4/18/2005

There is another interesting point I wanted to make in my Metro editorial that appears today, but that I could not squeeze into 500 words, and that is the interesting fact that when a minority is scapegoated it is very often associated with a sexual threat. Blacks in this country and Jews in Europe are two prominent examples of the hypersexualizing of scapegoated minorities. Like the racist and anti-Semite, the homophobe is at the center of a fantasy of victimization at the hands of his imagined enemies. The warped picture of a deviant sexuality says a great deal more about the one imagining his victimization than it does about the imagined victimizer, obviously.

4/12/2005

New York Times' Milquetoast moderate Nicholas Kristof in today's paper:

"We ... need more diverse newsrooms. When America was struck by race riots in the late 1960's, major news organizations realized too late that their failure to hire black reporters had impaired their ability to cover America. In the same way, our failure to hire more red state evangelicals limits our understanding of and ability to cover America today."

Inane. If you acknowledge that the aim of the news should be objectivity (and it should be) the only bias in the news should be towards reporting it as objectively as humanly possible. Ideologues and fanatics have a slight problem with this. We need fewer of them in the newsroom, not more. As it is, there are plenty of ways in which their crackpot notions have wormed their way into the news.

Kristof has always been a bit of mealy-mouthed apologist for the Right. Saying that Democrats need to be nicer to Republicans, that the left should yield to the will of a vocal minority of pro-Bush so-called values-voters. Then he cries about Darfur and whines about Robert Mugabe. You can't have it both ways.

But his error here is glaringly obvious, and it is one of logic. I find it hard to believe he's being entirely genuine. What is the connection between more blacks in the newsroom and more religious fanatics? What is the worth of reporting, or even opinion that obviously represents a tyrannically dogmatic worldview held by a minority bent on domination and oppression? Not only is anything a right wing religious fanatic has to say utterly predictable, but any dialogue is ruled out from the start by the insistence that disagreement is heresy. Right wing religious fanatics have no use for objectivity, or even the appearance of objectivity.

We have already seen how the right handles their "news". When not suppressing the facts, the Bush administration pays journalists who share its warped worldview to fabricate them.

Kristof is either naive or disingenuous. I'm leaning toward the latter.
There's a piece in salon this morning about the "natural penis enlargement" or P.E. "community". People are crazy. I sincerely hope that what has happened as of late with tattoos, piercings and plastic surgery doesn't happen with P.E., that is, that it becomes something people feel they can talk about openly.

It's really an interesting phenomenon, in a way. I mean, going public with your penile dysmorphia. It's more evidence of this inversion of public and private in our postmodern culture. When I lived overseas, the one thing I heard consistently about Americans was that they're "superficial," and there is truth in this. We seem to have emptied out our inner lives for the sake of appearances. It's a generalization, I know, but we are unrepentant materialists, and fetishists, obsessed with the look of things, with surfaces, with smoke and mirrors. We have become slick surfaces ourselves, in fact.

The funny thing about tattoos, I think, is that there's a sense in which their appeal seems to lie in some sort of authenticity they confer on the tattooee. This may be a cultural thing, an artifact, so to speak. The fake, self-conscious bourgeois longing for the authenticity of the real, unself-conscious working man. Something like you see in E.M. Forster's Maurice. There was a time, just a generation ago, when only army conscripts and ex-cons had tattoos. The fact that very boring bourgeois boys and girls now do doesn't mean these boys and girls are any more authentic, it simply means they have appropriated this symbol of authenticity and turned it into yet another fake form of rebellion against the status quo which they themselves represent. It's an old and sordid tale.

I'm not against tattoos or anything, mind you. And lots of people get them just because. What I'm talking about here is the greater license society nowadays grants to the idea of body modification. What's going on when over the course of a generation something once considered outside the status quo gets mainstreamed to the extent tattooing, piercing, and now plastic surgery have? It's not a scary question, but it is an interesting one. I mean, I see a theme here.

And as for piercings, particularly tongue, nipple, and penis piercings, they're there to advertise a taste for kink, which is certainly something that a generation ago you'd want to be more discreet about. But that's because even a generation ago there was still a sense of some slim semblance of an inner, private space, a private life. Part of what was titillating, presumably, was the square outward appearance. Now, it doesn't do you any good to hide it. It's only useful if you appear to be the type who regularly gets his freak on. But we all know that appearances are deceiving. Still.

A lot of this shift has to do with the internet, certainly. I mean, everything from blogs to sex sites invert the old public-private paradigm. And while people my age still see a difference between an online identity and our real world selves, Gen Nexters don't. There's no opposition, in fact there's a comfortable continuum that runs from the virtual to the real in everything from socializing to sex. They are used to being filmed, filming themselves,and seeing themselves on film constantly, and this has to have a profound influence on their idea of a self. They are masters of marketing it, gurus of branding it. But what is it, exactly, you get, when you open it up?

We have gotten to the point, many of us at least, where a private life is irrelevant. It's the old tree in the forest. Does it make a sound if there's no one else around to hear it fall? Who cares? If no one else is there, does it matter? The whole point is to wait until you hear someone coming, and then fall.

When people are shouting into their cell phones in public, it's the tree in the forest. And it converts our shared public space into their private space. It's a move that says, this space belongs to me, it is part and parcel of my ego. There is a kind of childlike omnipotence in this that doesn't recognize the autonomy of the Other, or its very separate existence. Only the need of an audience, of someone to play to, to confirm the existence of the self on the stage.

It's been said that the best actors are vacuous people. That's how they are able to shift shape so convincingly. Because they don't have much inner integrity. The other day I was watching In Search of Richard, a documentary about Al Pacino putting on Shakespeare, and it proved the point. Pacino is a total airhead, but a damn good King Richard III. The most flamboyant cellphone performers you see on the T are the least likely to have very rich or well-developed inner lives. The content of their one-sided conversations usually bear this observation out. The important thing for them, I think, is to convey the convincing illusion of an inner life. But they very often sound like children talking on toy phones to imaginary friends, don't they?

It is a culture of spectacle we live in, and you don't get any points unless you make a complete and utter spectacle of yourself.

4/06/2005

Now that they’ve exhausted all the substantive news on the pope, there are stories in the paper about how the influx of pilgrims is making parts of Rome impassable. And? I mean, it’ll all be over soon and everything will be back to normal. Where’s the story?

The Americans, it’s all about what a deeply spiritual people we are. But almost every American interviewed was a nasally tourist who said some variation of ‘I'm here because this is probably something I’ll remember for the rest of my life!’ And many of them did say ‘probably’. And if you manage to remember it for the rest of your life? Then what? I mean, it’s a stupid, meaningless thing to say, isn’t it? But we are accumulators, collectors, and résumé-builders extraordinaire, aren’t we?

The main thing is, it’s all about us. We can’t experience something in the moment for what it is. We are too postmodern for that. It’s always with a mind for how it will look on the résumé of life when we hand it over to Saint Peter in the waiting room outside the pearly gates. For Americans there is no present, just an imaginary past and an imaginary future.

We really missed the boat on this pope. We will forever associate his papacy with the sex scandals that swept through American dioceses. But even now we complain that JPII was not liberal enough in his thinking, particularly about homosexuality and the ordination of women. These are primarily "first world" concerns, and they presuppose a degree of material wealth, a freedom from other, more vital concerns, and they are more about personal freedom of expression than social justice in the end. So they seem like slightly frivolous issues for the developing and third worlds.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for the ordination of women. And I certainly think the Church would gain in the long-run by dispensing with its hypocrisy regarding gays and basically "coming out of the closet." Abortion will never be sanctioned by the Church -- it's absurd -- but a more realistic stance towards birth control is morally sustainable, I think. But the fact is, there are more pressing issues the Church could put its formidable authority and infrastructure towards addressing.

The real significance of this pope is precisely that he came from the Eastern Europe at a time when it was still firmly in Soviet grasp. When he visited Poland in '79 what you saw was truly rare and extraordinary -- the transformative power of the courage and conviction of one man. The papacy hadn't had anything like that for centuries. And for the future, only a second- or third-world pope can lend the kind of moral authority JPII did.

The pope's true constituency isn't in Western Europe or North America anyway. First worlders want religion to rationalize and justify. Only the poor can put religion to a purpose. The main concern of the Catholic Church in this new millennium should be social and economic justice in the third world.

Christianity is a revolutionary religion. It is the religion of revolution. Because it is the religion of the poor and the powerless. It promises to turn the world on its head, and has done. But it curdles in comfortable climes. Once it is installed as the official religion it is no longer revolutionary, and it ceases to be Christianity in all but name. This is why suburban evangelicalism rings hollow, morally speaking.

Christianity in the third world can still be a pure and revolutionary social force. In America, widespread prosperity and the materialism it engenders has transformed it into little more than a rich source of hypocrisy.

4/04/2005

24-hour pope watch: polls indicate most American Catholics are hoping the next pope will be protestant.
We now have nonstop coverage of the Pope’s carcass on display in the Vatican. When they go to commercial break they play this weird harp music, like in the old Loony Toons when Bugs Bunny gets shot by Elmer Fudd and floats up into Heaven. On CNN they were talking about how seventy some-odd percent of Americans believe in Heaven and most of them believe it’s an actual place. And was the pope in heaven now? What do you think? That was the CNN/Time News Poll. But, guess what? The Pope doesn't care what you think, and never did.

It's the New Aging of the Pope.

Funny how everything we touch turns to porn. And this is definitely a kind of emotional pornography. There’s something about the fakes who read the news paying tribute to a real person that's a little bit obscene, somehow. Their straining for emotion is patronizing. It reminds me of how some adults talk to very young children in exaggerated tones to indicate to the child what sort of reaction is expected of him. That was particularly nauseating in the case of Terri Schiavo, but they have also hijacked the pope for their purposes.

4/01/2005

In one of those strange synergies that seem especially to accompany tragedies, like the death of Diana within days of Mother Teresa’s, or Johnny Cash and John Ritter dying on the same day, the Pope and Terri Schiavo are now inextricably linked in the news, by the fact that they are both on a feeding tube. It seems like it should be significant. Because we are creatures, who, for good or ill, are essentially programmed to see connections and patterns, we lend a kind of sacred significance to coincidence. Sometimes it seems like poetic justice.

This morning, as the Pope's conditioned worsened and he seemed to be coming to the end, you had CNN correspondents wondering aloud if the Pope had a living will. It seemed a little silly to me, somehow. Not that living wills are a bad idea for the rest of us. But, come on, people have been dying now for a long time. Lord knows modern Americans invented equality, justice, and sex, but death's been around a while. And honestly just because one poor brain-dead woman's parents and husband bickered over her wishes on TV, doesn't mean that all the sudden the rest of the world has forgotten how to die. We do get very carried with ourselves, don't we? It's really a mark of our Age of Hysteria that we get so wrapped up in the spectacle we lose all sense of the reality outside of the bubble.

Rest assured, the Pope is not going to become a Terri Schiavo. Some scheming power-hungry cardinal will rip that feeding tube right out before the situation can get out of hand.