Tag Archives: political correctness

Stereotypes, The Simpsons, And The (Empty) Complaints About Apu

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For nearly three decades, our society has had an unspoken, but clear understanding. For something to become culturally relevant, it has to be mentioned “The Simpsons.” Whether it’s a major plot on something like boy bands or a subtle joke about a classic novel, it’s not truly a mainstream idea until it shows up on “The Simpsons.”

I happen to be among the demographic who have always lived in a world where the “The Simpsons” existed. I honestly cannot remember a time when this show wasn’t on the air or relevant in some ways. For a show that has been on the air for nearly 30 years, it’s remarkable just how much impact it has had, despite so many changes in trends, culture, technology, media, and tastes.

There have been controversial moments, though. I still remember how controversial it was when John Waters voiced a gay character on the show. That was considered controversial in 1997. Looking back on it, I can see why. The more recent controversies, however, are a bit harder to understand.

That brings me to Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, Springfield’s lovable Indian owner of the Kwik-E-Mart. I say he’s lovable because, for the most part, he’s one of the show’s most colorful side-characters and for the right reasons. He’s smart, he’s got a unique personality, and he’s undergone plenty of growth over the years.

However, according to a documentary by Indian comedian Hari Kondabolu called “The Problem With Apu,” this established character on an iconic TV show is contributing to a serious social ill in the world. The fact that Apu exists is a factor in the many causes of social injustice, racism, and bigotry. He’s almost as bad as video game characters being too sexy. If I could write that with more sarcasm, I would.

With all due respect to Mr. Kondabolu, who lives a minority in a country that has a spotty history with race to say the least,  I sincerely question his method for picking certain battles. There are many serious issues surrounding race relations in America and throughout the world. Those issues have all sorts of complexities and nuances to them.

Instead of scrutinizing those, however, he singles out a popular cartoon character to make his point. Even That doesn’t just undermine the serious issues he discusses in that movie. It ensures that his point will get lost in the collective groans of those who bemoan political correctness.

I know that whining about political correctness has become a source of whining in and of itself, but there is a continuum of sorts that separates serious issues about representation in the media from outright trolling. The separation isn’t always clear, but in the case of Apu and Mr. Kondabolu, it’s too petty to be subtle.

The idea that Apu is now problematic, a word that has gained a lot of frustrating connotations in recent years, sends an indirect message that I don’t think Mr. Kondabolu wanted to send. It’s not that racism and bigotry aren’t important issues. It’s the idea that anyone who enjoys “The Simpsons” and appreciates characters like Apu are somehow on the same level as old school, George Wallace level racists.

For most reasonable people, that notion is both insulting and absurd. Again, I doubt that’s the direct message Mr. Kondabolu was saying, but that’s the subtext of the message he sent with that documentary. “The Simpsons” and the people who enjoy it are somehow bad people and contributing to a problem.

Understandably, both fans and the creators of the show aren’t going to respond with homemade chocolates and hugs. Even though the creators promised to address it, the way they did so did not involve an extended apology about how the show has depicted Apu and paying massive reparations for all the hurt feelings it has caused.

Instead, they worked it into a side-plot in the episode, “No Good Read Goes Unpunished,” wherein Marge tries to rewrite her favorite book so that it’s free of anything that might be considered offensive in 2018. As many in Hollywood and the media are finding out the hard way these days, that’s next to impossible.

It all culminated in a moment where Marge and Lisa partially broke the fourth wall, Deadpool style, and indirectly confronted the controversy by basically saying that there’s not much you can do when old characters who weren’t offensive at first become offensive years later. Those characters exist, as do their stories. Lisa flat out asks to the camera, “What can you do?”

It’s a very relevant question that Mr. Kondabolu isn’t able to answer. In fact, I don’t think the question has an answer. At the very least, the scene didn’t mock him directly or discount his feelings. It was surprisingly even-handed for a show that regularly mocks popular trends. This is how the scene that played out.

Needless to say, that response rubbed plenty of people the wrong way, included Mr. Kondabolu. According to Entertainment Weekly, this was his response.

“Wow. ‘Politically Incorrect?’ That’s the takeaway from my movie & the discussion it sparked?” wrote Kondabolu. “Man, I really loved this show. This is sad.” In another tweet, he said, “In ‘The Problem with Apu,’ I used Apu & The Simpsons as an entry point into a larger conversation about the representation of marginalized groups & why this is important. The Simpsons response tonight is not a jab at me, but at what many of us consider progress.”

I want to be sympathetic to Mr. Kondabolu’s feelings. I really do. However, the problem with his response is that he didn’t even try to answer the question that Lisa asked. She asked what can you do. He just whined that this response wasn’t the one he wanted from the show. On top of that, he didn’t even try to explain what he’d hoped to hear.

This why I find his protest of Apu so empty. It’s also why I find a lot of complaints about offensive characters or stereotypes so asinine. It’s not enough that someone is offended. They basically set it up so that there’s no way for them not to be offended. They present a problem with no solution. If they offer one, it’s vague and easy to move the goalposts when someone doesn’t respond to their satisfaction.

For Mr. Kondabolu, he doesn’t just move the goalposts, though. He essentially tries to play an entirely different game on an entirely different field and expects everyone else to know the score. Even by scrutinizing the content of his own documentary, Mr. Kondabolu reveals just how misguided his arguments are. In another article by Entertainment Weekly, this was his justification for singling out Apu.

As Kondabolu made clear in his film, the problem with Apu extends beyond a brown character voiced by a white actor; the problem was not just with The Simpsons, but with its viewers, the drunk idiots on the street who call any South-Asian person “Apu” and who repeated “Thank you, come again,” as a mocking refrain.

I highlighted those bold parts because they’re the most revealing part of Mr. Kondabolu’s argument, as well as the greatest flaw. He links the depiction of Apu to the “drunk idiots” who harass people like him of South-Asian descent. From his perspective, the problem isn’t the drunk idiots doing the harassing. It’s the cartoon character.

In that context, it’s understandable why even a bleeding heart liberal like Lisa Simpson, a notable lover of cartoons, wouldn’t take up Mr. Kondabolu’s cause like she has so many others. It’s not just empty. It completely overlooks the actual source of the problem, namely the drunk idiots.

Are they drunk idiots because they watched “The Simpsons?” Are they drunk idiots towards people of South-Asian descent because of Apu and the stereotype he represents? Well, if that’s the argument Mr. Kondabolu is going to make, then he’s got a much bigger problem. “The Simpsons” are full of so many other stereotypes that to single just one out as “problematic” isn’t just asinine. It’s petty.

Homer Simpson is a stereotype of a dimwitted, drunk middle class working stiff.

Lisa Simpson is a stereotype of a whiny, bleeding heart liberal social justice lover.

Marge Simpson is a stereotype of a nagging housewife.

Groundskeeper Willie is a stereotype of an angry Scotsman.

Barney Gumble is a stereotype of a fat, drunk alcoholic slob.

Cletus Spuckler is a stereotype of a white trash hillbilly.

Luigi Risotto is a stereotype of an Italian chef.

Fat Tony is a stereotype of an Italian mobster.

I could go on, but with nearly 30 years of characters, “The Simpsons” has such a huge cast of characters that there’s no way I could list every character and the stereotype they represent. In fact, it’s because “The Simpsons” has so many characters and so much history that it’s possible to find a character that embodies an offensive stereotype of some type. The only requirement is that you have to be really petty.

That’s what Mr. Kondabolu had to do. He had to get really petty to single out Apu, which also required he ignore the real, non-animated people who were harassing minorities. Again, none of this is to say that racism and harassment aren’t problems. They are. However, when highlighting this issue requires a level of pettiness that involves singling out cartoon characters, then there’s something wrong with that approach.

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Gender, Equality, And The Pain That Binds Us

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Imagine, for a moment, there are two kids playing on a playground. Both are young, rowdy, and energetic. They run around, rough-house, and engage in the kind of reckless fun you would expect of most kids.

Then, at some point, they both run into each other. They both get hurt, sustaining similar bruises and experiencing similar pain. They both start crying. Those cries are equally loud and they each shed the same volume of tears. Naturally, this gets the attention of nearby adults.

However, in responding to the cries, one child ends up getting more attention than the others. Most crowd around that child, offering solace and treatment. All the while, the other child is still crying just as loudly. Only a handful of other adults tend to that child, but the crying and the pain persist.

Does what I just describe sound fair? Does the idea of one child’s pain getting more attention than the other strike seem wrong to you? Absent any larger context or notable personality disorders, I believe most people would agree. The idea that one child’s pain warrants more attention than others is wrong. It offends that innate sense of empathy and justice that binds us as humans.

I tell this story to make an important point about pain. To some extent, pain is the ultimate egalitarian. It doesn’t care about your gender, your race, your ethnic background, your politics, your ideology, or your religion. It also doesn’t care about how many arguments you win, how much virtue signaling you do, or how informed you may be. It still hurts all the same.

Pain is, effectively, the one uniting force that reasonable and unreasonable people alike can agree on. It affects us all. Too much of it can leave lasting scars. When someone’s pain is ignored or overlooked, it still feels like an injustice. On the most basic level, pain reveals just how similar we are in the grand scheme of things.

I make this important point in lieu of a revealing conversation I had with someone on Reddit. Every now and then, you find yourself interact with people who help you come to profound realizations without seeking them in the first place. It’s a conversation that I feel is worth sharing, if only to thank the person who inspired it.

The conversation began with a woman posting a brief inquiry in the Men’s Rights subreddit. That, in and of itself, is pretty remarkable and says a lot about the woman. She identifies herself as a feminist, yet she goes out of her way to start a conversation in a place that is sure to have differing opinions. In this era of highly bias media exposure, we should all take a moment to appreciate her open-mindedness.

The substance of her post was not combative or hostile. At no point did she come off as anything other than sincere and curious. These are the exact words she used to start the conversation.

I’m a woman and for lack of a better term a feminist and to be honest I don’t understand why there has to be conflict between men’s rights and women’s rights. The way society is set up at the moment I think women face more challenges, the majority of which are created by men. But on the flip side men also face challenges due to their gender, but these problems are often created by men as well. I’m not saying for either gender men create all the problems, as women we have to step up and acknowledge what we do as well.

I guess what I’m asking is why not try and work with the feminist movement?

When I first read this post, I admit I was somewhat worried about the reaction it would generate. In my vast experience with Reddit and message boards, people who go out of their way to talk to those who disagree with them tend to start conversations that get easily derailed. Whether it’s feminism or Star Trek, people can get pretty passionate with their opinions and that can cause problems.

In reading through some of the comments, there were indeed some crass remarks. You see those in almost any subreddit or message board in some form or another. Not everyone was reasonable during the conversation, but I still felt it was a conversation worth having.

That’s why I made it a point to submit some comments of my own. In doing so, and getting a few generous responses from the woman, I came to this critical realization about pain and how it affects gender issues, double standards, and identity politics as a whole.

When you get down to the most fundamental level, it all comes back to pain. Feminism, men’s rights, the LGBT community, racial politics, ethnic conflicts, and even clashes within a sub-culture all build their movements around the pain their group experiences.

Whether it’s political oppression, social stigma, legal discrimination, or just plain hostility, these groups and the agendas they pursue are forged by the pain they experience. The most divisive part of that agenda, though, is the idea that their pain matters more than others.

With respect to gender, which was the primary topic of the discussion the woman started, much of the arguments could be broken down into categories of pain. For the feminist crowd, the pain they experience from discrimination, slut shaming, harassment, reproductive rights, and specific health issues takes priority and understandably so.

It’s just as understandable that the men’s rights crowd would prioritize the pain they experience by damaging double standards, legal discrimination, circumcision, social pressures, and violent victimization. When they feel their pain is deemed less important or trivial, it doesn’t just inspire resentment. It sends the message that someone else’s pain doesn’t matter.

That very notion, the idea that someone else’s pain is more important than another, undermines some of the most fundamental facets of our humanity. That’s not to say there aren’t times when certain pain takes priority. When there’s an ongoing atrocity, like a mass shooting or a war crime, then that’s an instance where we should prioritize that pain.

It’s an indirect message that few intend to send, but many find themselves surmising. A woman stands up and should that their pain is important. Others interpret that as her saying that the pain of men doesn’t matter. A man does the same, shouting that their pain is important. Even if they’re wholly sincere, women interpret that as opposition.

When it comes to discussions about gender politics, racial politics, ideology, or social justice, though, the act of elevating someone else’s pain over the other will only ever serve to breed resentment. It’s rarely direct, but that’s exactly what makes it so impactful.

If there’s one message that I took away from the conversation, it’s that one person’s pain can undermine the other when agendas take priority over understanding. Whether they’re feminist, men’s rights, LGBT, religious, or racial in nature, building that agenda around a particular pain requires that it be elevated to some extent.

That may be understandable within a certain context, but when the agenda takes on the character of an ideology, it turns that pain into a force for division. Given our tribal nature, those divisions can widen considerably and at a time when there are over 7.6 billion of us, that can be more damaging.

Even with these divisions, the conversation with that woman gave me hope because it reminded me of just how similar we are when you get down to it. We all experience pain in our lives. We all tend to elevate our own pain compared to that of others. However, the fact that we’re all vulnerable to such pain proves that we’re more equal than we think.

I believe we can take comfort in that, if only to remind ourselves that our pain matters as much as those of others. We are, at the end of the day, a compassionate species. We may have any number of ways to divide ourselves, but we have far more powerful ways to bring us together.

To the woman who posted that message, I sincerely thank you. I hope your effort will inspire others as much as they inspired me.

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Generation Z, The March For Our Lives, And The Nihilism Turning Point

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Last year, I wrote a couple of posts about the mentality of Millennials and the possible quirks they may inspire in Generation Z, which are just starting to emerge. While I’m neither the spokesperson for Millennials, nor am I an expert on the generation they’re creating. Being a Millennial myself, though, I like to think I have more insight than most. I’ve watched their story play out and I’ve even lived part of it.

However, this particular topic isn’t about Millennials. This is about the emerging generation after them, Generation Z. While Millennials are still subject to any number of trends and criticisms, Generation Z hasn’t had much time to establish themselves or have a defining moment. That may be changing in wake of the Parkland shooting.

To understand why, it’s important to provide a bit of context about Generation Z. First and foremost, we need to identify just who they are, relative to Millennials, Generation X, and the Baby Boomers. While there’s no official cut-off point, most reputable sources identify anyone born after the year 2000 as members of Generation Z.

Those who lived through the Parkland shooting are mostly in their mid-to-late teens so they fit into this category. That matters a great deal because it’s happening at a point where Generation Z is on the cusp of adulthood. To understand why that matters, it’s important to note the context of this generation.

These kids, and they are still kids for the most part, were born into a world where they didn’t witness the horrors of Columbine or the experience the collective trauma of the September 11th attacks. Generation Z has always lived in a world where school shootings are a thing and the War on Terror has always been ongoing.

Beyond that, they’re also a generation that has been even more well-connected than their Millennial predecessors. Most never had to endure the hardships of dial-up internet or cell phones that did not have a camera. Their entire lives have been connected, so to speak. That’s part of what has fueled their reaction to the Parkland shooting.

The kids in Generation Z have been watching all their lives as horrible mass shootings from Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, and Las Vegas happen with distressing regularity. At the same time, they’ve watched as efforts by Millennials, Generation X, and the Baby Boomers amount to very little change. The fact that the internet and social media documents all these failures leaves quite an impression.

Being young, idealistic, and not totally jaded, the members of Generation Z are finally at an age where they have a chance to make an effort of their own. They’re still not old enough to drink or vote in many instances, but they’re now in a position to make their voices heard. That was the idea behind the March For Our Lives that occurred last week.

It marks a potentially defining moment for Generation Z, one that may have far-reaching consequences for years to come. They’ve seen how many have tried and failed to use the horrors of mass shootings to promote gun control reforms. They’re also informed and educated enough to know how egregious the gun violence disparity is in the United States compared to other developed countries.

While I applaud the passion of these remarkable young people, I also worry that this event may become a turning point, of sorts. By that, I mean these noble and sincere efforts of these kids could be the catalyst that instills a sense of nihilism that may very well define their generation.

This is something I speculated on when I made my predictions on the collective mindset of Generation Z last year, going so far as to identify Rick Sanchez from “Rick And Morty” as their first icon. I stated that Generation Z would likely be the most nihilistic generation of all time. Now, the success or failure of the March For Our Lives could be the turning point that cements that nihilism within Generation Z.

As I said before, it won’t be the same kind of nihilism we associate with the Friedrich Nietzsches of the world. It’s the kind of nihilism that is the byproduct of being surrounded by so much information and seeing how little it truly matters in the long run.

Like Millennials, Generation Z is very educated. They’ve grown up in a world where they have access to nearly all the world’s relevant information through their smartphones. They’re smart enough and tech-savvy enough to see world events unfolding before their eyes. They’re also informed enough to know how hard it is for any event to make for meaningful change.

Now, here they are, having experienced one of their first traumas as an up-and-coming generation. They’ve seen all those terrible mass shootings inspire nothing but empty thoughts and prayers. They feel inspired enough and bold enough to make an effort, hoping they’ll succeed where so many others have failed.

While many are rooting for them, the odds are stacked against them. Even major news outlets are starting to spoil the outcome, applauding the kids while brushing off their ideals as youthful day-dreaming. I don’t think they realize just what kind of impression they’ll have on their generation as a whole.

Let’s say, for a moment, that the most likely scenario happens and the March For Our Lives leads to no meaningful change in gun control laws or in efforts to curb mass shootings. What kind of message does that send to the survivors of Parkland and the entire generation emerging behind it?

Firstly, it establishes that their lives, their pain, and their ideals don’t matter. It doesn’t matter how passionate they are. It doesn’t matter how traumatized they are. What they went through and how they reacted in response doesn’t matter. In such a crowded, diverse, and complicated world, their lives are trivial.

That’s almost a textbook definition of existential nihilism. Their hopes, their dreams, and their very place in the universe is insignificant. It wouldn’t have mattered if ten times more kids died at Parkland. It still wouldn’t have changed anything. There would still be no gun control. There would still be more mass shootings. All that time, effort, energy, and pain amounted to nothing.

In previous generations, it was almost beneficial to live in a world that wasn’t so connected. They could see horrible events on the news, but find a way to compartmentalize it in their minds so they could go on with their lives. With Generation Z, being so connected and informed, that’s just not feasible anymore.

They don’t just see that their efforts at Parkland were meaningless. They also see how many other mass shootings have occurred throughout history and how utterly inane such violence is in the grand scheme of things. In a sense, their ability to connect and inform themselves could render them numb to any greater sense of purpose.

That’s not to say that the kids behind March For Our Lives or the whole of Generation Z will be a bunch of dispassionate, misanthropic naysayers who are so emotionally flat that they don’t respond to stories of human suffering anymore. It just means that they’ll be a lot more calculated with their perspective.

Keep in mind, a world of regular school shootings and a never-ending war on terrorism is not some major upheaval to Generation Z. That’s their concept of normal. They’ve always lived in a world where terror attacks can happen at any time, when mass shootings can happen just as frequently, and no meaningful change ever comes of it.

For them, all the yelling, protesting, and outrage that generations of the past have voiced will just seem like background noise. If all the suffering and trauma led to nothing, then why should they bother? That may very well be a question that the Parkland survivors start asking themselves after the March For Our Lives accomplishes nothing.

Now, that’s not to say Generation Z won’t react differently. That’s not even to say that the March For Our Lives won’t accomplish something meaningful in the end. It’s impossible to predict major trends that go onto define an entire generation, but it’s still possible to note the vulnerabilities.

For Generation Z, nihilism might end up being less a reaction and more a necessity. They’re coming into a world where all the news is fake, facts battle alternative facts, and dead kids only evoke empty thoughts and prayers. Once this fact settles in, it’ll be interesting to see how they seek to define themselves moving forward.

Being the optimist I am, I believe that the kind of nihilism that Generation Z embraces could help inoculate them from some of the detrimental effects of identity politics, fake news, and outrage culture. I think that’s critical, given how these forces have corrupted debates and empowered professional trolls.

In any case, Generation Z faces an uphill battle in an effort to set themselves apart from their Millennial peers. A greater sense of nihilism may make them difficult to deal, but that’s exactly what will help define them as they seek purpose within a seemingly purposeless world.

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How Excessive Guilt Inspires Regressive Attitudes (And Ugly Politics)

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Have you ever done something that made you feel so guilty that it messed with your head? Have you ever felt so much guilt heaped upon you that it made you feel sick in ways that combine the nausea of a hangover with the delirium of a bad flu? If you haven’t been in that situation, then consider yourself lucky because guilt really is that powerful.

Like anger and hatred, guilt is one of those powerful feelings that can circumvent reason, reality, and everything in between. It can be like a rat gnawing at your brain stem, a stabbing pain in the most vulnerable part of your psyche. It doesn’t matter what the facts of the situation might be. Like any other pain, you’ll do anything to alleviate it.

As bad as it is, guilt is a critical component of the human condition. Guilt is a major aspect of being a social species. When we do something wrong within a functioning society, we should feel guilty. In the absence of laws and governments, guilt is part of what binds us together as a people and helps guide us in doing right by one another.

It’s because guilt is so powerful, though, that it can easily be weaponized to pursue an agenda. I would even argue it’s too easy because in recent years, efforts to channel and pile on guilt have become more overt. It’s becoming so overt that it’s not even subtle anymore. The effects aren’t just damaging. They’re counterproductive.

Last year, I wrote a lengthy post about how certain people use virtue signaling to make them feel like the heroes in their own story. In some respects, that effort is partially fueled by feelings of guilt that just happen to supplement the inherent desire to feel like John McClane in a “Die Hard” movie. That inherent desire to feel virtuous can sometimes coincide with feelings of guilt, real or imagined.

However, it’s the imagined, contrived guilt that’s becoming a problem. It’s guilt belabored by those seeking vindication that’s subverting the actual guilt that’s healthy and necessary for a functioning society. In an era where it’s easy to shame and condemn others through social media, it has never been easier to channel the power of guilt.

In some cases, that might be a good thing, being able to use our inter-connected world to lump guilt upon those who might otherwise get away with serious misdeeds. One could even argue it’s because of mass media that we, as a global society, have become more tolerant over the past century. Unlike most of human history, we can see the suffering of our fellow humans and rightly feel guilt about it.

The problem, however, comes when that same media is used to evoke excessive guilt in people who may not have any real stake in an issue. It usually has nothing to do with any direct action or decision that these people made. It’s often more vague, involving anything from the crimes of our ancestors to social status to physical appearance.

Whatever the method, the end results are fairly predictable. It usually goes something like this.

“You’re a [Insert Race/Religion/Gender/Ethnic Group/Social Class Here]! Just look at how great your life is compared to all the poor [Insert Oppressed Class/Group/Opposing Political Affiliation Here]! You should feel ashamed of yourself! You should sacrifice your comforts, your time, and your money to pay for all that suffering! If you don’t, then you’re a horrible person and deserve no respect!”

Whether it’s race, religion, gender, or some other label, it really doesn’t take much. It just needs to single out a certain contingent of people who identify a certain way. It doesn’t even have to be a physical trait. Sub-cultures like gaming, sports, and general hobbies are prone to it. Gaming, especially, has been subjected to a lot of scrutiny in recent years.

If it’s possible to judge a group for not being inclusive, understanding, or generous enough, then guilt can be leveraged against it. On paper, it almost seems fair, using guilt to level the playing field. In practice, however, it has one exceedingly nasty side-effect that derails any effort at justice.

To illustrate how, it’s necessary to scrutinize the basics of guilt in terms of how it actually works compared to how some people think it works. To highlight that difference, here are two scenarios that focus on basic reactions to guilt. See if you can find where those nasty side-effects I mentioned manifest.

Scenario One: That person just made me feel really guilty about something. I had better sit down, listen, and calmly discuss this matter with them in a reasonable, rational way so I can address this feeling.

Scenario Two: That person just made me feel guilty. This feels awful! I hate this person for making me feel this way. Now, I need to find a way to alleviate this feeling. What’s the quickest, easiest way to do that?

I hope it’s obvious which one is more consistent with the real world. While I like to think I have more faith in humanity than most these days, I don’t deny there are some bugs in our collective operating system. When it comes to guilt, though, some will use those bugs against others in hopes of shaping their opinions. However, when guilt is the primary ingredient, those opinions are far more likely to be regressive.

Whether it’s extreme political correctness, extreme religious dogma, or extreme identity politics, guilt is effectively targeted to put people in a state of anxiety. You’re guilty for committing egregious sins against a deity. You’re guilty for being too offensive to a particular group. You’re guilty of not being inclusive enough to a particular minority.

That guilt doesn’t even have to involve a direct action or choice. It can be entirely wrong, built on myths, lies, or debunked science. It just has to evoke a reaction. Our brains, being the crude products of nature that they are, cannot tell the difference between the guilt we feel for stealing our mother’s purse or just being the same race as one that owned slaves 200 years ago.

As a result, our first instinct isn’t calm, reasoned debate. It’s to alleviate the guilt in the quickest way possible. That often means becoming defensive, angry, and aggressive. That kind of reaction is not going to make someone more understanding or tolerant. It’s going to make them hostile or upset towards the source of the guilt.

Guilt is pain on some levels, which is why many see heaping guilt on others as an outright attack. It’s why those attempting to evoke the guilt are vilified or despised. It doesn’t even matter if they make valid arguments. Their use of guilt renders their every word inherently toxic, a word I don’t use lightly.

When messages become toxic, attitudes become combative. When people become combative, their politics become regressive. Think about the guilt-obsessed Puritans or the loudest voices in the social justice crowd. They not just intolerant of the source of the guilt. They go out of their way to overreact, like attacking a fly with a shotgun.

In the name of alleviating the pains of guilt, that almost seems justified. It’s a big reason why the politics of those consumed by guilt tend to be extreme. It’s not enough to address a simple injustice in the present. Everything in the past related to that guilt needs to be a factor. That’s how you get people who condemn their own race, hate on their own gender, and favor politics that are antithetical to basic concepts of liberty.

It’s why radical feminists who say men are guilty of all the world’s ills actually make anti-feminism seem appealing to some.

It’s why race-baiting tactics by those attempting to promote racial equality tend to incur a major backlash.

It’s why attacking popular culture and sub-cultures who aren’t “inclusive” enough to become even less inclusive.

In that context, using excessive guilt only inspires a greater backlash than the one that usually comes from major social movements. If used carefully, it can subdue people into a state of desperation, longing for a way to alleviate the feeling. Some religion have managed this to great effect.

It doesn’t take much, though, in our interconnected world for guilt to become excessive. In a sense, it helps to see using guilt as using torture. Sure, the torture will usually get someone to say what you want to hear, but unless they’re a sociopath or exceedingly masochistic, they’re not going to share the attitudes or sentiments of their torturer.

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Filed under Current Events, gender issues, human nature, Reasons and Excuses

A (Non-Preachy) Lesson In Tolerance In Supergirl #19

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Growing up, every TV show that aired between 3:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. seemed air some sort of pro-tolerance, anti-bigotry message. These shows assumed, rightly in my case, that a lot of kids who’d just gotten home from school would plop themselves in front of the TV and rather than doing their homework. In terms of targeting a market, it was pretty brilliant.

Having been fed those messages for over two decades now, I think they’ve been belabored to the point where most kids and young adults have gotten the message. Some are even annoyed by it. Even I admit there’s only so many times I can hear some poorly-rendered cartoon character say that tolerance is good and bigotry is bad.

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In recent years, especially with the rise of certain regressive elements within popular media, these pro-diversity, anti-bigotry messages have gone to distressing extremes. It’s no longer enough to just send the message. It has to be angrily protested by media critics, internet mobs, and hyper-sensitive crowds that push political correctness way past its previous extremes.

I could spend fill several blog posts of instances of people whining about a lack of diversity or complaining that political correctness has gone too far. I can understand the frustration of both sides to some extent. Both see a problem with the way tolerance is being promoted within society and they want to fix it. They both want to make society better and that’s entirely commendable.

Instead of focusing on the frustrations, though, I want to highlight an example of a pro-tolerance, anti-bigotry message done right. By that, I mean it sends a message in a way that doesn’t sound preachy, heavy-handed, or denigrating to another group. As it just so happens, it unfolds in a comic book, a medium that has provided me with many deeper messages in the past.

In this instance, the comic is Supergirl #19 by Steve Orlando and Vita Ayala. Being a fan of the “Supergirl” TV show and of beautiful, lovable female heroes in general, I’ve been following this comic since it relaunched in 2016. It’s a series that deals with heroic conflicts typical of DC Comics and anyone remotely associated with Superman. This issue, however, takes a moment to get personal.

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The story itself is a brief, self-contained narrative often referred to as a one-shot. You don’t have to know the full story of the character or even the events of the past several issues to understand what’s going on. You don’t even have to know the first thing about Supergirl to appreciate the message that this issue conveys.

It’s built around a personal story told by a character named Lee Serano, a character whose life Supergirl recently saved. That, in and of itself, isn’t too remarkable. Supergirl, Superman, and pretty much every major DC hero saves the life of a random character in almost every issue. However, it’s Lee’s struggles beyond being in the wrong place at the wrong time that make her note-worthy.

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Lee identifies as genderqueer or non-binary, a concept that tends to make headlines for all the wrong reasons. More often than not, stories about people who identify with this label are only identified as a way to point out how far political correctness has gone. It’s often a classification that certain people cite when making fun of those who think there need to be over 58 genders.

Whatever your attitudes towards gender, it’s still generally a dick move to ridicule and degrade someone for identifying that way. Throughout Supergirl #19, Lee doesn’t come off as someone who is just craving attention by identifying as some extreme minority. She comes off as someone who is genuinely conflicted with her gender and is afraid how it’ll affect her.

That’s where Supergirl comes in and this is where the anti-bigotry message gains some unexpected, but welcome dimensions. Like any good hero, Supergirl goes out of her way to help Lee beyond saving her life. She offers her both consolation and sincere affection, as any decent person would to someone who is in distress. The fact she has superpowers is basically an afterthought.

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It’s here where Lee stands up for Supergirl in a way that might catch even the anti-PC crowd by surprise. She acknowledges that there are those who look at Supergirl and only see this blond-haired, blue-eyed, traditionally beautiful, able-bodied, cis-gendered woman with superpowers. Her very presence is seen as part of the problem.

The fact she acknowledges this has an important context. This issue takes place at a time when Supergirl is trying to regain the trust of the public. Unlike her more famous cousin, she hasn’t been around long enough to earn everybody’s implicit trust when she makes a mistake. The extent of that mistake is covered in previous issues, but you don’t need to know them to get the message here.

In one of the most revealing scenes, Lee confronts the argument that certain regressive types would use against Supergirl if she ever tried to get involved with gender minorities, social justice, and everything in between. She makes this important comment that sets the tone for the entire story.

“People are out there talking, saying Supergirl’s dangerous, that she can’t be trusted. Saying that her hiding her dad – trying to help him get better – is wrong. I heard the talk. Believed it for a while, even. I mean, she’s the “All-American Ideal – blonde, white, pretty – and she can fly. She MUST think she’s better than us – above us,” and, “There’s no way she could understand,” right? But that’s not the truth.”

This statement is critical in that it highlights the most frustrating part of discussing these issues with the overly-regressive crowd. Their politics and attitudes are so skewed in one direction that they see anyone who doesn’t line up with their particular group, however eccentric it might be, as somehow unworthy of being part of the conversation.

It often happens in discussions involving race, gender, religion, and most other minority issues. For certain people in those discussions, often the angrier, more radical wings, just associating with the majority is seen as fraternizing with the enemy. It doesn’t just limit the conversation. It dehumanizes the opposing side.

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Supergirl #19 takes the opposite approach in that both Supergirl and Lee are humanized to the upmost. Lee isn’t some confused, attention-seeking teenager. Supergirl isn’t some arrogant, stereotypical stand-in for majority. They’re just two individuals, connecting like mature individuals do to help one another in a time of need. It’s basically a template for simple human decency.

Contrast that with those who claim white people shouldn’t contribute to conversations about race. Contrast that with those who claim beautiful people shouldn’t contribute to issues surrounding body shaming. Contrast that with those who claim men should shut up when discussing women’s issues, scorning anyone who dares to follow Matt Damon’s example.

These instances don’t just take the anti-bigotry, pro-tolerance message to an unhealthy extreme. It angers and alienates those on the other side of the argument. It gives them no reason to listen to what someone who considers themselves gender non-binary has to say, relying instead on prejudices and assumptions.

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Neither side benefits from that approach. Nobody helps anyone when two sides of an issue harbor so much animosity that the very presence of another is seen as an insult. Yes, Supergirl does check most of the boxes for someone who faces far fewer issues than a non-white, gender non-binary individual in the United States. That doesn’t mean she’s part of the problem.

I don’t want to spoil the rest of Supergirl #19. Like other comics I’ve singled out in the past, I’d rather people take the time to read it in order to experience the breadth of the story. It’s a story worth heeding during these contentious times. I would argue it offers something far more important than those old after-school PSAs.

More than anything else, it emphasizes treating people as individuals and not lumping them into a particular group with a particular agenda. Lee points out that people just assume Supergirl thinks and feels a certain way because of how she looks and acts. That’s a flawed assumption that dehumanizes and denigrates her.

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It doesn’t matter if Supergirl, or anyone else who gets involved in contentious social issues, looks a certain way or doesn’t check the right boxes. She’s still a human being, albeit one with alien origins. Unless you can actually read her thoughts and feelings, as some DC characters can, then making those assumptions is just a different form of bigotry hiding behind the guise of anti-bigotry.

Supergirl #19 is a solid story with an important message. I would argue it’s more important now than it would’ve been in the days of after-school specials. It’s a good thing to promote tolerance, but not to the point that it inspires intolerable attitudes. Supergirl’s compassion helped Lee in her time of need. Her life and Supergirl’s are better because of it.

The fact that Supergirl didn’t even need to use her powers that much to help Lee is a testament to her character, as well as an inspiration. If she can help a total stranger that much, just by being decent and compassionate, then what’s our excuse?

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Being Offended, When It Matters, And What To Do About It

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Let’s face it. We live in a pretty offensive world. As much progress as we’ve made, as a species, there are still a lot of hateful, insulting, and outright disgusting things in this world. I’m not just talking about war atrocities, injustices, and reality TV shows either. You don’t have to look too far to find something that offends you to your core.

Therein lies the problem, though. In this era of super-connected, hyper-vigilant people who can’t always tell the difference between actual news and “fake news,” it’s exceedingly easy to find something offensive. Look hard enough, deep enough, and with a reckless disregard for facts and context, and you’ll probably find a way to be offended.

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I hope I’ve made clear, by now, that I don’t particularly care for the politically correct, inherently regressive attitudes that undermine our ability to live, love, and even make love. In fact, I’ve gone on record as saying that this crude approach to evaluating our society and culture needs to go the way of dial-up internet.

While I doubt political correctness will fade anytime soon, there are signs that it is cracking under the annoying strain it has caused, as the 2016 Presidential Election showed. It still rears its head constantly in controversies involving movies, video games, and even my beloved world comic books. However, it doesn’t quite have the momentum it used to when it really got going during the 2014 GamerGate saga.

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I expect that momentum to fluctuate in accord with whatever controversies and/or outrages emerge over the course of 2018 and beyond. I also expect those who claim offense will demonstrate wildly varying degrees of pettiness in their outrage. For some, it’ll be genuine. For most, though, I don’t expect it to go beyond the “I hate it and it makes me upset, therefore it shouldn’t exist” variety.

With that exceedingly varied pettiness in mind, I’d like to offer a quick a service, of sorts, to those who will inevitably be offended and those who will be annoyed by the degree of pettiness that such offense requires. I won’t give it a fancy name or anything. I just want to lay out some guidelines for interpreting offense.

Having watched political correctness and regressive attitudes evolve a great deal over the course of my life, I’ve noticed more than a few patterns in the attitudes of those who are genuinely offended. They tend to be very different compared to those whose offense is indistinguishable from trolling.

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At its core, the exceedingly regressive, politically correct forms of offense require a certain set of attitudes. Those attitudes include, but aren’t restricted to the following:

  • Being offended on behalf of an entire group of people, regardless of whether or not you’re actually a member of that group
  • Demanding broad, systemic change from the top down, imposed either by rules or by public scorn
  • Demanding some form of reparation or acknowledgement of past wrong-doing, regardless of whether or not someone was directly involved
  • Seeking to fix broad, non-specific injustices all at once
  • Re-shaping society through petty scrutinizing of media, language, and thought

There are probably more attitudes I could highlight, but for now, I’ll use these as the core tenants of those whose offense requires a significant absence of context or specifics. I won’t cite certain groups or sub-cultures, but those who spend any amount of time on social media or message boards can probably discern a few that fit that criteria.

Now, before I go any further, I want to add one important caveat. Regardless of how petty or asinine someone’s sense of offense may be, I don’t doubt for a second that it feels relevant from their perspective. Granted, there are a few professional trolls out there who will pretend to be offended, but I think those people are the minority. The rest do feel offense, but only to the extent that it has limited substance.

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Genuine or not, there are certain types of offending sentiments that carry more weight than others. Offense over the historical treatment of minorities, the inflammatory remarks of a public figure, and general insults from ordinary people exists on a vast spectrum.

It’s one thing to take offense to the depiction of minorities in an episode of “Family Guy,” but it’s quite another when someone makes a direct threat to an entire segment of people. That’s the key element to the substance of the offending behavior, though. It’s a matter of how direct it is.

Think of it as a forest-from-the-trees concept, but from the opposite direction. A person actively promoting a policy that would murder an entire group of people is different from one who just says horrible, disgusting things about that group in general. Promoting a policy is a tangible act in the same way a tree is a tangible thing, whereas a forest is more a concept.

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This gets even trickier for those who claim to be offended for an entire group of people. That offense requires that everyone within the group actually think and feel the same way about a particular issue. Absent mass telepathy or a Borg-style hive-mind, that’s neither feasible, nor logical.

Even for those who are part of that group, be they a race, religion, or sexual minority, attitudes can vary wildly because people are complex. Every individual has unique thoughts, feelings, and experiences. The more a type of offense relies on everyone sharing those sentiments, the more petty and empty it has to be.

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As a result, the endgame for those offended in such a way requires a recourse that is either antithetical to a just society or exceedingly unreasonable, if not wholly impractical. You know a form of offense is petty when it requires things like:

  • Condemning people just for thinking certain thoughts or holding certain beliefs
  • Demanding that other people sacrifice a part of their freedom, assets, or autonomy on behalf of another
  • Apologizing for past injustices that they did not directly commit

The pettiness is really on display whenever the offense requires the interpretation of other peoples’ thoughts. This often comes up whenever media like TV, movies, and video games are deemed offensive. It’s not that they’re triggering actual crimes, despite what some may claim. They’re somehow influencing the process.

This sentiment has gotten much more extreme in recent years, especially when it comes towards sexism. Never mind the fact that rates of sexual assault are declining and have been since the mid-1990s. It’s the thoughts and attitudes this media is instilling that’s so offensive.

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Again, that kind of offense requires someone to actually know what’s going on in the minds of other people when they consume certain media and see certain images. While we are working on that technology, that’s not possible right now. Absent a case where someone can tie a specific crime directly to a real victim, this kind of offense is empty at best and disingenuous at worst.

Those specifics matter even more when it comes to really sensitive issues like reparations for slavery, affirmative action, or the gender pay gap. These issues are sensitive because they often require a particular context. Namely, they require that part of that context be ignored in order to seem palatable to a large group of people.

To get behind slavery reparations, people have to ignore the fact that there’s nobody alive today who directly enslaved someone else. To get behind affirmative action, people have to ignore the fact that promoting diversity will come at the expense of disadvantaging someone who might be more qualified. To get behind the gender pay gap, even, it’s necessary to ignore all the other factors that go into that disparity.

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With all this in mind, how does anyone determine how much their offense matters beyond their own personal feelings? Well, the criteria for that is a bit trickier to determine, but there are concepts that pass the Simpson Filter. They can include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Tying a specific incident to actual, verifiable harm suffered by another person
  • Recourse that involves a specific, feasible goal that reforms a situation and addresses a direct injustice
  • Establishing a phenomena that has actual causation and not just correlation in a way that other people can verify
  • Incorporated the entirety of context within a given issue

It may seem like an impossible set of standards, but it can and has been done. The civil rights reforms that men like Martin Luther King Jr. fought for were targeted, specific, and addressed an ongoing injustice. More recently, the protests at Standing Rock created a real movement to address a real injustice with a clear goal in mind.

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Again, that’s not to say that someone who takes offense to a shirt a man wore during an interview is entirely empty, but it is exceedingly petty and a little selfish to seek vindication for that offense on a larger scale. That’s where the really damaging effects of political correctness and regressive attitudes take hold.

At the end of the day, the universe and society at large is under no obligation to change in order to accommodate your hurt feelings. Sure, you can attempt to persuade others that your offense is somehow legitimate, but attempting to force it only undermines those whose offense is real and genuine.

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Five TV Shows That Could NEVER Be Made Today (Thanks To Political Correctness)

It’s amazing how much our culture can change in such a short period of time, relatively speaking. It wasn’t that long ago that mixed-race couples were considered scandalous, depicting a toilet on a TV show was taboo, and Bill Cosby was a respectable public figure. Whether it’s decades, years, or just a few weeks, things can change quickly.

That change, however, isn’t always logical or in the right direction. Hell, I’m still trying to figure out the appeal of fidget spinners. While I like to think that most change in society is progress, I don’t deny there are instances where we all take a step backwards and sometimes fall on our asses.

This brings me TV, an undeniable catalyst for cultural change. For more than a half-century now, TV shaped, re-shaped, and upended our culture in all sorts of ways. From Elvis’ scandalous hips to the rise of music videos to shows like “Breaking Bad,” TV has been a force for better, for worse, and for just pure entertainment value.

There have been any number of shows, specials, and moments from TV that have come to define our culture. However, there are some shows that, if they happened today, would generate a very different response than they did when they first aired.

I’m not just talking about shock value or controversy either. I mean that if some these shows debuted in the current year, they would generate the kind of outrage, whining, and protests that flood social media and spur the kinds of debates that can only ever end with someone comparing someone lese to Nazis.

These are sensitive times for reasons I don’t think I have to articulate. We’ve made progress in some ways, but may be regressing in others. Some blame feminism. Some blame toxic masculinity. Some blame greed, bigotry, or political correctness. Some even blame the illuminati, but that may be pushing it.

Everyone seems to see something wrong in the culture of the past and the present. Everyone likes to blame someone or something different. More often than not, it’s a confluence of forces that make certain TV shows of the past ill-fit for the present.

Some of that is due to seriously outdated views and stereotypes. It’s entirely understandable why those shows would never work today. Most sensible people wouldn’t argue that. There are some shows, however, that would generate enormous outrage for petty, asinine reasons.

What follows is a list of classic TV shows that, whether due to content, style, or theme, would never air today. It would just be too controversial and not necessarily for the right reasons. It may reflect a lot about the sensitive nature of our culture today, but in many respects, it also shows just how erratic our collective tastes can be.


“All In The Family”

This one should be pretty obvious. “All In The Family” was already controversial in its day. It subverted the whole idea that a father figure in a sitcom should be respectable, upstanding, and just. Archie Bunker is none of those things and the show was memorable because of it.

Much of the show was built around Archie being a bigot, but a lovable bigot. In this day and age, that sounds like an oxymoron. At the time though, the early to mid 1970s to be precise, it worked for the same reason Sheldon Cooper works in “The Big Bang Theory.” You can be an asshole in a sitcom, but you can still be lovable.

Unlike Sheldon Cooper, though, making Archie’s bigotry lovable today is next to impossible without making him a B-list villain in a Tyler Perry movie. In nearly every episode, he says a line that would’ve caused legions of anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-bigot crowds everywhere to erupt on social media. Anyone who even pretended to laugh at that show would be crucified as a Nazi sympathizer.

Beyond Archie Bunker’s bigotry, though, the overall themes of the show would be enough to make it too controversial for TV. The show routinely mentions “the good old days.” Today, though, that idea has been taken to mean the days when people could be assholes to minorities and get away with it. However anyone may feel about the show or its message, it just would just cause too many shit storms to air today.


“South Park”

I know this seems odd because “South Park” is still on the air, having just completed its 21st season. However, even long-time fans of the show can probably appreciate why it should be on this list, especially when you consider how different the show was in its early days.

Even back in the late 90s, this show generated more than its share of controversy for its vulgarity, profanity, and tendency to kill Kenny every episode. It’s the finer details of those controversies, though, that ensure the “South Park” we saw in those earlier seasons could never air today.

Eric Cartman alone would’ve made the show too controversial. Like Archie Bunker, his overt racism, anti-Semitism, and attitudes towards the poor would’ve triggered plenty of outrage. Add depictions of sacred religious icons and characters like Big Gay Al to the mix and the show wouldn’t have made it past the first episode.

The fact that “South Park” is still on the air is less a testament to its staying power and more a testament to its ability to adapt. It is not the same show it was when it debuted in that it doesn’t confront controversy the same way it used to. Even with that adaptation, it still couldn’t debut today, not with someone like Eric Cartman on the cast.


“Two And A Half Men”

This is another show that ended in 2012, which isn’t that long ago in the grand scheme of things. Even so, a lot has changed since “Two and a Half Men” debuted in 2003 and not just with respect to Charlie Sheen’s public persona. In terms of the premise and structure of the show, it could never air today without generating way too much backlash.

This is one of those shows that would enrage both feminists and men’s rights activists, alike. Beyond Charlie Harper’s blatant womanizing, treating nearly every female character a disposable sex toy, there’s also his overly emasculated brother, Alan. In addition to having an ex-wife who routinely screws him over, Alan is needy, submissive, and constantly mooching off of everyone around him.

Even by beta-male standards, Alan Harper is an affront to any man with any measure of self-respect, just as Charlie is an affront to any woman with a shred of feminist inclinations. Granted, that didn’t stop the show from being funny. I admit I loved this show while it was on, even after Charlie Sheen got replaced by Ashton Kutcher. However, its brand of humor would just never work if it aired today.

That says nothing about the depiction of the dim-witted kid, Jake Harper. His depiction would come off as more tragic than lovable than it did in 2003. In terms of the sheer volume of people this show would offend in the current year, “Two and a Half Men” is in a league of its own.


“Baywatch”

First off, I need to make clear that I’m not referring to the sub-par movie that never should’ve been made in the first place. I’m referring to the original “Baywatch” TV show that debuted in 1989, much to the joy of straight heterosexual males everywhere. The show, with its premise built around beautiful women in bikinis and David Hasselhoff’s chest hair, had plenty of appeal.

That appeal is still there today. There’s always appeal for beautiful women and manly men. However, these days it’s become distressingly taboo to admire beautiful women in any capacity that isn’t associated with Wonder Woman movies. We’re at a point where just looking at a beautiful woman is considered harassment by some people.

It’s for that reason that “Baywatch” would never work today. I can already imagine the various angry protests it would incur. People will claim the show contributes to female objectification, rape culture, toxic masculinity, and all sorts of buzzwords meant to make anyone feel guilty for committing the terrible sin of admiring a beautiful woman.

I’ve made clear how absurd this trend is. However, I don’t see it changing anytime soon. As a result, “Baywatch” would just be way too controversial and would probably draw the ire of every feminist or uptight religious zealot with internet access. It’s sad that this world would deny us a show that so nicely depicts Pamela Anderson’s bouncing breasts, but that’s the world we live in.


“Married With Children”

Once again, this show finds a way to be relevant on this site. I’ve mentioned it before in breaking down other topics. I’ll probably mention it again because it touches on so many important aspects of men, women, and family life. Despite that relevance, there’s no denying that “Married With Children” could never be made today.

The list of people this show offended, beyond the angry woman that tried to get it canceled, is as vast as it is comprehensive. This show cracked jokes about women, teenagers, marriage, genitals, animals, fat people, minorities, transsexuals, homosexuals, and pretty much every other minority group you can imagine.

It cracked these jokes in the backdrop of a sitcom that went out of its way to subvert every feel-good family drama that ever existed, so much so that it was originally called “Not The Cosbys.” In many respects, “Married With Children” went even further than “South Park” and “Two and a Half Men” in crafting a sitcom around every offensive trope in the book. It did this with a bravado and glee that you can’t help but respect.

That kind of antipathy to everything that’s supposed to make a sitcom endearing is a big part of what made “Married With Children” so successful. It came along at just the right time to subvert existing trends in TV, creating characters and icons that were raw, unfiltered, and offensive. That timing is also why it could never be made today.

Between the fat jokes, Al joking about shooting his wife, and Kelly Bundy being a stereotypical dumb blond, “Married With Children” would find a way to upset everyone. However, I still think those same upset people would laugh at the show. It was just that funny. It’s a big part of why the show still ranks as one of my personal favorites.

Even if “Married With Children” could never be made today, it still reflects an attitude that I think many people feel whenever anyone gets upset over a TV show. In a sense, it serves as the model for how a show can be so offensive, yet so funny. The fact we’ll probably never see anything like it again makes it all the more special.

 

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