Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Inventing Prejudice out of Prejudice

I generally enjoy Camille Paglia for her brutal honesty and uncompromising independence, but in her most recent piece she engages in the kind of routine dishonesty that shocks me coming from her. Here it is:

the president missed a huge opportunity to speak with equal force to doubters in his own nation, where suspicion of Muslims has sometimes turned ruthless and paranoid. For example, while driving recently on the New Jersey Turnpike, I was passed by an SUV with a U.S. Marine Corps sticker and a black-and-white decal that said: "What do you feel when you kill a terrorist? RECOIL." For "terrorist," of course, substitute "Muslim" -- a scenario where a person without a military uniform can nevertheless be instantly targeted for slaughter and where the executioner, wrenched far from his native land, has deadened himself to feel nothing but the kick of his own rifle.

Where is the evidence that your typical American sees "Muslim" and "terrorist" as interchangeable? I know for a fact that some Americans do engage in this kind of bigotry. I got into a huge flame war with the owner of a small gun-rights forum when he stated that it's impossible to be both a good American and a good Muslim at the same time. But this kind of extremism is more often born from careless speech than genuine animosity towards Muslims. Some of this guys friends are Muslims and I know that - were it not for his staggering amount of pride at being called out - he would have rescinded those words not out of fear of reprisal, but because he didn't really mean them.

And that - a single example of a stubborn man refusing to admit that he screwed up despite knowing it to be true - is the closest I've ever experienced to anti-Muslim bigotry in the pro-gun, military-friendly circles I travel.

I'm not saying that there are no anti-Muslim bigots at all, merely that the number is very small, and that there's no justification whatsoever for Paglia or anyone else to swap "Muslim" and terrorist.

Why do they do feel safe in doing this?

Because it plays to the stereotype of conservatives as jingoistic, racist, misogynist, homophobic bigots. You repeat something often enough, and people start to see it as true.

Another example I saw recently was the NYT review of Glen Beck's Common Sense Comedy tour. There are a lot of unwarranted shots in the review (big surprise), but here's the germane ones:

One of Mr. Beck’s favorite tactics is a combination of misdirection and guilt by association: he doesn’t say nasty things about ethnic minorities or homosexuals, but he will slip in a reference to how all our cars will soon be built by “undocumented” workers, and he will, in a long, lame anecdote about liberal artists and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, switch into a high, lisping voice for just a second.

Mr. Beck’s appeals to racial solidarity are delivered in the same winking way: speaking of the “grand, magnificent” founding fathers, he leans toward his visibly homogeneous Midwestern audience and says, “and we’ve lost touch with how much like us they were.”

In all three of these examples we've got liberals kindly "translating" conservative code into plain English for us, without any defense of why we should be using the liberal-authored dictionary on conservative speakers.

Is there any reason we should believe that "undocumented workers" is code for "Hispanics"? None - other than the circular assumption that conservatives are racist.

The only lisping voice I've ever heard Beck do - either at the show or ever - is his immitation of Barney Frank. Who, you know, actually does have a horrible lisp. But since we already know that Beck is by definition a homophobe, we can just omit the fact that he's parodying Frank in particular.

But the last one is the most egregious of all. Beck comes out dressed in 18th century get-up for the last hour because he wants to demystify the Founders. His point is that they are just like us. Like average, normal people. That's the central theme of his entire last hour. And there isn't one damn trace of racism in it. Not even a smidgen.

So what we have here - and the irony gets tiring after a while - is an elite NYT reporter assuming that Beck is racist, homophobic, etc. Then he uses his own prejudice to interpret Beck's comments in ways that - if he wasn't already convinced Beck was a bigot - would make no sense at all. So - do you feel the irony thickening around you as you read? - the only "evidence" for Beck being a bigot is the fact that the reviewer is prejudiced.

It's getting old.

You want to show that Beck is a racist? Here's a thought: find something he said that is actually racist. Putting words in his mouth to make him fit your own narrow-minded prejudices just ain't going to cut it.

I expect this sort of nonsense from the NYT. But Paglia?

I'm disappointed.


La Muse Poetique 6/10/2009 9:51 PM  

I'm sad I missed his Common Sense tour.

I hope he releases a video of it.

Did you read the comments on that page?

A lot of people who say they are liberal/democrat also opposed the review.