Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Name of the Shame

I've long since learned that I will regret clicking on any link to BuzzFeed. I've also, for the most part, accepted that I gain little but frustration from what people ("friends") post on Facebook. Only recently, however, have I fully internalized the infuriating intersection of the two.

Case in point: a scare-quote-friend links to this article (which I have not read and will not read) and bemoans the "slut-shaming" inherent in the criticism of, I can only assume, these fine, upstanding gentlemen here:

In fact, I believe the exact word she used was "transcendent."

Pictured: Transcendence
Let's visit Webster's briefly, shall we? Transcendent means 1. going beyond ordinary limits; surpassing; exceeding, or 2. superior or supreme. I'm unwilling to consider even for the sake of argument that these gentlemen represent some superior subset of our species, so let's focus on the first definition. It is, in fact, the main point of the article in question that this type of self-exposure has become the norm at such gatherings - that is, it is ordinary. How, then, can this contextually common behavior (which is also generally accepted if not applauded) be characterized as "going beyond ordinary limits?" Short answer: it can't. Music festival denizens are simply following trends, just like everyone else, if not more so; they just happen to be trends (smoking Mary Jane, getting naked with Mary Jane, having public sex with Mary Jane...) that would get you arrested anywhere else. Unless you're in Oregon; there it would probably be fine.

But the bizarre and mindless worship of all things "alternative," no matter how pervasive, commercialized, and mundane, is not what I want to focus on here. Much more fun for me is the deliciously dysfunctional concept of "slut-shaming."

Webster's, of course, can't help us here since "slut-shame" isn't really a word, but I did look up "slut" and was surprised to learn that the first definition is "a dirty, slovenly woman." I can't recall ever hearing the word used in this way, although perhaps this means I've long been misunderstanding certain parts of 19th century literature to be much more exciting than they actually were meant to be. The second definition is more familiar ("an immoral or dissolute* woman; prostitute"), but still not that similar to our common usage, in which we draw a sharp distinction between someone who has lots of sex for no benefit other than the sex itself (a "slut") and someone who has sex for some material gain (a "whore").

Score one for the feminists in that it is apparently true that a man cannot be a slut; however he could be "slutty," as long as he's acting like a slut, which would mean at least in part acting like a woman. So maybe like a gay bottom or a tranny hooker could be slutty (or, to use the first definition, a dirty man wearing a dress), but a bro with his own personal strain of every known STI could not (unless he cried about it while eating ice cream, I suppose). Anyway, it's possible, but at the same time, it's fair to say that the word cannot be applied to men in a direct way, and consequently it's also fair to say that the term is sexist *unless* a male equivalent exists. Which, to my knowledge, there isn't, so chalk another one up there for the feminists.

Unfortunately that's about the end of the feminists' wins, though, because instead of fighting against the misuse of the term or attempting to introduce a male version, they seek to eradicate the concept entirely, as if it's somehow invalid to have a word for an immoral (or merely physically dirty) woman. "But S., shouldn't we just have a word that means 'immoral,' without reference to sex or gender, that could apply equally to men as well as women?" That's something to consider if you're creating Esperanto, but in English we like to create simple words that pack in a lot of conceptual information. Take for instance "blonde" versus "blond." If I dare you have sex with a blond, you might appreciate the added information regarding the sex of the peroxide-user in question before accepting that particular challenge. Could we drop "blond/e" from our vocabulary and simply say "a blond man" or "a blond woman" every time? Certainly. But we could also get rid of the word "mare" and instead have to say "female horse," or eliminate all of the many other examples of two-for-the-price-of-one words in our language. The result would be a less informative, less elegant language a la 1984. I, for one, would not want to blog in such a language***.

So there we have the "slut" part of slut-shaming nailed down. How about the rest? In the broadest, most literal sense, "slut-shaming" means attempting to hurt or invalidate a woman by deriding her sexuality or sexual choices. It was created to defend women against those who would put the most Victorian restrictions on female sexual behavior; the most common use I've seen is with respect to the inevitable "she was 'asking for it' by being drunk/wearing that/not wearing that/leaving her parents' house while having a vagina" commentary following every Steubenville-like incident. In this situation, the concept indicates that the victim's slut-status is irrelevant to the question of rape, i.e., the rapist is equally evil and deserves the same punishment under the law if he rapes a nun versus a sexually undiscriminating woman. And P.S., how dare you suggest that a woman's rights are forfeit based on how much sex she has.

There's another use for "slut-shame", though, that refers instead to the misapplication of the term "slut," i.e., discouraging perfectly healthy sexual behaviors in women by erroneously declaring these actions slutty. This is my preferred application of the term, in part because I find it useful in illuminating questions of morality and in part because I don't like to spend that much time talking about rape. So I'm very much cool with this concept, unlike, say, animal rights or trees or basically anything else that feminists say.

But now we come back to the issue at hand, which, broadly speaking, is criticizing public nudity or lewdness, which, seriously, how can that possibly be slut-shaming? For one thing, the poster-children for the article are all men, and we've already established that men can't be sluts. But, more importantly, not all shaming is slut-shaming; sometimes it's just regular old plain-vanilla shaming. If you think for one second that public nudity outside of a gay bar is a ploy to get laid, you seriously need to open your eyes to the type of person who goes nude in public. Hint: it's not the people who look better without clothing. We're not shaming them for being sexual: we're shaming them for being gross.

Now can I defend the position that non-underwear models going around naked in my line of vision is legitimately gross and consequently rude? I believe I can. There's no real difference between flapping your flab in my face and stinking up the bus because you're too "liberated" to shower regularly. It's inconsiderate to subject total strangers to the less pleasant aspects of your existence, whether it's your bodily functions or your body itself. The day that homeless chick in front of Perilla starts shitting roses is the day I'll stop viewing her as sub-human for pooping in the gutter every day. The day I meet a nudist who looks like Tom Welling is the day I'll reconsider my position on this topic. But so far the ugly, smelly reality has been that only ugly (or drunk) people take their clothes off at concerts and only smelly (or drunk) people defecate on the street.

In San Francisco, we have "Smelly Guy" and "Naked Man." Everyone who lives here knows about whom I'm talking. Neither one causes me physical harm, but that's why we distinguish between "illegal" and "rude". And just as we enforce the law by calling the cops, we enforce standards of decency through shaming. Enforcing a just law makes you a hero; shaming people who are being narcissistic dickheads similarly elevates a person to hero-status.

Properly applied, I'm a huge fan of shaming, and I bet you are, too. I guarantee you that every "transcendent" soul currently seething over my refusal to see the beauty of these mediocre examples of the human form was more than happy about the shame thrown at Chick-Fil-A over their gay bigotry. Similarly I've no doubt every Christian/Republican who cried "respect religious freedom!" during the Great Chicken Sandwich War subsequently participated in "Everybody Draw Mohammad Day". None but the most morally bankrupt are actually against shaming as such; they're merely against shaming things they agree with. As they should be, naturally; it's absolutely correct to respond strongly to those who oppose your values. But you should be defending those values, not attacking your attacker's right to attack.

Shaming shame is a lazy shortcut. It ends rather than wins arguments, and it short-circuits thought by rendering debate impermissible. It is intellectually irresponsible in the extreme. No growth is possible under such conditions, individually or socially. Unfortunately American culture has come a long way toward embracing this anti-criticism perspective. This is why our Congress is so fucking boring while British Parliament is this raucous playground of snark and contention by comparison (all of it just as stupid at root, of course, but massively more entertaining). I imagine it's also a large part of why the "Millennials," whose primary skill set consists of not offending anyone, are so thoroughly uninspiring as a generation.

I've inadvertently touched on a large number of topics here, many of which I've had no time to explore, so let me conclude with a few links to thoughts from others that I find relevant and interesting. Then I need to go put on some pants- people in the office are staring.

Yours in nakedness,

S. Misanthrope

*Admit it: you don't really know what this word means. I'll help: "indifferent to moral restraints; given to immoral or improper conduct; licentious; dissipated**."
**"Indulging in or characterized by excessive devotion to pleasure; intemperate; dissolute*."
***Which may, for some of you, be more than enough reason to advocate the switch to Doublespeak.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Cheerios, Oreos, and Twinkies (or: When Did Food Get So Racist?)

In this cute article on one of my favorite sites (to disagree with), a no doubt beautiful woman with amazing skin discusses being biracial and eating breakfast. I can't relate to either of these things since I'm mono-racial as can be, and I never eat breakfast. But I'm about to drop some knowledge on this topic anyway.

As I previously alluded, I am white, white, white. I'm also blond, blond, blond, and my eyes are blue, blue, blue. In other words, despite my German Jew ancestry, I could easily be the poster child for the Third Reich. My parents are white, my grandparents are white, *their* parents were white, and so on all the way back to Ulysses S. Grant and beyond (we also have a proud history of alcoholism, but that's another story.) At some point, some Cherokee got into the mix (I like to think consensually, but who knows), but otherwise we are so damn white, we *invented* wearing sweatshirts with shorts.

Sometimes only your arms get cold. It's a white thing; you wouldn't understand.

Despite this genetic uniformity, I experienced, and continue to experience, many of the same oddities Ms. Hatcher-Mays documents in her article. Specifically, when I was a baby, people asked my parents if I was adopted, usually with the supremely tactful phrasing "Where did you get her from?" This happened because I, despite my single race status, came out with great skin. More specifically, my skin possesses an apparently infinite ability to tan, despite being naturally very fair. As a baby, I quickly turned brown, and I do mean brown. People thought I was a Mexican baby. I'm not even slightly joking about this. My unfortunate parents were constantly defending first my genetics and then the amount of sun exposure I was getting to the types of people who think being in public with a baby is the same thing as wearing a sign that says "please come talk to me."

"Oh hello, I noticed you were out of doors with a baby. I will now proceed to describe my breast feeding experience in graphic detail. Hope you don't have somewhere to be, because this is going to take awhile."

These days, I haven't seen the sun for about a decade (thanks, SF!), and my natural paleness almost literally shines through. Despite this, though, I receive semi-regular inquiries into my heritage, again so tactfully expressed: "What are you?" While I fully appreciate that it's unpleasant for a bi-racial person to have to answer this question, consider how much more awkward it is for someone who has to answer "White." At least if you're bi-racial, there's some kind of story there. I'm like 18th generation generic American mutt. No matter how I answer that question, the asker is invariably disappointed, like "Oh, I thought you were all hot and exotic, but, now that I know you're just 'regular American', I've lost interest."

"Didn't you see the sign? Only racially interesting people get to sit at the counter."

I theorize that neither Ms. Hatcher-Mays nor I are asked these questions because of how we look. Rather I think we're seeing the results of Progressivism trickling down into pick-up lines and small talk. Why this pervasive interest in delineating and defining racial and cultural mixes? Ms. Hatcher-Mays believes it's latent racism, but I think the blame actual lies with the Progressives' attempts to undo racism in this country via the education system.

If your elementary-age education was anything like mine, you spent a third of your time doing "art" (I will never understand the claims that there isn't enough art funding- that was all we fucking did in school in my day), a third writing cursive or something, and a third doing projects related to your ancestry. Even when I was five, I could tell these projects were absolute bullshit. I recall the 4th grade rendition, in which we recreated Ellis Island by dressing up as our immigrant ancestors. We were actually told that if you were American Indian in heritage, you were still an immigrant because your people came across the Bering Straight from Asia. So you had to dress up as a Chinaman. Seriously.

A traditional Native American.

Other projects in other grades involved writing reports on the cultural traditions of your family. Again, I was very white, and so were almost all of my classmates. My ancestors lived in America before there was an America, and we have zero non-American "cultural traditions." But my well-meaning-but-ultimately-destructive teacher told us that if you have a Christmas tree, you have a cultural tradition, specifically a German one, even if, as in my case, the German line of your family wasn't Christian. Strangely enough the Asian kids who had Christmas trees weren't told that their culture is German. They could just bring in store-bought sushi and demonstrate the use of chopsticks to get an A, while I had to dig up some old-timey German dish and somehow turn it into a "traditional family recipe." But at least I can get into Harvard. Suckers.

M.B.A., Harvard, 1975

And when I wasn't being forced to make up my own culture in order to document it, I was stuck "researching" the cultures of others. Essentially all of third grade consisted of "Indian Reports," horrifyingly massive (probably like 10 pages, but hey, we were kids) tomes on a randomly assigned American Indian tribe. I gleaned almost zero skills from this make-work. Uncovering the minutiae of relatively tiny and barbaric cultures that didn't even manage to invent the wheel is *not* what studying history is about (although, to be fair, that might be why it was called "social studies" instead.)

So what was this "education" all about, then? The common thread is, of course, culture. Over and over, the education system tells us that the most important thing about a person, whether a historical figure, the person sitting next to you, or even yourself, is the culture they identify with. *Not* identifying with a culture is explicitly not an option. And so we all get sucked into the cultural (or racial) game that ends with a new social norm of casual and constant inquiries into our ethnicities, which more independent-minded folks consider inconsequential at best and impudent at worst.

All of you who were advocating "cultural education" and "social studies" and all that crap, this is what you've created. I hope you're happy, because Ms. Hatcher-Mays and I clearly aren't. It might be hard for you to understand, but we don't want to be defined by the food our great-great-great grandparents ate (or the head-dresses they wore or the type of dance they did at weddings) any more than we want to be defined by what we look like. We just want to be us. I'm white, short, and am related to the first man to fly over the North Pole. I'm also an avid reader, a sarcastic writer, and a statistician. Guess which qualities I want to be defined by (hint: it's the ones in which I had a choice.)
"Wait, was it the magnetic pole or..." ~Some Pretentious Commenter

Of course, I could always go back to my ethnic roots by invading Poland. It's good to have options.

Mono-racially yours,

S. Misanthrope

Monday, June 3, 2013

Game of Tweets

I've changed my mind: I'm no longer going to advocate raising kids on Game of Thrones. I'm going to advocate raising kids on what people Tweet about Game of Thrones. For example: https://twitter.com/redweddingtears

These are real things that real people think and say. People who are watching a show that very closely follows a book that has been out for well over ten years. A book that is famously violent, crass, and just amazingly pulpy (although it for some reason has a reputation for being Tolkein-esque literature).

Here is what your kids will learn from following this thread:
-People can't spell.
-People can't write.
-George R. R. Martin can't write.
-People don't read books anymore.
-In fact, books are so far out of the average person's mind that they blame the television show's producer for the plot rather than the original author. That's like blaming Mel Gibson for the death of Christ.
-A fair number of people are only upset when dogs are pretend-killed on television. Pretend people-murder is tolerable.
-A fair number of people are only upset when a pregnant woman is pretend-murdered on television. Pretend-murder of people who aren't currently incubating a fetus is tolerable.
-A lot of people misuse the word "literally." Literally.
-Fans of Game of Thrones like to write about vomiting almost as much as Mr. Martin likes to write about urinating.

Twitter mayhap could be used even more broadly in education. For instance, you could set your child to correct the grammar of every tweet tweeted by some twit, which would be the modern equivalent of Cinderella picking out lentils. Or it could fit nicely with a Montessori-style educational environment, like one giant "what's wrong with this picture?" of human cognition and communication. Beautiful.

Or we could just all agree to stop reproducing, because who wants to live in a world where people don't want to live in a world without Catelyn "Even as a Zombie I'm Boring" Stark.

Oops, spoilers!

S. Misanthrope