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Me Too, Part Two

Assorted thoughts about sexism and sexual misconduct since my last post on this topic:

⊗ Comedian Sarah Silverman told a reporter from The Guardian, “There are jokes I made 15 years ago I would absolutely not make today.”  I understand why she said this but there may be less to her statement than meets the eye.  I would ask, was there ever a time when Sarah’s statement was not true?   I think that even the conservative Bob Hope — were he still around to answer  — would acknowledge having made jokes in 1960 that he would not have told in 1975.  I suggest that what we laugh at and what we cringe from measures the rate of change in our culture.

⊗ In the early 1970s, I drew two cartoons for our college newspaper that had blatantly sexist punchlines.  I got well-deserved blowback for those items in the letters-to-the-editor of the newspaper.  At the time, I responded to that feedback with defensiveness, as a cover for my personal embarassment, immaturity and confusion.  Eventually I would walk away from the 1970s college culture dominated by The National Lampoon, Saturday Night Live and R. Crumb, but for a good while, and to my discredit, I pretty much went along with that post-modern sexism.  I never embraced it but I didn’t question others about it either.

⊗ Al Franken not only absorbed but helped shape this culture.  He was a member of the writing staff of SNL when guest host Buck Henry played his now-infamous “Uncle Roy” character, the babysitter who took photos of his nieces as they slid down the banister in their nighties.  While Franken did not write that sketch, he was a full-on particpant in SNL‘s early mission to obliterate any and all boundaries of comedy and taste.  The first time I heard the word areola on television was the SNL skit pitting Dan Aykroyd against Jane (You Ignorant Slut) Curtin.  The first time I saw brain tumors used as a comedy bit was another SNL skit with Tom Davis and Al Franken.  It is not a big stretch to suggest that Al Franken was accustomed to (and was rewarded for) disrespecting boundaries.

⊗ I don’t want this commentary to be about pointing fingers.  Instead, without making excuses, I would say that the times that baby-boomers grew up in were incredibly sexist.  We can’t walk that back.  Some men grew out of it faster than others.  Some never have and some never will.  Sadly, many women will have to be on their guard for a long, long time and many men — beyond the celebrity revelations — will never be held to account.

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Dear “Papa” John Schnatter:

I read you were having some trouble selling pizza this football season, losing some money. You know another tough way to make money?  Being a black quarterback who thirty-one white owners (and one Pakistani-American owner) refuse to hire.

I have an idea.  You know what would make your pizzas taste better?  Kneeling on them.

On second thought, kneeling may not help.  Your pizza, that is.  But I invite you to try it. Kneeling, that is.

Regards, Colin

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I have a rather small viewport at Facebook, but from the posts and comments I have seen, I am guessing that thousands of women (and even some men) have now declared “me too” with respect to having been subjected to sexual harassment.  But one woman’s remarks went further — she doubted whether her declaration (and by extension the “me too” drive) would change anything unless men step up, speak out and end their own complicity.

I took this as a two-part challenge.  The first is to call out such behavior.  The second is to examine one’s own behavior, acknowledge it and, as necessary, atone for it.

• • I • •

I was watching the New York Giants vs Denver Broncos football game on Sunday night to see how Denver — a possible playoff competitor of the Pittsburgh Steelers — would fare.  Around 10:25 pm, with 8:13 left in the third quarter, I (and millions of others watching) heard this exchange between play-by-play announcer Al Michaels and color commentator Cris Collinsworth:

CC [on the winless Giants, who had a big lead in the game]:  Can’t you just see it, that they’re all wanting to touch the ball, they’re all wanting to get engaged in this game tonight.  The energy has been fantastic from the start for the Giants.

AM: And really, in a way shockingly so…  Third down and three… Manning throws and that was knocked down… by Bradley Roby.   I mean, let’s face it, the Giants are coming off a worse week than Harvey Weinstein…

[CC stifles laugh]

AM: … and they’re up by 14 points!

CC [chortling]: Only my L.A. guy comes up with that one!

AM [modestly]: Well, you know. [Manning is shown trotting off the field.]

CC: There you go!

AM: All you have to do is read the papers!  Any paper.

CC: Heh heh heh heh heh heh.

CC [returning to the game]:  Well that was a big stop for the Denver Broncos…. looked like the Giants were going to get down there…

No more is said about this topic for the next 33 minutes of the broadcast.  Upon returning from an injury commerical break with 12:38 left in the fourth quarter, Al Michaels hastily slurred out the following, which was interpreted by some as an apology:

AM:  Back in Denver sorry I made a reference earlier before tried being a little flip about somebody obviously very much in the news all over the country and… it… was not… meant in that manner?  So… uh…my apologies… and uh… we’ll just leave it at that.  [Denver receiver Isaiah McKenzie is shown being carted off the field.]

CC [helpfully]: Whadya gonna do.  Move on!

AM:  Yep. [Pause]  There is McKenzie…

And on they did move, the announcers, the network and the NFL.  I discovered later that many viewers also moved on, even after foul was cried.  A series of Twitter remarks from @TotalProSports that evening bears this out (presented in order of appearance):

Kate: Are you serious?!  In what world is this acceptable?!  Is sexual assault now funny? Did I miss something?

Saul: It’s a joke. Get over it

Russ: A bad joke, but a joke nonetheless.

John: No a hilarious joke depending on how you view life

Then came the spin.  NBC Sports said to Fox News, “It was an inappropriate comment, and was acknowledged with an apology soon after on the telecast.”  No, I would not call the words Al Michaels sputtered an apology.  I would call it Cleanup on Aisle NBC.

We can be sure that NBC got plenty of blowback about Michaels’ remark in the minutes that followed — enough to make the network tell the producers to tell Michaels to walk back his remark.  Which he tried to do without drawing attention to what he was doing.  One could hardly understand the words he was saying, he recited them so quickly and with their context purposely obscured.  Some apology.

Fox News then claimed in its article that “his broadcast partner, Cris Collinsworth, seemed uncomfortable with the adlib.”  No, he did not.  Listen to the video — Collinsworth first did a spit-take and then had a good laugh.  And later, after Michaels’ so-called apology, it was clearly Collinsworth’s job to close the coffin door and drive in the nails.  Move on, he said.  Nothing more one can do.

As with Watergate, I am unsure which act was of greater significance, the original deed or its coverup.  This episode was a fine illustration of both insensitivity and complicity with respect to disrespect for women.  Not that the National Football League — which is noted for the acts of domestic abuse by its players — needs more such illustrations.

• • II • •

I have never been comfortable with what some men call “locker-room” talk — or the men who talk that way.  I have certainly heard enough of it in my lifetime.  However, my own response to misogynous remarks has not always been consistent.  Although I would voice my objections on many occasions, there were some times I went the un-Collins-worthy Collinsworth route and went along to get along.

Some of the places I worked during my career would now be generally considered to be hostile work environments.  Women were ogled and their relative attractiveness graded.   The presence of professional women in the group was lamented.  Diversity training was ridiculed.  And men who said anything about such behavior were derided.  At times I was treated like a self-righteous moralizer.  I began to think I was a self-righteous moralizer, and that it was because of this (my fault) that I had no friends.

[A brief aside.  I have always been more comfortable around women.  Maybe it was all the years at the kitchen sink doing dishes with my mom.  Seriously, and not to over-generalize, but I find women are more interesting, better listeners, less prone to use insults as humor, more cooperative, less obsessed with competition and showing off — in short, better at the things I don’t like about men.  Two-thirds of my non-family Facebook friends are women.  I select women doctors whenever possible.  When we get together with other couples, I am always trying to steer the discussion back to four-way conversation instead of the separate man-man and woman-woman dialogs that couples always fall into.  And finally, know that my animus toward Kellyanne Conway is based on her lack of principles, not her gender.]

I must save some of my fingers to point to myself.  I am no saint.  I can recall specific instances (which I will not recount here) when I was patently hurtful and/or insensitive to a woman as a woman, because I was so absorbed with myself.  Also, I know there were times my behavior or remarks made women uncomfortable without them saying so and without my comprehending it.  But I offer no excuses.  I am sad what women in America and around the world have had to put up with because they are women, and I regret having had a part in that.

I can’t bury the past, and I cannot do that much about the present save for what I do now. I would like to think I have a more secure set of values these days, no longer inclined to go along with the boys, less concerned about being self-righteous, more about what is right for others of any gender identification.

Material culture — our styles and tastes and technology — often seem to change overnight; in contrast, the practices, attitudes and norms of our culture evolve painfully slowly, even when it is evident how destructive they are.  Our culture may behave like a ten-ton truck with a bad gearbox, but someone has to get behind it and push, and someone has to sit in the cab and steer, otherwise we’re not going to make any progress at all.  So c’mon, man.*  Get out and help.

________________

 * For those who don’t watch football, “C’mon, Man!” is the title of a segment on Monday Night Football Countdown, in which poor plays are reviewed and then ridiculed by the hosts.  Just trying to reach out to my male readership.
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