Wednesday, 17 July 2013

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“Yo, word up: shit’s getting Riehl up in this house, shorty.”* Dan Riehl’s so cute when he’s being racist: Put directly and too harshly, the tragic reality is that Trayvon Martin got, not only what he deserved, but what he sought, with or without realizing it, on the night of his encounter with George Zimmerman. Less bluntly, thug-life and even wannabe thug-life is not a good life, rarely a long life and never a life that any young man — or woman — of any color or race should want to pursue. Now, I know he’s saying that no person of any “color or race” should want to be a thug, but we all know that Dan Riehl has a long history of cowering in corners: Dan Riehl recently encountered some black people who “were technically thugs.” What did these “technically thug[gish]” black people do? “There was no confrontation,” Riehl informs his readers, but “there were maybe ten or so” of them in the bus, which is about nine or so more than is required to trigger a flight-or-flight response in folks like Riehl. Somehow, he managed to keep it together long enough to hear what these “pretty young, not that big” black “kids” were saying. Re-reading that post, I’m struck by the similarities: a white man’s confronted by “pretty young, not that big” kids who he considers “technically thugs,” but luckily for all involved, “it [by which he means, not insignificantly, the black kids] went on but not really to a level that was so loud, or so confrontational that it needed to be addressed.” The implicit question is, of course, “Addressed by whom?” In the wake of Trayvon Martin’s death, for Dan Riehl the answer is “By the likes of George Zimmerman.” Because Zimmerman’s going to become a folk hero in the style of Bernard Goetz, someone white people call out to in their moment of desperation when a black kid approaches them on a sidewalk, armed with concrete. Or maybe he’ll become an Arthurian figure who will rise again in their hour of greatest need when the kids behind the counter at McDonald’s have tattoos and wear their caps crooked. Or maybe the next time Dan Riehl finds his ass on a bus with some black kids it won’t be so clenched because, like his hero, he’ll be carrying concealed heat. Because maybe next time those kids won’t “get away” with threatening Riehl with their youth and blackness, but will get “not only what [they] deserved, but what [they] sought, with or without realizing it, on the night of [their] encounter with [Dan Riehl].” *Actual quotation from the article: “That’s life in the big city, or just another day in the hood if you prefer, bro. Deal with it.” UPDATE: According to Robert Stacy McCain, "Nobody is saying Trayvon Martin 'deserved it,' and it is astonishing that the Tampa Bay Times would employ a reporter who would write such a dishonest sentence, or editors who would let that lie appear in print."
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Seriously, about that Rolling Stone cover I was initially dismissive of the “controversy” concerning the latest Rolling Stone cover because it originated from people making arguments like this: The cover of Rolling Stone was once reserved for the newest bands, the hottest singer-songwriters or the pop culture phenoms grabbing the country by the scruff of its neck. Christian Toto, the author of this one, strikes me as one of those “internet researchers” whose store of knowledge consists of ideas half-mastered and mistakenly remembered, the sort that require a quick search to “confirm” that Rolling Stone is “about” music. He has no personal connection with or real knowledge of the magazine and doesn’t desire any. This lack of intellectual curiosity is made manifest in the rest of his post, which consists of quoting “celebrities” like Ralph Macchio re-tweeting the sage words of “one of the creative forces behind HBO’s Entourage.” The limitations of such critics notwithstanding, they accidentally stumbled over a solid point. To quote joe from lowell: The picture they chose to make the cover of Rolling Stone looks too much like a rock star. It looks like a zillion Rolling Stone covers we’ve all seen. The graphic designers were clearly going for that “ordinary, attractive person is really a monster” effect that the text describes, but they picked the wrong pic. The photo doesn’t read as “ordinary, attractive person who might live next door,” but as “the latest pop star Rolling Stone wants to promote.” It gets in the way of what they were trying to do and muddles the message. They should have used a photo in which he looked a little goofy, or a photo of him at eight years old, instead. The criticism here isn’t that a lowly music magazine is breaking from routine and lionizing Tsarnaev — it’s an aesthetic judgment that acknowledges what Rolling Stone tried and failed to do. The difference, in other words, between conservative and aesthetic critics of the image is that only the latter are capable of correctly assessing its intent and judging its effectiveness. Conservative critics legitimately believe that Rolling Stone‘s trying to disseminate images of dreamy Islamic radicalism to impressionable American youths, whereas aesthetic critics can read the words beneath the image and understand that the cover fails rhetorically. I think Other Scott need not fear the progeny of strange bedfellows — this is just the most recent case of deliberate conservative misprision. They see what they want to, so when they look at the Rolling Stone cover, instead of seeing what’s printed: They see what’s politically convenient: The context is still technically there, but it’s rendered inscrutable by the controversial imperative: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that all should become offended by a universal flaw.” Defining the entire cover down to Tsarnaev’s self-portrait — treating it as if the words didn’t exist — allowed conservatives to circulate an ahistorical and acontextual version of it that’s offensive to everyone. Much like the fight between Trayvon...

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