Tag Archives: crass

Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Empowerment

IMG_0964This week I came across three items that spoke about empowerment and I would like to share my thoughts about them in this short blog:

First, I saw an article that purports to suggest that Calvin Klein advertisements neither empower women nor do not. But the author, Peggy Drexler, soon goes on to show her real thoughts on the matter, that sexually suggestive advertising can help women feel better about their bodies. She writes,

calvin klein grapefruit“And even if she were holding a grapefruit that resembles a vagina—what of it? Why is that so shocking, so deplorable? A vagina, after all, isn’t dirty. It’s not crass. It’s a body part, one that all women have. Instead, the protesters of these images seem to be suggesting that there is shame in acknowledging this body part—not even a real vagina, mind you, but a fruity likeness of one. This, of course, only serves to perpetuate the notion many women already feel: that their bodies are something to feel embarrassed about.”[1]

So, in spite of her disclaimer, it seems that Ms. Drexler does, in the end, seem to be suggesting, the crass advertising does empower women, and the tone here is that the raunchier the advertisement, the better women will feel about their bodies.

But perhaps this sounds rather serious, even dire. On a lighter note, I turn to the second item. In my inbox mysteriously there appeared an advertisement from Apple computer telling me that I should “empower” my children, if they happen to be graduating from high school or college, by buying them a sleek new Apple computer. The implication is, of course, if you don’t buy one for your child, you’re in fact holding them back from reaching their full potential. “Jump-start their future and give your grad the full notebook experience in the fastest, lightest MacBook yet.”

Now I am not going to complain about the false agreement of the plural possessive adjective “their” and the fact that you only have one graduate mentioned in the sentence, for that would be peevish. But I will say that a phrase like “full notebook experience” is to my mind off-putting. How can one have a “notebook experience”? I mean really, is that what one has when one uses a laptop computer, an “experience”? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against computers or Apple per se, but maybe I am just missing something. Yet I doubt it, as I am sitting here writing this blog on my (admittedly ordinary non-Apple) laptop and I am not having an experience at all, let alone “the full notebook eturtlexperience” (my italics). But I leave my petulance aside to consider the third item of empowerment. I wish I could say it was an article about turtles being to blame for salmonella and that all we need do is teach and thus empower the turtles with education about proper hygiene to make the problem go away. But it is a topic much more important and serious, even dangerous.

Economist.SexThe third appeal for empowerment comes from a piece that has had remarkable staying power (since August of 2014) in a number of Internet news sources. It is an article from The Economist on the sex trade entitled, “Prostitution: A Personal Choice.” To anyone at all aware of the diabolical, even demonic power of the sex trade business and human trafficking, the articles mere title jumps straight off the page as wrong-headed. Yet the article’s lead author even in the first paragraph seeks to reveal that to “many” prostitutes sex is just a job:

NIMBYs make common cause with puritans, who think that women selling sex are sinners, and do-gooders, who think they are victims. The reality is more nuanced. Some prostitutes do indeed suffer from trafficking, exploitation or violence; their abusers ought to end up in jail for their crimes. But for many, both male and female, sex work is just that: work.”

Now I hate to be peevish twice in one article, but I am about to do so. First of all, would love to know how many that “many” really is. But more importantly, secondly I would question the premise. Can sex ever in fact just be “work”? Just because some people might mistake from a distance skunk for a cat, it can be made clear amply quickly that a skunk is not a cat.skunk and cat

Let me be clear: I am not suggesting that a prostitute is a skunk. I am suggesting that prostitution is. It is something that stinks, and it stinks because despite what The Economist’s cover may suggest, it is anything but empowering. It is degrading. For the woman involved, it tells her that she is merely an object. For the man involved, it tells him that he is a buyer of an object. For the rare reversal of the situation (male prostitution or homosexual prostitution) the same formula may be applied with gender changes as appropriate. In every case, the seller is objectified and the buyer who has the money and therefore the power, is the objectifier. No pragmatic argument can change that, nor can any prevail against it. One need not be a NIMBY (which means, by the way, “Not in my backyard”; I had to look it up), a puritan or a do-gooder to understand this, though a modicum of education and common sense might help. But apparently The Economist’s team of writers have neither of those, but rather come equipped only with a social agenda and mega-dose of pragmatism gone wild.

It is not only The Economist who seems to condone sexual exploitation. The CNN webpage has a 2013 article on female students who seek out sugar daddies so they can pay their college expenses.[2] It is, to say the least, sympathetic to them. The notion of moral backbone, of hard work and, dare I say it, even of having to pay back college loans, is so easily sacrificed on the altar of Asherah.

calvin klein logoMs. Drexler buttons up her Calvin Klein article by stating, “Although it’s tempting to stare only at the poor, exploited, hyper-sexualized models in these images … don’t disregard the campaign’s words. The language, one might argue, is very clearly designed to put the power in the model’s, and the wearer’s, hands. “I [kick it] in my Calvins, ” “I [react] in my Calvins. ” “I [Bieber] in my Calvins. ” “They alone decide what to do in their Calvins.”

I can only respond in this way. It is not tempting for me to stare at those poor, exploited women. Rather, it is forced upon me and all of us, and our children, and grandchildren by amoral bastards who put the almighty dollar over everything else. To Ms. Drexler and any of us who might be inclined to think, “C’mon, this is just advertising; lighten up!” I simply say this. Think. Think about the implications of what you see, what you read, what you say and what you do. If you do not think about those implications, you will be bound, yes bound and enslaved, by the values of a world that attributes value not to people (whether those exploited in the picture or those put upon who wind up beholding it), but rather only to something really quite valueless, money, commercializing people, debasing sexuality, and corrupting the hope of future generations in the process.

And now I am finished with my peevishness. I shall turn to something like turtles next week, turtles and dreams and good memories.

[1] http://www.cnn.com/2016/05/13/opinions/calvin-klein-underwear-controversy-drexler/

[2] http://www.cnn.com/2013/02/26/living/students-sugar-daddy-relationships/index.html

Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Cartoonish World

For Philadelphians, sometimes it seems like sports is the day’s top story. Sports are to many Philadelphians what politics or the arts, to some degree, are to New Yorkers. For this reason, perhaps, one of the more common features of the Philadelphia Inquirer or Daily News, and for that matter any newspaper, are caricatures, cartoon distortions of well-known figures.

Leonardo di Vinci, An Old Woman The Ugly Duchess 1490
Leonardo di Vinci,
An Old Woman The Ugly Duchess 1490

The idea is not new. The Romans would regularly depict political figures in cartoonish ways and even Leonardo Da Vinci playfully rendered such distorted pictures. In the Philadelphia Inquirer, some of the cartoons are aimed at coaches—Chip Kelly was a favorite, and I am certain that the primary cartoonist of the Inquirer is lamenting the coaching change for that city’s football team (Eagles), even as the San Franciscans rejoice.

But why do we enjoy these satirical portraits? Because cartoons can take the edge off a situation as easily as they can, with clever social wit, put an edge on one. For example, a political cartoon, such as James Gillray’s portrait of William Pitt and Napoleon carving up a plum pudding meant to represent the world highlights playfully the pressing issues of the early nineteenth century. Pitt uses both a knife and a trident-shaped fork to suggest England’s maritime prowess, while the feather-chapeaued Napoleon cuts off a substantial portion of the globe representing Western Europe. Napolean and world cartoonThis picture, in a way, simply stated the obvious—taking the edge off a moment of great concern globally. It is one of Gillay’s best-known pieces, and widely recognized as one of the best and most thoughtful caricatures ever made. Those of the coach in the Philadelphia Inquirer, not so much, at least not outside of Philadelphia proper.Chip kelley cartoon

But the point of this blog is not to review the history of caricatures or even to offer a few examples of them. Rather, it is simply this: I want to suggest that we now live in a world of distortions. Caricatures, once just funny pictures, now seem have jumped off the page into the real world. American politicians (and Americans in general) seem to me distorted, oversized, cartoonish. Either they are so cautious about what they say that they won’t dare use a word that could be in the least deemed offensive, or they will avail themselves of any word at all, even those that might have made George Carlin blush, if that were possible. They are either at the furthest limit of one side of the politically correct spectrum, or just the opposite, so far in the other direction that they could care less whom they might offend. The old-fashioned notion of decorum is gone, it is dead (or at least it seems so now) and it is no longer even talked about.

I imagine that even sophisticated college students may not know the word any more, unless they happen to take Latin. Yet infrequently nowadays do college students take the time to learn Latin, for it requires an inordinate amount of time. It forces you to slow down and think; it forces you to be thoughtful. And, well, I suppose with no Latin, there is no knowledge of what decus, decoris (n.) means; and then, no English derivative, decorum, or its deeper meaning. And without decorum you’re left with either extreme political correctness on the one side, or a complete dearth of it on the other.

Is it just me, or does that not seem to ring true to you, too? Now I’m not suggesting that there should be a “middle ground,” for there is no true middle ground between one kind of ridiculous mind game and another. But mightn’t there be something like moderation? There is a difference between these two ideas. Middle ground, at least the way that some folks construe it, is quite often seen as mere fence sitting, an attempt to hedge one’s bets or, worse yet, apathy. But moderation is something like decorum. I won’t have that extra piece of pie because it would be immoderate, indecorous. I won’t have that extra drink because by indulging in immoderate behavior I might say something unseemly. In other words, the notion of decorum, which must be undergirded with a healthy sense of shame, has been driven out precisely because people seem to feel no shame. Yet I leave aside the question as to whether we feel no shame because we are indecorous or whether we are indecorous because we feel no shame. Simply put, we do, and we are.

An example of what I mean can be seen in two different types of eating disorders. The anorexic will consume very little, so little that that person can but barely survive, and, in some very sad cases, die. They have put food out of their life as they are starving themselves. These I would liken to those who are extremely politically correct. They have a disorder: they believe that they have a right to put words or ideas out of their lives. They demand “safe spaces” because they are so easily offended. They must control their environment, and like the anorexic, they have very inadequate and distorted mental picture of themselves.

The indecorously opinionated person, who deliberately seeks to be crass and rude, is to my mind, something like the morbidly obese person. Such folks will respond aggressively to those who offend them. They will just keep heaping it on, like a person too heavy who takes an extra helping or two even when they know, deep down inside, that they should not. Yet even these comparisons are not fair, for neither the anorexic nor the morbidly obese person can be held accountable for their decisions, as they suffer from a mental disorder that had driven them to one of two extremes.

Pixee Fox
Pixee Fox

Rather the people of today’s cartoonish world, who are merely reflected in our politicians, are actually more like Pixee Fox, who has undergone surgeries to become cartoonishly slender or Homer Simpson (“literally” a cartoon character), who apparently in one of this most popular episodes of that television show purposely gains weight to achieve disability status.

Such, it seems to me, are we these days, and perhaps we should not be surprised if our politicians merely reflect us. Either we heap it on indecorously or, worse yet, we are offended on behalf of just about anyone in the world, especially those on behalf of whom it is politically expedient to be offended. Both are distortions of the real thing. That real thing, practically invisible these days, is the decorous, balanced, sensible and honorable person, who is simply polite and kind because it is the right thing to do, not because they want to curry favor or seem holier-than-thou (or more-PC-than-thou). They do not natter negatively on Twitter or prate provocatively on Pinterest. They do not seek merely to be confrontational or endlessly try to find something to be offended about in the name of social change. They do not conveniently revise history, judge those who have served our country courageously, or officiously attend upon the words of others hoping to find a way to pronounce condemnation and to vaunt their own moral superiority.

Marcus Tullius Cicero
Marcus Tullius Cicero

We find examples of decorous individuals described in great detail in Cicero’s On Friendship, in Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics (book 8), or Seneca’s Moral Epistles (9). But who reads these folks anymore?

So few do precisely because we live in a cartoonish world. We even prefer movies rendered from comic books: stories set to the silver screen that have real actors behaving cartoonishly. We have self-distorted; we have become too thin with political correctness or too fat with crassness.Joker in batman

Decorum. That’s what we need now more than ever. And that is what we have always needed. What ever happened to the idea of two people from two different political parties actually respecting each other? Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan, how I hope you cannot see from heaven what a cartoonish mess we’ve made of all this. As things are now, perhaps we should “beg for … a discreet patience / Of death, or of worse life.”[1]Ronald-Reagan-Thomas-ONeill

And now it is time for me to go back to the book I’m writing, and you to your morning coffee or walking your dog. If you’re reading your paper, do grin a bit at the caricatures of the coaches of sports teams, whether in the Inquirer or the Daily News. But be wary of the cover of the NY Daily News, that simply takes too much liberty in the name of freedom of the press, for you needn’t look too closely at such distortions, if you live in the same cartoonish world that I do. Distortion, cartoons, caricatures are not just in the papers anymore. They’re walking about everywhere. And they are everywhere because it seems that no one takes decorum seriously. For my part, I am setting out on this new year not worrying about micro-aggressions, or what the politically correct flavor of the day might be; conversely, I shan’t seek to be crass, crude or wanton simply to provoke. Rather I am taking the boring path, one that seeks moderation, decency, and old-fashioned decorum. “Yet never knows what course that light doth run; / So let me study that mine actions be / Worthy…”[2] I don’t have to go to Rome or Greece or England to walk where Cicero, Aristotle, or even John Donne once trod. I can do it in my own neighborhood, my own home, with my own family and friends. That is the way of the old Latin word decus, decoris, which means “dignity.” Care to join me?

[1] John Donne, A Litany, X. The Martyrs

[2] John Donne, A Litany, VI. The Angels

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