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Monthly Archives: October 2011

When I first started contemplating this blog entry two weeks ago and change, Occupy Wall Street was barely news. The accusations that the mainstream media and Twitter were suppressing it were only very recently becoming past as it started to be more publicized. (I’m satisfied that it wasn’t covered up. The Twitter censorship claim’s been pretty well debunked, and the national news media probably didn’t think it was going to be much of a thing until it became one.)

And it seemed pretty obvious to me right away that Occupy Wall Street could be, at least in part, described as a left-wing Tea Party. Now, to describe it in that particular way is to instantiate the Tea Party and the right wing as the default, but in that the Tea Party came chronologically first that’s not totally unreasonable.

Oddly, this didn’t seem obvious to anyone else. House Majority Leader and Tea Party ally Eric Cantor (R-VA), in fact, called Occupy Wall Street a “mob” (and then, as in that particular article, caught flak for it). And right-ish New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg (he was a Democrat, then a Republican, then Independent, but he’s obscenely wealthy enough to be worried by the kinds of arguments they’re making) was anything but sympathetic. Recently, he’s been promising to increase arrests.

It was perhaps unsurprising that the Tea Party themselves would resist this comparison, as indeed they did, because it would undermine them as the go-to for populist anger.

But what I didn’t anticipate was the level of hatred in the rhetoric the Tea Party used in rejecting the similarity. Mark Meckler of Tea Party Patriots, in a Politico opinion piece, said that the comparison “bothers me because it groups millions of patriotic tea partiers, who want to build America back up, together with a bunch of criminals who want to tear America down.”

Wait, seriously? I get that he thinks their proposals would lead to ruin (they surely feel the same way about his), but I don’t follow the leap from having a different opinion about the right direction to head to actively intending to destroy the nation. Even more perplexing is the contention that OWS is “a bunch of criminals.” What crime, exactly, are they guilty of?

Of course, the weird disconnect that equates peaceful (albeit disruptive) protestors with criminals has been an important

Bologna's casual pepper-spraying as meme, by Chris Gionet (from Flickr)

question since the first reports emerged of NYPD officer Anthony Bologna pepper-spraying apparently nonviolent protestors. And girls at that! (Insert notions of women’s weakness here.)

There has been pushback on this assumption of criminality, of course. Bologna’s actions were widely decried (though sometimes for the wrong reasons, see previous aside). The outrage against the actions of Oakland police against Occupy Oakland is in the same vein. Because seriously, I get that Oakland PD isn’t a paragon of police restraint on a good day and they’ve had enough riots to be paranoid, but riot gear and tear gas against protestors, really?

Indeed, U.S. News and World Report blogger Leslie Marshall asks, “Why Do Police Treat ‘Occupy-ers’ Like Terrorists, Not Tea Partyers?”

And hey, there’s the Tea Party again. This comparison keeps cropping up, and that means something.

But resistance to thinking about the two together isn’t just coming from the Right. Ishaan Tharoorof Time (admittedly the right-ier of the two major national weekly newsmagazines, but still fairly centrist) argues at length—with a four-point plan!—that Occupy Wall Street should not be compared to the Tea Party.

There are, of course, major differences between the two, which should be taken seriously. The Tea Party wants less (maybe no) government and are a-ok with (and funded by) corporate bigwigs. Occupy Wall Street, on the other hand, thinks corporations are the problem and government is the solution. That matters.

But I think it’s important to recognize that both are populist uprisings against a system that they feel has failed them—they just differ as to what the system is and where the failings lie. Neither of them is happy with Washington business-as-usual. Neither of them is thrilled about corporate bailouts

Weirdly, the argument that most resembles mine is from right-wing bastion Fox News, where an opinion piece by Ellis Henican proclaims “Hey, Tea Partiers, Go Join Occupy Wall Street.” Henican argues that “it’s a grass-roots coalition that is just begging to be made. It’s the also perfect opportunity to fulfill the second half of the Tea Party credo, addressing the excesses of Big Business along with those Big Government.”

I have to admit that it’s a little strange to find myself agreeing with Fox News, but if the populists on either the Left or the Right are serious about getting politics to listen to the little guys instead of carrying on as usual, banding together is probably their best bet.

Though if the Tea Party actually was grassroots instead of having been co-opted into Astroturf (since I do think it was a genuine populist uprising at first) that would help too.


Here’s some good reference material to explain Occupy Wall Street to unsympathetic relatives at upcoming holiday dinners, from Business Insider, oddly enough: Here Are Four Charts That Explain What The Protesters Are Angry About…

When I posted about Chaz Bono a while back, I said I don’t read the comments to online news stories, but now that I’ve said it I must confess I totally do. I’ve realized it’s more accurate to say that I don’t read the comments unless I am prepared to cope with the absolute worst of humanity.

A second confession: I have a Google Alert set for Lea Michele. So, when the PR folks (his? hers? I don’t know) announced that she and her boyfriend had broken up a few weeks ago, and it echoed through the gossipsphere, I got a lot of emails. And, I was a) curious what the response would be and b) prepared to see people being awful . . . so I took a look.

And the Internet surprised me.

Well, at first it didn’t. I went to the comments fully expecting to see a deluge of suggestions of who Ms. Michele should hook up with next—which were definitely there.

I also assumed that the Real Person Fiction (RPF) shippers would be there, pouncing on the opportunity to say that she would either soon be dating one of her castmates or secretly has been the whole time. And indeed, the story went up at 6:42 and at 6:50 someone commented “MONCHELE LIVES!! ” followed at 6:51 by “Achele is end game” and 6:54 by ” Achele* fixed it for ya **” A decoder ring: “Monchele” refers to Michele paired with her Glee costar Cory Monteith; the “Achele” portmanteau indicates a romantic relationship between Michele and Dianna Agron (who, as avid readers may recall, likes girls, but not in a sexual way).

I was, particularly, expecting the Achele shippers to be out in force, because they’re a vocal bunch. (Confession 3: I also happen to think they make a pretty compelling argument. Not that the relationship between the two is necessarily “real,” but I can see how it could be. I know that social norms for friendships between women allow some latitude in terms of acceptable levels of physical affection, but those girls are SNUGGLY. One of MANY videos, if you’re curious.) And, indeed, Achele was a pretty substantial presence in the comments.

I was prepared for the response to the Achele shippers to be somewhere between dismissive and ugly: A commenter named Emily said,If I read one more comment about ‘achele’ I’m gonna flip Dianna and Lea aren’t gay Dianna has a boyfriend, respect people’s sexualities please.”

This kind of thing is pretty standard in how we make sense of sexuality. It’s got “straight until proven gay.” It’s got a complete lack of recognition that sexuality exists beyond a 100% hetero/100% homo binary, that Agron and Michele could have boyfriends today and girlfriends tomorrow, and that one needn’t “be gay” to date someone of the same sex. So, the greatest hits are all there.

But then the Internet surprised me.

Allison: “@Emily The Mo[n]chele/Lark comments are JUST as insulting…Lea has NEVER said anything about her sexuality for one thing, so if you complain about Achele complain about the other ships, because yes, your comment’s exclusive nature to only Achele is homophobic” (Ship, short for “relationship,” refers to advocating a particular coupling within a fan object, either of characters or actors)

Wow. Okay, some random person commenting on a gossip story the internet—a place usually chock full of venom, hysteria, and general inanity—has calmly and rationally pointed out that being offended at the suggestion that an actor might be in a same-sex relationship is homophobic. Maybe this is just my academic snobbery (of which I’ll admit I’ve got plenty), but I don’t usually expect that kind of sophistication in online comments. And who knows, maybe Allison is actually an academic herself and my snobbery needn’t be challenged.

Commenter Nicola replied, “@Allison Insinuating that Dianna and Lea are gay are just as insulting as saying that gay people should go straight.” And she had a relatively complex and valid point too, though I may be putting words into her mouth in my interpretation of it.

That is, to enforce an ideal sexuality on another person isn’t okay no matter what direction it goes. One ought not to police other people’s behavior and insist that they belong to a particular category that they haven’t chosen to join regardless of what categorythat is, as I argued with Marcus Bachmann.

Now, the thing did go off the rails after that.

The Kinsey Scale.
Graphic by Moni3.Moni3 at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Allison shot back, “@nicola…when exactly did I insinuate they had to be gay? I didn’t, my point is we have NO idea if they’re gay, straight or bi…It’s not fair to exclusively bash Achele just because it’s two girls. It’s not okay to ship Lark or Monchele any more than it is to ship Achele. “

And I think it’s absolutely right to resist default straightness. I also think it’s right to resist the erasure of the middle of the Kinsey scale—we’re not all zeroes and sixes.

But, as a queer theorist, a fan studies scholar, and a fan, I’m uneasy about throwing out the RPF shipping with the bathwater, which Allison does by saying that no shipping is okay. That is, I would argue that it’s perfectly acceptable to interpret people’s behavior selectively and subversively for one’s own pleasure, whether that person is a fictional character or a real human.

However, one should not then impose that interpretation on the body of that actual person and demand that they comply with it, which is where I draw the line with some of the more enthusiastic and dogmatic Achele shippers.

But that’s because one shouldn’t impose and demand in general, not because it’s somehow wrong to imagine what kind of sex other people have.

Or, rather, not because it’s wrong to admit we all routinely imagine what kind of sex other people have, or would have if they did. Sometimes in great detail. (If you’re curious, check out — but read the tags carefully. You’ve been warned!)

In her opening remarks on the conference’s first day, outgoing Association of Internet Researchers president Mia Consalvo said that the conference was like a family. And, being used to massive conferences like the National Communication Association where anyone less famous than God or the Beatles gets lost in the crowd, I rolled my eyes a little. But as I’m here longer, I’m starting to think she was right.

Point 1: I had lunch with a complete stranger yesterday. Now, I’m one of the least social humans on the planet. I. Do. Not. Like. Strangers. But there I was, at the info desk asking the concierge about where to eat at the same time as someone else, and we just decided to go together. And it was a totally great experience, and I have to think there’s something about the culture of the conference that made that possible.

Point 2: I went up to a scholar after her panel to ask if any of her students might be interested in publishing in the special issue of Transformative Works and Cultures I’m guest editing, and she not only handed a copy of the CFP to her student but took one for herself. Maybe my expectations are really low from a number of bad experiences with Big Name Scholars (who shall remain nameless), but she totally treated me like a worthwhile human being!

Point 3: A professor from my university, who a) isn’t in my department and b) isn’t even on my committee (but who was my professor for a class once, two years ago) came up to me at the reception and asked who she could introduce me to. Faculty just don’t do that kind of stuff in my experience up until now. Don’t get me wrong; the professors in my department are amazing and will totally promote the bejeezus out of us, but we have to ask them.

And, it’s not related to the “professional organization as family” part, but I have really never been at a conference where so many of the people I see walking around are people whose work I not only know but admire. This indicates, I think, that this is the right kind of place for me to be hanging out.

This is all to say: I less than three AoIR! And I will be back any time it’s someplace I can afford to fly!

Addendum, October 13: The moderator for my panel carried my bag into the elevator when I didn’t have enough hands to wrangle it + breakfast, cuz she’d read my post and wanted to make sure I kept feeling welcome.

It’s that time of the semester when blog posting gets to be challenging, but I will do my best.

On Wednesday, September 21, 2011, two men were executed.

Troy Davis, convicted of the 1989 shooting of an off-duty police officer, was the subject of massive news coverage, an appeal to the Supreme Court, and support, Wikipedia lists, from Amnesty International, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, former President Jimmy Carter, Rev. Al Sharpton, Pope Benedict XVI, Nobel Peace Prize recipient Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and former FBI Director and judge William S. Sessions.

Lawrence Brewer, convicted of the 1998 dragging death of James Byrd, on the other hand, was executed almost unnoticed.

There were, of course, a lot of other differences between the two.

Davis maintained his innocence to the end; his last words were “I’d like to address the MacPhail family. Let you know, despite the situation you are in, I’m not the one who personally killed your son, your father, your brother. I am innocent.”

Brewer also claimed innocence, according to KHOU in Houston: “the man who’s facing execution for the crime still says he didn’t commit murder, and that he was just going along with friends for a ride.”

Brewer did, however, say that “as far as any regrets, no, I have no regrets [ . . . ].No, I’d do it all over again, to tell you the truth,”and this contention that even if he didn’t participate in the murder he wouldn’t have stopped it makes his a less compelling declaration of innocence.(This has been reported as him saying he would kill Byrd again, but in the original context that seems not to be the case.)

The MacPhails were very invested in Troy Davis dying for the death of their family member. When he was pronounced dead, MacPhail’s son and brother smiled.

Byrd’s son, on the other hand, said “You can’t fight murder with murder. Life in prison would have been fine. I know he can’t hurt my daddy anymore. I wish the state would take in mind that this isn’t what we want.”

With Davis, Wikipdia notes, “Following the original trial, seven witnesses changed or recanted all or part of their testimony.” Indeed, one of the rallying cries for the Davis case was “too much doubt.”

On the other hand, according the New York Times in 1999, ” In letters introduced into evidence, Mr. Brewer referred to the killing and boasted about ‘rolling a tire,’ which prosecutors said was a derogatory term for assaulting a black person. ‘Well, I did it,’ Mr. Brewer wrote. ‘And no longer am I a virgin. It was a rush, and I’m still licking my lips for more.'” That is, it seems relatively clear that Brewer did it, despite his protestation of innocence.

As a police officer, MacPhail was in a category with a lot of baggage. Some people, including the most vocal proponents of executing Troy Davis, would contend that killing a police officer, as a representative of the law (even if, as MacPhail was, the officer is off duty at the time), is worse than any old fatal shooting. Others would point to histories of police abuse and suggest that it made him a less compelling victim.

Byrd was described, in an article I can’t find now, as an especially sympathetic victim. He was a good guy whom everyone liked and even sort of downtrodden in that he didn’t have a car and walked everywhere he went, which was how he came into the path of the people who killed him in the first place. Killing Byrd, this argument goes, is worse than killing just anybody.

According to Wikipedia, “MacPhail was shot twice: once through the heart and once in the face.” He probably died pretty quickly.

When James Byrd Jr. died, on the other hand, his killers “beat him severely, urinated on him and chained him by his ankles to their pickup truck before dragging him for three miles. [ . . . ] [F]orensic evidence suggests that Byrd had been attempting to keep his head up while being dragged, and an autopsy suggested that Byrd was alive during much of the dragging. Byrd died after his right arm and head were severed after his body hit a culvert.”It was brutal. He suffered.

But I hope that at this point you’re resisting this narrative, Dear Reader.

How can I say that one murder is worse than another? How can there be an assessment that one victim is less tragic than another? I can’t, and I know it. These things can’t be quantified.

The reason I made the argument is to point out is that it’s equally illogical to say that having celebrity supporters vs. being entirely unsympathetic makes one deserve to die more or less. It doesn’t. Neither does proclaiming one’s own innocence or not, there being a family desire for vengeance or not, or killing a member of a more or less privileged category.

That’s because no matter how heinous someone’s crime is, or how sure you are that they committed it, they don’t deserve to die.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported that “Spencer Lawton, the Savannah prosecutor who helped convict Davis, said the case shouldn’t morph into a broader debate about capital punishment,” but it has, and it should.

There’s something a little absurd about, as the quip goes, killing people who kill people to show that killing people is wrong.

There’s also something not very encouraging about the U.S. being in a club of capital punishers that included, in 2010,

The Capital Punishment World Mapcountries most Americans consider themselves to be freer than (China) or otherwise superior to, including George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil” members Iran and North Korea, John Bolton’s “Beyond the Axis of Evil” members Cuba, Libya and Syria, and Condolezza Rice’s “Outpost of Tyranny” Belarus. (On the Axis of Evil and its later elaborations, see Nice company we’re keeping there.

The U.S. likes to think of itself (along with, usually, Europe) as a shining example of civilization, but it’s not joined by any country in Europe in continuing to use the death penalty.

In fact, it has been beat to the punch on abolishing it by 71% of the world: 49% of world nations have abolished it entirely; 5% keep it only “for crimes committed in exceptional circumstances (such as in time of war)”; 17% technically have it on the books, “but have not used it for at least 10 years and are believed to have a policy or established practice of not carrying out executions, or it is under a moratorium.” Only 29% of countries—just 58 of them in the world—actually use the thing regularly.

And, even if most of humanity moving away from using this form of punishment doesn’t move anyone to reassess whether the death penalty is really something we want to have, the damn thing is expensive. Counterintuitive though it may be, it costs more to kill someone than to imprison them for life.

Some crimes are horrible. Hell, some people are horrible. Some people do things that are so horrible that it’s reasonable not to expose the rest of humanity to the danger that they’ll do it again. Sometimes there’s not a single redeeming quality about such a person. We might be tempted to not call them human, even.

But that’s the one step we can’t take.

It’s an inability to see another as human that allows someone to do something horrible in the first place. So why would we replicate it in our response?