Thoughts on “Unite the Right”, Trump, and This Blog

I have some things I want to say about the weekend’s events with the “Unite the Right” protest in Charlottesville, Virginia…but it’s mixed in with some other stuff, so bear with me…

Content Note: alt-right, Andrew Anglin, Charlottesville, David Duke, Donald Trump, Jason Kessler, Protest, Racism, Terrorism

Swatika in a bold red circle with a slash through it. Keyword: Unite the Right

Image Description: Swastika in a bold red circle with a slash through it.

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It’s important to me to be fair. I like to try, to the greatest extent possible, to see all sides of the story.

It’s been important to me not only to comment on how Donald Trump and his statements and policies violate the rights of others, but how attitudes toward:

have been ugly and at times hypocritical as well.  Not because I like him – I don’t like Donald Trump at all. But because Donald Trump and the people around him have rights, too.

I feel like I’ve been fair.

But I’ve decided after this weekend that this blog won’t be a space anymore where Trump his administration get protective space. I started leaning that way after his tweet in July about barring transgender people from the military. I see now that he’s pursuing that course of action and I just…don’t want writing a defense of Trump in light of legitimately problematic ways that he and his administration are talked about (like falling back on sexism to criticize Kellyanne Conway) to be mistaken for support for Trump’s policies and how he conducts himself as President.

I’m especially resolved on that decision after his response to the “Unite the Right” protest.

Trump’s Response to the “Unite the Right” is Unacceptable

On Saturday, Trump said:

We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides. On many sides. It’s been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. This has been going on for a long, long time.”

It’s hard to know where to start, especially since Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert was (badly) defending the statement on Sunday.

And good for the GOP who are breaking rank and letting the President know that his statement was unacceptable. Credit where it’s due.

Andrew Anglin, a prolific neo-Nazi with a large following, had this to say about Trump’s speech:

“Trump comments were good. He didn’t attack us. He just said the nation should come together. Nothing specific against us. He said that we need to study why people are so angry, and implied that there was hate… on both sides! So he implied the antifa are haters. There was virtually no counter-signaling of us at all. He said he loves us all. Also refused to answer a question about White Nationalists supporting him. No condemnation at all. When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room. Really, really good. God bless him.”

Something that the White House should consider, perhaps.

As for what I need to say on all this…

The Alt-Right Can Believe Offensive Things If It Chooses

I’m not disputing the “Unite the Right” protesters’ right to gather and protest the removal of General Lee’s statue, any more than I dispute the right of the people to counter-protest “Unite the Right.” Not because I believe in what “Unite the Right” stands for, by any means. I think that the alt-right’s beliefs are disgusting and their justifications for those beliefs are ridiculous. I think that it’s pathetic that the removal of a Confederate statue got the movement so riled up. But just because I (and most of America) doesn’t agree with them doesn’t take away their right to peaceful protest. If I’d believed for a second that the “Unite the Right” protesters had actually come with legal, peaceful protest in mind, I wouldn’t have been so concerned when I heard that the protest was in the works.

But, as we all know now (and I think we all suspected),  “Unite the Right” wasn’t intended to be just a peaceful protest of a statue’s removal. Marching onto a university campus at night with torches, yelling racist statements, isn’t peaceful – it’s a terrifying act of intimidation and violence.

They marched up the door of a church where an interfaith prayer service for peace was going on, making people scared to come out.

Counter-protesters reported that they had torches swung at them and pepper spray and lighter fluid used on them.

And that was Friday night; the official “Unite the Right” protest didn’t even begin until Saturday.

Peaceful protest was never the intent.

And I’m aware that the counter-protesters were violent as well. Earlier today, “Unite the Right” organizer Jason Kessler was  escorted away by police from where he tried to speak at the protest, after being  shouted down by the crowd and being pushed and tackled. I’m not going to defend assaulting Kessler. Violence isn’t appropriate, period. It doesn’t get anyone anywhere, and creates an atmosphere where everyone is unsafe.

However, those that are criticizing the counter-protesters for being violent need to acknowledge that the alt-right folks set the tone for the weekend on Friday night when they terrorized the UVA campus.

Their antics that night may not have legally been terrorism, but they were certainly an act of terror in spirit, escalated the next day by an act that was clearly domestic terrorism –  and because of it  19 people were injured and a woman, Heather Heyer, is dead.

As Jake Tapper said to Tom Bossert: “How many people did the counter-protesters kill?”

Headshot of a white woman, 32, with curly reddish hair and amber eyes. She is weaing pink lipstck and eye make-up in blue and purple tones. She has light freckling on her nose, and dimples. She is smiling. Keyword: Unite the Right
Heather Heyer, 32

Image Description: Headshot of a white woman, 32, with curly reddish hair and amber eyes. She is weaing pink lipstick and eye make-up in blue and purple tones. She has light freckling on her nose, and dimples. She is smiling.

Donald Trump Owes America More Than What He’s Been Giving It

Donald Trump refuses to call these things out for what they are or give any compelling argument that he’s committed to making America a place where all people truly are equal, and that makes me sick – because he’s the President, and even if the “Unite the Right” protesters had sat cross-legged in a park in silent meditation all weekend, he still shouldn’t be behind what they believe, or what any group whose philosophy involves restricting the rights of Americans based on race, sex, religion, sexual preference, gender identification, or disability believes.

And he should be prepared to say so clearly and definitively. When David Duke says about the President, “We’re doing this in your name,” a President who truly believes in an America where everyone is equal says, “Stop. Immediately. I don’t want to be associated with what you, your beliefs, or what you do.”

Duke, on what “Unite the Right” represents to him:

“This represents a turning point for the people of this country. We are determined to take our country back. We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believe in. That’s why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he’s going to take our country back. And that’s what we’re going to do.”

I fear for a country whose President won’t denounce hate.  And I don’t want my blog to be a place where he gets anything that can be construed as defence anymore. I’ll be thinking very carefully about what I write about Trump in the future.

I feel like I need to make my allegiances clearer… and that I owe my American friends more than what I’ve been giving them.

I know that none of this is much help to a country that’s frightened and grieving and feeling very divided – but it’s what this Canadian has to give today.

And maybe this, because Trae Crowder always nails it…*foul language – NSFW*

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Ableism, Other -Isms, And Why I Prefer “Seinfeld” to “Friends”

I don’t blog about disability in media very often, but Andrew Pulrang profiled “Seinfeld” on his Disability Thinking podcast recently, and it really made me think. (He’ll be posting a second podcast on “Seinfeld” in the near future; there really is a lot to talk about when it comes to this show. Keep watching Andrew’s website for details, and listen to his first podcast on “Seinfeld” and disability.)

Content Note: Ableism, Sexism, Classism, Misogyny, Media Depiction

Seinfeld meme. Jerry Seinfeld stands in his TV apartment, wearing a gray button-down shirt, a shocked expression on his face. A quote from the show, "Well, good luck with all that" is written across the bottom of the picture in yellow letters. Keyword: Seinfeld

Image Description: Seinfeld meme. Jerry Seinfeld stands in his TV apartment, wearing a gray button-down shirt, a shocked expression on his face. A quote from the show, “Well, good luck with all that” is written across the bottom of the picture in yellow letters.

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I love “Seinfeld”. I’ve seen every episode several times, and will still watch the reruns and find them funny. My family can have entire conversations in snippets of “Seinfeld” dialogue, which I realize isn’t necessarily something of which to be proud, but there it is.

I’ve managed to retain this level of fandom despite being achingly aware that over its run “Seinfeld” had moments of blatant racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, classism, and probably just about every other “-ism” that you can think of, including just plain bad taste. Apparently I’m not the only one that noticed – Sola Agustsson recently wrote an article for Alternet.com about sexism and racism in “Seinfeld”, “10 ‘Seinfeld’ Episodes That Might Be Considered Sexist and Racist Today”.

But she also got taken down in comments on her article for not understanding the thing that lets me (mostly) gloss over the glaring prejudices of the four main “Seinfeld” characters: The whole point of the show was that Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer are supposed to be terrible people. They’re shallow and self-absorbed, they use people with little guilt and almost zero empathy, and they rarely do anything unless there’s something in it for them.

They wanted to be nicer people – but only because of how their real orientation to the world made them look to others, and not out of any real concern for those around them. This is what made the show subversive, ironic, and frankly, hilarious, because the harder the four main characters tried to do “the right thing”, the more apparent it became that they were really just awful people who didn’t care at all.

Disabled People in “Seinfeld”

Take one of the episodes that Andrew rightfully says got the most attention and is about disability. Jerry, also a comedian in the show, promises a fan that he’ll go see his son, a “bubble boy” that has to live behind a plastic partition in his parents’ home because of his poor immune system.

(We learn later that everyone but his mother, including the people in his town, call him “The Bubble Boy”, which is a disability issue all by itself, but not one that we can blame on the four main characters. We don’t even learn his name until well after George and his fiancee Susan meet him. It’s an indictment of how society treats him. )

George and Susan arrive at the house first and find not a bubble “boy”, but a fully grown, very rude bubble “man” who eventually asks Susan to take off her top (the opposite of the “disabled people are sweet and polite” stereotype that we see so much in the media; Andrew discusses this in his podcast.)  Suppressing the urge to respond negatively to the Bubble Boy’s rudeness (which would be “politically incorrect”), George and Susan allow themselves to be talked into a game of Trivial Pursuit. When George and the “Bubble Boy” disagree over the pronunciation of an answer, George finally loses control, the “Bubble Boy” starts to strangle George and George loses control, stabbing at the plastic partition and deflating the “bubble”. His desire to be politically correct has been overcome by his temper, which often happens with George.

“Seinfeld” did a good job of highlighting society’s ableism as well as the main characters’. That’s difficult to do. It requires very good writing.

Now, I don’t know about the writing process for “Seinfeld”, but it seemed that each week the writers came up with a character (sometimes two), said “What if we took a person out there with this set of characteristics and put them in the group’s path”, and that was pretty much that character’s role. Mostly they were romantic interests, like Elaine’s elderly boyfriend, a stroke survivor who required a lot of care. One week it was the Bubble Boy. There were a few characters that had brief story arcs, like the man stalking Elaine and Jerry (who the writers imply has a mental health diagnosis, but never say what it is.)

Are Disabled People Props in Seinfeld?

Andrew also discusses in his podcast the idea that you could accuse the writers of making disabled characters props, in “Seinfeld”. However, with the exception of a small group of secondary characters that had a bit of backstory, everyone in “Seinfeld” besides the main four characters were props. They mostly got burned somehow by being involved with Seinfeld and his group, presumably never to appear again, and the underlying message at the end of each episode was, right up to the group’s one-year imprisonment at the series end for not helping someone who was being mugged, “Don’t treat people like this group does. They’re assholes.”

Unlike other sitcoms in the 90s and after.

Are the Characters in “Friends” and “How I Met Your Mother?” actually Likeable?

I enjoyed “Friends” in the 90s, and I found it amusing when I rewatched it on Netflix. However, I noticed the second time around that this group that was supposed to be so close also:

  • Spent a lot of time picking on each other. To the point where it often seemed mean.
  • Were very competitive, and sometimes threw each other under the bus.
  • Couldn’t be happy for each other if a positive change for one meant change for the group.
  • Watched the womanizer of the group treat his dates like crap and never called him on it.
  • Sometimes deliberately behaved in ways that negatively affected another friend’s career.

These people were assholes, but we were supposed to love them. And they set the mold for another “Friends”-types show that debuted in 2005, with a similarly dysfunctional peer group that we’re supposed to love.

“How I Met Your Mother” had the same pattern of young people living and dating in New York, hanging out in a bar instead of a coffee shop, but ramped up the sexism to the nth degree compared to “Friends” (and “Seinfeld”, for that matter).  Neil Patrick Harris as Barney Stinson makes “Friends'” Joey Tribiani look like a lightweight womanizer. Barney sometimes gets called on the womanizing, but more often than not friend Ted is his wingman. At one point, “HIMYM” manages to work approval of Barney’s womanizing and slut-shaming of one of the female members into the same scene.

A peripheral character, a therapist that one of the main characters dates at one point, says about the 5 main characters: “‘You’re all the most codependent, incestuous, controlling group people I’ve ever met!” There was an almost identical scene in friends where a therapist that Phoebe is dating offers about the main characters: “Actually it’s, it’s quite, y’know, typical behaviour when you have this kind of dysfunctional group dynamic. Y’know, this kind of co-dependant, emotionally stunted, sitting in your stupid coffee house with your stupid big cups which, I’m sorry, might as well have nipples on them, and you’re like all ‘Oh, define me! Define me! Love me, I need love!.”

CBS was widely criticized for a racist episode of “How I Met Your Mother”, and on my rewatching of that series I saw some references that I was surprised got by the network (“Mexican Wrestler Ted”, for example).  There are no disabled characters in the show. At least in “Friends” Chandler dates a disabled woman for an episode. She dumps him, and (surprisingly) comes out looking like the decidedly shallower of the two.

The point is that at least “Seinfeld” was honest. It didn’t try to be anything but what it was – stories about terrible people that wanted to nice, but didn’t really want to give anything up to do it.  So they’d do the “politically correct” thing, inadvertently out themselves as being anti-social and barely able to cope with the friendship between the four of them, and we’d all tune in next week to see in what new way they could ruin someone’s life. The thing is, “Friends” and “HIMYM”  weren’t any different (and neither is the CBS hit “The Big Bang Theory, increasingly) – more peripheral characters with story arcs, maybe, but ultimately? Stories about terrible people…more actively masquerading as nice people.

However, they sure were branded to be people that you should trust and love and emulate.

That feels dishonest to me.

And I’m not going to feel guilty about watching “Seinfeld” until people start talking more realistically about that.

More reasons why you wouldn’t want to be friends with the “Friends”

 

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