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Covering the convention coverage

[ 104 ] September 6, 2012 |

The consensus on Clinton’s speech last night seems to fall between “world-historically awesome” and “the speech by which all future speech will be judged and found wanting.” I wouldn’t expect anything less from the best Republican President in recent memory. But what’s interesting to me isn’t the content of the speech—whatever it was I didn’t watch it—but the reaction of conservatives to a successful speech by a prominent Democrat. Consider who’s discussing the two most popular transcripts according to memeorandum:

For your convenience I clicked on all of the possible links to conservative blogs or news organizations. Notice something? Either it’s taking them a very long time to devise an effective strategy to counter Clinton’s rhetoric or they’ve decided that refusing to write about it will make it go away. In their defense there’s a good chance they’re correct—not because they’ve chosen to ignore it but because conventions aren’t important anymore—but I can’t pass up the opportunity to note the wonderful irony of watching the party of Manly Men Who Make Money and War paralyzed into a panicked silence when confronted by the molehill they’ve mistaken for a mountain.

Why is mentioning “food stamps” or “Chicago” a racist dog-whistle? Because conservatives made it one.

[ 105 ] September 5, 2012 |

Conservatives have a problem with history. It’s not just that their preferred rhetorical appeals harken back to a Golden Age that only existed on the television shows they watched while their mothers or their maids slaved away in the kitchen—though that’s clearly problematic—nor is it just that they rely on a cursory examination of ill-worded search results to construct their devastating critiques of the evils of everything to their left to hilarious effect. So it’s not just that their fake history is a projected concoction or that their understanding of actual history is wanting that I take issue with: it’s that their understanding of their own history is facile they can’t tell the forest from the seas.

Case in point: the oblivious guffawing about “food stamps” or “Chicago” being metonyms for racism in conservative circles. That this seems as obvious a gambit to liberals as mentioning black people and swimming pools is beside the point: they’re crying “No foul!” so it needs doing. (Sigh.) To establish the metonymic “credentials” of “Chicago” I could go back to the anti-labor sentiment that prevailed during the time of the Haymarket Riot or the anti-immigrant sentiment that prevailed two decades later or the anti-machine politics sentiment that prevailed during the reign of Daley the First or the anti-left and anti-anti-war sentiment that prevailed during and after the 1968 Democratic National Convention but I won’t. To do any more then note in passing that Chicago’s always functioned as a convenient punching bag for conservatives would a waste of time.

Because there’s a particular moment in the history of conservative metonymy that bears mentioning in the light of the “unbelievable” or “outrageous” claim that associating President Obama with “food stamps” or “Chicago” might constitute a “subtle” form of racism supposedly only detectable by liberals. But before we get there we need to perform a simple Google search for “food stamp president” and quick scan of the results. Conservatives are clearly trying to create an association between President Obama and food stamps. It doesn’t matter that the majority of food stamp recipients are white because conservatives aren’t building a factual argument—they’re making a rhetorical appeal. The very fact that movement conservatives embraced the image of President Food Stamps indicates the success of the appeal. Why would liberals claim that there’s a racial component to that appeal? Is it, as conservatives argue, simply because the President is half-black and any policy or entitlement linked to him is speciously yoked to his color?

Of course not. Only a person pig-ignorant of recent history would make such a claim. So here’s where we stand:

  1. The President hails from Chicago’s South Side.
  2. Conservatives have successfully branded Obama President Food Stamps.

Where’s the racism? How about we ask the Most Blessed Saint of the Modern Republican Party, Ronald Reagan, who said the following of a woman from the South Side of Chicago during the 1976 campaign:

She has eighty names, thirty addresses, twelve Social Security cards and is collecting veteran’s benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands. And she is collecting Social Security on her cards. She’s got Medicaid, getting food stamps, and she is collecting welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income is over $150,000.

Not only did Saint Ronald invent the myth of the “welfare queen” with this remark, by doing so through the image of a woman from the South Side of Chicago he explicitly made it a racial issue because the South Side is 95 percent African-American. I grant that Saint Ronald could’ve done everyone a favor and summoned this mythical woman from the dark depths of a Harlem or a Compton or any other area that even the most ignorant contemporary conservative knows is overbrimming with black folk. But he didn’t. He chose the South Side, which in 1976 still brought to mind images of noted rabble-rouser Martin Luther King, Jr. marching in support of public housing. To whose minds were and are those images brought? The largest block of voters in the Republican Party: old white people.

These old white people just happen to be the same who pine for the Golden Era when Saint Ronald ruled the land. When they claim that the linking President Obama to food stamps or Chicago isn’t racially coded they’re either age-addled or lying. They remember Saint Ronald and are still moved by references to his rhetorical appeals. That they deny knowledge of how the unadulterated appeals themselves worked points to either dementia or dishonesty. So let’s add this up one more time for them:

  1. The President hails from Chicago’s South Side.
  2. Chicago’s South Side is 95 percent African-American.
  3. Saint Ronald linked the South Side to food stamps.
  4. Conservatives have successfully branded Obama President Food Stamps.

What do you get? I get a rhetorical situation in which conservatives can negatively signal Obama’s blackness to their core constituency of old white people in two interrelated ways that can both be directly traced back to Saint Ronald. Meaning that not only is Obama’s blackness connected to food stamps and Chicago via an established rhetorical appeal, that appeal bears the authorizing imprimatur of the Most Blessed Saint of the Republican Party. The only way contemporary conservatives can credibly claim that there’s no racial component to mentioning Chicago or food stamps would be to disown Saint Ronald. But I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

There’s pathetic and then there is this.

[ 130 ] September 4, 2012 |

Someone sent me a link to this and asked me to analyze it:

What is this monstrosity? It’s a Chris Muir print

signed by the following giants of the Blogosphere: Michelle Malkin, Glenn and Helen Reynolds (Instapundit and Dr.Helen), Bill Whittle (Afterburner), Jeff Goldstein (Protein Wisdom), Ed Morrissey (Hot Air), Robert Stacy McCain (The Other McCain), and Mandy Nagy (Liberty Chick).

Where to begin the hilarity? If this is a play on “The Last Supper” why did Muir put Eric Holder in the Jesus-spot? Why didn’t he put Obama in the Judas-spot? How about the self-aggrandizing placement of the folks around the table: Sarah Palin and President Obama are equals, as are Michelle Malkin and Nancy Pelosi. Jeff Goldstein’s just as influential as someone who could be Chris Matthews. (It’s difficult to tell because Muir can’t use the cartoon filter in Photoshop any better than he can draw.) But we needn’t even worry about where people are at the table because the real hubris is that they’re there at all.

The mind boggles.

UPDATE: As noted in the comments, the poorly drawn Democrats (and John Roberts) are affiliated with the phrase “Exitus Acta Probat,” which can also be found here:

That’d be the coat of arms of that most traitorous of Americans—George Washington.

The joy of holding virtual office hours (via AIM) for students enrolled in multiple online courses

[ 20 ] September 4, 2012 |

STUDENT: Can I write an essay about the rising cost of unnecessary oil platforms off the Korean coast?

SEK: I don’t see why not. But, um, what are you writing this for?

STUDENT: Your class.

SEK: My class?

STUDENT: Shit, which one am I talking to?

SEK: Not the one who’s teaching you anything about Korean oil platforms, but luckily for you, the one who won’t be offended you just wrote “Shit.”

STUDENT: Fuck, I won’t make that mistake twice.

Is there a blog in this course?

[ 9 ] September 3, 2012 |

As most of you know, my brand of film theory is heavily indebted to David Bordwell and neoformalism. So it should come as no surprise that I believe Bordwell’s compilation of posts from 2012 could very well function as an online film theory textbook, especially when read in tandem with similar compilations from 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011. If you ever have to teach a course in film or film theory — or if you’ve ever wanted to take a seminar on film or film theory — now you have the material you need to do so.

Yes, Governor Christie, I’m sure this will impress him.

[ 213 ] August 29, 2012 |

You have to feel for Chris Christie. The biggest political speech of his life and he backdrops himself thus:

If that looks familiar, that’s because if you have anything resembling taste it damn well should:

Christie loves him some Springsteen. Grew up listening to and idolizing the Bard of the Badlands. The feeling’s mutual:

Despite heroic efforts by Christie, Springsteen, who is still a New Jersey resident, will not talk to him. They’ve met twice—once on an airplane in 1999, and then at the 2010 ceremony inducting Danny DeVito into the New Jersey Hall of Fame, where they exchanged only formal pleasantries. (Christie does say that Springsteen was very kind to his children.) At concerts, even concerts in club-size venues—the Stone Pony, in Asbury Park, most recently—Springsteen won’t acknowledge the governor. When Christie leaves a Springsteen concert in a large arena, his state troopers move him to his motorcade through loading docks. He walks within feet of the stage, and of the dressing rooms. He’s never been invited to say hello. On occasion, he’ll make a public plea to Springsteen, as he did earlier this spring, when Christie asked him to play at a new casino in Atlantic City. “He says he’s for the revitalization of the Jersey Shore, so this seems obvious,” Christie told me. I asked him if he’s received a response to his request. “No, we got nothing back from them,” he said unhappily, “not even a ‘Fuck you.’”

Did I write “mutual”? I meant the opposite of mutual. You have to wonder about someone who embraces a musician this deeply without listening to a damn thing he sings. The disconnect between lyric and listener is borderline sociopathic: if you spend your nights ears-deep in working-class tales of toil and despair and your days enacting policies that guarantee a future full of working-class tales of toil and despair, people may begin to suspect that you’ve embraced some strange form of patronage-by-poverty. They may begin to think that you’re trying to manufacture the social conditions necessary to create a newer, “better” Springsteen whose “convictions” won’t interfere with yours because you’ll have whispered the Gospel of the Free Market in his ear from the moment you turned him into a foundling. Not that you murdered his parents, mind you, they’re just not in his life anymore. And then years later, when you successfully run for President, you and your pet Springsteen will tour the country and your rallies will begin with your pet’s new hit, “Burn Down the U.S.A.,” a rousing tune about the virtues of small government.

People may begin to consider that you indulge in this pathetic fantasy because you’re as small of mind as you are large of body, and the man whose approval you so desperately seek won’t even begrudge you a “Fuck you.”


Add Murray Energy Chief Financial Officer Rob Moore (and his scrotums) to list of people who don’t know what words mean.

[ 68 ] August 28, 2012 |

Must I post this video yet again? It appears I must:

“There were no workers that were forced to attend the event,” [Murray Energy Chief Financial Officer Rob] Moore said. “We had managers that communicated to our work force that the attendance at the Romney event was mandatory, but no one was forced to attend the event. We had a pre-registration list. And employees were asked to put their names on a pre-registration list because they could not get into the event unless they were pre-registered and had a name tag to enter the premises.”

But I thought “WOW! HUNDREDS OF COAL MINERS STAND IN LINE FOR MITT ROMNEY!“? Do you mean to tell me that these coal miners were paid to not be “forced” to attend this “mandatory” event?

“Our management people wanted to attend the event and we could not have people underground during Romney’s visit,” Moore insisted.

“But why not still pay then their wage for that day?” [WWVA radio host David] Blomquist pressed.

“By federal election law, we could not pay people to attend the event,” Moore replied. “And we did not want anyone to come back and see where anyone had been paid for that day.”

“I’m not saying pay then to attend the event, I’m saying, ‘Hey look, we have to close down the mine, if you want to attend this event, that’s fine, but you’re still going to get a day’s pay for the work that you would have done,’” Blomquist pointed out. “Why not do that?”

“As a private employer, it was our decision and we made the decision not to pay the people,” the Murray chief financial officer said.

So they were not paid to not be “forced” to attend this “mandatory” event? Management just shut down the mines and didn’t “force” all the workers to attend this “mandatory” Romney photo-op. Why was this “mandatory” event that management didn’t “force” the miners to attend without pay so important anyway?

“We’re talking about an event that was in the best interest of anyone that’s related to the coal industry,” Moore added. “I do not believe that missing an eight-hour day, when you put it into perspective, when you think about how critical—critical this next election is, and how critical it is that we get someone in this office that supports coal—to give up eight hours for a career, I just don’t believe that there is anything negative about that.”

That makes sense: I can see why management wouldn’t think that there’s “anything negative” about forcing people working near or below the poverty line to “give up eight hours” of paid wages to attend a Mitt Romney rally. I’m sure Romney himself fully supported management’s decision, both in this particular case and all others. Because what matters more? Food on the table or a photo-op?

UPDATE: In the comments, kerry notes that this is par for the conservative course: “It’s kind of like their view of rape–if you weren’t physically dragged there and restrained, it wasn’t ‘forced’.”

Which makes Batman the liberal fascist of what now?

[ 21 ] August 28, 2012 |

For a split-second, I liked Grant Morrison a little, then I realized he’d made me jealous of Jonah Goldberg, and hated him all the more:

This exchange occuers in the third issue of Batman Incorporated, which unfortunately doesn’t end the “Is Batman a conservative?” debate by having the Batman repeatedly punch this Goldberg-proxy in the face. That said, Bulldog may not actually be a Goldberg-proxy, since we all know he’s a “monster-man,” not a “man-monster.”

ACTUALLY: Given that that’s Bruce Wayne in disguise in the green there and he’s chosen his own rogue’s gallery, I suppose it’s safe to say the Batman is, at the very least, implicitly punching the Goldberg-proxy in the face repeatedly. Damn it, now I’m tempted to like Morrison again.

Obama’s the only President who’s ever bowed, except for all the others.

[ 113 ] August 27, 2012 |

A Republican PAC full of former Navy Seals, Special Operations for America, will be releasing an ad entitled “Bow to Nobody” at the RNC:

Ryan Zinke, the former Navy SEAL who started the super PAC, spoke exclusively with Breitbart News today. “The ad itself accurately portrays where this President is,” said Zinke. “It accurately portrays his core belief that America should not lead. This president is shaping America to be one of the followers, to relinquish our role as a world leader. I didn’t fight 23 years as a Navy SEAL to watch America bow to anybody.”

He continued, “It’s not just the king of Saudi Arabia. My friends from WWII that fought in the Pacific theater—when they see the president bow to the emperor of Japan, I’ve seen veterans cry[.]”

When asked whether it was inappropriate for former SEALs to speak out, as some on the left have alleged, Zinke answered, “If the veterans can’t speak out, who can? I think it’s a duty of every veteran and every citizen to be actively involved in our political process, especially when the president sets out to negotiate away our rights under the Constitution. There have been other veterans—TR, Eisenhower, JFK—they’ve been active in speaking out and shaping the policy and politics of our country[.]”

For reasons that will become abundantly clear, that emphasis is mine. Zinke’s logic is that he shouldn’t fight to protect American freedom if the President is going to go bowing around the world willy-nilly. Moreover, he feels entitled to take this stand because other former military men, including the man who was once the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe, Dwight D. Eisenhower, remained “active in speaking out and shaping the policy of our country[.]” Implicit in Zinke’s claim is that someone like President Eisenhower would never diminish the office of the Presidency by bowing to foreign leaders. One problem: conservatives already floated this notion that the President never ever bows so I already know a little something about President Eisenhower: the man could not stop bowing. Hi there, Pope John XXIII!

Howdy to you, wife of Italian Prime Minister Giovanni Gronchi!

Hello again, Archbishop Iakovos of New York, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church of North and South America!

Long time no see, Charles De Gaulle!

By Zinke’s logic, I believe that last bow means we have all been French since 2 September 1959. Eisenhower clearly demonstrated by that bow that the American President is a subordinate of the French, which means that for the past 50 years America has been a French territory with pretensions of sovereignty. Mon Dieu!

(Most of this post was originally published here on 15 November 2009. It seems stupid didn’t evolve much in the last three years.)

“This race isn’t about race. Wait, did I say ‘race’? I meant ‘election.’ This race will not be about election.”

[ 160 ] August 27, 2012 |

Not that conservatives are trying to make it an issue—being that theirs is the party whose anti-anti-racism robustly defies the law that governs all other double negatives—but via Jamelle, I see that Romney claims:

There’s no question in mind that the president’s action in this regard was calculated to build support for him among people he wants to have excited about his reelection, just as so many of the things he’s done were designed to try to shore up his base. And weakening the work requirement in welfare is an enormous mistake.

Now, Jamelle thinks it requires “gymnastics” of some sort to relate this statement to race, but given that the only “gymnastics” I can perform are “standing up” and “walking short distances, slowly,” I beg to differ. All you need is direct quotations and honest bracketing:

“[W]eakening the work requirement in welfare” equals “try[ing] to shore up [Obama’s] base.”

So “[Obama’s] base” prefers a “weaken[ed] work requirement.”

Ergo, black folk are lazy.

No gymnastics required.

NOTE: Since it isn’t entirely clear, I’m mocking my own athleticism here, not Jamelle’s point, which I’m merely doubling down on.

Breaking Bad: “Say My Name,” or fine, maybe don’t even acknowledge I exist.

[ 13 ] August 27, 2012 |

One of the more gratifying things about studying film and television is the occasional payoff. You consider a scene in obsessive detail and it turns out that scene is just as important as you thought it was. This isn’t a credit to you, obviously, so much as the director. (Though it is a validation that you’re not imparting significance to irrelevant details.) So watching the latest episode of Breaking Bad, “Say My Name,” was particularly gratifying for yours truly because it indicated that I didn’t waste a day last week breaking down that scene at the dinner table in “Buyout.” It had a punchline. Recall the establishing shot from that episode:

Breaking bad00021

Compare that to the establishing shot in “Say My Name”:

Breaking bad00054

They’re nearly identical. Nearly. As I tell my students: shots in which the differences are slight matter more than shots in which the differences are grand. So this long shot is a little longer—the head of the couch in the living room is visible—but the composition is identical, albeit less tightly framed. What does the looser framing suggest? Given the off-center position of the couch-head, the implication is that whatever orderly detente had been reached in the previous episode has, literally, been cast askew. Evidence of the tipped kilter abounds: two of the chairs occupied in “Buyout” are empty, and one of the characters—Jesse in his role as a figure of a son—has been replaced by a bottle of wine. It’s almost as if the director, Thomas Schnauz, is claiming that if Jesse prevented Skyler and Walter from having a conversation in “Buyout,” in “Say My Name” it’s the wine. (And that Skyler’s deliberately putting the wine between them. It had occupied the majority of her attention the last time after all.)

Point being:

Read more…

Mormon prophecy, much?

[ 29 ] August 27, 2012 |

Since there’s no video of the interview, we have no choice but to take Politico’s lead:

Mitt Romney conceded President Barack Obama has succeeded in making him a less likable person, but he offered a defiant retort to those hoping he will open up this week: “I am who I am.”

Romney quoted that Popeye line three times in a 30-minute interview with POLITICO about his leadership style and philosophy, swatting away advice from Republicans to focus on connecting with voters in a more emotional, human way at this convention. Instead, he vowed to keep his emphasis — in the campaign and any administration to follow — on a relentlessly goal-driven, business-minded approach that has shaped his life so far.

“I know there are some people who do a very good job acting and pretend they’re something they’re not,” Romney said. “You get what you see. I am who I am.”

I don’t want to extend Romney the benefit of any doubt, but it’s possible that he’s not quoting Popeye there. It’s possible that he’s quoting Exodus 3:14 — in which God tells Moses that his name is Ehyeh asher ehyehwhich means that Romney’s merely asserting that his Presidency will fulfill the White Horse Prophecy. Or something. I’d just rather believe a presidential candidate is invoking double-secret messianic nonsense than quoting a cartoon character whose popularity peaked in 1955. Unless this is his idea of courting the youth vote. In which case, given what I know student knowledge about culture prior to 2004, I strongly encourage him to continue this line of incredibly relevant and moving references that the young voters of today implicitly understand.

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