilege of not dying for another seven days.” This sounds like easily dismissed, Occupy lunacy, but unfortunately it is representative of the “thinking” of a depressing percentage of young people.

Also in August, the radical Salon.com posted a piece “in defense of black rage,” in which the writer states about rioting, “I refuse to condemn the folks engaged in these acts, because I respect black rage… How dare people preach and condescend to these people and tell them not to loot, not to riot? Yes, those are destructive forms of anger, but frankly I would rather these people take their anger out on property and products rather than on other people.”

But what Salon and other riot apologists refuse to acknowledge is that those products and property don’t exist in a vacuum; they belong to people who had nothing to do with the controversy and yet whose livelihoods are seriously damaged, and in some cases ruined, by the looting and burning of that property.

In addition to these intellectually insupportable attempts to justify rioting, other progressive voices took the opportunity to simply fuel the fire. In apparent response to tweets that the rioters should “go back to Africa,” The Atlantic’s popular Ta-Nahisi Coates, perhaps best-known for his recent article supporting slave reparations, tweeted, “Not how this works. We are here to run you out, not the other way around.” If he’s saying that blacks are here to run whites out of the country, then that’s a rather militantly racist admission.

Another militant, UPenn’s willfully illiterate Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Africana Studies Anthea Butler – whose unhinged response to the George Zimmerman verdict I have previously written about – posted an equally unhinged response this time, an inflammatory article asserting that Michael Brown was a “sacrifice to the god of white supremacy.”

In all fairness, not all the progressive voices attempted to whitewash the rioting or fan the flames. Charles M. Blow of The New York Times, for example, kept a relatively even keel in his Wednesday op-ed:

No one of good character and conscience condones rioting or looting or any destruction of property. Those enterprises aren’t only criminal, they’re fruitless and counterproductive and rob one’s own neighborhood of needed services and facilities and unfairly punish the people who saw fit to follow a dream and an entrepreneurial spirit, and invest in themselves and those communities in the first place.

“But people absolutely have a right to their feelings,” Blow continues, “including anger and frustration.” Of course. But what the riot apologists won’t acknowledge is that violent rage is not justice or justification.

(This article originally appeared here on FrontPage Mag, 12/1/14)

‘Privileged’ Georgetown Student ‘Understands’ His Mugging

In the November 18 issue of the university newspaper The Hoya, Georgetown senior Oliver Friedfeld wrote an op-ed about his own mugging at gunpoint the weekend before. It was entitled, “I Was Mugged and I Understand Why.” His explanation is another nail in the coffin of American sanity and another victory for progressive brainwashing in academia.

Asked by a reporter if he were surprised that an armed robbery occurred in upscale Georgetown, the “solidly middle-class” Friedfeld immediately replied, “Not at all.” After all, he explains, “We live in the most privileged neighborhood within a city that has historically been, and continues to be, harshly unequal.”

Since economic disparity undoubtedly caused his attackers to rob him, Friedfeld thinks it’s unfair to refer to them as “thugs,” “criminals” or “bad people.” He “trusted” that they weren’t out to hurt him; they only wanted his possessions. “While I don’t know what exactly they needed the money for” – I’m guessing an iPhone, new Air Jordans, or drugs, but almost certainly not food to survive – “I do know that I’ve never once had to think about going out on a Saturday night to mug people... The fact that these two kids, who appeared younger than I, have even had to entertain these questions suggests their universes are light years away from mine.”

Apparently it is common sense and a grasp of individual responsibility that are light years away from Friedfeld’s experience. First of all, he has no way of knowing if these “kids” are worse off than he; they could be fellow Georgetown students, for that matter. Second, he has never had to contemplate threatening people with a (probably illegally obtained) firearm in order to take what doesn’t belong to him, not because he has never been poor, but because, like most of us, he has chosen to be law-abiding. To assume that poverty made them rob him is an unconscionable slap in the face to the impoverished who work hard and long to make ends meet but who nonetheless have the honor, dignity, and moral conscience to lead law-abiding lives. But this is the progressive mindset: that some vague, irresistible entity called “society” somehow overrides our personal ability to choose to act rightly or wrongly.

“I’d venture to guess,” Friedfeld continues, “that our attackers have had to experience things I’ve never dreamed of.” So what? People are not automatically compelled by their “experiences” to commit armed robbery; they must make many decisions along the way, choices that are their own responsibility. Not necessarily in this order: they make decisions to commit a felony, to obtain (again, probably illegally) a firearm, to load it, to conceal it and their identity, to go out and stalk a victim, to select one and then to draw that weapon and force the victim to the floor at gunpoint to take his possessions. At every step of the way, that criminal is under his own power to stop himself, to call off this felonious act that could very well result in an innocent person’s death.

“When I walk around at 2 a.m., nobody looks at me suspiciously,” says Friedfeld, “and police don’t ask me any questions. I wonder if our attackers could say the same.” Again, so what? Does he truly believe that people are driven to commit crimes because others view them with suspicion? This reasoning isn’t compassionate, it’s simply nonsensical. It’s depressing to think that the Georgetown University education Friedfeld has pursued for four years hasn’t resulted in critical thinking skills.

He goes on: “Who am I to stand from my perch of privilege, surrounded by million-dollar homes and paying for a $60,000 education, to condemn these young men as ‘thugs?’ It’s precisely this kind of ‘otherization’ that fuels the problem.” You read that correctly: he has no right to judge armed bandits who were willing to shoot him had he resisted, because that would be “otherizing” them, or some such politically correct idiocy.

For a moment, let’s grant Friedfeld’s point. Let’s assume the armed robbers did indeed steal from him because poverty drove them to it. If that’s so, then Friedfeld is so brainwashed that he can’t see that he has been otherized by the criminals who targeted him for his affluence. He has been made the rich Other from whom it is acceptable to steal. Because, income disparity.

“Young people who willingly or unwillingly go down this road have been dealt a bad hand,” writes Friedfeld. But even the D.C. police officer who responded to the mugging told Friedfeld that he too had come from difficult circumstances, and yet had made the choice not to turn to crime. “This is a very fair point,” Friedfeld conceded. “We all make decisions.” It’s more than a fair point – it is the only point. Regardless of one’s situation, your choices – not your situation – define you.

“If we ever want opportunistic crime to end, we should look at ourselves first... When we play along with a system that fuels this kind of desperation, we can’t be surprised when we’re touched by it.” Again, he has no evidence to assume that his attackers were driven by “desperation,” but in any case, opportunistic crime will never end, because human beings will never rid themselves of greed or immorality. All the income equality in the world won’t bring an end to that.

Brace yourself for Friedfeld’s pathetically weak conclusion: We must “devote real energy,” he writes, “to solving what are collective challenges. Until we do so, we should get comfortable with sporadic muggings and break-ins. I can hardly blame them.” So his solution to armed robbery is to urge us to accept being compassionate, understanding victims until we can get our collectivist utopia up and running.

To paraphrase Iriving Kristol, a liberal is simply a conservative who hasn’t been mugged by reality yet. But today, not only is a mugging not enough to drive some sense into a young progressive, it actually confirms his worldview about economic inequality. It confirms, not the armed robber’s guilt, but the victim’s guilt for (presumably) being better off. This is precisely the sort of “victim-blaming” that drives progressives into a rage when applied toward rape victims. But when it comes to “white privilege” and “income inequality,” moral equivalence rules, and reason flies out the window.

(This article originally appeared here on FrontPage Mag, 11/28/14)

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Is Football Immoral?

Football has taken some hard hits in the news recently, from domestic violence scandals to revelations about brain damage. It has also become the gridiron for a culture war – on one side, traditionalists who defend the game’s character-building values, and on the other, a swelling tide of moral revulsion. Is football good for us? Or is it just plain immoral?

Critics of the dehumanizing aspect of the sport go back at least as far as the book Out of Their League in 1971, by a former NFL linebacker. Today bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell arguably leads the charge to marginalize the sport, having penned a 2009 article for The New Yorker in which he equated football with dogfighting. More recently, he dismissed the game in an interview as “a moral abomination” that is “fundamentally out of touch with the rest of us.”

Gladwell is not alone. Former fan Steve Almond, author of the bluntly-titled Against Football, judged in the Washington Post that “Football Has Proven its Moral Vacancy.” He too complained about the game’s “extreme and inherent violence” and “horrifying health risks.” Basketball great LeBron James said recently that he doesn’t let his two sons play football for those same reasons. Even President Obama told The New Republic, “If I had a son, I’d have to think long and hard before I let him play football.”

In football’s corner are authors such as Daniel Flynn (The War on Football), who lists the game’s benefits for young men: competition and camaraderie, direction and discipline, male role models, and fun. Mark Edmundson (Why Football Matters) concurs with Flynn but acknowledges that the sport is punishing and can encourage darker behavior in some players.

Critics claim that that darker behavior, like Ray Rice cold-cocking his fiancée in an elevator, proves that football encourages a culture of violence for players which bleeds over (literally) into their relationships and everyday lives. But the percentage of NFL players arrested in any given year is actually lower than the national average for men of the same age. Far and away the most common crime NFL players are charged with is not domestic violence but driving under the influence, and despite the recent bad publicity, this year is on track to be the least criminal on record.

It’s easy to point to sensationalized incidents like the Ray Rice videotape and say that football creates a culture of violence. What doesn’t make the news is the positive effect that football has had on countless kids in shaping their character and teaching life lessons. Says New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait, in an article defending male aggression:

Football channels boys’ chauvinistic belligerence into supervised forms, shapes them within boundaries, and gives them positive meaning. These virtues, like those often attributed to the military, can feel like clichés imported from an earlier era — and yet discipline and directed ambition are, as every social scientist knows, the bedrock of success in adulthood.

However, the physical risks, especially at the professional level, are undeniable. The NFL recently revealed that nearly a third of retired players develop long-term cognitive issues much earlier than people in general. “The idea that we are paying people to engage in a sport for our own entertainment that causes irreparable damage to themselves is appalling,” said a disgusted Gladwell.

He believes that one day we’ll look back on football as reprehensibly savage, like we now view the gladiatorial battles of ancient Rome. But we haven’t distanced ourselves all that much from those bloody bouts: this summer the New York Times reported on the rising popularity today of medieval jousting – yes, jousting. In that piece, the writer described the crowd reaction at the moment when one participant strikes the other squarely in the torso with his lance, sending him flying: “It was as if someone had sent an electric current through the arena’s aluminum bleachers. Men leapt to their feet with their fists in the air. Teenage girls clutched one another’s arms.”

Gladwell would no doubt find that reaction revolting, but it speaks to the fact that humanity, generally speaking, has a violent streak. Look at the burgeoning popularity of mixed martial arts; cage fighting is more brutal than boxing or football. Gladwell believes we are evolving away from that propensity, but I am skeptical not only that we can, but that we should.

Blood sports are a useful way for a select few of us to channel that violence relatively safely, while the audience experiences it cathartically. Football is mock warfare that fulfills a primal need. Professional football players accept and even embrace the violence and its punishing consequences in return not only for the glory and/or money, but for the opportunity to test themselves and others in ritualized battle.

Is that immoral? I think only where the combatants have no choice in the matter, as in dogfighting or the gladiatorial arena, and only if you believe that violence is immoral under any circumstances. Yes, we have a responsibility to lessen the injurious consequences to the players; fans love hard-hitting football, but they don’t love watching players get carted off the field. To call the game “a moral abomination” and do away with it altogether, however, is to be “fundamentally out of touch” with the positives it offers – the competition and camaraderie, direction and discipline – and with the primal function it serves.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 11/26/14)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Does This Christmas Ad Trivialize War?

One thing most everyone agrees on about Christmas is that it is over-commercialized. But a new long-form ad from a United Kingdom supermarket chain has sharply divided those who find it a moving expression of the true Christmas spirit from those who declare it crass exploitation.

On Christmas Eve 1914, the year World War One broke out, German and Allied troops alike climbed out of the muddy trenches along parts of the Western front, met their enemies in the devastation of no man’s land, chatted and sang together, traded gifts, and were even rumored to have competed in a soccer match. The famed “Christmas truce” stood as a remarkable testament to the best of humanity in the midst of what was, up to that time, man’s worst inhumanity to man.

Coincidentally, as research for another project, I am currently reading Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age by Modris Eksteins, which goes into some detail about the Christmas truce. As a British rifleman wrote:

On Christmas Eve the Germans entrenched opposite us began calling out to us “Cigarettes,” “Pudding,” “A Happy Christmas” and “English – means good,” so two of our fellows climbed over the parapet of the trench and went towards the German trenches. Half-way they were met by four Germans, who said they would not shoot on Christmas Day if we did not. They gave our fellows cigars and a bottle of wine and were given a cake and cigarettes. When they came back I went out with some more of our fellows and we were met by about 30 Germans, who seemed to be very nice fellows. I got one of them to write his name and address on a postcard as a souvenir. All through the night we sang carols to them and they sang to us and one played “God Save the King” on a mouth organ.

It’s important to keep in mind what a ghastly conflict WWI was. Trench warfare was a living nightmare that reduced men to either emotional wrecks or fatalistic automatons. The war introduced new technologies that killed and wounded men in unprecedented numbers: airplanes, tanks, and ugliest of all, chemical warfare in the form of mustard gas. The Great War is generally considered the traumatic beginning of our modern era. It changed the Western world forever.

That hellish reality makes the Christmas truce all the more extraordinary and uplifting. On that day, amid fears of a possible surprise attack, the Christmas spirit “simply conquered the battlefield,” as Eksteins put it: “What had been isolated incidents of fraternization the night before blossomed… into wholesale camaraderie.”

Now Sainsbury’s, the second largest supermarket chain in the UK, has released an emotional three-minute holiday advertisement dramatizing that truce. Slate.com called it “a well-produced… exceedingly effective ad—one that might even cause you to shed a tear.”

The commercial centers on a young British soldier who dares to step out of the trench with hands raised. The Germans respond in kind and the sworn enemies lose themselves in impromptu friendship as described by the British rifleman quoted above. This makes it all the more poignant when they must return to their opposing sides to take up arms against each other again. The video ends with the men cherishing their gifts, and with the message that “Christmas is for sharing.”

Many viewers were moved, but critics were swift and harsh. The Guardian accused Sainsbury of “co-opting the events for a purpose as crass as flogging groceries.” One campaigner against the company said: “Sainsbury's advert is slick, manipulative, artful filmmaking – and also a tawdry, tasteless and inappropriate use of WWI sacrifices and memories.” Another critic added: “If there’s anything more tasteless and cynical than the Sainsbury’s Christmas advert, I’ve yet to see it.” A third tweeted, “Companies using the First World War as an effort to boost sales is disgusting and disrespectful to the fallen.”

But the ad is anything but cynical and disrespectful to the fallen; it touchingly brings them to life again for us. Those who believe that capitalism is always about greed may be dismissive of Sainsbury’s motives, but those who see no inherent conflict between economic interests and our higher nature understand that the ad is about the true meaning of Christmas.

Even Slate reluctantly recognized this, concluding that “this specific moment in time is worth celebrating... And maybe that’s enough to allow the ad’s (and the truce’s) overall message to triumph over its commercial nature.​” That message is the one that filled the soldiers’ hearts that Christmas Day, the same one the angels proclaimed to the awe-struck shepherds: “Peace on earth, goodwill toward men.”

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 11/24/14)