Sunday, December 22, 2013

duck dudes, tolerance, and trip wires

Been away for a while, as all five of you who read this blog may have noted.

I'm writing a book. A kind-hearted publisher decided to give me a shot at a book on gender, war, and Christianity. I was so excited at the prospect that I made crazy promises, like the one to deliver a manuscript (which is running at around 600 pages - or 450 in real book pages) by the Ides of March 2014.  Nuts, I know, but sometimes deadline discipline is a Good Thing with someone who loves procrastination as much as I do. So that is where I've been . . . researching, writing, rewriting, re-researching, and when the neurons are fried, gazing blankly out at the bird feeders, reading crime novels, and watching television.

Sent a draft in to my editor a few days ago, and I've come up for air. When I came up, there was this media controversy about a really awful bit of "reality" TV (I know, I know . . . redundant!) called Duck Dynasty, which I only know anything about because our son made me watch it one night when we were visiting him in North Carolina like four months ago - way before the latest dust-up (which has consumed more ink and bandwidth than all that silliness about economic collapse, the surveillance state, climate change, mass extinction, and war).

Even then, the program was painfully stupid and offensive, though it hadn't yet hit the dual trip wire of homophobia and the hoary white Southern historical revision of race relations (of happy Negroes in the age of Jim Crow).

Believe me, I understand these trip wires, and I am grateful that they exist in the wake of decades long struggles by the victims of this bullshit to make them worthy of outrage. It means we have learned something as a culture, even if we haven't learned it all the way yet. The controversy demonstrates exactly this state of incomplete learning; but the good news is, these particular kinds of blanket dismissals of people who have had the hell beat out of them - figuratively and literally - are not Just Okay.

I'm in the peculiar position of having descended, in part, from the same kinds of people who have now made it big by caricaturing themselves on Duck Dynasty, the maternal half of my family being white denizens of the deep South since the Trail of Tears; and I also have a substantial number of family members who are descendents of the Africans who were imported as slaves to work the land that those white folks got after the Indian elimination programs cleared them off all that white land (and I have one great-grandma from Oklahoma, then Mississippi, who was one of the eliminated Indians). In addition to that, I have loved ones in my own family who have, in one way or another, diverged from the regime of compulsory heterosexuality.

So I can be offended not only by what these (now) rich, self-caricaturing white guys say about black folk and gay folk at the same time that I am offended by the way the media use these self-serving assholes to reinforce the stereotypes that many people still have about non-urban, Southern, white folk.

Also been reading a lot of back and forth recriminations about tolerance. The intolerance of one of the duck-call magnates toward black and gay folk, and in turn, the intolerance of liberals for people who hold different views than their own. Thank God I'm not a liberal, so I don't feel obliged to say things that I can get entrapped with like, we need to "be tolerant" or we need to "cherish diversity." Frankly, I find that kind of talk to be vapid -- as in "insipid, uninspired, colorless, uninteresting, feeble, flat, dull, boring, tedious, tired, unexciting, uninspiring, unimaginative, uninvolving, lifeless, tame, vacuous, bland, trite, jejune."

I am a Christian, not a liberal; and I don't believe as such that I have been called to tolerate anything. I'll admit that I tolerate the moles that are tunneling around in our garden; but when it comes to people, if I am to engage with them at all, I'm supposed to love them. It's a tall order, and I fall short, but that is what the Bible says. It doesn't say, "Tolerate your neighbor as yourself."

Doesn't always mean being nice to them, and it sure doesn't mean making excuses for them when they do something that is hurtful to themselves, to me, or to other people. Love is a little fleshier than tolerance that way. There are some demands beyond simply failing to react. (As to diversity, I'll tell you some people in the past who really "cherished diversity," and that was Southern slave owners. They cherished the hell out of "diversity.")

We are even supposed to love people who are making asses of themselves for money, but that also means calling them to repentance (in the same way that I have been called myself to repentance every single day). I have to love myself, which means being called to repentance when I am an asshole; and I am called to love my neighbor as myself. That may not track well for next Sunday's homily, but . . . well, there it is.

What really struck me about this controversy (over a show you couldn't pay me to watch again anyway) is that the trip wires they did hit when they were doing improvisational speech for the cameras point to all those kinds of offense that we see every day on television that have no cultural trip wires attached yet. Hey, I love well-placed righteous outrage. It's part of the prophetic tradition.

Nathan told David, "You are the man," at the risk of his own head. And when Amos said, "I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me," he was not being tolerant. They were displaying righteous anger, telling people that "this is not Just Okay." It is in-tolerable.

Jesus didn't preach tolerance at the Temple, either, when he kicked over the tables of the Temple profiteers.

We have come to a place in our culture where - to some degree at least - we no longer tolerate public racists and homophobes. Doesn't mean we kill them, and doesn't excuse us of the tough responsibility to love them if they let us. But there are a lot of things we still tolerate, and I look forward to the day when we don't.

Just taking television as an example, since that is the medium that brings those of us who are masochistic enough to tune in a program like Duck Dynasty, here are a list of things I'd like to see become as visible and explosive a trip wire as homophobia and racism/race-blindness/race-privilege.

  • Commercial products that are marketed directly to children (you choose: crap food, frankenfood, toys that end up in land fills less than six months after purchase, GI Joes, Barbies, phony educational tools, et al). Why should we tolerate multinational corporations producing new forms of desire in children, using the sly tools of consumer psychology and public relations?
  • Theatrical wrestling. Making heroes of macho caricatures that resolve shallow disputes with spectacular violence, before cheering crowds, and backgrounded by sexually-objectified women. This is not only not harmless, it promotes mindlessness, violence, and sexism in one fell swoop.

  • Products, programs, and talk shows that devalue women for being fat.  This includes products, programs, or talk shows that promote weight loss products and schemes, which, even when they don't attack women who are fat, imply that being fat is wrong, or that not being fat will solve all their problems. This applies to men, too; but, seriously, women are the prime targets, and that is not Just Okay.

  • Ditto products, programs, and talk shows that promote women marketing themselves as sexual commodities. Again, men included, but the real emphasis remains on women - who have suffered far too long from being judged solely on their sex appeal to men. We will have cleared a major hurdle when that becomes taboo.

  • Pretty much anything that shows people shooting each other in ways that make guns look like they are neat, clean instruments of justice. I'm not against representations of violence in art. We oughtn't tolerate its being sanitized though.

  • Marketing medical drugs, booze, and violent video games. Not okay.

I could go on, but I will leave it to the reader to add her/his own oughta-be trip-wires.



  1. Thank you! The trip-wire I'd like to nominate is stereotypes of hippies that make them look stupid/flakey/drugged. These were the people who brought us the peace movement, ecology as a central concern, and the injunction to 'Question Authority'. It behooves the powers-that-be to marginalize them, and it pisses me off every time.

    1. Thank you! Nice program on World TV (public broadcasting station) last week about some that helped inspire the movement through vehicle of a radio station in New York.

  2. Fiat commercial: Two young men in the front seat, dressed for a wedding. Two young women enter the back seat,and en route change clothes in the car to become bridesmaids, as the young fellas catch lascivious peeks through the rearview window. When the women get out for the wedding, we see a young boy who was between them in the backseat, a bra draped over him - smiling.

    So, just switch the genders on this ad, and have a young girl in the backseat between two men who have just disrobed on each side of her. Is she smiling?

    What is this "humorous" ad saying about the "roles" of men and women? And why is there no outrage?

  3. Nice reframe. I love to do this kind of switcharoo in my mind when watching popular media just to remind myself of how much sexism remains.

  4. Well I guess this is the season for these kind of wishes. As a wish list goes, I couldn't agree more but I have personally given up hope on transforming society. I feel like it's a struggle to maintain control over my own thought to worry about how to influence others.

    These ills ultimately stems from social and economic incentives created by capitalism. Unless that goes, the byproduct are here to stay and I'm not even convinced getting ride of capitalism is even a good thing

  5. Thank you Stan! I just spent Christmas with Catholics who gamble, give prayers to the state, sing Happy Birthday to Jesus with a cake and ice cream, and were going ga-ga over the 3-D version of Avatar (you discussed that one back on Feral Scholar a few months back), AND giving Duck Dynasty t-shirts and underwear as gifts.

    Held my tongue....

    I live (for the next month anyway) in a part of Oregon where people like this, represented by the Duck Dynasty travesty, and stupid reality shows like this, are part of the social fabric & taken more or less as gospel and with pride (and embedded sexism with it), and am so glad to be moving to a place where, even if it's not invisible, it's much LESS visible, and easier to exclude from your life. It is VERY tiring feeling like you have to be on guard when you go out in public, and it will be good to relax.

    And, yes, I HEARTILY freakin' disapprove.

    @ Peach McD:

    Yes! Much good has come, in very quiet ways, from those who are parodied in this way....those who actually walk the walk. Poseurs of various kinds (in this particular instance, Cheech and Chong come readily to mind) make it SO hard for those of us who wish to live meaningfully.

    More "liberalism" masquerading as free speech...for a goddamn dollar.