Thoughts on “The Interview”

Orpheum marquee. Photo by Callen Harty.

Orpheum marquee. Photo by Callen Harty.

The Sony Pictures cancellation of the premiere and other showings of “The Interview”, a new film that revolves around two Americans recruited by the CIA to assassinate North Korean President Kim Jong-un has citizens on all points of the political spectrum up in arms. I understand that for those on the right it’s an affront to American pride and heritage that we would let North Korea, or any country, dictate what films we watch because they threatened dire results to movie-goers. I also understand all those artists and intellectuals on the left who are irate about the apparent surrender of freedom of speech–one of our most cherished rights–to unspecified threats that were not even taken seriously by the F. B. I. I get both points-of-view and understand that it seems like a dangerous precedent. Will anti-abortionists start calling in bomb threats to movie theaters that show sex outside of marriage? Will animal rights activists poison the popcorn at movie houses that show films in which the characters are not all vegetarians? Will right wingers set fire to movie palaces that show Disney movies until Disney ends its benefits to same-sex partners? Will enemy nations unleash germ warfare in California each time Hollywood releases a film glorifying the U. S. military (which seems like about ten to twenty times a year)?

I also understand the fear of movie theater owners who would likely be held responsible if they showed the movie in their theaters on Christmas Day and it turned out that all the patrons were killed in an act of terrorism, although my bet is they are more concerned about the potential loss of revenues from lawsuits than the loss of human lives. I even get those who want to go see the film just to show that we will not be cowed by vague threats and that we will stand strong for our right to determine how we define our culture. We do not want to be a nation of Salman Rushdies, all hiding for fear of our lives because of our artistic choices.

Normally when a movie is boycotted or causes a storm of controversy it does better in the box office. Producers do not typically cave in to demands or boycotts; they open the movie up in more markets and use the controversy as a promotional tool to sell more tickets. As recently as October the Metropolitan Opera in New York was picketed for its premiere of Death of Klinghoffer, an opera that many said promoted terrorism and anti-Semitism. More than 500 demonstrators protested the opening performance, but the show opened despite the controversy with the Met defending their right to produce art that not everyone will find palatable. They did cancel the live broadcast as a sort of compromise, but the show went on as scheduled. So this is a little different. We have become a more diffident society since 9/11. We react more often in fear than in strength and resolve. If “The Interview” never plays in real theaters we are pretty much guaranteed to have more threats of a similar nature in the future and more voices that will not be heard.

Long before the Sony Pictures hack, long before the threats started, long before any of the controversy over “The Interview”, the previews would come on television and irritate the hell out of me. My partner and I would look at each other ask, “Why would you make a movie about assassinating the living leader of another country?” It’s one thing for Jon Stewart to poke fun at him on T.V., quite another for a major motion picture studio to suggest an assassination plot involving the CIA, even in a comedy. Not even the “South Park” guys–who generally seem to have no filter or fear–went that far in their satire of King Jong-un’s father, Kim Jong-il, in “Team America”. Imagine, if you will, Iraq releasing a comedy about beheading George Bush and Barack Obama for bringing war to their land. There would be immediate calls for retribution and I would bet a fair number of calls for nuking the hell out of them.

Granted, it has historically fallen to artists to reflect the public’s feelings and the American public has been led to believe that Kim Jong-un is an insane despot. I’m sure many in and out of government believe he should be killed. But I’m still not sure you should do that in a movie, regardless of what we think of his country or his leadership. Obviously you have the right because you have freedom of speech, and most Americans will defend that right even when they disagree with the words. But just because you have the right doesn’t mean you should take it that far. There are better ways. Shakespeare skewered the nobility with some of his thinly veiled characters. Other writers have done the same over the years. Typically, though, artists will create characters that look like someone they want to tear apart. If the intent was to lampoon Kim Jong-un it could have been done the way Charlie Chaplin lampooned Adolf Hitler in “The Great Dictator”. He looked and acted like Hitler, though his name was not quite the same, and the political commentary was incisive. But his film did not suggest going to war with Hitler or killing him either. It simply exposed him in a brilliantly comedic way. If the intent of “The Interview” was only to focus on the story of two bumbling Americans who are conned into killing a foreign leader by the CIA it could have been done by creating a fictional foreign leader, even one who bore a close resemblance to the ruler of North Korea if they wanted, and it would have made its point without the depiction of government-sanctioned assassination.

Interestingly nobody is talking or complaining about the fact that the movie is centered around the idea of the CIA ordering the death of a foreign leader, and that is telling in itself. Many decades ago citizens would have been aghast at the suggestion and would not have believed the possibility. Now we are so inured to the idea of our government killing individuals or masses of people and justifying it as national security that it doesn’t even occur to us to think that the concept is wrong in the first place. We accept it as a plot device in a movie, and are okay with it as comedy as well.

Going back to “The Interview” previews the other thing that struck me about them was that not even considering the assassination story it simply did not look like a good movie. Putting it plain and simple: from the previews I have seen the film looks like overacted sophomoric drivel, the kind of film I might have enjoyed (emphasis on might) in 7th or 8th grade. The Wikipedia description of “The Interview” notes that the writers “aimed to make a project more relevant and satirical than their previous films while retaining toilet humor.” Seriously. This is the “art” that freedom of speech defends today. Reviews of the film, even the ones that found the movie entertaining, all mention the barrage of erection and anus jokes. The highlight of the previews was one of the characters with the canister of poison stuck in his ass. I have to admit that as a gay man I tire easily of Seth Rogen’s movies, which in addition to the toilet humor generally contain at least one or two homophobic jokes. Asses and gay guys seem to fascinate him and although Kim Jong-un and James Franco’s characters seem to have a homoerotic relationship the dictator ultimately doesn’t have a butthole, “because he doesn’t need one.”

It seems to me that the real threat to America is not the saber-rattling of the Guardians of Peace, North Korea’s protectors, but the possibility of films like this continuing to be released and defining our culture (or lack thereof). If the best we can offer the world in cinematic political discourse is rehashed anus, penis, and potty jokes then maybe the poison offered to the North Korean dictator in “The Interview” should be offered to us.

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Letter on Torture to My Congressional Representatives

U. S. Capitol. Photo by Callen Harty.

U. S. Capitol. Photo by Callen Harty.

This letter was written and sent on Friday to my Senators, Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson, and to my Congressional Representative, Mark Pocan.

12/12/14

As an American citizen I am appalled by the recent release of the Senate’s report on CIA torture (or, as the Orwellian government department known as the Central Intelligence Agency likes to call it, “enhanced interrogation techniques”). It is not that it is that surprising. Everyone knew that as the White House (Bush, Cheney, and their Cabinet members), the military, and others in government were denying the use of torture techniques that we were at the same time torturing prisoners in the hope of garnering some sort of valuable information on our enemies. It was one of those open secrets where everyone knew it was happening while the government and its agents engaged in “plausible deniability” (a term coined by the CIA back in the 1960s), subterfuge, and outright lies.

I am horrified that we would treat other human beings this way, regardless of the reason for it, what kind of enemy combatants they might be, or what intelligence is gathered by it. It is, plain and simple, wrong. It is state-sponsored terrorism aimed at an individual rather than an entire populace. There is no place for it. The United States used to be a leader in the international struggle for human rights. We were among the leaders in designing agreements to eliminate torture, oppression, and war crimes worldwide. We used to have a moral leg to stand on and now we can stand on nothing. Our credibility is shattered. That is the other horrifying thing about this. Others can now simply ignore us when we talk of human dignity, when we demand human rights from countries that oppress their citizens or torture their enemies. Who are we to demand anything when we cannot abide by international agreements that we signed onto or even helped design? How can we now call for justice when others torture or kill our citizens? If we are a Christian country as so many of our leaders claim then we are destined to be the victims of “an eye for an eye” because of our own actions.

We have led war tribunals and convicted the leaders of other countries for crimes that are similar to what we have done in our “enhanced interrogation techniques”. How can we refuse to extradite George Bush and Dick Cheney, among others, when countries that have worked alongside us come to us and demand they be tried for war crimes? I don’t think we can and I don’t think we should.

As an American citizen I do not want my name associated with the behavior outlined in the Senate report on torture. My government tortured prisoners but they did not do so with the consent of me or the majority of this country’s citizens. This is not the kind of government I want. It is not the kind of government most of us want. It does not represent who we are as a people. I find it abhorrent and disavow the actions undertaken in the name of this country and its people. When we have lost our moral compass and have traveled so far from our roots because of it those in power cannot say they were acting on behalf of the American people.

Unfortunately, we also cannot change the past. The crimes have been committed. We cannot undo what has been done. But we can look toward the future. We can work to make sure it never happens again. We need to make sure that it does not. We need to make sure there are reparations of some kind to the victims or their families. We need to make sure those responsible are held accountable for their actions and serve as an example to future generations to show that we as a people will not tolerate those acting in our names committing these kinds of acts. We must work toward transparency and we must do whatever we can to ensure that the government abides by all international agreements.

I do not know what laws may be proposed to guarantee that our government will no longer engage in these kinds of actions in the future or to try to make up for what already happened. If something is proposed I strongly encourage you to sign onto it and support it through the process of becoming law. If nothing is proposed by others then I plead with you as a representative beholden to the people to draft a bill that will do so and secure support for it. If we don’t do something now then we have not only lost our way for one moment of our history, we have lost our destiny and are well on our way to our own decline and fall.

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From Dreams

Nightmare scene from a play at Broom Street Theater, Madison, WI. Photo by Callen Harty.

Nightmare scene from a play at Broom Street Theater, Madison, WI. Photo by Callen Harty.

Yesterday morning I woke up from a hard dream and it stayed with me all day long. In the dream I was at work when my cell phone rang. It was my sister calling and all she said was “She’s gone.” I knew immediately that she meant that after several years of suffering and being bedridden my mother had finally passed away. I asked her if she needed me to contact relatives or if there was anything else she might need me to do right away and she said she’d get back to me about that. I hung up the phone and sat at my desk in the office and broke down sobbing. There were co-workers around, but none of them seemed to notice and I was doing my best to hide it. A couple people, including my boss, were not in and the others were having some kind of conversation about something. When I regained my composure I got up and quietly announced I was leaving and why and nobody seemed to hear me. As I was about to head out the door one of my co-workers, Carol, who is a very sweet person, caught me in the hall and told me she was very sorry and gave me a big hug.

That was all I could remember about the dream. I’ve been curious if a person can actually cry in their sleep because it felt like I had been crying very hard when I woke up. The rest of the day was sort of surreal. I was feeling down all day and have to admit I was afraid to go to work for fear that the call would happen and the dream would come true. The emotions in the dream had felt so incredibly strong that I was very fearful that it may have been a premonition of some sort. Twice in my life I’ve had dreams that were so strong that I knew they were true and in both cases I was right. One was the birth of a baby boy to a friend of mine. I had woken up about the time the child was born and told my roommate the next day that Renee had given birth to a boy (she didn’t know the child’s sex before he was born). Dan asked me if she had called and I told him, no, it had come to me in a dream that was so strong I knew it was true. The other was about an old friend reappearing and that came true, too, the same day I woke up from that dream. This dream was strong, but it wasn’t as strong as those two; I didn’t feel confident in it being a premonition, but I still feared it all day long.

I haven’t seen my mother in a while and there have been no reports from home that her condition has worsened or that anything has changed. She has been pretty much the same for months. She received last rites about a year and a half ago and still keeps going. In fact, she was also getting hospice care and they left because she was doing so well–how often does that happen? While she was frail the last time I saw her she knew who I was–which isn’t always the case–and her mind was very sharp. We have honestly not expected her to make it to Christmas each of the last couple years or to her birthday on February 19. If she makes that again she’ll turn 90 years old this time around. She has been tenaciously hanging on, so there is no reason I can think of for why that dream would have come into my head now.

Maybe it’s because I just finished a production and my mind has been consumed with that and now is open to other things. Maybe I’m feeling guilty that I haven’t seen her in a while. Maybe because it is the Christmas season I am thinking more deeply about family and those who are the most meaningful in my life. Maybe it’s simply because I love her and somewhere in my mind is the realization that the more time that goes by the closer we are to that inevitable day and phone call. Each Christmas or birthday that comes and goes is one less to look forward to and one closer to there being no more. As tough as she is I understand that she cannot last forever and one way or the other that dream will one day come true. Maybe the dream and everything that has happened to her over the last few years is helping me to be a little bit better prepared for that moment. Maybe, but I know that you can never be prepared enough. I only hope that when I sleep tonight that I’ll dream of better things.

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Letter to Kohl’s

Holiday Gifts. Photo by Callen Harty.

Holiday Gifts. Photo by Callen Harty.

I received an e-mail this evening from Kohl’s Department Stores announcing Black Friday specials and extended hours starting on Thanksgiving evening at 6:00 p.m.  I sent this e-mail back to them:

Dear Kohl’s

I just received your e-mail notifying me that most Kohl’s locations opened at 6:00 p.m. today. It’s a very colorful e-mail letting me know about price meltdowns and suggesting that the holiday dishes can wait a little while. Please know that although I am a long-time regular customer that I will not be shopping with you this evening or throughout this holiday season.

I am very sorry to see that you and other retailers are too greedy to allow your employees to have the entire Thanksgiving holiday off. As I’m writing this a Shopko ad is playing on the television announcing that they, too, are open this evening. I know that several other retailers are doing the same thing and I understand it is an incredibly competitive business. Nevertheless, I am very disappointed in the decision. I hope that the additional six hours worth of sales is worth irritating long-time customers like myself. Really? Six extra hours? How much more money do you, Wal-Mart, and the others possibly need?

Unfortunately, I’m sure you will attract enough customers and make enough money in the short term that your management will feel that it was successful. Short-term bottom line is all that seems to matter to corporate management these days. My partner refers to that kind of corporate leadership as bottom line feeders. By the way, are you CEO and other upper level management people also working today? Or are they at home with their families enjoying the holiday? If they’re not working along with the front-line employees, they should be. I am sincerely hopeful that you will lose enough in the long-term that you may eventually realize that some things are more important than a few more dollars up front. You may lose more money in the long run from customers who will refuse to spend their dollars with you, employee turnover that will cost you in training, and bad publicity.

My few dollars may not mean that much to you, but I make statements with my shopping dollars, and I am not the only one. My job is in a non-retail business, so I am not asked to work on holidays and greatly appreciate the time off and the time I am able to spend with family on days like Thanksgiving. With that appreciation as a backdrop please understand that even though I buy almost all of my clothes at Kohl’s and much of my usual holiday shopping that I will not do so during the holiday season this year. In fact, I will not do any of my holiday shopping over the next month at any retail establishment that cares so little about their people on the front lines. I will be sharing this decision with everyone I know and encouraging others to boycott retail establishments that have kept their employees away from their families on such an important holiday.

11/28, Update. I did not get a reply from Kohl’s to the letter above. But I did get another e-mail ad with coupons, specials, and a notation that there are only 27 more shopping days until Christmas.
11/29, Update. No response yet from Kohl’s. However, I did get an e-mail this morning headed Extra 15% off + Super Duper Saturday Specials. Also, there are only 26 more shopping days until Christmas.
11/30, Update. Another e-mail ad, but no official response yet. The ad let me know it’s Stellar Sunday and we’re now in Cyber Week and there are only 25 more shopping days until the big holiday. Oh, and newspapers are reporting that because of the uptick of sales on Thanksgiving Day retailers’ Black Friday sales are down. Funny how that works.
12/1, Update. This will probably be my last update (unless I miraculously hear back from Kohl’s about this) as it’s clear that they are just going to continue sending an e-mail every reminding me how little shopping time I have left before the big holiday. Today was “OMG, it’s here: Cyber Monday + 20% off online shopping pass.” And, of course, only 24 shopping days left until Christmas. I give.

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Ferguson

Hands Up. Photo by Callen Harty.

Hands Up. Photo by Callen Harty.

It was with deep sorrow that I awakened to morning in America today.

Fires burned on the streets of Ferguson overnight and there is fire in my soul this morning. I am angry, I am saddened, I am moved. It feels to me that everything about the Michael Brown case has either been incredibly inept or carefully planned for effect.

Let’s put it this way. It seems to me that if one hundred or even three or four hundred protesters showed up on the streets of any city to protest and there was no police presence and no media presence they would conduct their protest, recite their speeches, commiserate with each other, take pictures and post online about the event, and then go home after having made a statement. They might meet again to plan actions and to bring change to the world. But last night was set up–either intentionally or from bumbling bureaucrats–to incite a violent reaction. It could have led to no other result.

Calling in the National Guard a week before the announcement about the grand jury’s decision trumpeted the idea that those in power expected (wanted?) a violent reaction. Having the FBI put out a press release about a potential powder keg in Ferguson added to it, as did the local police preparations. These things also reinforced the idea of angry and violent blacks we have to fear. Very little was reported about the activists working toward peaceful demonstrations and working toward a more just justice system.

Announcing in advance that a decision would come sometime in November without giving a specific date caused additional tension because no one knew when the decision would ultimately come. It added to the stress.

All of this brought in more press to document everything that might happen. All the news cameras and reporters were ready on the streets, near the site of previous protests. When President Obama spoke the screen was split and showed him asking for peace and meaningful protest while on the other side of the screen we watched police firing smoke bombs and attempting to disperse the crowd. It was surreal.

The coup de grace was the timing and delivery of the announcement. Protest organizers were prepared for peaceful demonstrations all day long, but did not expect an announcement deep into the evening, effectively leaving them out of the immediate reaction. Protests and demonstrations rarely turn violent in the light of day. Late in the day the press conference was announced for 8:00 p.m., which seemed awfully late to hold it. The press conference could have been held at 8:00 a.m. today. The 8:00 p.m. time was scheduled after we had already heard 4:00 and then 5:00, leaving everyone on edge for exactly when it was going to be. Robert McCulloch then showed up late, took the microphone, droned on for about half an hour while clearly trying to justify a decision he knew would be received poorly (and which many believe he wanted all along) and he unfortunately did not add anything new to the law enforcement version of the story.

Michael Brown’s family had earlier asked for four and a half minutes of silence after the decision was announced, to represent the four and a half hours he lay in the street, but I think they expected a press conference with a brief announcement of the grand jury decision. McCulloch did not give them that. His speech did not allow for a clear recognition of when the four and a half minutes would start–was it when he started his equivocations and justifications and everyone recognized what the decision was going to be, when he actually said it near the end of his speech, when the speech ended, when the Q & A was done? I’m not sure if the four and a half minutes happened. If it did, it was not noted by the media.

What did happen was not unexpected. Angry citizens, mostly young people whose lives are discounted on a daily basis, reacted in anger. Most of them expressed their anger with signs and loud voices. A few set fires to buildings and police cars, fired guns, threw bottles, and otherwise created havoc.

What occurs to me today is that for oppressors a violent reaction with good television visuals like burning police cars and buildings is not necessarily a bad thing (unless the demonstrators had first marched from their neighborhoods to those of the power brokers). Think about it. What is the media talking about this morning? The reaction, not the injustice. All the demonstrators who have been there for months and wanted to use the announcement as a way to explore deeper issues, the Brown family who wanted to use it as a launching pad to push for body cameras on all police officers, all the downtrodden citizens who hoped to engage the ruling class in discussions about all that needs to be fixed–all of them have been silenced by rage and raging fires. The story is the reaction, not what caused the reaction.

We can’t let McCulloch, the police, the government, and the media co-opt the narrative in Ferguson. Yes, it is sad that local businesses were burned, but it is sadder still that in general in this country black lives do not matter. It is not good that police cars were burned; it is worse yet that a young unarmed black man died for no apparent reason. It is far worse that this happens about once a day in cities all over the country and that most of the time it goes unnoticed and the officers involved face no consequences.

Those who want to see the dismantling of oppressive power, those who know that black lives matter, those who want to bring a new and better morning to America must take control of the conversation. We must talk about the systemic racism in this country. We must talk about the violence perpetrated upon people of color–and this includes economic violence as well as physical violence. We must talk about the fact that there is no American dream for countless people but an American nightmare of inequity and injustice. We must hold the police and the government accountable and we must somehow lead the unwilling to an understanding of the issues. Along with the conversation there needs to be action. There needs to be pressure put on legislators and police departments to make change. Young people of color need to run for office. Laws must be enacted or changed to make lives better for all. Economic inequality needs to be faced. Police must be made to wear body cameras. The justice system needs to be fixed.

We need to do this together. We need to join hands, African-Americans with white allies, Asians, Latinos, straight and gay, Christians, Muslims, and Jews. We are all in it. We are all responsible and we must all accept the responsibility of creating the changes that are needed to make the American dream a reality for all.

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Commandments for America

God Bless America. A small-town Independence Day float. Photo by Callen Harty.

God Bless America. A small-town Independence Day float. Photo by Callen Harty.

Lately I’ve been reading how newly approved Texas textbooks would have us believe that the founding fathers of the United States were all devout Christians who intended this to be a Christian nation based on the influence and law of Moses. Of course, the Old Testament tells us that Moses was the man who brought us the Ten Commandments after seeing a vision of God in a burning bush atop Mount Sinai.

Let’s pretend for now that the Texas State Board of Education is right and that the founding fathers were all Christians who believed we should follow the law of Moses as a nation. Let’s pretend there were no Deists among them and that none of them believed in science or “The Age of Reason”. Pretend further that they believed that a particular set of religious beliefs–namely Christian–should be the religion of the land and that church and state should be one. We have to pretend these things because they’re not true, but let’s use our imaginations as wildly as the Texas State Board of Education for a moment and take a look at the Ten Commandments and how they should apply to our national government.

The first problem with this is that there are multiple versions of both the Bible and the Ten Commandments, so we have to select which one we might imagine will work for our government. One has to wonder how there can be so many versions if they were written by the hand (or finger) of God, but let’s continue pretending. According to an article in Wikipedia there are at least seven versions of the commandments:

  • Septuagint, for Orthodox Christians
  • Philo, with a couple of the commandments reversed
  • Talmud, in the Jewish tradition
  • Augustine
  • Catechism of the Catholic Church
  • Luther’s Large Catechism, for Lutheran followers
  • Institutes of the Christian Religion, for reformed Christians

Now, there are many other Christian denominations and sects than the handful listed here, so it seems likely that there are other variations out there that Wikipedia doesn’t take note of. While the differences among each of the above are not hugely significant there are differences. In my mind this has long been one of the issues with the Bible. It has been translated from Aramaic to Greek to Latin to English and other languages and then retranslated into multiple versions. Where the word of God begins and the hand of man ends is pretty much impossible to distinguish. With that in mind let’s take a look at the commandments from the New International Version of the Bible.

  • I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. This is not really a good start for us. Clearly what we have right now in America is a plutocracy, where corporations rule and money is worshipped above all else. As a nation we have broken the first commandment and are making it worse each day. If this were to become a law all the banks and large corporations in the country would be in jail. I don’t know how they’d fit, but according to the U. S. Supreme Court they are people so there has to be a way to put them there and feed them something other than money.
  • You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. Well, so much for the arts. Take a look at that first sentence. We need to destroy Mount Rushmore, the Washington Monument, Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, and statues in every city across the county. Art museums with their portraits and sculptures must be closed immediately and the work within them burned. Our currency must be destroyed due to the graven images on our coins and the portraits on our bills. And of course every artist would be imprisoned. As a side note I must say I also have issues with a monotheistic God being jealous of other gods, when they don’t really exist anyway. Talk about a controlling relationship. And punishing children for the sins of the parents? That would certainly keep our profit-making prison system going for a few more generations.
  • You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuse his name. God damn, this is scary. Pretty much anyone I’ve ever known would be in prison if this law were adopted by the U. S. Congress. It wouldn’t just be my friends either. Take a listen to the Nixon tapes. Nixon’s vocabulary alone would have put him in prison when the entire Watergate scandal could not.
  • Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servants, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. Here again there is a difference in when the Sabbath is celebrated. In the Jewish tradition it is from Friday to Saturday evening and in the Christian tradition it is observed on Sunday. According to Texas the nation is Christian so we can just ignore the Jewish tradition regarding this commandment. Obviously the laws need to change to get rid of the weekend. Saturday and Sunday are not both allowed off of work according to the commandment. We can probably get Wisconsin’s new Congressperson Glenn Grothman to sponsor this bill as he has already been adamant that the weekend should face the axe. This also means that all major retailers and others can no longer do any business on Sunday, so everything must close all day Sunday.  It also means no police, firefighters, or others can work, so we have to be careful not to fall victim to crime or start any fires on Sundays. Personally I’m very disappointed in servants not being able to work on Sundays. I don’t have any, but one of these days I expect I will be wealthy enough to do so.
  • Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord God is giving you. This is very simple. Anyone who doesn’t honor their parents deserves punishment from the government. There are no distinctions for those parents who may try to kill their children, sexually or physically abuse them, or in any other way hurt them. Those children must still love and honor their parents or face the penalties.
  • You shall not murder. This commandment we did adopt into law, although so has every country on earth, whether they are primarily Christian, Buddhist, Moslem, Jewish, or other. It is a universally understood prohibition without which the entire world would devolve into chaos.
  • You shall not commit adultery. To be in compliance with the commandments this needs to become a national law. Currently adultery is illegal and treated as a misdemeanor in about 20 states. In at least two states–Wisconsin and Michigan–it is considered a felony. Once adultery becomes illegal through national legislation then friends and neighbors need to start turning in all of those they know who have cheated on their partners.
  • You shall not steal. This is the other one where the nation followed the commandments and made thievery illegal a long time ago. Surprisingly many non-Christian nations have also made it illegal to steal.
  • You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. If lying were illegal every one of us would be in prison, and the first there would be the politicians.
  • You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. Although jealousy can be difficult to prove, we need to pass legislation outlawing it as it is the final commandment.

Clearly if our nation was founded upon the Ten Commandments we have done a poor job of honoring the Christian god who gave the commandments to Moses. Only two of the commandments have been enacted as laws nationwide (murder and stealing) and the other eight have languished for the entire duration of our history. If, as the Texas State Board of Education and its textbooks suggest, we are a Christian nation and the founding fathers intended for us to live under the law of Moses, then we have failed. I certainly hope that their textbooks reflect those shortcomings.

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The Lesson of the Cosby Case

Consent is Sexy. Photo by Callen Harty.

Consent is Sexy. Photo by Callen Harty.

I remember watching I Spy back in the 1960s and I remember that I enjoyed Robert Culp and Bill Cosby in it. At the time I was too young to realize that having a black man in such a role was groundbreaking. I only knew that I liked the duo and how they worked together. Despite its popularity I was never a huge fan of Fat Albert in the 1970s. I would watch it on occasion and like most kids my age would bellow out “Hey-hey-hey” here and there. I didn’t understand the significance of a cartoon featuring African-American characters, but it also didn’t occur to me that there was anything unusual about it. During the heyday of The Cosby Show in the 1980s and 1990s I rarely ever tuned in to it. I would occasionally catch an episode but never went out of my way to watch it. I understood that the show was important in paving the way for African-American characters and appreciated it on that level; I just really didn’t watch a lot of television at that time. In the early 2000s my connection with Bill Cosby was his railing against young black men about keeping their pants pulled up and similar things and it seemed that this man whose philanthropic and artistic contributions to our culture changed the world was maybe turning into a conservative old man with no appreciation for the gifts the younger generation had to offer. Through several decades, even though I wasn’t an addict of any of his shows or comedy albums, Bill Cosby was an omnipresent part of my life and everyone in my generation. Most of the time he came across as a genuinely likeable man and he was always an inescapable presence.

Now the news stories of his reported sexual assaults and rapes of a large number of women are inescapable. Somehow, despite some of these stories being in the public arena for years, somehow they never took hold with the larger public. I don’t recall hearing these stories ten years ago and I’m guessing most people I know don’t either. At the time the accusations didn’t get the reporting and the airplay that they are getting now. The Internet was not as crucial in our lives then either. Now we have Facebook, Twitter, and dozens of other sites that people use to communicate instantly with each other. Now it’s much more difficult for a celebrity to escape scrutiny.

Another reason we may not remember is that nearly ten years ago when Andrea Constand brought a lawsuit against Cosby there were also about a dozen unnamed women set to testify that he had done the same or similar things to them. The case was settled out of court, which allowed the public to believe it was a shakedown, a woman using Cosby’s fame to make some quick money, especially with the others being anonymous at the time. Today, however, a good and growing number of those women are no longer anonymous, they are telling their stories publicly, and those stories are generally pretty horrific. Now we are facing the accusations as a nation and we do not know how to deal with them. Many people are in denial–he couldn’t have done that, he’s the country’s perfect father figure, he’s innocent until proven guilty–and refuse to even acknowledge the possibility that Cosby could be something less than the beloved father he portrayed as a character on his show. They don’t want to believe that the man who played Cliff Huxtable could be guilty of such things.  It’s like that moment in many people’s lives when we realize our parents are human and we have to remove them from their pedestals, except that with a fictional father we expect the fiction to be not only perfect but immortal.

There is an important lesson in all of this.

As a child sex abuse survivor this is the crux of why this story is so important. It may not be the reason why the public is fascinated–in our culture we like to see our heroes destroyed and we are also fascinated by people who do things that we would never expect–but it is a hugely important lesson to take away from it. The reality of rape and all forms of sexual abuse is that the perpetrators are almost never strangers in a van, kidnappers, or others who enter someone’s home and violate them. Not that it doesn’t happen that way sometimes, but the vast majority of sex crime perpetrators are family members, close friends of the family, or others entrusted with our lives. They are people known to the victims. They are often close loved ones. They are often people admired by others. Simply put perpetrators are most often people we trust. Cliff Huxtable is in reality the perfect face to represent sex criminals. He is the loving father/uncle/grandfather/brother/friend and more, the one that because he is such a perfect picture, such a pillar of society, that we trust implicitly. And of course we don’t understand what happened when that trust is betrayed and we likely don’t know how to deal with it, either as the victim or those surrounding them.

We don’t want to believe that the man who played Cliff Huxtable could be capable of such criminal and immoral behavior. If he is capable of it, then anyone is. Something is wrong with the picture. He doesn’t look like a monster, even if he committed monstrous acts. The reality that we have never really accepted as a culture is that the people who do these things or worse rarely look like monsters. Stephen Collins played a minister on 7th Heaven and now stands accused of child sex abuse. Jerry Sandusky seemed like the perfect grandfatherly type who cared deeply about helping troubled teens and is now in prison for the rest of his life for abusing several boys. Sexual predators may have deformed souls, but that doesn’t mean they have deformed bodies like Frankenstein. We need to understand this. They look and act like any of us and they take advantage of people who trust them. If we don’t take anything else away from this story as a society we need to learn this simple truth.

Another underlying theme of this case and these kinds of cases that happen every day is the victim blaming. The thought is that Andrea Constand simply wanted to extort Cosby for money. It is being reported that one of the latest women to come out and accuse him, Linda Traitz, was in prison for fraud, among other things. The implication is that she, too, is simply out to defraud this good man of some money because he is rich and powerful. Victim blaming goes along with our inability to accept that those who seem like us–and often seem like the best of us–could do things that we cannot fathom. For the same reason, others question why any of these women waited so long to say anything, conveniently forgetting that most of them were willing to testify ten years ago and some of them had shared their stories over the years but were dismissed. The only reason they’re being paid attention to now is the sheer volume of the accusations. One victim can be easily dismissed for a variety of reasons. Fifteen or so makes that a little more difficult.

Often victims do not disclose their abuse for years because they feel alone, they feel they won’t be believed, they fear the power their abuser holds over them and the sway they hold over others, or any of a number of other reasons. When I found out someone else was abused by the person who abused me I was sad for them and horrified, but in another way it was a relief to know that it was not just me. It affirmed that I had not imagined what had happened to me. I wrote a play about my abuse and as I was writing it I had fears that welled up within me that if he found out what I was doing that he would kill me because he didn’t want that story told. There are many reasons victims do not come forward. It often takes years of processing to be able to come to terms with that kind of violation of one’s body and emotions. There is nothing unusual about these women taking years to come forward. As each new one does those who are still hiding the abuse can feel more comfortable that they, too, will be believed.

Bill Cosby will likely never be charged for the things he stands accused of, mostly because the statute of limitations has passed for these women, too much time has passed for witnesses and evidence to be available, and these kinds of cases are incredibly difficult to prove anyway. It’s possible, though, that their courage in finally sharing their stories could cause other young women to come forward who faced assaults in more recent years. It seems likely to me that the possibility of that happening is very real. If he was doing these things throughout the 1980s and 1990s it seems difficult to believe that he would have been able to stop the behavior in the 2000s. Serial sexual predators rarely can resist whatever it is that makes them do these things. Other victims may fear coming forward still, but as more details are released don’t be surprised if someone younger comes forward and new accusations are leveled that are much more recent. If that happens then Cosby may finally face the justice system that he has evaded for so long.

 

 

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