Friday, June 15, 2012

When A Charge of Antisemitism Is A Tactical Smear

The subject of this post is the underside of identity politics,  the possibility to game those for personal advantage by self-centered jerks, regardless of justification or reason.    It was motivated from a personal experience of the past several months.

I will make no apology for defending myself in a way that anyone has the right to do.  I take a repeated accusation of antisemitism made against me quite seriously.

First,  the blog exchange on Eschaton that began my thinking about this.   I will note that anger at the stylishly acceptable  bigotry of  Steve Simels' snark about Roma was my motive in my first response, though it was, sincerely, what I thought.  I include the identity of the person who commented about Florida because Simels did in his original comment and I don't want to be accused of editing the record.


Steve Simels:

R. McGeddon, futilitarian  My solution has always been to move Israel to Florida. 

And while we're at it, the Gypsies need a homeland too.

I think there's an abandoned shopping mall in Jersey they could have.

Anthony McCarthy:

I'd love to have more Jews living in the United States. I wish they'd offered emigration here as an alternative to the disaster that putting Israel in Palestine has caused. Taking a piece out some place like Arizona if a state was desired would have been a better idea.
Only the ideological ancestors of the End Timers would have prevented that happening.

Steve Simels:
Oh, I'm sure the Jews would have been welcomed in Arizona with open arms.
Anthony McCarthy:
Unlike they were in Palestine, you mean?
Steve Simels:
See, now you're actually starting to piss me off.
Anthony McCarthy:
Seriously, I'd love to have a few million more Jews in the United States, one of the most progressive constituencies in the country, great philanthropists, brilliant disuptationists. Living here in relative safety and security. What could possibly be objectionable to that? The Likudniks would come to, or maybe not if those with a history of terrorism were excluded.

Apparently Steve Simels is unaware of Jewish communities in Arizona and the presence of Jewish settlers in the old American West.  In passing, there was also our exchange on Aaron Copland, the music laureate of the American west, without whom film scores of classic westerns would be quite a bit more boring since studio composers would have had to steal from a lesser composer.   As Simels likes to present himself as a cineaste, it was one of his most desperately clueless moments in our duel.  
Also apparent is the disparity in permitted articulation between a snarky assertion of ethnic characterization and what I said.  What could be trashier and more keeping with anti-Roma stereotyping than proposing a "Gypsy" homeland" in an abandoned mall?   Proposing Florida as a "Jewish homeland" is certainly permitted as no objection was raised to it, though I'd think it was borderline.   But I address that kind of fashionable expression later in this post.  

This exchange has set off months of attacks against me. most but not all of them of them on Eschaton, by Steve Simels, a pop-music critic and blog presence on some of the leftish blogs I frequent.  He has been attacking me with strong implications of anti-Semitism since that exchage, though we'd clashed on other things before that.   He usually forms his accusations as demands that I apologize for the "Jew stuff",  secure in the knowledge, it seems,  that most of those who read what he said didn't have any idea what he referrs to.   After he did that a few times I went back and copied the exchange and the url where it  can be found for anyone who was curious to see what my offense consisted of, though I'm sure most couldn't have been bothered to find out.   In more recent incidents I challenged Simels to tell everyone just what he meant by "Jew stuff" which he hasn't done yet.  

You can see the substance of my comment that Simels found so offensive.  I regretted that either Jews hadn't been admitted into the United States,  where Simels apparently lives in such contentment that he hasn't left it,  or that land hadn't been provided for a homeland in North America as opposed to Palestine where the state of Israel has been in a state of constant warfare and under threat of terrorism since its founding.   And, as opposed to snarkily proposing a "homeland" for "Gypsies"  in "an abandoned shopping mall in Jersey" what I said can be successfully presented as an antisemitic statement.  As it continued,  in the original comment thread, and Simels asserted it was absurd to think that Jews could survive in Arizona (a point that he has harped on continually since then)  I said other things:
Anthony McCarthy: 
OK, how about the North West. Or California. Or, hey, I'd really love to have lots of Jews in Northern Maine, we might actually turn into the liberal state that so many believe we are.  
Anthony McCarthy:
With papers, of course. (snark from a relatively innocent bystander who I will not name)
Nope, full citizenship.

It's my long experience as a gay man that, under the rare occasions when when conditions allow it, an asshole who happens to be a gay man will use his identity to attack and intimidate straight people who don't deserve it.   Assholes are called that for a reason and one of those is that they will use anything to manipulate people to achieve their ends.   I've seen other assholes use other aspects of identity to do the same,  some more successfully because conditions allow it.  I'm sure that is what Steve Simels has depended on in this instance.  Antisemtism is among the most successfully lodged accusations in the United States today.  As Arthur  Berger* said when his friend and colleague Virgil Thomson was accused of antisemitism, it's an easy accusation to make today.  That situation is so obviously the case that it is a charge that is frequently made in the most obviously absurd and inflammatory language against Jews.   In that use, the charge of antisemitism is used to silence criticisms of Israeli policy and to discredit the critics.  Clearly related to that is the way it was used against me, though, in a decidedly more modest and frivolous context.   
One of the little known parts of the little known gay history in the United States was a period in the late 1970s when it was fashionable among some gay men to spout explicit racism, sexism and bigotry.   Most of those I know of lived in New York City.  One person to whom I described it as a "flood of bigotry" corrected me by saying it was more like a tidal wave.  I couldn't help but thinking of those men as being assholes.   On one of the occasions when I pointed out that one of them was being an asshole he excused himself by saying he was the victim of bigotry all his life as a  gay man, as if he was telling me something I didn't know.   It was no excuse, it was the opposite of an excuse, my answer to him. 
After that there came the rise of Andrew Dice Clay and the beginning of the counterattack on "political correctness".    I was surprised to find out during his short reign as the king of fashionable racism, that Clay was Jewish.   Of course when you come across a member of a targeted minority group who freely expresses bigotry against others who are members of  beleaguered groups,  you wonder how can they be such an asshole.    Clay seems to have found his rightful place on the junk pile of pop-culture but the particular variety of bigotry he practiced is still with us, a feature of what sadly passes as hipster identity these days.   As I watch the spectacle of books and, I'd imagine plays,  turning Anne Frank into a stock character to be used satirically and the Holocaust, itself, becoming a similar prop in junk lit  -  can it be far behind, the movies -  I wouldn't count on real antisemitism not becoming far more mainstream.  That's what has happened with other forms of bigotry that were very briefly suppressed in the decade spanning the 60s and 70s.   Assholes will use anything if they think it might get them what they want, including hip, transgressively  bigoted remarks made to gain the cachet of coolitiude.  It would be among the stupidest things possible to allow the frivolous, dishonest use of accusations of bigotry to render legitimate accusations ineffective in present circumstances.
The reaction on the blog comment threads when I challenged Simels on his false charge of antisemitism was irritation with me.  Even when I was able to prove it was false and in face of his repeated failure to back it up when challenged.  As the accusation was made against me, I don't really care if people think defending myself is irritating.  It's something I'm familiar with as a gay man growing up in the 50s and 60s, defending yourself was never taken seriously.   That is something that has told me a lot about the real nature of blogging and, even more, commenting.   It's taught me something about the failure of liberal discourse and, with that, the failure of liberalism to win power and change laws to make life better.  A goal which I'm sure would be mocked in the the fashionable cynicism that goes hand in hand with the kind of pseudo-liberal gaming that is manifest in too many places today. 
* Steve Simels apparently googled or wikied  the late Arthur Berger, a composer, eminent music critic, theorist, professor at Brandeis University,  who he knows I  greatly admire,  and found a description of him as a serialist composer.  He has frequently used that to attack Arthur Berger and my taste in music.   If he knew Berger's music he'd know that much of it, perhaps most of it, is, actually, quite tonal.   In the future I may add a note about Simels' derision of Berger, Stefan Wolpe, Milton Babbitt and other composers I like in the context of this brawl.  


You might compare the content of my comment that has set off many months of accusations of antisemitism made by Steve Simels  and others and this more recent exchange started by a comment by the Eschaton regular, "Macacawitz".


Religion and sexual dysfunction do go hand in hand, don't they?  All started when Teh Joos told us to start sawing off the tips of our willy's.  It's been all down hill from there.  Pedophilia, female circumcision, polygamy, general vagina paranoia, purity balls....the list goes on and on.

Anthony McCarthy:

Being a human being and sexual dysfunction go hand and hand.  

Anthony McCarthy:

Look at Freud. 


Do you think people would be sawing off the ends of their willy's if not for an imaginary sky daddy telling them to do it?  There are pros and cons to circumcision but doing it for "faith based" reasons is just nuts.

Anthony McCarthy:

Being circumcised is associated with decreased AIDS transmission.  
Hey, Simels,  get a load of this. 

Steve Simels:

Anthony McCarthy Collapse 
Being circumcised is associated with decreased AIDS transmission.   
Hey, Simels,  get a load of this.

And this has been yet another episode of Non Sequitur Theatre. Tune in again in a couple of minutes to witness Anthony trying to discern a difference between three and soup.


Steve.  I think he's trying to paint me as an antisemite, which of course I'm not.  When discussing the difference between 3 and soup, it's not far down the slippery slope before you're comparing  foreskin to marmalade.  

Anthony McCarthy:

You're the one dissing one of the most  well known  practices of Judaism in religious terms, Macacawitz.

Anthony McCarthy:

I'm finding it pretty funny to find out how many people in the mutual admiration club don't know what a non sequitur is. 

Simels, not to mention many other Eschaton regulars, made comments between those I've posted here.  Macacawitz' first comment was:

"Religion and sexual dysfunction do go hand in hand, don't they?  All started when Teh Joos told us to start sawing off the tips of our willy's.  It's been all down hill from there.  Pedophilia, female circumcision, polygamy, general vagina paranoia, purity balls....the list goes on and on."

Beginning with "Teh Joos" and continuing to attribute "pedophilia, female circumcision, polygamy, general vagina paranoia, purity balls.... " to one of the most foundational,  distinctive practices that distinguished Jews as a distinct population for thousands of years was insufficient to trigger the charge of antisemitism among those present.   Even explicitly saying that is what was meant.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Making the Nasty Boys Pout

or Failure to Transgress
  That was a crime I committed at the Eschaton blog the other night.   I failed to say that the boring, stupid, puerile, pointless, inflamed sphincter of a movie,  The Aristocrats, was anything except boring and stupid.  I was going to say that it was incredibly boring but it wasn't that interesting.

For anyone who was blessed enough to not be aware of it,  The Aristocrats is  Penn Jillette's -  one of America's biggest professional assholes -  movie of one boring will be-has been, has been-has been, never were,  after another telling what is billed as the filthiest joke in history.  There are a few actual comics in the movie who don't do much to enhance their cv by appearing in it, but even they can't carry the lame excuse of a premise for the movie.   In my act of mortal sin I said it was "a straight boy's idea of a dirty joke".   Since I won't repeat other peoples' material, when it's that filthy, you're going to have to take my word for it that I've heard much dirtier and, marginally,  funnier.  "The Aristocrats" really exists as a stupid party game among professional stand-up comics, more than as a joke.   It's good mostly to show how untalented, uncreative, undeveloped and stupid so many of the people who go into that once fine and now very minor line of show biz are.   The really good stand up comics telling the joke could have made this a minor short subject instead of the boring, tedious, stupidity that Penn Jillette makes of it.  The commentary does something to relieve some of the boredom of the joke with annoyingly pretentious content.

The substance of the game is to try to outdo other excuses for comedians by coming up with more perverted, more disgusting, more offensively offensive bits for a family show biz act.  After as long a stream of that as the ham can manage to come up with, the guy he's pitching the act to asks what the tsunami of depravity is called and the answer is "The Aristocrats".   Really clever, huh?    You can see how many of the jerks you've seen on blogs would think that was brilliant.  The whole point being that you have to come up with something more perverse and disgusting than the one before, the act regularly presents pedophilia, rape, incest, sadism , pointless violence and the like as humor.   In what is celebrated as a major cultural milestone jokes about 9-11 figures into its legend.   Genocide is presented as an occasion of hilarity as well.

What's most interesting about the thing is the attitude a lot of people who mistake themselves as being on the left have about it.   The fact that it's billed as incredibly filthy  and transgressive is supposed to make it an object of reverence.  I mean that word quite literally,  The Aristocrats, by virtue of its intended offensiveness,  is supposed to be some kind of icon of freedom and all that is good and wonderful about liberty and modernism and all that is good and sciency.   To paraphrase George M. Cohan,  many a bum act has been saved by citing the First Amendment.  We're way beyond the point where Ulysses, regarded as an oppressed object of sanctity, was succeeded by Last Exit to Brooklyn.  Now it's anything the decayed mind of an eternally adolescent asshole can dream up that is to be given a position that places it above allowable criticism in liberalish-libertarian sanctimony.  It doesn't hurt its position when it's a piece of  commercial garbage guaranteed to turn a profit.  Money has such a way of adding respectability.  That it's a regressive boys-club retreat to the time before second wave feminism and the civil rights movement took hold is not to be acknowledged .

This is a phenomenon that needs more study because, as I've learned through involvement with the internet, it is among the more widespread of enforced, inviolable orthodoxies on what passes as lefty blogs and the cool class.   A lot of the phony excuse of a left  that inhabits so much of the blogosphere is really Rupert Murdoch's fondest dream,  the world as the toilet of the eternal 12-year-old-boy-assholes-because-we-can-be-jerks who dominate so many comment threads in so may places on the web.   And girls who want to be members of the boys club,  like Rebekah Brooks, only not as literate.   And yet these self-defined liberals wonder why they continually fail at politics*.   How could this not fail as liberalism when it is a dependable source of succor for the most degenerate forms of fascist depravity?

This whole thing is just an inversion of the pretensions of middle-brow aspirations in regard to high culture in previous times.  It's Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn as a strung out debauchee. This kind of bizarrely irrational, somewhat anxious, reverence on the basis of something being very, very naughty and/or very very stupid accrues to so many objects de fart today.  The biggest part of it is that one has to be observed doing it and never seen violating it with that most unfashionable of concepts, moral probity.   The phenomenon, the desperate desire to make a display of risk free transgression against social taboos that no one enforces or cares about and the frantic need try to find the last, rare instances of things disgusting enough to create the ephemeral frisson of excitement, has become far more tedious than the stuffiness of those who want to associate themselves with classical art.   In experiencing something as tiresome as The Aristocrats,  the effort of being seen or heard having the required reaction to it fulfills the tiresome quality of  its content by being a social duty.

As a gay man and an adult in the 1970s, who went to clubs the daring, transgressives-in-their-own-minds  would probably run away from,  I saw some things that a real Aristocrats act would entail.  As a young, foolish and passive observer, I'll note.  I went through that cycle and jumped off of it before Andrew Dice Clay came on the national scene**.   Some other day I might go into what that really meant and its particular stupidity.  For now,  having seen that,  The Aristocrats is a boring, stupid, puerile, pointless, inflamed sphincter of a movie and anyone who think's it's a great movie is too stupid and immature to take seriously on any subject.   But they're ready for the blog-time.

The real joke in all of this is that if you refused to  fall in line with the boys of the blogs on this you'd be the transgressor.    You can tell because they'll fuss at you like a purity campaigner from a 50s movie complaining about dirty words in library books.   You might even get banned in blogston.   That's what happened last night.

*  I will write an addendum this weekend about the clash between a young  female "skeptic" and some of the heroes of what passes as the rational class, of both sexes on these issues.   Jillette figured into that as did many of the cultural heroes of the liberalish-libertarian blogs.

**  A lot of the people I knew then who didn't died in the 1980s and 90s.   I'd hazard a guess that AIDs might have figured in some permutations of The Aristocrats over the years.

Monday, June 11, 2012

On Looking At The "Freethought Blogs"

P.Z. Myers, Greta Christina, Ophelia Benson....

I don't think  any identifiable group of people online have ever told me more often or more dogmatically how I was to think than "freethinkers".