Category Archives: Politics

The myth of Stepford (#SFWApro)


Writing about the suburbs (it ties in to her new book Switchback), Melissa Olson argues that while suburbs initially appealed to homeowners because they presented a clean, peaceful, perfect facade, they horrify us (and her) for the same reason: “the first generation of suburban kids had grown up, developing a deep unease and distrust of this attempted perfection. As a result, we got books and films like The Stepford Wives, Carrie, Poltergeist, Halloween, ‘The Lottery,’ and so on. The problem with the suburbs, these works argued, is that their quest for perfection becomes a quest for conformity—and conformity breeds corruption, in all its forms.”

This is a slapdash analysis. “The Lottery” was a 1948 story, way earlier than the others, and it’s set in a traditional rural community. And I wouldn’t buy that Halloween and Carrie express anything about the suburbs because they take place in one, any more than Ghostbusters or Troll imply anything about apartment life. And then we get Stepford Wives, where Olson is really, really wrong (all rights to image remain with current holder).

It’s true the movie starts out with Katharine Ross and her family relocating from New York to the bucolic bedroom community of Stepford. But even then, her husband is plotting to replace her with an obedient, big-breasted sexbot. Not because “Rebellious, feminist Joanna Eberhardt must be replaced in order to keep Stepford pure and perfect” but because some men (as one specifically points out at the climax) would sooner have an obedient, eternally beautiful sex doll that does the chores than a real woman who ages and sometimes disagrees with them.

The suburbs have nothing to do with it. Pop culture simply took the movie (and Ira Levin’s source novel) and plugged them into an existing trope, that suburbs suck. They’re soulless. Conformist. They don’t have the vibrancy of a big city, but nor are they quaint or traditional like small towns. So they become the bogeyman and the message of Stepford becomes “live in the suburbs, have your brain and personality sucked out.” Which is probably easier to digest than contemplating that feminists might have a point about men’s attitudes.

And so everyone, including Olson “knows” Stepford Wives is about the sins of living in a suburb (note: I’ve lived in a couple and I like them just fine). The movie Perfect Little Angels, for example, is set in a gated community where planner Michael York uses brainwashing to turn rebellious teenagers into model citizens. Characters keep remarking the squeaky clean, smoothly functioning community is Just Like Stepford.

At Slacktivist, Fred Clark discusses how things everybody knows are influenced by pop culture and influence it in turn.


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Sexism for Monday morning

Even though abortion is supposedly the worst thing since the Holocaust, the Republican Party still finds contraception just as bad. Much better to ban it as early as possible, then go back to the days of slut-shaming and shotgun marriages because that’s how you take care of women properly! Salon has more.

Pastor Carl Gallups, a Trump bootlicker — er, booster — insists that in saying women dressing sexy is morally the equivalent of sexual assault (because it arouses men uncontrollably and that’s assault, right?) he’s totally not blaming them for rape. That’s such a standard rape-apologist claim I’m skeptical — though I admit his ouvre does include lots of outrage of rape-minded Muslims (this is something of an obsession in some parts of the right. A now-blocked acquaintance on FB would invariably respond to any post I made regarding Rape Is Bad by screaming about how if the woman wasn’t raped by a Muslim she had nothing to complain about). And even if he sincerely does condemn rape by non-Muslims, he’s still full of shit — being aroused simply isn’t assault. Not even if the woman knows as an objective fact that the way she’s dressed will turn men on.

A writer suggests rather than declaring “toxic masculinity” is the problem with Harvey Weinstein, Trump and Bill Cosby we should call them sociopathic baby-men. Yes Means Yes reminds us it’s not that they don’t understand “no” it’s that they ignore it.

But all the right’s eagerness to hold up Harvey Weinstein as proof the sociopaths are all on the left, they’re fine with defending Bill O’Reilly. Reilly himself still insists (spoilers!) he’s the real victim. Megyn Kelly is not impressed.

Speaking of Weinstein, Brit Marling writes about the role of money and power that let men like Weinstein pressure women into giving something that vaguely resembles consent: “Because consent is a function of power. You have to have a modicum of power to give it. In many cases women do not have that power because their livelihood is in jeopardy and because they are the gender that is oppressed by a daily, invisible war waged against all that is feminine—women and humans who behave or dress or think or feel or look feminine.”

A Dennis Prager post from a few years ago, reminding us that the guy who defends objectifying women also thinks if men have to go to work when they don’t want to, women have to put out for their husbands when they don’t want to.

More sociopathic baby men: Mark Halperin (who refers to himself “pursuing relationships” to explain charges he rubbed his dick on coworkers).

Time magazine freaks out over a study that finds young men (albeit a small sample size) actually bond more with their buddies than their girlfriends. OMG, will this endanger traditional marriage? As Shakezula points out, this ain’t news (“Yes, that too is definitely a new phenomenon and not – for example – the basis of a gag so old that Fred Flintstone once stubbed his toe on it when he was sneaking out of the house to go bowling with Barney.”). And it occurs to me that they’re talking about girlfriends, not spouses, which might make a difference — the guy who spends all his time with his buddies until he meets The One isn’t a new concept either.

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The dream of an outsider (#SFWApro)

There is a running theme in pop culture that running the country is really simple — it’s the politicians who make it complicated. And yes, this obviously reflects real life memes (We should run government like a business! This politician is awesome because he’s a “Washington outsider.”), but in fiction we can actually make it happen.

(All rights to image remain with current holder)

Part of the appeal is the perennial fantasy of the ordinary Joe or Jane suddenly elevated into a fantastic life — superhero, monarch, movie star, leader. But I think it’s also drawn on an underlying belief about politics: government is simple but politicians make it complicated. They’re corrupt, act out of self-interest, too partisan to do what’s right. If we could get that out the way and convince them to knock off the bullshit, finding solutions to our problems would be a cakewalk.

So by putting someone in office who’s not a politician — a real American, a plainspoken guy (almost always a guy) who has no dog in the hunt, we can fantasize about how easy it would be for him/us to make this country work the way it’s supposed to.

Dave is a perfect example. Kevin Kline [edited to correct name] as the eponymous protagonist becomes the president’s double; when the president has a stroke, Dave steps in (part of a scheme by political insiders to keep the upright Veep from stepping in and thwarting their plan). Miraculously, he’s able to set the country on the right track because he actually cares about people more than politics. In Gabriel Over the White House (admittedly not a regular guy — the protagonist is possessed by an angel), Walter Huston creates a New Deal-like jobs program to end the depression, ends Prohibition and declares martial law so he can take down organized crime. Then he builds the world’s mightiest navy, so just the hint the US might use it will keep the nations of the world at peace.

Over on TV, Mr. Sterling was a TV series starring Josh Brolin as the son of a Democratic senator appointed to fill his late father’s position. Only instead of being a Democrat as everyone assumes, he’s an independent — OMG, he can vote principle over party! Or Kiefer Sutherland as the Designated Survivor forced into the presidency.

It’s no surprise there are many more examples. Distaste for politics has been around since the Founding Fathers, literally. That generation gave us our first political parties, but it also looked on parties as “faction,” a decision to act based on political agenda rather than principle. But the solution we get in movies like this is a fantasy.

Sure, lots of people think they know what America needs (I certainly do) but we don’t all “know” the same thing. I could see a Christian movie in this vein where knocking off the bullshit means a big speech about how we all know abortion is murder, now let’s get to work and ban it nationwide. That might make perfect sense to right-to-lifers but to me it would be a step towards The Handmaid’s Tale.

Even if we agree on the goal, the fantasy skips the ugly steps that Dave or Mr. Sterling might have to take to achieve it: FDR got Social Security passed by exempting field hands and servants. As most Southern blacks worked in domestic service or agriculture, Southern Democrats supported Social Security knowing blacks in their states wouldn’t benefit.

I know political bloggers who really loathe the movies for presenting a fantasy about how politics works; I’m not one of them. I liked Dave (a starring team of Costner and Sigourney Weaver doesn’t help). But I thought it was worth mentioning that politics doesn’t work like that.



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Perhaps we should call Trumpcare Tillis-care? Burrcare?

In the multiple letters I have written to NC Senators Thom Tillis and Richard Burr I have said, repeatedly, that if they showed some basic decency and didn’t support the various iterations of Trumpcare, I wouldn’t have to rip into them on social media. But they did, so I am. I will give Tillis credit for actually responding to my letters where Burr has remained utterly silent (like a lot of Repubs they’re avoiding constituents). Unfortunately Tillis doesn’t spew anything but bullshit.

He’s made the same arguments in every answering email: Obamacare is on the brink of collapse. Financially it places a strain on lots of individuals who have to obey the individual mandate and buy insurance. “Even some of Obamacare’s strongest supporters have acknowledged that the law has fundamental flaws that must be addressed …”

And that’s certainly true (of course some of those flaws are the result of Republicans refusing to accept the law’s expanded Medicaid option, which would have made healthcare much more affordable for people at the bottom of the economic pyramid). We need more generous subsidies — one of Obama’s biggest mistakes may have been trying to sensibly budget the law rather than just going ahead and budgeting what was needed. It’s not like Republicans give a flying crap about the deficit (Reagan and W both set records for federal red ink) so there’s no reason to treat them as if they do (it’s not like they could have opposed it more than they did).

But none of the bills passed so far would have done that. None of them would have “improved health care outcomes for hardworking Americans by controlling costs and providing access to affordable care” which is what Tillis claims he wants done. Some versions make discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions easier. Millions of people would lose insurance under them, and the most recent bill backed by Lindsey Graham (who admits his ignorance on the topic)and co-written by Rick Santorum would have been disastrous for women’s health.

Tillis and Burr voted for them anyway. Tillis spoke favorably of the Cassidy-Graham proposal. He seems to think if he keeps telling me “obamacare has failed!” I won’t notice that he’s making things worse.

Oh, and Katy Talento, a former advisor to Tillis is reputedly a prime mover in Trump’s budget cutting funds for birth control in favor of teaching the rhythm method. Because even though abortion rates are down and contraceptive use is part of that, stopping the supposed modern-day holocaust of abortion isn’t as important as stopping women having sexwithout consequences!

Here’s more of Trump continuing the Republican war on women. And a profile of Vice President Mike Pence who probably looks at The Handmaid’s Tale and notes all the cool ideas to implement. As I mentioned last week, if Hilary Clinton had become president and refused to meet alone with members of the opposite sex, the right-wing would have had a shit-fit.

Amazing that at this point in Obama’s presidency, the worst attack Fox News could think of was of his eating habits.

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And just think, these guys get paid for writing about politics and I don’t.

That’s not the worst thing about the string of stupid right-wing responses to Harvey Weinstein’s history of predatory sexual behavior and alleged rape, but yes, it annoys me a little that these hacks get paid well for spewing bullshit.

The revelations about Harvey Weinstein’s predatory sex history has drawn much more attention from right-wing pundits than Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly or Trump, because Weinstein’a Hollywood liberal, and he donates money to Democrats, so they’re free to condemn him without hurting their side. And they can use Weinstein to take shots at feminism, premarital sex and Democrats, which excites them more than taking shots at rapists or condemning the ability of the rich and powerful to silence women. And in fairness, it’s up to the usual quality of right-wing thinking on rape and harassment.

•Ross Douthat, for example, gets space on the NYT’s editorial page to agree with Weinstein the real issue is 1970s permissiveness: “Never so many divorces, never so many abortions, a much higher rate of rape, an S.T.D. crisis that culminated in the AIDS epidemic.” Um, no. We had higher reporting of rape. We had a high rate of divorce (assuming Douthat’s accurate, which can be a mistake) not because of culture but because n0-fault divorce had become legal and a lot of people were ready to fly. And abortion had just become legal and hadn’t yet suffered the thousand restrictions the right-wing has wielded since (the religious right thought abortion was moral at the time).

Saying society’s to blame is a conservative standby, like assertions women get raped because of hook-up culture or not being virgins. And sorry, Douthat, Roman Polanski slipping a 13-year-old girl booze and drugs, then raping her, is not some natural outcome of Hollywood free love and premarital sex. Saying so makes you no different from any other Polanski rape apologist.

•Next up Dennis Prager who confuses “objectifying women” with “finding women attractive.” Plus the bizarre claim that women would sooner look at a woman stripping for other men than look at a man getting naked (no, it didn’t make sense in the original).

•David French resorts to the classic right-wing argument that fussing about consent is baaaad. We liberals believe consent is the only important thing so we’re fine with crap like bosses banging subordinates (as noted at the link, French assumes or chooses to think if consent is important nothing else is — and he even equates pressuring a subordinate for sex as “consensual” if she says yes) And it’s bad for women because men feel free to proposition women for one-night stands because Evil Liberal Morality says those are okay, and so women are not protected from men having sex with them without offering marriage, which supposedly never happened back in the good old days.

(Bad sexist, rape/harassment apologist arguments make me SCREAM! Painting by Edvard Much, of course)

•SF novelist John Ringo saves me the trouble of ever reading his books by explaining that women who get angry at Trump for no good reason (“Donald Trump said some needlessly crass things and alleged to have groped women”) do so because they’re angry at Weinstein and other liberals, but they’re afraid “they might be thrown out of the in-crowd” if the speak up (rather than, say, blacklisted by a Hollywood powerhouse). So Democrats are ultra-evil and conservatives are off the hook. And liberals are at fault for not stopping Weinstein

It’s true the NYT spiked a 2004 story about Weinstein, and it has those rape-apologist columnists. But it also broke the more recent story; where were those vigilant right-wing media outlets Breitbart and Fox News? And as for self-policing, how much did the right-wing media do about Ailes or O’Reilly? Or Trump, beyond tut-tutting a lot.

Ringo, at least, isn’t primarily a political columnist. Neither is accused abuser Woody Allen, who thinks the big issue is a witch hunt for predators and men getting sued for perfectly harmless flirting. Which is an old argument. And an old argument.

•Sebastian Gorka argues this proves Mike Pence is right — if Weinstein never met women alone, they’d be fine. Overlooking that he did meet women in the company of others, who were then sent out of the room. And that not meeting with a major Hollywood player could be a real problem for women’s careers. I guarantee you, if Hilary Clinton had become president and would only meet alone with women, the right’s stance would be that a)she’s a man-hater and b)probably a lesbian. It’s only okay as long as women are the ones who suffer, since their careers don’t matter anyway.

And more generally, blaming the women — for being alone with Weinstein, for dressing too sexy, whatever — is crap. It’s always crap.


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More idiocy, plus some evil

Last week I tackled right-wing stupidity. This week more stupidity, plus some evil. Decide for yourself which is which. As you can see, even Plush Dog is upset by these people.

A city employee in Austin refuses to meet with female coworkers because he doesn’t think it’s appropriate for a married man to meet single women, even for business. And other men, elsewhere, doing it.

Anyone who thinks Republicans really believe in leaving things to the states as a principle, rather than when it benefits them. Case in point, allowing concealed-carry permit holders to pack heat in another concealed-carry state without a permit. Or to ban abortions nationwide after 20 weeks instead of just leaving it to the states.

Oxycontin makers who pushed the pills despite the risks of addiction and death.

The Trump Administration has a new way to kill Obamacare: cutting the enrollment period.

Congress let funding for CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) run out while obsessing over Obamacare.

The attacks on San Juan’s mayor for criticizing President Shit-Gibbon. More here.

The “you can’t regulate evil” argument against gun control.

The determination of some political writers that Republicans aren’t worse than Democrats.

Any political pundits who think Trump is ever going to be a unifying figure.

The senator who says food and shelter are privileges. I’m used to arguments that they’re not rights, but privileges? Lance Manion dissects this further.

Wells Fargo for claiming it’s okay to block customer lawsuits over those thousands of fake accounts and force them into arbitration because they’ll never screw up like that again.

Pat Robertson, who spat venom at Clinton and Obama for years, has now decided things like the Las Vegas shooter can be blamed on our disrespect for the president. This epiphany will last until we get a new Democratic president (should Robertson live that long) at which point Robertson will revert to venom. We also have Sen. James Inhofe, who once said the US deserved 9/11 (insufficient support for Israel) blaming it on the existence of sanctuary cities for illegal immigrants.

Catholic bishops who think that HPV vaccinations are bad because they reduce the reasons not to have sex.  Given the church loves sanctifying women who die to save their virtue, this isn’t that surprising.

A writer who thinks brunch, once a classy elegant event, has been destroyed by hedonistic twentysomethings who should get jobs as plumbers. Dude, I think brunch stopped being classy when they began offering it at Denny’s.

US surveillance helps Ethiopa crack down on dissidents.

Azerbaijan cracks down on gays.

Armed groups enslaving and raping women in the Central African Republic.

Harvey Weinstein, who allegedly successfully covered up his abuse of women for years, and the various journalists who enabled him. And of course right-wing pundits pretending this is a unique liberal problem. John Scalzi adds more. No More Mr. Nice Blog points out Rupert Murdoch’s tabloids were more interested in slamming Weinstein’s victims than exposing him.

Everyone at Breitbart for their work normalizing white supremacy. And non-alt.right reporters who helped. And academics who helped.

The Trump administration for ruling that any employer who claims a moral objection to providing birth control coverage in their employee insurance can drop it. As I’ve pointed out before, it’s always the women’s health that shouldn’t be covered — no suggestion that they can cut off any other coverage. And it’s more evil as it’s unlikely Trump himself has any passionate conviction to corporations having religious rights. Good for California for suing to stop this shit.

Cops who rape, and media that slut-shame the victim.

And let’s not forget that our president literally claims he’s a genius.

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Virtue signaling

Virtue signalling is the new political correctness.

According to the NYT, the term was coined a couple of years ago to reflect people loudly demonstrating their concern about a particular issue to prove how much they care. The equivalent of the Gospel Pharisee who prays very loudly and publicly to show how devout he is. They don’t care, they just want to be seen to care.

And certainly such people exist. Blogger Fred Clark calls some of them the anti-kitten burning coalition — people whose passionate sincerity is proof of their own virtue (a more recent example here). But much as political correctness has become a euphemism for “saying/doing something to the left of me that I don’t like” (“This action movie has a female hero! Political correctness!”) so virtue signalling has become a convenient tool for dismissing any sort of liberal position/protest/action — just virtue signalling (case in point). Like “social justice warrior” most of the people on the right who toss out “virtue signaling” as an insult aren’t just saying “you personally are not really virtuous,” they don’t think support for Planned Parenthood, or criticizing neo-Nazis, or worrying about climate change or supporting gay rights is virtuous, even if you’re sincere, even if you actively contribute to and work for the cause. Particularly if you don’t have a dog in the hunt — if you’re not poor or not gay, then you must be lying when you say you care about poor or gay people.

The funny thing is, when virtue signaling comes from their own side, lots of conservatives love it. Tennessee pro-lifer Scott DesJarlais has had multiple affairs, supported his ex-wife’s decision to get two abortions, pushed one of his girlfriends to get one, but he got re-elected. Some voters said they didn’t care about his personal life, just his strong conservative stances. More recently it turned out married legislator and supposedly staunch pro-lifer Tim Murphy had been pushing his mistress to get an abortion. If he hadn’t resigned, could he have won re-election? Maybe.

Of course it’s normal in politics to swallow a legislator’s flaws if he’s going to advance your cause — just look at the Republicans voting for Trump (ignore for the second that many supporters don’t think Trump’s white supremacist, sexist views are a flaw). But since the 1980s, many conservatives have proudly held themselves up as the voice of morality, the Moral Majority, the ones who really are holier than thou (or rather than us). Which is virtue signaling in itself (compare again, the praying Pharisee in the Gospels) but it also makes pragmatically picking candidates more sensitive: aren’t they supposed to support virtue and Godly behavior? So we wind up with pundits explaining that hypocritical conservatives explaining that politicians like Murphy and DesJarlais are still morally superior because they virtue signal — oh, wait, that’s liberals; with conservatives they’re paying tribute to virtue. Murphy acknowledged the moral path (no abortions!) with his words, so even if he didn’t live by them, he’s still superior to a pro-choicer like me. New Gingrich spews the right Christian/right-wing buzzwords so he supports traditional morality regardless that he’s a sleaze who’s divorced three women.

In short, like so many other things, virtue signalling is okay if you’re a Republican.

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