Monday, December 29, 2014

In Case You Missed It...

Looks like the New York Post reposted my Acculturated piece on The Rock, Dwayne Johnson. Check it out in case you missed it the first time around...

OP-ED: "Tough love from tough man ‘The Rock’"

Big Brother on the Shelf

He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness’ sake.

There’s always been a not-so-subtle undercurrent of parental scrutiny to the lyrics of the upbeat and irresistible singalong “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” but one professor believes that a popular but creepy Christmas phenomenon of recent years is taking that surveillance to a totalitarian extreme.

Originating as a book but now a popular doll, “The Elf on the Shelf” is supposedly sent from Santa to scout children for the boss’ naughty and nice lists. Parents or teachers “adopt” the doll, give him a name, and perch him in a different location around the house or classroom each day to monitor the children’s behavior. As I said: creepy. A friend of mine feels like it has echoes of the movie franchise about the demonic Chucky the Doll.

Dr. Laura Pinto, professor of digital education at the University of Ontario Institute Of Technology, apparently agrees with me. Carolyn Gregoire wrote in the Huffington Post last week that Pinto worries that “Elf on the Shelf” is actually “Preparing Your Child to Live in a Police State.” This may seem like hyperbolic paranoia over a seemingly innocuous doll that parents use to keep naughty children in line at Christmastime, but I think Pinto is on target when she claims that “the Elf sets children up for the uncritical acceptance of surveillance structures.”

Pinto’s concern with the fad is that the children don’t see the surveillance as play, but instead accept it as real. “Children who participate in play with The Elf on the Shelf doll have to contend with rules at all times during the day,” she writes. “They may not touch the doll, and they must accept that the doll watches them at all times with the purpose of reporting to Santa Claus.”

Pinto likens this to French philosopher Michel Foucault’s description of 18th century prison disciplinary practices which were designed to make the inmates feel the pressure of constant observation, thus influencing their behavior. The Elf on the Shelf is essentially the same methodology, she contends, and “it contributes to the shaping of children as governable subjects.” In Pinto’s Orwellian analogy, Santa Claus becomes Big Brother and his elves become the Ministry of Truth, “similar to the dynamic between citizen and authority in the context of the surveillance state,” Pinto says.

As a parent of two little ones, I can confirm that using Santa’s naughty or nice lists is a convenient holiday disciplinary threat; in fact, I’m considering using it year-round and well into their teen years if I can just manage to keep them in the dark that long about Santa. But there is a subtle difference between a parent threatening a child with Santa’s disapproval on the one hand, and on the other, keeping an actual representative of Santa physically in the house or classroom where the child can never escape its ever-observant eye.

While I want to instill in my kids a morality about their behavior, I want them to grow to internalize it freely, not have it imposed upon them through a coercive, external gaze. While I want my kids to have an appropriate respect for authority, I don’t want them t0 be conditioned to submit to a Big Brother authoritarianism. No elves on my family’s shelves.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 12/24/14)

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Wake Up Call from The Rock

Reality television – with its manufactured melodrama, Machiavellian alliances, needy narcissism, and drunken hookups – rewards bad behavior with money and fame (or rather, infamy, which too many people now see as no different from fame and perhaps even better). So it’s refreshing when a reality show comes along that focuses on steering people away from bad attitudes and self-destructive habits toward self-dignity and commitment to their dreams. It’s also refreshing to see a show hosted by someone as fun to watch as The Rock.

Premiering last Friday night on TNT was Wake Up Call, hosted by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who plays a sort of life coach to a variety of “ordinary” people in need of turning their lives around. Johnson, 42, has been there and knows the discipline and commitment necessary to make oneself successful. After playing on a championship college football team, he drifted afterward and was arrested multiple times, ending up living at home with no direction, no money, no future. But he committed to making something of himself, and it paid off wildly: he became one of the greatest – and most beloved – pro wrestlers of all time and a movie star as well.

Now “Rock is returning to his roots,” says the Wake Up Call synopsis, “to help those who are struggling and to show them that there can be a better way”:

From dysfunctional homes and deadbeat dads to runaway teens and businesses struggling to survive, The Rock descends into the chaos of everyday problems to pull good people up by the bootstraps, reminding them what hard work, passion and true discipline can accomplish.

In the premiere, Johnson helps a teenager get a shot at his dream of becoming a Mixed Martial Arts fighter – but not unless he makes school his priority and makes an attitude adjustment. In the episode this coming Friday, Johnson rescues a selfless Florida high school coach named Javier from ignoring his own serious obesity. Future episodes this first season will feature The Rock helping a family pizzeria in trouble, a high school dropout, a former NBA star who is at a personal crossroads, and even a dad who dreams of being a rapper.

Yes, there are the expected maudlin, heart-tugging moments, but at least they stem honestly and spontaneously from real people responding to Rock’s genuine tough love. And cutting through all the sentimentality is Johnson’s unusual combination of star power and down-to-earth likeability that elevates Wake Up Call above the reality show pack. He brings a sincere concern, a relaxed air, and a perfect comic timing to the show.

For example, when he tells the obese Javier that they’re going to climb that hill to success together, even if he has to carry him, Johnson jokes, “I sure as hell hope I don’t have to, because this show’s called Wake Up Call, not The Rock Gets a Hernia.” When he makes Javier sprint down the school hallway, Johnson urges him on by comparing him favorably to the world’s fastest human: “You’re just like Usain Bolt!” Beat. “Only slightly chubbier.”

The show falters whenever Johnson temporarily passes the baton to other experts to take over. In the upcoming episode, for example, personal trainer Jillian Michaels – a well-known TV fixture from shows like The Biggest Loser – is brought in to put Coach Javier through the paces and to get to the bottom of his psychological issues. As effective as she may be at what she does, she simply lacks Johnson’s charisma and genuineness.

I’ve met Dwayne Johnson and his ex-wife Dany Garcia, who is his production partner on Wake Up Call, among other projects. He’s as approachable and humble as he seems on camera, and that’s what has made him a star. Johnson is the perfect host to challenge and encourage real people, with whom the audience can identify and whom they can root for, to haul themselves out of the kinds of ruts we dig for ourselves and to move forward toward more fulfilling lives. Wake Up Call may be a simple, low-key, low-budget reality show, but it offers more inspiration and uplifting entertainment than merely keeping up with Kardashians.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 12/22/14)

North Korea Declares War on Sony

If anyone still needs convincing that pop culture matters, that even the frivolous fluff can impact politics and world affairs, here is dramatic evidence: an otherwise unremarkable Hollywood comedy that hasn’t even been released yet has led to the crippling cyber-hacking of a major corporation, threats of 9/11-style terrorism against movie theaters and other targets including the White House, self-censorship by the entertainment industry, and increased tension between the U.S. and North Korea’s already unstable and belligerent Kim Jong Un, each of whom blames the other while a suspiciously quiet China watches from the sidelines. And the fiasco isn’t over yet.

For those who haven’t been following the story, it began in recent weeks when a hacker group calling itself Guardians of Peace cyber-attacked Hollywood’s Sony studios and released thousands of the production company’s private emails and other confidential information like employee Social Security numbers. It’s been devastating in a number of ways, including internal turmoil arising out of embarrassing emails that may end in the sacking of film chairman Amy Pascal – not to mention an estimated $100 million blow to Sony.

The instigation for the hacking seems to be an upcoming Sony comedy called The Interview, starring James Franco and Seth Rogan as talk show hosts who are coerced by the CIA into assassinating tyrant Kim Jong Un during a trip to North Korea to interview him. Kim was not amused by the concept; neither were many progressives who felt that a comedy about killing a head of state was in poor taste and that Sony brought the subsequent hacking upon itself (of course, these are the same people who thought that a 2006 feature film about the assassination of George W. Bush was just dandy). Class action lawsuits from Sony employees who were affected by the cyber attack are gearing up, claiming that “Sony knew it was reasonably foreseeable that producing a script about North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un would cause a backlash.”

After an investigation, the FBI officially declared that North Korea was behind the hacking (while not necessarily originating from inside its borders), which Obama called an act not of war, but of vandalism; he promised a “proportional response.” The totalitarian state took great umbrage at the accusation; it not only denied the attack, it generously offered to help the U.S. ferret out the real culprit, much like O.J. Simpson offered to help find his wife’s killer. The North Korean news media even accused the U.S. of “gangster-like behavior” and claimed to have evidence that our government itself was deeply involved in the production of The Interview. “Toughest counteraction will be taken against the White House, the Pentagon and the whole US mainland, the cesspool of terrorism,” threatened a statement from North Korea.

The Guardians of Peace followed up the cyber-attack by issuing a threat of possible terrorist activity against any theaters that dared screen The Interview. “The world will be full of fear,” read their English-challenged message:

We will clearly show it to you at the very time and places “The Interview” be shown, including the premiere, how bitter fate those who seek fun in terror should be doomed to. Soon all the world will see what an awful movie Sony Pictures Entertainment has made…

Remember the 11th of September 2001. We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time. (If your house is nearby, you’d better leave.) Whatever comes in the coming days is called by the greed of Sony Pictures Entertainment. All the world will denounce the SONY.

The Department of Homeland Security said that there was “no credible intelligence to indicate an active plot against movie theaters within the United States.” But stars Seth Rogan and James Franco cancelled all media appearances in the wake of the controversy. Most theater chains opted not to show the film, and then Sony decided against releasing The Interview at all in any form — including VOD or DVD.

(This wasn’t the only film shut down by the recent North Korean displeasure. Shooting of actor Steve Carell’s thriller Pyongyang, about a Westerner in North Korea who is accused of espionage, has been cancelled as well.)

President Obama threw Sony under the bus, claiming that they should have called him first rather than set a bad precedent by backing down to North Korea. (This is the same President whose administration blamed the murder of Ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi on an unknown YouTube trailer for an utterly incompetent movie about the life of the Muslim prophet Muhammad. Hillary Clinton told the father of one of the Benghazi victims, “We will make sure that the person who made that film is arrested and prosecuted.”) Sony responded by claiming that it did contact the White House first.

Regardless, human rights activists are planning to airlift DVDs of The Interview into Kim country via hydrogen balloons. Fighters for a Free North Korea, run by a former government propagandist who escaped to South Korea, has for years used balloons to get transistor radios, DVDs and other items into North Korea in order to open up the outside world to the news-deprived masses. Thor Halvorssen’s Human Rights Foundation in New York has been helping to finance the balloon drops, and will add DVD copies of The Interview as soon as possible.

Halvorssen says that Hollywood is largely unaware that its movies and TV shows are being used so effectively in this manner. The past dozen or so drops, for example, have included copies of BraveheartBattlestar Galactica and Desperate Housewives. “Viewing any one of these is a subversive act that could get you executed,” Halvorssen says, “and North Koreans know this, given the public nature of the punishments meted out to those who dare watch entertainment from abroad.” [I have written elsewhere about these risks that the freedom-starved North Koreans undertake just to watch a contraband film] “The Interview is tremendously threatening to the Kims,” Halvorssen continues. “They cannot abide by anything that portrays them as anything other than a god. This movie destroys the narrative” – much like the satirical 2004 film Team America: World Police famously lampooned Kim Jong Un’s monstrous father.

While our tabloid news media seem obsessed with the more inconsequential and gossipy aspects of this affair – like the emails in which Sony executives disparage Angelina Jolie’s talent and make racial jokes at Obama’s expense – there are serious ramifications of the cyber-hacking mystery. The entertainment industry as a whole, for example, failed to show a quick and united resistance to the threats of a foreign tyrant. But more significantly, the Guardians of Peace exposed America’s vulnerability to the warfare of the future – cyberwar.

(This article originally appeared here on FrontPage Mag, 12/23/14)

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Has the West Lost the Will to Live?

When it became too obvious to deny that the hostage crisis in Sydney, Australia was an act of Islamic terrorism, Prime Minister Tony Abbott asked Aussie citizens for calm, saying, “The whole point of politically motivated violence is to scare people out of being themselves. Australia is a peaceful, open and generous society – nothing should ever change that. And that’s why I would urge all Australians today to go about their business as usual.” That’s what a politician is expected to say. But what he should have said is that the time for business-as-usual is over.

Recently my friend Doris Wise Montrose – founder of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and its related site for self-defense instruction, Jews Can Shoot – brought to my attention something she found disconcerting. It was a Facebook post by a very popular Israeli news blogger, a brief update on the knife attack perpetrated by a young Arab on shoppers in a Jerusalem supermarket. This update was accompanied by mention of the blogger’s own mundane shopping trip to a different supermarket, and a photo of the contents of his cart.

Doris commented to him that connecting the two experiences in the same breath, in the same tone, seemed oddly cavalier. The blogger replied that it was simply an acknowledgement that this is the way of life in Israel – her citizens refuse to be cowed; they proudly carry on even with terrorism in their midst. Business as usual.

Last month novelist Jack Engelhard, who writes a weekly column for Israel’s Arutz Sheva, wrote an op-ed questioning precisely this attitude of proudly taking terrorism in stride. He noted that in the wake of four rabbis being hacked to death in a Jerusalem synagogue, for example, Israeli life went on as before. Engelhard wrote: “Hurray for Jewish bravado,” but

are Israelis getting too used to this? Is this a case of Israelis proving that nothing can stop them, or is this a case of Israelis accepting their fate as sheep doomed to be slaughtered? When will it end… how can it end… when no matter what happens ‘everything is back to normal’?

You often hear the cliché that if we let the terrorists change our way of life, change who we are, then they win. But they have changed our way of life and who we are as a culture. Look at what has become of air travel in the wake of 9/11 and the bungling Shoe Bomber: passengers shuffling along like cattle in long security lines, removing our shoes and laptops, submitting to invasive scans by the useless TSA, etc. This is but one example of our “new normal,” and as incidents like the Boston Marathon bombing and the Jerusalem synagogue butchering and the Sydney hostage-taking become more and more common, they too will become our new normal.

The jihadists need not carry out another 9/11 or a nuclear strike in order to ultimately prevail. Terrorism is a war of attrition, a strategy of death by a thousand cuts. That means we live with the subtle but ever-present expectation that a so-called “lone wolf” like the Sydney gunman, or a suicide bomber, or a well-trained team of merciless slaughterers like the Mumbai or Nairobi terrorists could strike anywhere at any time: a mall, a café, a market, a school, a synagogue, a subway, anywhere.

For the victims of terrorism life doesn’t go on at all, and it is forever altered for the surviving family members and friends. The rest of us live with the knowledge that next time, it could be us or our loved ones. The psychic attrition is incalculable, and it sits in our consciousness like a cancer no matter how much we tell each other that we must not live in fear.

In an address to the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust earlier this year, J.J. Goldberg of the Jewish Daily Forward praised those Jews during the Holocaust who “fought back by surviving another day in the face of the inhuman killing machine, and then another day and another. They fought back by maintaining their humanity and dignity in the face of utter depravity.”

But that is not fighting back; it certainly is not victory. It’s simply a dignified surrender. To accept living under the cloud of terrorism while declaring stubbornly that it won’t change us is a terrible self-delusion. It is a fatal misconception to believe that simply denying terrorists the satisfaction of terrorizing us is any kind of a victory at all. Our humanity and dignity mean nothing if depravity wins, if our civilization succumbs to a hungrier, more ruthless one, if the world enters a Dark Age under a totalitarian theocracy. The only victory worth having will come when we bring the terrorism to an end.

The West is in decline for a number of reasons, one of which is its cultural capitulation in the face of an ascendant Islamic fundamentalism. It is as if we, or at least our leaders and elites, have lost the cultural will to live. We need to get in touch with a sort of cultural rage, a fierce determination to crush threats to our culture, our values, and our liberty. We need to demonstrate that our tolerance has reached an end, that there will be no more coexistence with an ideology openly dedicated to our destruction. “Never mind normal,” as Jack Engelhard put it. To paraphrase his wish for Israel, for once let our blood “be exceptional and cause for nausea and trembling” among our enemies. Show the jihadists that there will be no more business-as-usual capitulation, and that they can expect us to unleash hell in retaliation for a single drop of Western blood.

We have a President who actually announced to the world that “the future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.” At the rate we’re going, it won’t. One thing is certain: the future will belong to the culture that is not hamstrung by cultural self-doubt, that is not mired in apologetic self-abasement, that is not burdened by historical guilt induced through decades of politically correct indoctrination, and that burns with a will to win, no matter how long it takes or what it costs. The future will belong to the lions, not the lambs.

(This article originally appeared here on FrontPage Mag, 12/18/14)

Why Mark Wahlberg Should be Pardoned

In April 1988, a 16-year-old Mark Wahlberg was convicted in adult court of felony assault against two men during an attempted theft, while under the influence of pot and alcohol. One of the victims, a Vietnamese man, was legendarily left blind in one eye. Wahlberg received a two-year sentence, with three months to be served and the remainder suspended. He ended up serving only 45 days, but it seems to have scared him straight. Through “faith, hard work, and guidance from some incredible mentors,” Wahlberg says, “I turned my life around.” Over twenty-six years later, the actor is petitioning the Massachusetts Parole Board for a pardon for that conviction – a forgiveness that media opponents of white privilege want to deny him.

In his working-class youth in Boston, Wahlberg was a high-school dropout and petty thug: on drugs at thirteen, numerous run-ins with the law, ugly incidents of racist behavior, convicted of assault. To his credit, he makes no excuses for that: “I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life and I’ve done bad things,” he has said, but “everything I did wrong was my own fault. I was taught the difference between right and wrong at an early age. I take full responsibility.”

“I've worked extremely hard for the last 27 years since I woke up sober and realized the horrible mistakes I had made and the horrible pain I had caused so many people,” Wahlberg told The New York Daily News recently. “Every single day I try to better myself as a person.” Some of that effort has been directed into philanthropic work including raising millions of dollars for the various causes of the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation, serving on the board of the Boys and Girls Club, and helping the Taco Bell Foundation for Teens encourage underprivileged youth to finish high school and go on to higher education.

In his application, Wahlberg wrote that the pardon would be

formal recognition that someone like me can receive official public redemption if he devotes himself to personal improvement and a life of good works. My hope is that, if I receive a pardon, troubled youths will see this as an inspiration and motivation that they too can turn their lives around and be accepted back into society. It would also be an important capstone to the lessons that I try to teach my own children on a daily basis.

Harsh media skepticism ensued. Some noted cynically that part of Wahlberg’s stated motivation lies in the possible expansion of his Wahlburger’s restaurant chain, which could be denied locations in some states due to his felony record. If this is indeed his ulterior motive, however, it seems odd and not especially shrewd to actually include it in his application.

The media skeptics also linked Wahlberg’s request to current racial tensions. Ben Railton at Talking Points Memo, for example, called Wahlberg’s application “the epitome of white privilege,” and claimed that the actor is trying to rewrite history. But Wahlberg isn’t trying to buy a whitewashing of his crime, which he has never avoided discussing in public. “I have not engaged in philanthropic efforts,” Walhberg writes in his application, “in order to make people forget about my past. To the contrary, I want people to remember my past so that I can serve as an example of how lives can be turned around and how people can be redeemed.” A pardon would not erase what Wahlberg did; it would only officially forgive him for it.

Jeff Yang at CNN, for another, linked Wahlberg’s teenage crimes to the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner, and declared emphatically that the white Wahlberg “doesn’t deserve pardon.” Brian Moylan at Time, in a particularly cynical op-ed called “Forgive Mark Wahlberg’s Cinematic Crimes, If You Like – But Not His Real Ones,” says that a pardon for the narcissistic celebrity Wahlberg would only prove that rich white folk are above the law.

All three commentators accuse Wahlberg of cruising to stardom after his light sentencing while criminals of color struggle even to find jobs after their convictions. They neglect to mention that the talented Wahlberg is a rare situation, that most white ex-cons also struggle to get by. They also conveniently neglect to mention that black rapper Jay-Z was convicted in 2001 of a 2nd degree felony – a stabbing – and received only three years probation. Neither that conviction nor his skin color held Jay-Z back; he and wife Beyoncé are worth a combined billion dollars. If Jay-Z were to seek a pardon, would the race-baiters support it because he’s black? I believe that’s called racism.

Only Time’s Moylan even mentioned that another reason Wahlberg is seeking a pardon is to become a reserve officer for the LAPD, a position that civilian volunteers hold in order to perform the duties of full-time police officers: “I am seeking a full and unconditional pardon because, under California law, a full and unconditional pardon is the only form of pardon that will enable me to, for example, obtain a position as a parole or probation officer.”

Here’s something else that the haters always bring up and always get wrong: that Wahlberg’s Vietnamese victim not only forgives him, but that he was already blind in one eye: “I was not blinded by Mark Wahlberg,” said 59-year-old Johnny Trinh in the only media interview about the incident that he has ever given. “He did hurt me, but my left eye was already gone. He was not responsible for that.”

In a recent, exclusive interview with Daily Mail Online, Trinh – who never even knew that his assaulter went on to become a famous rapper and movie star – said that he supports a pardon for Wahlberg and that he is willing to make a written statement for the court to that effect:

I forgive him now. Everyone deserves another chance. I would like to see him get a pardon. He should not have the crime hanging over him any longer… I am not saying that it did not hurt when he punched me in the face, but it was a long time ago. He has grown up now.

In light of this gracious forgiveness, I do think Trinh himself deserves a personal, face-to-face apology from Wahlberg. But I also believe that Trinh’s gesture goes a long way toward validating a pardon for the star.

I’ve written before for Acculturated about my admiration for the ways in which Mark Wahlberg has reinvented himself as one of Hollywood’s most upstanding role models: from returning to school at the age of 41 for his high school diploma, to his very vocal appreciation for our military, to his devotion to family. Indeed, Wahlberg was voted the first recipient of Acculturated’s “Celebrities Behaving Well Award. None of this is to excuse or erase the thug life of his youth. But it is to acknowledge, as Wahlberg’s pardon would do, that youthful criminality need not determine the course of one’s life, that redemption can be earned, and that as a society we value the power of forgiveness.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 12/16/14)

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