Monday, August 22, 2016

Rape and the Internet Vigilante Mob

Controversy has forced comedienne Amy Schumer to distance herself from a writer on her Comedy Central show Inside Amy Schumer who defended a fellow comedian against allegations of sexual misconduct. The writer criticized “internet vigilantes” for condemning the accused without any evidence, and now is himself being slammed as a “rape apologist.” The whole sordid affair is emblematic of the dangers of the social media mob mentality, particularly in a time of hyper-sensitivity to the pervasive conception that we inhabit a rape culture.

The controversy began when comedian Aaron Glaser apparently was banned recently from the famed improv theater Upright Citizens Brigade after an internal UCB investigation into allegations that he had raped one or more women. He spoke out about the incident, which he referred to as a “witch hunt,” in a now-deleted Facebook post: “I know these are serious accusations, and I know they are untrue.”

Glaser went on to write that UCB banned him based solely on the word of the women without providing him any details of the accusers or accusations or any opportunity to defend himself. UCB is “asking me to prove to them that I’m not a rapist,” he complained, and said he has now been banned from other comedy clubs, “not one of which contacted me to ask whether the allegations were untrue.” “I am being deemed a sexual predator,” he wrote, “and my life is being ruined by accusations, not findings.”

Amy Schumer got dragged into the issue when, in a subsequent series of hyperbolically sarcastic and angry Facebook and Twitter rants, her writer Kurt Metzger defended Glaser’s right to be treated as innocent until proven guilty. The social media mob immediately swarmed, labeling him a “rape apologist” and urging Schumer to fire him. She washed her hands of it by declaring that though she was “saddened and disappointed” by his comments, he is not her writer anymore because her show is ending and “there are no writers.”

It is doubtful that Metzger’s profane ranting won any converts to his side; neither did his apparent history of misogynistic social media volleys, which The Daily Beast detailed. In a Facebook post, he later apologized for using inflammatory language and stressed that he was not being dismissive of actual victims of sexual assault. “I was talking to the perennial social media mob who, without knowing victim or accused, GLEEFULLY want to be part of social mob justice.”

“I believe that any accusation of sexual assault is a serious charge that should be taken seriously,” he continued, “and that UCB should have notified the police or at least encourage the victims to go to police before attempting to handle it themselves with an ‘internal investigation.’” Absolutely right. This reasoning similarly should apply to college campuses, where sexual assault allegations should be handled by law enforcement, not timid school administrators terrified of litigation and feminist backlash. 

Despite his graceless, provocative defense of Glaser, Metzger’s point about the injustice of the avalanche of internet condemnation of a man accused of rape holds true. Certainly, as he said, we should take rape accusations seriously and vigorously pursue the truth. But this is a matter for the law, not mob justice, and in our system of law, the accused is innocent until proven guilty. False accusations that spread like wildfire on the internet are not just irresponsible, they are inexcusable.

Let’s make this crystal clear: rape is a heinous crime, and as the father of three daughters I could not feel more strongly about protecting women from it and punishing offenders severely. It should never be dismissed as mere “boys will be boys” behavior, nor should victims be treated falsely as liars or as having “asked for it.” Victims should feel protected and encouraged to come forward, and there are problematic legal procedures that need to be addressed as well.

But precisely because the crime is so serious, it is all too easy in this age of instantaneous, worldwide social media outrage to leap to conclusions and publicly damn the accused. In the understandable rush to sympathize with the female accuser, it’s easy to ruin innocent men’s lives; even defending the right of the accused to a fair trial, as Kurt Metzger did, now gets one smeared as a rape apologist. This ugly rush to judgment is not justice and it does a disservice to both men and women, driving the cultural wedge between the sexes even deeper.

Web anonymity empowers every bully who has an internet connection, and “social justice” conformity encourages unquestioning, self-righteous anger. This is a toxic combination. Such a mob mentality must be resisted and denounced whenever it rears its ugly head. Metzger was right to call out the mob regardless of whether or not Aaron Glaser is ultimately found guilty, in which case the law will handle it. That is justice.

Originally posted as “Why Did Amy Schumer Throw Her Writer to the Internet Wolves?”

at Acculturated, 8/22/16

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Donald Trump and American Masculinity

Love him or hate him – and he refuses to give us any other option – presidential candidate Donald Trump has become the embodiment of whatever extreme we feel we need to impose on him: deliverance or damnation, freedom or fascism, truth or, well, trumpery. The media, confounded by his political popularity, are obsessed with coming to grips with The Meaning of Trump. He is the culmination of reality TV culture, goes one interpretation, or the harbinger of the end of democracy, or the apotheosis of America’s supposedly racist underbelly. In the latest unflattering analysis, The Atlantic’s James Hamblin declares that what The Donald really represents is the apex of American masculinity – only not in a good way.

“Trump is both a product of a masculine culture and a beneficiary of its musky tenets,” states Hamblin. He doesn’t feel the need to define the notion of a “masculine culture” (or a “musky tenet,” for that matter); he simply considers it a given that we live in one, that it is a problem, that Donald Trump is the “climax” of it, and that we need to “stop valuing it, stop accepting it.”

Hamblin continues:

Masculine culture is both a reason that Trump does what he does and a reason that people accept and trust it. His classical brand of masculinity becomes toxic and feeds tribalism and violence and entitlement among his followers—those who prefer fighting to talking, walls to bridges, grimaces to smiles.

Of course, it is anti-Trump protesters – not his supporters – who are guilty of a disturbing degree of tribalism, violence, and entitlement at Trump rallies throughout the country. But that is an inconvenient truth for Hamblin, who displays a racist, sexist, elitist contempt for the “white men without a degree” whose “classical brand of masculinity” he declares “toxic.”

The feminist term “toxic masculinity” is trendy these days, but it’s never presented in contrast to a healthy, positive masculinity. That’s because those who use the term don’t believe there is a healthy, positive masculinity; their aim is to dismantle the entire artificial construct of manhood and smash the patriarchal chains that keep us from evolving. This is not simply snarky exaggeration; Hamblin, for example, explicitly states that Trump makes him wish that “f*ck the patriarchy” were as common an expression as “What’s up?”

Trump’s swagger and aggression make him, according to Hamblin, an absolute “caricature of a man’s man” because he browbeats, berates, and boasts. To be clear, though, those actions do not characterize a man’s man; they characterize a bully. A man’s man doesn’t need to push people around or brag about the size of his, er, hands. He commands respect and admiration not by calling attention to his own achievements or belittling others, but through the quiet fulfillment of his duty as a man, husband, and father. By that measure, someone like TV host and spokesman Mike Rowe is a man’s man. Among other contemporary celebrity examples, actors Dwayne Johnson and Mark Wahlberg are men’s men.

Hamblin goes on to say that Trump’s “signature traits, confidence and bravado, are hallmarks of masculinity. Through them he convinces people that he’s correct, in control and trustworthy, even when his words are false or misleading.” What Hamblin is describing is not a confident man but a con man. Again, bluffing and bravado are not hallmarks of confidence or masculinity but of insecurity.

Hamblin is wrong about Trump’s supporters being drawn to him by this blustery egotism masquerading as manhood. What Hamblin is trying to do in his article is kill two birds with one stone: demonize Donald Trump and demonize American masculinity. Therefore he strips away the political context that enabled a figure like Trump to emerge and tries to tie the candidate’s popularity instead to the kind of working class masculinity Hamblin and his ilk look down upon.

But what support Trump has galvanized is not due to an irresistible, “musky” manliness. It is because the American males Hamblin dismisses as bitter, uneducated racists are tired of being screwed over by corrupt, unprincipled politicians year after year. They’re tired of the mainstream media lying to them and holding them in the sort of contempt of which this Atlantic article reeks. They’re tired of being openly denigrated by elitist “intellectuals” like Hamblin for their supposed white privilege and their guns and religion. They are, like Network’s Howard Beale, mad as hell and they’re not going to take this anymore. Enter Trump.

My aim is not to defend Donald Trump politically but to counter James Hamblin’s attempt to use him to smear American manhood as toxic arrogance, egotism, and bullying. Masculinity at its most quintessentially American is marked by a frontier self-reliance, a no-nonsense commitment to hard work and duty, courage and service to others, humility and gratitude, and an unforced self-confidence. That’s the antidote to the “toxic” version.

From Acculturated, 8/15/16

Monday, August 15, 2016

Are Male Superheroes on the Way Out?

Screenrant recently declared that this year “is shaping up to be a breakout year for female heroes (and villains) of every sort.” The online magazine profiled “15 Characters Who Will Make 2016 the Year of the Female Superhero,” including such popular figures from the comics as Harley Quinn, Scarlet Witch, and Supergirl. That’s fifteen this year alone – superheroines who are taking the cinematic wheel and forcing the male Old Guard like Batman and Superman to take a back seat. What does such a role reversal mean? Is it just a temporary trend or are we witnessing a cultural shift in our perception of heroism? And why does it matter? 

In recent decades Hollywood has increasingly presented strong female characters who can hold their own in action flicks, thrillers, and sci-fi epics. The dramatic difference now, though, is that Hollywood feels the time is right to give such characters their own movies, bucking the traditional wisdom that female leads can’t put enough people in cinema seats. Whether that risk will pay off financially remains to be seen, but in any case, the sense is that the culture is ripe for women to step into butt-kicking heroic movie roles that once belonged entirely to men.

It’s not that male superheroes are in danger of becoming extinct. There is no shortage of them already, and Marvel seems to pluck more out of its bottomless magician’s hat at will. But their female counterparts are now poised for world domination. Oscar winner Brie Larson, for example, will play Captain Marvel, the first superheroine to headline a Marvel Studios film, in a flick that may actually be directed by the first woman to direct a superhero movie. Wonder Woman is finally set to break out on her own next year in a highly-anticipated film. The President of Marvel Studios has revealed that, of all the previously minor Marvel characters who are likely to get their own films in the coming decade, the studio is “most emotionally and creatively committed” to one starring Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow. And although The Rocketeer was not technically a superhero, Disney is planning a sequel to the 1991 film which starred Billy Campbell; but in the follow-up, to be called The Rocketeers, the jet pack-wearing pilot this time will be an African-American female.

Meanwhile the more traditional superheroes don’t seem to know what to do with themselves anymore. They’ve been reduced to battling each other, as in Captain America: Civil War and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, as often as they fight their evil nemeses. Many consider Wonder Woman’s debut in that latter film to be the movie’s high point. And in the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok, Chris Hemsworth’s Norse god has even shorn his long locks; is it too much of a stretch to suggest that this is symbolic of how the rise of superheroines is draining him and his cohorts of their power, a là Samson at the hands of Delilah?

Okay, that last example was a bit of a stretch, but the point is that the old familiar superheroes are beginning to feel stagnant and occasionally even morally confused, while the women are an invigorating breath of fresh air. Even many male comic book geeks seem just as eager as fan-girls are for the breakouts of such characters as Harley Quinn and Wonder Woman. But while this wave of female empowerment may be exhilarating for many, there is also an element of emasculation here as well.

That may seem like an absurd statement. Isn’t that taking this comic book juvenilia too seriously? Aren’t superhero movies for kids? But that’s exactly the point. Such extraordinary characters as, say, Captain America are important because heroes are symbols of the way a culture views standards of courage and virtue, power and freedom, good and evil. From the Goliath-slaying David to Beowulf to Superman, our legendary heroes define our times and help our youth – in particular our boys – develop a moral imagination. Superheroes are valuable personae for preparing boys, through play and fantasy, to choose good over evil and to one day stand courageously themselves against evil in the real world. And “when a culture falls down on its job of constructing a meaningful hero-system for its members," writes the cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker, life “explodes in anarchy and chaos.”

Boys – more than girls – need a cultural pantheon of vigorous warrior heroes in place as role models of both physical and moral power. Why “more than girls”? Because despite Hollywood’s current politically correct obsession with depicting women as warriors who are every bit the equal of men, in reality men are and always have been, with rare exceptions, the fighters, the protectors of the weak, the defenders of home and country.

This is not at all to suggest that women are incapable of courage or patriotism or ferocity in defending hearth and family, only that for thousands of years battle has properly been the domain of men and will continue to be. The stories of our heroic icons are the inspiration for our future heroes, and today those stories are largely being told in movie theaters. So by all means, Hollywood, empower women to be heroines in their own right rather than victims, but don’t let our heroes diminish in the process.

From Acculturated, 8/10/16