gender, language, politics

Locker Room Banter 101

 

 

Last week, for reasons that remain unclear to me, Charlie Rose celebrated a Bannonfest: the Steve-‘n’-Charlie show ran from a brief teaser on his previous Friday show, to two segments of “60 Minutes” on Sunday, to the full hour of his Monday interview, to 15-20 minute segments over the remainder of that week. Though my appetite for Bannonalia barely achieves anorexia, I did catch the teaser, the “60 Minutes” gig, and a bit of the Monday interview, at which point nausea forced me into reruns of “Ancient Aliens” on the History Channel.

 

To be truthful, I don’t recall very much of the Bannonade (senescence has its rewards). Rose, and many of the media savants (along with Steve himself) apparently consider Bannon the Trump Administration’s ranking intellectual (not too much competition).

 

But one brief moment, I think from the Monday segment, sticks in my mind, not to say craw. Rose was questioning Bannon about Trump’s misogyny, and brought up the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape. Bannon smirked that it was “only locker-room banter.” “Locker-room banter?” said Charlie, and Bannon reiterated it. Rose thereupon dropped the topic, no doubt with a sigh of relief: His job was done, his duty to the ladies completed. Continue reading

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gender, language, other topics, politics

Get Thee Behind Me, Donald! Or Don’t

  1. What does a woman running for president have to do to be likable?
  2. Not run for president.

 

And with that question answered, let us turn to the matter of the second presidential debate. What was going on? What did the media analysts opine was going on? What if anything does the answer to the first question have to do with the answer to the second?

 

Answer: Nothing.

 

Almost without exception, every media pundit has declared Trump’s recently revealed effusions “disgusting” and “unacceptable.” I agree with those assessments, but I don’t share their reasons for declaring Trump’s remarks “disgusting” and “unacceptable.” Well, yes, to an extent I agree: thinking of women as objects existing purely for the sexual gratification of men like Trump is as vile as it is antediluvian. But the media focus has been on the words themselves. Yet the words, here as elsewhere with Trump, are merely carriers of a gender message that carries far beyond Trump, and goes way outside the “locker room.” This is what the analysts cannot or will not face, for they, mostly males, are complicit in the game. Continue reading

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gender, language, politics

How to Watch the Debates

 

 

It is useful to see the presidential debates as, above all, auditions for a role, and to see the debaters as actively auditioning for a desired role, and the other participants (moderator, commentators, and audience) as using debate performance to determine the performers’ suitability for the role they seek. Debating, like any other human communicative activity, has its rules and expectations, violations of which can and should be judged as evidence of a candidate’s suitability for the job. If you can’t manage to obey the relatively simple rules of the debate structure for a mere 90-odd minutes, there is reason to doubt whether you are ready or able to play the much harder role for which you are auditioning, for a whole four years. Continue reading

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gender, language, other topics, politics

PRESTO CHANGE-O

 

 

The pundits have spoken, and spoken, and spoken: 2016 is an “unconventional” election: it is about “change” vs. the “status quo.” One candidate is the “change,” agent, and the other the representative of the “status quo.”

 

Thus far, I am in agreement.

 

But when they sort out which candidate is which, we part company. For the analysts, Trump is the “change” candidate, Clinton the “status quo.” But that’s backwards and upside down. If we correctly interpret “change” and “status quo,” Trump stands for the former, Clinton the latter. Continue reading

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gender, language, other topics, politics

MAKING ME SICK

 

 

Look at the front page of today’s (September 13) New York Times. On the upper right, you will find two articles about Clinton’s health problems. On the inner pages where these articles are continued are three additional articles on the same topic.

 

Ordinarily, the placement of the first two articles, and the fact that there are five in all, might be occasioned by, say, the start of World War III or an authenticated Elvis sighting. But no: all are about one presidential candidate’s not especially serious health problem. Continue reading

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gender, language, other topics, politics

Health Matters – and Other Matters

 

  1. The D’s DID

 

Donald J. Trump and his current favorite sidekick, the redoubtable Rudy Giuliani, have morphed into experts on Hillary Clinton’s mental and physical health. How fortunate we are that one of our presidential candidates and his new BFF have so much medical expertise! Clinton, they tell us, doesn’t have the “physical or mental stamina” to fight ISIS, and therefore is unsuitable for the presidency.

 

As usual contemplating the Donald’s effusions, I find myself at a loss – so much nonsense, so little time! But a few things that stand out. Continue reading

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gender, language, other topics, politics

Who Makes Meaning?

 

A conversation (meaning any form of communication – private or public; written or spoken; physical or electronic) is properly constructed so as to transmit meaning between or among participants. It is often thought that a speaker is responsible for encoding meaning, and a hearer’s job is simply to understand what a speaker says. But it’s a more complicated relationship: it is the speaker’s responsibility to encode meanings in such a way that a hearer is likely to be able to understand them as the speaker intended; and it is the hearer’s responsibility to bring her experiences to bear so as to make sense of the communication: meaning is jointly constructed.

 

This is necessarily true because human beings are social animals. By working in this cooperative way, language (and other forms of interpersonal communication) both make the best use of our social capacities, and enhance them. Uncooperative communication does the opposite: it drives us apart.

 

In our current political (and specifically presidential) discourse, there are violations of those expectations and needs. Continue reading

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gender, language, politics

The “Scandal” Scandal

 

OK, the results are in and the word is out: Clinton, while not “guilty” of a “crime” for which she could be prosecuted, nevertheless is deserving of, and has received, a “stinging rebuke” or a “severe scolding” from James Comey, head of the FBI, for her use of a personal e-mail server rather than the State Department’s server. The Republicans have weighed in, predictably, in turn castigating Comey for not castigating Clinton enough; the Donald has tweeted at length of her “crookedness”; a bit less predictably (maybe), the media is also weighing in to the same effect. Just consider the full-frontal headline in the hard-copy edition of the Paper of Record:

 

STERN REBUKE, BUT NO CHARGES, FOR CLINTON

 

The headline presupposes that “charges” would have been normal, and that the “rebuke” was deserved and appropriate, if minimal. The article, by Patrick Healy, begins:

 

Hillary Clinton may not be indicted on criminal charges over her handling of classified email, but the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, all but indicted her judgment and competence on Tuesday – two vital pillars of her presidential candidacy – and in the kinds of terms that would be politically devastating in a normal election year.

 

The silver lining for Mrs. Clinton is that this is not a normal election year.

 

The implication here is that Comey “all but indicted” all her judgment and competence, about everything, which his statement did not. (There is an issue, too, over the conflation of two senses of “indictment.”) But the overall point of this article, and the Times’s lead editorial, is that Clinton is guilty of severe malfeasance and lucky to have escaped the punishment she deserved; that the use of a personal email server by a Secretary of State is seriously bad behavior. But are either or both of these accusations true? And really, what is the whole “scandal” about? Continue reading

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language, other topics, politics

Open and Closed Cases

 

Now that the primaries are almost over, I want to say a little about them, and in particular one aspect of them that has been much discussed by one of the Democratic candidates: “open” versus “closed” primaries.

 

An open primary is one in which there are no constraints on who can vote for a party’s nominees: a Republican or unaffiliated voter can cast a ballot for one of the Democratic candidates, and their votes will have equal weight with those of registered Democrats. (The same of course is true on the Republican side.) In a closed primary, then, only voters registered as members of a party can vote in its primary.

 

Bernie Sanders and his followers wax irate at the idea of closed Democratic primaries. They argue that they are undemocratic, small “d,” because they keep some voters out of voting their preferences. They don’t mention the fact that at least some of Sanders’s victories came about because Republican voters crossed party lines to vote for him – in many if not most cases, because they believed he would be the weaker candidate in the general election. Continue reading

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