Monday, August 23, 2010
Regular readers of the blog know I love the show Mad Men. It does a great job of invoking the early and mid 1960s. I was just a fresh faced lad when these shows are supposed to take place, but I know they get a lot of the details right. Instead of giving a full summary and critique of this week's episode, let me give a plot point that is a tiny spoiler, no more than you might get reading a preview. The new firm has a chance to work with Honda motorcycles. Roger Sterling, a WW II veteran from the Pacific theater, hates the Japanese and does everything he can scuttle the possible new relationship.
The show captures the open racism of the time. This is when the n-word was said openly by unrepentant white racists, many of them Southerners. I remember the "genteel" Southerners on TV using the word "nigras", halfway between the then acceptable term Negros and the word they really wanted to use. It had gotten through to them that the n-word didn't play well on the national stage.
There was no such gentility about anti-Asian racism as the time. We've never turned any of the different slurs into "the j-word" or "the g-word" or "the c-word", and I don't hear people say those words anymore. Maybe I just run with a nicer crowd now than I did then, but there is a lot more sensitivity in the general public and definitely in the media than there was back then.
Except when it comes to Muslims. You can say any kind of slander against anyone in the Islamic community in public or on TV and the the press broadcasts it live for all the world to see. All Muslims might as well have Osama bin Laden on their speed dial according to a disgustingly large segment of the American public. There are videos of a protest against the Islamic community center at Park51, which you may know by the name given to it by idiots. A black guy in a skullcap wandered through, the crowd got ugly and the cops escorted him out before things turned violent.
The thing is, the guy isn't a Muslim. It's hard to make out the thing hanging off his necklace in this picture, but it's a representation of the Puerto Rican flag. The white skullcap was made by the athletic clothing company Under Armor. Still, a crowd of idiots could mistake him for a Muslim and focus all their hatred on him and go home thinking they are the people defending the American way.
I started with the picture of Roger Sterling from Mad Men for a reason other than he looks good in that suit and haircut. His character feels 100% justified to hate the Japanese, but the people around him are asking him to get over it because the war is over. In the minds of many Americans, we are still at war with the entire Muslim world. Let me give George W. Bush some credit, because he tried to stop that kind of talk, even though his attempts at diplomacy were often clumsy. I haven't seen a lot of Bush era people at the forefront of this racist nonsense. The people doing most of the rabble rousing are the clever but nasty Newt Gingrich and the stone stupid Sarah Palin, amplified by Fox News and then carried like a virus by all the rest of the media reacting to them like Pavlov's dog.
Freedom of religion and freedom of speech can be hurtful things, but this is exactly why the founders decided to make them rights instead of privileges that might be put to a vote. I'm a die-hard agnostic, and it would be wrong headed of me to expect all Christians to answer for Fred Phelps or the KKK or sectarian violence in Ireland or the Spanish Inquisition, just as wrong headed as Christians stopping the building of a community center in lower Manhattan or mosques all around the country because "you people caused 9/11".
Things have changed a lot since I was a kid, but the central evil of human nature is unlikely to ever go away. The targets may change over time, but the desire to punish "you people" is deep in our genetic make-up.
We don't deserve to survive as a species. Here endeth the lesson.