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Warren Graham's Blog

Postings by Warren on a variety of timely and (hopefully) interesting topics

Thursday, March 01, 2007


It has often been said that the nearest thing that we have in 21st Century American Society to the gladiatorial contests of yore is professional sport. I disagree. Much more satisfying to the American bloodlust and craving for the suffering of others (perhaps as a salve for our own dissatisfying lives), is the prospect of public humiliation, soul-baring and desperate apologies. This phenomenon essentially falls into two categories:

The first is most obviously (though by no means solely) exemplified by the advent of what is generally (but inaccurately) referred to as “reality television.” In this milieu, people, either for money or fame, or both, subject themselves to abject embarrassment and abuse. Personally, I avoid this material like the Plague, because I find it both self-indulgent and masochistic at the same time. In the first place, I watch television generally as an antidote to reality and for the purpose of being entertained by comedy, drama, fantasy, etc. Secondly, there is absolutely nothing “real” about “reality TV.” It is every bit as elaborately staged as the public burnings, beheadings, crucifixions, feeding of people to lions, fights to the death, and all the spectacles of the ancient arenas it is intended to emulate, except that those unfortunate victims of long ago did not volunteer, but were pressed into “entertainment” service. So far as I know, not a one of them sought, nor was offered a record or book deal. If given a choice, I must confess and frankly acknowledge (with a very high degree of shame), that I would sooner have seen the real thing.

The second of America’s favorite blood sports, and the one that is truly the subject of this article, is the phenomena which begins at Stage One with people (usually public figures in either the political or entertainment fields) saying something (or being videotaped or overheard having said something) outright racist, antisemetic, otherwise bigoted or just plain “insensitive.” We then proceed to Stage Two, which begins with public excoriation on every talk show and in every publication, followed by a once uniquely American (but catching on elsewhere) purification rite: serial public apologies by the offender. This latter course is, we know, motivated not by true regret, for the most part, but by the recognition that repentance, or the appearance thereof, may (and I emphasize the word “may”) salvage the career of the improvident speaker.

Speaking for myself, I have had quite enough of this modern Passion Play. It is a sad fact, for example, that I myself am carefully choosing my own words in this piece because, as is the case with most of us, I feel myself intimidated by what I perceive to be the tyranny of political correctness. It occurs to me that we have become a society so sensitive such that we threaten to suck all the life out of our daily discourse, public dialogue and entertainment. I readily acknowledge that my own tribe, the American Jewish Community, is quite high up on the list of oversensitive groups, actively seeking to ferret out antisemites around every corner. With the so-called “President” of Iran publicly calling for nukes and the annihilation of the Jewish State, extreme Muslim diatribe rivaling and, in some instances exceeding Nazi hyperbole and a former American President using the loaded term apartheid to describe Israeli policy, one would think we could find more important uses for our time than obsessing over Mel Gibson’s interpretation of the Christian Gospels and drunken rants, and whether Steven Spielberg (whose contribution to the common weal of U.S. Jewry and International Holocaust consciousness is nothing short of heroic) portrayed Israel in a flattering enough light in his semi-fictionalized Munich film.

Some things, we know, are out of bounds: Michael Richards public use of the N-Word in an otherwise unfunny comedy routine, has properly earned him a shunning. That is as it should be. He will probably never be able to apologize enough to get past it, in the opinion of this writer. But we should leave it at that. The public spectacle of endless apologizing, groveling and appeals to the forgiving nature of the aggrieved community, coupled with promises of rehab and dialogue is, as it was in Mel Gibson’s case, nothing short, frankly, of sickening. I also believe, moreover, that the double standard which winks at the use of that awful and incendiary term in the Black Community is difficult to justify. Fortunately, more and more African American leaders are taking that precise position.

A number of years ago, Jimmy the Greek was drummed out of NFL broadcasting for his public ruminations about the source of athletic prowess among Blacks. Trent Lott, in a colossally stupid moment, waxed nostalgic about Strom Thurmond’s segregationist campaign of long ago, even going so far as to express regret for its failure, and, as a consequence, lost his position as Senate Majority Leader. This is the legitimate price tag, in public life, of thoughtless tongue-wagging which may be a symptom of real prejudice. Absurdly, however, a few years ago, a Federal Government official, in a budget-related memorandum used a perfectly legitimate English word, the definition of which is, in essence, miserly. But the facial similarity of that standard English word (which, yes, folks, I am actually afraid to use in this article) to the N-Word made this memo the subject of loud national debate, actually resulting in—you guessed it—an apology. That the offending word had nothing, whatsoever, in common with the N-Word etymologically was, of course, irrelevant.

On the other hand, Joe Biden’s recent remarks about Barack Obama will probably only wound his presidential aspirations (which were almost certainly non-existent in any event) and not be the death of his political career. I have heard African American spokespersons on television referring to these remarks as “insensitive,” and not “racist.” Rosie O’Donnell recently brought a few days (but no more) of wrath upon herself by an unflattering and clichéd imitation of Chinese dialogue on The View. Robert Byrd remains (to put it mildly) a force to be reckoned with and an elder statesman in the Senate, notwithstanding his one-time card-carrying membership in the Ku Klux Klan. Somehow, Paris Hilton’s liberal use (preserved for posterity on You Tube) of the N-Word at a New Year’s Eve party seems to have flown beneath the radar screen. The reactions to these episodes, statements and conduct may or may not have been proportional to the offense, but it occurs to me that there is a double standard and something of a free pass in this area given to the left. After all, is anyone still on Ted Danson’s case for his appearance in blackface some years ago? One can only imagine the firestorm that such associations remarks and conduct might have engendered had they come from a George Bush, a Rush Limbaugh or a Sean Hannity.

The point, however, is the ridiculousness of the “apology tour.” If you do not like the remarks of a public figure, don’t patronize him or her. If he or she is in politics, don’t vote for that candidate. If in the entertainment industry, don’t patronize the TV shows, films or recordings. Encourage your friends and like-minded people to do the same. That is the deserved and proper response to outrageous and unacceptable remarks and conduct. We pride ourselves in being a society with freedom of speech. Yet that freedom seems to apply only with respect to criticizing the Government, racists (real and perceived), homophobes (real and perceived), Christians and promoters of so-called “family values.” Verbal attacks on the left and minority groups of any kind, which our Constitution supposedly protects every bit as vigorously, are subjected to retribution which, de facto, gives the lie to the theory of free speech. The new “F-word” does not have four letters; rather, it is a derogatory term for homosexuals. That does not mean that it is acceptable to use that word if it gives offense; it is, however, legally protected. It is, perhaps, worthy of note that in bygone days, the term was used by youngsters (perhaps unaware of its real meaning) to suggest nothing more than, say, lack of ability in baseball. Part of the problem, I think, is that the rules of political correctness present an ever-moving target. Once upon a time, Black people wanted to be called Negroes. Then, the consensus in that community was that “Black” was the preferred term. Then it was “Afro-Americans,” and then “Black” again, followed by “African Americans” and/or “people of color” (but NEVER the very similar sounding “colored people” which—unless one is explaining the acronym NAACP—is unacceptable because it has an old and derogatory connotation). While people, of course, have a right to ask to be called whatever they want, they should probably understand that not everyone is going to keep up with the term du jour.

Political correctness also carries with it other phenomena besides the “banning” of certain words, considered epithets. With them come other double standards. In the 1930’s and 1940’s, there existed a series of Hollywood mystery films featuring a Chinese detective named Charlie Chan. Aside from the (from today’s perspective) ridiculously stereotypical portrayal of this character in terms of dress, mannerisms, accent and speech, Chan was portrayed by a Caucasian actor. On radio, Amos & Andy (which would certainly be insulting not only to Blacks, but to any thinking person today, and rightly so), had the two title characters played by Caucasian actors, as well. A few years ago, I saw the musical version of Titanic on Broadway. One of the actresses playing a first class passenger in that show was Black. This seemed strange and inauthentic to me for a play set in 1912, until my daughter, who was with me, pointed out that acting is acting, and that, for example, many great black singers had been portraying Italians, Russians, and Germans in the Opera House for years. Many had played, with great distinction, in Shakespeare productions. She was, of course, absolutely correct and I felt foolish about my initial reaction. But would it now be acceptable for a Caucasian actor to play Othello the Moor? If so, should he be made up to look darker, or would that be as insulting as appearing in blackface on the stage? Wasn’t there a firestorm of controversy over whether only an Asian actress could play the lead in Miss Saigon on Broadway? Double standard? You bet! So what the heck are the rules? And who are the faceless, nameless arbiters of political correctness, anyway? I want to see a list!

We have groups of people who actually want to ban, from school curricula, Huckleberry Finn which, by any objective standard, is one of the pillars of American Fiction. The reason for removing this work from view is, of course, its frequent use of the N-Word. Never mind the time or place, or the historical context. Should the Merchant of Venice come off the shelves too, because of its stereotyping of Jews? What about Oliver Twist, which features a miser, thief and leader of a gang of youthful pickpockets named Fagin who is obviously a Jew. It goes without saying that Mein Kampf carries little currency (to understate the case grossly) with me, but I would never want to see it taken out of public circulation. If you want to have some understanding of the phenomenon that was Adolf Hitler, his appeal to the German volk and his twisted need to do what he did, read his book! Res ipsa locquatur. (The thing speaks for itself). Nor should anyone, in my opinion, think to take away the defamatory Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The Jewish Community is, in large measure, defined by thousands of years of libels and persecution, culminating in the horror of the Holocaust, as the Irish-American weltanschauung is a product of centuries of oppression and a horrible potato famine, and as the Black experience in America is informed by the experience of slavery, Jim Crow, minstrel shows and a million other forms of racism. Take it off the shelves? Ban it from schools? Never! All of these things represent WHO WE ARE.

None of us, by the way, has a monopoly on suffering and injustice. Jews don’t own the word “holocaust,” for example. While Hitler’s genocidal war on the Jews has no historical parallel, in this writer’s view, it is eminently fair to use the word “holocaust” to describe the crimes perpetrated by the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia, and those taking place this very day in Darfur. It is undeniable that Stalin and Mao were each responsible for as many or more deaths than Hitler and in similarly gruesome and evil ways. Blacks have borne the entire yoke of slavery in America, but slavery has been widely practiced around the world since the dawn of human history, claiming victims of many races and nationalities and, unbelievably, it has still not been completely eradicated.

Ironically, many of the same proponents of these political correctness ideologies tell us that it is time to have an honest, open dialogue in this Country about race and prejudice. How, if I may dare ask, shall we do so in an environment in which we are afraid to look our ugly history in the face and are, each succeeding day, ever more terrified of using the words? Shall we, indeed, have a dialogue without words?

No, I think we really don’t want to have such a dialogue, because it is likely to be unpleasant and not pretty, to say the least. And we would all be constantly and alternately making and demanding apologies from one another. Many have called for “America” to apologize for slavery. But what is “America?” Most of today’s Americans did not have ancestors in this Country during the days of slavery. And of those who did, only a minority of those owned slaves, or supported the institution. As for my own forebears, who, at the outset of the American Civil War, were to be found in Lithuania and Russia, they were probably too busy dodging pogroms and marauding Cossacks to be deriving any sadistic pleasure from oppressing people 6000 miles to the west.

If we are going to pursue political correctness and the consequent public flogging for non-compliance, to its logical degree, we might consider adding a new Cable TV Channel called the All-Apology Channel. 24 hours a day of nothing but All Apologies, All the Time. What a magnificent public spectacle for those who would once have delighted at the prospect of public pillorying in the village square.

For the rest of us, however, let us consider the following: The chronically intolerant and the racists, sexists, homophobes and bigots in our midst would just as soon eviscerate their targets in any manner possible, including, perhaps, by doing them real harm as has, God knows, happened often enough in history. The response, I believe, to these individuals should be to shun, boycott and expose them and where necessary, to find means to destroy them.

On the other hand, for those whose slip of the tongue or youthful indiscretion indicates bad judgment or momentary stupidity and not real bigotry…and let’s face it, folks, in our hearts we really do know the difference, let’s just get on with our lives and focus on the real bad guys. There is certainly no shortage of them.

If we really want to speak seriously about race and prejudice in America, we need to stop hiding behind this phenomenon of disinfecting and deodorizing the language and whitewashing (strange, how that term is still “allowed”) the past. And, in the meantime, for the sake of our own sanity and the freedoms we cherish, let’s ALL try to lighten up a bit!

Reprinted From,-All-The-Time&id=472960

Warren R. Graham

Copyright 2007


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