Explaining the world one tragedy at a time.

November 30, 2015

The world can seem so chaotic. Does it ever take a break?

Sometimes, in my line of work, things get a little busy. I’ve been getting a lot of media time lately. From local hate crimes to the global terror alert, from suspected Klan activity in Oregon to responses to the Black Lives Matter movement. Throw Paris into it and a few other issues in the news flow and I’ve been in overdrive lately. I’ve written about playing the role of “expert” in the media and hopefully I mentioned that I never get paid for any of it. But there’s a reason I’m on your TV.

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The world can seem so chaotic. But a lot of it is our media-saturated culture. Sociologist (and now Lewis & Clark University president) Barry Glassner wrote about this in his 1999 book, The Culture of Fear. Just think about the local news. When I was a kid it was on for a half-hour at 6 and 11 pm. The local news in Portland starts at 4 am and then occupies at least 8 hours of daily broadcasting on each channel until 11:35 pm. That’s a lot of space to fill. And “if it bleeds it leads” can drive each one of those hours. Terrorism abroad, mass shootings at home, and a story about packages being stolen off porches for good measure. It’s enough to keep a person inside their house and watching TV. Suffice it to stay, research shows that the more TV people watch, the more fearful they are of the world.

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I can either try to ignore it or subvert it from the inside. So the reason I say yes to most local, national, and international media requests is that it provides an opportunity to slip a critical perspective into the shockingly uncritical news paradigm. And this is usually a feminist perspective. For example, the numerous mass shootings I’m called to comment on must include an analysis that this is male violence in a culture that promotes violence as an acceptable means for men to express themselves. Can you imagine if all these shootings were by females?

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So we hop from crisis to crisis trying to patiently explain things to people who are often resistant to anything other than the explanation that fits their picture of the world. A perfect example is the folks who blurt “All lives matter” in opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement. These people are either ignorant (which is something we all share about different things) or they are straight up racists. So here is the simplest explanation I can offer these folks: “Black lives matter,” means all lives matter, including black lives that have been devalued by the criminal justice system and racism in general. Got it? It does not mean your white life doesn’t matter. Now shut the fuck up.

Often I offer an analysis to try to explain a very complex social problem and what gets on the air is a three second sound byte that really doesn’t explain much. That’s why I prefer live TV and radio because you can go for the one point that really want to make. I learned this the hard way when I appeared on Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor. Bill O’Reilly just talked over me the whole time. One of my conservative friends emailed me and said, “You just should have yelled over him.” I guess that’s how Fox rolls. Lesson learned.

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There is a root cause that links most of this together and it’s patriarchy. Friday’s shooting at the Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic is an obvious example. Conservatives wage a war on women’s advancement and rights. A Trump follower commented on this blog recently, “Does your wife bring home the bacon while you blog and change diapers or take of your children? Very manly there. Get a real life fool.” Trump, Fiorina and others spread lies about Planned Parenthood to their war-loving moronic minions who just want to bomb SOMETHING. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that this week’s domestic terrorist (aka, right-wing white male) attacks a women’s health center with an AK while ranting about Obama and “baby parts.” This is what patriarchy looks like.

There is also feminist perspective on the racial issue. The dehumanization of other people, including African Americans and Syrian refugees (who my cousin compared to snakes and Ben Carson likened to rabid dogs) starts with the dehumanization of women. Religions with male gods do this especially well. It’s easy to claim power over someone who you think is a child or an animal or a thing. Or a terrorist.

There’s just not a lot of places to get the macro analysis in the mainstream media. We just get little corners of the real issues that are at the core of the nightly news stories. Where is bell hooks or Noam Chomsky being interviewed on the news? Lord knows, there’s enough time to fit them in. But instead we get sound byte analysis for the short-attention span masses. Here’s a clip of Trump mocking a disabled person. Here’s a talking head saying his followers could care less and on to the next non-story.

I became a feminist in my head a long time ago because it helped to explain the big picture throughout human history. I became a feminist in my heart with the arrival of my daughter and the hope the world could finally make a great leap forward for her generation. That the trifles of Trump and travails of war would become artifacts of the past. (This optimism may come from watching too much Star Trek.)

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And I’m happy to take my show on the road. Last week I was in Washington, D.C., making a case for the re-evaluation of hate crime laws at a meeting of criminologists from around the world. This week I’m off to New York City where I’ll be discussing how plea bargains institutionalize racism at a university in Manhattan. You can’t shut me up. These issues are too important. And yeah, I’m going to continue to be pissed off at the people who choose not to get it. Their world is changing and they are becoming an obnoxious minority (not a “silent majority”). But that keeps me going and at some point we can talk about the big picture.

See ya in the funny papers.

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