Daily Archives: January 22, 2008

1. Pink

The curtain is down on 2007, but three news items popped up in its waning weeks word a word or three of comment. The first, and most dramatic, concerns the arrest of a man by the Orlanmdo Florida police on the charge of beating his 7 year-old son for wearing pink nail polish. It was the boy’s mother who made the call. Meanwhile in South Carolina a lawsuit was instigated by an inmate against the state’s penal system for forcing unruly and reclacitrant prisoners to wear pink jump suits, thus marking them as “a willing participant in homosexual activity” and therefore “vulnerable to … assault.” Finally in far off Nova Scotia, high school students David Shepherd and Travis Price were cited by the “Chronicle Herald” as “Newsmakers of 2007″ for a bullying awareness campaign in which they encouraged other students to wear pink shirts to show their support for a new student who had been teased and threatened when he showed up at school wearing a pink shirt. They bought 75 pink tank tops for male students, including the boy who had been bullied. In the end about half of the school’s 830 students wore pink shirts.
It’s easy to see the common –literal– thread here: the color pink and its association with gay sexuality. But the meaning of said color and association changes in each instance. In the first, pink takes on the aspect of defiance. A seven year-old boy paints his nails pink as a blatant act of gender non-conformity — and his father sought to have him pay a price for it. His mother, however, intervened — which is the happy news here. How many other boys that age crossed the same line? Will this seven year-old turn out to be gay, transgendered or was he just plain cheeky? Hard to say. But one thing is clear — Mom “has his back.” According to a 1986 study made by the Orion Center of Seattle 42% of homeless youth identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services “Report of the Secretary’s Task Force on Youth Suicide” of 1989, lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are at a four times higher risk for suicide than their straight peers. And according to the 1996 annual report of the “New York Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project,” the vast majority of victims of anti-lesbian/gay violence – possibly more than 80% – never report the incident, due to fear of being “outed” and ths social approprium that comes in its wake.
But now for the good news. Since the FBI established a “Hate Crimes” track anti-gay activities have been increasingly noted. In 2004, for instance the FBI tallied 1,258 reports of anti-gay hate crimes — right behind the 4,173 racially-inspired Hate Crimes of that same year. Such awareness has spawned solidiarity amoung a new generation of young people both gay and straight , as the Nova Scotia story shows. Still “traditional” attitudes persists as we see in that South Carolina prison. It’s remindful of the fact that the Nazis made gay concentration camp prisioners wear a pink triangle the better to identify, and humiliate them. But the tables were turned after the war with the pink triangle becoming a badge of honor, much like those pink t-shirts this month. And at the last it all goes to show that fashion is politics. Remember what Kay Thompson’s fearless style doyenne declared in Funny Face back in 1957:

‘Think pink! think pink! when you shop for summer clothes.
Think pink! think pink! if you want that quelque chose.
Red is dead, blue is through,
Green’s obscene, brown’s taboo.
And there is not the slightest excuse for plum or puce
-or chartreuse.
Think pink! forget that Dior says black and rust.
Think pink! who cares if the new look has no bust.
Now, I wouldn’t presume to tell a woman
what a woman oughtta think,
But tell her if she’s gotta think: think pink-!’

And that quite obviously goes for men too.

2. Jugitsu

“Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” I can’t think of a blander, more matter-of fact statement. Yet over the past week we have been repeatedly assured that Hillary Clinton’s words were “racially charged” sparking a “controversy” that roils on even as I write.
Well to be more precise, this repeated assurance has eminated from the “Mainstream” media. Tuesday on the front page of the LAT reporters Richard Fausett and Janet Hook informed us that Clinton’s words have “made for a tantalizing story line in recent days” because “some critics have found [them] disrespectful toward the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.” And some have not, thus creating the sort of utterly fake “controversy” the media thrives on. “A number of black voters said Monday that they had not paid much attention to the spat,” Fausett and Hook note, “perhaps lending some perspective to pundits, journalists and bloggers who have spent the last few days decifering alleged “code words” and analyzing charges of tactical jujitsu by the two campaigns.” And when it comes to modern journalism actual reporting always takes a back seat to “decoding” and “tactical jujitsu.” It’s simple. Just grab a few spikey adjectives or flashy pictures (Clinton’s famous “tearing-up”) run out and get two “opposing views” ( for only two views of anything is ever allowed) and stand back blandly proclaiming your own “objectivity” in creating this pathetic puppet show.
“I do think Hillary waded into dangerous waters by casting herself as LBJ and her opponent as Martin Luther King,” sniffs Howard Kurtz in his “Media Notes” column in the Washington Post providing no basis for this “casting” claim whatsoever. Meanwhile David Brooks from his New York Times op-ed perch goes Kurtz one better: “The problem is that both the feminist movement Clinton rides and the civil rights rhetoric Obama uses were constructed at a time when the enemy was the reactionary white male establishment.” As if the power that white males wield in this society were just a chimera of the past — leaving only women and blacks to fight it out amongest themselves, journalists like Brooks and Kurtz standing on the sidelines offer “color commetary.” In other words, “Melanin vs. Vagina: Who Will Win?”
“In recent days the black-and-white issue has emerged as a palpable subtext amid finger-pointing by the Hillary and Obama camps. Whoever started it, I can’t avoid the feeling that it’s a shame.” Really Howie? Shouldn’t you be thanking “whoever started it”? Cause without “them” you wouldn’t have a column now would you?
Yes folks, it’s a tsunami in a teapot, with inanity piled upon inanity, climaxed by B.E.T. television founder Bob Johnson’s snarky references to Obama’s (admitted) youthful drug use — as if that would somehow bolster the campaign of Hillary Clinton who he allegedly supports. Meanwhile John Lewis, Georgia state representative and civil rights movement legend was on the PBS “News Hour” explaining with barely concealed rage that Lyndon Johnson’s support was indeed crucial to the civil rights struggle and Martin Luther King (with whom Lewis quite literally risked his life working for) was more than enthusiastic in acknowledging this fact. Any number of journalists could have interviewed Mr. Lewis, or done their own research into the history of the civil rights movement. Had they done so they would have discovered that Dr. King, far from the consensus figure he is today was highly controversial in his actual time. It wasn’t merely white racists that he was up against. The overwhelming majority of black “leaders” of that day opposed him — feeling the protest movement he had created had “gone too far.” When Malcolm X and “Black Power” came along, Dr. King was moved from the radical fringe to the center — a position that solidified poasthumously. Indeed Shelby Steele and other members of today’s African-American right have adopted Dr. King as their own — irrespective of the fact that their forebearers were dead set against him.
Still, as disorganized and disoriented as it is today African-American politics at least has a presence in the culture. And that’s something that can’t be said of feminism, which has been replaced by Maureen Dowd (Claire Boothe Luce “lite”) and has left Mrs. Clinton as Richard Nixon would say “twisting slowly in the wind.” As for race at Tuesday night’s Democratic “debate” an audience member yelled out loud and clear to moderator Tim Russert “Will You stop these race-based questions?” And did he? Of course not. What will happen next? Tune in tomorrow. There won’t be any news. But you can bet your bottom dollar there’ll be plenty of gender-baiting soap opera and even more racial jiujitsu. For that’s what journalistic “objectivity” is all about — right folks?

3. Accent

There’s a revealing passage in an otherwise pro forma piece writer-editor Joan Walsh ran on Salon, the on-line news magazine, yesterday concerning the Nevada primary which saw Hillary Clinton edging out Barack Obama for the Democratic vote.

” ‘I think the union is gonna be very surprised,” Paris [Hotel] banquet server Patricio Gajardo told me a few minutes later. “They misjudged the Hispanic population. We don’t think with an accent,” he said, adding, “Write that down.”

Not surprisingly Walsh asked Gajaro what he meant, to which the banquet server replied —

“A lot of us come here, we don’t speak much English, they think we’re naive, and they take advantage of us. We may never lose our accent, but we don’t think with an accent; we understand what’s going on.”

Indeed Gajaro understands what’s going on quite well. The question is whether the same can be said of Walsh and her fourth estate kind. It’s not simply that the union to which workers like Gajaro belong put its support, unlike its membership, behind Obama, it’s that the “mainstream” media had no notion that Obama wouldn’t be as popular with Latinos as he is with whites and most (but not all) African-Americans. This misapprehension is as one with the knee-jerkiness of “mainstream” attitudes towards any number of groups and individuals. For no one “thinks with an accent” save the fourth estate. And it’s an unwillingness to find out why that’s the problem.
Admittedly covering as vast complex and perpetually moving a target as the U.S. electorate is no simple task. One can certainly sympathize with journalists when they characterize how “women” or “African-Americans” or “conservatives” or “church-goers” are likely to react to issues and individuals in a “thumbnail” manner. The problem comes when these journalists try to “get ahead of the story” and inaccurately predict an outcome — as was the case in New Hampshire when many were speaking of Hillary Clinton as if her next move would be to withdraw from the race entirely. Just as bad, if not worse, are the cliches bordering on out-and-out racial and gender prejudice of their responses to certain sitations. The most egregious in recent days was the notion, seriously advanced by every major news organization in the country, that Hillary Clinton won the vote “because she cried,” thereby winning the sympathy of the many women who voted for her. It appears to be well beyond the ken of these scribes to imagine that women voted for Clinton because they actaully liked her and her ideas more than those of Barack Obama. After all they had “pictures” that supposedly showed Mrs. Clinton “crying” and because “women are emotional” it was therefore OK to assume it would be “natural” for them to respond to such “pictures.” In short it was an ever-so-slightly-more polite version of MSNBC newsman Chris Matthews’ claim that “the reason she’s a U.S. senator, the reason she’s a candidate for president, the reason she may be a front-runner is her husband messed around. That’s how she got to be senator from New York. We keep forgetting it. She didn’t win there on her merit.” Last week, a uncharacteristically low-key Matthews’ offered an on-air apology of sorts for these words.
On a less heated front the same sort of knee-jerkiness can be found in the widespread belief that former Arkansas givernor Mike Huckabee, being not only a conservative but an ordained Baptist minister would have the South Carolina primary in the bag. He didn’t, losing the primary, and consequently forcing journalists to dive into their bag of cliches about the winner, John McCain. But such words won’t inspire protests as Matthews’ clearly did. Just regretful sighs from those hoping for something other than the “news busness as usual,” which was far more interested in reporting that REM singer-songwriter Michael Stipe found Huckabee “kind of charming and self-deprecating. He was actually kind of a good sport, and funny, and I don’t know what that means.”
What it means is that in the coming weeks more ink and pixels are going to be expended on this still-viable candidate’s “likeability” than his ties to white supremacist groups
such as the “Council of Conservative Citizens” formally known as the “White Citizens Council” (as revealed in a recent article in “The Nation.”) Likewise it goes without saying that we’re going to be subjected to more of the same in one form or another on any number of parties or topics as the election season grinds emorselessly on. But is it really too much to expect to ask for something more every once in awhile? Can’t journalists get a shade more “up close and personal” with the elecorate to learn what’s behind its likes or dislikes? Must every issue come down to labels like “The War” or The Economy” or that great all-purpose grabbag of vagueness called “Values”? Can’t reporters ask more pointed questions and not get slammed for it, like AP reporter Glen Johnson who dared to question Mitt Romney’s denials of lobbyist influence to the candidate’s face?
No, we can’t have that, can we?