Yes, They’re “Killing” “Donald Trump” in Central Park. Let’s Stop Insulting the Rubes, Eh?

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Dear Rebecca:

Here is the controversy du jour:

New York’s Public Theater lost support from two high-profile corporate donors, Delta Air Lines and Bank of America, on Sunday amid intense criticism of its production of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” which depicts the assassination of a Trump-like Roman ruler.

“No matter what your political stance may be, the graphic staging of ‘Julius Caesar’ at this summer’s Free Shakespeare in the Park does not reflect Delta Air Lines’ values,” the company said in a statement on Sunday night.

“Their artistic and creative direction crossed the line on the standards of good taste,” the company said. “We have notified them of our decision to end our sponsorship as the official airline of the Public Theater effective immediately.”

Smart folks are snickering at this decision. “Julius Caesar” is clearly an anti-assassination play, they say, as anybody who’s read the play or seen it performed fully will know.

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To paraphrase Shakespeare: The pundits do protest too much.

Yes, Julius Caesar is a play that ultimately delivers an anti-assassination message. Guess what? “Reefer Madness” is a movie that delivers an anti-pot message, but it’s enduring popularity … well, let’s just say its most enthusiastic viewers may not be taking “Reefer’s” prohibitionist message to heart.

There are a million examples in the history of art of wrapping spectacle in an “eat your Wheaties message” for the sheer sake of delivering spectacle. This way of telling a story reached real heights during Hollywood’s Golden Age, when the Hays Code required that movies ultimately have uplifting moral messages. As long as Jimmy Cagney converts in the last five minutes, he can slaughter as many gangsters as he wants during the preceding 90. Hypocrisy, they say, is the tribute vice pays to virtue. Put it on stage, though, and it can be beautiful, even stirring.

Which is to say: If you think the Shakespeare in the Park folks might be trying to intentionally provoke and provide a little bit of anti-Trump spectacle by figuratively murdering him every night for a few nights before thousands of onlookers — well, let’s says you might have a deeper understanding of how art sometimes works than what you’re being credited with by the Chris Hayses of the world.

One can understand the play and still think those involved thought it might be a thrill to depict Donald Trump being shredded by knives. *

*Or Gregg Henry, who plays Caesar. He always plays a great villain. Would love to see him in this. 

Understand, I’m not getting into the ethics of “fake Nazi punching” or whatever we want to call this. I’m getting into the ethics of “insulting the public’s intelligence.” Liberals are acting smug because they understand  literature better, they think, conservatives are mad — rightly — to be treated like rubes, and, well, round and round we go.

If we’re going to have the catharsis of watching Trump torn apart every night, let’s be honest. Let’s own it. But let’s not tell people they’re dumb when they can see pretty well what’s probably going on here.

See you at the theater!
Joel

Prison Labor as Redemptive? If You’re a White Person Benefitting from the Labor

Joel,

You recently asked us to think about what it means that Hillary and Bill Clinton, like other First Families of Arkansas (and Louisiana and, at the time, Missouri), used prisoners as unpaid laborers. This fact is old–Clinton wrote about it in her 1996 It Takes a Village, but it’s gained traction in recent days in part because of the work of Samuel Sinyangwe and Jeannette Jing. Jing linked Bill Maher’s use of the term “house n—–” and Clinton’s acceptance of the “longstanding tradition” of using imprisoned black men as free laborers as a way to “keep costs down”–a most impressive euphemism!

Here is Clinton, in 1996, writing about encountering black prisoners working for free in the governor’s mansion:

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I appreciate your concern for Clinton, which comes from an empathetic place. As white people, it’s easy to miss the injustice here. (In fact, many white people continue to defend the practice of using unpaid prison labor to serve government interests. If it were up for popular vote, I bet many states would do more of it.) Can we judge Clinton today for her thoughts back then? After all, 13th hadn’t come out, so how were white people supposed to know that there is a direct historical relationship between the end of slavery–which “deprived” white people of the free labor of blacks–and the mass incarceration of black men (which Clinton supported) and a corresponding reliance on the free or very, very, very low cost work of prisoners?

How could we know?

We know because this didn’t happen by accident. It happened on purpose. If we white people didn’t know, it’s because we didn’t want to know.

Granted, sometimes such slavery (and, yes, readers–it is slavery: the forced, unpaid labor of someone who is physically controlled by another. And it is legal under the 13th amendment.) is hidden from us so it’s hard to see. That is the trick of capitalism: to keep the parts that make us squeamish hidden. This is why businesses want to hide the repulsive gap between CEOs and workers, why the “ag-gag” prevents journalistic coverage of what happens on feedlots and slaughterhouses (under the guise of protecting us from terrorism), why we ship manufacturing jobs to places where we can’t see the abuses of workers that would violate US labor laws. The system is designed to be hard to see because if we see it–11% of the world’s children trapped in child labor, in diamond mines and tobacco or chocolate fields–we might decide to celebrate Valentine’s Day a little differently.

We can see Clinton’s misgivings in the passage from It Takes a Village. She’s uncomfortable with the prison laborers. But it quickly becomes clear that this discomfort is not with a system of exploitation but rather with concern for her own safety. She goes on to talk about how the prisoners were vetted and notes that she found, as she was told that she would, that the murderers made the best employees; it was the people in for property crimes that caused the problems in the mansion. These men, she tells us later, don’t have low IQs but were “emotional illiterates.” Sociologically speaking, she rejects biological arguments about prisoner inferiority and instead suggests, as so many good liberals do, that they come from a deprived culture. This is still a “kinds-of-people” argument, one that places blame on the individual and their culture rather than a system that crafts laws to imprison black people. The idea that a hundreds-year old system of exploitation is rigged to insure that black men are disproportionately jailed doesn’t seem to have crossed her mind.

Instead, 1996 Clinton accepts her fate as the (white) mistress of the house, overseeing black slave labor. (Please, readers, don’t argue that these folks aren’t slaves. Legally, they are. We wrote the 13th amendment to say so. We could have written it otherwise, and Radical Republicans Thaddeus Stevens and Charles Sumner tried. This slavery is not legally racialized, though it is de facto racialized. This slavery is not inheritable, as was slavery in the 19th century and before. But it is slavery because the Constitution says that it is.)  She even manages to use a tone to suggests that this labor was for the good of the prisoner. Indeed, such programs are often called “rehabilitation” programs–as if the benefit is to the prisoner, not to the state.

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Above, black prisoners work in a field while an armed guard watches them from horseback. Not 1900 but today. In addition to working for state governments, prisoners work for free or nearly free for major companies, including Whole Foods, McDonalds, Wendy’s, Walmart, Starbucks, and more. Such labor keeps costs low but also provides an unfair advantage to companies that can access the prison labor market. 

But look: if these murderers are rehabilitated, they can be freed. Clinton notes that some of them are in their 30s and have already served almost two decades, about half their lives.  In many cases, they could be freed without risk of reoffense. If they couldn’t, they wouldn’t have been working in the governor’s mansion.

If “rehabilitation” was the goal, then prisoners options wouldn’t be to sit in a cell and “do nothing” (or, more accurately, learn and participate in the violence of prison) or work for free; it would be to do the work of fixing their problems and making their wrongs right.

This argument–that unpaid prison laborers are being reformed by performing work for the very political leaders who craft policies that deprive black Americans, free or imprisoned, of legitimate opportunities for success are being improved by their slavery–isn’t new. It’s older than Emancipation. Robert E. Lee, writing about the burden of whites to “improve” the lives of blacks (Slavery, he says, was harder on white than on enslaved black people.), says it this way:

I think it [slavery] however a greater evil to the white man than to the black race, & while my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more strong for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is known & ordered by a wise Merciful Providence. Their emancipation will sooner result from the mild & melting influence of Christianity, than the storms & tempests of fiery Controversy.

Lee, of course, was the leader of a treasonous military effort to defend that “longstanding tradition” of free black labor for white profit, justified by saying slavery was for the good of blacks–a favor, really, that whites generously offered and one that Lee embraced as the owner of slaves. Clinton was a far less powerful First Lady. But could she have done it differently? Thaddeus Stevens, Charles Sumner, and thousands of prisoners who have worked in chain gangs would have said so.

Rebecca

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PS. For goodness sake, yes, she’s better than Trump, who campaigned on a promise to imprison even more black men, and of course I voted for her and donated to her campaign. And, no, I’m not holding her to a higher standard than male political leaders. And–trust me on this one–I get how hard it is to enter Arkansas culture as a progressive white woman from the North. I understand that she said this 1996, not 2017, and that times have changed, even if Clinton has not changed as much as I would hope. I think Clinton has done some remarkable work on behalf of some vulnerable populations.

And I still think she should have known better. And I do think that this passage suggests an orientation toward work, race, and criminal justice that I haven’t yet seen the mainstream Democratic Party challenge.

Why I’m Terrified by News That Hillary Clinton Used Prison Laborers as Servants

Dear Rebecca:

Have you heard that Bill and Hillary Clinton used slave labor in the Arkansas governor’s mansion? I thought it was a hoax, but it turns out not to be: The “slaves” in question were convicted prisoners on work detail. You can see how this is going to get complicated.

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The evidence was in plain sight.

The evidence was in plain sight the whole time: Hillary described it in her 1996 book “It Takes A Village.”

The relevant excerpt:

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I admit. It was kind of breathtaking to read.

And then, on second thought, it was kind of personally horrifying. Why?

For a couple of reasons: First, it’s been 20 years since the book came out. Only now is a fuss being made. That means that a bunch of people read it and didn’t think much about the Arkansas tradition – or, in the pre-Internet age when the book came out, didn’t have the voice needed to make the fuss gather momentum.

Second: I can’t honestly say I would’ve done differently.

I think I’m a conscientious fellow. I argue against racism every chance I get. I argue against sexism the same. And yet, I know I’ve been betrayed by a blind spot now and again. It will almost certainly happen again.

It’s easy enough for me to imagine being in Hillary’s shoes: Not comfortable with a practice, but also not wanting to make a fuss about “tradition,” especially when it saves taxpayers a few bucks, and especially since they’re convicts and especially since I know I’m a conscientious person and will treat them well and … oh dear, it’s a slippery slope to being a slave master.

(There are those who will still argue that this was a good deal for convicted inmates, but there’s also a lot of evidence that the justice system is built to feed black men into prisons, too. Watch Ava Duvernay’s “13th” for a quick primer on this. I’m inclined to the latter point of view more than the first. In which case, the moral rule is this: Don’t accept service from people in shackles. Refuse to benefit from that.)

So: I think what Bill and Hillary Clinton did was wrong, and I think it was profoundly human, and that’s what terrifies me.

I’ve been thinking about the ways injustices sustain themselves — I’ll be writing about Jim Comey on a similar topic in the next few days — and one of them is that they embed themselves in custom and tradition, take on an air of authority, make it easier to accept than to challenge.

I’m pretty sure I’m not a better person than Hillary Clinton. And that terrifies me. How easily would I accept slave labor?

Do you know for certain that you would do better?

God have mercy on us.

Sincerely,

Joel

Political Anger and Political Violence

Dear Joel,

Let’s talk about threats of political violence.

No, not Kathy Griffin. (Though we can talk about her, too. I think a severed Trump head is a fine form of political speech, not a threat against the president, and I wish that someone cleverer than Griffin had done it, that the image had been more meaningful, not less graphic. In fact, I’ve been warning conservative Christians about the risks of a symbolic Trump beheading for awhile now.)

I mean Kim Weaver, a Democrat running who was running against Iowa’s Steve King for a seat in the House. King is a racist and a nativist, and he’s quite open and proud of those beliefs. Weaver had run against King in 2016 and was gearing up to run against him again for 2018. She dropped out of the race this week, though, citing, in part, the toll that constant threats–including death threats–was taking on her.

And I mean Stephanie Clayton, the Kansas House Republican who was threatened with hanging on social media after she announced that she was voting with her moderate colleagues to keep guns off Kansas’ campuses, a choice that most faculty on those campuses support.

And Clementa (“Clem”) Pinckney, a Democrat serving in South Carolina’s House, who was killed when a white supremacist opened fire during his church service two summers ago.

And I mean Gabby Giffords, who had been targeted by violent right-wingers high on the violent rhetoric of Sarah Palin and others long before she was shot in a mass shooting that killed 6 others, including a Judge John Roll–who had also long faced death threats–and a child.

And Robert Smith Vance, a federal judge killed in his Alabama home by a mail bomb sent by a man who’d also been bombing civil rights advocates.

And James M. Hind, the first member of Congress assassinated. Hind, representing Arkansas in the House, was gunned down by a Klansman for his support of the rights of former slaves.

And John W. Stephens, a North Carolina state senator, who was murdered by Klansmen for his popularity among black voters, whose support had brought him into office.

And Tomás “Tomasito” Romero, a Pueblo who was assassinated after his capture for daring to rebel against US annexation of Mexico.

Above, Clayton, Hind, Vance, Pinckney, Giffords, and Stephens–all threatened or murdered by people whose political conservatism drove their violence. 

What do these folks have in common? They all represented a symbolic threat to the rule of conservative white men, and they were all threatened or killed because of it.

It’s not the political violence doesn’t happen to conservatives or that those on the left don’t commit violence (McKinley was assassinated by an anarchist, as just one example.) But the violence and the violent rhetoric trends one direction: conservatives fomenting violence and hatred toward those they see as liberal or progressive.

Compare the rhetoric of the Women’s March to that of any Tea Party rally.

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Does he know he’s quoting Malcolm X?

[Above, a man at a Tea Party rally wears a hat indicating that he’s a Desert Storm veteran. Behind him is the Gadsen Flag, which has become associated not simply with the Tea Party but with anti-government extremist and hate movements. He holds a sign saying “By ballet or by bullet restoration is coming.”] 

Ask yourself: Do Democrats have to monitor their events to insure that participants aren’t unfurling a Confederate flag?

Consider the millions of racist images of the Obama family, including images of President Obama lynched. Or find the online images of a digital Hillary Clinton being sexually assaulted. (Better yet, don’t.)

In an attempt to find common ground in what feels like a very polarized America, it’s tempting for good liberals to suggest that we’re all guilty of othering our political opponents, that we’ve all engaged in debased language, that we’ve all been demeaned by the current political climate.

But we’re not all equally guilty. Not by a long shot.

Our pal Erick Erickson, in an article denying that we should be concerned about the Trump administration’s ties to Russia, said recently that he “would actually be really surprised if we make it to December 31st of this year without people in this country taking up arms against each other.” He’s part of the problem, of course–and he’s ignoring the fact that it’s almost always been social conservatives who have threatened civil war and see it unfolding with every new sign of equal treatment for women, African Americans, and LGBT people, not progressives. Factions of the right have been living in 1832 South Carolina for all their lives. They’re slobbering for a fight–all the time.

Speaking like a man in the first session of his court-ordered domestic abuser treatment program, Erickson goes on:

If the left really does believe the Republican Party is a criminal enterprise in league with the Russians, they’re either moral cowards without conviction in their beliefs or about to take up arms to defend their country. If the right really does believe the left is engaged in an unconstitutional coup against the lawfully elected President, they’re either moral cowards without convictions in their beliefs or about to take up arms to defend their country.

That’s right: If we really mean what we say when we say about our political opponents, in Erickson’s view, the only courageous option is civil war. Erickson, protected by his own privileges, doesn’t seem to understand what that would actually mean for the world. and doesn’t have the moral imagination to create solutions to these problems outside of violence. And Erickson is typical of many other conservatives in this regard.

So I’m not believing the crocodile tears of Republicans or their feigned horror over Kathy Griffin’s stunt.

And I’m not arguing that since they are propagators of violent rhetoric  we should be too. “When they go low, we go high” is a pretty good motto. And I don’t think we’re near to a civil war, despite Dennis Prager’s might tempt you and me to worry about.

But I am arguing, ever more forcefully, that we shouldn’t cater to the anger of Trump voters. So much post-election analysis expressed surprise at how angry these folks were, calling on good liberals to try to understand things from the perspectives of white voters in the exurbs and in rustbelt towns and places ripped apart by heroin and opioid epidemics. But underneath all that analysis was the idea that we should be afraid of these people. They are desperate… they are angry… they have guns…

And they tell us this themselves in threats veiled and explicit.

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Above, protestors at a rally in defense of the display of the Confederate flag on public property display a giant flag from the back of a Cadillac SUV. Superimposed over the stars and bars is an image of an assault rifle and the words “Come and Take It.” I’m clearly supposed to be afraid of these people, who are just itching for a fight. 

But I’m angry too–and not just at Trump but at every fool who embraced his bigotry or willfully ignored it in order to get scammed by the biggest heel in reality TV.  That anger isn’t going away, and I’m not adding fear to it.

Rebecca

 

 

 

 

Masculinity so Fragile: The Wonder Woman Edition

Dear Joel,

Oh, the hours I spent playing Wonder Woman as a child! She was the ideal superhero–yes, because she was a woman (and a dark haired one at that, which made her the un-Barbie to me–and my joy in discovering her only highlights the pain that children of color often feel when they face another summer with no heroes of color on the screen). But she was also accessible to me: you could step into the role with nearly no gear. Unlike billionaire Bruce Wayne, who relied on a manor full of gadgets to get the job done, Wonder Woman required only three things: Bracelets of Submission (which could be crafted from the blue extra-wide rubber bands that held together broccoli bought at the grocery store), the Lasso of Truth (which we made from any old rope we could find), and an Invisible Plane (which was the easiest of all to craft!). Clearly, DC wasn’t thinking about merchandizing to children when Wonder Woman came to be.

But that she was a woman meant a lot, too. I’d like to say that we simply didn’t see too many women as heroes “back when I was a kid,” but that’s still pretty much the case (though I think there are significant exceptions, including Mulan, Brave, and Moana). We tend to classify movies by and about men as movies (unless they are about war or whatever The Revenant was about) and movies by and about women as women’s movies, as if men’s gendered experiences don’t shape how they view films but movies for women are only accessible to those who have been through the gendered experiences of women.

And writers know this. It’s why Harry Potter is about a boy and his friends Hermione and Ron–a group that is two-thirds boys. When girls take the lead role or outnumber boys, boys start to see the book (or the film) as for girls. And when a book about a boy is written by a woman, her publisher will ask her to use her initials or a pen name to hide her gender. Ramona Quimby and Pippi Longstocking are the literary exceptions in that they are read by boys (or are read to boys), too, but Ramona and Pippi are also girls who are quite explicit about embracing danger, fun, and silliness–and rejecting dresses, obedience, and good manners.  Until Dora the Explorer, we didn’t have a girl character with the kind of multi-media power (a TV show, video games, books, a stage show) that was cultivated for boy characters. Even Dora, though, wasn’t bringing in the boy viewers and so she got a male counterpart: her cousin Diego.

 

Above, left to right: Pippi Longstocking challenges Adolf, the strongman, at the circus, Ramona Quimby tears around on her tricycle, and Harry Potter and his pals Hermione and Ron pose for a picture

So, while it’s so important for women to see women as heroes on the screen, the major obstacle to them getting there is the idea that men won’t watch them. Yet the fact that audiences for things like monster truck rallies and pro wrestling events and Mel Gibson films are mostly men doesn’t prevent them from being produced–nor does the fact that some films (50 Shades of Grey, all those lovely Jane Austen adaptations) were watched primarily by women mean that such films shouldn’t be produced. Twilight made a boatload of money but was marketed mostly to women and girls.

If we already produce movies with a gendered market in mind, why the hesitation to produce more movies with women in the heroic roles? As the success of Wonder Woman among women viewers shows, women are available and ready to watch.

I’m not sure, then, that the problem is so much with films with strong women characters as much as it is with men who can’t imagine a woman saving them. Films like 50 Shades of Grey and Twilight might be movies for women, but they don’t threaten men. Wonder Woman is going to save men. She might even physically save them. (As happens in real life, too–women work as fire fighters and on avalanche rescue teams and as hostage negotiators and they often actually physically save the lives of men, sometimes even by picking them up and carrying them to safety.)

So, yes, as you point out, if you are a white man mocking women crying at Wonder Woman, don’t; it’s easy but ugly to “sneer at people taking seriously something you don’t have to take seriously because it will never be a problem getting a superhero movie made about people who look like you.”

But I’m also betting that part of white men’s discomfort with Wonder Woman is that she’s saving people who do look like them.

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Above, a drawing from a Wonder Woman comic. Wonder Woman rescues a man from a fire by carrying him on her shoulder. How much you wanna bet he tried to insist that he could handle it on his own?

Rebecca

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PS. I have a lot more to say about Wonder Woman, including Gal Gadot’s support for assaults on Palestinian civilians, a real-life message that seems at odds with the film’s apparent criticisms of nationalism. I’m also not a huge Chris fan (Pine, Pratt, Hemsworth, Evans) as they seem to me to be the living embodiment(s) of the idea that in order for people of color and women to get ahead, undeserving white men are going to need to step aside. So let me think about it more. In the meantime, I’ll spend my free time this weekend re-reading Herland

126590The cover of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland, serialized in 1915 and not published in book form until 1979.

White Dudes and Wonder Woman

Dear Rebecca:

Over the last year, some of my friends have offered up this jokey-not so jokey prayer in public: “Lord, give me the confidence of a mediocre white man.”

It came to mind today as I watched white dudes react to the runaway success of the new “Wonder Woman” movie. Frankly, it’s been an awkward grapple.

Here’s Rich Lowry at National Review, wondering why we can’t just enjoy a good superhero flick without getting caught up in feminist politics.

The critics have swooned, and some of them have literally cried over the movie. This is a bit much. The advancement of women in this country, or even just in Hollywood, didn’t depend on the production of a better female superhero vehicle than, say, Elektra (Rotten Tomato rating: 10 percent). Nor is it unusual anymore to see women beat up villains on screen. This hasn’t stopped people from losing their minds — a new American core competency — over Wonder Woman.

More complicatedly, David Edelstein at New York found himself, er, revising and extending his previous remarks giving the movie a mediocre review. After answering charges he’d spent too much time contemplating his looks, he answered the broader charge that he simply didn’t take the movie seriously enough:

I underestimated how much a superheroine at the center of a woman-directed film would mean to many people, and descriptions I considered lively and complimentary would come across as demeaning. Moreover, if Wonder Woman will empower women at this moment in history — in which reproductive rights are imperiled, and an admitted groper is working to undo decades of gains for women — then some of the criticisms of my review are just. I reserve the right to think that this is not, overall, a very good movie. But it is an important one.

For which NYT columnist Ross Douthat offered this bit of snark: “It’s a mediocre movie, but I didn’t understand how important mediocre movies are to the Cause.”

…which seems to miss the mark a bit.

The key to understanding why mediocre movies might be “important to the cause” goes back to Lowry’s column: He’s right! Elektra was a lousy movie that did lousy business. And what happened? Despite the flowering of the superhero genre over the last decade, nobody’s seen fit to make a major female superhero movie again until about now.

When superhero movies about white guys do badly, nobody puts that on their white guyness. Ryan Reynolds survived the critical failure of Wolverine and the failure failure of Green Lantern before finally striking gold with Deadpool. Now, it seems, he’s set for life. Short story: White guys don’t have to worry about mediocrity being a major setback.

Meanwhile, the studios offered up three major women-centered superhero movies over the course of 30 years, they flopped, and based on that — instead of the fact that the movies just sucked — the dudes-that-be decided there wasn’t an audience for women-centered superhero movies. They even decided women couldn’t be the villains.

Wonder Woman, it seems, proves that’s wrong.

So the response to Lowry is: When women are getting as many of these opportunities as men, maybe we’ll be able to dial the conversation back a bit. Until then, the process is natural.

And the response to Douthat is: Maybe you shouldn’t sneer at people taking seriously something you don’t have to take seriously because it will never be a problem getting a superhero movie made about people who look like you.

And the response to Edelstein is … well, I kind of wish he hadn’t written his response at all. Critics are inundated with fanboy — a term I used advisedly — criticism whenever they diss a superhero movie, and maybe he should’ve just shrugged it off. Today’s piece was too defensive to come across well, and certainly didn’t appear to be as considered as most of his film criticism usually is.

But read those last sentences again. He doesn’t owe Wonder Woman, the movie, undue respect if the movie hasn’t earned it. Indeed, he says that his review of the flick — that it’s “not … a very good movie” — stands. He can acknowledge that it’s an “important” movie, though — a judgment that belongs to a slightly wider conversation than the “thumbs up-thumbs down” movie review might permit. Did he do wrong with the initial review? I don’t think so. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t miss out on something.

Underlying all this (I think) is this sense, among white dudes, that their experience is the median, and that the white dude consensus about, well, anything is the conventional wisdom — maybe even objective truth — about a thing. But we all bring ourselves, our lives into the movie theater with us, and those perspectives affect how we see the movie. To say a movie is “important” without calling it good is a way of beginning to acknowledge those other perspectives.

It’s worth noting that the front page of Rotten Tomatoes “Wonder Woman” page features 20 reviews of the movie — and just five of them are women. The second page? Twenty more reviews, just one identifiable woman.

Think that influences our perspective, even a tiny bit?

I’m not sure that I’m articulating exactly what I want to say here. (One friend allowed I might be suffering from kneejerk leftism on this matter.) It just seems to me that white dudes — I am one — are often like fish in the ocean: They swim in a culture that often facilitates their desires. That’s not a culture that requires them to consider the feminist politics of a piece of art, or one that makes them grapple with why a movie might be important without necessarily appealing to them.

Apparently, it’s very upsetting when something comes along to challenge that.

Going to see the movie this weekend!

Cheers,

Joel

A Brief List of Slavery-Deniers

Dear Joel,

Robert Curry’s view of American history is tragically narrow. For those who haven’t read the short piece that you cited last week, Curry wonders why Obama was so quick to recognize the importance of Islam in the US when it was Christianity that this nation was all about.

Of course, that argument, as you note, ignores the many Muslims who were forcibly brought to the colonies and later the United States as the victims of slavery. It’s like Curry seems to think that the nation was built by Episcopalians and Puritans, not by the actual work of enslaved Africans and their descendants.

Curry ignores that fact that slavery–which brought not only Islam but also food and music derived from Africa–was a key part of the founding of the nation, including in the most religious of places. Curry exalts George Whitfield as “the first truly American public figure, equally famous in every colony,” but Whitfield was also an advocate of the expansion of slavery and profited from that national sin. Would Whitfield have been preaching to crowds of 10,000 if he had challenged slavery rather than supported it? What would his ministry have looked like had he not been pulling in income from the theft of human beings from Africa?

Curry isn’t alone in erasing slaves (and their religions) from American history. Take the plantation tour of your choice; you’re probably going to learn about hoop skirts and architecture, but you may have to ask about slavery and the people whose labor allowed whites the profit to build those grand houses. If you ask, you may be rebuffed by an embarrassed tour guide. Embarrass them further by asking why they don’t know this part of the place’s history.

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Above, a white couple marries at Nottoway Plantation, which bills itself as “the largest antebellum mansion.” Guests can enjoy the property built and maintained by people who could legally be killed by white supremacists. How romantic! 

Or attend Kappa Alpha’s “Old South” themed frat party. Check them out while they parade in front of a black sorority.

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Above, members of a white Greek organization pose for photos of themselves dressed up like slave owners. Universities trying to defend them say that they don’t “these young folks were in any way trying to be racist” but simply didn’t understand “the broader implications of what they were doing.”

Or read MacGraw-Hill’s US history textbook to see white sins erased as the people they bought and sold are called “workers.”

Or listen to Ben Carson call those who were stolen from their homes, shipped in inhumane conditions across the sea, and sold for profit called “immigrants“–as if they were seeking a better life, not being treated as chattel.

So, while it’s obvious to anyone who has ever thought about it that slavery–and therefore Islam–is central to US history, we need to keep reminding folks of that.

Rebecca