Sunday, August 31, 2014

The ‘Insidious’ Threat of Benevolent Sexism

On the Fox News show Outnumbered recently, the always-outspoken ex-KISS bass player Gene Simmons scoffed at a 2012 study posted on which warned of “the insidious nature of benevolent sexism” and the hidden dangers of holding a door open for a woman.

Dr. Stephen Franzoi and Dr. Debra Oswald, professors of psychology at Marquette University, co-wrote the study entitled “Experiencing Sexism and Young Women’s Body Esteem,” about how young women’s body esteem is affected by both hostile and “benevolent” sexism from family members and everyday experiences.

If you have been blissfully ignorant of benevolent sexism, it’s been central to feminist theory since the late 1990s. The Marquette University study explains that benevolent sexism is characterized “by beliefs and actions that appear outwardly positive, but actually undermine gender equality.” It is “subtler” than “hostile sexism,” its more extreme partner which consists of open acts or policies of gender discrimination, and so widespread and “deeply ingrained in American culture that women experience it daily but may not even realize it.” Something as seemingly innocuous as a man holding a door open for a woman, for example, is benevolent sexism.

How does this fiendish strategy work? “This pattern of sexist behavior restricts what the woman can and cannot do by setting up rewards and punishments” for her behavior, Oswald writes. For example, if a father believes that women should stick to a proper feminine role in society, he tends to encourage his daughter to perpetuate that social conformity by, say, complimenting her on a traditional feminine appearance with makeup and certain dress. It’s unclear whether the solution is for men to stop complimenting women’s appearance, or for women to start dressing like men.

The researchers gave a series of surveys to 86 first-year female college students and their parents to explore any connection between the students’ body esteem and “parental support of sexist beliefs.” It turned out that the women who had higher body esteem were more likely to have fathers who practiced benevolent sexism. The researchers found this “disconcerting” and insist that “it highlights the insidious nature of benevolent sexism.”
If you have been under the impression that poor body esteem was a serious problem for women and especially young girls today, you may be wondering how something that elevates that esteem can be considered bad. Well, academics like Franzoi and Oswald worry that when women feel good about themselves, it “decreas[es] efforts to change the social structure that promotes benevolent sexism and male dominance.”

In other words, benevolent sexism is bad because it makes women feel good about themselves and thus perpetuates benevolent sexism. And that’s bad because if women feel good about themselves, they can’t be manipulated into tearing down the existing social structure.

So the researchers claim that this type of sexism “undermines the long-term esteem of women because it binds them to gender-specific roles… Sexism has evolved into a system where women are rewarded for engaging in the traditional feminine role” and punished for engaging “in nontraditional roles that may challenge the traditional gender relations and power balance.”

The study didn’t address whether engaging in nontraditional roles actually makes the majority of women any happier or more fulfilled. Nor did it address whether the feminist imperative to “challenge traditional gender relations and power balance” has actually improved relations between men and women. It doesn’t take a study to see that gender relations today, at least among younger generations, are characterized mostly by anger, confusion and bitterness. Young men don’t know how to be men or to treat women, and they blame them for that confusion; young women despise men for being immature and confused, and yet they believe that their own liberation means acting like the worst examples of men. They are all a lost generation, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein. This is the result of the radical feminist assault on men and the notion of gender itself.

Gene Simmons and his four female co-hosts on Outnumbered didn’t take the notion of benevolent sexism seriously. They all seemed perfectly comfortable in their traditional gender roles, and by “traditional” I mean the recognition that biological gender differences exist, that men and women are equal but different and complement each other, and that we can embrace that balance and not buy into the feminist imperative to be angry antagonists.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 8/27/14)

Calling ISIS What it is – Evil

If any Americans remained unconvinced that barbaric evil is at the cold-blooded heart of the terrorist group ISIS, their recent beheading of journalist James Foley made it graphically undeniable. The moral divide between ISIS and us is clearly marked. And yet there are those among us who still cannot bring themselves to use moral terminology to describe the enemy.

Michael J. Boyle for example, an associate professor of political science at La Salle University, contributed an op-ed to the New York Times Saturday on “the moral hazard” of using terms like “evil” and “cancer” to describe the terrorist group ISIS. Sure, he concedes, ISIS has committed thousands of gruesome human rights violations and war crimes, but Boyle wants to put the brakes on the “disturbing return of the moralistic language once used to describe Al Qaeda.”

“Condemning the black-clad, masked militants as purely ‘evil,’” he writes, “is seductive, for it conveys a moral clarity and separates ourselves and our tactics from the enemy and theirs.” How is this a problem? Moral clarity is an ideal state of affairs, especially in a world in which moral boundaries so frequently seem blurred. But Boyle believes that using judgments such as “nihilistic” to describe a group “tends to obscure the group’s strategic aims and preclude further analysis.” In other words, it discourages us from understanding the enemy.

I’m skeptical that Boyle himself understands ISIS’ strategic aims. He insists that ISIS “operates less like a revolutionary terrorist movement that wants to overturn the entire political order in the Middle East than a successful insurgent group that wants a seat at that table.” The notion that Islamic fundamentalists want only a seat at the political table is short-sighted, if not deluded. ISIS and their brethren absolutely want to overturn the political order of the world, not just the Middle East, and replace it with their own. This may seem comically unrealistic to us, but our opinion is irrelevant; all that matters is, ISIS believes it to be not only possible, but inevitable. They are executing their vision in a bloody swath across Iraq, and will continue until someone with the moral clarity and military power to stop them does so.

But this is another issue for Boyle. He is concerned that moralizing about the enemy is a slippery slope toward another Middle Eastern military quagmire:

The Obama administration needs to ensure that the just revulsion over Mr. Foley’s murder and ISIS’ other abuses does not lead us down an unplanned path toward open-ended conflict… The strategic drift produced by this moralistic language is already noticeable, as an air campaign first designed to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe has morphed into an effort to roll back, or even defeat, ISIS.

Isn’t rolling back and defeating ISIS a desirable outcome? In any case, whether we acknowledge it or not, we already are in an open-ended conflict with an enemy – Islamic fundamentalists – who are committed to a forever war. The way to prevent a quagmire is not to be tentative about military force, but to unleash hell and finish the job.

The New York Times wasn’t alone in its moral unease. A similar piece, “Should We Call ISIS ‘Evil,’” appeared on CNN, as National Review Online’s Jonah Goldberg pointed out. James Dawes, director of the Program in Human Rights at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, wagged his finger at Goldberg for tweeting that ISIS is obviously evil, and for the same reason as the Times’ Boyle: such simplistic terminology doesn’t do justice to the “complexities” of the ISIS phenomenon. Dawes too claims that calling someone evil “stops us from thinking”:

If we are to have any hope of preventing the spread of extremist ideologies, we must do more than bomb the believers. We must understand them. We must be willing to continue thinking...

We can say they are evil people doing evil things for evil ends. Or we can do the hard work of understanding the context that made them, so that we can create a context that unmakes them.

Inexplicably, Dawes seems to believe that understanding our enemies and identifying them as evil are mutually exclusive. Then he goes from the inexplicable to the offensive: “There is only one good reason to denounce a group as evil – because you plan to injure them, and calling them evil makes it psychologically easier to do so. ‘Evil’ is the most powerful word we have to prepare ourselves to kill other people comfortably.”

What a crock of academic moral equivalence. The reality is that we call ISIS evil not so Americans can have an expedient justification to go out and “kill other people comfortably,” but because ISIS beheads innocents, buries children alive, sells women into slavery, and massacres thousands. If we can’t objectively describe that as evil, then evil doesn’t exist. Perhaps for Dawes, it doesn’t.

There is no question that understanding the enemy is always vital. No one argues otherwise. But moral judgment is vital too. However, since 9/11 (and even before), the news media, academia, politicians, and even our own military establishment have done their best to deflect understanding and judgment of Islam and to explain away the evil done in its name as everything but Islamic. Islam is peace, they say. Jihad isn’t holy war, it’s inner struggle. Terrorism is blowback for our own oil-grubbing imperialism. The Ft. Hood massacre was workplace violence. Al Qaeda has hijacked and perverted Islam. Hamas are freedom fighters pushing back against Israeli occupation. ISIS is just an insurgent group seeking political legitimacy. And so on.

We will begin to win this forever war when remove these politically correct obstacles to understanding the enemy, and embrace the moral clarity to identify evil and eradicate it.

(This article originally appeared here on FrontPage Mag, 8/27/14)

Is Chivalry Too Risky?

The word “chivalry” brings to mind heroic images of a knight in shining armor riding to the defense of a damsel in distress. We don’t usually consider the possibility that things may go badly for the would-be rescuer.

Earlier this month, a 39-year-old Texan visiting Philadelphia was out in the wee hours of the morning when he saw several men inside a car pull up next to a group of women, whom they began taunting and catcalling. A police captain later reported that the visitor “took offense to something that the guys were saying to the girls and said ‘Hey, watch what you’re saying.’”

At that point, one of the men inside the vehicle got out and punched the Good Samaritan, who fell and struck his head on the concrete, knocking him unconscious. The suspects then fled and the victim ended up in the hospital. “This is a tragic, tragic story,” the police captain said. “Here’s a guy trying to stick up for these girls and he gets victimized.”

Even more tragic is the instance one night last July when a 49-year-old man came to the rescue of a woman being sexually assaulted by two men at a Fresno gas station. This allowed the woman to escape, but he was badly beaten by the pair and left in the street, where he was struck and killed by a passing vehicle.

These are just a couple of newsworthy examples of heroic intentions gone terribly wrong. What both victims did was the very definition of chivalry, which in its purest original sense is rooted in service to others and protection of the defenseless. They were gentlemen coming to the defense of women; the other men were cads at best, violent sex offenders at worst. Unfortunately, the gentlemen got the worst of both confrontations.

I’m a fierce proponent of the social value of chivalry, the medieval code of honor which unfortunately has nearly been snuffed out over the course of the 20th century by the rise of feminism. Today it is in a coma on life support, and we are worse off for that. Our culture – any culture – sorely needs its young men to embrace chivalry’s core principles.

But many men will see the above examples as definitive evidence that chivalry is, well, stupid. Why leap to the defense of a woman you don’t even know if you might end up in the hospital – or the cemetery? Even if you get the better of the bad guy in a physical confrontation, you might still come away injured and/or facing a financially devastating lawsuit. And what if the woman doesn’t even appreciate a man coming to her defense? These days many young women resent even having doors opened for them. Just what is the upside of playing the white knight anymore?

These are very valid questions, and they are part of the reason that chivalry is dead to so many today. What are men to do?

The simple answer is that men must do their duty, as men have always been expected to do. Part of that duty means, as I wrote above, embracing the chivalric virtues of service to others and protection of the defenseless. I know that the reality is more complicated than that sounds, but there is no getting around the fact that morality and manhood require courage. The world needs – and has always needed – men willing to put themselves on the line to be gentlemen and heroes, willing to stand up to men of baser character and evil intent, even at personal risk. Without that, in a society in which able-bodied men do not selflessly step up to do the right thing, bad men will run rampant and the law of the jungle will prevail.

Without knowing more details about the incidents in the opening examples, it’s difficult to know if the situations could have been handled more safely or wisely. But the point is that the gentlemen who came to the aid of those women acted rightly on noble instincts. The alternative would have been to stand by or turn a blind eye to misogynistic hostility, and in the second instance, possibly murder. That cowardly inaction would have come at the cost of the women’s safety and the gentlemen’s manhood.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 8/25/14)

Obama Delivers Empty Rhetoric About ISIS

President Obama took time out from his busy social schedule to present a statement Wednesday afternoon on the ISIS (or ISIL) beheading of a kidnapped American photojournalist. It was unsurprisingly full of empty rhetoric without any reference to action.

He began by announcing that “the entire world is appalled” by the murder of James Wright Foley – or as Obama referred to him repeatedly and familiarly, “Jim” (this has to be the first speech by Obama in which he referred to someone else more often than himself). Foley’s murder was “an act of violence that shocks the conscience of the entire world.” I don’t believe the President of the United States is authorized to speak for the entire world, but in any case there is a significant portion of the world that not only wasn’t shocked but has no conscience about the butchering of infidels, and that’s the problem that needs to be addressed.

But first, Obama eulogized Foley: “Jim was a journalist, a son, a brother, and a friend.” Such an intimate, even maudlin statement would be entirely suitable among friends and relatives at a funeral service but is frankly unworthy of a presidential announcement to the world. But Obama wasn’t done expressing his unconvincing grief: “All of us feel the ache of his absence. All of us mourn his loss.” Apparently Obama mourns by heading straight to the links for another round of golf, because that’s what he did immediately after he delivered this statement.

“We keep in our prayers those other Americans who are separated from their families,” he continued. Like U.S. Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi, who remains jailed in Mexico and has been separated from his family since late March? Keeping him in one’s prayers is a nice gesture but is no substitute for the President of the United States actually lifting a finger to bring that Marine home, something Obama hasn’t done.

He moved on to address the monsters behind Foley’s beheading and countless other sick atrocities. “Let’s be clear about ISIL,” said Obama, although we know by now that anytime Obama declares that he’s going to be clear about something, he’s just posturing at sounding authoritative. He acknowledged that “they have rampaged across cities and villages, killing innocent, unarmed civilians in cowardly acts of violence. They abduct women and children, and subject them to torture and rape and slavery.” Then he purposefully notes that they have murdered Muslims by the thousands and “target Christians and religious minorities, driving them from their homes, murdering them when they can for no other reason than they practice a different religion.”

Yes – a religion different from Islam, but Obama didn’t make that connection. Instead, he declared that “ISIL speaks for no religion.” No? The Islamic State speaks for no religion? “Their victims are overwhelmingly Muslim, and no faith teaches people to massacre innocents.” His language here is disingenuous, because of course Muslim fundamentalists have a different definition of “innocent” from ours, and they have never had a problem slaughtering less orthodox Muslims. “No just God would stand for what they did yesterday... ISIL has no ideology of any value to human beings.”

He’s correct about that last part, and that the ideology is “nihilistic,” but he never says what that ideology is, only that it’s “bankrupt.” Is it bankrupt if it’s gaining adherents daily who are fanatically committed to the elimination of Western civilization? Obama claims that this undefined “ideology” has nothing to offer but “endless slavery to their empty vision, and the collapse of any definition of civilized behavior.” No argument there, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to implode on its own for lack of true believers. Too many feel that Islam has a very compelling vision, and that it is Western freedom that enslaves.

“People like this ultimately fail,” Obama declared with unfounded optimism. “They fail, because the future is won by those who build and not destroy.” Oh? Where is this guarantee written in stone? Because in the real world good doesn’t always win; history belongs to “the strong horse,” as bin Laden once put it, and right now ISIS and their ilk are far more confident than we are about to whom the future belongs. Of one thing we can be certain: the forces of evil and annihilation will win if “those who build” don’t get their civilized ass in gear and eradicate this nihilistic “ideology.”

And yet ultimately, Obama’s statement mentioned not a single action item, only pompous rhetoric: “The United States of America will continue to do what we must do to protect our people. We will be vigilant and we will be relentless. When people harm Americans, anywhere, we do what’s necessary to see that justice is done.” Is there anyone here and abroad who still believes that America under Obama relentlessly protects and seeks justice for her citizens? Need I mention Benghazi?

Obama went on to urge the governments and people of the Middle East to unite in “a common effort to extract this cancer, so that it does not spread. There has to be a clear rejection of these kinds of nihilistic ideologies.” Yes, there has to be, but what is the President of the United States going to do to ensure that? “One thing we can all agree on is that a group like ISIL has no place in the 21st century.” ISIS begs to differ. They believe that it is America that has no place in the 21st century.

Before rushing off to the golf course, Obama closed with the vague promise “to confront this hateful terrorism and replace it with a sense of hope and civility. We will do everything that we can to protect our people and the timeless values that we stand for.”

ISIS’ boastful response? “We will drown you in blood.”

(This article originally appeared here on FrontPage Mag, 8/22/14)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Is Taylor Swift’s New Video Racist?

I recently wrote for Acculturated that these are tough times for white female pop stars, whose every video and stage performance is now scrutinized for racism and cultural appropriation by those who seem predisposed to find racism everywhere (except, too often, where it actually exists). Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry have been highly visible targets of such charges, and now Taylor Swift joins their ranks.

The music video for Swift’s new single “Shake it Off” debuted Monday and as of this writing has 20 million YouTube views. It’s a playful, exuberant song about shrugging off your critics and haters, and living with joyful abandon. In the video, Swift self-deprecatingly but unself-consciously tries to keep up with talented, ethnically diverse performers in a variety of dance styles, from ballet to modern dance to twerking to breakdancing to ribbon gymnastics to cheerleading.

The video immediately drew fire for supposedly racist images. Rapper Earl Sweatshirt, for example, pronounced it “inherently offensive and ultimately harmful” on Twitter and declared that it perpetuates black stereotypes, despite admitting that he hadn’t seen the video (which instantly renders his opinion invalid). “I don’t need to,” he says, defiant in his ignorance.

Unlike Sweatshirt and probably many others among the chorus of race-baiters, I have seen the video. It’s not racist. I’m not a Swift fan, but smearing someone as racist is a very serious accusation, and those who hurl false charges need to be called out for their hatefulness.

In a pointlessly bitchy takedown of Swift and the video at the Jezebel website, for example, Hillary Crosley accuses “milquetoast” Swift of “cultural appropriation” because she is “wearing cut off jean shorts, an animal print jacket, big gold hoops and jewelry that harken [sic] people of color,” and because she is backed up by twerkers (who are not all black, by the way). “Dressing up in the cultural cues of another ethnic group isn’t cool,” finger-wags Crosley, who is black but who probably doesn’t object to Leontyne Price dressing up in the white cultural cues of opera or Misty Copeland dressing up in the white cultural cues of ballet.

The Consequence of Sound website also questioned whether the video is racist, posting a litany of tweeted disapproval from random commenters, like these:

“Hi, Taylor Swift. Welcome to the racist pop singer club.”

“wtf did taylor swift just do omg is she pulling a katy perry? where are all these racist white girls comign from”

“#ShakeItOff is racist and offensive. Why does your self expression and rebellion have to come off the backs of black people?”

At least CoS finishes the piece with a defense of Swift from the Tumblr page Ohrgasm, in which “a proud ass black man” declares it “not problematic or even close to racist”:

Taylor was not “cultural appropriating” anything and she wasn’t “being racist”... She was celebrating people’s dancing and how they celebrate music throughout the video and a large variety of black woman twerk. Would it honestly make sense if Taylor had 100 or so white girls try to twerk?

Let me be blunt: the theory of cultural appropriation is a divisive, narrow-minded, inherently racist ideological weapon that locks us all into racial identities with hard and fast borders rather than acknowledging us as individuals with our own tastes and interests and abilities. It denies us, on the basis of skin color, the ability to pay homage to or engage in cultural expressions that are not our own. It enforces segregation and stunts cultural evolution.

As for negative black stereotypes: if, like Earl Sweatshirt, you want to shame performers who are perpetuating them, the most obvious and influential place to begin is with black recording artists who glorify those stereotypes. For blacks who don’t want to be stereotyped as uneducated thugs and hypersexualized twerkers, then the solution is very simple: stop doing it yourselves. Stop making videos depicting yourselves as pimps and hos. Stop referring to each other as nigga. Stop glorifying the materialistic immorality and criminality of the gangsta life. Stop twerking. Stop spewing obscenities and porn dressed up as lyrics. Mostly, stop embracing this degrading behavior as your proud cultural tradition.

Taylor Swift isn’t perpetuating those stereotypes – you are.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 8/21/14)

Pro-Israel Hollywood Speaks Out

Many celebrities recently have voiced their concern for innocents dying in Gaza. Unfortunately, since the entertainment biz leans heavily to the left, they do so by turning a blind eye to Hamas’ responsibility and unfairly bashing Israel. But there is more support for Israel in Hollywood than one might suspect, and more and more conservative stars are daring to express that support unabashedly.

In the wake of their highly controversial participation in an open letter from Spain’s artistic community criticizing Israel’s “genocide” of so-called Palestinians, husband-and-wife actors Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz seemed shocked at the backlash they received, including from colleagues in Tinseltown. Outspoken Hollywood conservative Jon Voight blasted Bardem and Cruz and their ilk in his own open letter defending Israel. Bardem and Cruz both followed up with statements attempting to clarify their position and defending themselves against charges of anti-Semitism.

Now Dean Cain, of television Superman fame, said recently on Fox’s Outnumbered that in the Gaza conflict, it is Israel that best represents Superman’s credo, “truth, justice, and the American way.” He declared that as a democracy threatened by terrorists, Israel deserves our wholehearted support. “Clearly Hamas are terrorists,” said Cain, “and if rockets were being fired from Mexico into my home town of San Diego, Americans wouldn’t accept that for a minute. We’d be taking over that part of Mexico and making it part of California.” Dean must be thinking of the pre-Obama America; today’s anti-colonialist President is more likely to surrender San Diego to Mexico.

Another superhero – Gal Gadot, who will play Wonder Woman in the upcoming Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justicespoke out as well via social media, posting this on Facebook:

I am sending my love and prayers to my fellow Israeli citizens. Especially to all the boys and girls who are risking their lives protecting my country against the horrific acts conducted by Hamas, who are hiding like cowards behind women and children…We shall overcome!!! Shabbat Shalom!

Gadot is a former Miss Israel who served two years in the Israeli Defense Forces. In a 2011 interview, she stated that

I don’t feel like I’m an ambassador for my country, but I do talk about Israel a lot – I enjoy telling people about where I come from and my religion. I find that people in the U.S., especially in Hollywood, tend to have positive opinions on Israel – both Jewish and non-Jewish people alike. But when I travel to Europe, people often don’t know as much about Israel, and sadly a lot of them have a negative impression of the country.

Perhaps she should be an ambassador, because she handled that last sentence very diplomatically. That was in 2011; these days Europe is a raging hotbed of open Jew-hatred. In any case, bravo for her.

Others in the entertainment industry have spoken out as well, among them: the always blunt shock jock Howard Stern, who asserted that if you’re anti-Israel, you’re anti-American; the even blunter comedienne Joan Rivers, who advised pro-“Palestinian” pop stars Rihanna and Selena Gomez to “shut up, put on pretty clothes, and get themselves off of drugs”; Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli, who Instagramed her respect for the “Brave young men who have protected our country from terror. My heart goes out to their families. They will always be remembered and respected #RIP”; Big Bang Theory actress Mayim Bialik, who donated money to buy bulletproof vests for the IDF; and actors and perennial Twitter warriors Adam Baldwin and Nick Searcy.  

A particularly compelling voice was that of Ryan Kavanaugh, CEO of entertainment studio Relativity Media and grandson of a Holocaust survivor. In an open letter to industry paper The Hollywood Reporter, Kavanaugh wrote a passionate defense of Israel and urged his Hollywood cohorts to “be thankful you live in and around Hollywood,” because

If you're a woman, gay, Christian, Jewish or just non-Muslim and reading this, be thankful you don’t live in Gaza. Not only would you not be allowed to read this, you probably would be publicly executed. If you’ve ever voiced an opinion that isn’t shared by Hamas publicly or merely attended a meeting where people are discussing anything Hamas does not support, be thankful you don't live in Gaza, as you probably would be publicly executed.

He pointed out that “Israel is one of the most creative nations on the planet, in every dimension of life — invention, research, technology and yes, the arts.” By contrast, Hamas is “one of the most anti-Western, anti-creative, violent forces on the planet”:

So when we see some in Hollywood — truly gifted artists and good people — aligning themselves with views that would be supported by Hamas, which fires rockets frequently and indiscriminately at innocent Tel Aviv citizens, we have to wonder what they're thinking. Are they thinking?

No. Thinking is an impediment to pushing an anti-Israel narrative that doesn’t conform to the facts. It also frequently contradicts feeling, which is what celebrity progressives rely on to form their passionate political positions.

Kavanaugh pulled no punches about Hamas being “virulently committed to killing Jews and destroying Israel.” Paraphrasing Benjamin Netanyahu, Kavanaugh states that “If Israel were to put down its arms tomorrow, Israel would be decimated and all its citizens killed within 24 hours. If Hamas were to put down its arms tomorrow, there would be immediate peace.” Then he asks his Hollywood colleagues, “How can a Hollywood community so tolerant … tolerate this utter tyranny?”

Of course, the answer to this question is that Hollywood progressives aren’t tolerant – progressivism is ultimately totalitarian. Instead of standing up for Western liberal democracies like Israel (or the United States, for that matter) that support human rights, civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the rest, Hollywood leftists have allied themselves, either unwittingly or intentionally, with Islamic supremacists sworn to bring those democracies to their knees.

If more showbiz conservatives keep speaking out, perhaps their progressive counterparts will have less of a stranglehold on Hollywood.

(This article originally appeared here on Frontpage Mag, 8/20/14)

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Wisdom of Harry Potter in Dark Times

Last month at their home in Texas, Stephen and Katie Stay and four of their five young children were executed in an h0rrific massacre at the hands of the ex-husband of Katie’s sister. The sole survivor of the family was 15-year-old Cassidy; incredibly, she not only survived being shot in the head by playing dead, but managed to call 911 after the incident and give details of the attack to the authorities. That led to the suspect’s capture later that day and also saved the lives of her grandparents, whom the murderer intended to target next. Cassidy is expected to make a full recovery.

During a press conference a few days afterward, the remarkable Cassidy quoted the wizard Dumbledore from the wildly popular fantasy series of Harry Potter books by author J.K. Rowling: “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” That’s an extraordinary attitude to find in a teen who has lost her whole family.

The Dumbledore reference led to a woman named Michelle Boyer setting up a Facebook page in Cassidy’s honor, urging Rowling to meet with the teen. Though they didn’t meet, the author did indeed reach out to Cassidy. A representative for Rowling confirmed that she sent Cassidy a letter and package, but “the contents of the letter and how it came about are between her and Cassidy and will remain private.” Boyer’s Facebook page confirmed that the letter included a wand, an acceptance letter to the wizards’ school Hogwarts, and an autographed copy of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

A thoughtful gesture, but what really made the letter interesting is that Rowling apparently wrote it in the voice of Dumbledore. I think this demonstrates that the author either consciously or instinctively understood an important insight about fantasy. In a recent Atlantic article, novelist Lev Grossman, himself the author of a fantasy trilogy, wrote about an underappreciated aspect of that genre:

I bristle whenever fantasy is characterized as escapism. It’s not a very accurate way to describe it; in fact, I think fantasy is a powerful tool for coming to an understanding of oneself. The magic trick here, the sleight of hand, is that when you pass through the portal, you re-encounter in the fantasy world the problems you thought you left behind in the real world.

Grossman goes on to cite the C.S. Lewis novel The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as “a powerful illustration of why fantasy matters in the first place.” In that beloved children’s classic, the young Lucy and her three siblings are evacuated to the countryside from London during World War II to escape the bombing. Lucy discovers in the wardrobe a mystical entrance to a realm called Narnia. Of the wartime horrors that loom outside in the real world, Grossman says, “You can feel [Lewis] telling you—I know it’s awful, truly terrible, but that’s not all there is. There’s another option. Lucy, as she enters the wardrobe, takes the other option.”

That other option isn’t escapism or denial. “When you go to Narnia your worries come with you,” Grossman writes. “Narnia just becomes the place where you work them out and try to resolve them”:

In fantasy… the landscape you inhabit is a mirror of what’s inside you. The stuff inside can get out, and walk around, and take the form of places and people and things and magic. And once it’s outside, then you can get at it. You can wrestle it, make friends with it, kill it, seduce it. Fantasy takes all those things from deep inside and puts them where you can see them, and then deal with them. 

When Rowling wrote her a letter in Dumbledore’s voice, she may have been telling Cassidy that I know it’s awful, truly terrible, but that’s not all there is. There’s another option. She may have been reminding Cassidy that there is a place in which she can more easily come to grips with her awful, truly terrible reality. That’s a message Rowling could deliver more effectively in Dumbledore’s voice than her own.

People find many different ways to cope with terrible loss, and I can’t even imagine the loss that Cassidy Stay has suffered. But I hope it’s true what Michelle Boyer states on her Facebook page dedicated to Cassidy: “In my opinion, a letter from Dumbledore is better than an actual visit from J.K. This is something that she will be able to find comfort in forever.”

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 8/13/14)

Taking the Fight to Jihadists in a New Novel

For those who are frustrated by the unchecked spread of violent Islam and would like at least the vicarious satisfaction of reading about jihadists being taken down, my friend Lela Gilbert and W. Jack Buckner LTC (ret.), Special Forces, have written a very satisfying action thriller entitled The Levine Affair: Angel’s Flight.

Just published by Post Hill Press, The Levine Affair: Angel’s Flight is the gripping novel of an elite paramilitary unit put together by an Israeli philanthropist named David Levine to combat the global threat of jihad. Their mission in the book is to rescue a young Nigerian woman sentenced to be stoned to death, as well as a journalist and editor under assault by a mob of jihadis. Yes, it’s a fictional thriller with some edge-of-your-seat action sequences, but it’s hardly escapism, grounded as it is in the real-world persecution of Christian communities in Nigeria. The book is educational as well, and presents a confrontation of clearcut good and evil, happily devoid of the moral equivalence that spoils too much of today’s storytelling about Islamic terror (such as Showtime’s Homeland, for example).

Lela Gilbert knows this territory well. The author of Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians, Blind Spot: When Journalists Don’t Get Religion, and most recently Saturday People, Sunday People: Israel Through the Eyes of a Christian Sojourner, Lela is a freelance writer and editor who has authored or co-authored a jaw-dropping 60+ books, and a contributor to The Jerusalem Post, The Weekly Standard, Jewish World Review, and National Review Online, among others. An adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute, she lives in California and Jerusalem. I reached out to her with a few questions about the novel.

Mark Tapson:    Though you’ve written novels before, you’re known primarily for your ecumenical nonfiction like Saturday People, Sunday People. Why a novel about Islamic fundamentalism in Nigeria, rather than nonfiction?

Lela Gilbert:            Jack Buckner and I actually started writing Angel’s Flight before I wrote Saturday People, Sunday People and Persecuted.  I was thinking of a way to tell a captivating, realistic up-to-date story that didn’t obscure the realities of life under the threat of Islamist terrorists. Nigeria has faced such dangers for more than a decade.

I also wanted to try and bring the reader into the terrible agony of a young woman sentenced to death by stoning, living out her days in a squalid prison cell with her very life dependent on the survival of her beloved but sickly baby. I wrote all this long before Meriam Ibrahim was imprisoned in Sudan; in some ways her story was eerily similar to this one as it unfolded. Meanwhile, I was longing for good-hearted heroes to enter the fray and defend the defenseless – so I invented some! Jack helped me arm them properly and prepare them for battle.

MT:     One of the main characters is a young publishing editor who is largely clueless about Islam. You also mention that Islamic atrocities in the 3rd world receive very little press coverage. Do you think this ignorance – or perhaps willful blindness – is still a widespread problem in the literary world and news media, and among our “intelligentsia” as a whole?

LG:     I think the events of recent days – both the horrors of ISIS in Iraq and the brutalities of Hamas – have awakened a few more journalists and “experts” to the deadly religious fanaticism of radical Islamists. But my sense is that these groups and their attacks are still viewed as isolated incidents, perpetrated by ragtag troublemakers here and there. Yes, they cause bloodshed, but the incidents are perceived as having nothing to do with each other as far as ideology and global ambition are concerned. There’s a huge disconnect between the lurid news reports and YouTube posts of beheadings, crucifixions, mass kidnappings etc. and westerners living in peace and prosperity. It’s kind of like watching reality TV – it’s “real,” but not really real.

Meanwhile, in both academic and journalistic circles, there is also a persistent prejudice against Americans and our Western allies – promoting the idea that we are really at fault for all the troubles of the world. We should call terrorists “freedom fighters” and stop criticizing their non-Western tactics – cruel though they may be. Instead we should be apologizing for our own record of crimes against humanity. We’ve learned to describe this kind of reasoning as “moral equivalency.”

MT:     One of your characters is critical of human rights organizations who are na├»ve about the threat of jihad and who believe only in “heart-to-heart dialogue” with the enemy. Another character asserts that there is no hope for the persecuted Nigerian Christians “unless good people take matters into their own hands.” Do you think we have reached the point where military action is the only solution for Christian communities in Africa and the Middle East that are facing violent extermination?

LG:     I don’t suppose there is ever a time when military action is the “only” solution. But when it comes to Islamist fanaticism, I’m skeptical about dialogue, because people who believe in coercing religious conversion through violence, or those who believe Islamists should rule over other religious minorities with an iron fist – these people are not open-minded. They claim to love death, not life, and declare that they intend to martyr themselves for the cause. They may agree to dialogue in order to divert attention from what’s happening on the ground, or to take a break in their assault long enough to rest and reload.

Meanwhile, there are two advantages to military action. One is, of course, to defeat the insurgents. The other is deterrence: massive casualties to troops and damage to infrastructure can cause terrorists to have second thoughts about their next plan of attack. “Talk softly but carry a big stick” was Teddy Roosevelt’s idea of foreign policy. America does a lot of soft talking these days – sometimes even tough talking – but the sticks all seem to be locked up in the State Department’s basement.

MT:     You’ve obviously set up the novel for a sequel or a second mission for your characters, protecting Christians at the Turkish-Syrian border. Do you envision a series of books in which your special operatives take on Islamists around the world?

LG:     I don’t know about a series. But there are some very dangerous places in the world that don’t get much attention in the media. It would be both informative and satisfying to focus the spotlight on a couple more of them. I hope Jack and I get a chance to do so.

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

Friday, August 15, 2014

Robin Williams’ Gift

Like everyone else, I was stunned yesterday to hear of the passing of comedian and actor Robin Williams, apparently by his own hand. A sad clown who brought gut-busting laughter to countless millions for over 35 years while simultaneously wrestling with dark personal demons, Williams was also an Oscar-caliber dramatic actor of such classics as Dead Poets Society and Good Will Hunting. The world has lost a talent that arguably bore the gift of genius.

About that genius: among the outpouring of reactions on social media yesterday, I was struck by a keen observation on Facebook from political commentator Steve Hayward that Williams’ “zigzag streak of lightning in the brain” (a phrase once used to describe Winston Churchill’s greatness) was “palpable”: “He wasn’t a person of comic imagination who merely thought up jokes. He was way beyond that. You could see his wit (not even an adequate word) explode in his head right in front of you.” Very true, and I can confirm this from my own brief personal experience with Williams.

Back in the late ‘80s I worked in an independent bookstore in an upscale neighborhood of San Francisco. Williams, an avid reader, used to come in now and then to browse. I would just nod hello and leave him alone; he seemed to appreciate having some quiet time to himself and not being hassled because of his celebrity. But on at least a couple of occasions when I was present, when there was a small crowd of customers (perhaps 8-12 people) in the small checkout space at the front of the store, he couldn’t resist launching into an hilarious impromptu show for long minutes, riffing on anyone and anything in sight.

On these occasions, however, as we all laughed I kept thinking, “This isn’t normal somehow. It isn’t just improv. It’s like he’s channeling the comedy from somewhere, and he’s not in control of it – it’s in control of him.” This was more evident to me from being in his immediate presence than when I viewed him on television or onstage. I saw something literally pass over his face as he transformed from customer to performer, as if he were suddenly possessed.

The word “genius” originally referred to an external being, a sort of guardian or guiding spirit who accompanies a person from birth to death. Through the centuries that spirit was internalized and the word came to refer to a person who possesses extraordinary intelligence or talent. But I wonder though, after watching Robin Williams up close and personal, if it is not the extraordinary talent that possesses the person. Perhaps that’s why genius can be a curse as much as a gift.

In any case, Williams will go down in pop culture history for that genius. But he should also be celebrated for the reputation he earned as a kind, genuinely empathetic man who went above and beyond the call of duty for others. In the wake of his passing, people began posting online their personal experiences of the ways in which the big-hearted Williams privately offered help to others: a cancer sufferer, a teen Mrs. Doubtfire fan dying of a brain tumor, a former high school wrestling coach struggling with depression, to name a few – not to mention the troops he repeatedly traveled overseas to entertain (like his character in Good Morning, Vietnam), for which he was called the Bob Hope of our time.

In the end Robin Williams may not have been able to save himself, but the rest of us will always remember what he gave of himself.

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

How Can Anyone Continue to Support Obama?

The left’s kneejerk propensity for blaming George W. Bush for every disaster, from the Lincoln assassination to a bad hair day, has long served as comedy fodder among conservatives. But the serious psychological disorder known as BDS – Bush Derangement Syndrome – is no joke among President Obama’s faithful, who six years later still cling to the notion that Bush is the reason Obama hasn’t yet shown us the promised land and healed the planet as he promised in his 2008 nomination speech.

Last Tuesday, a bipartisan poll found that Obama’s approval rating has hit an all-time (for him) low of 40%, with his handling of foreign policy at a dismal 36%. And yet, for those of us who consider his presidency to be an unmitigated disaster, it’s difficult to comprehend why his approval rating at this point isn’t at zero. In all seriousness, how is it possible that 40% of Americans can still be giving him a thumbs-up? Obviously there is a variety of explanations: low-information voters, willful blindness, progressive brainwashing, or just plain stubbornness among those who can’t admit that their Messiah is a false prophet. And of course there are those radicals who are simply in ideological lockstep with his agenda. But BDS threads throughout it all; “it’s Bush’s fault” remains an unassailable article of progressive faith – and a very convenient excuse.

In a Fox News segment recently on Obama’s leadership, pollster Frank Luntz spoke with about thirty average citizens, half of whom had been Obama voters, about the President’s sagging numbers in terms of favorability and job approval. The bloom was off the rose for some of the disillusioned participants who had previously supported him, but others among the studio audience still stood by their man. A hardcore supporter with the nametag “Shelton” said he believes Obama “is doing an excellent job, considering the circumstances in which he took the office, and all the things piled on his desk.” In other words, as Shelton put it later, “he’s cleaning up George Bush’s mess.”

Even conceding that GWB did leave behind some serious fires to put out, it’s unclear how creating entirely new conflagrations – encouraging a southern border invasion, imposing upon us a health care leviathan, directly contributing to the “Arab Spring” chaos, alienating our allies and empowering our enemies, exacerbating race relations, dismantling our military, turning the IRS into a political weapon, to name some (but by no means all) – can be considered “cleaning up.” Almost six years into the Obama era, he hasn’t even begun to fix “Bush’s mess” – if anything, he has exacerbated it by overloading our national debt and expanding the NSA surveillance state. Obama isn’t cleaning up the Bush legacy – he is burdening us with his own.

Shelton disagreed: “He’s keeping the country out of war, he’s keeping the economy stable –” At that point Luntz interrupted him to turn to another participant who had been shaking his head in disagreement. When that man pressed him to name even one Obama accomplishment, Shelton again responded, “He’s keeping us out of war! Isn’t that enough?” Well, no, especially considering that he hasn’t done even that. Obama didn’t end the war in Iraq – the troop drawdown was scheduled under Bush, although Obama took credit for ending it until he began to be blamed for leaving a vacuum there for ISIS to fill. And Obama increased the number of our troops in Afghanistan where they are still dying (including a brigadier general, the highest ranking officer to die there); as of last year, we still have nearly twice as many there as when he took office. This is to say nothing of the future wars Obama is courting because he has demonstrated to the world that America under him is weak. This has not gone unnoticed by an empowered, resurgent Russia, China, Iran, and our non-state Islamic enemies. But in Shelton’s mind, Obama ended Bush’s illegal wars and so now “war is over,” as John Lennon sang.

Then a woman in the group urged, “Let’s bring back George Bush. Let’s have a great leader.” The suggestion was like a bomb going off in the studio. “It’s George Bush’s fault!” shouted one man. Shelton jumped in with, “George Bush lied about the Iraq War. He lied, and Barack Obama is getting us out of a mess!” This was the same man who moments before had said that Obama hadn’t lied about Obamacare or Benghazi.

Another woman agreed with Shelton, claiming that “[Obama] can’t clean this up in 10 years, 12 years, 14 years. This takes time. He’s just prepping the next President.” One man who didn’t vote for Obama pointed out, however, that “when Reagan took over from Carter it took him three years, but he solved it. When Clinton took over, he took two years, but he solved it.” The Obama fans didn’t respond – evidently, rather than expect their man to solve problems, they just plan to keep blaming Bush indefinitely, or at least for the next 14 years.

In closing the segment, Luntz asked why we stop being civil with each other when Bush’s name comes up, and one gentleman complained that it’s because the left “keeps going back to Bush” instead of moving forward and taking responsibility for the current state of affairs. But of course that’s the whole point: without clinging to their delusional rationalization about Bush, how else could so many Americans convince themselves that nothing in the current state of affairs can possibly be Obama’s fault?

(This article originally appeared here on FrontPage Mag, 8/11/14)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Is ‘Sharknado 2’ the Future of Television?

Last week was the premiere of Sharknado 2: The Second One, the much-anticipated sequel to last summer’s campy hit TV movie Sharknado about a freak tornado sucking sharks out of the ocean and dropping them like kamikazes into Los Angeles. For those who found the popularity of both Syfy channel schlockfests to be a sign of the impending collapse of Western civilization, Brian Moylan at The Guardian poses an unsettling scenario: Sharknado is the future of television, and “we all better get used to it.”

Curiously, considering what a cult favorite it has become, Sharknado’s 2013 premiere was seen by even fewer viewers than is typical of a Syfy original movie, which usually consists of mega-creatures of one sort or another wreaking havoc or battling each other. But the movie’s popularity quickly developed as a trend on Twitter, so when Syfy aired another showing a week later, its viewership increased by 38%. A third airing a week after that garnered even more viewers and set a record for the most-watched original film encore in the network’s history, and so a sequel was born.

Sharknado 2: The Second One, what Brian Moylan calls “the schlocktacular sequal [sic] to the social media phenomenon” of its predecessor, has “an utter pop culture craziness that has fans snickering all the way to heaven with non-stop action and a plot that only makes a whiff of sense.” With a hyper-awareness of its own ridiculousness, the movie almost constantly winks at the audience; for example, it features prominent cameos by former pop culture stars (MTV’s Downtown Julie Brown, Miley Cyrus’s achy breaky dad Billy Ray, and Taxi’s Judd Hirsch, here playing a taxi driver) and current pop culture figures like Perez Hilton, Jared the Subway guy, and Kelly Osbourne. It is all designed to get viewers reacting on social media.

And it worked. Not only did this sequel become the channel’s most watched original movie ever, at one point it held all top 10 trending topics in the United States. There were more mentions of the sequel on Twitter than #MileyCyrus on the day of MTV’s 2013 VMAs, #kimye on Kim and Kanye’s wedding day and #transformers4, #thelegomovie, #godzillamovie and #22jumpstreet on each of those movies worldwide premiere days. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch declared it “the most social movie on TV ever,” more so than any episode of Game of Thrones, The Bachelorette or Survivor.

And therein lies its significance for the future of TV entertainment, according to Moylan: it’s enormously popular “not because it’s any good or anyone really likes it,” as he points out, “but because people will watch it live, along with all the commercials, to have the privilege of snarking about it in real time on their handheld device or laptop.”

Moylan notes that it is so much easier to get a 140-character rise out of people over bad TV like Sharknado than it is to ruminate at length about something of superior quality like Mad Men. “Just look at Scandal,” he writes. “It’s ridden people OMG-ing about presidential assassination attempts all the way to being one of TV’s biggest dramas.” I’m not sure Scandal proves his point; the same thing could be said of people OMG-ing on Twitter over which major characters get killed off each week on Game of Thrones, but neither show is of poor quality, much less Sharknado-caliber poor.

Yes, people enjoy the interactivity of tweeting about bad (and good) TV, just as they enjoy the interactivity of video games or voting for an American Idol; but is Sharknado really what television’s future looks like? I think not. Social media certainly help drive the success of a TV series or movie, but what people prefer even more than the social interactivity is variety. That has been the lesson of cable TV success.

Special “events” like Sharknado may create a record ratings spike here and there, but they are ultimately just temporary frenzies that aren’t going to replace Mad Men or Scandal or game shows or sitcoms or reality TV or any other genre. Besides, they are very difficult to duplicate; it’s rare to find a concept as brilliantly laughable as Sharknado’s.

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