Drop Dead Fred

fred_phelpsSo Fred Phelps died, not that long after having been strategically excommunicated from his own church.

I’ve been suggesting, for some time, that we need to be better than our enemies. Phelps and his Church were the face of unashamed homophobia and religious hate. A cartoonish set of underwhelming supervillains against which it has been easy to ally and align.

Phelps gave us a gift. An unambiguous, unalloyed bigot – a true believer in a form of Christian hatred that everyone thought was on its last legs. He brought moderate Christians, bikers, atheists, left wing, right wing all together against him and his Church and he reminded us all of the value of free expression, even horrible free expression.

If Phelps had been silenced, censored, prevented from publicly spewing his hate we would not have known and it would have rotted away behind the scenes and spread. That he was public brought us together. Nothing unites humanity like a common enemy.

I won’t celebrate his death. I won’t celebrate the death of any human being. We get one, glorious opportunity to live and to live without compromise, even as a disgusting bigot and slave to a myth, is something admirable.

If nothing else, he inspired Kevin Smith to make his first really good film since MallRats.

Bye Fred, you were a useful idiot.

Media Representation

Idris-Elba-wears-Viking-h-006It is often said that persons of colour are heavily underrepresented in mainstream media.

I am not convinced that this is entirely accurate.

Merely asking that question will be enough to get me thought of as a racist etc just as doubting the dominant narratives about sexism or any other issue. Understand that it is not that I have a racist point of view or that I wish to maintain the status quo but rather that I am just interested in what is true, what the actual state of affairs is and why things might be the way they are.

I set about trying to find out if this was true first.

I chose African Americans to be my case study. They’re a minority but large enough (12.6%) that it would prevent any wild swings from even one person of that category appearing and also because their racial identity is relatively unambiguous.

If all other factors in society were entirely even, if opportunity were the same, we would expect to see something like 12.6% representation of African Americans across all media. If we differ significantly from 12.6% then we can say that something is going on to distort that representation – though we can’t necessarily say what.

I decided to investigate across several forms of media:

  • Musical albums.
  • Musical singles.
  • Literature.
  • Cinema.
  • Television.

I chose to investigate the top ten, most popular instances of each over the year 2013. In the case of albums and singles assessing by the artist (or the proportion of the group) that was African American. In literature I went by author. In cinema and television I went by significant cast (IMDB). I chose the top 10 because the most popular items are the most influential and the most reflective of the cultural zeitgeist.

I counted up the instances of African ancestry in each and worked it out as a percentage against the non-Africans.

  • Musical Albums:  30% representation.
  • Musical Singles: 20% representation.
  • Literature: 0% representation.
  • Cinema: 6.3% representation.
  • Television: 11.6% representation.

Is this perfect? No. You’d have to factor total money, screen time etc in, but I think this can give us a general, rule-of-thumb to look at. I don’t intend this to have been a scientific study, I just wanted to look for myself and get some sort of thumbnail view as to what the situation really was.

What we’re presented with is a fairly complicated picture where African Americans are over-represented in some areas and under-represented in others and these conform more than a little to stereotype. The only complete absence is in literature. Cinema is running at about 50% of where it should be and television is about on par.

Why might this be?

Racism? It might play a part, but clearly African American opportunities exist disproportionately in the music industry so it’s not hurting them there. Why in some of the other areas though? To get to racism we would have to eliminate all other potential factors. Those factors include:

  • Capitalist pursuit of the largest market (big enterprises are risk averse, whites as a demographic are larger and less likely to be in poverty).
  • Educational opportunities (often related to money, but not entirely)
  • Cultural and subcultural aspirations and choices.

You can’t come at these things with an expectation of racism or you’ll see what you’re looking for. Much like the gender pay gap you need accurate data that reflects the genuine situation and you need to look hard to eliminate those other factors.

What do you think? How does this reflect on whitewashing and making established characters more ethnic? In written media can only a writer of the ‘correct’ ethnicity write about someone of a particular culture or colour or not? Is it better to try and get it wrong or to avoid the whole problem anyway? Are these all Catch 22 situations?

The Last Honest Politician

BennTony Benn died today after a long life of service to the people of his country (rather than his country itself) as, perhaps, the definitive figure of the Labour party’s left. More iconic than Labour leader in recent memory. He was the antithesis of the ‘interchangeable suits’ that now rule the entire Western World.

Benn was a principled politician, though – of course – not infallible. Someone who knew the value of science and technology, was consistently one of Britain’s most popular politicians (confounding the idea that we’re naturally conservative), and was strongly involved in protest movements including the anti-war protests over Iraq and Afghanistan.

Benn gave up his privileged, hereditary peerage to remain an MP, a case of ‘putting your money where your mouth is’ that changed the law and proved him a principled man above ideological suspicion.

A feminist and social justice advocate from when both those terms had clear and useful meaning, he was a career politician when that wasn’t an insult, genuinely dedicated to reform and progress.

He was a politician I didn’t hate. That’s the best accolade I can think of.

Demographics of Punditry

This is a response to this blog.

Second, pundits don’t look like me. None of them. Not even the two or three brown ones you’re about to cite in the comment section. From a material intersectional perspective (I am specific for a reason, i.e. structure), my class-race-gender-status-power position is not reflected in the pundit class. There may be women but how many are black? There may be black women but how many are dark? There may be dark black women but how many are fat? There may be fat women but how many are from public colleges? These combinations could go on and on and I suspect you’d not be able to name too many professional performance thinkers that share my social location. As a critical sociologist those kinds of absent archives are what I listen and read for.

So, I took a little exception to this. Not offence as such, but rather it didn’t seem to sit right. On the one hand facts don’t change by what race you are. So why, ultimately should it matter what colour (or size, or gender) the mouth is? Does this not just reinforce the false importance of race (though there’s a definite shift against ‘colour blindness’ amongst Tumblr-style activism, which I don’t understand)?

Why might there be a lack of fat, black (super-black, extra black, dark black, black-plus if you will), women from community colleges as pundits on news shows? Is it just bias or is there something more foundational as a reason as to why this might be?

If we just looked at demographics and if all other factors were even we would expect to see around 13% African American pundits (12.6%).

But the other factors aren’t even.

OK, let’s assume a ‘population’ of 100 pundits in our pool.

  • Let’s take our demographics and plug that in. 13/100 are going to be black. Not sure what ‘dark black’ meant and it seems subjective and hard to quantify. This is more generous anyway, so let’s go with this.
  • Half of that’s going to be female. So that’s 6.5/100. We’ll round up again to be generous. 7/100.
  • Fat? Well, ‘better’ news there given the rates of obesity in the US (fat is again, subjective, but we have to use something and this is an impartial measure for all the problems BMI is acknowledged to have). It’s roughly 1/3rd according to the CDC. We’ll round up again to be optimistic, 3/100.
  • So, that only leaves us with 3/100.

Other contributory but hard to quantify factors would include:

  • Relative rates of poverty (27.4% blacks versus 9.9% whites).
  • Relative rates of university education (30% whites versus 17.4% blacks).
  • Different educational choices by gender, race etc (this is part of the reason you are more likely to see women punditing gender issues and racial minorities punditing racial issues – though theoretically there’s no reason my a man or a white person couldn’t do those either).
  • Political affiliation may be an issue in some media channels. A right wing channel is likely to have less black representation (unless they’re trying to refute accusations of racism) simply because, what was it, 74% of black voters voted Democrat in the US’s 2004 election cycle? Contrariwise you might expect to see a genuinely left wing or self-identified progressive channel over-representing various groups.

I would guesstimate then, that you would only expect to see, probably, less than 1/100 pundits meeting the author’s description in the mainstream media. Purely on terms of demographics without bringing any anti-woman, anti-black or anti-fat perspectives into it.

There are failings, but they are in wealth redistribution, the provision of decent public education and so forth. It’s not so much racial as socio-economic and a few token pundits aren’t going to change that. Even if there were an absolutely level playing field, we wouldn’t expect to see that many people, like her, as pundits. There is an argument to be made for ensuring there’s broader representation in order to provide role models, relatability and so on, but this is to bow to the irrational and is like expecting your junker to go faster because you painted it corvette red, rather than dealing with the engine, transmission and tyres.

What does it really matter anyway, so long as the punditing data is accurate and sound? That’s what actually matters, right? That’s a much, much bigger problem too – especially on Fox.

Notes

1. As with so many things the UK and US seems to be divided by a common language. I take ‘Pundit’ to mean an expert whereas Americans tend to talk more about political pundits. Stephen Hawking, for example, is a pundit when he’s brought out to talk about physics or aliens or whatever. What Americans seem to call punditry I would identify more in terms of ‘editorialising’. Still, I don’t think this undermines the point about ‘all things being equal’.

2. When examining the data – such as you can readily get hold of – like this, one often gets kafkatrapped. Questioning the claim is, apparently, proof of the claim. The claim is self evident without having any evidence presented in its support or in support of the reason why it might be so that the other person presents. Dissent is not allowed. Asking questions is not allowed. Debate is not allowed. Asking for data is ‘derailing’. Being skeptical is ‘derailing’. Quoting a respected thinker’s opinion on trolls (that it must mean more than ‘someone who disagrees) is asking for derision. Yet these are the same people who – out of the other side of their mouth – call for ‘respect’ in absolutist terms for anyone and everyone else. This is especially frustrating when you ostensibly support ‘the cause’ but want it to proceed on good data.

Incidentally. I found one.

Fat

Muslims up in Arms, Again, Again

This is CL, some sort of K-Pop rap star. Can’t say I much care for it, or that it matters. One of her songs (this one if I’ve got it right) contains a snatch or two of the Koran being recited in the background. Those of you with long memories may remember that Little Big Planet was delayed for much the same reason.

In the wake of successfully bullying Katie Perry into silence and harassing Majid Nawaz, Muslims seem to feel they can now silence absolutely anyone by making threats and kicking up enough of a stink. This time on the #CLIsUsingQuraanInHerSong hashtag on Twitter.

Yes, there are 1.6 billion Muslims, but the entire human population of the Earth – including Muslims – benefit from the right of free expression. It’s a right that allows them to practice and promote their religion. So why would they be against it?

I’m going to go 180 degrees from my normal practice and offer some genuine, sincere and heartfelt advice to Muslims.

If you want your religion to be respected then this is exactly the opposite of what you need to be doing.

If you want your religion to be respected you need to TOLERATE and ACCEPT the beliefs of others. You need to understand that just as with Madonna’s ‘Like a Prayer’ or ‘Life of Brian’ or any number of films and songs that play fast and loose with other religions that this is going to happen.

Every time you start kicking and screaming over what, to the entire rest of the world seems like nothing at all (a brief glimpse of a medallion, a cartoon, a book) you are not gaining respect. You are losing it. You look like primitive morons who are completely unable to understand that anyone else might have a different belief than you.

If you want respect you need to work against this rabid image. If you want respect you need to extend respect to other cultures and beliefs. You need to stop censoring others, intimidating others and looking like berserkers.

This is, absolutely, not the way to go about getting respect.

Free Expression

You guys seem to have immense difficulty with this concept. Free expression means everyone gets to express themselves how they wish. That means people can use the Koran, Bible, Rig Veda or anything else in their artistic works and you’re free to practice your religion and believe what you want. What you don’t get to do is to censor other people. Just because you think your book is the holy word of god doesn’t mean anyone else does and you don’t get to censor people based on being offended.

Personally I find Islam incredibly offensive. Does that mean I should get to censor it and force the Koran to be ‘deleted’ from life? No. Much as I’d love to see Islam die out I believe everyone has the right to free expression. Even Muslims. That’s what respect is, letting people who believe different things express themselves without censorship.

Lay Layla Lay

The other day I watched a secular Muslim be outed and live-tweet what what happened next.

Life was ‘over’ she said.

Life wasn’t worth living.

Her family was ‘informed’ by someone who found out who she was.

Her mother in tears, playing ‘the call to prayer’ through her iPad as loud as it would go, over and over.

When you leave Islam, even in a western country, you take your life, the love of your family and the support of your community in your hands.

Before her account was deleted, the bio was changed to ‘I love Allah and his prophet Muhammed (PBUH)’.

I hope she’s OK, and if not, at least there’s these guys to help her.

Babysitting Tumblr

1975178_10153876833760545_301699648_nJust how bad could Tumblr ‘social justice’ be? That’s the question I asked myself after encountering many of the sort of ghastly people who have Tumblrs on Twitter during recent fusses. So, with that question in mind I stabbed myself in the eyes and nailed my scrotum to the wall made a Tumblr and a list of ghastly ‘social justice’ extremists on Twitter to give me a heads up what to look for.

Yes, it’s as bad as you think.

On the face of it, you might think that I would be a good fit for this crowd, given that I believe in the concept of social justice in that I believe in equality and fair treatment, am on the liberal left of the political spectrum, am for LGBTQWTFBBQLMAO rights, the professed goals of feminism in theory (but not in practice), etc, etc, etc.

As it turns out. No.

Where I try to take a reasoned and evidence based approach, examining individual issues contextually and fact checking on a case by case basis, Tumblr and the SJW crowd in general expects you to agree to absolutely everything, all at once, without question, reservation or fact checking. Memes like ‘Women earn 75% of what men do’ and ‘1/4 college women are raped’ do the rounds without challenge and it never seems to occur to anyone that bad statistics make you look like a liar and undermine your case – or in a best case scenario divert funds from genuine crisis areas.

These people are cartoons, each a rare and special snowflake with their own pronouns, gender interpretations, sexualities and descriptors that read like someone dumped a postmodernist textbook into a blender and plucked out fragments at random.

Anarcho-Feminist, blogger, survivor, triggered by spiders and monkeys in hats, PTSD because people were doubleplusungood to me on Twitter, genderqueer, genderfluid transexual hard-femme, pronouns (Mi/Xi/some other bullshit)

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Remarkable that people so fucking focussed on their own individual specialness can end up as a homogenous, glittery mass of ignorant fuckwittery dressed up as activism.

So why does it piss me off so much?

Because there’s absolutely zero room for discussion or debate. There’s absolutely no fucking interest in making or supporting a point. Call-out culture is all one way. When they do it, it’s heroic, when you call them on their bullshit, suddenly it’s magically transmuted into trolling (not agreeing with them) or harassment. Apparently there’s some magical alchemy in youthful pomposity that transmogrifies their behaviour into heroism when they do it and villainy when anyone else does it.

Nothing is ever good enough either. Any advancement or progress for any of their causes simply isn’t enough. Jared Leto has a high profile role as a transgendered person? NOT GOOD ENOUGH! Why wasn’t it given to a transgender actor? (Christ, I don’t even know if you’re supposed to say actor or actress for someone whose biological and expressed gender are the same, let alone trans people). Why didn’t he spend his speeches grovelling on the floor for mercy and praising the trans community to heaven? (Maybe because you appear to be a bunch of fucking dicks? Did that cross your minds?). Then there’s poor Lupita Nygongo whose deserved success and praise from the film making community is now being written off as ‘race fetishism’, poor woman.

Why would a creator or actor break new ground or try new things or seek to accommodate a strident, angry community that literally cannot be pleased by anything, ever? Why would they take the time for people who don’t appreciate the effort and whose idea of constructive criticism is to hulk out and smash the place up?

These people form mutually reassuring echo chambers in which the most extreme positions soon take hold and never have to be accounted for or backed up. They’re so utterly unused to dissent or question that it is treated as outright hostility or ignored. No accounting is made, no dissent is allowed.

This is particularly a problem when it comes to the concept of ‘Intersectionality’ which is supposed to mean considering how different networks of advantage and disadvantage interrelate but is actually more of a reason to divide into smaller and smaller mutually hateful groups until you’re alone in a room punching yourself in the genitals because you’ve nobody else left to hate.

Intersectionality is a cancer eating away at many social movements that were previously unified and varied. Examples include Atheism+, Feminism and LGBT. Why the idea that you don’t HAVE to agree on every. single. fucking. point. to fight for a common cause has never sunk in to these people I don’t know, but apparently it’s far more important to be victimised as individuals than to band together and increase your chances of getting things done.

Every day, more and more I am struck by the similarities between SJW extremism and religion. There’s a canon, which cannot be questioned. There are heretics, there is blasphemy, there are priests and leity and it all seems to be derived from largely unfounded fear. There’s also the patronising presumption that you just need to be educated, while at the same time refusing to substantiate or provide evidence for their positions. It never seems to occur to them that maybe you do know what they’re talking about – possibly more than they do – and have still rejected it. You get the same blank incomprehension or accusations of lying you get when telling one of the faithful that yes, you have read the Bible/Koran and no you didn’t find it perfect or inspiring, but rather ghastly and horrifying.

What really gets me is the hypocrisy. Racism is bad but they’ll insult you (or self loathe) for being white and the same goes for gender, education, class and anything else. The world I choose to inhabit is one where when people disagree they discuss, debate, argue and bring evidence to support what they’re saying and where if there’s sufficient evidence they change their mind. This is not the world these people inhabit however. Their’s is a world where any disagreement or question – or even prioritising different issues – makes you the devil and you can be safely ignored or wedged into some nice little stereotype that they’ve cooked up (they really have it in for Reddit, fedoras, atheism and beards it seems).

So, as a social progressive, concerned with everyone’s rights I find these childish motherfuckers to be divisive, cartoonish, unhelpful, damaging and pointless. They’re not doing things from a position of any thought, but rather from a kneejerk desire to be more special, more ‘liberal’ and more progressive than thou.

This is doubly ironic since so many of them are utterly conservative. Anti-Sex, anti-porn, anti-sex worker. A set of positions ripe for exploitation by more traditional conservatives (as is happening in the UK and Europe).

If you can’t convince me, you’ve got no fucking chance of convincing wider society Tumblr-Tots.

As you can tell, I’m rather incensed by all this bullshit.

Have a couple of edifying videos to finish and look, if you have issues with things I think and believe, fucking talk to me and argue your case. Be a human being, not a Tumblrbot. We may still not end up agreeing but that’s what adults do. Disagree, remain friends, consider and defend their thoughts and positions.

Pax.

(First video, about 16 minutes in is where the really solid point is made)