Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Over the weekend I wrote about Henry Louis Gates. I shouldn't be, given that I did just hear a US Senator do a Ricky Ricardo impression during the confirmation hearings of the first Hispanic ever nominated for the US Supreme Court, but I've been surprised by the degree of apologizing that seemingly moderate thinking people are doing for the behavior of the police. Hell, apologizing is too weak - I just heard Chicago attorney Lester Munson on Dan LeBatard's Miami radio show essentially say that Gates was uppity.
He had met Gates; Gates had that "Harvard arrogance" and he could see a scenario where that arrogance could have manifested into arrest being reasonable in this circumstances.
Honestly - and this tells you how far I am from the current "everyone's a little at fault" view that we've settled on as a society about this - if Gates had cut a full on Rocky III promo, said that he would find the cop's wife and show her what a real man was like, that still wouldn't give rise to an arrest in a free society (note, that's different than saying people aren't arrested in circumstances like Gates - although prominent white people aren't - and it's different than saying disorderly conduct doesn't provide legal cover for the actions of that cop and cops all over this country - I'm talking about a free society, not the United States of America in 2009 which jails its citizens at a rate higher than any industrialized nation in the history of mankind).
I'm not sure, absent an actual threat, if there's any pure speech that should give rise to being arrested in this factual circumstance. Students of mine want to go the other way - I keep hearing the same refrain "you shouldn't talk back to a cop - what do you expect the cop to do?"
Which is good practical advice - but what does that have to do with law?
I find myself in the curious position of agreeing with, of all people, Tucker Carlson (except for his version of the uppity black guy slur that starts this quote) from today's Washington Post:
So I wasn't surprised by what happened in Cambridge. Yes, Gates is a self-righteous whiner who probably cries racism every time he gets the wrong order at Starbucks. What happened to him likely had little to do with race, but it's still appalling. His crime? Failing to be polite to a policeman. Except that's not a crime, or shouldn't be, and the rest of us ought to do all we can to make sure it doesn't become one.
The police are not law. They serve the public. We deify power in this country - to "talk back" to authority - even if you're a Harvard professor (maybe especially if you are a Harvard professor) means you are stepping out of line. Stepping out of place. Carlson is right - you don't have to be nice to the police.
You don't have to be nice to anyone.
Maybe you should be. Maybe it's wise or decent or will keep your train running on time.
But the penalty for rudeness is not arrest. You should not be arrested for yelling "do you know who I am" to a cop. This is not a police state. This is the United States of America. We don't pull people out of their homes in handcuffs for saying unkind things to police.
Has everyone gone mad?
Next we'll have the government reading our emails and listening to our phone calls and holding suspects for years without charge and torturing prisoners and...
Authoritarianism is our civic religion.
War - torture - the death penalty - domestic surveilance - abuse of police power -
How much of our civic discussion is really a discussion about power - about authority - about bowing down before the man? How much of the political stances taken by people can be cleaved into muscular terms?
I learned as a very young person that to be pro gay rights meant I'd be labeled as unmanly, as soft - saying "gays are people too" in 1986 would get you looked at as if you were weak, soft.
The same reaction, literally, exactly so - was how my anti-death penalty stance, was my anti police abuse stance - my anti-war stance - was framed.
Liberal positions have been put in this box as insufficiently tough - from torture to animal rights, from Iraq to Cambridge - you either line up with the powerful, either line up with principles of muscularity or you are labeled as feminine, as insufficiently hard minded, as fragile, as effete.
I don't know what to do with that; if our love of authoritarianism is a symbol of patriarchy and/or how much of that, how much of that is our attempt to grab some control in our "lives of quiet desparation" to quote Thoreau. I don't know how much of that patriarchy relates to the version of Christianity, the "my god is bigger than your god" version that holds so much sway in the US (as opposed to the sandal wearing, prince of peace version - I can't tell you which reading is superior, that's inside baseball stuff and I don't play on that field).
But I do know that throughout my life I have felt the same sort of "what are you, a fag" response whether I was opposing the death penalty or opposing beating dogs or in favor of the exclusionary rule or the equal rights amendment. There is an authoritarianism strain in American civic life on which I'm just never going to sign off.
I don't know what role race played in Professor Gates's getting taken off his front porch in handcuffs, but this need to worship at the altar of authority certainly plays a role in our reaction to it.
(Tuesday, Glenn Beck said that Obama's reaction to Gates demonstrates his "deep seated hatred of white people". My reaction to Gates is stronger than is Obama's. Does that mean I have a deep seated hatred of white people? And why aren't we talking about how the Republicans - considering Sotamayor, considering the birther movement - are playing the race card? When it's Johnny Cochran defending OJ Simpson, we derisively throw the phrase race card around. When it's a black activist like Al Sharpton weighing in on an issue - we say he's injecting race into another issue again. But Glenn Beck just said the President of the United States hates white people and....and what?)
(Pete Rose is being considered for reinstatement, apparently at the prodding of Hank Aaron, who also said those implicated in the steroid scandal should have asterisks in the record books. Yesterday's repost was the Mike Vick piece, which also included steroid talk. I figure it's time to start with the steroid reposts. So, here's one.)
When I'm a wrestler, I behave as a wrestler.
That was Mickey Rourke responding to a Men's Journal question if he used steroids to aid in his nearly 40 pounds of muscle weight gain for his role in The Wrestler.
I don't know if, as non-denial denials go, that puts Rourke in the same category with Mark McGwire's "I'm not here to talk about the past," but adults can look at the rapid change in middle aged Rourke's physique and comfortably speculate about how much flaxseed oil he had to inject to make that happen.
So, what am I not understanding?
I mean, I assume that, if Rourke took some steroid it wasn't done by happenstance; he didn't find it mixed in with the chocolate syrup on Kim Basinger's ass in some unfortunate 21st century sequel to 9 1/2 Weeks. I assume if he took steroids for a film role it was for cosmetic purposes, for purposes of authenticity, to better enable him to train and recover for an athletically demanding role. I assume that, if Rourke took some steroids that was a step beyond which some other actors, had they had a chance at this part, would have taken. I assume that the widespread acclaim, the career rejuvination which Rourke has received will translate not only to awards but to dollars. I assume this will be a lesson not lost on young actors, actors hoping to emulate Mickey Rourke - acting is as highly a competitive marketplace as exists; every now and again you'll read that the average yearly acting income for someone with a SAG card is like 6 grand - actors will do virtually anything to scratch and crawl their way into exactly the position in which Mickey Rourke has found himself, a position solely existing because of the authenticity of his protrayal of a professional wrestler.
So, what am I not understanding?
I turn on the TV, I read the entertainment magazines - and I see Mickey Rourke showered with acclaim for his work in this film. It's a rebirth, a rejuvination - he tells jokes on the talk shows, he's given the full star treatment by the celebrity journalists, and he won the Golden Globe last weekend for Best Actor in a Drama.
If Rourke isn't now the favorite to win the granddaddy of them all, the Academy Award, he's second in a hotly competitive race to Sean Penn.
I don't use the word competition loosely - this is a competition - movie studios spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaigning, tens of millions of people in the US and far more than that across the globe tune in to see who wins and who loses, there's a significant difference in the trajectory of Rourke's career with the words Oscar Winner for Best Actor attached to his name than if he's defeated by Penn.
I have yet to see Milk, but I'm guessing Penn didn't use performance enhancing drugs (edit, I've subsequently seen Milk and all of the significant films from 2008; my favorites were Synecdoche and Dark Knight - Penn deserved the Oscar).
So, what am I not understanding?
How else would you classify whatever drugs Rourke seems to have taken for this role? He gave a performance. His performance was enhanced to some degree by his look and ability to train and do stunts (even if he didn't really take as many bumps as they'd like to have us believe) I don't have a metric to quantify how much his performance was enhanced - but given the downward trend of his career path, the few hits he has been able to produce, what clearly looked like the normal end of a career - given that it has wildly spiked outside of normal levels - I think it's not unreasonable to correlate that wild spike with the use of performance enhancing drugs.
So, what am I not understanding?
Where's the Congressional hearings? When's the grand jury convening? When's the raid on his house, gym, doctor's office? When will Sports Illustrated start a jihad to see that he is viewed in the same league as OJ Simpson? When will we talk about the children? The innocent, impressionable children?
What am I not...
Oh, you know what - things make more sense after I read this:
You should read it, it's the biggest sports story of the year so far.
I'll short version it for you.
1. Use of the Clear, the drug Bonds is accused of taking, wasn't illegal.
2. The active ingredient wasn't classified as a steroid.
3. There are no studies to indicate that the clear enhances muscle growth.
I have been saying for years that the degree to which the federal government has attempted to imprison Barry Bonds for his miniscule part in a miniscule crime (less than $2000 worth of drugs was uncovered in the BALCO raids) is an utter abuse of power. I've been saying for the past 18 months that Bonds was going to beat this charge. And I've been saying for the past year that Barry Bonds is going to the Hall of Fame.
History will regard as silly the persecution of Barry Bonds, and of virtually all of those branded with the scarlet steroid S. Less because we'll decide that steroids were okay to take after all (although, we will) but because justice, legal and moral, requires some level of proportion and evenhandedness. Jason Giambi gets his own moustache day at Yankee Stadium; Andy Pettitte and Evander Holyfield get to keep their reputations as good guys (both overtly Christian, huh, imagine that) Arnold gets to be the Governor of California, everyone associated with the Bush Administration goes into the private sector, Mickey Rourke gets a Golden Globe, and Barry Bonds goes on trial in March.
I guess I understand it pretty well after all.