I want to simply accept and agree with Janay Rice’s complaints in her “This is our life” message.
“No one knows the pain that media & unwanted [opinions] from the public has caused my family…If your intentions were to hurt us, embarrass us, make us feel alone, take all happiness away, you’ve succeeded on so many levels.”
I understand, I think, that she feels like people who know nothing about her or Ray Rice or the life they share are using her story like a convenient puppet show to make whatever larger social points they feel need to be made about domestic violence, personal responsibility, Roger Goodell, whatever. And all that is true.
And so I want to agree with her “mind your own fucking business” message, but I can’t.
NFL football matters. It seems silly that an organized shoving match-turned sport-turned entertainment behemoth should have any significance beyond the field or the score; that anything beyond the goal post or sidelines should have any greater meaning than the on- or off-screen events in the lives of cast or contestants on American Idol. But it does. And not just because “players are role models for our children.” Everyfrigginbody on TV–or just with access to a video camera and an internet connection, for that matter– can now be a role model for our children.
Choices made by team front offices, league officials and individual players matter.
Here’s why: Even including the entire American film industry, no other American cultural phenomenon has as much meaning, is as iconic of and for us, as the National Football League. Its images, metaphors, myths, symbols and tropes permeate the way talk and think about nearly every core institution of our society. Business, politics, government, citizenship, parenting, personal conduct, and whatever else you can think of…NFL Football now stands for the American Way of all of it all, and it all stands for NFL Football. The status of the NFL now is easily equal to the status of the American space program in the years between John Glen’s blastoff into “outerspace” and Neil Armstrong’s Giant Leap to the moon.[i]
NFL Football matters. And so what has transpired in the aftermath of Ray Rice’s brutal assault on Janay Palmer matters in a non-entertainment media “news” story way. This week, as we’ve watched the spectacle of mostly bullshit media coverage and commentary unfold, variations on the “Janay question” keep emerging (Why did she do that bizarre joint apology interview with him? Why didn’t she leave him? Why did she go ahead with the marriage? What is wrong with Janay Palmer—something must be…), often in veiled fashion. I know I’m not alone in thinking that, actually, in this whole matter there’s only one person whose choices have no business being questioned and only one question that is an entirely private matter: Janay Palmer and how she responded to Rice’s assault on her. EVERY other-fucking-body else—certainly starting with Ray Rice himself, but also the first people to see the elevator doors open to the scene of a man nonchalantly dragging the body of an unconscious woman and unceremoniously dropping her head on the floor in front of them, as well as the hotel management who didn’t blow the whistle on what they knew happened, and especially the criminally inept police and prosecutor in Atlantic City, on through the entire front office of the Baltimore Ravens, the entire League and sinisterly idiotic Roger Goodell , as well as the sports “press”, and (maybe especially)those of us who went ahead and watched this week’s NFL opening games (including me—all have some serious public questions to answer about our choices in the face of Ray Rice’s cold act of brutality and the ensuing decision that, up until yesterday, it just didn’t matter enough to put a dent or a dimple in business as usual for the NFL, for the team, for the player, for the fans.
Beyond this incident and the aggregated litany of scandal, more fundamentally, the NFL is profoundly sick and so is our relationship with it. The time is long overdue for reckoning—all the myths, images, symbols, metaphors, business models, advertising campaigns, and other assorted brain-goo we associate with the enjoyment of NFL football must now be reevaluated and reflected upon in light of how we have seen it and our national culture evolve over the last quarter-century. Questions about cause and effect, chicken-egg, dependent and independent variables, and so forth make no difference. NFL football and American culture are now codependent, co-arising phenomena. How we choose to relate to one is inextricably intertwined with how we relate to the other.
For those of us who believe that 21st century America suffers from the corrosive effects of violence and its glorification, misogyny, xenophobia (a word I use here as a proxy for the mentality that authorizes the disparate treatment of people who are guilty of being different or of otherwise placing themselves in some despised group or other), rampant and all-pervasive commercial marketing, the collusion of journalism with institutions of power, winner take all triumphalism, and reactionary politics nothing comes even close to NFL Football as a reigning master metaphor for how we see ourselves or how the world sees us. We all share responsibility for what we have allowed the NFL to become—for the slouching beast we have fed and pampered and encouraged. We are all accessories to the rich variety of shit-stained behaviors of Roger Goodell and the NFL team owners and the NFL marketing juggernaut (which includes the alleged sports “press”—and yes, even most of the independent and critical outlets are parasitically part of it).
The growing awareness of NFL’s sickeningness started for me in earnest when I saw how not only the predictably vile Dan Snyder but so many NFL fans across the country reacted to criticisms of the team name. The insistence on speaking the same language as the team’s PR cynics—“not an insult but an honor”, “political correctness”, “tradition”, “brand value”, all this vomit to work around the problem of obvious racism. Belatedly, the cultural hegemony of NFL ideology became clear to me in that episode, and through that awakened sense, I’ve seen how it is and has been at play going back to 1984 and that market-changing moment during Superbowl XVIII when Apple unveiled its completely over-the-top “1984” commercial, the consolidating NFLdom’s cultural takeover of America by begun with the dawn of NFL Films and their brilliant slow-motion glorifications of NFL game play, narrated by God (using the voice of John Facenda) together, NFL Films and Facenda could make an AFL backup running back bending over to retie his muddy cleats seem as momentous as the invasion of Normandy.)
It’s all become just too much. Too utterly intolerable. It’s time to put a stop to it.
If you have eyes to see and ears to hear, it’s time to simply stop. Stop participating in NFL entertainment. Stop watching, stop following the developments stop attending, stop paying attention. Quit fantasy football. Give your Madden NFL game to someone who cares.
Live off the NFL grid.
Well, anyway, I’m done with it all. No more football this fall or ever. I have an inkling other football fans, enthusiasts, and followers are toying with this idea as well or have already made that decision.
Not a boycott. Boycotting is designed to send a message in the pursuit of a specific change of policy or practice by the target. I want no change of policies or practices from the NFL or, for that matter, from the NCAA or its college football teams, or the pee wee leagues around the country or their twisted coaches. The cultural significance of football itself–as it now stands entirely corrupted by the gravitational force of the NFL—must wither and die. If the game of football can survive as a game without the ridiculous significance we currently place on it, without its alleged values and virtues being referred to as a model for citizenship, business achievement, wholesome living, healthful faith, faithful health, the American Way of Life®, and so forth, fine I guess. I no longer care.
I know for a lot of people like me Sundays and football form a really deep groove of memory and meaning. For me and my father, rooting together for the Redskins in the 1970s and 80s was about the only positive interaction between us—it was our only shared interest and about the only thing we could talk about without descending into some seriously dysfunctional rage vortex. It was important and without that shared experience, my memories of him would be pretty bleak. Honestly.
The same medium allowed me and my then father-in-law to share holidays in the same space for four quarters worth of relaxation from the tension of barely suppressed cultural and political loathing that permeated the rest of time we spent in proximity to one another. Married as I was to the man’s daughter, that trivial bridge, frail and silly for sure, was nonetheless welcome as a medium of familial ceasefire.
However. Be it whatever degree of First-World heartbreak it may, I am done with it.
[i] For those too young to recall, rocketships, astronauts, and the space race were a cultural phenomenon more penetrating than even Beatlemania.
So by now you’ve probably seen this video on Facebook or You Tube or somewhere.
It’s pretty funny and quite naturally people are sharing and all over the place. The kid’s just an okay magician but the thing that makes the video work is the ballsy the concept: Street kid baits uptight police officer using a bag of pot and some nifty sleight of hand, cop gets gigged like a lake trout, the whole things is captured on video and gets posted on You Tube. Hits ensue. Not bad street theater turned into social media entertainment.
When I saw this posted on Facebook, like any normal person I laughed. Then I didn’t.
Look, I don’t want to be a humorless scold; I don’t want to peddle my childhood Catholic social justice guilt where it’s not appreciated—which is pretty much everywhere. But how much can you fight your basic nature?
In the context of the ongoing police violence we’ve been witnessing for the last several years, especially in the aftermath of the public police executions of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, it seemed like something needed to be said.
Watch just a slice of that video one more time…and consider the alternate realities it reveals.
NOTE: The video edit here contains images at least as disturbing as the reality we live in….
You know what? Fuck tha police.
Fuck all the post-911 fawning over authority figures and deference to the security state. This isn’t fucking 19th century Germany or some Eastern European state with a polity that hankers for the strongman with the strong hand and shiny boots to tell everyone where to line up. For fucksake.
Okay, sure. In the wake of the most current set of police outages (another police killing of an unarmed black youth, typical strategic misuse of information about apparent police misconduct, and draconian police response to public protest), this time in Ferguson, MO, media attention has quite properly focused on a number of broader social defects involved in the Ferguson fiasco-tragedy-outrage: racial profiling, the plight of young black men in America, militarization of police weapons and tactics, and so forth. All serious concerns worthy of the attention and commentary (even if it seems like it’s all just a little past due—exactly how many black kids being murdered by police does it take to make a pattern?)
The recent focus on questions about “militarized” police in general and specifically on Ferguson police use of military vehicles and gear seems to me to be somewhat off the mark. Gear isn’t the problem. IT’S THE SYMPTOM. Clever social research notwithstanding, the equipment isn’t turning police into storm troopers, storm trooper mentality among the people who police us is the issue.
Focusing on whether or not the Pentagon should supply battlefield gear to the Mayberry PD or whether Andy ought to order a Bearcat for him and Barney to patrol the town in (thus to protect themselves from the substantive threat posed by an unstable Otis or Goober) merely masks a deeper, broader, and more crucial phenomenon: We’ve learned to cringingly accept authoritarian nonsense and thuggery from our police and they like it that way.
As I ranted in an August 19 Facebook posting, policing in America is no longer about community service, it’s about making civilians obey fucking orders (Goddammit!). It’s about control and social discipline and not putting up with “nonsense” anymore. It’s about the impulse to power (So said I) Think that overstates things? Fine, then hear it straight from the mouth of a police trainer writing on August 20:
“Even though it might sound harsh and impolitic, here is the bottom line: if you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you. Don’t argue with me, don’t call me names, don’t tell me that I can’t stop you, don’t say I’m a racist pig, don’t threaten that you’ll sue me and take away my badge. Don’t scream at me that you pay my salary, and don’t even think of aggressively walking towards me. Most field stops are complete in minutes. How difficult is it to cooperate for that long?”
(Not a parody. Verbatim quote from a police trainer. Sunil Dutta by name.)
See it for yourself. Here. Go on, go read it. I’ll wait.
Hey! Thanks for making the case so unambiguously clear, Officer Dutta, you sorry piece of shit.
Yours is the precise mentality behind all the theater-of-authority posturing that now goes on during routine policing functions from traffic stops to event parking management that has become the norm everywhere. It is this Dutta complex that results in over-geared and uncivil policing. And remember, This fucker trains recruits. And what a surprise: he’s LAPD![i]
We all see it. Police in towns and counties across the country now act like ill-trained, rhoid raging, urban adventuring powermonkeys with too many self esteem issues, too much humiliating toilet training, and far too little kindergarten instruction in how to get along with others.
And I reject all references to the “majority” of police officers who conduct themselves professionally, blah blah. Right. Big deal. We know that every job has its good and bad apples.
With police, however, it isn’t about “a few bad apples” because the bullshit thin-blue-line “code of honor” (otherwise known as Omerta in one of the other American ongoing criminal enterprises) instigates and perpetuates the immediate closing of ranks around any officer who gets carried away by the drama of his or her own imagination. That means the bad apples are protected members of an elite caste with a shared fate. Hey policeman! You want your solidarity with those that wear the shield and stick up for one another against IAD investigators and civilian review boards? Great. Then you own the bad apples, otherwise blow the whistle yourself on the fuckups amongst you. Or quit whining about civilians who lump the good in with the bad. Profiling is a two-way street, porkchop.
We need to face it, the policing job is no longer about community service, it’s about making civilians obey fucking orders (Goddammit!) It’s about control and social discipline and not putting up with “nonsense” anymore. It’s about the impulse to power. Policing in America is a badly broken profession and we should understand the Ferguson protest to be a call to ALL of us to stop taking shit from pork in blue.
And by the way, we all know policing is arduous work. As Officer Dutta reminds us civilians who just can’t understand, officers must deal with dangerous situations and often with dangerous people while making life and death decisions with only moments to assess possible threats to their own or the public’s safety, and so on and so forth (how many times have we all heard this little ditty).
Look, Arnold, we get it.
In fact, this is precisely why it is not a job for morons that can’t even exhibit good judgment about work-appropriate eyewear for sun protection .
And by the way hams on the cloven hoof, this is America. So you can do just like everyone else in The Land of the Free gets told: Can’t handle the working conditions? Get another gig.
So anyway, why do we accept this shit from uniformed public servants? It wasn’t always this way. Not this sniveling deference and grudging acceptance of discourtesy and threat. Why do we allow police to take ownership of public spaces and define the zone of our rights? Really. Why? (Imagine the March on Washington or the Vietnam Moratorium Marches carried out within chain link free speech zones…WTF?)
Okay. I’m done.
By the way, in case you missed it, I think it may be time for the young people to bring back pig references.
SO, after my second FB snarkpost about squishy academic silliness in the ‘dialogue and deliberation community’(rehashed here and here for anyone interested), a gentlemanly and uncommonly thoughtful old friend of mine responded with a comment in the form of a velvet gloved (and well deserved) flathand smack to the back of my head. In part, here’s what he had to say:
[While] I’m not above ridiculing naiveté or lame professionals…MLK and other members of Civil Rights Movement believed human relations work, as it was then called, was useful complement to political change. Freedom Summer in Mississippi ’64 included political mobilization MFDP (voter reg and education), Freedom Schools, health clinics and white clergy to discuss the impact of social and political change on white leaders.
My uncle the radical rabbi was in Jackson for a week. The mother of the head of the White Citizen’s Council hosted him and made introductions. He wrote about the anxiety of white leaders, their sense of isolation without anyone to talk about the changes with.
Smarty pants do-gooder.
Beyond being bitterly envious of anyone who can begin a sentence of any kind with “My uncle the radical rabbi”, I was outraged that these examples of uses of consciousness-raising dialogue and the “human relations work” of Civil Rights Era activists were a potent retort to my generalized mockery of deliberation as a professional gig and the notion of applying deliberative models of democratic engagement during social crises involving justice and human rights. That bastard!
Indeed as I (reluctantly) admitted to him in my reply, his well-chosen and very concrete examples from the Civil Rights Movement are extremely helpful reminders of what I’ve been researching and thinking and preparing to write about for several months now: the complementary relationship between formalistic, agonistic, and deliberative modes of healthful participatory democracy under real conditions of plurality and radical inequality (injustice). (See what I did there? I co-opted his stunning retort by repurposing it as a variant of my own thinking.)
See, my beef right now is with my ideological kin who are increasingly wed to deliberative processes as the fix-what-ails-you answer to what they see (understandably) as an increasingly toxic environment of politics. (For my part, I always look forward to the part of the ‘process’ where people are beating on shit and chanting ‘This is what democracy looks like’. I also think it smells like wafting blowback from the teargas canister some kid in a black bandanna picked up and heaved back at the cops…)
My friend’s examples — especially if coupled with the activist-mobilization practices of the ‘mainstream’ Civil Rights movement AND the more radicalized rhetorical and direct-action practices of such players as SNCC, Malcolm X, and the Oakland chapter of the Black Panther Party (to name a few) along with the ‘insider game’ exemplified by Thurgood Marshall, the Kennedy Justice Department, and the elected main players in moving Civil Rights legislation — provide, I think, a valuable reminder of how healthy democracy can proceed to address conditions of radical inequality (aka injustice) and plural interests and values (which are inevitably contesting/conflicting even sometimes incommensurate) while at the same time struggling under those very conditions .
Now before anyone breaks out a copy of Putnam’s Bowling Alone and starts doling out the trail mix and patchouli as tokens of increased social capital or some shit, a couple of things are worth noting here:
1. Critique of Totalized Deliberationism: Though this matrix of complementary modes (or ‘moments’) of democratic action may seem obvious, I find that unfortunately many in the expert dialogue and deliberation ‘community’ have increasingly (unconsciously?) turned toward what looks like a totalized critique of the constituent elements of what we have heretofore thought of generally as the American Political System ( you know, stuff like political contestation, formal/constitutional institutions of the state, adversarial advocacy, and so on…) – or perhaps it’s a totalized ideology of deliberation as democracy – which, in my view, both woefully beggars the intellectual resources of participatory democracy and seemingly ignores the glaring absence of the very conditions which are presupposed by the rules of deliberative engagement.[i] Conditions which, by the way, many inside-the-family critics of Habermas point out are never actually met and rarely even approximated. These well-meaning folks would certainly deny any accusation that they believe that deliberation is practically possible in every circumstance (though they would sheepishly demure on whether it is always to be preferred) but, like free market realists who claim to accept some role for regulatory constraints, given any actual or hypothetical condition, they never fail to prescribe their same patent medicine.
2. Critique of False Equivalence: Note that in the tiny set of examples I have used for my abbreviated illustration of the idea of complementary modes of democracy I emphasized the claims, practices, and actions of members of the oppressed group and in no way suggested that we should take seriously the idea of putting all the ‘stakeholders’ in the civil rights agenda “at the table” to deliberate a course of action or have a dialogue about each ‘side’s’ (really ‘sides’? in a struggle to end white supremacy?) grievances or concerns; such would be absurd and vulgar under the conditions. Absurd and vulgar even though no one can deny that racist goons in small towns throughout the South were (are) stakeholders in the outcomes of civil rights discourse and decisions—indeed they were arguably at least the second greatest stakeholders—yet without question, their values/interests vis-a-vis the Civil Rights agenda hold precisely zero meaning in such a ‘deliberation’ other than as an obstacle to study so as to be overcome. In other words they are objects of an intersubjective analysis of systematic/structural racial injustice and the means to overcome it, not subjects whose perspective is to be actually or virtually considered in that analysis of problem, solution, means. (My landlord, a lawncare company and I are discussing the means, expectations, and distribution of responsibilities for removing rocks from the anticipated path of the lawn mowing machine—the rocks do not get a seat at the table nor do we undertake to virtually represent their interests or concerns as part of our deliberation. “Let’s each take a moment now to consider what a rock might have to say at this point were she to be here for this discussion…Thoughts?” We might, however, do something to gather information about them that would be helpful to our intention to overcome them as obstacles to our lawncare plans. And if they could speak it might be wise to ask them a few questions).[ii] I know that viewed holistically or from the transcendent perspective of the democratic ideal, the actual interests of redneck racists are in reality also concretely ill-served by the very institutions their white-supremacist ideology uphold, but the pragmatic political reality of that time and place made them objects not subjects of that history.
Their agency was simply not equivalent to the agency of those they and their socially, culturally empowered and privileged ideology would continue to oppress. Full stop.[iii]
3. Critique of Crypto-Kantian Universal Transcendental-Idealist Assumptions: I do not mock efforts of stakeholders to seek intersubjective understanding through dialogue, I mock the notion that there exists some privileged place above (so to speak) the fray or outside the complex of partial interests from which to assess and ‘moderate’ the discussion or enforce some supposed objective norms of discourse.[iv] Norms that are themselves socially constructed and so arguably merely mask or reproduce the very power relations and privileging that facilitators claim to be able to help us overcome as inexpert would-be deliberators. The fateful point here is the toxic (or laughable) notion that some priesthood of deliberation annointees can (or should) be called into action to use their trained purity to, in some practical (practicable) manner, conduct/host/lead/facilitate real and actionable deliberation among stakeholders in issues where justice or human rights are at stake for some party or group.
The fact that so many of the ardent adherents of dialogue and deliberation (adorably referred to as “D&D” among the enlightened when they’re kickin it with a few carefully crafted artisan brewskis) evince a belief that routine public issues are rarely freighted with such matters of justice or freedoms is a form of blindness occasioned either by ideology or privilege or both.
The fact that so often D&Dists fret over the rarefied demographics of their ‘profession’ or ‘community’ yet end up treating that reality as a troubling but otherwise incidental problem that can be dealt with through careful application of expert technique is an ironic blindness (not to mention blindness to irony) born of the hubris (if not arrogance) of professional privilege.
Mock, mock, mock…
Mocking to continue at irregular intervals.
If the FBI’s job is now all about enticing innocent citizens who would otherwise pose no threat of terrorism, don’t we need some agency that will actually protect us from real domestic terror plots?
Plots like the ones that claimed the lives of Dr. David Gunn, James Barrett, Dr. John Britton, Shannon Lowney, Lee Ann Nichols, Robert Sanderson, Dr. Barnett Slepian, and Dr. George Tiller, for instance?
Plots that have unleashed a wave of bombings, arsons, assaults, and attempted assassinations in a systematic, organized terror campaign that has been going on for decades under the nose of Homeland Security, the FBI and other local, state, and federal police and security agencies who all seem powerless to end?
Hello? FBI? Isn’t there a real domestic terror campaign to investigate?