I’m a voracious Facebook debater, sending off regular questions to my friends and butting into the middle of conversations they’re having on their walls. This is, in my opinion, how the Internet should be used: to actively discuss things, and not just with your friends or friends of friends (which is where having a blog comes in handy). That said, in this age of over-outrage, the conversations and topics you can casually discuss with a circle of known quantities don’t always go over so well with strangers who might take things out of context or misinterpret a deliberately glib and aggressive tone as the stance of a unapologetic bigot, so here’s a slightly edited summary of the sorts of things that I think about over the course of any given week. Comments appreciated, especially if you disagree–but only if you can actually articulate where you’re coming from. Everything else is just gut-noise, the phlegmatic stuff bandied about by argumentative bacteria.
Based on an excerpt from T. C. Boyle’s The Harder They Come, I questioned whether there weren’t certain violations of the social contract that stripped us of our humanity. More specifically, I suggested that I found it very difficult to gin up any empathy for someone who had tried to harm me, and couldn’t fathom why a bus full of tourists would take the unconscious body of the man who had just attempted to rob them at gunpoint to a hospital, rather than simply calling the police and leaving the body there. I suppose in this instance, there’s a limit to how much damage the person can do; however, what if it was just you? Wouldn’t you want to minimize your potential for future interaction with the person? The person would not have been harmed if he had not attacked you; isn’t he now responsible for his own well-being, post-subdual? I guess you can chalk this one up to being “the better man” and “setting a positive example,” but I also think that this is one of those things that’s much easier to talk about in the hypothetical than in the adrenaline-filled moment itself.
We turned, too, to a conversation about the death penalty: in my mind, there’s a point at which a person becomes too much of a threat to bother caring for. Repeat offenders (recidivists) of violent crimes, or those who have committed multiple crimes on separate instances before being caught, both show an unwillingness to reform, and their actions cannot simply be chalked up to circumstances. What good does keeping them in prison do, really?
There was also this sad bit of news, about the terrifying rise of libextremism on campuses, such that professors don’t actually have freedom of expression, because “offended” students can cause them to lose their jobs. You thought the definition of sexual harassment in Oleanna was bad? Now, words like “fuck,” “pussy,” or a simple discussion of sexual harassment can be construed as committing the actual crime itself.
With all respect to the fact that there is a gender-based (and racial-based) pay gap in this country, I wanted us to be especially cautious with our discussion of what that pay gap is. This came in response to Andy Heidel’s glib comments in regard to his 7/7 awareness raising promotion, in which women would pay only 77 cents on the dollar for every drink. The women’s soccer team isn’t paid less than the men’s soccer team simply because they’re woman (although that may play a part), so much as because the revenue raised from ticket and advertising sales isn’t as high. They’re counterparts in the same way that an apple and orange are both exactly equal on account of both being fruits, or in the way that a man playing in the XFL obviously made as much as a man playing in the NFL, as they were both equal football players.
Also, irritation with Ariana Grande and this whole #DonutGate fiasco. In my eyes, the problem was never with her anti-American rhetoric–we’ve all said as much when confronted with an example of American ignorance–so much as with her unapologetic licking of several for-sale donuts while the owner’s back was presumably to her. I can understand the government now investigating the possible health-code violations of the establishment that leaves its donuts out in the open for customer molestation, but Grande herself should be more ashamed: playing Truth or Dare isn’t an excuse.
Ugh. CNN compiles both stories of shameful theatergoers: the one at Hand to God who tried to charge his phone into a non-working onstage outlet, and the one at Shows for Days whose phone was ripped out of her hand by the angered on-stage actress, Patti LuPone. At least in the former situation, the theater management took responsibility for handling the rudeness of the patron, even if all they did was to remove the phone (and not the customer) from the theater, thereby sending the message that audiences can do whatever they want up until they’re stopped. But in the latter situation, as with a recent production of Heisenberg that I attended, the actresses actually had to stop the show in order to deal with patrons that the theater was content to have run amok. As a blogger, I’ve attended shows where producers literally encouraged audience members to remain on social media throughout the show, and it sets a poor example.
Owners need to take more of a hard-line, banning certain patrons from their theaters (no matter how deep-pocketed) when they break rules as simple to follow as turning off one’s cell phone for the duration of a performance. Those who can’t follow this rule should not attend the theater, and those who flaunt their use by taking calls during a show, or by pretending that it’s not their phone that’s ringing, should face strict consequences so as to really discourage others from doing so. Speaking as an usher, I’m happy to individually turn off each person’s cell phone before seating them, if that’s what it takes to not ruin a dramatic moment of silence, and we can no longer shut up and sit back when seeing it happen again and again.
And finally, I revisited that hoary old demon: whether comedians are racists if any part of their act involves something potentially racist or stereotypical. As always, I suggested that context was king. Amy Schumer making a joke about the ethnicity of some of her rape-y ex-boyfriends? Valid. Michael Richards screaming at a heckler? Not. Donald Trump, while cartoonish and a joke himself, goes around trash-talking immigrants on political talk shows, and unless we accept that FOX News is a comedy channel, his forum speaks to the context: he’s a racist. Seinfeld, of all people, shouldn’t have to fear doing a set on a college campus–but then again, as I mentioned earlier in the week, teachers are afraid to do their jobs on a college campus. Everybody is too easily offended.