language, other topics, politics

Don Dare Call It Treason

 

“Can we call that treason?” Mr. Trump said of the stone-faced reaction of Democrats to his speech. “Why not? I mean, they certainly didn’t seem to love our country very much.”

 

“Even on positive news, really positive news like that, they were like death and un-American,” he said, repeating, “Un-American. Somebody said treasonous. I mean, yeah, I guess, why not.”

 

The above comments were made by President Trump on February 5, referring to Democrats who didn’t give him standing O’s at his State of the Union address.

His minders evidently found his remarks less than scintillating. By the next day all the usual White House commentators were calling the comments “joking” or “tongue in cheek,” as if by establishing that interpretation they were dispelling any reason for anxiety.

 

There are several questions to ask about these remarks: Continue reading

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language, other topics, politics

Alas, Poor Adjective!

Pity the poor adjective. It gets no respect. And yet, it does essential work.

 

Its troubles start with its etymology. A “verb” is literally a “word” (Latin verbum). So it takes for itself the whole provenance of language. We think of verbs as the stuff that makes language go – they do or act. Hence Dr. Phil warns his guests: “I’m going to put some verbs in my sentences,” i.e., “Beware! Life-changing talk is about to happen (after these commercials, of course)!” Attention must be paid to the verb.

 

Verbs are masculine, because they do things, and that is masculine. Italian has a proverb: Words are feminine, deeds masculine. The saying expresses double contempt: for the do-nothing word and for femininity. At least a verb, despite the proverb, does something, so its purely linguistic status is not totally contemptible.

 

Nouns come second: they are names (Latin nomen). So while they are not considered the all-important doers of language, at least they identify who or what, is doing what to whom. Nouns and verbs together are often thought of as the underpinnings of language; all else is frippery, feminine adornment. That naturally would include the adjective. Continue reading

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gender, language, other topics, politics

What Do Women Want? REVOLUTION!

 

 

You say you want a revolution?

Well, you know

We all want to change the world….

 

But when you talk about destruction

Don’t you know

That you can count me out….

 

                        The Beatles (1968)

 

#MeToo and its allies are running into the inevitable and fully anticipated backlash. The commentary lately has been turning critical. Some of the critiques seem unduly harsh, others more reasonable. But the reasonable and the destructive invoke many of the same arguments. Continue reading

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gender, other topics, politics

Thinking of 2020

 

It is remarkable how eager we are to glide over the 2018 midterms (which are crucially important) in order to speculate about the 2020 presidential campaign. Of course, the presidency is more important than any seat in congress. But what happens to congress in 2018 will not only be used by the pundits as an augury of 2020 (and thus create a presumption in favor of one candidate or the other) but will determine exactly how bad the years between 2018 and 2020 (or, heaven forfend, 2024) will be.

 

But even knowing this I find 2020 irresistible to contemplate. That is all the more true since Oprah Winfrey’s triumphant performance at the Golden Globes award ceremony on January 7. Continue reading

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gender, other topics, politics

2017

As is customary, I am using the approach of the new year as an excuse to look back at the old one and make some sort of sense of it.

 

It is entirely possible that, when historians of the future look back, they will declare unequivocally that the year 2017 was the most important year in human history, the year when everything, and everyone, changed – and on the whole, for the better.

 

Of course today it is too soon to make that pronouncement, but it suddenly makes sense – a very possible reality rather than a dream. We will know by then that 2017 was the year in which women became willing and able to trust, help, and like other women. From that visceral change sprang all the other changes. Continue reading

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gender, language, politics

Outing the Pervs

 

I wish I could feel triumphant at the Outing of the Pervs. But I fear the law of unintended consequences: the overturning of one important signifier of male prerogative will surely bring with it some backlash. And I notice that, although the scandal has been percolating for over a month, nothing really has changed, aside from the firing of a few of the more prominent offenders. Again, this is gratifying, but barely counts as even the tip of the iceberg.

 

On a recent PBS NewsHour, Rebecca Traister raised a relevant concern: since the offenders have been male, and attention along with sympathy naturally focuses on males, most of the media discussion of the problem of sexual harassment has focused on the perps, not their victims. This is unusual in crime stories: usually in a lurid case, media attention fixates on the victim, especially if female: her beauty, her virtue, her accomplishments. But discussions of sexual harassers focus on the men and their prominence, as well of course as their peculiar behaviors. So, Traister suggests, it may be only a short time before the objects of our attention become the objects of our sympathy – the poor guys, they couldn’t help it, it wasn’t so bad after all, was it, the women were asking for it… all the usuals. I hope not, but our society is not used to seeing males as blameworthy, and along with Traister I wonder how long we can keep it up. Our President is leading the way in his exculpation of Roy Moore: “He has denied everything.” (And since when does a “not guilty” plea equal a verdict of innocence?)

 

Trump’s evasions on Moore are more astonishing since, when asked about Weinstein, who has similarly denied engaging in nonconsensual sexual activity, Trump responded, “I’m not surprised,” which conversationally implicates, “He’s guilty.” Continue reading

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gender, language, other topics, politics

The Anomalous Society

In recent years, America has become an anomalous society, bereft of many of the social rules, explicit and especially implicit, that previously we lived by. That may sound good – liberating and innovative, free of the burdensome constraints that plagued our ancestors and slowed progress. But too much of a good thing is not always wonderful, and on occasion freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose. The loss of our system of culturally based rules may even be responsible for part of the fix we are in.

 

The rules I am talking about here are not the explicit ones we recite to our children: Say Thank you. Put away your toys. Don’t make fun of other people. The rules I am talking about are the ones most adults used to figure out by themselves in the course of arriving at maturity, implicit assumptions about how to be human, how to be a person of gender, how to manage work, friendships, and intimacy, and many more. A great many of these are currently gone or contested. Continue reading

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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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