Sunday, April 15, 2012

TV: It's the context, stupid

With meanings, context is everything. It's something so many forgot last week -- if they ever knew, they're not exactly smart people -- when they rushed to tell you that the remarks Hilary Rosen made to Anderson Cooper on CNN Wednesday night were no big deal.


Background, Hilary Rosen is, at best, ineffective. The RIAA tasked her with a job and she wasn't able to do it and turned the RIAA into the most reviled organization in America. The RIAA fired her ass and she told the press that it was her choice to leave, that she wanted to spend time with her family. So she's not only a lousy employee, she's also a public liar.

She has apparently appointed herself a spokesperson for the Barack Obama re-election campaign. The campaign has not appointed her as such and they are not paying her. We were told that repeatedly and we'll believe it until someone can prove otherwise. But pit bull Rosen loves to out 'man' everyone and she certainly did when she appeared on Anderson Cooper 360 last week. Out 'man'? We use the word intentionally. There are few women -- especially among lesbians -- who have embraced the patriarchy so whole heartedly.

She started out the Wednesday segement
, in all her porcine splendor, objecting to Anderson Cooper's use of the term "war on women." And it is a term. Not a "word." Here's Hilary flaunting her sub-standard educational background, "First can we just get rid of this word war on women. The Obama campaign does not use it, President Obama does not use it. This is something that the Republicans are accusing people of using. But they're actually the ones spreading it."

She's so stupid she might not have been lying. She's so stupid, she might actually believe what's she's saying.

US House Rep. Jerry Nadler used it February 9, 2011 on the House floor, the supposed first to use it in Congress. June 10, 2011, Molly Ball (POLITICO) was reporting of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, "She’s accused Republicans of wanting to reinstate segregation and of waging a 'war on women'." US House Rep. Corrine Brown used it February 16th at the House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing we attended and that may have been it's last Congressional appearence. (Though the increasingly laughable -- and damn she's scary in that photo -- Barbara Boxer is probably currently attempting to figure out how to bring it up in the Senate.) It's been used in Democratic Party fundraising appeals, we can go on and on.

And, no, she didn't 'mispeak.' When the Republican on Anderson Cooper 360 to 'balance' her (and Paul Begala) spoke, the first thing he noted was that Minority House Leader Nancy Pelosi and Debbie Wasserman Schultz had used the term "war on women" only to be interrupted by Hilary Rosen, lying or flaunting her ignorance, declaring, "They don't use that."

But along with lying or flaunting ignorance, Rosen thought she'd play cute and began mincing and mugging as she declared of presumed GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, "What you have is Mitt Romney running around the country saying 'Well my wife tells me what women really care about are economic issues and when I listen to my wife, that's what I'm hearing.' Guess what? His wife has never actually worked a day in her life." She thought she was so funny -- check out her grin.

She wasn't funny at all.

Her remarks were disgusting. And they were rightly called out by many on the right and many on the left. Those calling out the remarks included US President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, US House Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and, from the Obama re-election campaign, David Axelrod and Jim Messina.

But Rosen couldn't stop picking at her remarks and insisting there was nothing wrong with them. The next day, she continued her ill-advised defense: writing a disgusting piece for The Huffington Post (disgusting? when details are in dispute on a story, you note that, you don't insist that something happened just because it's pleasing to your own hatred of someone), going on CNN's Situation Room to 'apologize' but Wolf Blitzer has to prompt you to get you to offer your weak and unconvincing apology and ending up back on Anderson Cooper.

Thursday night, Hilary Rosen declared, "It is clear that anybody who knows me knows that I am actually a mother, that I was even a stay-at-home mother for several years." At which point, she got over it?

Saw the light?

We have no idea.

She was fired and she wasn't working for a very brief time in 2003 before she went back to work in 2004.

Maybe her ignorance includes not knowing how to tell time? Or maybe she's so stupid she doesn't know what "stay-at-home mother" means? It doesn't mean that during the brief time in 2003 after the RIAA fires you and before you become an interim director for the HRC in 2004, you can count that as "years."

Maybe if she ever stopped lying people might believe her.

But let's get back to what made Rosen infamous: "What you have is Mitt Romney running around the country saying 'Well my wife tells me what women really care about are economic issues and when I listen to my wife, that's what I'm hearing.' Guess what? His wife has never actually worked a day in her life."

Some apologists and minimizers tried to insist that of course she meant to say "outside the home."

And that could fly. If.

If she'd only said, "His wife has never actually worked."

If she'd said that, yes, it could be tacked on: "His wife has never actually worked outside the home."

If she really valued the choice, she wouldn't have added "a day in her life."

What idiots -- like Bob Somerby -- missed was the context. Regardless of that missing phrase being included or not, the context of her argument was that Mitt Romney listened to his wife on economic matters and his wife wasn't qualified to speak because she'd "never actually worked a day in her life."

That's not a new sentiment. Hilary Rosen didn't invent it. In 2008, we saw a number of women utilize sexism to help Barack's campaign. In 2012, Hilary Rosen thought she might finally lose her public fangs and the memory of her part in threatening elderly grandparents with jail time even they didn't pay thousands of dollars in fines because someone supposedly downloaded a song illegally on their computer. And the key to destroying that earlier image was going to be her utilizing sexist talking points from long ago.

From back in the day when "housewife" was the way women were described. Rosen damn well knows the context her statement falls into. It's the assertion, the centuries old assertion, that women aren't smart and women shouldn't try to think. As women fought back against the teachings of St. Paul and others, a struggle that was centuries long, it went from all women to those who did not work outside the home. They were the last group of women who could be dismissed, patted on the head, told to shut up, told they weren't smart enough. Samuel Johnson will long be remembered for uttering, "A man in general is better pleased when he has a good dinner than when his wife talks Greek."

That's the context in which Rosen's remark falls. A woman is not smart enough and, certainly, a woman who's "never worked a day in her life" can't know a thing about the economy. Or how to listen. That is what Rosen was stating. Ann Romney was too stupid to listen to women she spoke to and too stupid to convey back to her husband what they said. See, home makers are just really, really dumb. That's the argument, that's the sexist argument. It's been made for years. Even sometimes by women. This may, however, be the first time an out lesbian has made it on TV.

While Bob Somerby played dumb, his buddy and fellow pig Bill Maher got what Rosen meant. Brian Browdie (New York Daily News) reports Maher declared on his disgusting HBO chat fest that Rosen meant to say "tha Ann Romney has never gotten her ass out of the house to work" because there's "a big difference between being a mother and getting your ass out the door at 7 a.m. when it's cold, having to deal with the boss, being in a workplace, where even if you're unhappy you can't show it for 8 hours, that is kind of a different kind of tough thing."

Bill Maher is belittling women who are stay-at-home moms and these women have long been attacked by sexist pigs like Maher and Somerby. The reality that Maher doesn't know -- having never had children (thank the heavens) -- what raising a child entails.

Here's reality, a stay-at-home mother with a sick child? She doesn't fly out the door at 7:00 a.m. She doesn't get to go hide out in an office or showroom. She doesn't have the distraction of petty office politics. She's dealing with a baby with a fever, throwing up. She's got bottoms to wipe and clothes to change and a fever to fret over and hope that it breaks and is there any chance that she can see the pedetrician today? Maybe? Okay, she'll call back in a few minutes, the baby's upset about something. And the crying baby is something she can't escape. She doesn't have that luxury. She's got to be there because someone has to be there. So even though she didn't sleep well last night, even though she'd love to shower and go anywhere else right now, she's going to be here every minute with that baby.

She doesn't have the luxury Bill Maher does of taking his fat ass somewhere to escape.

Bob Somerby felt he could call the whole thing "silly" and "an inartful remark."

That's not what it was, it was sexism. And it's funny that Bob always rail against racism but he's got no real problems with sexism. Heck, he defends Bill Maher all the time and assures you Bill's great and he knows Bill and they did comedy at some club together once and Bill's real funny and a stand-up guy and . . .

And Bill uses every sexist and ugly term he can think of when expressing his hatred of women. And Bob Somerby never calls him out on it. Looks the other way.

He insisted , when Bush was still occupying the White House, that Lawrence Summers wasn't a sexist. Maybe Bob was trying to be funny.

Far more disturbing than that is where Bob Somerby gets off thinking he can decide what is and isn't an important issue for women. We're doubting that Bob has ever breast fed (we could be wrong) or had a period (ibid), so we're confused as to when he became the go-to on women?

Oh, that's right, he's got a divining rod -- it's called a penis. It tells him what topics are real issues and which ones are false issues, right?

When women are disrespected, mocked and ridiculed, it's an issue. It's not to be ignored because it came from some woman trying to please the patriarchy. She's a puppet for the patriarchy. She knows that's the easiest way for women to 'succeed.' (It's not real success, it's success handed out. And that which is handed out can be easily and quickly taken back. Hence the need for the patriarch's puppets to forever do its bidding.)

It's strange that women and their rights are not an issue because Bob Somerby or some other man says so. Funny, until you grasp that we're having the same battle that has been fought over and over. by all the groups except the ones that Bob Somerby belongs to. You can read their stories in Judith N. Sklar.'s American Citzenship: The Quest for Inclusion.

We're told of Jacksonian ideology arguing that all that we can "expect, ask, give or receive in this world is fair play." And in 1865, long after Andrew Jackson had left the White House, Mark Twain would write "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" which maintains that "even a criminal is entitled to fair play."

But let a woman or a member of any other group not fully enfranchised, fully recognized or fully represented object to the lack of fair play and suddenly that's just "silly." Because some straight, White male from an Ivy League college said so, you understand.

The women's liberation movement -- like all liberation movements -- is a story of advances, yes, but also a story of push-backs. Because when a group tries to move forward, there will always be a group threatened who insists that you've got it much easier than someone else and should just be happy with what you've got.

Context is meaning. It's something Somerby might need to consider before he opens his ill-informed mouth next to tell the world what is and isn't an issue of importance to and/or for women.

Context is everything.

And context is why PRI's Selected Shorts (which airs on many NPR stations around the country) is so damn offensive. It shouldn't be that way.

It's an hour long program where at least two semi-famous people read at least two short stories or essays -- one each -- on the weekly broadcast. It should be an entertaining program for all.

But, again, there's that pesky issue of context. And a show that should make all feel welcome, especially all who love to read, has a habit of running off those not tickled by racism.

It doesn't help that there's a juvenile audience tittering throughout the readings (such as the at the word "sperm" in last week's broadcast). It doesn't help that their guffaws and hilarity so often comes at the expense of others, especially at the expense of people of color.

There are many examples of this but most recently Dana Ivey (it's okay, most people don't know who she is either, you're not alone) was brought on to read Grace Paley's "Six Days, Some Rememberings." It was an audience pleaser. Not because Grace was explaining how she was jailed for protesting the war on Vietnam. But how the audience gathered in NYC at the Peter Norton Symphony Space did guffaw and issue loud belly laughs as Ivey suddenly decided she'd act out the voice of a Black woman. And the more racist Ivey's potrayal got, the louder they laughed, especially when a dirty word popped up. Oh, listen to the uneducated Black woman, it brought joy to so many.

Thing is, what Ivey was doing? That wasn't just racist, it wasn't really what Grace wrote.

And you can click here to hear the racism that Ivey, Selected Shorts and PRI felt the world needed to hear. (If the link doesn't work for you, search the site. They're redoing their archives and that link may not work for long.)

After you listen to the racist reading, click here for the same essay read for the PEN American Center by Katha Pollitt. Pollitt gets it all across without racism and never feels the need to create some (extremely racist) Black portrayal. She uses her normal voice throughout. She doesn't alter Grace's words either.

It's the same essay by Grace. In one reading, Pollitt brings it to life in a wonderful way. In another reading, Ivey garners belly laughs as she offers a Black face reading, a ministeral show. Context really is everything.

And PRI can pretend otherwise but their celebrity readers are too White and too prone to putting on Black face (and Asian face) when reading these works. That's why this program that's supposedly about great writing struggles so to reach people of color. Who wants to sit in their home or car and listen to a symphony full of people laugh with some White person mocking people of color?

30 Rock should have gotten the axe after its third season. One good thing about that not happening, however, was that it gave us season five where Angie (played by Sherri Shepherd) gave some advice to Liz that everyone should heed, "Don't do impressions of other races." It's advice Selected Shorts should heed because it's not playing well and the complaints are building -- for good reason.

Sometimes the most important thing someone can do -- a Bob Somerby, a Selected Short producer -- can do is to stop talking and actually listen, to grasp that they can't speak for everyone despite believing that they're entitled to. And maybe, just maybe, in that brief bit of listening, they might learn something. The most important thing they can learn is that they are not the last say in other people's lives and the fact that they weren't offended doesn't mean something offensive didn't just take place.

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