Thursday, August 12, 2010

Maddow: Stop DADT Now

Here is the wrap up to last night's episode of The Rachel Maddow Show, in which the host calls for an end to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and questions why, if the president intends to end the policy, why he does not at least suspend anyone from being discharged for their sexual orientation.

Setting aside the ethical problems of DADT, consider this quote:
"The $25 million that you and I, the taxpayers, have spent on Victor Fehrenbach's training as an F-15 fighter pilot is down the tubes. The decade of investment that you and I paid for that built Jonathan J. Hopkins into a striker brigade combat team commander -- that's down the tubes. That's over. The $350,000 investment that you and I made in building Cadet-Sergeant Katie Miller into a top-10-at-West-Point, Yale-caliber scholar who could also bench press you, if need be - that's down the tubes. All of that is over."
With the faux-hysteria about out of control government spending, this argument ought to be enough of a reason to abolish this policy.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Hef's Revolution

Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel is a new documentary about the founder of Playboy. This piece by Andrew O'Hehir at Salon doesn't have very positive things to say about the film but it does have some interesting perspectives on Hefner and his importance to American culture. A couple of excerpts:
Hefner's near-naked pictures were revolutionary in the '50s, no doubt about it -- but in a specific and limited way. There was no subjectivity to those girls, who were lovely in an almost identical style. Like they used to say about Miss America, Miss October was "the symbol of all we possess." You, the reader, were of course supposed to be the bon vivant who had so impressed this young lady that she was now, for some reason, standing in the empty bathtub wearing only a fuzzy cardigan and high heels. And just to prove -- to her? to yourself? -- that you weren't some small-minded creep only interested in what happened between the sheets, she came wrapped in 18,000 words by Norman Mailer, or a conversation between Alex Haley and Malcolm X.
*  *  *
But all revolutionaries run up against the limits of their imaginations at some point. Lenin imagined a workers' paradise, and instead handed off his newborn totalitarian state to a murderous monster. Hefner's legacy is more complicated: He helped create a world in which white people by the millions were willing to vote for Barack Hussein Obama, and one in which all teenagers have not merely heard of anal intercourse but have seen it performed. By midgets. In Croatia. He dreamed of a nation set free from generations of Puritanical repression. But American freedom so often degenerates into slimy Burger King self-parody, covered with dubious condiments. Now Hugh Hefner is an 80-something dude in pajamas who until recently cohabited with identical twins named Karissa and Kristina.
This article reminds me of a clip from the documentary Inside Deep Throat in which Hefner participates in a televised debate with feminists. In the clip, the participants talk past each other; Hefner is confused by why these women--who he views as liberated by the sexual revolution that he helped lead--are so antagonistic with him, while the feminists see Hefner as a dinosaur and part of an oppressive system that exploits women.

I think there is an important point here about revolutionaries and the movements they lead or participate in. Revolutions so often begin with the best of intentions and those intentions may even be accomplished. But the paradox of any successful revolution is that it becomes the status quo and its symbols and figures become a part of the institution. And in American culture, where revolting against the system is as ingrained in our national identity as apple pie and baseball, that can create a regressive situation that allows for the undoing of whatever progress a given generation or movement has achieved. (Tea Party and Prop 8 advocates, I'm looking at you.)

Revolutions are also, as O'Hehir indicates, subject to commoditization and commercialization. The symbols become t-shirts and posters and the movements are adopted by celebrities, politicians, and other public figures and are sold back to us. And as that happens, the symbols are diluted of whatever potency they once possessed. Think of t-shifts with prints of Che Guevara's image sold by retailers on the same racks as designer jeans produced in sweat shops or Hugh Hefner and the Playboy brand turned into reality shows selling us the celebrity lifestyle.

Is there a cure for this cyclical adoption of the revolutionary symbols? I'm not sure, although I tend to think no. It's an inherent part of cultural "progress," even when that progress is regressive. And most societies, especially the grand ones, tend to suffer from cycles of impressive cultural construction followed by its destruction in the name of progress. And where we are right now doesn't look good.