Monday, December 11, 2017

Be Careful What You Wish For

I agree with Rebecca Traister:

Or an overreaction. A powerful man who loses his job for an offense that, perhaps, doesn't merit job loss could put a halt to this.

I'm a feminist who believes this stuff needs to be talked about, who thinks this is a crucial and eye opening conversation. At the same time, I am hating it. I hate it. It is horrible to live through this every day. It's horrible to be hearing these stories. We all, on some level, want it to end, and I am probably among those who are most invested in it not ending. Imagine anybody without my ideological and professional and personal investments in this subject matter. It's painful; it's dredging up horrible memories for so many of us. It's confusing us in where our sympathies are, and who they're for, and where they're supposed to be.

It's a really hard conversation to have, and so I do think that lots of people will jump on any excuse to make this conversation stop. There'll be a moment where everybody just sort of is like, "Okay, we're not having this conversation anymore.”

I noted some pushback against the resignation of Al Franken, but that's already last week's news.  Interesting now is the reaction to the SNL "cold open" with Santa and his elf in a mall.  Vox is already trying to confuse that sketch by misplacing dialogue and erasing some comments in it:

"Can you tell me what Al Franken did?" asked one kid to kick off the night. It was an evening of recurring references to the downfall of Sen. Franken — a former SNL star and writer — that mainly acknowledged the elephant in the room was, indeed, there, before quickly changing the subject.

Thompson’s Santa found himself battling a number of piercing questions from observant children. When one child brought up the naughty list, he quipped, "It's not really a list; it's more of a registry."

Actually, that last line came from McKinnon's elf, not Thompson's Santa Claus.  And it was clear to me Santa's discomfort was not over Al Franken's alleged misdeeds (surely the allegations against Matt Lauer or Harvey Weinstein are more salacious and disturbing; even Charlie Rose is not in the same category as the stories about Franken) but the child bringing up such a hot topic (imagine this was the '90's and the kid was asking what Monica Lewinsky did to Bill Clinton, or what he did to her).  Santa kept trying to steer the conversations back to toys and Christmas presents, and away from the political news.  

“Well, you know, Santa tries to stay out of political matters. Our president may have said or done a few naughty things,” explained the diplomatic Santa, thankfully neglecting to mention that time Trump was caught on tape bragging about sexually assaulting women.

“Nineteen accusers. Google it,” chimed in Santa’s helper, in a nod to the 19-plus women who have accused Trump of various degrees of sexual misconduct, including sexual-assault.

Santa was, well, a bit more child-friendly. “Look, Jessica, I think we can all learn a lesson from what’s going on in the news,” he said.

Cue Jessica: “We sure can! I learned that if you admit you did something wrong, you get in trouble. But if you deny it, they let you keep your job!”

Frankly, the best line of the sketch.

And then there was the sketch about the kindly old black man and the young executive, where the latter is fired for inappropriate behavior little worse than what Franken was accused of, while the former is nearly as crude as Donald Trump, but excused because he's old and black.  That one gets very close to what Ms. Traister is talking about.

The problem is precisely that we don't have a "community" within which to discuss these matters and in that vacuum everyone wants to enforce their own ideas of justice and morality.  Rebecca Traister carefully distinguishes between the law (justice) and morality, but that distinction vanishes for most commenters on the topic.  Justice is only done when the women are believed, even if the lies are not as transparent as those attempted by Project Veritas against the Washington Post.

Thought Criminal has been posting a series on the works of Walter Brueggemann about the framework we use to identify as society and our place in it, and the values it upholds.  The "#metoo" conversation, of course, is about values and which ones should be upraised, and which declared indefensible, and it's a goal I agree with.   The problem is:  how do we get there?  And the public imagination seems limited to the "solutions" or reprisals and retribution and punishment, rather than correcting attitudes and changing presumptions.  As Brueggemann explains it:

But the imagination of an insider is always an historical imagination.  It is not just any innovative thinking;  it is inventiveness driven and shaped by particular historical experiences  It is the capacity to return again and again to the concreteness of the past of this historical group,  Israel/the church, and to discern there new meanings.  The notions of “historical” (which means rooted in the meanings of a particular community) and “imagination” (which means open to urging pulses of meaning) are dialectical to each other.  That is,  the ideas of historical and imagination seem to move in opposite directions.  “Historical” points back to precise, concrete, identifiable experiences   “Imagination”  means to move out into new and fresh symbolic overlays from the experience.  Historical keeps the articulation concrete and particular, and the imagination looses it in unexpected directions.  But they are dialectical in that the two must be kept in tension, always correcting each other.  Historical without imagination tends to be arid and not compelling.  Imagination without historicality tends to turn to undisciplined fantasy.  

But where are the reins on this experience?  How many scalps will be enough to claim redress, and when are there "too many" and the backlash sets in?  I've seen this movie, I know how it comes out.  I expected a long-lived anti-war sentiment, having grown up in the '60's.  That sentiment didn't end with 9/11, it ended much earlier, with the "baby killer" allegations, and the apocryphal stories of soldiers being spat on in airports.  POW's and MIA's fired the imagination for decades, and went from  a symbol of a shameful war where we were defeated, to the betrayal of "our boys" by the government that sent them there (the seeds of "support our troops" today are in the spat upon soldiers, seeds watered by the mythos of POW's and MIA's).  I thought racism as good as dead, too, especially with millennial growing up in a largely desegregated world.  Wrong again.  So will the #metoo movement really represent a sea change?  The community of '60's college activists caught the public imagination, but were always a minority among college students, and the entire effort quickly dissolved into yuppies and "Morning in America" to wash the tase of failure out of the national mouth.  No small part of that "failure" was the legitimate criticisms of American society from feminists, civil rights activists, even (a bit later) gay rights activists.  All of those movements won gains, but suffered setbacks, too.  One step forward, two steps back, but forward momentum is hard to stop.  Using it to seize power and punish those you think deserving soon leaves everyone disgusted and longing for a more peaceful, and less just, past.

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