Tuesday, June 5, 2018

RFK

On this, the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, below is an interesting two hour PBS documentary on his life. It is not a hagiographic portrait of the man. It doesn't hesitate to discuss some of Kennedy's less than admirable accomplishments:, his affiliation with Senator Joseph McCarthy, his involvement as part of his brother's administration, in the plot to remove by all means necessary, Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, and his initial reluctance to support the American Civil Rights Movement, to name just three.

RFK was a man of great contrasts, a devout family man, who was nothing short of ruthless when anything or anyone got in his way.

Yet the most remarkable trait of Bobby Kennedy was his capacity to grow and to change. That is the main theme of this film. As a virulent anti-communist hawk, evidenced by his work with McCarthy in the fifties, a staunch early supporter of the Vietnam War, and a man of privilege with little understanding of the suffering of others, the tide began to turn for Kennedy after three momentous events that occurred within a short time of each other in 1962 and 1963.

The first of these was the Cuban Missle Crisis of 1962. As part of John F. Kennedy's Cabinet in the role of Attorney General, Robert Kennedy was also his brother the president's closest advisor. At the beginning of the crisis, Robert Kennedy adamantly advocated for military retailiation against the USSR's decision to install missles with nuclear warheads in Cuba, just ninety miles from American soil. But after several days of rigorous debate and soul searching, RFK came to the conclusion that the moral solution, was to negotiate a deal with Moscow that would involve, unbeknownst to the American public at the time, the tit-for-tat removal of US milles pointed at the Soviet Union, that had been in Trukey. That change of heart of Kennedy's could very well have prevented a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Another moment that profoundly changed Robery Kennedy's view of the world took place in 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama, There, the reaction of local authorities to civil rights protests resulted in images broadcast all over the world of firefighters turning hoses on, and police brutally beating and turning dogs on demonstrators, many of whom were children. It was Robert Kennedy, at least according to this film, who convinced a still complacent John Kennedy, that acting on befalf of civil rights in this country was not a political, but a moral obligation. As a result, the president addressed the nation on June 11, 1963, with the speech that would prove to be his finest moment, announcing the legislation that would lead to the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

The event that most profoundly changed Robert Kennedy's life, was his brother's assassination in November of 1963. Out of the depths of despair from which  it took Bobby Kennedy years to recover, came an entirely different man, one of profound empathy for the suffering of his fellow human beings.

During his time of despair over JFK's death, it is said that his brother's widow Jacqueline Kennedy suggested that Robert read the works of the ancient Greeks to help provide him solace. Bobby Kennedy put these words of Aeschylus to good use during the time he had left in this world:
Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart,
until, in our own despair,
against our will,
comes wisdom
through the awful grace of God.
Kennedy was once asked why his ideas about civil rights and the Vietnam War had changed so drastically in such a short period of time. It's hard to imagine another American politician, especially one in our own era respond the way Kennedy did. He said, "Becasue I hadn't yet read Aeschylus."

Kennedy used those words to console an audience of African American people in Indianapoilis on the night Martin Luther King was musdered. The six minute speech he delivered that night was arguably his finest moment.

Those are the words of RFK's epitaph, inscribed on his headstone at Arlington National Cemetery.

And they are the words that inspired the title of the second half, and the closing words of the following film in the American Experience Series:


 

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Taboos and Double Standards

In our on-going culture wars, the gripe du-jour among white Trump supporters this week is that there is a double standard in the media regarding the treatment of performers who cross one line or other in regards to race and politics. It began, as so many issues these days, with a tweet.

Celebrity Roseanne Barr, who made a comeback with her eponymous sit-com about a working class family with conflicting political opinions, sort of a 2010's version of All in the Family, got into hot water this week when she tweeted that former Obama advisor, Valerie Jarrett, who hapens to be African American. looked like a cross between the "Muslim Brotherhood and Planet of the Apes." Now why she chose to pick on Ms. Jarrett who has been out of the spotlight for a while I have no idea, but that's just what she did. After being roundly criticized from a wide swath of the American public, Barr apolgized to Jarrett for the tweet, but the damage was done. Later in the day ABC, the network who broadcasts her highly rated show, cancelled it.

While Barr's tweet was criticized by virtually everyone, her firing was slammed by many for being an overreaction to what was simply meant to be a joke, albeit a tasteless one with racial overtoves. Barr took back the remark and immediately apologized for it, that should have been enough, critics of ABC said. The argument went on that other celebrities make crude and vugar references about public figures all the time and get away with it scott free. Bill Maher for example compared President Trump to an orangutan, and Samantha Bee just this week referred to Ivanka Trump as a "feckless cunt." Bee also apologized for that remark. But unlike Barr, Maher and Bee got to keep their jobs despite doing essentially what Barr did.

Cries of unfiar, and accusations of double standards went up all over the ultra-right airwaves which claimed that Barr was fired and the others were spared for one and only one reason, because Barr is a vocal supporter of Donald Trump. Not surprizingly, the president also got into the act with his own tweet. He openly whined about Disney, the parent company of ABC. If they saw fit to fire Barr for her comments about Jarrett, and then apologize to the American people for those remarks, why didn't they apologize to him for all the mean things celebrities under their employ said about him?

Putting aside the petty and pathetic nature of the President of the United States making the firing of a celebrity over an offensive comment, all about himself, does Donald Trump have a point? After all, Bill Maher compared him to an ape, just like Barr compared Jarrett, and Bee crossed a line when she used the "C" word to describe his daughter. Fair is fair isn't it?

If there were a creature from outer space who arrived to earth just in time for this story to break, he, she, they, it or whatever the correct pronoun for a creature from outer space is, would certainly see a double standard here, Barr was fired and Maher and Bee were not, for doing essentially the same thing. But in our society, you'd have to be a creature from outer space to not understand the difference, and no, it does not have anythigng to do with the poitics of the people involved.

The issue is race, pure and simple. A couple months ago. I dealt with the issue of reverse racism, trying to find eqinamity beween the way white and black people in the United States relate to each other. My conclusion was that it is simply not possible. In other words, reverse racism does not exist. You can read that post here.

Now you might read that and say wow, this guy is just swayed by the scourge of political correctness. Well several years ago I dealt with that subject as well. You can read that here.

The jist of the matter is this, every society has its own taboos. In Turkey for example, it is considered taboo to show the bottom of your feet in public,, with or without shoes. In Cambodia, it is wrong to take a photograph with three people. Every society, including our own, has its own cultural taboos that are bewildering to people of other cultures.

There were far more taboos when I was growing up in this country than there are now. For example, one would never ask a woman her age. Then of course there were George Carlin's famous "Seven words you can't say on TV." Well you still can't say those words on broadcast TV but they are used so frequently these days in common speech that they go all but unnoticed. As a result, they have all but lost their power to evoke or provoke as the case may be.

But never fear, there are two words that have supplanted them, words  so vile and taboo in our society, that even the slightest mention of them in polite company, with rare exception, marks the utterer of them, the basest of individuals. That's because the two words refer not to bodily functions but are the most derogatory descriptions of specific groups of people, one of them, African Americans, the other, women. And the two greatest taboos in our society today are number one, being a racist, and number two, being a sexist. For all its shortcomings, political correctness is a means to enforce these taboos that deserve to remain as such.

If you believe that reverse racism and for that matter, reverse sexism exists, consider this:, no matter how hard you try to find one, there is no white equivalent for the "N" word, and no male equivalent for the "C" word. Granted there are derogatory words, insulting words, obnoxious words to describe white males, but nothing that comes close to the vile intent conveyed by those two specific words. And for good reason, black people and women have experienced centurites of repression, suppression, and oppresion in our society, white men have not. All the while, white men have called the shots, and for that matter, by and large, still do.

There has been a double standard reagrding race and regarding gender in this country since the beginning. So now the pendulum has swung the other direction and yes indeed, today there is a double standard in regard to the words you can legitimately use to describe another race or gender. As a result there are lines that exist in regards to the words we can use to describe oppressed groups of people, including women, that don't exist in the other direction.

And with that the ultra right cries foul. "Not being able to use words? Why that violates our free speech as guaranteed in the First Amendment!"

Well not so fast. The First Amendment of the American Constitution guarantees that Congress shall not create a law "abridging freedom of speech" (among other things). So yes there is no law against spewing the most vile, racist, sexist or hateful words, as the constitution protects against it. In other words, the police cannot come and arrest you for speaking your mind. What the constitution does not protect you from, are the consequences that may arise from that speech, including losing your job. You are free to say whatever you like without fear of arrest, but your employer doesn't have to ruin its reputation by having to associate with you. And a private company such as Facebook or Twitter is not required to publish your vile words. They are perfectly free to delete what you say, if it does not fall within their well established guidelines, or outright ban you at their discression. So say whatever you like, but remember, you are on your own, at least according to the constitution.

Roseanne Barr a white woman, crossed a definite line when she likened Valerie Jarrett, a black woman, to an ape. She was not arrested, therefore her constitutional rights were not violated. ABC, a company with a reputation to withhold, decided it no longer wanted to be affiliated with her. That decision, right or wrong, is their right, and they acted upon it.

On the other hand, there is no line against making fun of the president or his family, in fact, there is a long, distinguished history of it in this country. Personally I find Bill Maher obnoxious and at times despicable. But he, a white man, did not cross any line by calling Trump, another white man, an orangutan. In fact if anything, I think his remark was more offensive to orangutans than to Trump but maybe that's just me. Samantha Bee calling the first daughter the "C" word, if not crossing a line, came pretty close. I suppose she gets cut some slack because she is a woman calling another woman that word. Frankly it wouldn't bother me if either Maher or Bee lost their job for of their vulgar comments, because that decision is the discretion of their their employer. I may not like it, but it's not my network.

The fact is, if we are dismayed when a TV network chooses to hire or fire somebody, or not hire or not fire somebody, there is something we can do about it. Change the channel. If enough of us do that, believe me, the network will get the message.

On the other hand if a black man cannot walk down the street without being suspected of being a criminal simply because of the color of his skin, he cannot change the color of his skin.

Or if a woman cannot go to work with the full expectation tha she will be treated fairly, justly and with respect at all times, simply because she is a woman, she cannot change her gender.

Nobody ever said life was fair.

Given that, if you're whining this week because you think it's unfair that a network cancelled your favorite TV show because of a racist remark made by its star, I have two words for you.

Tough shit.