Category Archives: culture wars

A jacket and tie wasn’t oppression at Bishop Scully High School; it’s not oppression in legislative session

This post started as a rant that started when a Facebook group that I’m in for a male perspective of a health problem blew up. I think I was part of the problem for saying that there’s sex and there’s gender and certain things are specific to people who were born male, regardless of how they identify. I stand by that statement and assert there’s not a bit of bigotry in it.

It pissed me off.

Then I read about how Jay Leno is apologizing for jokes about Asians, including a joke from 2020 indicating that Koreans eat dog meat. He’s going to host a reboot of the game show You Bet Your Life (apologies to gambling addicts, the dead, and the undead, but I didn’t name it when Groucho Marx started hosting in in 1947).

Then I read how legislators in Rhode Island, Montana, and Iowa are arguing over dress codes during session, because dress codes are “colonization language.” Wearing a jacket and tie is now apparently a vestige of racism and colonialism. (If I’d have told Sister Mary Kay that in Bishop Scully High School, I’d still be staying after school even though it closed in 1990.)

Earlier in the week, I wrote about protests against Chuck Lorre’s new show The United States of Al, in part because it romanticizes occupation forces. That would mean not only does that show have to go away, but everything from Hogan’s Heroes to M*A*S*H to Magnum, PI (the outstanding original) to Magnum PI (the gaudy unnecessary reboot) would have to go away.

A lot of women romanticized this occupation force 40 years ago.

I really want to rant about it. And maybe I just did. Maybe that’s just me leaning hard on my white, male, heterosexual, Christian, work-from-home privilege. (Yes, I was instructed work-from-home privilege is a thing, too). Maybe I’m just an asshole wanting to be an asshole without being called on it. Maybe I’m a racist son of a–, well, you know, but that work is misogynist, so…

Maybe I need a heepin’ helpin’ of cancel consequence culture for not treating every sin like a moral one.

So I thought about it some more and decided that maybe I need to listen a little more, but maybe it’s possible to say “No I don’t think so” to some of this stuff without being a horrible privileged asshole who needs to be canceled (by the way it’s hard to say that cancel culture doesn’t exist when that’s the verb people use when they gather to pronounce someone unemployable on Twitter).

I went to Catholic school and wore a tie for three years. I worked in the New York State Legislature for a couple years and wore a tie every damn day to session. It’s part of the gig. If you don’t want to follow the rules of the gig, don’t take it. It’s not like you can’t wear a jacket and tie and honor your heritage.

Wear a damn tie to session. (And that one’s pretty awesome.)

For the record, targeting anyone for violence because of their race, color, creed, sex, gender, religious affiliation (or lack thereof), disability status, or anything I missed isn’t what you do in a free society or as a Christian. And all of those people should have equal opportunity for the life you and I enjoy without thinking about it.

That doesn’t mean that every slight is a federal case or that you don’t sometimes say “Dude, if you don’t like the TV show, don’t watch it.” And maybe the uneven, “oooh, look a new shiny thing” justice of the massive Twitter jury shouldn’t be the final arbiter.

With each of the gripes in this post, I seriously considered that I might be wrong and that people really are oppressed by it. Maybe the answer is, as Commissioner Goodell once said, that if one person is offended you have to have the conversation. And maybe I’m just an asshole justifying my assholocity. (New word, I own intellectual property rights.)

Or maybe there’s a balance.

Or maybe I’m wrong.

I don’t know.

Cancel culture exists and the reaction to Chuck Lorre’s new sitcom might be it

Chuck Lorre has made CBS a ton of money, His stable of shows rivals Norman Lear, Garry Marshall, and Dick Wolf (among others) as the most successful runs for any show-runner in television history. Although the Allison Janney/Anna Faris vehicle Mom ends its run next month, Lorre still has four CBS shows: Young Sheldon, The Komiskey Method, Bob Hearts Abishola, and the new United States of Al.

Chuck Lorre (Photo by Brian To/FilmMagic)

It’s the last of those shows that’s causing a ruckus on the socials. Sin number one is that the main character, Al, is a Afghan translator for the US military–and he’s not played by an Afghani. Actor Adhir Kalyan is from South Africa and is of Indian descent. For another, the show romanticizes the relationship between US forces and Afghan translators. For a third, it’s racist. As writer Rekha Shankar tweeted, “Can someone tell Chuck Lorre that ‘what if a white person liked a brown person’ is not a TV show concept.”

And all of this ruckus stemmed from a 90-second trailer that’s aired over the last week or so.

Resa Aslan, who worked on The Leftovers is also working on the show and said the show actually has four Afghan writers and takes a risk in portraying an Afghan Muslim. He said “There are dozens and dozens of Afghan interpreters living with US soldiers. We know cause we actually spoke to them. This is literally their story.”

As to the casting, Aslan–who’s hardly a MAGA fan–said they tried 100 Afghan actors, but couldn’t find the right person for the role. He also said the show works “hand in hand” with a group called No One Left Behind, a non-profit “dedicated to ensuring that America keeps its promise to our interpreters from Iraq and Afghanistan.” Their website actually includes the trailer posted above.

A NYU author Arash Azizi tweeted, “Adhir Kalyan is an Indian-South African actor born in apartheid South Africa. In 2021 America, he is told he can’t play characters outside his own ‘race’. I guess he is familiar with this Apartheid thinking?”

In other words, it’s not like they made up Fisher Stevens or Mickey Rooney up to be an offensive stereotype of one of them fer-ners.

Fisher Stevens in the 1986 movie Short Circuit.

Lorre’s been criticized for insensitive content on The Big Bang Theory and former CBS show Two Broke Girls, but has also been praised for Bob Hearts Absishola. And I’ve found Mom to be a snarky, but poignant look at the lives of alcoholics and the struggles with their relationships.

This show seems to be one of the first to try to deal with some of the thorny issues stemming from the second Gulf War. If it romanticizes occupation forces, as one critic charges, then Magnum, P.I. would’ve been guilty of the same. Yet its treatment of the aftermath of the Vietnam War was roundly praised by war veterans.

That’s Tom Selleck as Magnum, not some other guy.

To be fair, this type of outrage over a show that hasn’t aired yet isn’t new. In the early 80s, while Tom Selleck was romanticizing occupation forces, Tony Randall starred in an NBC sitcom called Love, Sidney, in which he played a gay man. Before it aired, there was an uproar by the same type of people bitching about cancel culture now, demanding that they cancel the show because Randall’s character was gay.

The show aired for two seasons to so-so ratings and the world didn’t end.

This show could be a steaming pile of racist crap. Or it could use comedy to expand the way we see something.

We’d never know if people got their way because of a 90-second promo and and a high-level understanding of the show’s premise.

Bruno Mars is no more guilty of cultural appropriation than the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, or (gulp) Weird Al

In a radio interview last week, Bruno Mars defended himself against accusations of appropriating black culture in his music. In an interview on a radio show called The Breakfast Club, the American Music Award (AMA) and Grammy winner said, “You can’t find an interview where I haven’t talked about the entertainers who have come before me. The only reason I’m here is because of James Brown, Prince, Michael. This music comes from love and if you can’t hear that, I don’t know what to tell you.”

Bruno Mars

Mars has a Filipino mother and a Jewish father. Has been accused as straight-up stealing from black artists. in 2018, a writer named Seren Sensei wrote that Mars takes “pre-existing work and he just completely, word-for-word recreates it, extrapolates it. He does not create it, he does not improve upon it, he does not make it better.”

Seren Sensei

He’s hardly the first in since the birth of rock and roll to face those accusations. In 1956, Elvis Presley covered Hound Dog. Three years earlier, the same song was released by Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thorton, spending 14 weeks on the R&B charts. Louie, Louie, a Kingsmen song that resulted in FBI investigations for its allegedly lewd lyrics (they aren’t) was as cover of a 1955 original by Richard Berry.

Marvin Gaye’s original version of Heard It Through the Grapevine is an undisputed classic, written in 1966 for Motown Records by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong. Gaye was the third to record it and his version was ranked 81st in Rolling Stone’s top 500 songs of all time. but Credence Clearwater Revivial’s version is still remembered. Tainted Love by Soft Cell was a cover of an original by Gloria Jones. Twist and Shout went to number 17 when it was released by the Isley Brothers in 1962, but the Beatles took it to number 2 two years later.

Much of the early history of rock and roll consists of white people covering songs first written or performed by black people and making a lot of money (while the original artists are ignored and don’t make a lot of money).

Elvis, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin have all be accused of cultural appropriation from blacks. Except for Zeppelin, they gave credit to the artists who inspired them.

But the people Bruno Mars is accused of stealing from–Prince, Michael Jackson, and James Brown–aren’t relatively obscure artists watching while someone makes a mint with their songs. All of them were icons on their own. None suffered in relative poverty while Bruno Mars lived the life of luxury.

The music industry is filled with remarkable covers, some of which reimagine the original songs in new and inspiring ways. Check out Sturgill Simpson’s cover of The Promise, originally released by When in Rome in 1988 (perhaps the most 1980s song ever).

As great as Simon and Garfunkel‘s Sounds of Silence is, Disturb’s version is more powerful. That’s not appropriation, it’s a cover version, something Linda Ronstadt made a career of.

And if Bruno Mars is guilty of appropriating Michael Jackson’s music, what about Weird Al Yankovic? Fat? Eat it? He didn’t just appropriate the song, he appropriated the music video and, in the case of Bad, the album cover.

Weird Al, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and even Bruno Mars, give credit where it’s due. Covering songs has always be a part of popular music. And tipping the hat to musical influences (as Muse did to INXS in Panic Station), is an equal part of it.

No one would consider what Muse did a theft, so it’s silly and harmful to make the same accusation of Bruno Mars.

Warning labels aren’t cancellation. They’re a chance to discuss and maybe reach an agreement.

First it was the Muppets. Then it was Dr. Seuss. Now, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) is cancelling. well, classic movies like Tropic Thunder, Dumbo, and Gone With the Wind. Are Blazing Saddles and Howard Stern next?

Except none of these things have been cancelled. As previously covered, Dr. Seuss hasn’t been cancelled; the owner of the intellectual property is deciding not to publish six of the titles any more. And Disney isn’t cancelling The Muppets, it’s putting a warning label on some of the episodes–most notably the one where Johnny Cash sings in front of a confederate flag.

And TCM isn’t cancelling those movies, it’s airing a series called Reframed, which looks at classic movies from a 21st century perspective. The movies include Gone With the Wind, The Searchers, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Woman of the Year and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

In considering those movies, it’s important to understand the context in which those movies were made. After all, as recently as the 1980s, Fisher Stephens played an Indian in Short Circuit and Billy Crystal wore black face to play Sammy Davis, Jr. and Mohammed Ali in Saturday Night Live sketches. (Ali was said to be a fan of Crystal’s impersonation.) At the time, no one minded these things at the time.

But it’s also appropriate to view the movies in the context of the current cultural framework. And, where appropriate, to air those movies with a notification that some of the content might be objectionable to some audiences. Which is true–it might be.

My daughter, for instance, understands satire. She was brought up in a household that held that sacrosanct. I’m her father. She also took a class on it at some point, where she discovered Mel Brooks. (She loves History of the World, Part IBlazing Saddles, not so much.)

My daughter’s favorite–in part because she was a synchronized swimmer

But more recent generations aren’t necessarily as attuned to that. They’ve been brought up in a culture in which context and meaning is secondary to the impact of what they take in. While that can make for tedious, pretentious interactions, it’s also leading to the dismissal of casual racism and some of the pejoratives of the past, which are probably best retired.

In other words, while not all claims of political correctness and cancel culture is cover for assholes demanding their divine right to be assholes, not every accommodation to 21st century sensibilities is cancellation. The TCM series talks about the movies in their current context, but to do that, it would presumably have to cover their original context.

It’s interesting that while Hattie McDaniel was the first black winner of an Academy Award, according to the series, she wasn’t invited to the Gone with the Wind premiere and she was marginalized at the ceremony.

In these areas, conversation is the key to finding the way forward. Warning labels allow us the right to watch these classics, while also providing some additional things to think about.

And in an age when companies can be damaged by roving mobs on Twitter, it allows a way for property rights owners to show the works but also encourage the discussion.

Dr. Seuss isn’t getting canceled. That doesn’t mean cancel culture is a myth.

When I was a kid, I loved Song of the South. I liked the music. I liked the interaction of cartoons with real people. I liked Br’er Rabbit getting in trouble. It left enough of an impression that I also remembered the reference to a the tar baby character in Robert B. Parker’s A Catskill Eagle, the 12th Spenser novel.

Parker, who isn’t widely considered racist, published that novel in 1985. If he published it today, after Song of the South was pulled by Disney, he’d probably write it differently. I certainly would. You can still purchase any Spenser novel at an Amazon website near you.

This week, Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced it would no longer publish six of its titles. The only one that rang a bell with me was And to Think that I Saw it on Mulberry Street (and that’s only because of Billy Joel and Moonlighting). The books are being pulled because of character depicts that are now considered racist.

I don’t care. They own the rights to the books and can do what they want. (Though now we might’ve retired earlier if we’d kept all the kids’ Dr. Seuss books.)

The world wasn’t materially harmed by Disney pulling Song of the South.

And no one’s currently pulling A Catskill Eagle for its Uncle Remus reference. Or A Christmas Story for the scene in which employees at a Chinese restaurant try valiantly to sing Deck the Halls. Or Blazing Saddles, which is…well, Blazing Saddles.

“Oh boys, look what I got here.”

If someone owns intellectual property and they want to pull it because of obvious racial or ethnic slurs–or any other reason–that’s their call. They get to do that. Based on the reporting, the books in question have some fairly blatant stereotypes.

This isn’t cancel culture.

Contrary to what some friend on the left say, cancel culture and political correctness aren’t dog whistles for people looking to be asshole without consequence.

The best example of cancel culture floating around is the periodic demand that Florida State University rebrand itself as something other than the Seminoles. The fact that the school has an arrangement with the Seminole nation of Florida is immaterial to some. The change has to be made anyway.

Florida’s Seminole Nation is okay with this. Do white people get to overrule that?

When people outside the Seminole nation get to decide that something has to go because the Seminoles aren’t smart enough to reach the proper conclusion, that’s cancel culture. It’s also pretty damned racist.

If white people were to rise up and demand that the Spenser novel, A Christmas Story, and Blazing Saddles be pulled because their offended on behalf of blacks, Asians, and everyone on earth, respectively, that’s cancel culture. It’s paternalistic, insulting, and just as bad as the racism they’re claiming to stand against.

When intent isn’t part of the cancel conversation, anyone can be screwed

A friend of mine posted on Facebook about Coca Cola’s diversity training. According to reports on social media, some of the slides include one that says to be less white is to:

  • be less oppressive
  • be less arrogant
  • be less certain
  • be less defensive
  • be less ignorant
  • be more humble
  • listen
  • believe
  • break with apathy
  • break with white solidarity

A follow-up slide said Try to be less white

My offline response was Not gonna comment on the Coca Cola thing. Any comment rusn the risk of aging poorly.

An article posted by Reason magazine this week talked about cancel culture. The article highlighted the New York Times firing a 45-year veteran reporter named Donald McNeil, Jr., for saying the n-word during a 2019 trip to Peru. After the story became public within the Times, 150 employees demanded he be fired. He said the word at a dinner conversation with a student about a the suspension of another student for using that word in a video as a 12-year-old. In the conversation, he asked the context for using the word and used the word himself.

Donald McNeil, Jr.

The Times responded that they don’t tolerate racist language regardless of intent. You could easily argue that in 2019, Mr. McNeil should’ve known not to use that word in any context. I don’t know his past, but it’s possible there’s more to it than him simply repeating a word in a conversation. On the other hand, if there were no other issues in 45 years, the penalty seems extreme for a single lapse in judgement. He was clearly not using the word as a weapon, even if he did show horrible judgement.

A couple years ago, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam rode out pressure to resign for being in a 1984 yearbook picture where he wore blackface or a KKK hood (he says he doesn’t remember which). Northam faces this pressure while Billy Crystal doesn’t face the same pressure for wearing blackface several times in Saturday Night Live sketches the same year. And Ted Danson has worked non-stop in spite of being in blackface at a Friar’s Club roast in 1993.

Billy Crystal as Sammy Davis, Jr.

It’s a given that you shouldn’t be an a-hole when you can avoid it. But the only qualification for being cancelled seems to be that enough people on Twitter notice you and demand that you be disciplined. By saying intent doesn’t matter, the New York Times is at least being honest that its internal justice system in these matters is driven by whatever the general consensus happens to be, whether it’s 150 co-workers or whatever hashtag is trending on Twitter for whatever happened now, or in the past.

I used the same word as Mr. McNeil in a “joke” in front of a person of color in the spring of 1983 outside the student center at Adirondack Community College. I won’t defend what I did; it was wrong. I’m not that person any more. I recognize how hurtful using that word in that context is. If 150 of my colleagues see this blog post and demand my job, should I be fired?

A lot of the bitching about cancel culture is white people telling people who feel oppressed by a culture to shut up and mind their place. I’m not defending that. But not all of the complaints about political correctness are just cover for people wanting to be a-holes. Some are people who interpret content in ways the creator of that content never intended. And the standards are based on whatever happens to go viral, either online or in real iife.

People on the left and right have become increasingly inflexible about what they will tolerate both now, and years ago.

There’s a benefit to listening to and respecting other people’s viewpoints. Arbitrary justice dished out by hashtag juries takes away from that benefit.

Cancel culture exists, but Gina Carano isn’t a victim of it

While there are exceptions (Tom Selleck and Robert Duvall come to mind), Hollywood isn’t typically friendly to conservatives. Especially during politically contentious times, conservatives in Hollywood don’t feel comfortable being open about their political beliefs. In an insular community based on relationships, people tend to hire people they know–and they know them because they’re drawn to the same things–often liberal organizations and causes.

Self-indulgent Thomas Magnum picture. (The real Thomas Magnum)

Hollywood is intensely competitive, though, and if you make money, people will work with you. Gina Carano was hired with a built-in platform. She in the first woman’s fight that headlined a major MMA event (against Cris Cyborg) and at one point she was called the face of women’s MMA.

She had several successful movie roles before she was cast in The Mandalorian as Cara Dune, a female bad ass. There were even rumors of a spin-off built in part around her character. But that’s when the social media issues started. She mocked mask wearing and claimed the election was stolen.

Nananana Hey Hey Hey, Good Bye (Gina Carano)

The last straw came when she compared being a conservative in Hollywood to being a Jew in Nazi Germany. Given the fact that Jews had their property stripped, weren’t allowed to own businesses, and were eventually rounded up and slaughtered, a lot of people were deeply offended (reasonably so) at her comparison. Twitter went to work (#fireGinaCarano) and the rest is history. She was let go and dropped by her agent. In effect, she’s unemployable right now.

I just made the point that conservatives are shunned in Hollywood and did so without comparing it to the genocide resulted in the murder of millions. Had she taken a more respectful approach, she’d probably still have that employee discount at the Disney store.

Cancel culture exists, but this isn’t it.

Cancel culture is when a large group of people doesn’t give a damn about context or other extenuating circumstance. The object of their wrath violated the rules they just made up, and they need to pay. The closest example of cancel culture to Nazi Germany in this country happened on january 6 at the Capitol.

Cancel culture in action

Lesser examples include the proclamation that because of police violence against people of color, longtime Law and Order: SVU character Olivia Benson had to go. She didn’t do any of the things those who wanted to cancel her object to–proving that not all cops are bastard. And that was bad. To their credit, NBC, Universal, and Executive Producer Dick Wolff didn’t bow to the pressure.

Yeah, it’s Fox News, but they aren’t wrong here.

That’s important. Because if there’s no pushback, the mob–and that’s what a large group of Twitter users demanding their way are–loses perspective and starts demanding increasing levels of orthodoxy with increasingly shifting standards.

In 1984, in medical school, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam was in a yearbook photo in which he wore either a KKK robe or blackface. When that surfaced, there was significant pressure for Northam to resign. While those costumes are clearly outside what’s acceptable in 2021, that was almost 40 years ago. Things weren’t right then, but they were different.

I grew up in a white-as-homogenized milk part of upstate New York. If we should punished now for what we said or did in our college years, then I’m as worthy as Northam for sanction. I never dressed up like he did. While racial slurs weren’t a regular part of my vocabulary, I did use them. Everyone did.

The start of my awakening happened when I used it in front of a person of color on the lawn outside the student center in 1983. Thirty-eight years ago. It was wrong and there’s no excuse for it. I’ve evolved since then. I’m no longer that person. Now, if someone said the “joke” I said, I’d call them on it.

I still did it. And it still left a mark on the person I did it to. I can’t undo it. But were I Ralph Northam, that thing done decades ago would make me beyond redemption for some.

Where cancel culture is problematic is when it ignores context–like Northam’s or mine–in the name of the perception of absolute justice. If Northam should be canceled, then so should Ted Danson and Billy Crystal. If I should be run out of my job, so should almost everyone I grew up with.

I was wrong, but that person doesn’t exist any more.

Where cancel culture fails is where it’s more concerned with punishment than rehabilitation, and when it prevents people with different opinions (presented respectfully) from being themselves.

They can have my gendered playing cards when they pry them from my cold, dead hands

“If we have this hierarchy that the king is worth more than the queen, then this subtle inequality influence people in their daily life because it’s just another way of saying, ‘hey, you’re less important.'” That’s a quote from Indy Mellink, a 23-year-old forensic psychology graduate who has created a genderless deck of playing cards so Kings can’t be worth more than Queens.

Her cards replace Kings, Queens, and Jacks with Gold, Silver, and Bronze.

Indy Mellink and her playing cards. (Photo: REUTERS/Eva Plevier)

Because feelings. And maybe an endorsement deal with the Olympics.

So far, Mellink has sold about 1,500 decks of her new, woke playing cards to assure that people can feed their gambling addiction and fight the patriarchy at the same time.

My first reaction on seeing this story was to role my eyes so hard that they almost stuck that way. It’s stupid.

Then I thought again.

To be clear, I’ll never think there’s a moral or ethical imperative to modify playing cards. And I don’t intend to throw out mine and get with the 21st century. I’m a purist when it comes to playing cards.

But it is a free society, which means if Ms. Mellink wants to create gender-free playing cards, she gets to do that. As Voltaire once didn’t say, “I disagree with with your stupid playing cards, but I’ll defend to the death your right to play Blackjack…err, Blackbronze with them.”

And if she can make money selling them to other people who feel the same way, that what we capitalists call “living the dream.”

That freedom extends both ways. The people who prefer to play with the queen of hearts (knowing it ain’t really smart), also get to do that. Especially Juice Newton.

And Kevin James.

Put another way, you can have my suicide king when you pry him from my cold, dead hand.

Should straight actors play non-straight characters?

Jim Parsons may be the most well-known gay actor in Hollywood today, having played Sheldon Cooper in Big Bang Theory and voicing adult Sheldon in Young Sheldon. Among his other projects The Boys in the Band, in which he played a character named Michael in both the Broadway play and a movie adaption.

Jim Parsons and husband Todd Spiewak (Photo by Taylor Hill/FilmMagic,)

The play is a story of a group of gay men who gathered for a birthday party in New York in 1968, the year the play debuted. Parsons says that when he was researching for the play, he was struck by the language used to describe gay men in the New York Times, which he describes as “animalistic and disgusting.”

Everyone in the play (and the forthcoming movie) is gay–including Parsons, Zachary Quinto (Spock in the newer Star Trek movies), and Matt Bomer (Neal Caffrey in White Collar). But when The Los Angeles Times asked Parsons whether only gay men should play gay roles, he said, “I think the fight…is not about having only gay people play the gay parts but to ensure that all parts are open to all actors. It’s important that gay characters are portrayed as well-rounded and completely human individuals…I think Brokeback Mountain is one of the most touching gay movies and love stories I have ever seen, and those two straight actors [Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal] were the best choices for those roles.”

The Boys in the Band is being made as a movie for Netflix.

USA Today also tackled the subject, expanding the question to whether cisgender actors should play transgender parts. Its article said, in part, “[a]ll actors should be able to play all roles, in theory, but actors and industry experts are speaking out about the need for queer and transgender actors to play roles that represent these communities.”

Tre’vell Anderson, a writer for Out magazine, says, “We want our media to be an accurate reflection of the world in which we live.” Actor Bill Eichner says, “I don’t have to go sit with 30 gay people and try to find out what it’s like to be gay. I know, and no one knows better than me and my friends. I think we need to stop undervaluing that.”

The article also notes that while there aren’t a lot of transgender parts, transgender actors don’t get the chance to play cisgender parts.

Jeffrey Tambor (cisgender) plays Maura, a transgender woman, on the Amazon series Transparent.

If there’s a shortage of parts, as would be the case for transgendered actors, that complaint seems valid and reasonable.

But if there’s not a shortage of parts, insisting that any type of character (gay, straight, hearing-impaired, etc.) play those characters, it takes away from what acting is–literally the process of becoming someone you aren’t. It’s similar to writing. I’m currently writing a first draft in which one major character is lesbian and one is bisexual.

As a straight man, I don’t have the experience that those people would have, if they were real. Nor do I have the experience a woman or a person of color would have.

A few years ago, many works were held to the Bechdel test, involving women in fiction. To pass the test, there have to be at least two women, they must talk to each other, and they must talk about something other than a man. Although it’s not a perfect test (nor is it intended to be), it’s a guideline to try to get creators to dig a little deeper and do a better job representing people who are different. Bechdel variants sprung up about people of color, gays, and other minorities.

To be truthful, I set out to make the lesbian character that way, but the bi-sexual character more or less decided that for herself. I’m working to do a good job with these characters–to keep them from being two-dimensional stereotypes. We’ll see if I pull it off. (I’m also curious about my writing includes non-straight women characters, but not men.)

Ultimately, one of the purposes of art is to push the creator and consumer out of easy comfort zones. Sometimes that’s done in spectacular fashion (Brokeback Mountain). Sometimes it’s done in remarkably mundane ways, such as an early episode of Cheers that dealt with homosexuality.

The Cheers episode The Boys in the Bar. I was exactly today years old when I understood the episode title reference.

But the key is, whether you’re gay, straight, transgender, or cis, is to create multi-dimensional characters that force you outside yourself.

Asserting on behalf of the Seminole tribe that they’re wrong about FSU is, well, racist

Before we start, there is such a thing as cancel culture. It’s what happens when sanctimonious, woke geniuses, unilaterally decide for everyone what is and isn’t acceptable, regardless of intent on the part of the creator of the “offensive” content.

Personally, I don’t care what the people in Washington, DC or Cleveland (or for that matter, Kansas City, Atlanta, or Chicago) call their sports teams. The former Redskins are now the Washington Football Team and will be for another season. The Cleveland Indians will have a new same (Cleveland Spiders?) for the 2022 season. And despite protestations from their owners, the Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta Braves, and Chicago Blackhawks will probably follow suit shortly thereafter.

And there’s validity to objecting to the treatment of native Americans over the years by sports teams. Having a drunken fat guy running around in war paint running around scalping people is the same as having a fat, drunken, shirtless Saints fan running around with a big foam holy water sprinkler baptizing people with Bud Light (hey, it’s basically water, right?).

And according to Kurt Streeter, a woke, holier-than-you sportswriter for the New York Times, it’s about damn time. It’s 2020 and we’ve progressed to the point as a society when such horrible insults can no longer be tolerated. Chiefs, Braves, Blackhawks, Seminoles–all of them must go now, because according to him, they’re all harmful to indigenous peoples–even if some of those people don’t have a problem with it. It doesn’t matter; they have to go.

Except the Seminole Nation of Florida not only doesn’t have a problem with the Florida State Seminoles name, they’ve explicitly given their blessing to the name and have actively worked with the school to make sure the school’s actions are appropriate to Seminole culture. (The Oklahoma Seminole tribe disagrees, but that seems like a matter for them to work out Seminole to Seminole.)

Streeter, when discussing the school’s relationship with the Seminole nation, dismissed it with an ugh. So how can you argue with that massive load of intellectual power.

In arguing that the Seminole Nation has approved the use of their name and imagery, my argument has been dismissed with yeah, the school’s just paying them off. To which I reply, so what?

As a white dude whose ancestors probably had the sexy time with a Mohawk Indian at some point along the way, it’s not up to me to tell those cute precocious Seminoles what to do with their name and culture. And as a black sportswriter for a newspaper over a thousand miles away, it’s not up to Kurt Streeter, either.

There’s a name for people who think minorities aren’t smart enough to think for themselves, who need Great White (or Black) Father to do it for them.

And it’s something people like Kurt Streeter are so busy looking for, they can’t see that they’re doing the same things.