Saturday, March 03, 2012

Bring Me The Head Of Rush Limbaugh!

For the past couple weeks, people who get paid a lot of money to talk about stuff and the people who listen to them have been carrying on about HHS Secretary Sebelius' decision to include contraception within the coverage provided under ACA rules. The Roman Catholic Church, in the persons of the Council of Catholic Bishops, objected, as artificial contraception is considered a mortal sin, thanks to Paul VI and his disastrous encyclical Humanae Vitae. I say disastrous because, hot on the heels of the Second Vatican Council, just as the Church of Rome chipped away centuries of paint and lacquer and threw open the windows, the Curia and the person sitting in the chair of St. Peter decided to enter a debate that, by and large, had been decided by people without the strict guidance of any religious body. I say disastrous because it created a situation, at least across much of the industrialized west, and in particular in the United States, where Roman Catholics discovered it was OK to disobey a moral teaching of the Church and still feel like a faithful member of God's Holy Church. The ensuing years and decades have done little to restore the undermined moral authority of the teaching office of the Church, with the nearly decade-long serial revelations of predatory pederasty by the priesthood with a certain complicity after-the-fact by the hierarchy in covering it up tossing dirt in the grave of the church's moral authority.

OK, so that's the situation with regard to what Charlie Pierce calls "the clan of of the red beanie". Sebellius' decision is simple enough to understand. Under ACA rules, employers who provide health insurance as a benefit are to include coverage for the contraceptive pill as part of the package. No one, as far as I know, is requiring any woman to take the pill. All they're doing is saying, "If you need it, here it is." The Bishops cried and stamped their feet, and, at first, I was on their side.

Then, it dawned on me. The benefit is just that. It's part of a compensation package. No woman employed, say, by Catholic charities or a Catholic hospital is going to be forced to buy the pill if they don't want to. The Bishops don't see it that way, and want an exemption for Catholic institutions (I keep waiting to hear from Baptist, Presbyterian, United Methodist, and Adventist organizations on this matter; the Mother Church, it seems, has hogged the limelight).

Let's say they get it, and a woman (who, for the purposes of this supposition, is not Roman Catholic) in the employ of a Catholic hospital goes on the pill. Without the benefit, she is forced to pay out-of-pocket for the pill. That money comes from her salary and benefits package from her employer. Are the Bishops going to insist that, as a condition of her employment, she is not to use any of the money she makes to purchase the pill or, say, a diaphragm or IUD?

Do you understand, now, why I find the Bishops complaint, by and large, bogus?

The ensuing shouting match has been interesting, and at times entertaining. Coming down squarely on the side of the Roman bishops, the Republicans decided to hold a hearing, calling a group of witnesses on the pill that didn't include a single woman. This, by the rules we all know govern these things, started a whole bunch of harrumphing and, in the end, yet another hearing was called that included some women. 'Round about all the huffing and puffing about the pill, the talk descended from the quite obvious reality that contraception is health care to whether or not covering the pill was subsidizing immoral lifestyles. Some of the pills "defenders" decided it was best to play, "the pill is good for more than just contraception!" card, which is ridiculous. I mean, sure, the pill is good for more than just contraception, but that misses the point that contraception is health care. Pregnancy is a health care issue in the same way its a personal issue and a social issue. In many ways, the decision whether or not to get pregnant is, first and foremost, a question of the health of the woman. One would have thought that a matter that centers on the health of women might have been listening for women's voices on this matter, but from the beginning, the shouting heads have all been men, by and large.

One of the witnesses called to the second set of Senate hearings was a young woman, a law student from Georgetown University. At the hearings, she spoke clearly and eloquently in defense of the need for contraception as health care, and the need for health care coverage to include it as much as prophylactic antibiotic care and high blood pressure medication because of the impact contraception has on the lives adult women lead. For her troubles, Rush Limbaugh called her a slut. He also said that women who want their contraception paid for should restrict themselves to making porn films.

It didn't take long for the outrage to begin. From sitting around and claiming "shock" and "surprise" that Limbaugh would ever say such a thing, folks around the internet started sending email alerts and circling petitions, trying to force advertisers to drop Limbaugh's radio program. As of this morning, six have done so.

On the one hand, I think this is commendable. Rather than sit around and whine about Limbaugh, folks are taking the only action that can finally rid the AM airwaves of this pustule. I don't know if it will be effective; the same kind of campaign managed to get some big-name money-baggers to drop Glenn Beck, but his TV show was canceled only when ratings dropped enough that disposing of him became safe. Limbaugh is a much bigger fish, and there may well be enough advertisers willing to take a few weeks of chain emails and bad things said about them by liberals on the internet to jump in and replace those who backed away.

See, here's the thing. I don't really care whether or not Limbaugh stays on the air or not. While certainly reprehensible and offensive, I've been scratching my head for the past couple days trying to figure out how this particular incident crosses some line that Limbaugh has never crossed before. Calling then-candidate Obama "Halfrican" wasn't crossing a line? Making fun of Michael J. Fox's Parkinson's Disease not once, but several times, on air wasn't crossing a line? Calling a local Detroit television reporter an "info babe" isn't crossing a line? Holding up a picture of teenaged Chelsea Clinton and referring to her as a dog isn't crossing a line? Do you see where I'm going with this?

Whatever "line" Limbaugh allegedly crossed when he called this young woman a slut has never existed. All the outrage and shock I keep hearing from liberal folks on the internet is about as real as the people who were shocked when then VP Dick Cheney told Sen. Patrick Leahy to "go fuck yourself". Oh, the horror! Nasty words! Crossed lines!


The problem isn't Limbaugh. He's a mouth with legs, getting paid to say stuff. All this attention is part of his business model. Years, decades even, of frustration with Limbaugh's verbal antics are spilling over here, and while I applaud the effort to do something about ridding our airwaves of this running sore, I'm not going to support it. Not one single signature.

Like I said, he's not the problem. The problem is Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney and the members of the United States House and the United States Senate and the various state legislatures that are proposing various bills regarding women's health care and abortion that are invasive, that taken as a whole reveal a segment of the Republican Party that does not believe women are competent to make their own health care choices, whether its contraception or abortion. Serious, earnest liberals can't do anything about the hydra sprouting heads around the country, bills in hand mandating object rape based on the notion that a pregnant woman doesn't understand she's carrying a baby. They can't stop Rick Santorum from speaking, or Mitt Romney from insisting he would remove the contraception mandate if he's elected President. The hard work of dealing with various proposed pieces of legislation is long and tortured and, by and large, not a national matter, but one for residents of the states in question to handle. Presidential candidates can and will say pretty much anything.

Limbaugh, though, is easy pickings, at least in theory. Festering on the butt of American for over two decades now, his daily AM talk show has survived changes in Presidents and attacks by domestic and international terrorists and even the rise and fall of boy bands. Targeting his advertisers is good politics; most corporations are gun shy about "controversy", which basically means a burst of bad press. Backing off in the midst of "controversy" is good business, even if a bit cowardly, in particular in Limbaugh's case, because his show is a daily exercise in controversy.

The real villains in this whole episode aren't being targeted directly. That's what frustrates me. It's much more difficult to make a coherent case for sustained action against politicians scattered across national and state legislatures, doing whatever it takes to limit women's access to health care. So, instead, folks are going after Rush Limbaugh. If it weren't being done with so much cloth-rending and carrying on about how hurt and shocked they are about something Limbaugh said, I might be able to get behind it a little more. If Limbaugh weren't a scapegoat, because taking on the real culprits is just too difficult, I would jump in which both feet.

The whole campaign, though, is duplicitous and nonsensical, an exercise in moral outrage at the expense of any actual work to make the simple point that women are competent agents in the decisions about their own lives. Limbaugh, while certainly large, isn't the real target here.

He's just easier to hit.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

None Of Anyone's Business

There are times I really wonder about people.
My daughter's fourth-grade teacher is unmarried and pregnant. Although she is a fantastic educator, kids at that age are bound to ask questions and are old enough that you cannot placate them with a simple answer. I asked her teacher what she told the children about her condition. She told me that she informed them she was pregnant (she is due in June, so this was obvious) and that was it. I asked her if she planned to keep the baby. She told me that was her business alone and she is not obligated to explain her marital status or plans with her child to me or anybody else. I feel that this woman has significant exposure and influence over my child and my questions were perfectly acceptable. Should I take this to the principal or switch classrooms? My husband thinks we should drop it, but I don't want my daughter to get the impression that single motherhood is acceptable.
Prudence's response is marvelous:
As long as you were asking, I'm surprised you didn't inquire as to her favorite sexual position. Your comments were so far over the line that the teacher's proper and measured response to you indicates just how good she must be at handling unruly children. The lesson you want to teach your daughter is that you treat everyone with respect, so you should take your husband's advice and drop this completely.
I wish people would get over themselves.

Unruly children . . .

Misunderstanding The Question

I saw this (along with, most likely, three quarters of the rest of Facebook users) yesterday, and I shared it with the caption, "I think I did this on a geometry test once." Funny stuff.

Taking a second thought round about it, though, and I realized that this funny little picture is a graphic demonstration of my own problem with Biblical literalism. It isn't so much that the answer is "wrong". Rather, the wrong answer demonstrates the question isn't understood. If the question is, "What is the Bible? What does it teach us? How is it authoritative?", an answer such as the following shows me, at least, the person didn't quite get what the questions were asking:
All Protestants agree in teaching that "the word of God, as contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the onl infallible rule of faith and practice." . . .

From these statements it appears that Protestants hold, (1) That the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the word of God, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and are therefore infallible, and of divine authority in all things pertaining to faith and practice, and consequently free from all error whether of doctrine, fact, or precept. (2) That they contain all the extant supernatural revelations of God designed to be a rule of faith and practice to his Church. (3) That they are sufficiently perspicuous to be understood by the people, in the use of ordinary means and by the aid of the Holy Spirit, in all things necessary to faith or practice, without the need of any infallible interpreter. . . .(Charles Hodg, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1 p.151.
Charles Hodge's famous definition of Scriptural infallibility, kicking against the pricks both of what was then called "higher criticism" and the recently pronounced Roman Catholic declaration that, when speaking ex cathedra, the Pope's teachings were infallible and authoritative in matters of faith and morals, binding in matters of belief on all (Roman) Christians, certainly has timeliness on its side. All the same, it answers a question that either was never asked, or that Hodge, for all his virtues and learning, his keen mind, and dedication to his students and the life as a Christian intellectual at Princeton, just didn't understand.

It is one thing to say, "The Bible is the testimony of God's active life with and for humanity in and through the people of Israel and decisively in the full incarnation of the Divine life in Jesus Christ." It is another thing all together to say, "The Bible is the Word of God." Elsewhere, Hodge states that, under the power of the Holy Spirit, the authors of the Biblical texts were speaking for God. Yet, the Bible states the Word of God is not the Scriptural texts, but the Second Person of the Trinity, the Eternal Son of the Father come to earth in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

What Hodge calls his doctrine of plenary of inspiration misses the point that Biblical authority doesn't rest on any intrinsic value the words of the Biblical texts may or may not have on any given topic. The Bible's authority rests upon the power of the Holy Spirit to use the text to enliven the community of believers. It is an extrinsic authority, foreign to the text itself, and superlative to the communities of faith who find within it testimony to the power and presence of the Living God with those whom God chooses.

As to the text's perspicuity (God, I love that word), I cannot imagine Hodge would believe it a matter of simple, two-dimensional reading of words. On the contrary, his argument in point three seems geared less to such a simplistic understanding than a counter-argument to the long-held Roman Catholic doctrine that Biblical interpretation is one of the charisms of the priesthood, granted to them for the good of the community. It is, in other words, a variant of Luther's understanding of the priesthood of all believers, a declaration that the Bible, being the Church's book, belongs to the community of faith. All Christians, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and in dialogue in love and forbearance to all, have the capacity to be grasped by this text, finding in it resources for faithful living through the power of the Spirit, in the Son, for the sake of the Glory of the Father.

All the same, I think Hodge's formula is far too easily elided in to a simplistic idea that the text of the Bible is transparent, accessible to any reader, its teachings and stories and ethical dictums both easily grasped and, if denounced, evidence not only of moral failing, but intellectual failing as well. Or, as an occasional commenter writes repeatedly:
If you think my understanding of Scripture is fixed beyond the ability of modern law to change, it is only because God's Will is fixed, clearly revealed, understandable and not subject to human/worldly demands, unlike yourself.
No matter how often the above formula is repeated, however, it doesn't change the fact that the Bible isn't that clear. No matter how often this person insists it to be so, God's will changes for us each and every day. No matter how many times the claim is made that Biblical teachings on matters of life, ethics, and moral practice are clear and simple, misreading them is easy to do precisely because the text is deceptively simple. This doesn't mean the Biblical writers were trying to deceive or trick readers, or that modern interpreters are trying to cloud what is actually clear.

On the contrary, with love and respect and faith and, above all, care, we respect the difference within and of the text, its place as a route for authority in the lives of our fellow believers, and its history as a really existing thing for a variety of people in different places and times. We come to the Bible with humility, understanding St. Paul was right when he said we don't even know what to pray for when we pray for the text to be open to us and for us. Most of all, speaking only for myself, I do not lean on any understanding I may have, for the Biblical text isn't mine; it speaks to me, but only as I am a part of a community of faith who come together to hear the testimony of the witnesses to God's presence in the lives of other communities, and the whole world.

Am I speaking of a way of reading the Bible that is only available to a select few? Lord knows I've been accused of that enough times. I insist not, however. As the Bible is something that reaches us only as we are part of larger communities of faith, this is something we do together in our common life. As a seminary professor of mine used to say, the canon is still open because the text of Scripture is open to us and for us to add our understandings to the many voices who have heard and believed and lived it through the centuries.

While I do not agree with those who read the Bible the way Hodge describes it. I do not, on the other hand, insist they are so in error as to provide no insight, nothing of value to our common life, our shared ways of being Christian in a world where such can be dangerous, subversive, even deadly. All of us get it wrong when we come to the Bible; that is a given. It is neither we nor the text that bridges the many gaps. Rather, God in the Person of the Holy Spirit reaches across the many barriers that can create misunderstandings and error and disillusion and disagreement to forge the communities of faith we call the Church of Jesus Christ. That is where my faith lies. That is where my hope is grounded. That is the deep well of love that never runs dry. Not the bare words of the text; in the Living Word of the Living God who is still creating, always redeeming, and moving all of us to perfection in love.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Flagrant Ad Hominem Alert - Where I Make Fun Of The Way Someone LooksT

This is Alabama state Sen. Clay Scofield, who introduced yet another object-rape bill.

Does this look like a guy who has ever found a vagina on his own time? And he's the one looking to tell women that they have to have something shoved in their hoo-hahs? Seriously? They should at least find someone who looks a little less like a poster child for abstinence to introduce legislation like this.

There's A Reason No One Else Would Print This

There's an article by Chris Hedges making the rounds on the intertubes. Posted by, it's entitled The Christian Right and the Rise of American Fascism. Beginning with a statement from revered Christian ethicist James Luther Adams, Hedges praises Adams' perspicacity a quarter century ago identifying the rise of "American fascism" carrying a Bible.

Like the dire warnings about our Kenyan Muslim Socialist Atheist President, the article is a hodgepodge of dire warnings rooted in beautiful clouds floating in the ether above Neverland.

I'm hardly of fan of the politics of the Christian right. That doesn't mean I'm going to succumb to the panic induced by dire warnings of networks of people on the right doing what Americans do in politics: joining in coalitions to enact policies they support. This isn't conspiracy; it's working out of Federalist #10.

Hedges is a very good writer, to be sure. The piece is carefully crafted to demonstrate the accumulating power and influence various right-wing organizations use to create favorable conditions for the crafting and enacting of legislation. The list of organizations he cites is wide, their concerns dovetailing on matters of faith and private piety undergirded, in this case, by the strong arm of the state. Their goal, a kind of crypto-Protestant Republic similar in many respects to the original mandate of The Massachusetts Bay Colony, would hardly be a place in which I would enjoy living.

Except, of course, none of it's true. There is no conspiracy afoot to rob us of our basic liberties and strip away American pluralism in the name of something called Christian Fascism. While certainly extreme, the actions of the Christian right have a place in our society just as much as those of the Occupy movement. The hints and allegations Hedges uses to create the image of imminent danger are little more than everyday, normal, American politics.

To repeat: I'm no fan of the Christian right. I am also no fan of the kind of overheated rhetoric that would take the banal political and social organizing that all sorts of like-minded groups and sectors of society engage in and turn it in to some giant conspiracy against the American polity itself. It's insulting, it's as dangerous as any of the legislation being proposed, and it is also factually inaccurate.

With all due respect, Chris Hedges, you're just full of crap.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Anti-American, Anti-Family, Perverted

Via LGBTQ Nation. I do so hope one of the homophobes I know troll this place would say something like that to Dalan Wells, the Marine in the photo.

I am so thankful we live in a country where this can happen. Bless you, Brandon and Dalan.

This Isn't The Music You're Thinking About

Gate-keepers worthy of hire will certainly be those who, in Stephen Burn‘s words, talk less ‘about themselves, spinning reviews out of their charming memories or using the book under review as little more than a platform to promote themselves and their agendas’.
Jason Goroncy
So I've finished Robert Walser's Running With The Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness In Heavy Metal Music, the third of a triptych of works on the genre that I've read as part of researching my latest writing project (the band in question isn't heavy metal; reading a history, a sociology, and cultural review of the style, however, does help to remind this writer that, while fictional, my characters and their actions are supposed to exist within a recognizable historical and cultural milieu; if I screw that up, none of the rest matters).

Walser is a musicologist. He is also deeply and widely read in cultural theory. His view of music as a form of discourse is one with which I am sympathetic, stemming as it does, at least in part, from a materialist, class basis (he is not a Marxist; he does rely, however, upon a type of criticism that one can trace back to Marx). He knows music in general. He knows heavy metal from the inside out, as both a fan and guitarist. He has deep respect for the genre, the musicians and bands who perform the music, the fans who listen to it at home, in concert, used to watch it on MTV, and the record industry that understood a cash cow when it heard one, gobbling up bands left and right that might have even the slightest relationship to the style (two bands of roughly similar vintage, Poison and Faith No More, are good examples; while neither fits perfectly under the heading "heavy metal", the latter is far more so than the former, yet Walser devotes an entire analytical section to Poison's "Nothin' But A Good Time" and doesn't mention Faith No More).

In considering a book that is over twenty years old, there are limits to the utility of picking certain nits, such as the parenthetical above. Two decades in popular culture is a very long time; the music that goes by the name "heavy metal" today is vastly different than that with which Walser had to work. Using Eddie Van Halen's "Eruption" and Yngwe Malmsteen as paradigmatic guitar virtuosi may have served his purposes well in 1991. I think it is true that, while time may have dulled our collective memory, "Eruption" still serves as a template for a style of guitar playing that was modified, refined, extended, or perhaps considered and rejected, by the generation of guitar players that came after him. Malmsteen, on the other hand, has been relegated to the sidelines of the genre. Guitar players certainly listen to his playing; to the things he says, however, and the rise and fall of his band Rising Force, however, there is little impact (in part because, not to put too fine a point on it, Malmsteen was an asshole).

At the same time, even by the time Walser was writing his book in the late 1980's, there were other guitar players - Joe Satriani, the San Francisco guitar teacher who created a career based on his influence on his two most famous students; Kirk Hammett, of Metllica; Steve Vai, the other of Satriani's students, who played with David Lee Roth, Whitesnake, and now has a solo career; Dave Mustaine of Megadeath; Kerry King of Slayer; Scott Ian of Anthrax - who could have served as counterpoint, different paths to solving various problems in composition and playing than Van Halen/Malmsteen, and even as examples showing the dedication to craft and technique necessary to play a style of music that is both physically and intellectually demanding.

As I wrote above, Walser knows the music from the inside out. Like the authors of the other two volumes I have, Ian Christe and Diane Weinstein, he has great love for the genre and a deep respect for the fans. Writing at the time he did, his choices for examples to elucidate various points were far more limited than they might be today. He has a grasp of cultural theory that breaks through far-too-simplistic (and too often ignorant and wrong) notions that the music itself is simple; that the fans of heavy metal are, in the words of one infamous reviewer "slack-jawed, alpaca-haired, downy-mustachioed imbeciles in cheap, too-large T-shirts with pictures of comic book Armageddon ironed on the front." Mark Ames, who wrote a review of Lords of Chaos, referred to heavy metal fans as "dirtheads."

All the same, like Weinstein, who managed to pass out some flyers to fans at a Rush concert, Walser received back around 200 surveys at various concerts. Considering a typical concert at the time might have anywhere from 3,000 to over 10,000 attendees, the results of such surveys wouldn't be statistically significant even for a single show; Walser notes they came from several. Considering the well-known (at least among social scientists) notion that the folks most likely to return a survey are those who have a deeper commitment to the topic in question, it shouldn't surprise most folks that the surveys showed a deeper understanding of the music qua music, the thematic content of the lyrics, a greater attention to the subculture around heavy metal (the musical and fan magazines that cover the genre; higher attendance rates for concerts; etc.). This is not to say that the fan base of heavy metal is or is not more or less intelligent than that for any other musical style; it is, rather, to suggest that, at least at the time Walser was writing, more work should have been done to dispel the myth of the slack-jawed, alpaca-haired dirthead.

On the appeal the music has for those fans, the three themes in the subtitle - power, gender, and madness - cover a broad area, and criss-cross, intersect, and could also contradict one another. A word that Walser uses quite a bit to describe the inherent contradictions in any commercial music that also appeals to its audience beyond simple questions of acceptability is "transgressive". Walser pushes the word, however, even within the three analytic categories, in an attempt to demonstrate that the music transgresses even the notions accepted within the limited definitions of the musical style and those of its fan base. He is correct to note that heavy metal, like the rest of society, is sexist. While no more racist than, say, country-western music, heavy metal is no less so, either. Even the rare African-American band - Living Colour, Body Count, Bad Brains (actually a punk band, but influential on a variety of metal bands in the 1990's with their mix of punk and reggae) - stand out because they are so rare. While the music does deal thematically with matters of madness and death, injustice and war, even God and the occult, these are less transgressive than they are pretty traditional material for songs that reach beyond the typical "boy screws girl" of rock and roll. It is less the thematic material itself, than the timbre and volume of the genre that raises parents' hackles. There is also the fact that bands from Slayer and Mercyful Fate through the Norwegian Black Metal bands and other bands like Cradle of Filth, Deicide, and Lamb of God that are far more aggressive in their rejection of Judeo-Christianity. Finally, for all his grasp of a cultural theory rooted in a kind of neo-Marxist understanding of the many contradictions in the production of any cultural arefact, Walser does not address himself directly to the reality that, both musically and subculturally, the style is conservative to the point of reactionary.

It is here, I think, that his attempted apologia breaks down most clearly. Unlike Robert Christgau, who bemoans the technical proficiency and lyrical extravagance of heavy metal as something from which rock and roll was supposed to liberate us, by ignoring the many political signs and signifiers within the music itself, the lyrics, the fan base, and critical reception, we miss a far greater, and far more troubling, contradiction than many of the others mentioned.

From whichever perspective you consider the phenomenon - either bands or fans, the intermediaries or mediators - the genre borders on occasional violence in its vehement restrictions on what does and does not constitute a band within the genre. Many if not most of the bands the popular culture so labeled at the time Walser wrote his book (and a couple about which he writes at some length) are not now considered "heavy metal", despite certain nods in its direction (technical proficiency, in particular of the lead guitarist and lead singer; flamboyance and excitement in live performance; instrumentation, timbre, tone, and volume). George Lynch is a well-regarded lead guitar player to this day. Few, however, consider Dokken a heavy metal band. If someone were to mention Dream Theater or Rush, most heavy metal fans would violently disagree (as would the band members, although Dream Theater acknowledges inspiration from Metallica as well as Rush and Radiohead). Who is and is not an acceptable fan - dress and hairstyle; attendance at concerts and music-buying habits; gender roles, including questions of sexual orientation (although that has become muted thanks to Rob Halford of Judas Priest coming out in the mid-1990's) - is something die-hard fans guard with passion and intensity.

These matters pale in comparison to the occasional spectacle such as the one I included in a post a couple days ago - the concert clip of Metallica performing "Creeping Death", with the crowd chanting "Death!" during a break in the bridge. In an infamous passage in The Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom compared rock concerts to right-wing political rallies. In a drug-addled interview with Cameron Crowe in the 1970's, David Bowie called Adolf Hitler the first rock star. In many ways, these aren't inapt comparisons. As rock became bigger than life, and the bands started to have greater power and authority with their fans, concerts could become rallying points for social and political danger (this is driven home in the film version of Pink Floyd's The Wall, where the character of Pink, played by Bob Geldof, uses the authority vested in him by his fans to instigate violent attacks on a variety of minorities he names in "Against the Wall" - "That one looks Jewish/And that one's a Coon/Who let this riff-raff into the room?"). With its limits policed by both musicians and fans, and the emotional overload inherent in a concert bringing with it that much power, the temptation to abuse the power granted can be overwhelming. Recently, Dave Mustaine, leader of Megadeath, spoke favorably of Republican Presidential candidate Rick Santorum. While many might be surprised by this, even a moment's reflection should make it clear how obvious this seems.

Throughout what I've been writing, I've tried to keep in mind the epigram at the top, while remaining true, as far as I can, to my own view of the limits of Walser's book. This is not "Geoffrey Kruse-Safford's book on heavy metal". It is Robert Walser's, written two decades ago. Walser's book delves far deeper in to the music, its existence at various nexi of social, cultural, and political life, and its role as discourse both to its fan base and to the larger society and societies (not taking for granted that "the West" is a unitary thing). For all its faults, it offers to anyone interested not only in the style under study but any musical style, a template from which to move forward social and cultural discussions of the role of music in our American society. Would that there were more such works.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Being Disagreeable

Alec MacGillis' op-ed in today's WaPo does the American people a service by reminding us all that folks disagree about stuff that matters. Whether it's birth control or energy policy or the make-up of the Supreme Court or foreign policy, these are all areas that impact a lot of people's lives. They address matters of private conduct and income and job and career opportunities or a sense of safety and security in a turbulent world and the even the life and safety of loved ones. People are passionate about these things. People disagree about how best we as a society should order our lives, and set limits upon personal and corporate behavior. These disagreements very often involve organized interests who represent collective interests with stakes in various debates.

There's nothing wrong with this. There's nothing unusual about this. In a country as physically large and diverse as ours, politics obviously is going to involve a whole lot of passionate debate and even the occasional violent altercation. This doesn't mean politics is bad. It means, rather, that the things about which we do politics matter. If they didn't matter, we wouldn't disagree about them.

The hand-wringing over ideological tribalism on the political internet misses this central facet of political life: people aren't interested in hearing or reading opposed viewpoints. This, too, isn't surprising, or even very interesting. The only reason anyone on the internet takes the time to read opposed view points can usually be reduced to making fun of them. This, too, isn't really a big deal. There aren't any points of contact between folks on the right and left; neither grants legitimacy to the premises or conclusions of the other.

The point of all this is that politics is a nasty business because the stuff of politics is stuff that matters. Different people feel it matters in different ways, or believe that there is evidence that shows the folks who find that it matters are in error. People need to lighten up about all this heavy stuff.

Virtual Tin Cup

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