And an Upcoming Novel
How Kelly Oxford Transformed the Trump Video Debate & Opened a New Line of Attack in the Fight Against Rape Culture
When you look at the history of men in relation to the earth, it's hard not to conclude that males are unable to apprehend Beauty without the pornographic desire to possess and destroy it. Maybe this explains why there are so many sexual assaults against women. Too many men do not understand how to appreciate women without allowing them simply to be. Few know anything of Paul Valery, who wrote, "The ardor aroused in men by women can only be satisfied by God." Almost no one recalls what James Joyce said in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man about "having without possessing," which he defined as aesthetic arrest.
It occurs to me today after reading through many sexual assault stories submitted by women on the @kellyoxford Twitter feed that one remedy for this situation might be to expose boys to Art early in life.
Mothers, don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys - without first exposing them to the humanizing influence of Art. Let them understand what it means to have something without possessing, destroying or abusing it. Teach them to allow beauty to offer itself up of its own accord.
Through the outcry it has generated, the Donald Trump sexual assault video has accomplished at least one good thing. The millions of women now telling their own stories on Twitter are exposing the extent of the unwanted gropes and grabs. Mothers, daughters, wives--from the very old to the very young--they're all talking about it. As of this writing, Oxford has received more than a million responses to her own courageous retelling of a sexual assault not unlike the one Trump bragged about on the infamous leaked video. Oxford's original tweet had more than 9.7 million hits by the end of Saturday. By Sunday, the story had been covered by every major news outlet in the country--including Teen Vogue, the Huffington Post, the Boston Globe, NBC News, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. What this shows, at the very least, is that the problem of the Trump video reaches far beyond one man running for president. It reveals what Kelly Oxford refers to as the underpinning of "rape culture" itself.
Mothers, take your boys to the museums. Put a paint brush in their hands. Don't let them be teased and bullied or called homosexual for writing poems or listening to music. Take them to see a sunrise. Sit with them at sunset. Walk with them through a garden. Show them how to balance the biological imperative to run the gridiron and swing a bat with the other qualities they need for a happy and successful life. Help them to become familiar and comfortable with Beauty. So that when they encounter its embodiment in a woman, they will want to admire and appreciate it. And possess it only when it is offered to them.
The deeper problem, of course, has to do with man's fear of the feminine in himself. He wants it and needs it in order to be whole. But he has no idea how to get hold of it. And so he gropes and grabs at it in others, tries to snatch at its secrets here and there, hoping that will do. Only to find that these things take him further from his desired goal. Creates hostility and puts him at odds with the thing he wants most.
How does one navigate that terrain, become whole and wholesome? That is a question that can only be answered individually and often alone. It's a question that applies not only to men but also to women.
Wouldn't it be helpful if there were a map of some kind to get, as T.S. Eliot puts it, "from where you are to where you are not"? Well, there is one. It's embedded in just about every hero story ever written--from Frodo and Harry Potter to Katniss Everdeen, Iron Man and the Knights of the Round Table.
The late Joseph Campbell referred to this map as "the hero's journey" in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. If you haven't come across Campbell, you might find the following 84-minute film interesting. It's called The Timeless Tale of the Hero's Journey and is posted on YouTube. I've included it here, but videos come and go on YouTube. So enjoy it while it's available. There's also a much better DVD featuring Campbell himself here, which I found more satisfying than the PBS series that Bill Moyers filmed shortly before Campbell's death. Of course, all of his work exists in books that fully explore the subjects these programs can only touch upon.
Will watching a video put a stop to sexual assault? Will a million tweets do so? Of course not. But you know what Lao Tzu said - "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." For the women tweeting to Kelly Oxford, that step is an unburdening of the shame inflicted by a shameful act. For the rest of mankind, watching a film on how to navigate the treacherous inner landscape of one's own life isn't a bad place to start.
When the P-Word Does Not Stand for Presidential & Why the Boys on the Bus Are Just as Guilty in the Trump Tapes
To say that our political discourse has reached a new low is putting it mildly. History--if our species survives--will look upon this time within the context of Spengler's Decline of the West and Gibbons' Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. We no longer even pretend to have a culture.
Although the hypocrisy innate to society must be called out and excoriated, it is sad to witness the lack of any effort to establish some standard by which we should live. Television has led the charge in this mad-dash rush over the Dodo bird cliff, since its ubiquity lends a tone of acceptability to the banal, the coarse, the shocking, the vile and the violent. But its comrades-in-arms are explicit lyrics in music, the no-holds-barred content on social media, and the overall tone of least-common-denominator marketing.
Gone viral now are video clips of whether the word pussy--in its lewd context having nothing to do with cats--should be used on television, and if so by whom. Give me a break.
Comedian Lenny Bruce claimed that you take the power out of racial slurs by overusing them. An idea that makes sense to me. But do we want to make those words part of our public discourse?
I champion the right of James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, Erica Jong, and even Henry Miller to write any words they want. Yet I cringe when I hear the F-word flowing as freely as water from the mouths of 10-year-olds on bicycles.
Maybe societies--especially free ones--need boundaries the same as children do, if only to draw a line in the sand between acceptable and unacceptable. The late Johnny Carson was funny because his humor knew the locus of that line and danced as close to it as possible without crossing. His audience also knew where that line was, and that's what made his antics hilarious.
Which is why people often use the word "class" when referring to Carson. A word sadly lacking from the 2016 presidential campaign.
Of course, there would have been no TV commentary about the p-word had a presidential candidate not been recorded using it to describe his assault on a married woman who managed to fend him off. That incident speaks for itself. There is nothing I can say that has not already been covered in the politically motivated din. Except to ask, as one had to do with Deep Throat during the Nixon administration, who was it that leaked the tape. We need to know about people operating behind the scenes whose motives are suspect at best.
And while no would publicly approve of Trump's comments, shouldn't we also be looking at the role of Access Hollywood's Billy Bush and the other "boys on the bus" who went along with what Trump was saying, tacitly cheering him on and agreeing with him? This is the frat-boy mentality women must deal with every day. This is why there must be protests when a Stanford swimmer gets a slap on the hand for a sexual incident with an unconscious woman. This is why it was wrong for Megan Kelly to play footsies with Trump after he trashed her in the media and on Twitter. This is why parents must teach their sons to eschew vile language that belittles and dehumanizes women.
Because when language goes everything goes.
A Tale of Two Kellys: How Kelly Ripa Outclassed Megyn Kelly on the Field of Fair Treatment for Women
Adam Clayton Powell, the colorful and sometimes controversial congressman from New York's Harlem District, once reminded African-Americans to emulate his "branded grandfather" who maintained a "sustained indignation" over what happened during slavery. It's a point worth recalling now in the wake of Megyn Kelly's prime-time interview with Donald Trump on Fox TV this week. Perhaps I'm wrong to feel this way, but it looked to me like she took a dive. You know what a dive is: It's when an athlete throws the game for the sake of some financial interest that depends on his losing.
Before Kelly's interview with Trump, she was the champ, an unlikely hero in the ongoing struggle to treat women with dignity and respect. For nearly a year, she took the high road while Trump demeaned her publicly, calling her a bimbo on Twitter and refusing to participate in a presidential debate because she was on the panel of interviewers.
Routinely and widely praised for asking the candidate about his misogynistic remarks, she earned his ire but the respect of colleagues everywhere. We should have known that Megyn's taped one-to-one interview with the candidate would not be a continuation of that conflict. Why else would The Donald, who repeatedly referred to himself as "a messenger," agree to appear on the show?
But I don't think we expected her to capitulate quite as much as she did. She asked him about his reaction to her misogyny question, and the most he could come up with was that he felt wounded by it. And when he's wounded, he tries to get un-wounded. He claimed that a lot of his Twitter comments are not made by him, even though they bear his name. But he did admit that he re-tweeted some of the mean ones. When Ms. Kelly asked about the bimbo tweets, he demurred at first, then conceded that he might have re-tweeted some of those. When she informed him that he had done so numerous times, he shrugged indifferently and said, "Sorry."
The subtext of the encounter was almost too vulgar for words. The interview sent a message that you can mistreat a woman as loudly and as often as you like. After all, you are the man. She is the woman. You have the money and the power. You can do what you want. And when you have finished degrading and belittling her, you make nice with a shrug and a sorry. But if the situation should repeat itself down the road, it is understood that you will treat her exactly the same way again.
Now about that dive. The athlete takes money to sell out his integrity. The anchorwoman uses the Trump interview to give an infomercial about her book and plays footsies with a woman-hater in order to leverage herself as the next prime-time Barbara Walters. Maybe it's not money under the table like in sports. But it's a sell-out just the same. Looking at this, you want to cry, "Say it isn't so, Megyn." Until you realize that it is.
And what's wrong with this? It sends a message to women everywhere that this is how you deal with a misogynistic man who happens to have money and power. You let him slap you around when he feels like it. When you agree to play nice and stop making a nuisance of yourself by standing up to him, he pats you on the head and buys you a new refrigerator -- or helps you promote your book.
Compare this to another unlikely figure in the realm of fair treatment for women. Enter Kelly Ripa, who was blindsided by the abdication of co-host Michael Strahan earlier this year. We have to understand that her return to the show, hand-in-hand with Strahan, after an uncomfortable and much-publicized absence, was an orchestrated event intended to salvage and protect the show's brand. Ripa even noted during the program that snipers might be hidden in the audience ready to fire tranquilizer darts at her if she moved too far off message. But beyond that, she addressed what happened in a way that resonated across the country, even among people who don't watch the show, as her remarks made it into news magazines and blogs everywhere. She said what happened during the rift with Strahan and the network executives who helped plan his move to Good Morning, America was the start of "much greater conversation about communication and consideration and, most importantly, respect."
This was the thing Megyn Kelly failed to assert or extract during her interview with Trump. She is the network news anchor. She is supposed to be the one with gravitas. Not Ripa. So isn't it ironic that Ripa should be the one who got it right? And isn't it her message that most deserves to be listened to? "All I'm asking for is a little R-E-S-P-E-C T," Aretha sang. Which is exactly what Megyn Kelly should have said to Donald Trump during their interview. But didn't.
Instead of getting cozy with him on national TV, Megyn should have stood by her original question. In the absence of the respect that question deserved, she would have been right to maintain Adam Clayton Powell's "sustained indignation" over similar wrongs (and worse) committed against women and girls every day.
Megyn Kelly reportedly earns $9 million a year. Kelly Ripa makes about $20 million. On the surface, their issues may seem little more than the irrelevant dramas of the one-percenters. But like it or not, the roles they play on the public stage have replaced the lessons of Greek drama. Gone are Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, Oedipus and Antigone. In their place, we have this passing-strange Tale of Two Kellys. And must decide for ourselves whether their behavior offers anything worthy of our attention or emulation.
A few days ago, I found myself in a classroom with a millennial student of intentionally ambiguous gender, who said, “If Donald Trump becomes president, I’m leaving the country.”
Others I’ve talked to have made similar statements. Sometimes joking. Sometimes not.
Two of these were African-American women under forty. A third was a first-generation Hispanic-American whose parents emigrated from Central America fewer than twenty years ago. If I keep my ear to the ground, no doubt I will find the same sentiment echoed in other demographics. For example, Whoopi Goldberg, Rosie O'Donnell, Rev. Al Sharpton, Samuel L. Jackson, and Cher. But it’s mostly these younger folks I'm thinking about now.
The last time you were likely to run into young people who talked about leaving the country was during the Vietnam War. Back then it was to escape the possibility of death in a conflict that claimed the lives of 58 thousand Americans, a disproportionately high percentage of whom (about 25 percent) were African-American.
But in 2016, the statement is a reaction to the candidacy of Donald Trump, whose campaign has tapped into an unpredictable anger among his supporters and attracted white supremacists worried about extinction. Let’s assume for a moment that the psychologists are right—and anger is a secondary emotion that covers the primary emotion of fear. This would mean Trump's supporters are afraid, not angry. If they manage to parlay their dread into a White House victory, anyone fleeing the country would be buying into that anxiety. Fear only generates more fear. And that is why, 75 years after Franklin Roosevelt told us so, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
When the lights are on, the boogie-man in the corner turns out to be nothing but a coat rack. This particular "monster" is little more than that. The desire to escape it is not the same as Vietnam-era Americans who fled to Canada because they did not want to be drafted into a war they did not believe in, forced to kill people they did not know, and possibly wind up among the 300 thousand who were wounded. Running from a Trump presidency would be equivalent to fleeing the scary nothingness behind all those angry votes, which talk about making America great but would only make America small-minded.
To say that you will leave the country if your man or woman is not elected is to admit you have no idea what the United States is or what it means to be American. It is not something you click on or download from the App Store. It's not a channel you can change if you don't like what's on the screen. It's not a set of options to select or deselect online. Not a T-shirt you can return to Amazon if you don't like the fit.
Forget the obvious point for a second—namely, that the president heads only one of our three branches of government. And consider the moment.
The election of 2016 is taking place within a zeitgeist that includes a highly successful hip-hop Broadway musical about the immigrant Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton, whose authorship of the Federalist Papers (to say nothing of his role as the nation's first Secretary of the Treasury) helped to shape and define the nation we live in today. Aside from everything else, the success of that Broadway sensation--it's practically impossible to get tickets--means people are thinking about what it means to be American again.
They're thinking about Thomas Jefferson's rap for a weak central government, states rights, low taxes and strict construction of the Constitution. They're snapping their fingers to Hamilton's lyric for a strong central government and a liberal interpretation of the Constitution. Tapping their feet to his vision for a country with large cities, stock markets, manufacturing and banks. Sound familiar? It's the past eavesdropping on the present and vice versa.
Alexander Hamilton is a history book that took Ron Chernow five years to write and Lin-Manuel Miranda another six years to turn into a smash hit musical. In this meeting-place between art and history, the debate between the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans of the 18th century sounds a lot like the political campaigns of today. Every time Hillary and Bernie or The Donald, Kasich and Cruz open their mouths at a rally or debate, they're repeating the classic conflict between Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson back when they were trying to work out what America ought to be. Only this time, we get to be part of the discussion.
The same zeitgeist is broad enough to include a televised reconsideration of the most racially divisive courtroom case in recent history--the People versus O. J. Simpson, which if nothing else, proved beyond all doubt that the conclusion of the 1968 Kerner Commission Report on Civil Disorder was accurate. America is divided into two societies--one black, the other white--which despite all the king's horses and all the king's men, remain separate and unequal.
How else explain the chasm separating white and black reactions to the not-guilty verdict in that closely watched criminal trial? Why else would there be a need for Black Lives Matter twenty years after the original Simpson case? Or demonstrations in Ferguson? Or the need for a National Task Force following George Zimmerman's murder of Trayvon Martin. That Task Force concluded that defendants asserting a Stand Your Ground defense are more likely to prevail if the victim is black. That 70 percent of those invoking Stand Your Ground receive no punishment. And basically, you are a fool if you are black and believe Stand Your Ground will work as a defense for you.
To have O. J. Simpson's trial for the heinous murders of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman trotted out to high ratings during this election year is to throw a red herring into a national debate that should be focused not on the perverse life of a celebrity football player but on the attractiveness of a hate-mongering candidate to white Americans who just don't get it and never will. Like the decline and fall of another erstwhile hero, Bill Cosby, it uses an extreme case to promote a narrative of the black man as beast. Unfortunately, gangsta hip-hop impresarios have contributed to this narrative by successfully marketing sex and violence to a white middle-class that wants to participate in the low-down and dirty, especially when it comes to sex, without having to leave the comfort and security of their suburban homes.
Within this prevailing zeitgeist, one can find an op-ed piece in the New York Times, which encourages educated African-Americans to consider emigrating to France where your race, the author alleges, is outplayed by your possession of an American passport. At a time when antisemitism appears to be on the rise in France, African-Americans concerned about the alarming number of blacks killed by white police, might find comfort living where they can finally experience what it's like to be American first and black second.
This sounds appealing to a degree. After all, Ta-Nehisi Coates, an African-American whose embittered, seductively written meditation on race (Between the World and Me) won the National Book Award and earned him a MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship, moved to Paris, as did Native Son author Richard Wright and other black artists, musicians, and intellectuals before him. But I do not find it comforting to know that my race might be tolerated while that of another is not. As James Baldwin (who also emigrated to France) once wrote, "If they come for you in the morning, they'll be coming for me that night."
The same zeitgeist has called us to witness the sad, appalling narrative surrounding the Syrian refugee crisis in the UK, which abounds with questions about how all this might be handled if those refugees were just a little bit whiter.
The defining spirit of this time is freighted with contradictions and polarities. On the one hand, we are asked to consider the difference between American blacks and non-American blacks in the brilliantly perceptive novel, Americanah, by Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (another MacArthur Fellow). Her withering analysis of race (set within a transcontinental love story) will soon be coming to the big screen starring Lupita Nyong'o and David Oyelowo.
On the other hand, we get innocent black folks mowed down by a still-wet-behind-the-ears white supremacist whom they have invited into their Charleston church for Bible study. Meanwhile, in Georgia, the state legislature enacted a "religious freedom" law that would have made it legal to refuse service to LGBT individuals if doing so violated their religious beliefs regarding sexual orientation. Although Georgia Governor Nathan Deal vetoed the measure (after hearing from Apple, Disney, Marvel and other big businesses that they would exit the state if the bill became law), Mississippi and North Carolina have passed similar anti-gay laws.
So it's easy to understand, given the configuration of the moment, why a gender-neutral student, middle-class African-Americans, or the children of Latino emigres might want to escape a United States made intolerant by demagoguery and fear.
But I don't believe it's a good idea to hand the country over to the haters by leaving it. The present moment is a reflection of the ongoing intention behind the experiment that is the United States of America. Whether a nation of, by and for the people can long endure.
If you have considered leaving the United States, ask yourself where else on the planet you can speak your mind as you do here. Forget about Hillary and Donald for a moment, and click on the Hip-Hop lyrics to the political debates in Hamilton. Or listen to It Must Be Nice (to have Washington on your side). Or better yet, read Chernow's Biography of Alexander Hamilton, the inspiration behind Miranda's hit musical. Be like the play's sassy Schuyler Sisters and tell Thomas Jefferson you want him to include women in the sequel to "all men are created equal."
Pay attention to history. We have been here before. Our strength as a nation lies in our resilience. It is in the very nature of the American experiment to question and debate. From day one, this is how we have defined ourselves. It is not a discussion to walk away from. Even if the opposing sides seem loud, or even crude, at least they don't shoot you down by the thousands for protesting peacefully in a public square. "No," the counter argument says, "they get you one by one for wearing a hoodie or driving while black. Then they lock you up in the greatest incarceration of black men since the time of slavery." To this, one can only say we expected too much of Barack Obama and his call for Change. We thought electing a black president would be enough to make Dr. King's dream a reality. But all it did was show us how much work there is still left to do. Far more than any one man could ever accomplish on his own.
Which leads right back to the rest of us. If celebrities threaten to give up on the democracy by jumping ship, ask yourself whether fame and money qualify them to be role models for the responsibilities of citizenship.
If you are black, understand what it took to get the vote, and use it. All politics is local. Don't wait for another Obama. Look at the city council, the county commissioners, the state legislators. Vote for the candidate who supports your interests whether he or she is in your party or not. Democracy means work.
If you are young, do not delude yourself by thinking the country will get better if you leave it. Stay. Don’t worry about making America great or even whole. Stay here. Be who you are. Give America your vision, your strength, and your imagination. Give her your diversity, your tolerance and your integrity. Stay. In the words of poet Langston Hughes, who was black, white, Mexican, and possibly gay, Let America Be America Again.
O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be
. . .
Oh yes, I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!
After all, anybody can dream. Many others speak about their inner visions, though perhaps not as eloquently as Dr. King. What then made his particular dream different from those put forward by others who espoused the same thing? Why did he get to be the spokesman for truth, justice and righteousness, lead the March on Washington, win the Nobel Prize? Certainly, he was a great orator, a man of learning, gifted with a great intelligence, armed with a PhD. But were those things enough to make him the man whose birth we celebrate with a national holiday?
If that’s all it took to close the post office and most banks, we’d have more holidays than we'd know what to do with.
People talk about Martin’s moral courage, say that he was put here by God. But even these things don’t quite cover it. How then to account for him? By what road does one travel to become the Martin Luther King, Jr., whose life and death are justly remembered. To find the answer, you need only listen to his important “But If Not” sermon, delivered five months before his death.
Great men are like light bulbs—their illumination comes from connection to the Source. They know the difference between “If faith” and “Though faith.” And they understand that fear is the enemy.
King's "Dream" speech retains its power and deserves our attention because the man who delivered it lived by the core values expressed in his "But If Not" sermon. Focusing on the dream (as we do, perhaps ad nauseum, on the King holiday) without understanding the core commitment that gave it light and power overshadows the source in order to favor the effect. We love the speech--why wouldn't we? But can we also love the existential commitment to "right for the sake of right" without which the dream would fizzle?
If you think Martin's “I Have a Dream” is stirring, his “But If Not” sermon will give you goose bumps on top of goose bumps. It will make you wonder why you live the way you do and whether you might do things differently—if only you were not afraid.
What follows is the full "But If Not" sermon, which is 22 minutes long. If you don’t have time to listen to the whole thing now, check out the brief 90-second excerpt just below it. But come back to the full speech if you can. You won’t be sorry.
Those who believe in the Law of Attraction say the more attention you give a subject, the larger it gets. In one of his many programs on public television, Dr. Wayne Dyer put it this way. Suppose you’re in a shopping mall and you see a store filled with ugly lamps. And you say to yourself, “Those are the ugliest lamps I’ve ever seen. I hate those lamps.” But then you go into the mall and purchase fifty of those very lamps.
That’s what seems to be happening in the current political landscape. In today’s New York Times, columnist Charles Blow joins others who say, Enough is Enough; it’s time for that to stop.
It won’t, of course. As a nation we seem to be suffering from the DT’s--delirium tremens, a medical Latin term dating from 1813, which translates literally to “trembling delirium.” The DT’s are usually caused by withdrawal from alcohol. But it seems there might be other ways to bring them on. Perhaps overexposure to any toxic substance might produce the same symptoms. Consider what those are: hyper excitability, anxiety, irritability, agitation, tremors, seizures. The DT’s.
Looking at recent press coverage of the galloping campaign for the soon to be vacated White House, the diagnosis seems apropos. But at least some in the media are beginning to realize they’re being played.
The great Walter Lippmann once wrote:
“The news of the day is an incredible medley of fact, propaganda, rumor, suspicion, clues, hopes, and fears, and the task of selecting and ordering the news is one of the truly sacred and priestly offices in a democracy. The power to determine each day what shall seem important and what shall be neglected is a power unlike any that has been exercised since the pope lost his hold on the secular mind.”
When I was a cub reporter, still cutting my teeth in journalism, I kept that quote on my desk as a reminder of what I’d become involved in. Eventually I would eventually veer away from journalism on the belief, promoted by Hemingway and Garcia Marquez and buttressed by my own experience, that it is an impoverished form. Nevertheless, the Fourth Estate is essential to our democracy. Although we don’t seem to like priests much these days, there’s no denying the power invested in the office.
Will Charles Blow’s call to abide by Law of Attraction put an end to the DT’s? Probably not, but at least he’s taking a stand.
As my friends in Australia say, “Good on you,” Mr. Blow.
And good on you, too, Michiko Kakutani, for giving us something else to focus on this August 28, 2015, fifty-two years after Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered the famous speech everyone knows him for.
Ms. Kakutani’s essay on the lasting power of Dr. King’s "I Have a Dream" was first published in the New York Times two years ago during the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Thanks to Twitter and the power of the Re-tweet, it’s available again--and most worthy of our attention.
Why spend your time looking at ugly lamps when you can fix your gaze on a “radiant vision of hope”?
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