Tanya Domi and Clinton Fein look back on 2011 and brace themselves for 2012 after surveying the Kardashianization of America’s popular trash culture which morphed into an equally diminished political culture. Domi and Fein take you on a historical, political and cultural tour of America, drawing a perspective of an unseemly year.
CLINTON: Looking back at the year, despite some laughable moments, is actually quite depressing when one considers it’s the year 2011 we’re talking about. In certain instances we appear to be regressing as a species. I’m reminded of the Mike Judge movie, “Idiocracy” – a futuristic satire of how fertility technology impacted the natural selection process to the point that Americans were so dumb and numb, the only progress being made was the size of the landfills. Mike Judge also returned with a 2011 version of Beavis and Butt-Head, which I was intrigued to watch, even though I’m not quite MTV’s demographic. I had not really seen Beavis and Butt-Head as social commentary when it originally aired. I saw it more of a mindless reflection of where we were, and who. The rehashing of mind anesthetizing content served with an extra layer of breathtaking stupidity. An unintentionally perfect snapshot, mind you.
TANYA: Clinton, your mention of our contemporary trash culture, combined with an apparent growing societal embrace of general stupidity, seems to have taken great leaps into the 2011 abyss. You only need to watch 10 seconds of reporting about our diminished political discourse, which is led by exalted, ignorant Congressional Republican leaders, who have caved to the mob (i.e. the “Tea Party”), and together, they are dealing damage to our polity with their every move and acts of omission.
Thus, I am reminded of H.L. Mencken, the great American journalist, essayist and cultural critic, who during the 1920s referred to the ignorant “middle classes” as “Booboisie.” He also called American voters “boobs” and had nothing but utter contempt for America’s penchant for anti-intellectualism, fundamentalism, creationism and extreme Christian religion, which, in its latest iteration, has exploded into full awfulness with particular virulence, xenophobia and of course, homophobia, as you so aptly describe. Mencken must be rolling over in his grave.
CLINTON: The biggest difference this time round is the ugly rise of reality television. The “Kardashianization” of American pop culture. Rather than being amused by Beavis and Butt-Head, I was actually horrified. The Twilight Series and Jersey Shore were among the objects of Judge’s satirical wit. From Snookie and the gang in Italy to the sappy Twilight series (being compared to Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein), Beavis and Butt-Head were out-trumped on the crass and the stupid at every turn.
Consider the speed and ferocity with which our culture has been dragged into the gutter. Without even having to detail the incidents, the names alone are enough to expose what Beavis and Butt-Head are up against. People famous for simply being crass, ugly, stupid and over-exposed (or inexplicably exposed to begin with). Donald Trump, the Kardashians, Lindsey Lohan, the A-Gay Assholes of Logo or Bravo’s Housewives of Fucking anywhere.
TANYA: Speaking of Trump, America has always had a cultural tilt toward “vaudeville” with bigger than life characters—“The Greatest Show on Earth”—the “Ringleader,” an archetype akin to the main protagonist of the “really big show,” with its bald excess in crassness. Early 20th century political figures who loomed large in American culture included William Jennings Bryan, who was nominated three times for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, is considered the first “celebrity” American politician. Bryan had several nicknames, but was foremost known as the “Great Commoner” and dubbed “The Fundamentalist Pope” for his opposition to alcohol, among other pious stances, by none other than H.L. Mencken. Huey Long, a Southern Democrat and populist, who was governor of Louisiana, was nicknamed “Kingfish.” He declared “Every Man a King!” in an iconic speech in 1934, only to die one year later in a hail of assassin bullets.
But Long’s political and economic thinking of the past, is interestingly enough, pitch perfect and parallel to the present Occupy Wall Street political movement. Long’s words would delight contemporary Occupy activists:
“So, we have in America today, my friends, a condition by which about 10 men dominate the means of activity in at least 85 percent of the activities that you own. They either own directly everything or they have got some kind of mortgage on it, with a very small percentage to be excepted. They own the banks, they own the steel mills, they own the railroads, they own the bonds, they own the mortgages, they own the stores, and they have chained the country from one end to the other…If you reduce a man to the point where he is starving to death and bleeding and dying, how do you expect that man to get hold of any money to spend with you? It is not possible. Then, ladies and gentlemen, how do you expect people to live, when the wherewith cannot be had by the people?”
CLINTON: You’re right. It’s quite remarkable how Huey Long articulated so much of the current OWS sentiment. “But in the name of our good government, people today are seeing their own children hungry, tired, half-naked, lifting their tear-dimmed eyes into the sad faces of fathers and mothers, who cannot give them food and clothing they both need, and which is necessary to sustain them…” he once said. And speaking of half-naked children, where Terry Shields was once condemned for whoring out Brooke for a topless jeans commercial, we now reward and glamorize a new breed of pimp mother. Dina Lohan, Kris Jenner, Kathy Hilton and the mothers of the teen moms, priming their daughters to package and sell their confusion, rage, sadness and STDs as tragic ingredients for reality-show superstardom and to treat their vaginas like ATMs. Jon-Benet Ramsey must be smiling down gratefully.
TANYA: The “whoring” out of our culture now has devolved into the public’s overwhelming tolerance of sexual violence directed principally toward women and children (and some men) in America—the perverse allowance for serial rapes of children with impunity as revealed in the shocking Penn State child sexual abuse scandal finally exposed, after nearly 13 years of unmitigated abuse. Every single person, all men in this instance, failed to report to authorities, including sports channel ESPN, who had the story as early as 2002, but chose to sit on it. The alleged rapist Jerry Sandusky, a former football coach at Penn State, has damaged possibly hundreds of children’s lives, unimpeded for nearly 15 years. Finally, but much too late, he sits in jail, awaiting trial.
CLINTON: The befuddling reaction of some of the “Penn State Proud” — as the alumni are known — blew me away. It was fascinating to see the extent to which people were willing to deconstruct and then reconstruct things to account for and excuse former coach Joe Paterno’s moral decision making and blind-eye turning, despite having minimally met his legal obligations. The only saving grace these victims had in the wake of the unfolding scandal, and the mortifying Grand Jury report, was their age (and probably gender). The anger directed at Paterno’s graduate assistant Mike McQueary, who diligently reported to his father witnessing Sandusky raping a ten-year-old (rather than physically intervening, or subsequently reporting it to the police), was more about his actions NOT soiling the Penn State brand than failing to foil the rape. “This is a tragedy,” Paterno lamented once the shit hit the fan. “It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.” Don’t we all? At least the over-emotional, irrational Penn State fan base hasn’t blamed the kids for behaving like sluts, or dressing provocatively to lure Sandusky. Yet. Not coincidentally, the story broke along with the momentary surge of Herman Cain in the Republican primaries, in spite of the mounting sexual harassment accusations.
TANYA: Where do I begin with the serial sexual harasser Herman Cain, backed by the unrepentant Tea Partiers and the unbelievable hypocrisy of the Republican Party in giving Newt Gingrich a pass on the so-called “family values” plank situated next to godliness within the Party’s trifling propaganda? Cain was revealed to be a serial sexual harasser who got away with it, although the National Restaurant Association had to pay damages to two different women because they were clearly harassed during Cain’s tenure as its president. Two more women came forward, although it did not really seem to matter. Interestingly enough, his long-term mutually consensual affair with another woman, was a bridge too far for the Republican faithful, ended his quixotic run for the presidency.
CLINTON: “Excuse me…excuse me,” Cain snapped at reporters questioning him about accuser number four. Or was it five? No matter, Cain was quickly excused right out of the running when the hypocritical Tea Partiers, as you say, could not tolerate consensual adultery. Or could it have been that they could no longer hold their racist noses or stomach Cain’s seeming penchant for blondes. Instead they turned their self-righteous affections to Newt Gingrich, who’s adulterous, workplace affairs and callous abandonments of wives in times of sickness and hardship were just dandy, apparently.
TANYA: Just days later, the Centers for Disease Control announced on December 14, findings from a ground breaking study that indicates domestic and sexual violence against American women at epidemic rates that states that “on average, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner.” The CDC also estimated 1 million women are raped annually and more than 6 million women are also stalked annually in the United States. No expressions of concern by any Obama Administration officials to date.
Not to be outdone, the Pentagon attempted to bury its annual Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies, that revealed a nearly 60 percent increase in reported sexual assaults and that the U.S. Military Academy at West Point was not in compliance with DoD regulations. Military sexual violence, namely rape, has continued unabated, with impunity, and the Pentagon did itself no favors with Congress or with advocates, like the Service Women’s Action Network by waiting to release the report on Dec. 27, during a holiday infused vacation period.
CLINTON: You would think that was horrifying enough and compelling enough to warrant more attention. Instead, we have “journalists” like Paul Bedard of USA Today, focusing on a “new study“ said to show that military academy cadets are reacting negatively to the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” The study, titled “Civilian, ROTC, and Military Academy Undergraduate Attitudes toward Homosexuals in the U.S. Military,” appears in the current edition of Armed Forces & Society, a supposedly prestigious, social-scientific journal focusing on civil-military relations. Except that, according to The Palm Center’s Aaron Belkin, the “survey data on which this newly-published study is based were collected from 2002 to 2007.” Making the information as meaningful as a Kim Kardashian marriage. Or as sanctified. Kim Kardashian’s wedding made a mockery of the notion of marriage as a sanctified institution, and will continue to serve as a vivid, unavoidable demonstration of the futility and blatant discrimination that remains codified by DOMA.
TANYA: Shabby reporting by Bedard and pleased he was caught! But really Clinton, if Kim Kardashian can make a mockery of marriage, why can’t I? I have always fantasized about doing a “drive thru” wedding in Vegas for years (just like so many heterosexuals), and then promptly presenting my papers to Homeland Security so that I can sponsor my Canadian partner for a Green Card and permanent residency. Perhaps it is only a fantasy. So the question begs, will Obama evolve on marriage equality? It would behoove him to get ahead of the curve on this vital issue to LGBT Americans and their partners, during an election year that reflects a majority of Americans support marriage equality and in the 18-35 age group cohort, super majority support, that includes Latinos. But I am not expecting Obama to do anything that is remotely courageous. We will have to wait some more.
CLINTON: I wouldn’t hold my breath with Obama, who has out-Bushed Bush on almost everything related to civil liberties, while we all swooned over his intellect after eight years of a Special Needs Presidency. By then, even Sarah Palin sounded vaguely coherent. While it’s fun watching hypocritical Republican moralists blow their feet off with the equivalent of a sawed-off, semi-automatic trying to justify the behavior of Senators John Ensign and David Vitter, for instance.
Democrats haven’t exactly helped themselves in the marriage sanctity department either. Consider John Edwards modeling his marriage vows on the morals of Newt Gingrich. And Anthony Weiner tweeting his unsexy boner pics, while his wife was busy supporting, just a little ironically, Hillary Clinton. Exciting no-one other than cheap, sweaty, chubby, effete, Christopher Hitchens-wannabe, hucksters like Andrew Breitbart, breathlessly pimping his JO stash of Weiner images to talk show hosts.
Breitbart is just a symptom though. Like Ann Coulter, a personification of the celebrity-obsessed, toxic and superficial culture they thrive in. Absorbing, gouging, vomiting, spewing and regurgitating it all to satisfy an insatiable appetite for relevance and leverage. With as much impact as the Gay Uncle Tom Club, GOProud, have on the Republican Party, or will on the Presidential race in 2012.
My hope is that moving into 2012, gays and lesbians will take a step back. Gays are at a crossroads of sorts. The same way as far too many blindly accept HRC and GLAAD as representative of who they are politically, they bestow awards and gush over the likes of Perez Hilton, simply because he’s gay. Or marvel at Lady Gaga for her support of gay rights. It’s 20-fucking-11.
TANYA: Ugh, Breitbart and Hitchens? That is more than enough misdirected testosterone to last several lifetimes. But I do agree Clinton, the LGBT community now stands on a threshold for decision-making that will determine our path forward to achieve equality. Will we decide to engage in an animated civil rights movement that seeks to advance civil rights for all of us and keeps its foot on the gas, as elections come and go? Or will discreet, privileged, wealthy gay donors think of themselves first, before all others, damn the consequences for the broader community? I am anxious to see what will happen and share our conversations on these wonderful pages at The New Civil Rights Movement. In the meantime, I wish you a very loving, happy and healthy New Year in 2012!
CLINTON: And a happy New Year my love, and to all the readers of The New Civil Rights Movement!
Images of Beavis and Butt-Head, H.L. Mencken, Huey Long, USMA logo, Penn State logo are courtesy of Wikipedia.
Tanya L. Domi is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University who teaches about human rights in Eurasia and is a Harriman Institute affiliated faculty member. Prior to teaching at Columbia, Domi worked internationally for more than a decade on issues related to democratic transitional development, including political and media development, human rights, gender issues, sex trafficking, and media freedom.
Clinton Fein is an internationally acclaimed author, artist, and First Amendment activist, best-known for his 1997 First Amendment Supreme Court victory against United States Attorney General Janet Reno. Fein has also gained international recognition for his Annoy.com site, and for his work as a political artist. Fein is on the Board of Directors of the First Amendment Project, “a nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to protecting and promoting freedom of information, expression, and petition.” Fein’s political and privacy activism have been widely covered around the world. His work also led him to be nominated for a 2001 PEN/Newman’s Own First Amendment Award.
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