Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Passion of The Prejean, According to St. Meghan

Hello again, dear readers! It's been a long time since I last blogged. Where have I been? Well, twitter. Yes, *sigh*.

One person I "follow" on twitter is Meghan McCain. I was reading her article in The Daily Beast on Monday regarding conservatives' treatment of her in comparison to Carrie Prejean. There were a few points I wanted to discuss, but couldn't fit into 140 characters. (I have other topics lined up about which to blog, but this one is actually sort of timely!)

Ms. McCain rightly notes the hypocrisy of those who defend conservatives who are guilty of actions for which they would condemn everyone else (of course, I would say that the same goes for all other political/ideological groups). Speaking of this, two words: Bristol Palin. I'm sure others have observed that if it had been a 17-year-old daughter of Obama who was pregnant out of wedlock, many conservatives would have become apoplectic! Not even considering how they would have reacted if the pregnancy had been terminated! But Palin's defenders were tripping over themselves trying to "justify" the circumstances of her unwed-teenage-pregnancy. "um! But at least her and the father are going to get married! oh, no? um! at least she chose not to have an abortion!" What was that? "Chose"? First of all, yes, there were people using this language. It seems strange, considering that these are the same people who do not consider abortion an option, who say things like, "It's not a choice! It's a child!" Secondly, if you are "pro-life," and you think there's a moral equivalence between abortion and murder, why give anyone special recognition for not murdering a child!? I never hear people congratulating mothers for not committing infanticide!1 But I digress... I fully agree with Ms. McCain that it sends the wrong message to justify making a sex or masturbation tape with/for another person on the grounds that you are in love with that person. It's the height of disingenuousness to justify an action you would otherwise condemn on such shaky grounds. Of course, she wasn't the first Republican to try to do something like that... To be fair, Ms. Prejean did appear contrite for what she admitted was the "biggest mistake of [her] life." Oh wait, sorry, make that the "eight biggest mistakes of her life." Did she really think that producing these tapes was such a huge mistake before they became public knowledge? There's no way of knowing for sure, but I'm skeptical.

Look: Let's be clear: In contrast with Ms. McCain, I neither condemn nor condone the production of sex tapes or the act of sex per se. I, in fact, have taken and distributed nude photographs of myself for, let's say, non-artistic purposes (upon request, of course, and I was "smart" enough to obscure my face). I don't envision the release of these photos as having political consequences for me since I'm being so open about it. (But honesty often has its own penalties...) As I may have said before, the ethical guidelines I try to follow are based primarily in empathy and what I "do unto others," as well as maintaining a consistency between who I am in public and in private.2 Under this paradigm, the only major "sins" [I can think of at this time] are: harming or restricting the freedom of others,3 violating prior agreements, and hypocrisy. An act such as the production of a sex tape would be "wrong" only if a person had previously agreed not to produce one or if s/he had publicly stated that such an act was immoral and had condemned others who had participated in such activities.

So the question is: Is Ms. Prejean a hypocrite? Yes, of course! Taking her full history of media appearances in context, Ms. Prejean's personal stance against same-sex marriage and in favor of "opposite marriage" is merely a sliver of a worldview that highly regards "traditional morality" and seeks to defend it from the threats that the continuing modernization of society poses against it with its "equality" (pah!) and willingness to accept "science" and "reality" (hmph!). The very acts Ms. Prejean recorded herself performing (in fact, any kind of sexuality outside the shackles of holy matrimony) are anathema to this entire worldview!

So why are people like Sean Hannity so vehemently defending this young woman? Sorry, wrong question. Why are they continuing to give her a political platform even though anyone can see that she's completely unqualified? Wait, who am I talking about? Prejean or McCain? Anyway... I think it's fairly obvious that although, yes, certain people said some mean things
about Ms. Prejean (and I am certainly not trying to justify that!), she's taking the victim act way too far. Her main function in the current media storyline is to corroborate the narrative fabricated by the "right-wing" (or "traditionalists" or whatever label into which you want to shoehorn them) that traditionalists ("us" or "we") are the victims. Then they frame the issue such that those who want to change the status quo ("them" or "they") are not opposed to an unjust system, but are primarily interested in "ramming 'their' radical agenda down 'our' throats." This, enabling America's Christian/Conservative Persecution Complex, is part of the Right's own brand of identity politics and is just another way for those who have power to use the sheeple as pawns to further their own agendas.

Ms. McCain further raises the entirely valid point that traditionalists treat her very differently from how they treat Ms. Prejean. They definitely directed a lot more criticism at McCain for photographing herself when she happened to be wearing a tank-top (and I don't even need to mention their opinion about her regarding the fact that she's honest about enjoying sex! *gasp*!) than there was at Prejean who, let's remember, even before the masturbation tapes or the nude photos, participated in a competition that involved traipsing around on a stage in a bikini on national television! Surely you can see not only the hypocrisy, but also the tribalism here. Prejean's actions are justified in spite of cognitive dissonance because "she's on 'our' side!" and, "The Christian values that she has cherry-picked to defend are similar to mine!" And because McCain chooses to espouse a set of values that is different in certain areas, traditionalists treat her the same as any other non-tribe-member.

We could further ask whether or not it's "right" or "brave" to stand up for certain values for no other reason than that they just happen to be the values a person was raised to revere. Of course, the answer is a resounding "no!" I think that bravery, much like other virtues, requires that one make informed decisions and really understand (or at least make a sincere effort to understand) why one takes any specific position. The traditionalist does not stand for truth, but for dogma. Dogma is an enemy of truth. Any fool can parrot lines they were indoctrinated to believe, but it's really better and ultimately, far more rewarding for a person to make the effort to seek the truth for oneself. This is something that I don't really think either McCain or Prejean have seriously attempted. But McCain is at least somewhat better off because some of her values just so happen to be "the right ones" (this is a bit subjective, but, basically, what I mean is that her stance on gay marriage, at least, is on "the right side of history").

So should we criticize Ms. Prejean? I would say that we should only
criticize her as long as she has her undeserved platform and even then, only for her shallow understanding of the issues and her bankruptcy of core-principles (governing her own actions) and her ignorance and her hypocrisy and her opportunism and... What I'm saying is that I don't think we should engage in personal attacks against people. We should first engage people on their ideas and their words. Prejean is, of course, a person who has no business being a part of the discussion on any political issue, but that's because she hasn't done her homework. She hasn't performed (and, let's be frank, might not even be capable of taking on) the research or analysis necessary to come to a reasoned conclusion on any of the major political issues of the day. But no one should call her a "cunt" or a "dumb bitch," regardless of whether or not those are accurate characterizations of her (because, well, that's just not nice...). That said, let me emphasize that Perez Hilton clearly claims3 that he was not upset with her opposition to same-sex marriage, contrary to the narrative of the right-wing/"family-values" echo-chamber, but with the complete lack of grace and intelligence with which she answered the question. In addition, I think he was right about the answer she should have given if she did, in fact, have "half a brain." After all, he didn't directly ask her for her opinion on same-sex marriage, but she gave it to him anyway. I guess she thought that it would have made Baby Jesus cry if she had decided to take anything less than such a "bold" stand on the issue.

Ms. McCain goes on to say that she "[doesn't] want to be too harsh on Carrie Prejean" because, after all, she's only 22 and "she feels the same way about gay marriage that [sic] our own president does." Yes. Ms. Prejean is only 22. Fair enough. As I said earlier, my primary complaint is that she has this undeserved platform in the first place. But I must take issue with McCain's 2nd point. I'm growing tired of the non-stop propagation of this "Prejean and Obama have the same opinion on gay marriage" meme. Sure, they both believe that "marriage is between a man and a woman," but to stop there and claim that their views on the issue are equivalent is, at best, a beyond-Clinton/Bush-league distortion of the facts, true on only the most superficial level! I do not consider such language hyperbolic because, first of all, Prejean has, thus far, to the best of my knowledge, shown herself to be incapable of speaking intelligently on this subject, particularly from a policy standpoint. Secondly, Obama is, in fact, in favor of civil unions and even opposed Proposition 8 because it used the California constitution to take rights/priveleges away from people, which is the opposite of what a constitution is supposed to do. That said, I do think that Obama deserves criticism and pressure from supporters of same-sex marriage for his stance on this issue. I'm certainly not going to give him a free pass. It seems ironic, even hypocritical, for a black person to promote same-sex civil unions but not marriage considering the parallels between such a "separate-but-equal" policy and those used to subjugate black Americans in the past. His own parents wouldn't even have been able to marry each other in certain states until 1967!

The logical conclusion of this line of reasoning is to ask what are [some] possible motivations people have for propagating this meme. Ms. McCain probably doesn't know any better. However, I have seen other bloggers incorporate this disingenuous assertion into their strategy to frame the issue. [Some of] these are the same people who always take pains to characterize Obama as some kind of radical leftist. The implication is that support of same-sex marriage is an issue so far to the left that not even our "radical-leftist" president supports it, when the reality is that same-sex marriage is not a partisan issue, but a human/civil rights issue.

Of course, there are some contradictions in this framing. First of all, President Obama is emphatically not a radical. He's a politician. Sure, he talked a lot about "change" during his campaign, and it does seem like he's working towards some of that, but most of these changes have been (or will be) cosmetic, or marginal, or superficial. He hasn't yet really done anything to drastically alter the status quo. Even the bailouts and the stimulus were not dramatic departures from previous policies (of course, this is debateable, but that's not really the point right now). Another problem with the "gay marriage is a left-wing issue" meme is the fact that many people like Meghan McCain who are not liberal support it. Also, it's not very consistent to say that the U.S. is a "center-right country," as do so many carriers of this meme, and simultaneously call an issue that regularly garners support from more than 40% in many states (and support increases the younger the demographic) a "left-wing issue." Come on, people, Which is it? You can't have it both ways!

On a final note, I've often observed that self-described conservatives seem to think that calling someone a "liberal" is some kind of trump card that wins any debate; or they use it like some sort of elementary school playground insult. Why is this? It makes even less sense to me than the use of the word "gay" as an insult.

Anyway, thanks for reading! Happy trials! Especially those of you with Conservative and/or Christian Persecution Complex! Count it all joy, my brethren [and sistren]!

1Of course, I realize that one reason for this is that it's such a common procedure. I do understand the conviction that carrying a pregnancy to term should be congratulated. I plan on discussing this issue more in-depth in a later post.

2People must be judged according to the standards by which they judge others. Of course, I believe there's always room for mercy.

3Of course, it's usually a good thing to help others if you can, and, in fact, it may be unethical if you can help another person, but don't and the other person is harmed.

4Of course, I don't claim we should take him at his word. We can have a discussion about that, but that's not the issue right now.

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