Saturday, September 12, 2009

This Week in TV

The past week has been a strange one in US politics. A pair of speeches by President Obama shook loose a big bunch of crazy that has apparently been sitting at home, polishing its guns since the inauguration. I have been at this activism thing for a long time so I probably shouldn't be surprised... but the outrageous lies told by conservatives about the President, his proposed reform of health care and even his address to American schoolchildren, have shocked me. Or rather, the fact that such obvious lies (as opposed to the more subtle partisan distortions that characterize day-to-day politics) would be entertained so seriously. It seems that the conservative crazies did not go away when the Bush Era finally ended. If anything they seem oddly empowered by the notion that they are now cultural underdogs, a position that suits the aggrieved nature of their philosophy. The lies conservative leaders tell are easily debunked yet still effective because their followers do not need the truth, they need to have their suspicions confirmed. For the first time since Obama entered the world stage members of the mainstream media are openly questioning the racist motivations of his detractors, which gives some indication of how blatant they have become. The entire week has been a horror show of televised faces twisted into a ghoulish parody of righteousness, from Glenn Beck to Joe Wilson to nameless tea baggers screaming into every camera pointed their way. And there have been plenty.

So instead of watching the news I am watching a special on female serial killers.

A lady criminal profiler with the over plucked eyebrows and glossy black hair of a Romulan is telling the stories of women who have perpetrated horrendous (if imaginative) murders. One suburban woman was a psychopath who murdered elderly women to pay for expensive beauty treatments, another a Victorian nurse-- sexually aroused by poisoning her patients-- who cuddled them as they died, and a third was a schizophrenic babysitter who smothered children in her care when they cried. But as I listen to the hushed voice over narration about lack of empathy, detachment and narcissistic self-aggrandizement I find myself thinking about the angry pink faces of the town hall yellers whose bizarre pronouncements literally make no sense outside of their own heads. It seems that there is no refuge from these people even amidst killer moms, nurses and babysitters. Perhaps because they have so much in common.

It may seem like an extreme comparison, but is it? In 1968 Charles Manson built a complex philosophy around the notion of a coming race war. His young, white middle class followers were enthralled not only by the notion that Manson was a Messianic figure but by the idea that Black people were secretly plotting to overtake the United States and subsequently slaughter whites. When Manson, trotted out like a dancing bear a few times a decade to say weird things to interviewers with furrowed brows, talks about racist conspiracies we take it as proof of his madness. How then should we consider the racist paranoia of, say, Glenn Beck? When magnified to an epic scale by moist-eyed figures like Beck can we not describe racial hatred in terms of pathology?

When people cling to political ideology that supports policies and legislation that are clearly against their best interests, isn't that insanity?


  1. This was a very thoughtful examination of our current sociopolitical climate. I'll say this: racial hatred is not pathologized in this country because it strengthens hegemonic Whiteness. That deafening silence from the mainstream elements of more liberal media we've heard since January with regard to right-wing attacks on Obama and his administration was most telling. Because while the screamers represent the fringier, nuttier minority,the liberals who elected Obama also view his presidency, his policies, and his administration picks uneasily. And their general reluctance to speak up will continue, I'm afraid, until something fucking terrible happens. And seeing as how a lotta these assholes are packing heat, I think we all have some general idea of where it will come from.

    Yesterday, I spoke to my mom about the 9/12 fools. My mother grew up ass-deep in the thick and murderous racism of the Jim Crow South, so when she said that the screamers reminded her of what she used to see back then, I was chilled to the bone. Look at some of those faces. This is not ordinary passion. This is the rawest expression of fear at the loss of privilege - i.e., "I want MY America back!" sob sob. This is paranoia-fueled hatred, something so primitive and lizard-brained and visceral and ugly, that it completely distorts the faces of the screamers. Like, sci-fi distorts. Watching the coverage, my mommy told me, "I hoped you would never have to see it. Lord knows, I PRAYED my children would never have to see that." SIGH.

    Nezua at The Unapologetic Mexican had had enough back in July, when he said this: "These outraged stances by Rush, Lou, Birthers, the GOP, the cops…they aren’t just strategy to throw us off the rails or distract us. They are real reactions. (Though the cable news networks may milk them because they titillate.) As much as the dominant culture arranges its media messaging to obscure the standard of Witeness as the invisible Normal, it’s not so invisible when the reference points shift. For these people mentioned above (and sadly, many more), to upend the hierarchies written in blood and for hundreds of years is like them waking to find that MC Escher has redecorated their homes overnight. They can’t find the back door and are worried any moment that their bed will turn into a car and sink to the top of the ocean."

  2. Oh, and even Maureen Dowd commented on this mess. From her Sunday op-ed: "I’ve been loath to admit that the shrieking lunacy of the summer — the frantic efforts to paint our first black president as the Other, a foreigner, socialist, fascist, Marxist, racist, Commie, Nazi; a cad who would snuff old people; a snake who would indoctrinate kids — had much to do with race."

    Here's what gave me pause: "loath to admit." Huhn. Dowd (not my favorite journalist since her snarky comments to Michelle Obama last year with regard to her public playful teasing of her husband) is telling more than she means to with those three little words. All that aside for a moment, she hits the nail with this one.

    (I'm a little comment-happy today. Sorry.)

  3. @Fiqah
    Hey never apologize for commenting here: the more the merrier. Re: hegemonic whiteness

    Yes. This.

    "Hegemony" = ubiquity. In other words, privilege that is so normalized it becomes invisible, even to the people that wield it. That is why they get so offended when you point it out to them and start yelling about "playing the race card"... they can't see it themselves because they're inside it. I love this quote from Nezua because it describes the source of their rage perfectly: the reference points have shifted.

  4. MAureen Dowd is so right. DUH this is about race. Even my apathetic, apolitical friends, who dont watch the news and dont give a shit about politics, have told me that this is all due to Obama's race and heritage.

    Americans don't deserve President Obama.

  5. The reason they yell Hitler at Obama is because they really want to yell Nigger. But everybody hates Hitler (coming soon to UPN!) so it's okay to call the President of the United States that and scrawl it on signs.

    So what happens to all the non-insane Republicans out there who are watching their party being taken over by torch-wielding animals? Do they lay down and die, convert to radicalism or form a third party? Either way, their cowardice is as disgusting as the crap the nuts are constantly screaming. How sad that their only hope of seeming anything other than racist is that useless chump Michael Steele.

  6. Mary hasn't been able to post a comment here so she contacted me on Facebook. I am sharing them to contribute her thoughts to the conversation:

    "Dear Joe -- Right ON! Right ON. What a great post, and the comments, too, are so insightful. Recently, I posted here on Facebook that the poll being taken about Obama speaking to schoolchildren was an example of ugly racism. I got a snarky comment from some conservative I don't even know trying to defend his position, and mentioning "btw that he wasn't ugly." When I replied that my comment was not even about him, I was called 'hostile:' that old ploy threatened white men use on women they want to silence by attacking our femininity. (Womanly women are never 'hostile,' but submissive and acquiescent.) A colleague of mine here told me today she isn't watching the news anymore because she is so afraid of what is coming out of the Radical Right. I think the forces of sanity had better be pro-active this time. Before that "something terrible" happens. We could start by moving to get Glenn Beck off of televsion. The man is unstable."