Monday, August 5, 2013

The Newsroom: Retrospective (8/4/13)

There isn't much in the way of countering arguments during this episode. But a few things were brought up that need addressing. So let's get right to it.

1. Occupy Wall Street

When McAvoy told the Occupy Wall Street girl that she wasn't qualified to talk about things like predatory lending, financial crimes, corruption, and political donations on the show, he was absolutely correct. The problem with Occupy Wall Street's representation on the show is that it's not about pointing out the problem. People already know about the problems. It's about offering solutions, which OWS did not have.

Being portrayed like a leaderless, aimless rabble isn't flattering at all, but that's essentially what the movement was when it began in New York. It was just an amalgamation of students, the unemployed, and the underemployed raging against their own perceived injustices. The issues that Occupy Wall Street brings up, wealth distribution, the amorality of Wall Street, regulatory capture, these are all things that have been discussed and litigated since the 1800s.

OWS is/was a populist movement. And the populists first got their start in the 1800s. They wanted to reduce the influence of banks and corporations and increase the power of the working class and farmers. But unlike OWS, the original populists had their own political party. They won a smattering of local, state, and national offices but their biggest push happened when the populists were co-opted by the Democratic Party and William Jennings Bryant during the 1896 Democratic National Convention.

Even then, the Democrats/populists lost that election. But about twenty years later, they achieved all of their original objectives except the free minting of silver, which ceased being an issue after increased gold production after the Panic of 1896. OWS isn't like that. If you aren't seeking political office, you're a nobody. Because people in the know already know about the issues that OWS is railing about.

In a way, this is very indicative of youth in general. They want solutions to problems that they care about. But they don't want to be the solution. Their idea of helping is to talk loudly about an issue and hope that somebody else fixes it for them. That kind of thought process is no way to get things done. And if you can't get things done, you aren't taken seriously. And that's why Sorkin wanted to send up Occupy Wall Street. Important liberals get things done. Stupid, young, naive liberals just make important liberals (like Sorkin) look bad.

2. Africa

Watching those kids in the classroom scream and duck under their desks because they thought the camera one that one of the ACN employees (Gary Cooper, really?) was a gun was a really heart sick moment for me. Me, in my air conditioned living room watching a premium cable TV show on my 47 inch flat screen, watching these kids who did a pretty good job acting scared. It's uncomfortable being reminded that some of the most basic things that you take for granted are luxuries in other parts of the world.

The Newsroom really didn't try and push any agenda on Africa. I think at this point in the game, it's just something that needs to be noted. I actually remember reading a few articles in the Wall Street Journal and that President Obama was sending 100 military advisers to Africa to hunt down Joseph Kony. At the time, it didn't make a huge splash. It really took off a few months later in 2012 when that Kony 2012 video went viral.

Somebody on Facebook shared the Kony 2012 video and I saw it in my newsfeed. And eventually this backlash occurred because despite it being one of the most viewed videos on Youtube for the year, nothing really happened. In a way, this was another youthful flash in the pan in the same vein as Occupy Wall Street. A lot of noise is made for a short while about some issue or other and fizzles. Nothing happens. Here in August, 2013, nobody ever talks about internecine warfare in sub-Saharan Africa.

There was a scene in Game of Thrones in the last episode of Season 3 where one of the characters says "Careful with that. Start trying to work out who deserves what, and you'll spend the rest of your days weeping for each and every person in the world". Obviously nobody would be able to function if they cared about every person in the same way they care about their dog, but it's uncomfortable.

People who find themselves in great privilege are almost always very modest about it. Because deep down inside, we all know that we don't "deserve" what we have. Everything we have we owe to luck, circumstance, and the labor of other people, many of them long since dead.

I don't really have any point to this, but it's still worth noting that, despite all its faults, the United States is a really wonderful place to live.

P.S: Nice touch with the Toyota truck. It is the brand of choice in Africa. Although if they wanted more realism, he would have been driving an old Hilux instead of a Land Cruiser.

3. Nigger

I'll let Louis CK handle this one:

But on a related note, can people of Chinese descent say "nigger"? In polite company, the answer is obviously no. But it absolutely vexes me that nigger is a word that has taken on another life for black people. Quite frankly, it bothers me that there are many black people out there who will casually refer to other people by that word. I'm not offended when they get offended when white people use the word in a disparaging manner, I understand that completely.

It's one way to "own" a word by using it in a harmless context. I remember reading an article about how Jeremy Lin used the internet handle "ChinkBalla88" and understanding why he would refer to himself in such a manner. But at the same time, it's ridiculous. Both chink and nigger are derogatory racial epithets. Owning the term to trivialize doesn't make a lot of sense to me. The best way to handle these kinds of situations is to stop using the word and then disassociate from and discredit the people who continue to use it.

Owning a word is really a sign of insecurity. And sometimes to get past insecurity you simply have to stop being insecure. If somebody does something you don't like, you shouldn't do the same thing in a different context to "gain power" over it. Trying to gain power over something is just another way to project insecurity. Inform them that what they're doing is wrong and that they should stop it, and if they don't, just think less of them and don't bother with them anymore.

There's also the issue of overzealous policing of behavior. We have to burnish our social etiquette credentials to other people by calling out others on their breaches of etiquette. It's a good thing that we do enforce social norms, but at the same time, it seems like the reaction can be too severe precisely because everybody wants to prove to everybody else that they're decent human beings.

This racial prejudice stuff is just too complicated. It makes my head hurt. And that's all I have to say about that.

4. Vassar


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