Trump Report Card Based on the Ten Commandments
Rodolfo F. Acuña
There is a rash of proposals to require the reading the Ten Commandments aloud and posting them in public places. Actually I would not object to these suggestions if the people proposing them would read them and know their meaning. Unfortunately the proposal is driven by opportunistic politicians who have never read them and ill-educated ministers who have a limited knowledge of theology. The result is stupid statements such as Donald Trump went to houses of prostitution to take the word of God to the prostitutes. This sophistry deems the sex workers and distorts and offends the truth.
Any discussion of the Ten Commandments must put them into context. First of all, there is no single set of commandments. Second who is correct? The Catholics, the Jews or the Protestant? They all have their own version and interpretations. The truth is that the Ten Commandments are being used to obfuscate the abuses of Donald Trump. Therefore, it would seem appropriate if we seriously graded Trump based on what the commandments say and not what is being said. In this exercise, I will co-mingle the Catholic version with popular editions of the Ten Commandments.
The first commandment says, “I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt not have any strange gods before Me.” This commandment varies in meaning. For many, it means that only Catholics will go to heaven. At one time, Catholics applied it to apostates such as Mike Pence who denied their Catholic religion. When I was a kid, it was anyone who did not accept salvation through Jesus. Somehow, the apostate betrayed Jesus. Back in the Middle Ages, it was pretty big deal and people got burned at the stake.
The next commandment: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain,” is simplistically applied to swearing or blasphemy, However, as I was taught a more expansive meaning that included “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God.” For example, swearing that something was true and lying in God’s name violated this commandment. Taking and not keeping oaths to tell the truth or to support the truth of the statement were a violation of second commandment.
The third commandment applies to Trump and the 1 percent. “You shall not make yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” The graven image today is symbolic of the exhibition of excessive wealth and ostentatious behavior. Obsessive bragging is part of this. It could include material displays such as The Mar-a-Lago Club that consume and determine your priorities.
The fourth commandments is almost forgotten. “Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day.” At one time this commandment was strictly adhered to and even playing sports such as golf was prohibited. Many believed that the day was reserved for good works. To improve the lives of others so we could all go to heaven. Today, time is money. We no longer live in communities or worship God as a community.
The fifth “Honor thy father and mother” greatly depends on your interpretation. It does not mean parents should dictate who you marry, but it does underscore your duty to care for them in old age. An obvious offense would be the elimination of social security or medical care. Hebrew society was strict about caring for the elderly, disabled, young and the poor. The present “Blade Runner” homelessness would offend ear;y Christians.
The sixth “Thou shalt not kill” is not as cut and dry as the murder innocent people or repelling an unjust aggressor. It is a matter of morality. For instance, bombing people who in no way threaten you is against this commandment. Seeing half the world starving to death and doing nothing about violates the natural law. Just like you have the duty to intervene in a rape or brutal attack, you have a duty to others. According to the Jesuit theologians that I took classes from, you are your “brother’s keeper.”
The seventh, “Thou shalt not commit adultery” has consumed Christians especially thos who want to divert attention from their supposed indiscretions. Strictly it involves having sex with another person’s spouse or cheating on your spouse. It also means not scheming on employees wives. The evangelical ministers are making this commandment worthless. They have stripped it of the little moral authority it had. The commandment has been used to spread witness in condemning sexual preferences. Like the other commandments, its validity rests on moral authority, which the Trump era is invalidating. No one likes hypocrisy. The Catholic Church kept a religious empire together as long the people gave it moral authority.
The eighth commandment “Thou shalt not steal” goes well beyond taking something that does not belong to you. When I was studying theology, it also meant lying; it meant speaking falsehoods or intentionally deceiving someone. At one time, the Catholic Church also considered usury, the loaning of money for exploitative interest rates to be a mortal sin. Specifically, Trumps cheating workers out of pay would be considered.
The Ninth Commandment “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” is about the splendor and the beauty of the truth. The truth is essential to our lives. Fake news is slander. Without the truth there can be no trust, and without trust there can be no relationships. We may not seek to damage our neighbors by giving false evidence against them.
The Tenth Commandment is “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house his wife.” Trump boasts of trying to seduce married women. He covets the wealth of others. Finadmentlly it is about the abuse of power.
I would be a hypocrite if I said that I consciously followed the Tend Commandments. I am an atheist. Yet I believe in standards. I believe that everyone especially elected officials should be the judged by what the believe and say. I do not want an itinerant minister claiming to be a preacher to tell me what to believe especially since they have a superficial knowledge and use this superficiality to condone injustice.
In response to friend on Castro’s involvement in El Salvador: “Wendy then why was the United States financing Arena and the Salvadoran military? In was in El Salvador in 1991 and never saw a Cuban but I did encounter American military advisers. Castro can be criticized for the initial policy on LGBT but the shoe also fits the U.S. Change only began in both countries in the 1990s. You must remember Elizabeth Taylor’s valiant smuggling in of AIDS drugs. The truth be told, the world does not have a good history in re: to LGBT rights. We should all be ashamed.
Just a little story. My generation of Chicanas/os usually attended USC for graduate degrees. Many of its offering were after 4 PM and I don’t know of many Chicanas/os who had scholarships. It was the GI Bill and work. There were no freeways to UCLA that did not offer grad or regular courses after 4 PM. We usually lived in the basin and worked there so we could not afford to lose 2-3 hours driving to Westwood. Many Chicanos, Blacks and Asians were also critical UCLA being situated in Westwood and believed it should be where Cal State is today. This resentment increased when Pepperdine moved to Malibu to escape South Central. Previous to that Loyola had left inner LA.It is only until the 1960s that UCLA opened its doors. LA State, ELAC, LACC were/are the working class schools. Chicanas/os are becoming more numerous at UCLA because of the Chicana/o Movement; we should not forget that we are there because struggle and sacrifice of that movement.Lamentably USC and UCLA have become money making institutions with a third of their students being out of state and international students. How much is made on parking alone? In sum, we are at these institutions because we fought our way in not because we werw their first choice.
Thanks to see another New Year. Life has been good to me, I have remained a teacher. Got my first three degrees, BA, General Secondary and MA in History from LA State College and continued teaching a a teachers’ college. It was a gift, kept my arrogance in check. The death of others define my own mortality. 12/16
I was asked why I posted a photo on 19th century Chihuahua patriarchy because some of the remarks were frankly sexist. I published this response: ” It is part of history, it is a part we should remember and not repeat. I saw it during my research on Chihuahua,my colleague Jorge Garcia posted it to condemn it, it is part of the pretensions of Mexican Liberalism (Juarez, Diaz etc who wanted to be white) and it is being repeated today under the guise of neo-liberalism. We should have learned but didn’t, i.e., with the election of Trump.It is also my reaction to all of the postings exulting a Mexican cuisine that most poor people rarely eat. You also cannot deal with the attitudes by covering them up. Look at the photo, these are upper class Mexicans trying to be European. I am surprised that you would ask why I posted it. If the respondants are revolting they should be called out. It is like when I criticized Juarez for selling out the Mexican Indians some of my Mexican friends would not talk to me. The truth is the truth. We live in a cesspool and it will stay a cesspool for as long as we let it fester.
Is there a difference between Republicans and Democrats? The former are universally bad. Name one piece of social legislation since the 1950s and even before passed on Republican initiative. One of the things that I had against Bill Clinton is that undid much of this legislation, deregulating Wall Street and setting back welfare reform. He stepped up the War on Drugs. My criticism of Obama is that he never passed immigration reform even in his first two years. The truth be told, there has been no major social legislation out of perhaps Obama Care (a sop to the medical establishment and pharmaceuticals. However, objectively speaking Democrats are much better and do protect most social gains.
Micro Thoughts on Chicana/o Studies
Rodolfo F. Acuña
What amazes me is the lack of knowledge most educators and university professors have of pedagogy. Chicana/o Studies has been around for close to fifty years and I still hear inane questions such as why Chicana/o studies, and what is it good for. I have even been asked these questions by professional educators, practitioners who supposedly are Doctors in Education.
Chicana/o studies are part of a long tradition in academe called interdisciplinary studies that has been controversial only among less imaginative scholars. It is essentially crossing and thinking across boundaries. Historically these borders have been crossed to meet new needs.
Over a hundred years ago, we did not have the disciplines of sociology and political science that evolved from history. The new fields came about because they addressed needed knowledge such as urban and societal problems. They were experimental innovations. The problem was that as quickly as the new fields became institutionalized, they became territorial and also engaged in a disciplinary chauvinism.
Because most professors in interdisciplinary programs are trained in traditional fields, professors quickly revert to their disciplines. They take comfort in believing that their discipline places more emphasis on quantitative “rigor”. They think of themselves as “more scientific” than others; accordingly, their colleagues are seen as being in “softer” disciplines and incapable of grasping the broader dimensions of a problem.
Interdisciplinary studies are rooted area studies. They were influenced by pedagogical reformers such as John Dewey who believed in teaching the whole child. They believed in teaching the student and not the subject. Area studies focused on specific corpuses of knowledge such as countries and peoples. Thus, interdisciplinary studies became increasingly common in the United States and in Western education after World War II as the United States was forced to take a global worldview.
The war broke American isolation, forcing American universities to teach and conduct research on the non-Western world. The areas of foreign area studies before this were rare. After the war, liberals and conservatives alike became concerned about the U.S. ability to respond effectively to perceived external threats from the Soviet Union and China and the Cold War. The anti-colonial wars were reshaping world history.
In this context, the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Carnegie Corporation convened a series of meetings to address this knowledge deficit, and the need to invest in international studies. The U.S. could no longer ignore the rest of the world.
The Ford Foundation was the dominant player in shaping the area studies program. From 1953 to 1966, it contributed $270 million to 34 universities for area and language studies. The National Defense Education Act of 1957, later renamed the Higher Education Act in 1965, allocated funds to universities for Area Studies and Foreign Language instruction.
The argument for Latin American, Asian and African Studies is simple. It is s a more efficient and holistic way of teaching about a country or area of studies. Learning a people’s language is not enough. A state department agent had to know the language, history, culture, literature of the country she or he would work in.
Many of us in the sixties believed that the same principle applied to Mexican American students whose population is today larger than most Latin American nations. Teachers like state department employees should know their audience. Knowing a couple of words in Spanish and eating enchiladas was not enough. A teacher should be an expert in the field of study.
Sadly the eurocentrism of society, the schools and the teachers has prevented this from happening and most teachers and schools have insisted in retaining a failed American model. Educational reform in the United States is very difficult.
I was once optimistic and believed that if we built a model program at California State University Northridge that institutions of higher education would examine the model. We have been extremely successful offering 166 sections per semester – employing 28 tenure track and over adjunct professors. Like they used to say in the army – never happen G.I. – not in our time.
My first tenure track position at the state college level was at Dominguez Hills State College. I had high hopes that I would be able to start a Mexican American Studies program there. The college was first scheduled to open on Paloverdes Peninsula, a wealthy sector of Los Angeles. It would be the 18th campus in the statewide system. However, land values soared on the peninsula. This led the California State College and University Board of Trustees to settle “on a 346-acre campus in Carson, overlooking junk yards, oil wells and tract housing.” What saved the college was the Watts Riots that pointed to the need for the site.
Its first president Leo Cain, a leader in special education, had hopes of making into a liberal college with experimental courses. In an interview Cain said that there was considerable discussion that the curricular offerings would be interdisciplinary. “The two issues that we talked about a lot were the interdisciplinary part…and the second issue was…we would not have a School of Education. We would make teacher education interdisciplinary and we would have all segments of the college work on the teacher education program. It was interesting, but it didn’t really work out that way, as you know.”
Cain had earned his bachelor’s degree at Chico State and master’s and doctoral degrees at Stanford. He also taught in public schools, and served in the Navy during World War II. He wanted to build a “small college” for undergraduates within the larger College that would be an experimental laboratory for higher educa¬tion – “this college-within-a-college will test a variety of curricular plans and will serve as a training ground for graduate students planning a career in college teaching.” Cain retired before this was full implemented.
I came out of an interdisciplinary background. I had a Master of Arts from Cal State LA in American history and an MA and PhD from USC in Latin American Studies that included History (Latin American and Mexican), International Relations, Spanish American and Brazilian Literature.
At Dominguez Hills we had extensive discussions on the curriculum. In essence the student was required to have two majors – an Area Studies and a discipline. At first I believed that this would be compatible for the creation of Mexican American Studies. However, there was dissatisfaction among the disparate disciplines as well as power struggles. As an assistant professor I was an outsider.
At the time the Mexican population in the surrounding area was not large with most Mexican Americans went to Long Beach State. So when the opportunity to go to San Fernando State College presented itself with the specific mandate to start a MAS program I accepted. The San Fernando Valley had a growing Mexican American population and it was home.
It almost seems ridiculous that at this time educators question what area studies are. Frantz Fanon, a trained psychiatrist, acknowledged when he moved to Algeria that he had to learn the national culture of the the people. He had to learn the language, history and culture of the people before he could understand and cure them. Apparently most educators do not hold themselves to the same standard.
Just like when I get up in the morning and thank my parents for having made me a Mexican, I give thanks to life for having exposed me to the Chicana/o Movement. It has been a learning experience; teaching me the importance of helping Sisyphus push the boulder up the mountain.
If I could single out what I loved most about my life, it is that the opportunity to learn. I have met people who have become my teachers. They have given meaning to my life.
In the 1990s, I remember going to the home of my friends Cristina Shallcross and Ruben Guevara — great teachers of life. They knew I was not much for socializing, but they wanted me to meet their special guest Guillermo Gómez-Peña, who had recently been awarded a MacArthur Fellowship.
Guillermo, a chilango, came to the US in 1978 and totally integrated into the Chicana/o community, exploring cross-cultural issues, immigration, and the politics of language. His works were a mixture of English and Spanish, fact and fiction, social reality, pop culture, and Chicano humor. He embraced activist politics and the theme of linguistic resistance.
He had just finished a tour of museums that included the Smithsonian, performing “The Couple in the Cage” (1992-93). His partner CoCo Fusco and he exhibited themselves in a cage, and they pretended to be from an undiscovered Amerindian tribe from an island off the Mexican coast. They performed rituals designed to befuddle patrons.
They portrayed “authentic” daily life — writing on a laptop computer, watching TV, making voodoo dolls, and pacing the cage dressed “in Converse high-tops, raffia skirts, plastic beads, and a wrestler’s mask.” The two “Amerindians” depicted a hybrid pseudo primitivism. The audience could pay for dances, stories, and polaroid photos. Some viewers were indignant and sent complaints to the humane society. They believed “that the two were real captives, true natives somehow tainted by technology and popular culture.”
Some gave them presents, offerings, and sent sympathy notes. Reactions were also violent. “In London, a group of neo-Nazi skinheads tried to shake the cage.” In Madrid, teenagers tried to burn Guillermo with cigarettes and gave him a beer bottle full of urine. They treated the Indians as if they “were monkeys—making gorilla sounds or racist ‘Indian’ hoots.”
According to Guillermo, “We understood it to be a satirical commentary both on the Quincentenary celebrations and on the history of this practice of exhibiting human beings from Africa, Asia, and Latin America in Europe and the United States in zoos, theaters, and museums.” But even he was surprised– in Spain, more than half the people thought they really were Amerindians. Some were so convinced that they were real that they said they could understand their language. “One man in London stood there and translated Guillermo’s story for another visitor… Men in Spain put coins in the donation box [CoCo] to get me to dance because, as they said, they wanted to see my tits. There was a woman in Irvine who asked for a rubber glove in order to touch Guillermo and started to fondle him in a sexual manner.” The lines between ethnography and pornography were blurred.
The responses from Native Americans and Latinos were also interesting. “They tend to find fault with the hybridity of the contents of the cage, while Anglos take this as a sign of our lack of authenticity. In Washington, for example, there was a Native American elder from the Pueblo tribe of Arizona who was interviewed by a Smithsonian representative. He said that our performance was the most real thing about the Native Americans displayed in the whole museum.” A man from El Salvador pointed to the rubber heart hanging in the cage and told everybody, “That heart is my heart.”
According to Guillermo, Western anthropologists are obsessed with authenticity. The authentic Indian, the authentic Mexico, the authentic Chicano. He found Mexicans less preoccupied with the question of authenticity. Mexico was less tainted by post-modernity and perhaps more accepting of Magical Realism.
I saw Guillermo again circa 1994 when he came to the campus. He was collaborating with the son of my late colleague, Roberto Sifuentes, on the “The Crucifiction Project.” I was into my suit against the University of California Santa Barbara so I lost track of Guillermo until the other day when I noticed an article by him titled: “An anti-gentrification philosophical tantrum, 2015” in which he critiques the dangers of the ultimate “creative city,” where you become a foreigner in your own neighborhood.
Illustrated by John Criscitello, it was addressed to “Dear Ex-local artist, writer, activist, bohemian, street eccentric, and/or protector of difference…” He continues: “Imagine a city, your city [San Francisco] and your former hip’ neighborhood, being handed over by greedy politicians and re/developers to the crème de la crème of the tech industry. This includes the 7 most powerful tech companies in the world. I don’t need to list them: their names have become verbs in lingua franca; their sandbox is the city you used to call your own.”
“Imagine that during the reconstruction process, the rent – your rent – increases by two or three hundred percent overnight. The artists and the working class at large can no longer pay it. You are being forced to leave, at best to a nearby city, at worst back to your original hometown. The more intimate history you have with the old city, the more painful it is to accept this displacement. You have no choice.”
“As your community rapidly shrinks, so does your sense of belonging to a city that no longer seems to like you. You begin to feel like a foreigner and internal exile: freaky Alice in techno-Wonderlandia; the Alien Caterpillar who inhaled… You become an orphan.” Guillermo uses imagination, a sort of magic realism to paint this new order. It becomes a “Blade Runner” set in words.
The invaders are the “zombie techies who make well over $200 grand a year, but behave not unlike obnoxious teenage frat boys.” With them the nightmare unfolds: “Full of Maseratis, Ferraris, Porsches and Mercedes Benzes, the private parking lot is now protected with barbed wire fences and a digital display keypad encoded by microchips; and so are the ‘vintage bike’ racks and trash containers.”
It is “the latest American version of ethnic and cultural cleansing. It’s invisible to the newcomers, and highly visible to those of us who knew the old city. The press labels it ‘the post-gentrification era.’” He continues, “There are suspicious fires happening constantly, in apartment buildings and homes inhabited by mostly Latino and black working class families. And you cannot help but to wonder if landlords and redevelopers are setting these fires? … Is there a secret garden of violence in the heart of techno-bohemian paradise?”-Anonymous tweet.
“In this imaginary city, we no longer have citizens: we have self-involved ‘consumers’ with the latest gadgets in hand.” –Tweet.
”But dear reader/audience member, don’t take it personally, you are always an exception to the rule.’ – Tweet.”
“For the poetic record: They are mostly ‘white,’ (meaning gender or race illiterate). 70% are male and have absolutely no sense of the history of the streets they are beginning to walk on.” The description continues, “In the ‘creative city’racism, sexism, homophobia and classicism are passé…”
Gracias a la vida, a life that permits me to see reality. Tweet.
Can you smell the refried beans?
EXCHANGE WITH XAVIER HERMOSILLO
Rodolfo F. Acuña Mar 20 15
I could not help myself when I recently replied to Xavier Hermosillo’s outrageous Facebook post on Maricopa Sheriff Joe Arpaio responding, “Arpaio is a fascist. Can’t you smell the re-fried beans?”
Xavier Hermosillo answered back:
“The BOTTOM LINE, regardless of the particular issue on the table at this moment, is that until a higher court overturns the Texas judge, the injunction has the force of law and MUST be respected.
[This order was predicated on the fact that Araipo took Obama to court because a higher court overturned a ruling against Araipio.]
[Hermosillo continued]:He’s DELIBERATELY VIOLATING a federal judge’s order, and only one man has stood up to him.
An intellectual scholar like you knows better. If a judge issued an order approving a topic you support, and some bureaucrat decided to openly violate the order, you’d be screaming to a much different tune.
We live under a system where a judge’s rule or injunction has the power of law until progressively higher levels of power and legal acumen rule differently.”
I responded to the crap:
“Your premise would be true if the majority of the Supreme Court was not corrupt and would follow the law. Citizens United is a case in point. If the Democrats had guts they would have at least brought impeachment proceedings against Scalia, Thomas, and the three other corporate stooges. Irreparable harm is being done to the courts. When I was a kid we did not like but respected the courts. Today very few people believe in justice through the courts. Also falling back on my religious training (I am not a believer) but after 14 years and a lot of reading I know Catholicism. The pedophile trials destroyed the aura enjoyed by the Church. The corruption of Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats is doing the same to government and shredding the Constitution.
After the encounter I received numerous messages asking why I did not just defriend Hermosillo. Why had I accepted him as a friend in the first place? Judgments are often based on history; you can like a person even though they are full of shit. Hermosillo has always been a Rush Limbaugh wannabe. He possesses a certain charm although more often he skirts the creases between racism Chicano nationalism.
I also must admit I appreciate a catchy metaphor like in the early 1991 when the African American community was receiving deserved attention for their rebellion against acquittal of the white officers in the beating of Rodney King. At the time Pete Wilson and his cabal were gearing up for the insidious Proposition 187.
Mexican Americans were resentful with the outcome of the 1990 state redistricting plan and their lack of representation. A growing resentment festered fueled by the fact that Latinos were 40 percent of Los Angeles but only cast 8 percent of the vote. Out of 247 City Commissioners, there were only two Latino councilmembers. Less than 10 percent of the city employees were Latina/o.
At the time, many Latinos wrongheadedly measured progress by comparing it to that of African Americans who made up 13 percent of the population and 18 percent of the electorate. In the aftermath of the horrendous King beating and the rebellions that followed the city allocated cleanup funds, which touched off competition between the Brown and Black communities.
Many Black leaders advocated the jobs should go exclusively to African American touching off a response by Latinos. This brought forth many loud voices –Xavier’s voice was one of the loudest. When he was nominated to be a Fire Department commissioner black representatives and leaders spoke out against it and blocked his appointment.
On the advent of Proposition 187 (1994) Hermosillo, a Republican, spoke out in defense of the immigrant community attacking the Republican party giving way to hyperbole saying Latinos are “going to take back California house by house, block by block,” admonishing non-Latinos to “wake up and smell the refried beans.”
Hermosillo later added, “We are being used as scapegoats. The 41% of the county’s population that is Latino is not leaving. Those racists and xenophobes and even those who are genuinely frustrated about illegal immigration should not look to some Utopian removal of Latinos as the answer, but rather they should wake up and smell the refried beans, because we are here, we belong here, and we are here to stay–and they are just going to have to deal with it.”
Taken at face value, I would have agreed with Hermosillo. However, many overlooked Xavier’s other statements that were angering African American leaders. Hyperbole is the engine of rebellion, Xavier went too far, using the pejorative word mayate (the Spanish term for a black insect) to describe African Americans.
Hermosillo and his supporters took the approach that Latinos deserved it more than Black Americans. First, it was in error to make the Black community the norm. The standard should always be the majority society that despite the fact that they are the minority controls middle class priveleges. In the process Hermosillo pitted Brown against Black.
Judging from Xavier’s behavior today, he has not learned his lesson. He is back in the fold of the Republican Party and is part of a cabal of right wing kooks who have never smelled the refried beans. His wanting to be white blinds him to the dimensions of xenophobia and racism within the Republican Party and Blue Dog Democrats.
It is a mistake to measure Latino progress with Black Americans. Since 1990 the Black Community because of redlining, discrimination, and police violence has fled the city and it has lost a large part of its middle class.
The results are disastrous and they have irreparably harmed Latinos. The truth be told, many black leaders supported us: they were leading voices against police brutality and racism. Increasingly larger numbers were becoming sensitive to the Immigration Question.
At California State University the Department of Chicana/o Studies owes a great debt to African Americans. However, their numbers have fallen and today they are only 3.8 percent of the student body. We miss their energy in fighting issues such as impaction and the privatization of the university.
As a result, we are today more vulnerable to racist onslaughts. We have always had a common history with Black Americans. Unfortunately we have too many Xavier Hermosillos pretending to speak for the community and are stuck in a stage of infantile disorder that has left us alone in the struggle.
Not my hero but the Ben Franklin quote “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately” applies to our relations with other minorities and we should kind in mind “Words and actions should help to unite, and not divide, the people of our various nationalities.”
Is Stereotyping Racist?
North Korea and Mexicans
“depende del cristal con que se mire”
Rodolfo F. Acuña 12 27 2014
As I have said on many occasions, “[Todo] depende del cristal con que se mire” (“everything depends on the color of the crystal that one looks through”. Our life experiences, social class, education, and culture shape our rational epistemology.
During the debate over “The Interview” – a film starring James Franco and Seth Rogen mocking North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, I found myself irritated by the wagging of the dog. The film came under intense media attention when an unidentified group hacked the emails of Sony Films and released racist emails of top Sony executives. This stirred the pot for over a week, climaxing with the FBI saying it had evidence that North Korea was behind the attack (although many experts were not so sure).
Jingoism shifted the debate from the revelations in the emails to an international crisis that resembles Edward J. Snowden’s release of N.S.A. documents. Initially the media focused on the leaked documents but quickly changed its theme from U.S. spying on allies to whether Snowden was a traitor and on the Russian payroll. In both cases, the uncovered intelligence was confused by the wagging of the dog in which “a dog is smarter than its tail” because if the tail were smarter, then the tail would “wag the dog”.
I have no love for North Korea or Kim Jong – indeed I am not fond of any theocracy including that controlled by evangelicals, Pat Robertson or billionaires. I don’t like cyber-attacks, which hurt progressives more than conservatives. The only thing that I hate more than attempted extortion or attacks on freedom is hypocrisy.
Thus I was disappointed and surprised by George Clooney’s attempt to rally the troops and his call to get Hollywood biggies to close ranks, accusing them of “cowardice” for not standing up to the threats of the hackers in not screening “The Interview.” Apparently Clooney conferred with Amy Pascal, Chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment Motion Picture Group, whose racist emails along with those of producer Scott Rudin’s triggered the outrage. Now all was forgotten and Rogen was complimenting Pascal for having “the balls to make the movie.”
In the end Sony opened “The Interview” on December 25th. Sony had gotten hundreds of millions of dollars of free publicity; upon its release the film got blaring headlines, “Let Freedom Ring”, Americans wouldn’t be intimidated by the commie. Damn they had shown Kim Jong not mess with Americans – no one could tell Americans what to do. More important the wagging of the dog diverted attention from the racist emails.
What are the ramifications of this keystone cops farce? Rogen and Franco’s “Freaks and Geeks” type humor has won respectability in the mainstream market. They are no longer on the fringes, a lucrative but vulgar genre. They were now the defenders of American democracy. Thus, the freaks facilitated the wagging of the dog.
As I said, “depende del cristal con que se mire.” My rational choices are guided by a different epistemological base than the freaks. My cristal goes beyond the protection of Hollywood’s intellectual freedom or the U.S.’s definition of what is good and what is spying. If it is wrong for the Russians, the Koreans and U.S. hackers to spy then it is wrong for N.S.A., the C.I.A. and the F.B.I.
Stereotyping of any sort is offensive. Pascal and Rudin’s emails go a long way in explaining why there are so few browns and blacks in Hollywood. For sixty years I have picketed racial stereotypes in movies, something that has existed from the movies earliest days.
In 1915, D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation portrayed the Ku Klux Klansmen as the saviors of the nation that they would bring back a stable government. It was and is heralded as an American classic. The use of actors in blackface was widespread until recent times. .
Racist imagery of Mexicans also exists to this day. Typical stereotypes include “the greaser, lazy Mexicans, Latin Lovers, maids, slum dwellers, drug addicts, gang bangers, feisty Latinas, Mexican Spitfires, and the Exotica.” The result is the image of Mexicans and by extension all Latinos as “dumb,” “mongrels,” “dirty,” and “aliens.”
Stereotypes distort reality and allow Americans to forget their brutal and imperialistic history. Sociologist Joe Feagin writes that it “makes it easier to rationalize attacks on Mexican immigrants” and it allows white Americans to think of Mexicans and Latinos as “backward” peoples. In other words, it justifies white entitlement.
Blatantly racist comments are considered impolite by most people in public settings. However, this has given way to more subtle forms of stereotyping. More common is linguistic and cultural mocking that generate and perpetuate the degrading stereotypes and images of Latinos.
Most liberals are shocked and appalled by overt racial imaging. Black Sambo and Frito Bandido type commercials are less common and more subtle forms persist today, something that I attempted to explore in Anything But Mexican (Verso 1996).
Recently, African American comedian Chris Rock stunned Hollywood liberals by saying “forget whether Hollywood is black enough. A better question is: Is Hollywood Mexican enough? You’re in L.A, you’ve got to try not to hire Mexicans … There’s this acceptance that Mexicans are going to take care of white people in L.A. that doesn’t exist anywhere else. I remember I was renting a house in Beverly Park while doing some movie, and you just see all of the Mexican people at 8 o’clock in the morning in a line driving into Beverly Park like it’s General Motors. It’s this weird town.” The truth be told, what Rock is talking about is the natural result of more than two hundred years of stereotyping. (See Cecil Robinson, With The Ears of Strangers: The Mexican in American Literature (Arizona 1963).
Racial imagery is also the result of racial, sexual, gender jokes and innuendo that are becoming a big part of the “freak and the geek” movies, popular American culture and U.S. foreign policy.
I always tell my students that jokes have a purpose. A boozed up male tells a young woman a dirty joke, not just because he wants to make her laugh. I remember in the 60s a big Texan cornered me and told me (did not ask me) if I wanted to hear a joke. I said no because by instinct I knew what was coming.
The Texan proceeded anyway: “Himmler was demonstrating an eradicating machine to Hitler. He brought out Jews ten at a time and the machine eradicated them. Periodically he would bring out a Mexican and eradicate the Mexican. Hitler asked “why the Mexicans?” Himmler answered, “Well, we have to grease the machine.” I did not find it humorous but the Guy was too big, so over his objections I told my joke. “What do you get when you pour boiling water over a white male Texan?.” I then answered my own question, “Instant caca.”
I reminded him it was only a joke, not to take offense.