Limp "satire" begets more limpness

Sorry, Vanity Fair–some people have a way with satire, and others, well, not have way.  (See a larger image here–h/t Talk Left.)

The bad New Yorker “satire”of Michelle and Barack Obama took lies about the Obamas and created images of them as if they were true, in the service of making fun of the lies.  (Are you with me?  Good.)  This image at left, however, takes truths about the McCains, and creates images of Cindy and John McCain showing those truths, without even exaggerating (much, anyway).  Cindy had a pill problem–that’s true.  John is old and has had skin cancer–that’s true, although perhaps the walker is a slight exaggeration since McCain doesn’t use one (publicly, anyway).  John McCain’s campaign is all about continuing George W. Bush’s policies, so its not an exaggeration to show his portrait above the mantle.  For many people, these facts are neither disqualifying nor damning.  The only image that McCain might complain about is the U.S. Constitution alight in the fireplace–that’s a debateable political point, but hardly more incendiary (sorry!) than the image of the U.S. flag in the fireplace in the New Yorker cover.

This either proves that Vanity Fair believes that the truth about the McCains is so damning that it’s irrelevant or pointless to exaggerate those truths or make up lies.  (Think about it–I don’t know of any insinuating lies in the 2008 campaign about McCain designed to shake people’s confidence in him, his patroitism, or his wife’s patriotism.  Karl Rove’s smear on McCain’s sanity because of his Vietnam experiences in 2000 is a notable exception, but please note:  it was pushed by Republicans, not Democrats.  And, please–who would you rather be:  Michelle O. or Cindy M.?)  Or it proves that people will say absolutely anything about Democratic candidates for the presidency (and their wives), and it will get covered by the craven corporate media as though those lies are things the candidate needs to respond to or worry about.  (Or, maybe both?  I now realize they’re not mutually exclusive possibilities.)  Think about it, in descending order of election years:  John Kerry lied about his wounds from his service in Vietnam, Al Gore invented the internet and discovered Love Canal, Hillary and Bill Clinton trafficked cocaine out of the Little Rock aiport and killed Vince Foster.  And, by the way, Bill’s a serial rapist and Hillary’s a dyke who also was having an affair with Vince Foster before she killed him.

What does this say about the corporate media’s strong interest in circulating and talking about lies about Democratic presidential candidates, and its attempts at “satirizing” the truth about Republican presidential candidates?  “Oh, we’re so edgy and daring to write about the facts about McCains, sometimes anyway, when we get back from summering with Jack Welch up in Nantucket!”  

Please don't stand so close to me

Historiann went to see Elvis Costello and the Imposters and The Police last night at Red Rocks.  (Photo by John Leyba for the Denver Post.)  This was my first show at that venue–it’s a gorgeous setting in a natural red rocks amphitheatre, very beautiful as the sun sets behind you and the lights of Denver appear.  I never went to any really big acts back in my youth in the 1980s and 1990s–I was more of a cult-band in a nightclub kind of person than an arena rock fan.  But, a very generous friend had a free ticket, and it was a great show.  Elvis performed a few of his newer songs, but mostly golden-oldies like “Watching the Detectives,” “Radio Radio,” and “Alison,” with a few of his quirkier old songs like “Beyond Belief.”  (I was hoping he’d play something from my favorite album of his, King of America, but no such luck.)  The Police performed their oldies too, completely without any of Sting’s solo act numbers.  It was interesting to be reminded, in their versions of “De Do Do Do De Da Da Da” and “Don’t Stand So Close to Me,” of when the band was more sonically connected to The Specials, English Beat, and other late 70s/early 80s British and Anglo-Caribbean ska band than they were to the emergent 80s power rock acts.  The Denver Post reviewed Monday night’s performance here yesterday, which turned out to be an exact prediction of the show we saw last night.

Aside from my first show at Red Rocks, it was also my first “nostalgia act” show.  Man, was it strange to be surrounded by old people at a rock concert!  The only shirtless young guys were in the parking lot outside of the venue hawking cans of beer and bottles of water.  The men inside the theatre kept their shirts on–thank goodness!–since most of them were in the 35-to-55 age range.  The men in the bands looked pretty good–or at least, no worse for the wear, since they’re all in their mid-fifties too.  The crowd looked like a giant twentieth or twenty-fifth high school reunion!  Sting was as handsome as ever, although he is manorexically thin and rather Alfred Packer-ish with a short, scruffy, gray beard that crept down his neck practically to his shirt.  Elvis looks pretty much as he did the last time I saw him, in Philadelphia in the summer of 1989:  pudgy, sweaty, and overdressed in a suit with a cravat, but his “new” band (which consists of his former “Attractions” bandmates Steve Nieve on the keyboard and Pete Thomas on drums, with Davey Faragher on the bass) was tight and fun.  It was especially great to see Elvis with Nieve, who ended the set with a flourishing homage to George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”

Why the title “Please don’t stand so close to me” for this post?  Interestingly enough, after writing about men’s presumptions on women’s bodies, time, and space yesterday, I had a related real life experience.  Towards the end of the main set, Sting was setting up a call-and-response (one of those ay-oh, ee-yo-yo-yo things that he does) with the crowd.  I wasn’t really into singing along, but was swaying and enjoying myself.  Apparently, that was insufficient for the middle-aged stranger standing behind me in row 28, seat 98 or 99, who decided to reach over and rub his hands all over my neck, back, and shoulders, and admonish me to do better!  And, did I mention that I was wearing a mostly backless yoga top, because it was 100 degrees in Denver yesterday?  Eeeeeeeeewww!!!!!1111!!!!eleventy-ones!  It was made even creepier by the fact that this was during an extended version of one of those obsessive breakup songs (perhaps “Can’t Stand Losing You?”)  What made him think that that was appropriate behavior, aside from good, old-fashioned male privilege?  I know he was feeling the music and all excited, but please.  (And, his female companion/girlfriend/wife thought it was all in good fun, when I turned around in stunned horror to see who on earth was manhandling me!)  I’ve been in clubs where everyone was hot, sweaty, and jumping on each other’s feet all of the time, but this wasn’t one of those situations.  Well, I’m not a large person, nor am I a male person, and (I think this is key, too) I wasn’t with a man, but with a woman friend.  Ergo, random men think it’s OK to put their hands on my body?

If you know Historiann in real life, you know that although she’s a petite-ish woman, she’s not the kind of person who hugs new acquaintances (or even old ones!) or otherwise sends out vibes suggesting that its OK to touch her body.  Ugh.

Gender, sexuality, and commenters on feminist blogs

I’ve been thinking a great deal about the gendering of the internet, and the ways in which women’s blogs (and feminist blogs in particular) are subject to more intense and more personal attacks by male commenters on the blogger and other blog commenters than blogs by men or that don’t address feminist issues.  Since we’re all feminists here, we probably agree that men (in general) are much more presumptuous about monopolizing or claiming women’s bodies, time, and space (in general) than vice-versa, because that presumption is a large part of the definition of male privilege.  Although it’s no longer technically legal in most cases, male privilege thrives and it it enforced by many men, and women too (sadly).  And this presumption works in similar ways in the blogosphere, as it works in real life.

Historiann was forced to ban a commenter here a few months ago, and in order to clarify things I instituted some rules for commenting.  (Rules which were implicitly understood and observed by the rest of you as the rules of civilized discourse by all but the banned commenter, and an occasional troll here or there who never came back.)  Unsurprisingly, other feminist blogs suffer periodically (or chronically) from one or more presumptuous commenters who identify themselves as male and then go on to lecture the blogger (and/or fellow commenters) about what feminism is, what the problems with feminism are, why her post is totally wrong about X or Y, or her/their utter and complete misunderstanding that men are equally oppressed, etc.

The comments on this post at Echidne are very instructive about how some male commenters can be extraordinarily presumptuous (see the comments by “swampcracker” in particular).  The main techniques are these:  1) assuming that if someone makes a comment that doesn’t exactly describe his life or his point of view, that it’s totally without merit, and 2) being blithely content to jack the thread away from its original point to talk about the issue that he knows he’s right about, no matter what any other (women) commenters have to say about it.  (Other popular themes:  “I’m the father of daughters/a daughter myself,”  “My feminist friends agree wtih me”–a variant on the ever-popular “some of my best friends are feminists”–“I’ve been discriminated against too,” and the always popular tactic of writing longer, angrier, and more patronizing comments the more your comments are mocked or disagreed with.)  This was also a big problem over at Shakesville this spring, where comments on one post in particular about misogyny in the Democratic primary were taken over by men who apparently just couldn’t stand to let feminists talk it over amongst themselves.  Interestingly, I haven’t seen obnoxious or patronizing comments from men who identify themselves as gay–overwhelmingly, the problem commenters seem to be men who identify as straight.  (Maybe my gay men friends and commenters are just especially down with feminism, because they tend to be all scholars in the humanities, but I haven’t run into femophobic or antifeminist gay men on the feminist blogs.)

I guess my question is this:  since these guys can’t just agree to disagree, why don’t they start their own damn feminist (or antifeminist) blogs, if they’re such experts on feminism and gender issues?  Why bother feminist bloggers and their other commenters, when we clearly disagree?  Do you really think you’re so smart or so important that you’re going to change my mind about the most important intellectual issues in my life?  Yeah, nearly 40 years of life experience as a girl and a woman, and twenty years of academic training in American history, women’s history, and feminism, and I’m going to see the light because of an anonymous a-hole on the internet?

That seems to me to be pretty much the definition of male privilege on the world wide timewasting web–the earnest belief of random a-holes that their superior knowledge and rhetorical skills can change the minds of all of us silly, deluded women out there–but I’d like to hear from the rest of you about this.  What are your experiences as either a blogger or a commenter on blogs, and how do you think your sex (or perceived sex/gender identity) has affected the way you’re treated in cyberspace?  What are the other issues that come up for out gay and lesbian bloggers?  Do white commenters plague African American and Latin@ bloggers with patronizing lectures on race?  (I think I know the answer to that one, since so many WOC/POC bloggers moderate their comments…but I’d like to learn more.)  What have you seen or heard?  Sing it, sisters and brothers.

Memo to Sir Paul: colonialism is invisible to the colonizer

TO:  Sir Paul McCartney

FROM:  Historiann

RE:  Comments concerning your performance in Québec

Congratulations on the successful show, sir–it’s wonderful that you were greeted by such a warmly enthusiastic crowd yesterday, and addressing it in French occasionally was a very nice touch.  But in the future, in the course of mollifying one Canadian ethnic group, it would be best if you would try to avoid pissing off another ethnic group.  Please be advised that comments like “I think it’s time to smoke the pipes of peace and to just, you know, put away your hatchet because I think it’s a show of friendship,” (emphasis mine) may reasonably be interpreted by the First Nations peoples as invoking outdated stereotypes about Native warriors and First Nations cultures.  Both First Nations peoples and Francophone Canadians have heard it all before when it comes to displays of “friendship” by English people and other Anglophones.

Please also be advised that your performance was on the site of the battle where the people of Québec were conquered by the English and Anglophone Canadians, at least for the following 249 years.  Therefore, perhaps it would have been wise to avoid overtly militaristic metaphors lest you be suspected of not respecting Québecois politics or of not appreciating that the Plains of Abraham is not just a pretty park now, but also a sacred space in Québec history, not to mention a graveyard for many of the soldiers who died there in 1759.  This impression was only reinforced when you said, “The kind of thing I read about in the schoolbooks when I was a kid was … who was General Wolfe?. . . . I still haven’t figured it out.” En Anglais, they made you sound like a condescending jerk, especially since your performance was part of the 400th anniversary celebrations of Québec history!  (French Canadians know that the vast majority of Anglophone Canadians, Britons, and U.S. Americans don’t really know much or care at all about Québec history, but let’s try not to rub in in their faces, m’kay?) 

Always looking out for you, baby!  Your pal, Historiann. 

Back-to-school report: just the vax, m'am

Maybe because it’s almost back-to-school time, but vaccinations are in the news on my blogroll.  Pal MD has an unintentionally hillarious post about some scandalously stupid reportage on a so-called “victim” of Gardasil.  (Longtime readers will recall that support for inoculation/vaccination are just about the only thing that Historiann has in common with Cotton Mather!) 

She reports that she went to the ER and was told she was likely having a stroke, and was sent home to return if it got worse. Now, I realize we’re getting third-hand information, but a reporter is supposed to clarify this. No one who goes to the hospital with a “stroke” is sent home to see if it gets worse.

Uhm, wouldn’t a real reporter dump the lady boo-hooing about her off-label use of Gardasil, and instead, you know, figure out which local hospital is sending home people suffering from strokes?  Now that’s a man-bites-dog story if I’ve ever heard one!  Just go read the whole thing to feel teh stupid and how it burns.  He’s got another recent post about how people with medical degrees need to take back vaccination education, instead of leaving it to the cranks, the quacks, and the religiously insane anti-vaxers.

And speaking of quacks and cranks, our friend Knitting Clio (who is not herself a crank or a quack at all) reported last week that her friendly neighborhood chiropractor–who has been of great assistance with her back pain–is now giving helpful seminars in local tea-shops about the dangers of vaccination.  She writes about the hazards of this woo-peddling:  “Take Colorado [ed. note please!], where the rate of vaccination (75%) is below what is needed for herd immunity.  Between 1996 and 2005, 208 adults and 32 children in Colorado died of diseases that could most likely have been prevented by vaccinations. The state spends millions of dollars per year caring for children and adults with diseases such as pertussis (whooping cough), influenza, and measles that could have been prevented by vaccination.”  (Side note:  why do chiropractors hate the vax?  I’ve seen and heard of it before, but what’s the reason for it?)

The struggle over knowledge about vaccination is a cautionary tale about the dangers of professional complacency in the face of overwhelming success.  This is a paradox:  when an evidence-based consensus emerges within a profession and there are no professionals who truly disagree with the consensus in the main, that’s when movements propelled by outsiders (but legitimized by disgruntled or marginalized insiders) feel emboldened to challenge the consensus.  It’s not just primary-care physicians who have to worry about this–it’s also anthropologists and biologists, whose professional knowledge of Charles Darwin and the significance of his theories have been vigorously challenged by people outside of universities and without any professional credentials.  Historians also have had strange ideological struggles emerge out of what was a well-documented consensus on the facts of, for example, the Holocaust, the causes of the U.S. American Civil War, and the history and meaning of the Confederate flag. 

In all of these cases, a hardy band of conspiracy-minded and/or magical thinkers was able to gin up enough popular support to convince other neutral observers that there might be a scholarly “controversy” where none in fact existed among the actual scholars.  Does this happen because there are a few determined cranks and quacks still inside each profession, and they’re just very good at finding allies outside the profession because they no longer have allies within?  Or do political movements seize upon those few disaffected professionals, flattering them and giving them an appreciative audience so that they’ll serve as scholarly figureheads?  In all of these cases, it seems that there are a few professionals who are willing to sign on to provide a “respectable” face to the fake controversy–David Irving in the case of Holocaust denial, for example, or Michael Behe for “Intelligent” Design?  These credentialed intellectuals were happy to provide a presentable face to deeply disreputable, and even dangerous, ideas. 

Fight the woo, within and without your profession, and remember that things like “evidence” and “overwhelming scholarly consensus” mean nothing if we don’t continue to explain exactly what the evidence is and what the consensus means.

Saturday morning funnies

Well, imagine my surprise when I returned from my recent short vacation to find this little invitation in the mail from the University of Colorado.  (While I live in Colorado and work at a university, CU is not my employer–I work at the old aggie school I affectionately refer to as Baa Ram U.)  My surprise turned to delight when I opened this fine, glossy card, to read that I am invited to meet the new president of the University of Colorado, about whom I’ve blogged quite a bit here, here, and here.  (My overall take on uncredentialed politicians who presume to lead universities is here.)  Check it out below–the party is at the Potterville Country Club.












Side note:  I’ve never seen an academic’s spouse advertised like a warm-up act, but I guess it’s just further proof of the different ways that politicians think compared to people in academia.  (I don’t even know if my current Dean is married, and although one of her predecessors was married, I never met his wife, even when he hosted a nice luncheon for junior faculty at his house.  And, I’ve never seen or heard anything featuring the presence of the wife of the current president of Baa Ram U. or his immediate predecessor.)  Does anyone else think this is strange?

Five years ago, I donated a modest sum to a scholarship in memory of the historian and CU Professor Emeritus Jackson Turner Main upon his death, and I suppose a good deed sent to the development office never goes unpunished, which is why I get invitations to all sorts of parties for fancy donors to CU.  As if!  It reminds me of the Christmas card I got from George W. Bush and family in 2004–I had been a major donor to Kerry, so I wonder if the Bushies were just reaching out in case I wanted to make friends with the other team in victory.  Yes–it was the official White House Christmas card.  I also wonder if they sent the card out to Kerry donors to gloat!  (Maybe that’s what Benson is doing to Historiann?  Probably not–as they old saying goes, money talks, bull$hit walks, and they don’t know about my secret identity as Historiann.)

So, anyway, back to the current invitation on my desk:  what do you think I should wear?  (The invitation says “business casual,” but I don’t even know what that is any more.)