by Sam Buntz
[I’ve decided to write some slightly shorter blog posts—instead of the longer essay-format I typically use, these are going to shoot for concision.]
It’s strange that politics has become the main lens for looking at virtually everything. David Brooks was talking about this a few months ago in The New York Times, and I feel like I keep running into particularly egregious examples of it—usually on Slate.com (and similar sites), but also on Facebook, where rather Marxist acquaintances keep posting articles that—for example—dissect the various species of feminism, exposing instances of “white privilege” within other rival cadres of feminists, distinct from one’s own. Naturally, I feel pretty distant from all of this.
It’s sort of like the way Communists kept fracturing into different squabbling factions—Marxist-Leninists, Trotskyites, Stalinists, Maoists, and the rest—except, in this case, it’s more hilariously ineffectual and divorced from the broader concerns of global and American Liberalism. You know what I mean—articles that discuss how offensive it was for Katy Perry to “culturally appropriate” a kimono by wearing it. These bizarre and absurd articles and blog posts expend vast reservoirs energy on trivia, that could better be applied to discussing real issues—income inequality, religious persecution in places like Tibet and Nigeria, U.S. foreign policy, and the other thousand pressing concerns that really affect things. But instead, you mostly see postings about Alec Baldwin’s homophobic tweets or how Miley Cyrus’ twerk-fest was yet another grievous instance of cultural appropriation. (How much more culturally illuminating would it be to just put on some Charles Mingus or Marvin Gaye or Gladys Knight, and let their sonic masterpieces clean out all the dross?)
For example, I just read an article on Slate, today, about the Golden Globes—placed front and center on Slate’s homepage. It could’ve just talked about the event in normal, cultural terms: whether the right movies won or lost, discussing the performances of the victorious actors and actresses, and so on. Instead, the Slate article delved mighty for the nugget of political controversy, and managed to conjure up two non-existent instances of homophobia during the ceremony: one during Michael Douglas’s speech, where he stated that he worried he was “mincing” too much as he portrayed Liberace in Behind the Candelabra (which meant that he was worried he might be making Liberace into a gay caricature—clearly a valid concern, and not an instance of homophobia), and the other during Jared Leto’s, where he speculated that many of the women and a few of the men in the audience probably knew how painful it was to get a full Brazilian wax job (which he had to do for the role he was playing). Again—this is not homophobic, and, if anything, a jab at extreme metrosexuality, which is and should be fair game. I mean—I give a pretty limited damn about the Golden Globes in the first place. But I think it’s a pretty good example of how something apparently innocuous or even forthrightly well-intentioned can somehow provoke a gush of self-righteousness from the internet’s commentariat.
It’s a kind of Maoist mentality that generates these critiques. These commentators feel the way Mao did—there’s always a Left, Center, and Right position on every subject, and its one’s duty as a good steward of the Revolution to pick out and pick on the Right and Center positions in everything. But, if you happen to be sane, there actually isn’t always a Left, Center, and Right to everything—sometimes gardening is just gardening, and eating Chinese food is just eating Chinese food, and playing billiards is just playing billiards. For the record, I consider myself a moderate and fairly timid and disengaged Liberal—but I find it difficult to put up with too much of this nattering nonsense masquerading as critique. It poisons every avenue of discourse.
I remember when I was at Divinity School, there were people who were so Leftist in political orientation, that they criticized people (like myself) who supported same-sex marriage and who were celebrating the Supreme Court’s ruling against the Defense of Marriage Act…because, according to them, marriage is itself an inherently patriarchal and oppressive institution! I don’t agree with the idea that marriage is inherently patriarchal and oppressive in the first place (and it doesn’t even remotely fit my own family experience)—but can you imagine a more inappropriate time to bring up that critique? There’s no way to win with this squirrelly element on the Super Far Left.
I suppose what I’m saying just boils down to the age old summons to, “Take a chill-pill.” But, furthermore, I want to suggest that—like in Wallace Steven’s famous poem about blackbirds—there are other, more interesting ways of looking at things than the political. G.K. Chesterton once said that when the virtuous Common Man sees a person playfully brushing the grass near the sidewalk with his foot as he or she walks by, he sees someone who is absent-mindedly enjoying himself or herself. On the other hand, the paranoid ideologue sees a conspiracy against private property (or public property if it’s a municipal lawn). That’s what these critiques suffer from—an intense preoccupation with judgment and analysis, when what’s really usually required in life is imagination and synthesis. Any written work that puts something together is worth more than a piece that tears something apart (though the two activities aren’t mutually exclusive).
I’m not sure this article falls into the first category—but I would prefer it if it did!