Wednesday, November 30, 2016

turns out I know that craven nazi shitbag

One night not so long ago I was working late at my desk when one of its legs just dropped off. It fell to the floor with a clank and then, a beat later, an avalanche of papers, coffee, and overpriced electronics tipped towards the floor. I knelt down to investigate and found that the bolt that attaches the leg to the desktop was gone. It was nowhere in sight, which suggests that it detached itself long ago--maybe weeks before, maybe months. I sit there most days for hours and hours, and it's weird to think that all this time the whole setup has been so precarious. It's weird to think I didn't notice till stuff started crashing to the floor.

Lately I feel like I'm losing my grip on things. So when I first saw the picture of the bloated nazi from the Mother Jones "Dapper White Nationalist" profile and thought the guy looked familiar, my first thought was: nah. Surely not. But as it turns out, that bloated nazi was Richard Spencer, a guy I know from our days at University of Chicago. The day after that article went viral on twitter, I watched with the rest of the world as Richard stood behind a podium in a conference room in Washington, leading a room full of white men in the nazi salute. It wasn't long after that when I saw a chyron on CNN: "Alt-Right Founder Questions If Are Jews People." On Thanksgiving, I saw a video clip of Richard explaining to a black newscaster that actually, white people built the pyramids. Yes, I feel like I'm losing my grip.

At U of C, Richard wasn't out as a nazi, but there was plainly something wrong with him. I don't mean that in the spirit of, oh, looking back on it now, there was definitely something sinister going on. I mean that he seemed like the kind of guy who picks his nose and fucks his mother. He could have been a boy king in Game of Thrones. He was badly dressed, pretentious, and arrogant, though of course it was graduate school; there was plenty of that going around.

Some of my best friends in the world are people I met at University of Chicago. But also, Jesus, that school attracts a lot of people who are the absolute worst. Not nazi-grade boy kings, for the most part, but socially disabled jerks who are extremely vested in performing their intelligence. I can handle the socially disabled--they are my people--but people who try to seem smart are some of my least favorite humans. I see traces of such performance everywhere in Richard's media footprint, which is alarmingly large. Ironically, I believe the profile that captured him best was the one at Mother Jones, which has received a huge amount of blowback from people who thought it made him seem glamorous. It's all there: his desperate need to impress, the deep insecurity, the quasi-intellectual conversation. I didn't buy it back at U of C, and I certainly don't buy it now. It is of some comfort to know that the best and brightest cover boy the alt-right can come up with is the charmless likes of Richard Spencer, hunched over his lectern, squinting down at his notes to find the single word of the "original German" he used to impress his fellow boy kings. I do not speak German myself, but I recognize this as a textbook example of what my friend Tobias, who is from the Vaterland, calls "sucking shit out of your fingers."

On Facebook messenger, I read a long thread of my classmates' memories of Richard, which the condescending guy who looks like Moby has been collecting for a piece he's writing for the New Yorker. Some people's recollections echoed my own, painting a picture of a socially awkward guy with a strange affected accent (since dropped) who mocked people if they hadn't read the right things. Other responses reminded me of everything I dislike about University of Chicago. "Maybe if he had spent more time studying Shakespeare he would have questioned the veracity of his views," one woman wrote. "His arrogance likely inhibited any true self discovery." (Imagine having that opinion about anyone. Now imagine that being your opinion on a nazi.) There were pictures, including one from a Halloween party of Richard dressed in a toga. I think I have a similar one around here somewhere. He was dressed as Caesar, if memory serves--a group costume, with two other classmates dressed as bloodstained Caesar and the Ghost of Caesar. (What did I tell you? The worst.) In the Facebook thread, Moby was soliciting photographs. "If anyone has a photo of him with anyone of color, please send those especially," he wrote. You know, I think I may have mentioned this, but lately I feel like I'm losing my grip.

Nazi nip pic interlude

After I read the Mother Jones profile, I remembered that my program's office at U of C archives copies of everyone's thesis for students and alumni to read. The article mentioned that Richard's thesis was on Theodor Adorno, "who he argued was afraid to admit how much he loved the music of [the composer Richard] Wagner." I mean, does that sound like an academic thesis to you: Jewish intellectual #actually loved nazi music? Yeah, me neither. Your girl also wrote on Adorno, as it happens. I contacted the office to have a look. I thought that, in the face of Richard passing himself off as an intellectual--and much of mainstream media buying into it--that reading this really terrible sounding academic paper might be sort of soothing. But I was told that the program, in conjunction with the university's public relations and legal departments, is currently revisiting its policy of letting students and alumni read old theses.

I mention this last part not because I think the University of Chicago is sitting on some big story--I don't think that at all--but because something rubs me the wrong way about a university's reaction to fascism being to batten down the hatches and lock down the exchange of ideas, such as they are. Public relations' involvement is telling; it's hard to see how it would be a complicated a legal matter, given that we submitted those theses with the express purpose of making them available to students and alums. As you may have observed, Moby's forthcoming article bugs me too--something about him soliciting those particular pictures, you know? Something about packaging a portrait of the nazi as a young man for my supposed edification. I mean, maybe it will be great. Moby's absolutely incredible personal essay for xojane, "The Mindless Co-Opting of a Loaded Word: Am I Your N**ga?" suggests that this is extremely unlikely, but of course you never know.

I'm sure that Chris Ware will draw a beautiful cover.

Meanwhile, I still can't find the bolt I need to reattach the leg to my desk. I'm thinking about replacing it with one of those hydraulic contraptions. Maybe I should stand up more. Maybe that would clear my head. For now I've propped up the broken part with a giant garbage can. It's a little off-kilter; probably it could collapse at any time. This fucking desk is symbolizing so hard lately that sometimes I fantasize that Shonda Rhimes is writing my life. Maybe she got tired of dreaming up surgeries that represent Meredith Grey's emotional problems, and has moved on to a gripping series about a sad writer who sits at her tenuous garbage desk as she contemplates her acquaintance with the country's foremost nazi. Maybe she's about to write me a fantastic new storyline where I just go to sleep for the rest of the winter, or possibly for the rest of my life.

Lately I feel like I'm losing my grip on things. Sometimes I feel like I'm losing my mind. Maybe it's that nazi nipple staring out at me like an evil eye, the ghost of bad Halloween costumes past. Maybe it's hypnotizing me. Mitt Romney is sounding pretty damn good as Secretary of State, right? Maybe Shonda's doing an episode where the Overton window is literally in this garbage can propping up my desk. It is the only explanation. I'm thinking about printing Moby's xojane article so I can keep it in my wallet. Feels like I'm gonna need it for whatever comes next.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

political spew II: spew harder

I’m going to do something self-indulgent and respond to a comment in a post, because I’m just not doing so well with the our new white nationalist overlords and I feel an urgent need to spew some more bullshit. The last time I spewed Election I felt marginally better afterward, and it’s important to seize such opportunities in this life. Get on my level.

oneofthejonesboys writes: 
You use the word "arrogant", and I've been thinking the exact same thing from the other side -- surely, SURELY, the lesson from the election is that everyone needs to take a huge dose of epistemic humility.
On the one hand, you've got the people who were wrong five days a week for the past year -- wrong that Trump finally had torpedoed himself now this time for sure, wrong that he'd never win the primary, wrong that he'd pivot to the "centre" (whatever that is) for the general, and then the biggest misprediction of all -- and those people have the chutzpah to turn around without missing a beat, or at most with a few paragraphs of handwringing, and explain to us what happened and what we need to do now. Like, Jon Chait wrote a post "Donald Trump Is Not Going to Win Michigan" and then six days later he's telling us "What should Democrats in Congress — and Barack Obama, and you — do now?". *Six* days later and we're supposed to take him seriously again already? How the hell do you go from being completely wrong about Donald Trump Will Never Ever Win the Election to deserving our trust about Here's Why Donald Trump Won the Election? You fucked the prediction up that badly and now you're going to postdict it? It'd be comical if the stakes weren't what they are. So those people are the worst. But you've also got folks on the other hand who maybe didn't spend the last year singing "la la la never going to happen", but still feel confident now to explain why it happened, and what to do next, and they should STFU too. They don't know why it happened either...I've been seeing this from the distance of Australia and reading either vaguely or less-vaguely left-ish takes on it in our media, and the CW has quickly coalesced into "oh, this was about economic uncertainty, losers of globalisation etc." But how do they know that? All they've got now is one more piece of evidence on top of what they already had; the reasons for the result are an empirical question and should be basically black-boxed until people have done a lot more work to investigate them. Yeah, those explanations sound intuitively plausible (as does your One True Take), but (again) SURELY the lesson of the election is that intuitive plausibility ain't worth shit when it comes to Trump? 
(Anyway, really pleased to see you blogging again, Kim)
I try to avoid reading Chait because he’s consistently the worst. I think it was around the time he wrote that horrible take on political correctness that I decided life’s just too short. I generally feel dumber and angrier after I read him. The response he tends to generate with his more high-profile pieces, too, is annoying to me. I don’t find outrage so useful when it’s basically just explaining how the world works to an infant. Sometimes it’s necessary--maybe it’s always necessary--but increasingly I find I’m losing patience for it.

But anyway, yeah, I find that guy to be intensely arrogant, so I can sort of imagine how that’s playing out these days. Chait is a prime example of someone who, when I survey the landscape on the left, makes me feel total despair. He’s part of that horrible phenomenon where the Left is creeping right while the Right is sprinting radical right. At the same time--and this is more unsettling to me--even the takes from the people whose politics resemble mine more closely have been getting on my last nerve. Like…I get that the “Bernie bros” thing was a myth, but the key to understanding myths is that they’re rooted in something true. (The true thing, in that case, being the alpha male culture you often see around the far left.) White supremacy by its very nature engenders team spirit and a sense of belonging. That just comes with the territory, on the right. Whereas I’m looking around at the people I’m in the room with just like…how is this ever gonna work? Half of them are idiots who think it’s not respectable to boo at Mike Pence or whatever, but then the ones who are smarter can be aggressive and too self-satisfied, which is repellent to me in a totally different way.

Just in the small pond that is comics, some time back, someone…I feel like it was Julia Gfrorer?...talked about how her feminist politics are so intensely personal that she’s given up on finding someone who shares her exact views. That really resonated with me. Certainly anyone who I find to be worth reading in comics, there are moments where I strongly disagree with them. There’s maybe something to a progressive point of view that invites fragmentation that's the inverse of how conservatism finds more unity. Am I making any sense? It’s the middle of the night and I feel like I might sound high. But, you know, I’m just thinking about how poor people in Louisiana love Donald Trump in his golden tower, and how no one truly likes Hillary Clinton, and it just seems to me that neither of those facts come down entirely to him or her, as individuals.

Anyway. With people who comment on politics for a living, I can see they’re in a bind. There’s a lot of conditions on the ground conspiring against the possibility of a nuanced humble take. I think part of it is the expectation that you have to have to come on STRONG, to seem sure, like that's some indicator of your prowess. (Often it's the opposite.) Also a lot of time those guys are working fast. Also, you know, the political ecosystem doesn’t exactly inculcate humility. On top of all that the world is just changing so rapidly. Sure, there’s the shift from truthiness to post truth, which is alarming and surreal. But it’s compounded by the fact that information literacy is very low, and that’s not just a Republican problem, by any means. I follow actual journalists who routinely RT Kurt Eichenwald, and that guy is plainly delusional (plus stupid).

Sorry, this is what you get for leaving a nice comment on my political vomit post. Too many idiots, too many dickheads. Everything’s wrong. I’m perhaps two steps removed from wearing a sandwich board. I read a statistic the other day that 41 percent of Americans--not American Christians, but Americans--think the Second Coming is happening sometime in the next 35 years, and I think that, even more than Trump winning, has made me realize I maybe don’t understand the world so well as I thought? And what's sad about that is I never really thought I understood the world that well.

Still…weirdly, maybe, I found this uplifting. It’s the truest take I’ve seen anyway, and the first thing I’ve encountered that made me feel a little better about the future. I can stomach his certainty, especially given that he predicted Trump a full five years ago.

Motivational Irony Twitter is sort of confusing, but I'll take it.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

here are some comics links

Update: Not doing good. Not. Doing. Good. Let's talk about some comics stuff.

1. Chris Ware’s latest comic in the New Yorker
I'd really like to hear some more people weigh in on "Snapchat," Chris Ware's latest comic for the New Yorker. I dunked on it some the other day to blow off steam, but in all seriousness: what a piece of fucking garbage.

A thing that comes up for me when I think about Ware lately is Joe McCulloch's smart thread (upon the occasion of Ware's last New Yorker cover) from a few months back. "I suspect that Ware is using these covers to explore different aspects of his art," he wrote. "Which is to say, things he otherwise doesn't get the chance to emphasize in comics, such as faces." This is a curious idea to me: that the New Yorker is like Ware's experimental sketchbook, whereas his own comics are the "real" finished work. I have no idea if this reflects Ware's actual mindset and practice (it certainly sounds plausible), but it does, as an observation, reflect what I perceive to be a thing, which is that Ware's New Yorker stuff doesn't quite count in people's consideration of him as an artist. Whether that's because the work is more commercial or because it's bad is one question. Another thing that occurs to me is that Ware's New Yorker audience is surely much larger than his own comics audience. (This may not in fact be true; I don't actually know the numbers.) Like, probably a lot more people read "Snapchat" than Building Stories, right? So there's a sense in which that work is arguably more real.


2. It's Actually About Ethics in Comics Journalism
I've been deeply confused and sort of fascinated by the amount of praise I've seen for this profile of Steve Ditko, which in my view blurs the line between harassment and journalism. (Props to Dan Nadel, who is the only person [that I've noticed, anyway--haven't looked too deeply into it] to explicitly, publicly comment on this.) Look...I'm reading this piece through a very particular pair of eyes--I'm biased, without a doubt--but I think the "reporting" it describes reads less like the work of a professional journalist and more like the behavior of an entitled, aggressive fan. I shouldn't be the one diving into this for any number of reasons, but you know what? Fuck it.

Let's take a quick look at how the author of the profile, Abraham Riesman, describes his attempt to interview Ditko, an 89-year-old man who hasn't granted an interview with a journalist in almost 50 years. Everything in purple is taken directly from the piece:

  • Riesman calls Ditko to request an interview, "even if our visit would be off the record." Ditko tells him to write a letter instead. Totally fine. Note the "off the record" bit. 
  • Riesman writes Ditko a letter of inquiry and calls to touch base when he doesn't receive a response. Ditko verbally refuses the interview. OK, cool. This all seems standard so far.
  • Despite being turned down for an interview, Riesman goes to Ditko's office to see if he's willing to talk in person. Given that he went to Ditko's office (not his residence), this strikes me as okay. But note that Ditko has tried to impose distance between himself and Riesman--by asking him to write instead of call--and then by flatly refusing to speak with him. Pursuing Ditko in person at this point is fairly aggressive reporting given (a) he doesn't give interviews in general, (b) he's already refused this interview in particular, and (c) the newsworthiness of this story is iffy at best. 
  • Riesman knocks on Ditko's office door--no answer. He presses his ear to the door and hears a TV blaring inside. He calls from his cell and hears the phone ring. He then plops down outside Ditko's office door and "buckled down for a stakeout" that lasted 45 minutes, reading one of Ditko's comics to pass the time. This is getting weird, right? Again, I'm biased. But this is weird.
  • Riesman comes back two days later, knocking and ringing the doorbell for so long, and so loudly, a neighbor comes outside to investigate. This is even weirder. I mean, what is he, a debt collector? Keep in mind that Ditko is actually in his office at this point, perhaps ignoring the knocking on purpose, perhaps not. Observe the way in which Riesman rationalizes his own behavior as the story progresses--"I felt duty bound to try my luck"...maybe it's better to ask for the interview in person...maybe he can't hear me knocking...maybe he's out to lunch... It grows increasingly strained, to my ear. I didn't even know who Steve Ditko was going into this profile and it seems 100% obvious that this interview isn't happening. 
  • Another neighbor comes upon Riesman and the first neighbor in the hall. Riesman grills the second neighbor, who shares a vague, but juicy, anecdote about Ditko that Riesman will run with no attribution. This is...not journalism. 
  • Riesman hunkers down outside Ditko's office for an hour--his second stakeout. This is plainly over the line. Ask yourself if a random reporter assigned to this story would be likely to do this, given all of the above. Ask yourself if YOU would feel comfortable doing this. 
  • Listening at the door, Riesman hears movement inside the office. He starts banging on the door again. This is just deeply uncool and unprofessional on every level.
  • "My heart skipped a beat. I gulped down air. Knock knock knock." These do not sound like the emotions of a reporter who's doing his "due diligence," as Riesman calls it. They sound like the emotions of a fan. It's fine to be both, but it's a breech of ethics for someone to abuse his privileges as a reporter in the service of his fandom.
  • Ditko slams the door in Riesman's face. Feeling "a little ashamed," Riesman finally takes his leave. Better late than never, I guess. Although he clearly wasn't ashamed enough to not write a lightly exploitative piece about the whole experience, casting Ditko as a disgruntled codger.
Here's what Riesman learned from harassing Ditko, per the piece:
The encounter encapsulated the fundamental paradox of Ditko, the one that makes him a source of both fascination and frustration: He despises people making claims about him without getting their information firsthand, but he only provides that information piecemeal and on his own terms, in the form of elliptical essays on scattered topics. He has often said he wants his work to speak for itself, but then he writes about how no one understands it — and when his screeds about the work confuse or contradict, there’s no way to have him clarify what he so passionately wants you to understand. It isn’t a dialogue. You can’t ask a follow-up question. (emphasis mine)
Question: Since when do artists owe their audience a dialogue? The argument I see here is incredibly condescending: Ditko is a bad communicator. Ditko is working against his own interests. Ditko is being unreasonable. Yeah, right, what a fucking jerk, wanting to present information on his own terms when he's been egregiously misrepresented his entire life. How dare he!!! 

Literally everything I know about Ditko I learned from this article (and man, do I have some affection for the old guy, with his "poison sandwich" and his Coke-bottle glasses), but it seems to me that Riesman has fundamentally misread who he is. I mean, is Ditko really a recluse? He's hardly Elena Ferrante. Ditko has an office; he's publishing work; and he talks to other industry figures, who know how to reach him. Riesman makes Ditko sound uptight and unhinged for breaking professional ties with Fantagraphics because Groth made fun of Ditko--a guy whose whole entire thing is feeling resentful about being disrespected as a professional--in a book of Ditko's own stories. Gosh, I wonder why doesn't Ditko want to talk to all these awesome comics journalists? Who will crack this case??

You know, while I could care less about the Lee/Ditko feud, on some level I get where Riesman is coming from. (Who among us doesn't wonder what really went down between Axl and Slash?) He clearly has real respect for this man's work. I sort of see how it all happened...making a blockbuster movie the peg for his curiosity about a decades-old feud that this artist never dished on to his satisfaction...the rationalizing he did to excuse his increasingly inappropriate behavior along the way...using a classic writearound technique for a profile that he himself devised. Do you imagine that his editor was pressing him to get this scoop on some comics feud from the 1960s? Baked into the narrative as a sort of preemptive defense there's all this talk about doing his job well--but does being a journalist automatically give you the right to pursue whatever it is you want to know? To grill a 90-year-old man about a painful episode that happened 50 years ago about which no one outside of a small group of enthusiasts really cares?

Here's the thing: Artists have a right to privacy. Whether or not a reporter chooses to override that right is a privilege. And at the risk of sounding sanctimonious--this is something I've been thinking about a lot lately, given the Ferrante thing--it's a privilege that should be exercised with discernment and great care. If you're going to use it, the justification needs to be something better than "I'm dying to settle my red-faced fanboy messageboard feud from the early aughts." It needs to be something more than "I need a gimmick for my article that creates more intrigue than 'I got turned down flat just as I knew in my heart I would be." I don't know, ethics in journalism isn't cut and dry, and some of the lines I've drawn here are arguable. But this is a conversation we ought to be having. We need to respect--and protect--artists' privacy.

3. Alex Degen previews his longform comics work.
Here's something nice for a change on twitter dot com: cartoonist Alex Degen previewed some incredible panels from...something?...due out in 2018. There's a LOT going on here spatially, conceptually, palette-wise, etc.--definitely check out the full thread--but anyway here are a few of my favorites. That last one reminds me of Diego Rivera??

4. Tahneer Oksman on Nadja Spiegelman 
I haven't yet had a chance to read Nadja Spiegelman's book about her mother, Franรงoise Mouly, but my friend Tahneer has. Her interesting review at Public Books places it in the tradition of Alison Bechdel's whole thing of trying to understand herself through her parents. Here's a tidbit that took me aback: Nadja's parents (her dad is Art Spiegelman) weren't too happy about her same-sex relationship. Yeesh. Anyway, I look forward to reading this.

5. Not Comics: Shrill on racism and politics 
Here's a (pre-election) take from Ezekiel Kweku that I missed when it was published: "Declaring who is and isn't racist is a parlor game we don't have time for." Much to think about here. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

5 Myths I’m Sick of Seeing in the Post-Mortems

Myth 1: That it’s anything other than arrogant to explain “what happened” in the election to anyone right now.
Man…I don’t know where you are with things. What stage of grief is it when you absolutely can’t stomach a single solitary opinion you read? That’s where I am. This is textbook Internet dysfunction: I cannot stand the takes right now, but I persist in reading the takes. And yet is only in processing this horrible fucking sensation--my visceral disgust for the thoughts and feelings of nearly everyone who voted like me, more so than the information that’s in the takes themselves--that I feel like I’m even beginning to get a picture of where it all went wrong.

Let me give you an example. During the election, I really liked reading Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone. As I read his post-election take, “President Trump: How American Got It So Wrong,” I found myself nodding along in the beginning. Sick Giuliani own. Yes, this is the good stuff. But soon after that I grew frustrated until finally, at the end, I was a little surprised to realize I was totally furious...but not for the reason I was supposed to be furious.

Taibbi writes:
We journalists made the same mistake the Republicans made, the same mistake the Democrats made. We were too sure of our own influence, too lazy to bother hearing things firsthand, and too in love with ourselves to imagine that so many people could hate and distrust us as much as they apparently do.  
It's too late for any of us to fix this colossal misread and lapse in professional caution. Now all we can do is wait to see how much this failure of vision will cost the public we supposedly serve. Just like the politicians, our job was to listen, and we talked instead. Now America will do its own talking for a while. The world may never forgive us for not seeing this coming.  
Like…I don’t know, mister. How about you take a minute. Your job demands that you provide quick commentary, I get that. Seems like this could have been the time for ‘if this election has taught me anything it’s that it would be arrogant to say I’ve got this whole thing figured out’—something like that. What no one needs is ‘Admittedly I was a self-absorbed nightmare person 36 hours ago, but now I’ve had a chance to reflect on my mistakes. I’m only sorry my epiphany came too late to do humanity any good. As a consolation here are more Giuliani owns.’ In response to Taibbi’s theory of where all of journalism went wrong in 2016, let me float my own: maybe it’s just deeply unnatural to churn out a self-assured 2,000 words about the end of the world immediately after it happens, you smug fuck.

Okay, okay…I’m very angry and maybe projecting some stuff onto that take. Never mind. Let us carry on with my take. The One True Take.

Myth 2: Michael Moore is a precog now.

Maybe there’s only so much horror the human brain can handle before it just starts rejecting things, but are people seriously praising Michael Moore as a fine political mind now? I’ve run the numbers, adjusted for how much my Internet Outrage Centers are over-firing, and I’m still 85 percent sure we shouldn’t kickstart a Michael Moore gimmick movie about the revolution just yet. (My other 15 percent is just really distracted by whatever is going on with his hair.) Yes, for sure, he wrote an eerily good take. But on the other hand…he is Michael Moore. Gather your wits, people.

Myth 3: The War on Harry Potter
Far be it from me to question the peerless political minds that belong to the weird twitter irony bros, but it’s a fine line between the dim notion that fuels “muggles unite” and performative disdain for Lena Dunham. I mean, I get it, in our new nightmare world Gryffindor is OUT, calling Kate McKinnon a loser is IN, comparing the president-elect to Voldemort is dumb, but making middle-school grade jokes about Arthur Chu sweating a lot makes you a paragon of political seriousness. Turns out that everyone—whether you’re an overly earnest fucking idiot or an irony boy who takes selfies with the katana sword he probably used for reals back in high school--falls back on whatever feels comfortable to them in times of trouble. Go figure.

Myth 4: Khaleesi must be held accountable (and/or Bernie definitely would’ve won).
A lot of people seem real worried that history won’t heap enough blame on Hillary Clinton, which is pretty weird since, so far as I can tell, every left-leaning man on the internet blames Hillary Clinton (along with the phrase “yasss queen,” for some reason) for literally everything ever. It’s my own feeling that, though she’s flawed and problematic, the time has come to give it a rest? I would have worried about her flaws and problems a lot more had she become president. Campaign strategy is fair game, but a question I genuinely have for the people who think hers was horrible is what a good campaign for Hillary Clinton would have even looked like. It also seems like she gets zero credit for the times she navigated impossible terrain with surprising competence. The debates? Come on.

I mean, we’re really talking about at least three separate things: why people voted for Trump, why people didn’t vote (for anyone), and whether or not Bernie could’ve mobilized those non-voters. These questions seem worth considering across three areas:

Messaging Problems
Republicans are really great at messaging: “No abortions, foreigners, or people of color. Also Jews.” Easy peasy! But while the average conservative has no problem embracing radical rightwing propaganda, most democrats can’t quite let go of the old-fashioned idea that messaging should be at least somewhat cogent and true, yet vague in such a way that you can project your own personal hopes and dreams onto it come away thinking that the message is about those. On top of that general problem, which has been going on for a while, this particular election was historically insane. What would the liberal equivalent of Trump’s “Mexicans are rapists” platform have looked like, exactly? Free college? You think subsidized book learning is ever going to be as compelling as the subjugation of minorities, a value on which this country was built? How do you translate Let’s Build a Registry of Muslims into Democrat if not Jesus Christ, let’s definitely NOT do that?? Even Obama ran on “Didn’t Do Iraq,” which is only different from “Not Trump” in that its locus is in the past, not the future.

Messaging for Democrats in 2020 will be easier, of course. It won’t take much to mobilize under a Trump regime--and whichever man comes along and does it, whether it’s Bernie or whoever else, will get a whole lot of credit for it, I’m sure. Meanwhile I’m not so convinced that Bernie would have mobilized non-voters in what was still the era of Obama. And for my money he sure as shit wouldn’t have swayed any people who ended up voting for Trump. The reason why “low-information” voters whose primary focus was income inequality (not racism) chose the celebrity in the gold-plated elevator wasn’t strictly a matter of Establishment vs. Anti-Establishment; it was also because they want to be the celebrity in the gold-plated elevator. I think low-information voters are aspirational, and no one wants to be Bernie Sanders. No one.

Demographic data tells us that Trump’s win comes down to two kinds of racists: bigots and the kind of people who aren’t full of hate so much as they don’t give a shit that some people are. That isn’t really a meaningful moral distinction, but probably they’re worth considering separately since the latter could have been potentially be reached through their “core” issue. With those voters, we’re looping back to the messaging stuff, which again I’m not so convinced that Bernie had on lock.

Misogyny and Double Standards
To say that Hillary is personally responsible for Trump’s win is to suggest that her reputation as unlikeable, selfish (lol), and divisive comes down to her faults—which are real—rather than sublimated male supremacy, which is realer. That’s confusing! And it’s made even more confusing by the fact that the far-ish left is unusual in that it dislikes Hillary for real substantive political reasons. Those aren’t the same reasons that most of America doesn’t like her, which are…….…

*gestures vaguely*

So there are these tangled threads—some lightly sexist, some straight-up misogynist—that become very difficult to separate. Some stuff is obvious: her biggest election “scandals” would have never in a million years stuck if she were a man. Other stuff is harder to articulate, but: peer into the hearts and minds of the boys of Deadspin and tell me the Liberal Man Crisis of Conscience Shtick wasn’t gendered in weird complicated ways. (See also: liberal men who expressed palpable disgust about the pneumonia collapse thing and told themselves that sentiment was somehow about her being hawkish.) I worry that a lot of things that people read as “inadequate politician” come down to Hillary navigating this election as a woman.

Anyway I think it’s really important to separate out that sexism/misogyny was more a factor for non-voters and maybe third-party voters, not so much Trump voters. Trump won because he ran on an openly racist platform. He didn’t run on an openly misogynist platform. In fact his misogyny was the one thing that people almost cared about.

Myth 5: The Left will eat itself if it continues to focus on identity politics.
A big mistake I made in the wake of the election was going on Facebook, a dumb platform I abandoned a long time ago. There, I saw two pals who I don’t really keep up with—an American diplomat who was born in Ukraine and a Sikh academic, both Democrats—talk about how the loss came down to the left’s insistent focus on identity politics. These are smart, politically savvy people—an immigrant who became a foreign service officer talking to a guy in a turban. What?

On the opposite side of the spectrum of liberal opinion, over the weekend I was hanging out with one of my best friends, a Mexican American born in Texas to a Mexican father and a white American mother. She told me about a painful “please don’t hate me” conversation initiated by her white cousin, who voted for Trump. “Barack Obama is like me—a white mom and a dad who was born somewhere else. Trump wouldn’t recognize him as an American, and he’s the fucking president,” she told her cousin. “Who knows whether or not my citizenship will count?” She’s a history professor who is not prone to panic about the news of the day...she tends to see things in terms of the bigger picture, and in this case it is personally frightening to her. In all my worry about Trump deporting millions of undocumented immigrants and creating a Muslim registry, this line of concern hadn’t quite occurred to me.’s just staggering, how much there is to worry about.

As marginalized people and even not-so-marginalized people (meaning white women like me) increasingly come under threat, identity politics aren’t going anywhere. It’s a very safe bet they’re only going to ramp up—as they should. The last few months I’ve had the president-elect’s voice in my ear talking about pussy. Abortion rights are about to be back on the table. Yeah, the Lena Dunham reaction was a bit much but also people are not freaking out because they identify with Hillary Clinton. Get a fucking clue.

Uneasy Conclusion
I’m old enough to remember my disappointment after the 2000 election. What worries me most about this result is recalling how worried and depressed and unhappy I felt back then, and knowing that I underestimated how bad things would turn out by a lot. Then, as now, I did that self-soothing thing where you tell yourself it can’t possibly be as bad as you think…when in fact it ended up worse.

That said, I’ve seen liberal takes that express the exact opposite opinion: that George W. Bush was bad, but not as bad as people said he’d be. That opinion is curious to me, given that, in 2000, no one could’ve anticipated the latitude W would have after 9/11, but…okay. I honestly don’t remember the takes from back then so much as my own feelings of doom.

I don’t have a huge amount of political smarts, but I know something about what W. did to this country—to the world. I know how the fundamental tenets of American defense policy changed and how Obama has made that worse. I see Peter Thiel…the death throes of satire…Chelsea Manning in a fucking hole trying to kill herself…photographs of these lunatics who will make up Trump’s cabinet, with their spittle and their unhinged grins, and the impossible question I’m left with is this: How is the Left going to reconcile the god-awful opinions of everyone who shares its core values? In a world where “working across the aisle” is plainly folly, the new tolerance is finding some way to countenance the clowns who are supposedly yours in the struggle. This hasn’t even started yet and my patience ran out about a year ago. This hasn’t even started yet and everyone thinks they’ve got it all figured out.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

hate links

Year 14: I remain the only soul in Chicago who doesn't care about sports. God, I've been having a bleak week. TIME FOR SOME HATE LINKS.

1. Louis CK on why he supports Hillary: I'm behind a couple seasons of Louie and haven't seen his last few specials, so I don't really know what my feelings are on Louis CK are these days. I'm not boycotting his stuff or anything--though where to draw the line on that is a difficult and vaguely horrifying question--because I guess to even consider it I'd have to be more interested in what he's doing. I've talked about this before, how his brand of self-deprecation is really this sort of aggressive presentation of himself as a good person. I don't trust it; it doesn't ring true to me. I have a feel for what hating yourself and what that looks like, and I'm pretty sure he's not doing it right. Anyway I was never crazy about the half of his act that used to be about his wife not fucking him enough, but I guess something I hate even worse is his relentless case for his own moral goodness. Maybe three-quarters of what he does seems very focused on that--that's just not interesting comedy to me.

Anyway. My sister sent me this link because she thought it was funny, and I totally hate it. It actually took me aback how much I hate it. Is it me or is there something about his whole Ode to Amazing Moms that seems calculated to make him seem like an even more amazing dad? I mean, it's been a while, but I don't recall much praise for the mother of his own children in his work? Haha, fuck her and her sad handjobs on which he built his career. I also hate that whole disingenuous intro, oh, I'm splitting my audience in half here. Right. I could really get going on all the ways I hate this. "It's not about the first woman; it's about the first mom." Oh for sure man. I thought the second part was funnier, but also there's just something about hearing "she's a bitch who will take our abuse" from someone who (very likely, imo) committed sexual assault.

I might be done with Louis CK.

2. The way this article on Patton Oswalt is written: I have so much respect for Patton Oswalt's willingness to grieve in public. Not a huge fan of his life's work or his personality, which often strikes me as shitty and smug, but as someone who's very often a closed-off nightmare person that kind of vulnerability deeply impresses me. I've talked to some performers about trauma, like the process of shaping it into something fit for an audience, and the rule of thumb seems to be "have enough distance so people doesn't feel worried or uncomfortable for you." I think there's a lot of truth in that, at least when it comes to making good art, but at the same time what you end up with is this sort of reified thing, this presentation of "grief"...this aesthetic distance. Old-fashioned morticians putting pancake makeup on dead. Anyway I saw this clip of Oswalt on Conan (this post literally contains more Conan than I've watched in the last five years, sorry buddy) where he's just sort of manically swinging from anecdote to anecdote and fumbling with the material in's very real and raw and uncomfortable and sad. Bearing witness to people's pain is difficult. The moments where the comedy flops: also difficult. It strikes me as very valuable as a public service, if not necessarily good as performance? I found it moving, anyway.

But the article? God, I hate it. Hate. It. That cutesy lede, Jesus Christ. The caption with the picture...I don't think it's in any way minimizing Oswalt's pain to say that five or six months maybe doesn't quite constitute "a long, hard climb for him to return to comedy." I also hate the frame of the therapeutic value of stand-up, because I think the interesting part of the story is that what he's doing is really not a socially acceptable thing to do: I'm very upset for reasons I'm being entirely forthright about. LOOK AT IT. I mean, who does that? Him talking about his wife's death as an overdose when he hasn't even gotten the autopsy results, his own drinking afterward...also not really socially acceptable, which is crazy. That saccharine quote from Oswalt's daughter--that's what people want to hear. I saw a lot of praise for that piece but I thought the writing was just awful. It's gross to me, this aggressively cute package when the whole point seems like he's making this effort to be real.

This is what transgressive comedy looks like. That's the story.

3. Did you know that Uber's done away with surge notifications? In Chicago, at least, it seems like they don't exist for 1.1-1.5 surge rates--and they might not exist altogether (unclear). I can't figure out if me not knowing this is me being out of touch or them being evil geniuses? From my five-second search it looks really underreported, which seems weird because media people (rightfully) hate Uber. Anyway I was in an Uber yesterday and the driver was telling me all this during a long conversation we had about how Uber is garbage. I'm legit sorry for oppressing you, Uber driver. I wish I were a better person.

4. Huge news: finally figured out my position on Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Have you ever had one of those celebrities where you can't figure out if you love them or hate them? For a long time JGL was that for me. Not 100% sure what I've liked him in, actually. Was he was good in Inception? I have a terrible memory. Janet Jackson lip sync? That was very good. On the other hand, why's he always got that asshole look on his face?

In any case, I don't know how he managed to combine "Thriller" by Michael Jackson, a Flying V, and a disco ball--three great things!--into this abomination, but I hate everything about it, and now I guess him. It feels good to have this figured out.

5. Finally, Tim O'Neil on depression. I don't hate this, actually.