Saturday, December 16, 2017

“Prancing around on a stage in a cowboy suit.”

How Doug Jones Destroyed Roy Moore’s Whole Shtick with One Well-Chosen Verb

For years, Republicans have been expert at using just the right words to demean Democrats. Doug Jones turned those tables in a big way. Democrats should take notice.

DAVID LITT | 12.16.17

Virtually every aspect of Doug Jones’ victory over Roy Moore on Tuesday has already been studied, quantified, and analyzed. But as a former speechwriter and current sometime comedy writer, I couldn’t help but notice an element of the campaign that’s gone overlooked: Jones’ deft use of political rhetoric.

There’s one line in particular I can’t stop thinking about. It was a week before Election Day. The GOP base was beginning to come home. With polls tightening, Jones reminded voters of the time Moore had pulled out a pistol at one of his events. “I’m a supporter of the Second Amendment,” Jones declared. “When you see me with a gun, folks, I’ll be climbing in and out of a deer stand or a turkey blind, not prancing around on a stage in a cowboy suit.”

“Prancing around on a stage in a cowboy suit.” At first it looks like a standard, if slightly harsh, political insult, one of the gazillion interchangeable jabs thrown during a campaign. But parse that phrase closely, and you realize it’s a body blow – not just to Moore, but to Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, and the politics they champion.

Nearly everything Trump does comes with a single, unspoken assertion: I’m a Real Man. It’s not about gender or chromosomes. For Trump, masculinity is wrapped up in a kind of Archie Bunker nostalgia for days when, in the words of the All in the Family Theme Song, girls were girls and men were men. He waxes poetic about the days when NFL players could freely concuss each other. One of his go-to insults for male rivals, from Bob Corker to Kim Jong Un, is “short.” Before he became a politician, he bragged about sexual exploits(and assaults) to demonstrate virility. For Trump, life is an endless series of chances to assert alpha-male status.

And every campaign is a fight against, to borrow one of the alt-right’s favorite slurs, a “beta”—that is, a weakling. As far as Trump and Bannon are concerned, the culture war of 2017 isn’t about abortion or gay marriage. It’s a battle between real men on one side, and effete, sensitive men (Obama) and nasty women (Hillary) on the other.

It’s a retrograde worldview – but also a surprisingly effective campaign tactic. Just look at what happened to Marco Rubio during the 2016 primaries. After being dubbed “Little Marco” in Trump’s tweets and speeches, he tried to give as good as he was getting. “You know what they say about men with small hands …” he jeered in one of his speeches.

Here’s the thing about trying to out-Donald the Donald. It never works. “I guarantee you there’s no problem,” our now-president fired back during a debate, in reference to, well, a part of his anatomy that was definitely not his hands. As they say, you shouldn’t mud-wrestle with a pig, because you both get dirty and the pig likes it. As they also say, you shouldn’t turn a presidential debate into a literal dick-measuring contest.


Enter Doug Jones. If there’s one person on Earth whose view of gender is less enlightened than Donald Trump’s, it’s Roy Moore. And like the president, Moore loves playing the tough guy. Hence the gun at the rally. Hence the ten-gallon hat. Hence the decision, however questionable, to ride a horse to his polling place on Election Day.

Jones could have gone the Rubio route and tried to prove he was the alpha of the race. Roy Moore pulls out a pistol? Doug Jones pulls out a shotgun! Roy Moore rides on horseback? Doug Jones rides bareback! And so on, and so on. But instead of fighting on the culture warrior’s turf, Jones turned to ridicule.

“Prancing around on a stage in cowboy suit.”

Look at the word choice in that sentence. Not “walking” or “marching,” but “prancing.” Not at a rally, but “on a stage.” Not dressed like a cowboy, but “in a cowboy suit.” These were precise, cutting words. They didn’t just make fun of his opponent. They went straight at the central conceit of his public persona – his toughness. Words like “prancing” and “cowboy suit” suggest the opposite of masculinity. Where Roy Moore presented himself as an alpha male, Doug Jones exposed him as a kind of right-wing cabaret act.

I suspect Jones’ words had even more impact because he spoke them in Alabama, a state where cultural-war politics can easily thrive. To his credit, Jones never turned the campaign into a test of manliness. He never called his opponent a sissy. But after hearing him, any voter concerned about sissy-ness would think twice about Roy Moore.

Diction is not the reason Alabama is sending a Democrat to the Senate. But even if rhetoric made a difference only on the margins, it made a difference – the race came down to about 21,000 votes.

And progressives across the country should take notice. No, most 2018 races won’t feature an (alleged) child molester. But in the age of Trump and Bannon, plenty of them will feature ersatz tough-guys eager to turn politics into a pissing contest. By making his opponent look ridiculous, Doug Jones reminded us that Democrats don’t have to play that game to win elections. With carefully-chosen words, and a healthy appreciation for the power of mockery, they can corral the pigs without getting mud on their hands.
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Banner Boy Retrospective - More From Before

Friday, December 15, 2017

Banner Boy Retrospective

When we started out, this was the first banner dude . . . and still one of my all-time favorites . . .

Now they stay up about a month at a time but we had no timetable at first and these were next in 2009 . . .

Holiday Shot of the Day

Posting when I can . . .

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Hot Shot of the Evening

Posting when I can . . .

Oxford University’s all-male a cappella group Out of the Blue

Proceeds go to Helen & Douglas House, the world’s first children’s hospice. The Helen & Douglas House provides palliative, respite, end-of-life and bereavement care to life-limited children and young adults, and their families.

Posting when I can . . .

And in Alabama . . .

. . . where a man who prosecuted members of the Klan for killing kids is running against a disgraced right-wing extremist who molested young women . . .

Posting when I can . . .

Monday, December 11, 2017

Toxic Masculinity?

What do you think?

What Is Toxic Masculinity?

With the barrage of sexual harassment and assault allegations that have surfaced since The New York Times exposed Harvey Weinstein as a serial sexual predator in early October, Google searches for the term “toxic masculinity” have spiked, and several recent online articles have invoked the term. There are those opinion and news pieces that acknowledge toxic masculinity as palpable, dangerous, and solvable like “Toxic Masculinity is Everywhere. It’s Up to Us Men to Fix This” in The Guardian. And then there are articles that reject the notion of toxic masculinity by conflating it with all masculinity, like a piece Fox News ran titled “Matt Lauer Was Fired a Week Ago for Appalling Behavior, Not ‘Toxic Masculinity."

Not entirely unlike wind, gravity, and love, toxic masculinity isn’t something that can be held in your hands, turned over, and inspected. But despite its intangibility, we know it when we see it from its effects — the lone gunman who massacred crowds of people at a concert in Las Vegas, the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting (just about any mass shooting), Weinstein, James Toback, Kevin Spacey, and Brett Ratner, and the ubiquitous schoolyard bully who terrorizes the sensitive kid on the playground with taunts of "be a man.” 

But utter the phrase “toxic masculinity” in certain milieus and inevitably there will be some with a kneejerk #NotAllMen defense — as if “toxic,” which Merriam-Webster defines as “containing or being poisonous material especially when capable of causing death or serious debilitation,” or “extremely harsh, malicious, or harmful,” weren’t modifying “masculinity.” 

Therein lies the problem with attempting to define the term with its hazy etymology, as swaths of those who hear it will decry “fake news” before they can use it in a sentence like, “Donald Trump’s unfettered ‘toxic masculinity’ makes him think he can kiss and grab women ‘by the pussy’ without consent.” 

“Every time feminists talk about toxic masculinity, there is a chorus of whiny dudes who will immediately assume — or pretend to assume — that feminists are condemning all masculinity, even though the modifier 'toxic' inherently suggests that there are forms of masculinity that are not toxic,” feminism, politics, and culture writer Amanda Marcotte asserted in “Overcompensation Nation: It’s Time to Admit That Toxic Masculinity Drives Gun Violence,” a response piece to the Orlando massacre that ran on Salon

To be clear, “toxic” is the modifier, so the term “toxic masculinity” in no way implicates all men or even all masculine people as abusers, harassers, or terrorizers. But because  “masculinity” as defined by Merriam-Webster means “having qualities appropriate to or usually associated with a man,” has become mutable and difficult to pin down, especially with evolving studies of gender as a construct, it is useful to look at how “toxic masculinity has historically been defined.” 

The etymology of the term can be traced not to academia, but to the rise of the Mythopoetic men’s movement of the ’80s and ’90s — a response to the cultural shift second-wave feminism brought about — where men bonded often in the wilderness and in sweat lodges to attempt to rediscover their “deep masculinity.” The movement was bolstered in large part by Robert Bly’s book Iron John,” in which he asserted that the feminist movement caused men to examine their feminine sides to the detriment of their male rituals, according to writer and feminist Erin Innes

“The male in the past twenty years has become more thoughtful, more gentle. But by this process he has not become more free,” Bly wrote in the introduction to his deeply heteronormative book Iron John, which fails to consider any worldview other than that of mostly middle-class, straight, cisgender white men.

Shepherd Bliss, another figure in the Mythopoetic men’s movement, is credited with having coined the phrase “toxic masculinity,” asserting that it was the result of modern culture repressing “deep masculinity.” And unlike its current use, toxic masculinity, created in 1993 in response to feminism, was primarily concerned with its effects on toxically masculine men. 

Mythopoetic figure Frank Pittman further investigated the term in the early ’90s and came to the conclusion that toxic masculinity resulted from women raising boys without the presence of male role models, thereby blaming women for its existence. But his blame-throwing at women didn't stop there. He wrote:
“Why do men love their masculinity so much? Because men have been taught to sacrifice their lives for their masculinity, and men always know that they are far less masculine than they should be. Women, though, have the power to give a man his masculinity or take it away, so women become both terrifyingly important and terrifyingly dangerous to men.” 
So, ironically, the men who willed the term toxic masculinity into existence, exhibited signs of it as they censured women for it. Pittman, who was deeply concerned about the deleterious effects of toxic masculinity on men, wrote that men live seven years less than women, suffer higher rates of suicide, homicide, lung cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, and other illnesses, which is all true. But he and the other Mythopoetics failed to truly investigate its effects on those impacted by toxically masculine people. 

All of that brings us to more recent attempts to define the term. Marcotte, writing for Salon: 
“Toxic masculinity is a specific model of manhood, geared toward dominance and control. It’s a manhood that views women and LGBT people as inferior, sees sex as an act, not of affection but domination, and which valorizes violence as the way to prove one’s self to the world. Toxic masculinity aspires to toughness but is, in fact, an ideology of living in fear: The fear of ever seeming soft, tender, weak, or somehow less than manly. This insecurity is perhaps the most stalwart defining feature of toxic masculinity.” 
If it weren’t enough that Marcotte delivered such a pithy, all-encompassing definition, she also offered current examples: 
“Donald Trump flipping out when someone teases him about his small fingers. (Or about anything, really.) The ludicrously long and shaggy beards on 'Duck Dynasty,' meant to stave off any association with the dreaded feminine with a thicket of hair. The emergence of the term 'cuckservative,' flung around by hardline right-wingers to suggest that insufficient racism is somehow emasculating. Conservatives absolutely melting down about an Obamacare ad that suggested that, gasp, sometimes men wear pajamas.”
Not every example of toxic masculinity is as obvious or extreme as the standard bearers of it like serial predators like Roy Moore and Trump or the white nationalists carrying tiki torches and angrily shouting racist epithets in Charlottesville. Toxic masculinity abounds to such a degree that the terms “manspreading” and “mansplaining” aren’t just a part of the vernacular, but fairly acknowledged as universal experiences for those who’ve encountered such behavior. And, of course, while not all men who “spread” or “splain” are toxic, the solipsism that requires one to take up more space than needed in public or to condescend and exhibit gendered know-it-all behavior, when unchecked, can lead to toxic masculinity. 

Google “traits of masculinity” and it’s not easy to find examples or definitions that haven’t been co-opted by modern men’s rights movements that seek to ostensibly “make a man” of all who click those links. Even the results of a study by researcher Y. Joel Wong and his colleagues published in 2016, which found that sexism is bad for men’s health, identified 11 typically masculine traits that are harmful to men’s mental health, but the study made no distinction between masculinity and toxic masculinity. Those traits included “desire to win,” “need for emotional control,” “risk-taking,” “violence,” “power over women,” “disdain for homosexuality,” and others none-too-favorable markers. 

While it’s dismaying that finding positive definitions or defining traits of masculinity is difficult, the same can be said when one Googles “traits of femininity.” Searches for that term yield a few feel-good women’s empowerment articles and plenty of “how to please your man” pieces. 

One of the clearest, most concise breakdowns of masculine (and feminine) traits exists in a section on Planned Parenthood’s site that skillfully addresses gender stereotypes, even going so far as to define hyperfemininity and hypermasculinity and offering examples of what to do when one encounters gender stereotyping.

“Extreme gender stereotypes are harmful because they don’t allow people to fully express themselves and their emotions,” according to Planned Parenthood’s website. “For example, it’s harmful to masculine folks to feel that they’re not allowed to cry or express sensitive emotions. And it’s harmful to feminine folks to feel that they’re not allowed to be independent, smart or assertive. Breaking down gender stereotypes allows everyone to be their best selves.”

Shifting attitudes about the nature of gender and a move away from a binary conception of it and from gender stereotypes typified by Mad Men-era toxicity appear to be the way forward, away from toxic masculinity and the societal pressures that inspire some men to prove their manliness by acting out in ever-increasingly violent, oppressive, racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and transphobic ways. 

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Posting when I can . . .

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Grabbing Some Time

That dude from "Stranger Things" -- Joe Keery . . .

Some Zac plus sausage if you enlarge the last one . . .

And one of my all time favorites. Anybody know who he is?

Posting when I can . . .