When Is a Super Bowl Television Commercial Un-American?

I was invited to a Super Bowl party at the beginning of February. These were new friends who have a longstanding tradition of throwing a Super Bowl party, and it was fun. A great American tradition, right?

Of course, I’m one of those people who loves the event as much for the rollout of interesting new commercials as for the game. Remember the EDS ad “Cat Herders” from 2000? Oh my goodness. (And I can relate.)

Obligatory cat photo (Bean).

You can’t really catch all the nuances of a long-form commercial at a party, so I came home and looked up some of the commercials—especially when a few of them started to be excoriated on social media. Some people were calling them un-American.

Wait—seriously? Coca-Cola shows folks having fun with a music bed of “American the Beautiful” … Audi depicts a young girl participating in a Pinewood Derby–like event while her father ruminates about the inequality many women still encounter in the twenty-first century … and Budweiser, for heaven’s sake, that bastion of American sentimentality,* gives us the story of their founder’s journey from Germany. From Germany, people! I had German great-greats just six generations ago!

(*Clydesdales, anyone? Clydesdales and puppies? Oh my goodness. They’re all about the tear-jerking, and this commercial was no different.)

Five years ago (nay, a year ago), no one would have been upset by these ads. Maybe some would have shed a tear. They are little slices of Americana. But today? Good grief. Folks are boycotting Budweiser because—well, I’m not sure why. This is a big, smart company with a big marketing department manned by smart, college-educated marketing professionals. They no doubt had hundreds of folks view this ad in focus groups. They liked it, and they went with it. But some people seem determined to perceive trouble, to take offense. Some seem determined to be angry.

Lighten up, y’all.

The Very Rich Are Different From You and Me*

It’s been an interesting season, don’t you think? Because some of our income comes from overseas, we (and by we I mean Gerry) watch the currency market. We watch the stock market in general too. It’s all connected. When the markets are down, we feel some concern.

Unlike, say, the wildly wealthy. (*The actual quote, from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story “The Rich Boy,” begins with the words “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.”)

In a Vanity Fair article I read a few months ago about a famous French interior designer** I found the following passage, which seemed revealing (and a little disconcerting). The journalist is accompanying the designer to a Paris furniture dealer. Here the designer finds a beautiful writing table—a bureau plat—from the twentieth century. The interviewer is shocked to learn the table costs $1 million.

Is it difficult to get a client to spend a million bucks on a bureau plat?, I ask as we speed to the next destination. “No, no, no,” he says offhandedly. “It’s not hard at all. They want the best quality.”

Recent global financial upheaval notwithstanding? “No, no, no,” he repeats. “It hasn’t changed anything.”

It’s something to think about, yes? When you’re saving for a special trip or worried about retirement, say.

I’ve never been particularly driven by money. My parents were working-class folks just one generation removed from the dirt farmers who were their forebears. I never expected to have much—and I didn’t even think of it in those terms. I just wanted to have a life: a husband, children, a home, a pet. I would work, hard, to maintain them. I didn’t expect it to be easy. And I didn’t aspire then or now to wealth. That I have everything I need and pretty much everything I want is a true blessing for which I am grateful every day.

But in these uncertain times, I think about this story, which surprised me in the moment. “No, no, no. [The recession] hasn’t changed anything [for the wealthy].” Whatever happens here in the next months and years, the very rich will not be affected the way you and I will. It’s certainly something for the constituency to think about.

** Me, I like to design my own interior. No million-dollar tables here though. 🙂

 

Both Men I Married Were Immigrants*

“For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me. … Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” (Matthew 25: 42–43, 45)

Just sayin’, y’all.

* My first husband was born in Nicaragua and immigrated to the United States with his family when he was a little boy in the 1950s. When I married him about twenty years later he was still here on a green card. You know about my second husband. I find it fascinating to watch the unfolding of current events through his eyes.

Two Timely Poems

I don’t know about you, but I first read these poems in high school. I had a great teacher (and, one should add, a great book—I still have it) and thus was born a lifelong love of the word-thrill only poetry can provide. The rhythm, the rhymes (or not), alliteration, imagery, and much, much more come together in ways that move me, over and over. And yes, I buy books of poetry too.

I’ve been thinking about “The Second Coming” for months. Grim and dark, written in 1919 at the end of the First World War and the beginning of the Irish War of Independence, William Butler Yeats’s masterpiece speaks directly to events happening now, nearly a century later:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

If the imagery in this poem shakes you up, you’re not alone. The Wall Street Journal says, “A torrent of bad news and political upheaval has given new life to a nearly 100-year-old poem written in the aftermath of World War I.”

Flash backward a century to Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” published in 1818.

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:

And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Perspective, yes?

I wish you peace this season, wherever you may find it. Perhaps in poetry.

I Am Your Sister, Your Wife, Your Mother. I Am a Statistic. I Am a Human Being.

I haven’t thought about this in two decades. But I’m thinking about it now, because these words and these statistics are in the news.

  • Every two minutes an American is sexually assaulted; a disproportionate number of them women.
  • One out of every six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime.
  • In 1995, 28 percent of rape or sexual assault victimizations against females were reported to the police. This percentage increased to 59 percent in 2003 before declining to 32 percent in 2010.
  • The majority of sexual violence against females involved someone the victim knew. In 2005-10, 78 percent of sexual violence involved an offender who was a family member, intimate partner, friend or acquaintance.
  • On average, there are 288,820 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year in the United States.
  • As of 1998, an estimated 17.7 million American women had been victims of attempted or completed rape.

I could go on. (Sources linked below.)

You see, I was a victim of sexual assault, of unwanted, inappropriate sexual advances from a powerful man for whom I worked. Until today, I have only told two people about it: my friend Melania (not her real name), and my husband, Gerry.

I have reflected upon this for some time. I don’t bring it up now because I need the catharsis of telling. (I’m not a brooder, not prone to take things hard. I’m tough, I’ve always been tough, and I tend to remember the good and forget the bad.) I don’t bring it up now because I’m wounded or hurt and need help. (I know who the broken person is in this scenario; it’s not me.) I don’t bring it up because I want justice. (God knows there’s little justice in this ol’ world.)

No, I bring it up now—twenty-five years laterbecause there are women today who are being castigated for bringing up similar stories now. They’re being called liars by people (mostly men) who have no freaking clue what it was like, what was involved, what it’s like to live with the memory of something like this in which you were powerless—for a variety of reasons—to simply say, Take your hand off me, you asshole.

So let’s talk about it, shall we? My case doesn’t concern someone in the public spotlight—but otherwise it’s the same: a woman conducting her business, a man who sees women as things for his entertainment.

My Story

I got divorced at age thirty-seven; I was the mother of a six-year-old. I’d been married to my son’s father for eighteen years, and it had been my choice to leave—but it was not a decision taken lightly, and I was rattled to my core. At the time I was slim, didn’t have grey hair, and generally looked about ten years younger than I was.

After my divorce in 1990 I moved home, where I worked for a small family-owned company not far away. It was a stressful job, and while I had a few friends among the staff, for the most part I didn’t fit in. The owner of the company, a man, married with kids, was tall, outgoing, smart, funny, charismatic. He was my boss. The offices were attached to a warehouse, and it was a rabbit warren of hallways and out-of-the-way places that were not always well traveled. You didn’t necessarily run into coworkers going from A to B.

The first incident was this: The boss and I passed in one of these quiet corridors, and he engaged me in conversation. He said something funny, I laughed, we chatted. And then he reached out and gently pinched one of my breasts and said, “I want some of this.” A coworker came around the corner then, and nothing further happened. I didn’t have to respond and both of us were able to pretend as if nothing had happened.

Now—at age sixty-three—I am furious with him. Understand, I’m not damaged by it. I’m not carrying it around. But it was inappropriate at work or in any environment, and I shouldn’t have had to deal with it.

At the time I was shocked into speechlessness. Nothing like that had ever happened to me. (Sure there was that flasher in the raincoat in San Francisco about twenty years earlier, but I’d just laughed at him. Which is, basically, my style.) Also, of course, I needed the job; I couldn’t afford to make waves, though I knew this was sexual harrassment. (Actually, though, my husband reminds me, it wasn’t harassment: there was no quid pro quo. It was inappropriate touching without my consent, and that is assault.)

But I’d already learned how expensive lawyers are. I did nothing.

Just about the time I’d “forgotten” the incident, this man came into my office just as I was leaving it. I was in front of my desk, not behind it, and he asked for something, a document, I had on my desk. I turned around and reached for it, and was shocked to feel this man, my boss, up close behind me, bumping his groin against my rear end.

WTF? There was no rescuing coworker this time but I handed him the document and quickly put distance between him and me. I was mortified.

“He Didn’t Mean It”

Notice that? I was mortified, although I’d done nothing inappropriate.

I had this job because I’d been working for the company in a different capacity prior to my divorce. When they heard I was moving to the area, I was offered the job in the “main office.” I’d had the job in the field because my close friend of long standing, Melania, was friends with the owner’s wife. And with the owner.

One afternoon after these two incidents, Melania and I were visiting, and I cautiously brought up what had happened to me. And Melania said, “Oh, I don’t think he meant it like you think he did. You must be misinterpreting it. He’s a jokester.” And we never talked about it again.

See that? Someone I trusted brushed off my concerns.

A Recap

So let’s review the reasons why I did not come forward:

  • This man was my boss; he had money, power, and authority in the community.
  • He chose his moments well; a public discussion of the incidents would be nothing but “he said, she said.”
  • I needed the job: single mom, little money, couldn’t afford to take on a legal case.
  • I had no idea how to handle the situation. I was mortified.
  • A trusted friend brushed off my concerns.

Furthermore, I knew even then that women who report rapes are often blamed for it or told they have misconstrued what happened. Rape culture wasn’t as well understood and documented as it is now, but it was becoming more so. Nowadays corporations are careful to school executives and managers about sexual harassment in the workplace, but in 1990 that was a few years in the distance. It was still a Mad Men society back then, strangely, particularly in smaller companies like this one.

Women like me, we learned to get along with men in the workplace. If we didn’t laugh at their questionable jokes, we at least didn’t make a stink about them. That’s what we called “go along to get along.” I was a pragmatist. I went along, but I did my work and went home—I didn’t hang around with anybody after work.

And so I did nothing, said nothing. I went on.

Flash Forward Twenty-Five Years

A week or so ago, a videotape emerged of Donald Trump bragging about how he touches women inappropriately. It started a national conversation. And within days, other women began stepping forward, saying, “He did that to me too.” I think perhaps there are a dozen of them on the record now.

Naturally, this being an election year, the meme machine swung into action, accusing these women of being liars. These people think it’s suspicious that the women just now “remembered.”

I don’t. Think about the recap. These are all women who were accosted by a rich, powerful, tall (six-foot-two) man. No one else was present, so an accusation would be one woman against the Trump machine, which they probably couldn’t afford to do. In fact, if any of them consulted a lawyer, they were probably advised to not pursue it; Trump could ruin them. And, of course, they were probably mortified and didn’t relish the thought of being publicly shamed.

So what’s different now? There’s a tape; there’s audio proof of this particular type of bad behavior by this particular man. One woman came forward, and then another and another. The stories don’t sound made up when a dozen different women have similar stories to tell (also, they told others at the time, and those people—friends, mentors, and so on—have also verified the stories). Most of us believe them, but there are some very loud, ugly voices calling them liars … and worse.

            And this proves the point. These are all women who, like me, just got on with their lives, because who needs this crap from these assholes? Who needs it? But they are coming forward now because of current events. Because there is safety in numbers. Because there’s proof that this man acts with others they way he acted with them. Because they are angry. Because women should be able to exist in society’s public spaces without fear of being assaulted.

I’ve had a wonderful, happy life. I still have a wonderful, happy life. The things that happened to me all those years ago don’t affect who I am now, and they certainly don’t define me. I don’t live a fearful life.

Though perhaps I should. Some people are angry with the victims, not with the perpetrator. On social media, people I know and love (?) are posting the nastiest, ugliest, lyingest things the meme machine can cobble together, as fast as it can cobble them together.

So let me remind you, my brothers, my fellow Americans, one more time: I am your sister, and it happened to me. I am your mother. I am your wife. I am your coworker, your employee. I am your neighbor. You know me. You know who I am, so you can’t—you shouldn’t—disparage my character simply because I say I was sexually assaulted by a man with power and money. I am coming forward now not for sympathy but because I am angered (nay, I am enraged) by the way you all talk about women.

I am a human being.

I am not lying.

Sources:
Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN)
National Sexual Violence Resource Center
Bureau of Justice Statistics

 

 

“Eschew Ignorance. Pursue Truth.” Be a Good Citizen.

When I was much younger than I am now, I worked at a medium-sized newspaper for a few years. I knew the journalists, the editors, I watched them work. I asked questions of them. About that time I was also taking classes in what was then called “mass communication” at the local university. I learned about the importance of a free press (something I also learned, of course, in history), and the role journalism—good journalism, that is, the real-thing sort of professional journalism of accurate information and dispassionate judgment that answers to the ideals of truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness, and a code of ethics—plays in informing the public. I’d been writing—journals, stories, humor—for years, and I was considering journalism as something I might be good at.

Twenty years later I was a divorced mom with a Mac and an AOL email account in the early days of the user-friendly Internet. I loved email—I could type long letters faster than writing them out, and I was quite the letter-writer in those days—but one of its banes was those stupid, stupid, seriously stupid emails that people with apparently nothing better to do with their precious lives passed around. (Remember the $250 cookie recipe?) Usually these emails came to me from people who wanted to spread some sort of outrage, rarely personal; usually they were addressed to twenty or more people. They were often astonishing stories I had trouble believing, and sometimes they disturbed me enough that I would research the story to learn whether or not it was true. In the days before Snopes.com, this was no mean feat. But you could, with a little effort, get at the truth, even then.

One of them—this would have been about fifteen years ago—concerned a contingent of Gold Star mothers who were reportedly turned away from the office of Senator Hillary Clinton. It is not, of course, true. (The simple story is that the women arrived without an appointment on a day Senator Clinton was not in the office. It has been strongly refuted by the national Gold Star Mothers organization. Here’s the whole story.)

And the idea that people were passing around this information as truth really bothered me. (Remember, I was raised by the Original American Patriot. Truth and justice are the American Way, yeah? We didn’t tell lies in our house. We just didn’t.) So I researched the story and I wrote an email explaining the truth, including links to valid information, and I replied to all of the recipients of the email. I ended by saying,

Regardless of our political persuasion, it’s incumbent upon us as good citizens to not tell lies or pass around the lies of others. How would you feel if someone fabricated a story like this about you?

Well, it really annoyed my friend. (To be honest, the friendship’s never been the same and I couldn’t care less. I have a low tolerance for that sort of behavior.) But I learned something from it, to wit:

1 Adults really don’t like to be told they’re wrong or to have it implied that they have misbehaved (even when they know it’s true).

2 Some people would rather believe a lie when it comes to politics. For them, the “win” is the most important thing, the only thing.

3 Many people prefer to have their prejudices and opinions confirmed, even if it’s only by an apocryphal story. Facts don’t really matter to these people.

Flash forward a few more years. Now I’m an editor of books. I’ve been an editor for twelve years. I work on both fiction and nonfiction, and in the case of the latter, I have spent years honing my skills on fact-checking and tracking down original source material—because you wouldn’t believe the sorts of websites some folks want to cite as a source. For example, those awful, awful quotes sites like ThinkExist and Brainyquote? They are not good sources. (I’ve written quite a bit about sourcing quotes here and here, and I’ve written about fact-checking here.) When you factor in people whose minds are closed to virtually all information that does not fit neatly within the narrow confines of their belief system, you end up with all sorts of bat-shit crazy stuff (like the Gold Star Mothers canard) and when you add to that people who are so [determined? angry? misguided?] that they will do anything—including lie—to support their world view, well, we’ve got a big problem. We’ve got people who are promoting an agenda by lying about the other side of the story, and we’ve got people who cannot see the difference between lies and truth.

I often get work from a publisher who publishes current event–type books, often those that espouse viewpoints from the opposite side of the political fence from me. And that’s precisely why I get the work: the managing editor knows me well, knows my political leanings. She also knows that I take my work very seriously. She hires me, she’s told me, to keep her authors “honest,” to make sure they’re not just spouting hot air but are backing up their claims with facts and research from good, unbiased sources. (I wouldn’t allow, for example, citations from WorldNetDaily or NewsMax, because they are so obviously slanted they are more opinion than fact. I could go on and on with the list of biased or propaganda websites.)

But a lot of folks don’t care about separating truth from opinion or propaganda, it seems. They seem to have no ability to think critically. To question. Now we’re involved in an insane political cycle in which one candidate seems incapable of telling the truth. For months, my husband and I have scratched our heads, wondering if this guy is gaslighting us. As Time magazine’s recent cover story noted, “political debate has become unhinged from reality.”

Donald Trump, the GOP presidential nominee, has spent years regularly encouraging his followers to doubt much of what is known to be true: that the earth is warming, that Obama was born in the U.S., that the FBI’s decision not to prosecute Hillary Clinton follows prosecutorial precedent. … One of the first casualties of this worldview is the very ability to have a national debate with a common set of facts.

Why is that?

I check everything before I believe it. I research before I buy a car. I look into the science of weight loss when I want to shed some pounds. And when I hear of a story that’s, well, out there, I check into that too. What makes me do this—and not my brother, say, who not only supports a congenital liar but hates the “other side” so much he will post to his Facebook page the most egregious (and easily refuted) lies about them? What does he think other people make of this … this ugliness that he says right out loud?*

I think what I think about political matters, but I try to be respectful of others’ opinions, even when I adamantly disagree with them. I believe that America needs, and has always needed, a reliable and logical conservative voice in American politics—just as it needs a liberal and progressive voice. There’s room for all of us at the table. But … when I see people I once had great respect for continue to post the most heinous statements about people like me, calling me things like libtard (really?) … well, it’s gone beyond a difference of opinion. It’s hurtful. It’s hateful. It’s un-American, frankly.

I still believe strongly in the truth, and that actual truth is ascertainable. I still believe in the power of critical thinking. I still believe that one’s character matters, and that a good citizen searches for the facts—no matter how much or little those facts ultimately support his opinion. I would urge you to become a more responsible citizen; I would urge you to check your facts. I would urge you to use discernment** as you do so. We have the technology.

* There have been a variety of scientific theories about this phenomenon. Here’s one. Here is another. As a friend of mine notes, fear + ignorance is a potent cocktail, and it’s easy to manipulate those under its influence with memes and slogans.

** Here’s how to be discerning online:
1) Watch for obvious bias; if the article uses pejoratives like libtards, it’s slanted. Look for multiple sources, too; if an article has only one source, beware.
2) Go back to the article’s original sources; are those articles being cited fairly and accurately or has the writer cherry-picked statements out of context? Does the material even support the writer’s point?
3) Research the writer and the contributors to the article. Are they experts in the field?