A lot of folks are upset about the outcome of the Masterpiece Bakery case, on both sides. Considering my feeling on the case was “a plague on both your houses”, I’m actually quite content with it. (You may now all commence throwing rotten vegetables and fruit.) Yes, I hated all parties involved. Why you may ask? Because this was a case where there could be no winners since they were all losers.
The couple involved threw a fit because they were denied a specific kind of cake (not any service at all, just that one kind of cake). Rather than just go somewhere else and write a nasty review on Yelp, they quite literally made a Federal case about it. Meanwhile, the baker involved decided that his personal beliefs prevented him from crafting a cake and pretending it was for Adam and Eve instead of Adam and Steve. Look, I have had to do a lot of things I object to at jobs in the past, and likely will have to in the future, so I have zero sympathy for him. Instead of shutting up and taking their money, he quite literally made a Federal case about it.
Cases like these tend to push me back toward my libertarian roots. My preferred method of resolving such things is to say “vote with your feet”, or better yet, “vote with your wallet.” Some jerk won’t provide you with the service you want? Find someone who will, and let everyone know why you won’t be patronizing his business anymore. Don’t be crude, but spell out exactly what happened in no uncertain terms. If the community backs you, they’ll avoid his business like the plague, and pretty soon he won’t have a business anymore. Customers making what you consider to be unreasonable demands? Either you’re right and the community will back you, or you’ll be appealing to a smaller and smaller niche market… assuming there’s a large enough niche to support you.
You will notice this doesn’t create immediate, clear and simple “Gotcha!” victories for either side. And that’s kind of the point.
Call it “developing community standards”. Call it “winning hearts and minds”. Hell, call it “the tide of history” if you want. The idea is that people make their own choices individually, as individuals, and the sum total of those choices show us what we value as a community. Not “who can shout the loudest”, “who has the most followers on Twitter”, or “who’s the most photogenic teenager on the news this week”. It also doesn’t involve who can win the largest segment of a quickly shrinking electorate so they can appoint the right judges to swing the case their way.
It may not result in moments of immediate gratification, but those moments of immediate gratification tend to be overshadowed by the decades of blowback they generate. The decades of gradual progress that come from individual choices tend to be slower but not nearly as messy or painful in the long run.
In a recent campaign ad for governor of the state of Georgia, Secretary of State Brian Kemp loads a shotgun and points it at a young man who (in the ad) is “interested in one of my daughters”. He then proceeds to grill “Jake” on why Mr. Kemp is running for governor and what qualities are essential in a young man who will be dating one of his daughters. Naturally, those would be “respect and a healthy appreciation for the Second Amendment, sir.”
Where do I begin?
As someone who has often stated my support for the Second Amendment and the personal right to own firearms, as well as a satirist in my own right, the casual reader might expect me to fully support this ad. After all it’s just in good sport, right? A little poking fun, ribbing the liberals, maybe the casual allusion to the classic “Southern dad with a shotgun” motif? There’s at least a few things wrong with that.
The first thing is that it’s not “just in good sport”. There are a two rules in comedy that are getting violated here. The first, and one that is getting a lot of play these days, is that you punch up, not down. Who exactly is Mr. Kemp punching up at? Gun control advocates? Liberals? Jake? It’s not clear, but like many other politicians these days, he is in a position of power already, and he is using that position to take cheap shots (pun intended) at those who oppose him.
The second rule in comedy that is being violated is that the secret to good comedy is timing. As the editors of The Onion once pointed out, the closer a joke is to the tragedy it’s making fun of, the funnier it needs to be. If you’re going to riff on a tragedy the day after it happened, that better be the funniest joke I ever heard. Given the proximity to the Parkland shooting (along with any number of other teen shootings in America, which may not have gotten the same level of publicity but are just as heartfelt to the victims), I just don’t think this one makes the cut.
The second problem I have with this commercial is that it’s not about liberals versus conservatives, it’s about responsible gun use versus careless or outright unlawful gun use. The first rule of gun safety, always, is to treat every weapon as if it is live, loaded, and ready to fire. A logical extension of this rule that all responsible gun users follow is “don’t point a weapon at anything or anyone you don’t intend to shoot”. I don’t know if it’s because he’s trying to intimidate Jake into voting for him, scare him away from his daughters, or he just doesn’t like his actors, but none of those is a sufficient reason to point a gun at someone. Well okay, maybe because he’s an actor. (See? That’s comedy.)
Finally, the trope of the “Southern dad with a shotgun” is tired, played out, and insulting. Speaking as someone who has both been “threatened” by a father with a shotgun on multiple occasions as a teenager, as well as someone who has actually once been held at gunpoint for real, I can say with authority this shit needs to stop. You are sending one of two messages: either you are a homicidal lunatic who doesn’t understand how to participate in civilized society; or you prefer to use threats, bullying, and intimidation and don’t understand how to participate in civilized society. Neither is something that we should be modeling in the media as something to aspire toward, and certainly not something we should look for in our elected officials.
Here’s a quick joke for you: What’s the difference between a comedian and a politician? A comedian knows how to tell a joke, but a politician doesn’t know how to take one. I know, it’s not very funny. Guess I would have fit right in at the White House Correspondents Dinner the other night with Michelle Wolf. See, she wasn’t very funny either, according to many inside sources. It seems she wasn’t given the approved list of topics in advance that she wasn’t allowed to make jokes about because it would have been “in poor taste” or “going too far”. As George Carlin and Redd Foxx roll over in their smutty graves and Richard Pryor curses a blue streak that causes thunderclouds to form, I have to wonder what in the world these people are thinking.
There are several reasons that attacking Michelle Wolf is wrong, but I’ll focus on three: defense of the comedic tradition, the fact that such attacks are thinly veiled misogyny, and finally naked self-interest for journalism itself.
The tradition of the comedy roast is a time-honored one, and vulgarity is a common component of such roasts. Is it a bit crude and arguably tasteless? Sure, but it’s still a tradition. Besides, as William Blake said, “The road to excess leads to the palace of wisdom…for we never know what is enough until we know what is more than enough.” Or if you prefer Ferris Bueller, “You can never go too far.”
…Unless of course you’re the President of the United States. As many commentators have pointed out, Mr. Trump is well known for making gross, insensitive, and outright vulgar comments about women that are objectively as insensitive as anything that was said by Ms. Wolf. There are three differences worth pointing out. The first is that Ms. Wolf is being called out for her comments by a wide swath of people, some of whom have served as apologists for Mr. Trump. The second, and probably more notable difference, is that Ms. Wolf is a comedian whose job it is to make pointed and (to some) humorous observations about others; Mr. Trump is the President of the United States. Regardless of what they have to say, to at all put their language or behavior on the same level is ludicrous. Finally, by calling out Ms. Wolf without calling out Donald Trump for equivalent comments, there is the faintest stench of “ladies don’t talk that way”, the kind of “there, there” misogyny that says women aren’t capable of meeting men on their own terms.
And ultimately that is what it’s all about: meeting the haters on equal footing. The press is supposed to be a participant in and defender of the First Amendment, which sometimes means taking a stand for controversial speech. The accusations that the White House press corps has gotten too cozy with the administration are hard to ignore are defend against when the WHCA starts taking sides against the entertainer they brought in to mollify the man who has popularized the term “fake news”. I’m not suggesting that every journalist everywhere should stand up, cheer, and demand an encore. That’s a decision for every individual journalist to make. When the association as a whole starts turning on individuals for expressing opinions or even for doing the job they were hired to do, that creates what’s known in the biz as “a chilling effect”. You want to know that professional associations will have your back, not put a knife in it.
I expect politicians to make hay out of this; it’s what they do. I guess I just expected better from journalists. I guess I’m learning better.
When we were Kings and Queens
and backyards and forests were our kingdoms,
action figures were our soldiers
and stuffed animals our loyal subjects.
We were tyrants, one and all –
benevolent or cruel –
deposed by Time.
Here’s a fun little experiment you can do at home. Pick up a video game. It can be any kind of video game, all the way back to an Atari 2600 cartridge to a PlayStation 4 disc. Now, use it in the way it was intended by the manufacturer.
How many people did you manage to hurt? How many people did you kill?
Okay, now try using it in any way you can conceivably think of, even in ways never intended by the manufacturer. How many people can you manage to injure or kill before you get taken down by the police or your fellow citizens?
According to President Trump, the greatest threat to our country, and particularly our young people, comes from video games “shaping young people’s thoughts”, according to a report from the Washington Post. The report added that “[h]e also proposed that ‘we have to do something about maybe what they’re seeing and how they’re seeing it.’”
Well, yeah. Because goodness knows that we’ve established time and again that playing violent video games leads directly to an increase in violent behavior. Oh wait, no we haven’t. But just in case, we should violate the First Amendment rights of video game makers to be on the safe side, because that’s the best and most direct way to resolve the problem.
Apparently Brent Bozell, president of the Media Research Council, suggested that violent video games “needed to be given the same kind of thought as tobacco and liquor.” Of course, because video games have been known to cause cancer and drunk driving. That’s some quality thinking there, Brent.
And that’s not the worst of the kind of conclusion-first, evidence-not-at-all thinking on display at this particular meeting. Rep. Vicki Hartzler was quoted as saying “[e]ven though I know there are studies that have said there is no causal link, as a mom and a former high school teacher, it just intuitively seems that prolonged viewing of violent nature would desensitize a young person.” I’m just curious, exactly what did you teach? Because I can’t imagine any teacher I ever had literally stating “I know there are studies that have said there is no causal link” and then trumping those factual studies with their own “intuition”. Then again, they never had the benefit of being legislators, which apparently gives you… supernatural powers?
Speaking of legislators, Sen. Marco Rubio felt the need to chime in with his usual wisdom, “acknowledg[ing] there is no evidence linking violent video games to the tragedy in Parkland. But he said he wanted to ensure ‘parents are aware of the resources available to them to monitor and control the entertainment their children are exposed to.’” Wow, that’s a brave stance. I wasn’t aware that the ESRB rating system for video games and the MPAA rating system for motion pictures were state secrets. Thanks for getting those declassified and making them available to parents everywhere, Sen. Rubio. With leadership like that you should consider running for President.
If these politicians and other “crisis actors” (yeah, I said it) really believe there’s a causal link between video games and real world violence, they need to step up and put their money where their mouth is. Start funding some quality, rigorous studies into the phenomenon, or better yet lift the ban on the CDC investigating the potential link. Address the very real concerns raised with the studies they continuously lean on (you know, the ones that don’t show a causal link?) and find something more than a spurious correlation.
The hysteria over video games recalls the hysteria over Dungeons & Dragons from the early 1980s, the outrage over explicit music that managed to stretch all the way from the mid-80s to the late 90s, banned books that seem to be a perennial controversy, or any time bad or undesirable behavior is blamed on media or culture rather than placed squarely where it belongs: on the people who perpetrate it. That’s not to say that the media doesn’t influence behavior to some extent, but to ban media in an attempt to control a handful of bad actors is very much akin to cutting off the noses of an entire community to spite one face.
In the great American tradition of putting career advancement above personal integrity, I’d like to take this opportunity to submit myself for Roy Moore’s Campaign Manager. By way of proving my value, I suggest the following campaign theme songs that I feel capture the spirit of both the man and his message.
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap – AC/DC
Don’t Stand So Close to Me – The Police
Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter – Herman’s Hermits
(She’s) Sexy & 17 – Stray Cats
Young Girl – Gary Puckett & The Union Gap
Rebel Yell – Billy Idol
Walk This Way – Run-D.M.C. ft. Aerosmith
Father Figure – George Michael
Seventeen – Winger
My Sharona – The Knack
Into the Night – Benny Mardones
I’m On Fire – Bruce Springsteen
Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon – Neil Diamond
Christine Sixteen – KISS
I Saw Her Standing There – The Beatles
Little Girls – Oingo Boingo