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Sitting Here in Limbaugh

Television

How to do Rush Limbaugh? It’s a serious politicomedic question, a challenge for anyone of the liberal/left persuasion who stammers in the face of right-wing-but-funny. You dread sounding shrill, so you develop a grudging respect, maybe even a winking approval for the talk show host who has the nation’s right ear. You begin casting him in a whimsical light to avoid casting yourself as someone who can’t take a joke.

Better you laugh with success than it laugh at you. Limbaugh is the nation’s No. 1 radio talk show host, with 530 stations and some 13 million listeners tuning in for his daily three-hour program. His three-month-old TV show, in which he cavorts guestless 30 min­utes a night, is syndicated in 203 markets and many weeks is the No. 3 late-night talk show, topped only by Nightline and Leno. His book, The Way Things Ought To Be, has been the No. 1 hardback bestseller for 14 weeks.

Success begets tolerance. Even reluctant libs look at Limbaugh in a new light — Shirley MacLaine, as he tells it, communed deeply with him at a star-studded Manhattan party. News stories, which invari­ably dub him a “rock and roll Republican,” tend to chuckle over the bombastic, entertainment-val­ue Rush, repeating his patented lines about “environmentalist wackos,” “feminazis,” and the boast that he has “talent on loan from God” — while they ignore the more heated moments, like his defense of Mississippi governor Kirk Fordice’s declaration that America is “a Christian nation.” Literal to a fault (when he wants to be), Rush explains that Fordice is right, because “86 percent of Americans claim to be Christian.” Liberals who act like they’re threatened with a concentration camp “need a psychiatrist.”

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Still, Rush is not a screaming hatemonger like Bob Grant or Morton Downey Jr. He’s got charm, humor (though personally I’ve yet to laugh out loud), and ideology — a combo as bedeviling to “the dominant media” as Ross Perot’s magic. (The author of the nation’s No. 1 paperback nonfiction book during the election, Ross was Rush’s one true rival and a daily target of his ridicule.) Of course, the media eventually struck back at Perot, a fate Lim­baugh evades by not running for office, though he is often asked to.

All of which may well make him, as he’s also fond of repeat­ing, “The most dangerous man in America.” That says it all: He mocks liberals who believe a fun­ny conservative is dangerous, and yet this roly-poly marshmallow, who once shied away from televi­sion because of his girth, wants the world to know he stings.

“How to do Rush?” parallels the nagging ’80s question of how to do Ronald Reagan. And that parallel bounces off another: Rea­gan’s former media consultant, Roger Ailes, is Rush’s TV execu­tive producer. With another for­mer Ailes client, George Bush, out, the Republicans scrambling, and Pat Buchanan a Party pooper, it’s reasonable to conclude: Rush Limbaugh is the country’s foremost conservative.

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If Rush has reached that prickly pinnacle, it’s because he’s deter­mined to prove that conservatives just want to have fun. Limbaugh’s real mission is to show that liber­als are a bunch of p.c. killjoys, that their web of political do’s and don’t’s restrains the natural expansiveness of man. (Which is an indi­rect way for Republicans to say, “I am not sexually repressed!”)

And so every day, millions tune into Rush to get permission to have fun. Every now and then, Rush bursts forth and bellows that he’s “having more fun than a hu­man being should be allowed to have” (a locution that contains the conservative seeds of fun’s re­pression). Recently Joan from Bir­mingham called the TV show. She’s one of Rush’s biggest fans, she assured him, but she has to say it, she just got tired of his Clinton-bashing. Rush’s response was characteristic: First he re­treated — lied, waffled, you might say — claiming that he doesn’t bash. Then he attacked: “My guy lost and I’m having a good time,” he said soon as Joan got off the phone (always polite, he stabs callers only behind their backs). “Joan’s guy won and she’s miser­able.” The point, as always, is to show that liberals are constitu­tionally crybabies.

In this, Rush is at least consis­tent. The day after the election, despite much radio caller moan­ing, he declared he wasn’t going to get depressed or blame the me­dia — that would be no better than the Democrats blaming Willie Horton for ’88. He exhorted his audience to get on with their lives, to prosper despite the economic disaster Clinton will surely bring, and “not look at whoever’s in the White House as your Daddy.”

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Perhaps his cheer is forced. It’s possible that Limbaugh is merely a creature of the Reagan-Bush era, and maybe, please please please, he’ll just fade away. If the next few years improve the economic lot of his fans — people whose in­stinct is less for Rush’s ideological conservativism than for Perot’s fed-up populism — Rush might find himself with less to say and begin feeding more and more off his media stardom, devouring his own tail. Already a promo-for-a-­promo feel courses through the broadcasts: His TV show refers to and plugs his radio show, his ra­dio plugs his TV, and both plug his newsletter (“printed on non­recycled paper”) and his book­ — shelves of which serve as back­drop on the show’s set. To top it off, he regularly reads excerpts of both rave and attack reviews (and I can’t write this without imagin­ing him reading the most flat-foot­ed parts on the air to prove me wrong wrong wrong and no fun!).

But that’s wishful thinking. Limbaugh will thrive. Sure, the shows have lost some angry oomph since the election, but then, hasn’t life? With subjects like gays in the military and Marge Schott, he’ll have plenty to play with. In fact, he’ll be a re­freshingly fearless critic of Clinton’s inevitable hypocrisies.

After the wistful question of whether his show will survive, the other query you hear most in New York — where Rush works and lives (on the Upper West Side!) but where people seem barely aware of the national legend (his TV ratings here are among the lowest, despite the recent switch from Channel 9 at 12:30 a.m. to Channel 5 at 11 a.m.) — is: He doesn’t really believe half the stuff he says, does he? Way more than half. As Limbaugh told USA To­day, his views are “honestly held and sincerely offered. But the ar­rogance is pure, 100 percent shtick — an attempt at humor.”

The big brag is his key attempt at humor. “This show is not about what you think,” he tells his audi­ence. “This show is about what I think.” The big brag simulta­neously inflates his importance and, by its obviousness, preempts audience resentment. The brag’s his free-market ideology in action, a blow-up toy version of letting the individual, not the govern­ment, do it.

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Whether or not he becomes King of the Right Wing, the daily debates over just where does Mr. Limbaugh stand play right into his self-referential media politics. Is he far right-wing? callers ask. Does he like Pat Robertson? (His disassociation from the reverend is most delicate.) In Rush’s lexi­con, he’s from “the Bennett/Kemp/Limbaugh wing of the Re­publican Party.” He also defends Pat Buchanan’s “religious war” and is antiabortion, but he’s not a prude. Soft-core blasphemy is a frequent motif: To announce his book’s reemergence at the top of the lists last month, he said, “For three weeks Madonna sat atop me [audience laughs] on The New York Times hardcover [on “hard” he squinches his face like he can’t stand the overstimulation] nonfic­tion bestseller list. But now I sit atop Madonna [oohs and boos], and she is going down.”

Other good things ab-out Rush, quickly:

• He makes ideas understandable in plain English, without talking down to the audience. In fact, un­like Reagan or Bush, Limbaugh exalts the intellect and is vaguely pro-brains: “With half my brains tied behind my back to make it even,” he says daily.

• When you agree with him — go Rush! He was ruthless on Perot, doing one of his “Updates” — ­song parodies on topical sub­jects — to the tune of “Secret Agent Man.”

• Liberal p.c. needs to be pierced.

A few sickening things about Rush:

• One of his spoof Updates is about the homeless. Only under pressure did he drop an AIDS Up­date set to “I’ll Never Love This Way Again.” (Is there a Lee Atwa­ter-deathbed apology in the mak­ing here?)

• He avoids direct discussion about race, couching any talk about, say, Jesse Jackson or Spike Lee in their liberal politics. Theo­retically, that’s fair. But in actual­ity, his almost all-white audience easily fills in the cracks, which he gleefully widens: Delighted that the Colorado boycott forced May­or David Dinkins to choose be­tween two politically correct forces — gays or Denver’s black mayor, Wellington Webb, who asked him not to support the boy­cott — Limbaugh went on and on about how Dinkins and Webb were “black bros,” repeating “bro” eight times, apparently be­cause it was just so darn funny. His understanding of racism is, at best, pre-adolescent: Iman, “a black woman,” is “beauti­ful … that means I’m not racist.”

•  Almost everything he says on women is suspect. He just doesn’t know women, feminist or other­wise. He’s obviously afraid of them, as he admitted in Vanity Fair, because he felt unattractive and never had a date in high school. But the twice-divorced Rush can’t see his own projection: Women become the ugly desper­ate ones, as proven in one of his “35 undeniable truths about life”: “Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women easi­er access to the mainstream.” And while he railed against Gloria Steinem for calling Al D’Amato a Nazi, he’s continued to call femi­nists “feminazis.” Why, Rush is just heilarious!

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Such rabidness smoothed by a likable personality would seem to make him a TV natural. But there’s something off about the show. Maybe it’s because Rush plays himself sweeter and safer on TV, afraid his more free-wheeling radio rant will lose him his chance for TV glory.

TV glory seems important to Limbaugh and Ailes — they’ve been “using the medium” to the hilt. Viewers send in video Rush paeans; Rush regularly shows TV clips of his favorite enemies in the act of a liberal gaffe. But without guests and with only an occasional caller, the props are just a diver­sion — there’s an emptiness at the heart of the show. Oddly it’s an emptiness echoed, not countered, by the presence of a live audience.

Their laughter sounds canned. Maybe it’s because they’re trying to have more fun than a human being should be allowed to have; maybe it’s because, laughing only on Rush’s cues, their laughter is canned. Lookswise, they could pass as The Rushford Lives: 98 per cent of the men wear suits and ties.

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Ultimately, it’s Rush’s relation­ship to his audience that defines him as either dangerous man or mere media darling. The most telling Rush phrase I’ve left till last: “Dittos.” Years back, callers were wasting valuable radio time praising him before they got on to their questions. He suggested they just say “dittos” and everyone would get the point. So people be­came “dittoheads” and greet him with “megadittos” from Omaha or Dallas. The special phrases that pass between Rush and audience have become a kind of nationwide baby talk, a gurgly lingo that only the in-love understand.

Though Rush urges his audi­ence to think for themselves, like a good individualistic-minded conservative should, most every­thing in his spiel tells them to think like him. “You don’t have to think. I’ll do the thinking for you.” He’s being ironic, very­ — but many in his audience don’t get the irony and just get upset. In his own way, he wants to warn them away from followerhood­ — but he’d be a nobody without it.

The shows crackle with the con­tradiction. Never does the audi­ence challenge him more than when they think he’s deviated from the track he’s warned them to stay on. Postelection, he appar­ently said something nice on the radio about Clinton (I missed what it was, but heard the hemor­rhaging). As caller after caller be­rated him, Rush categorically de­nied that he had said the nice thing. Thus the faithful rose to their most noble, calling him, in so many words, a liar. One wom­an, after validating herself as a megadittohead, took him on, arti­culately and fearlessly, and dared him to replay the tape. OK, I thought, finally someone smart, strong, someone who “gets the joke” challenging him on his own ground. Will he finally be punc­tured, for real?

Rush charmed her, and she forgot her dare. ■

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Whiny White Guys

Save the Males: The Making of the Butch Backlash

All this whinin’ and cryin’ and pitchin’ a fit
Get over it. — The Eagles

Only in America are there holidays to compensate for what has been lost. Martin Luther King Day signifies the humanist dream deferred. Halloween is an urban celebration of fantasies that cannot be lived. And Super Bowl Sunday is the Day of Male Bonding. It commemorates an institution that has all but lost its authority.

It wasn’t always this way. Once there were holidays devoted to the worship of womankind, while men made the rules of public life. But as women intruded, observances like the Easter Parade lost their luster. Now it’s men who need rituals to affirm their im­portance. The perfect occasion arose in 1967 — four years after Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique — with the first Super Bowl. Were it not for our need to mark the archaic, this climactic football game would not be such a commercial bonanza, nor would it echo the gendered polarities of beauty pageantry and war. For one sacred afternoon, men gather to chug a brewsky with the buds, and the demands of sexual equity are suspended. The Super Bowl is a reverie of the way we were.

But this year, the Day of Male Bonding came early. The nation awoke on November 9 to a new political alignment. Sixty-two per cent of white males had voted for Republican Congressional candidates. They were credited with producing the first GOP majority in 40 years. Not since Ronald Reagan had the right savored such a victory, and the conservative press was quick to capitalize on it. The Wall Street Journal, where Rush Limbaugh is known as a “sensitive fellow,” hyped the term Angry White Males, and before you could whisper, “Hillary is a bitch,” America had a new minority.

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OF COURSE, THERE HAVE ALWAYS been angry white men. What’s new is their emergence in this country as a political bloc. These guys are on a well-publicized rampage, howling about their loss of power, casting themselves as victims and everyone else as their oppressors. What’s so wacky about this role reversal is that white men clearly hold  the lion’s share of political and corporate power. They lead the major religions and run the military. But they have lost something less tangible, without which they cannot continue to rule: their legitimacy.

White men are no longer the whole against which we measure all the parts, but one more angry special interest group. Once they were “mankind,” now they’re just another niche in the endless segmentation markets and identities. This new “community” has its own jargon and its own outrageousness. Limbaugh is a specialty much like kente cloth or rainbow flags. “Rush,” wrote one book reviewer for the Los Angeles Times, “is the ultimate guilty pleasure for guys weary of being bound by the cultural straitjacket of political correctness.”

1995 Village Voice article about angry White guys by Richard Goldstein

P.C. is the official expletive of the Angry White Male. What began as a wry leftist critique of its own puritanical tendencies has become a term of derision for all things multicultural, feminist, or gay. The emergence of this epithet, at the same time as other, less elegant slurs have made a comeback, affirms the new pecking order of abuse. The only group it’s not hip to dis these days is straight white men.

But even this ritual baring of teeth reflects the tenuous state of male prestige. A major shift in consciousness has made the aphorisms about female pulchritude and male power that dot the Western canon seem archaic. The notion that women are born “to ben under mannes governance,” as Chaucer put it, must now be continually asserted, because it is no longer self-evident. No wonder so much energy is devoted to constructing a fundamentalism of male supremacy. The very fact that he needs to form a political bloc suggests that the white male no longer takes his influence for granted. That’s why he’s angry: He is still the major player, but he is no longer the game.

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The conflation of power with truth, justice, the natural, or the divine is called hegemony. It’s what allows a dominant class, race, or gender to maintain its credibility. When that God-given right to rule is undermined, the loss of status can be devastating — especially when it occurs along with a loss of wealth. That’s what created the new Republican majority.

No one bothers to recall that men and women colluded in the last great Republican rout of 1946. Pollsters didn’t even measure women voters as a separate category until 1982, but the gender gap has been a fact of political life ever since. Fewer women voted in the last election than in ’92, and those who did tilted slightly toward the Democrats. This means the Republican majority, so potent in the short run, is built on highly unstable ground. If more women go to the polls in ’96, and some men redirect their anger toward the corporate masters and their congressional servants, the Democrats could be back in power.

But in order to attract the backlash vote, it would have to be a Democratic Party with a David Letterman edge, a par­ty that mocks its own identification with the weak and the powerless. It would have to slough off guilt and stand up to the “unreasonable” demands of women and minorities, singing along with the Eagles anthem for the Angry White Male, “Get Over It”:

Complain about the present
and blame it on the past
I’d like to find your inner child
and kick its little ass

These New Democrats would embrace male power. Perhaps, like Letterman (and Limbaugh), they would smoke cigars.

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THE DAY OF MALE BONDING WAS scarcely over when The New York Times announced that cigars had become “a prop for the ’90s.” The remarkable photo on page one showed a young, besuited white male puffing away on what the reporter called “a statement of cool authority and elegance.” Sitting behind him, in shadow, a black man looks uneasy lighting up. Both are patrons of a cigar club, that new Manhattan environment where men gather to bask in what one pro­prietor called “a whole romantic era, the Victorian smoking room.”

He wasn’t talking about a singles bar. For though women are welcome in these clubs — after all, it’s the law — their real place is on the service staff, enhancing the prosthetic effect of a good cigar by handling it, lighting it, and even clipping the tip. Less than 1 per cent of cigar smokers are women, which makes these establishments a perfect setting for the romance of male bonding. But the steep price of a stogie ($22 for a Dominican Montecristo) signals that not just any dude can be part of this coterie. Un­like Super Bowl Sunday, cigar clubs aren’t supposed to be a democratic experience. The idea is to bring together two of the most powerful impulses in human history: camaraderie and class.

Cigars are the ultimate accoutrement of male power, the gentleman’s gat. Which is why it’s significant that, in the past year alone, sales have risen by more than 50 per cent, according to one manufacturer. This boom is largely due to young smokers look­ing for a high-status buzz. As the president of the Cigar Association of America ex­plains, “there is a male backlash” and a hunger for the days when male power was such a given it was rarely remarked upon. Cigars are a traditional instrument of that era, commemorating the moment after din­ner when ladies retired while gents remained at the table to huff and puff. Cigar chic is one more sign that the yearning for symbols of male supremacy is eminently marketable. In an age where culture creates politics, and commerce makes a style of both, the butch backlash is becom­ing chic.

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THE NAZIS KNEW ALL about the power of the archaic. They built their reich on racist and sexist traditions that were al­ready in collision with the evolution of lib­eral societies. The allure of the Übermensch was all the more intense because he was passé. Something similar sustains the Angry White Male. This right­-wing version of Encino Man harks back not just to the postwar “golden age” of the one-income, two-parent, male-cen­tered family, but to the primordial days of all­-male hunting parties.

Of course, we no longer hunt for survival or depend on physical agility and muscle mass to hold territory. Warfare is in­creasingly conducted by remote control, and eco­nomic life is bound up with technical expertise. These shifts in the human condition make male su­premacy obsolete. Women are coming to power not just because of their col­lective will but because ob­jective conditions favor gender equity. The femi­nist revolution, as it is sometimes called, more closely resembles an evo­lution of the species. But because this leap forward involves altering patterns of behavior that have been practiced for many millennia, the course of change is uncertain and the anxieties potent enough to create a backlash. The male bond, no longer functional, is even more powerful as an artifact of the old ways.

In contemporary culture, Archie Bunker was the first Angry White Male. But good old “Ah-chie,” as Edith called him, was a bigoted buffoon who got his comeuppance, of­ten at the hands of his longhaired, upwardly mobile son-in-law. Archie’s resentment was rooted in class. He wasn’t meant to stand for men, or even white men, but for the eminently vulnerable white working stiff. In the end, like Ralph Kramden, Archie wanted love more than power.

Times have certainly changed. The sit-­comic ritual of male rage and reconciliation has given way to pure aggression, directed not at the powerful but at subordinates who refuse to take it lying down. Some time dur­ing the Reagan era, the racial animus that drove Dirty Harry was augmented by the gendered fury of Sam (“I don’t support wife beating, but I understand it”) Kinison and Andrew Dice Clay. These were no lov­able loudmouths, but demonic figures of male authority whose crudeness was pre­sented as a higher form of truth telling. Heroically blue collar, they appealed to a middle-class audience eager to hear that women, blacks, and gays were walking all over straight white men. Kinison and Clay accommodated this burgeoning butchoisie by avoiding jokes about class. They confined their rage to race and sex. And under their aegis, the droll misogyny of Henny Young­man (“Take my wife. Please!”) and the coy ressentiment of Rodney Dangerfield (“I don’t get no respect”) were transformed in­to sadism. Stand-up became the home base of the butch backlash.

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Soon, the fury appeared in rock music, where sexual and racial epithets became a cur­rency of hip discourse. White fans, who had already been schooled on metal and hardcore, eagerly identified with the rage of rap. In their hands, the hiphop stance was turned on its head, producing white racist epithets. But the bulk of this dissing was directed at women and homosexuals — or,  ever in the vernacular, bitches and fags. These sexual slurs had a double meaning. Not only did they ex­press what white males felt about their loss of authority (including the power to name all people and things in the world), but these words were part of a male language, and their elevation invoked the most primitive device for maintaining dominance: the bond.

The Super Bowl is a one-night stand, but backlash rock and sado stand-up are on­going reminders of a power that has lost its glory. Still, these forms are far too lewd to be of use to a politics that must observe the pieties of Christian fundamentalism. For conservatives to harness the butch backlash, it has to be expressed in a more wholesome way. Enter talk radio, with its populist im­primatur and its decidedly antierotic agen­da. Here was rock without rhythm. But the shock jocks did borrow something from the pop culture they condemned: its epithets. Bitch and fag are male terms of derogation that denote an “unnatural” self-assertion by women or homosexuals. As talk radio became an affiliate of the Republican party, these slurs became part of an overtly polit­ical presentation. It was only necessary for the men at the mikes to clean up their act a bit. A bitch was now a feminazi (c.f. Rush Limbaugh), a fag was a militant homosexu­al (at least on The 700 Club).

This same strategy has taken root in Congress, where the new Republican poohbahs revel in sotto voce slurs. Richard Armey’s use of Barney Fag, murmured to a group of reporters he thought he could count on to share the joke, was one exam­ple of the new respectability of hate speech. Newt Gingrich’s confidential salute to the first lady is another. (What’s the big deal? Mother Gingrich later asked. Aren’t there buttons calling Hillary a bitch?) The cur­rent Congress so resembles a locker room that ABC correspondent Cokie Roberts re­cently observed, “The House these days is no place for a mother.”

Neither is the Connecticut statehouse. When a nominee for commissioner of vet­erans’ affairs was criticized for referring to gay men as “lollipops,” he insisted he hadn’t meant to be offensive. “It’s just the way an old marine talks,” the nominee explained. Precisely: The old barracks jargon of racial and sexual slurs was intended to bond men into a war party; epithets helped to establish the boundary between the in-group and everyone else. That tactic has been adapted by the GOP to cement its bond with the the Angry White Male.

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REPUBLICANS COME EASILY TO THIS politics of symbolic solidarity. It was the core of Richard Nixon’s plan to exploit the backlash against civil rights. Now Nixon’s Southern strategy has been applied to women’s lib­eration. Never mind that the tradi­tional blue-collar household has always included many working women, or that today their income is all that stands between many families and poverty. To the extent that feminism presents alternatives to the dominion of the patriarch, it can be blamed for the loss of starus once accorded, as a matter of course, to white men.

What about the angry black man? Why is he not part of the pissed-off fraternity? Doen’t he have a beef with bitches, too? In fact, there’s ample evidence of a butch back­lash in the black community. From Tupac to Tyson, images of vehement masculinity abound. But in white America, black male rage is regarded as a pathology, while white male rage is seen as the basis of a politics. As in Birth of a Nation, black male rage is sex­ualized and repressed while white male rage is idealized and unleashed.

In reality, both are aspects of the same response to the growing influence of women. O. J. Simpson and Clarence Thomas are actors in the same sitdram that produced the Republican victory. And this reaction is part of a global backlash that has ignited fundamentalist explosions in every major faith. How much more can be ac­complished when the enemy within includes not just infidels but feminists. How much easier it is to convince women — enjoined by a lifetime of experiences to “stand by your man” — that their best interests are served by the old order. Not many citizens of the Third World would buy that argument from their former masters. Nor would many African Americans vote for candidates opposed to affirmative action. But, though white women have been major beneficiaries of such programs, in the last election, near­ly half their votes went to the Republicans.

Not that any party has a patent on the butch backlash. Plenty of Democrats are pissed off, too, and the administration is running as fast as it can from feminism (not to mention affirmative action). But Bill Clinton will have to do more than present himself as a kinder, gentler Republican in order to win back the whiners. He will have to toe the conservative line: that white men are the real victims, and minorities the real oppressors. Without this Big Lie, the back­lash could not cohere. Which is why con­servatives have appropriated the left’s vo­cabulary of aggrievement. A right-wing bumper sticker proclaims SAVE THE MALES.

An op-ed piece in the Daily News is a telling example of the new rule about who’s allowed to be a victim and who is not. “No­body gives a damn about me,” one white male student grouses. The author, a female professor at the University of Cincinnati, supports his claim. Undergrads like him, she writes, “enjoy no special admissions consid­erations, support services, and designated scholarships, no departments equivalent to women’s or African American studies.” She doesn’t mention that these beleaguered bach­elors are taught from curricula that stress the achievements of white men, and go on to earn more than other college graduates. They’ve had affirmative action for 5000 years.

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JUST HOW OPPRESSED ARE WHITE MEN? It depends. They come in all classes (though the Republicans would like them to forget that fact), and when it comes to economic status, the rich ones are doing better than ever. But for blue-collar workers, the loss of earning power is very real, indeed.

Actual income has fallen sharply over the past two decades, largely because of the shift from well-paying manufacturing jobs to low-paying work in the service industries. The result has been a rude awakening from the American dream, at least for the gener­ation that came of age before the ’70s, when workers could expect to double their standard of living every 25 years. Now it would take 65 years to achieve that same gain.

But the pain hasn’t been shared equal­ly. According to the census bureau, the me­dian income of white women rose by 10 per cent between 1979 and 1993, while the median income of white men dropped by the same rate. (Among blacks, a similar dis­parity exists, but both sexes continue to earn less than whites.) A major reason for this gender gap is the traumatic migration from assembly lines to hamburger grills. For white men these new jobs mean lower wages, but for women and minorities, who have always worked for less, these same jobs represent an improvement. Largely because of this historical inequity, the earning gap has narrowed over the past 20 years. Though women still make only 70 per cent of what men do, that’s up from about 60 per cent in 1979. All this has precious little to do with affirmative action, but if you’re a white male with shrinking fornmes, it’s easy to imagine that women and minorities are getting all the breaks. Especially if that’s what Rush keeps telling you.

The butch backlash enables Republicans to profit from the growing inequalities of American life, while deflecting attention from those who are really responsible: the white men who set wages. Super Bowl Sun­day and other signifiers of the male bond belie the fact that professional men have gotten richer on the backs of their blue-col­lar buds. The salary gap between educated and uneducated workers is now wider in the U.S. than anywhere else in the developed world. And guess what? Though women have made striking inroads into the professions, the higher on the corporate ladder the less visible they are.

Women comprise only 6 per cent of di­rectors at Fortune 500 companies, and their committee assignments nearly always involve public relations, while the real power posts on corporate boards remain in male hands. If anything, it’s these women, in their tailored power suits, who should be pissed. In­stead, as former Times columnist Anna Quindlen reported, they meet in restaurants for discreet grousing sessions, hoping not to be overheard as they mutter the one unacceptable epithet these days, about the “whiteboys” who run their companies.

This term, appropriated from black slang, became part of the Clinton White House when it was used by the likes of Lin­da Bloodworth-Thomason to describe the all-male policy preserve in the West Wing. But since Leon Panetta’s arrival and Hillary Clinton’s retreat, “whiteboys” has all but vanished from the Washington lexicon. It certainly could be applied to the House, where Re­publican leaders are following corporate form by choosing women to present the party line — especially on social issues — while white men hold all but one of 18 committee chairs.

The spectacle of the powerful blam­ing the weak would be comic if it weren’t so effective.

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BUT MAN DOES NOT RULE BY BREAD alone. If the butch backlash were merely a re­action to material deprivation, it wouldn’t have such appeal to prosperous professionals. That it does only shows how pervasive this shift in status has been. Even when men and women do not compete for scarce resources, they battle over who makes the rules. The structure of the family, the etiquette of sex, even the proper use of pronouns — all are in contention. And the score adds up to a loss of authority for men. Add to this incursion of women the explosion of gay culture and the proliferation of racial categories and it’s clear that, in the largely symbolic realm of hegemony, straight white males are feeling the pinch. They lack what they didn’t need as long as they stood for the whole: an identity. Now they’ve got one, rage and all.

To be sure, the refusal to admit that white men still hold the largest share of ma­terial power gives their anger an unreal qual­ity. But that has never stopped reactionaries, and this movement has a mission to restore the old order. Women, blacks, and gays have a place in it, but not as au­tonomous beings. They are to resume their traditional roles in ritual deference to mas­culine authority. Women must appeal, blacks must kneel, and gays must heel.

This is the allure of Howard Stern. He reconstructs the order, waving his dick around symbolically before a delighted black woman. Stern recalls a world where white men rule by righteous banter. Every­one else must play along or take the burn. He’s a working-class hero whose audience, like the backlash itself, includes many pro­fessionals. Indeed, a recent book-signing appearance by Stern nearly shut down Wall Street. Even some powerful women are drawn to this action, especially if they are politicians out to reassure their own angry white men. Just to show she’s no bitch, New Jersey governor Christie Todd Whitman named a rest stop after Stern.

Humor is an important weapon in the butch backlash, used to enforce the order by ridiculing those who won’t abide by it. Call-in shows are perfect for this police ac­tion, because they allow the jock to create an imaginary bond and to disconnect anyone who threatens it. This cannot easily be achieved in real life. But not everyone is enchanted by interactive executions or amused by the prairie-like cadences of Rush, even in print. For the upscale backlasher, there’s that self-described “Republican reptile,” P. J. O’Rourke.

[related_posts post_id_1=”724707″ /]

Only The Wall Street Journal could regard this Bud Lite version of Oscar Wilde as “the funniest writer in America.” Like Limbaugh, O’Rourke conflates right reason and male supremacy, but in the voice of an ar­chaic aristocrat. He can sound like a parody of William F. Buckley as he affirms “the im­mense fatigue everyone is feeling with equality,” using the collective pronoun everyone the way the very rich do: to mean us. In this order, there are noble white men and the un­grateful new masses. “Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, cripples, women, and guests on The Oprah Winfrey Show are all demanding to be treated as equals,” O’Rourke writes. “Ho­mosexuals are just one more voice of com­plaint in an already too querulous world.”

Fifty years ago, O’Rourke would have had to include the Irish, not to mention the Italians and Jews. But sexism and racism have supplanted ethnic bigotry. Of course, the same old interests are served: The rich get richer while the workers get to vent on their designated inferiors. Imagine the alterna­tive — workers blaming those who actually profit from their loss — and you can under­stand why the Republicans have invested so much in the Angry White Male.

By displacing the old class affinities on­to gender and race, the Southern strategists have created an estate to which any righteous white dude can belong. Even the former professor who crafted the coming California voter initiative that would ban affirmative ac­tion can announce, with disarming pride, “Count me among those angry men.” The appeal of this fantasy goes well beyond the working class. But just as rich Republicans have mastered the idiom of the common man, the Angry White Male wears a blue collar even when he’s a millionaire.

A complex mythography instructs us that the working man is blunt, devout, virile, stoical, and ready to fight when wronged — in short, the embodiment of traditional masculinity. Machismo is his inheritance, passed from father to son like a job in the construction trade. Never mind the brutality of his passage to manhood, the systematic hardening that has numbed him, or the crushing impact of that process on his own children, not to mention his mother and his wife. This is the icon conserva­tives have built their backlash on, and its power transcends class because it speaks to the disquieting sense of male loss. For what is missing from the culture of equity — as it is from the alternative family — is the almighty patriarch: His God, his laws, his sense of what it means to be a man.

Restoring the lost father in his most cul­turally idealized form — as the head of a white working-class family — is what makes the Re­publican agenda so attractive. It’s why the next presidential campaign is shaping up to be a race between Bill Clinton, the fatherless child who reminds us all too much of our pat­rimonial loss, and Bob Dole, the wounded, wizened, wrathful dad.

[related_posts post_id_1=”714416″ /]

BUT IT’S NOT ENOUGH TO HONOR thy father by smoking his cigar. Hegemony must be seen to coincide with “natural law” or it can easily be confused with brute force. This is why conservatives are so eager to assert that the social order is a reflection of nature, and not just a set of biases that privilege straight white men.

In this war of restoration, sexual and racial supremacy march arm in arm. Charles Murray’s contentions about the heritability of intelligence have their equivalent in the recent rash of “data” demonstrating that sexual inequality is built into human biology. Though Murray’s ideas have achieved a frightening respectability, they have also met with strong resistance from the intellectual mainstream. But ideas about the impact of gender on ability are harder to dismiss, if only because there are differences between women and men — some of them obvious, others subtle but measurable. No one has been able to demonstrate that these distinctions account for women’s destiny. Yet many men who would never be tempted by Murray’s racial analysis find merit in equally spurious claims about the sexes.

Consider John Stossel, who began his TV career as an award-winning investigator of consumer fraud. Lately, he’s jumped on the backlash bandwagon with a series of prime-time specials that puncture liberal myths. Last month, Stossel took a peck at “eye-opening research” suggesting that “Boys and Girls Are Different” after all. Ah, but are the sexes programmed for inequality? Stossel poses a rhetorical question and answers with a rigged response: “Should gender influence our place in society? Some research says yes. Some people don’t want you to hear about it.” This hint of censor­ship echoes the heady image of feminazis organized into an authoritarian “thought police.” But they can’t stop this heroic reporter from speaking truth to feminist power. Stossel enlists “other voices, quieter voices, perhaps,” drawn from “the world of science,” to counter their views.

You’d never know from this show that researchers strongly disagree about the im­pact of biological differences. You’d think it was a settled issue that “men and women just operate differently.” Or that human nature is timeless and unchanging rather than constantly evolving. “Maybe this is a social problem that needs to be fixed,” Stossel admits. But then he hammers home the Limbaugh line: “If we’re born different, if we think dif­ferently because our brains are different, then trying to fix these differences will be pointless, expensive, maybe even hurtful.”

Stossel’s worldview is common on the op-ed page, home of the angry white pundit. John Leo, who has found his niche as a syndicated critic of the politically correct, was quick to jump on newly published data demonstrating that women and men use their brains differently. Never mind that, as the researchers reported, both sexes appear to arrive at the same level of competence through different neurological routes. For Leo, as for Stossel, this is further proof of what has always been evident to his senses, at least: that women are the weaker, more emotional sex. Now that feminists are no longer in a position to suppress this truth, Leo proposes a new system: “Let girls and boys compete,” but without “sexual quo­tas.” (Read affirmative action.) If the result is a return of male privilege, it must be be­cause that’s what nature decrees.

In fact, there is no science of sexual inferiority. There is only the history of male supremacy, and the pattern it imposes on human identity. The revival of essentialist thinking about both sex and race comes at a politically propitious time: just as the de­bate about affirmative action is getting un­derway. Not only does this new social Dar­winism undercut the rationale for such programs, but it helps to define the unnatural­: women who cherish their autonomy.

It’s no surprise that, in the year of the butch backlash, the old accusation of “man­hating” is back in style. This time it’s com­ing not just from shock jocks but from in­tellectuals like Camille Paglia, the libertine’s Rush Limbaugh. In a recent tangle with feminists (moderated by that old libera­tionist William F. Buckley), Paglia urged “all people who espouse progressive values [to] go back to looking at the ordinary lives of women who love men.” The implication is that feminists don’t love men. That Paglia is a lesbian hasn’t stopped her from invok­ing Betty Friedan’s warning about “the lavender menace.” It’s all part of playing­ — and playing to — the male power game.

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Of course, it is entirely possible to love men — and to relish sex with them — without worshiping male power. Two feminists made that point in a recent issue of Mirabella, but the editors played the pieces with a cover line that bows to the backlash. FEMINAZIS? NOUS? they asked wryly. (Never mind that, if you consider Limbaugh’s definition of a femi­nazi — woman who strongly supports abor­tion rights — the only honest answer would be “Oui!“) At Mirabella, which is part of Rupert Murdoch’s stable, the truth must be packaged so it corresponds to the contours of male power.

Women’s magazines in general have been quick to reflect the anxieties aroused by the backlash. Their tone grows accommodat­ing, even as men’s magazines ram home the new orthodoxies. GQ attempts to solve its lingering butch problem in the latest issue by decrying the fate of “Male Victims of Politi­cal Correctness.” An editorial makes a populist case against “The Tyranny of Prescribed Culture.” (Read countercultural elite.)

Meanwhile on Seventh Avenue, the male gaze falls on the spring line. Women “want glamour again,” Versace announces. Clothes that echo Hollywood in the ’40s — the golden age of female passive aggression­ — are being touted for what the L.A. monthly Buzz calls “the year of dangerous curves.” As for the executive suite, Harper’s Bazaar an­nounces the arrival of the “soft power suit.” Wear it with one of those new corsets and you’re dressing for genetic success.

The threat of rejection by men has always been a powerful deterrent to women’s liberation, as have the epithets applied to men who can’t or won’t dominate their wives: henpecked, pussy whipped, and that telling liberal euphemism, wuss. In the past, political assaults on the autonomy of women have been abetted by an all too compliant media, as in the postwar years, when Rosie the Riveter was coerced into retreating from the workforce and admitting that “father knows best.” We can expect to see a postmodern version of this patridoxy, along with numerous scenarios of sexual reconciliation based on women’s sensitivity (and subordination) to men’s needs.

[related_posts post_id_1=”586816″ /]

BUT AMERICAN CULTURE EMBRACES contradictions, if only to sell them, niche by niche. The image of women according to Phyllis Shlafly (who once warned that feminism is doomed “be­cause it is based on an attempt to re­peal and restructure human nature”) has never really taken hold outside the parameters of Christian rock. And though the Angry White Male is very much a creature of the dream machine, there are other, more complicated messages on the marquee.

Even as shock jocks continue their dri­ve-time harangue, and stand-up comics keen over their loss of dick privileges, young people flock to see films about triumphant dumb guys. Not that these dudes are sensi­tive. But even when they are antisocial, like Beavis and Butt-head or Wayne and Garth, these “failed men” stand outside the loop of butch authority. They bond, but not to hold power; they love, but not to be in charge. Forrest Gump and Ace Ventura have libidos but not cojones, that is, they lack the will to dominate.

Such floating icons express our ambivalence about male power. We are eager to restore it even as we embrace its over­throw. And despite the allure of an ancient icon, many women — and men — see the butch backlash for what it is: a solidarity of fools. Though it is always tempting to be part of a trend, the awkwardness of this re­crudescence is apparent. As the passage from Willie Loman to Jackie Mason suggests, white male rage can no longer be played as tragedy, only as farce.

So how far will the butch backlash go? Can it take us back to the days when, to use the hip vernacular, white men rooled? Not bloody likely. They can demonize people of color, but they cannot make them disappear. They can expel immigrants from hospitals and schools, but they cannot make Ameri­ca a white nation. They can punish queers, but they cannot make them ashamed again. They can confound women with falsities about their true nature, but they cannot drive them from the workplace. (Indeed, they can’t afford to.) Nor can they restore sexual puritanism and the double standard that went with it. The jack of liberation is out of the box. And the engine of equality churns on, leaving male supremacy further and further behind.

The emergence of the Angry White Male is more like a last stand. The glory is gone, but the power won’t be given up without a fight. And precisely because that birthright is what’s at stake, the butch back­lash is very dangerous, indeed. It has the ca­pacity to inflict enormous pain on the alien, the illicit, and the needy before it runs its awful course. So fasten your seat belts, com­rades, we’re in for a bumpy ride. ❖

Research: Rahul Mehta

1995 Village Voice article about angry White guys by Richard Goldstein

1995 Village Voice article about angry White guys by Richard Goldstein

1995 Village Voice article about angry White guys by Richard Goldstein

1995 Village Voice article about angry White guys by Richard Goldstein

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She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry Captures the Women Who Changed It All

On October 8, 2012, Rush Limbaugh — the radio host and resentment profiteer — said this to a listener who had called to complain about how hard it is to argue with liberals: “I wouldn’t tell them what you hear anybody else say, because that’s just an opening for them to say, ‘Well, they’re a liar,’ or ‘They don’t know anything.’ “

What’s interesting here isn’t whatever it is that Limbaugh’s arguing. Instead, look at the pronouns. The indefinite anybody, which is singular, is antecedent to those theys, which are plural. That’s a now-common usage that, in Limbaugh’s youth, was not that common at all: In the ’50s and ’60s, in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, any real man speaking of a hypothetical person of uncertain gender would have defaulted to he.

This exemplifies the profound success of the waves of feminism that Limbaugh has made his millions railing against: Since the ’60s, when a generation of
activists and critics dared to argue that women should be allowed to make decisions and hold jobs of note and be paid worth a damn and not get raped, feminism has fundamentally changed most aspects of our lives today — even the
very language Rush Limbaugh speaks.

And he doesn’t even know it.

One of the year’s best films, Mary Dore’s She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry is an urgent, illuminating dive into the headwaters of second-wave feminism, the movement that — no matter what its detractors insist — has given us the world in which we live.

“We live in a country that doesn’t like to credit any of its radical movements,” Susan Brownmiller says in the film. “They don’t like to admit in the United States that change happens because radicals force it.” A score of those who dared force it turn up for fresh interviews in Dore’s wide-ranging film: Here’s Rita Mae Brown, Ellen Willis, Fran Beal, Judith Arcana, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, and many more, dishing truth and priceless anecdotes about what it felt like to change the world — and how tough it was to do so. Dore’s generous with fiery archival footage — marches, chants, meetings, gobsmackingly sexist news reports — as she traces the development of the
National Organization for Women and its many sister groups, culminating in 1970’s Women’s Strike for Equality.

The doc is wise, moving, upsetting, and sometimes funny. Witness the “Stare at Your Own Damn Tits” T-shirt, or the ogle-in that Karla Jay arranged on Wall Street, where feminists leered at suited dudes after a newspaper article described brokers lying in wait each afternoon to grope and hiss at one buxom office worker. “Those pants bring out your best!” Jay calls.

We see that in a report Marlene Sanders taped for ABC News.

“How you like that hat over there?” asks one of Jay’s feminist oglers, pointing at some dude.

“Oh,” gushes Jay, “what a chapeau!”

Of course, the laughs sometimes stick in your throat: Weep over the classified ad, from an old gender-segregated help-wanted section, calling for “World’s Best Looking Exec Secy to Assist World’s Most Charming Boss.”

Dore opens with the movement’s birth — with Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique in ’63 and the formation of NOW in ’66 — and then, just a few years later, its splintering with the New Left.
At a protest targeting Nixon’s election, Marilyn Webb took the stage to speak out about women’s issues ignored by the civil rights and anti-war movements — and about the shoddy treatment women were subjected to within organizations like the Students for a Democratic Society. Webb says in the film that she expected the women’s movement to be viewed as the third leg of the New Left, a natural outgrowth of existing activism. Instead, it was attacked. As she and the late Willis describe it, the mostly male crowd
responded with catcalls and threats: “Fuck her down a dark alley!”

Dark alleys, of course, became a rallying point for feminists and their earliest organizations. Besides the commonsensical equal-treatment platforms, they pushed for still-controversial reproductive freedoms, most pressingly the right never again to have to seek abortions from backstreet doctors. She’s Beautiful lays out the pro-choice case with a clarity that’s been lost in America: “We were always being subjected to a double message,” Willis says. “Sex was supposed to be OK now, but if we were pregnant, it was our problem.” Thousands of women died each year from illegal abortions; as the ’60s bled into the ’70s, the movement rallied around this. But as Dore is always quick to point out, that movement was never monumental. Fran Beal
recalls arguing a pro-choice message to supporters of the Black Liberation Army, whose doctrine demanded women have babies to support the revolution — and that birth control was a white plot to perpetrate black genocide. Rita Mae Brown, meanwhile, kept clashing with NOW over its failure to address the experiences of all women. She says, with exuberant relish, “I called them on the carpet about class, I called them on the carpet about race, and I called them on the carpet about lesbianism. I said, ‘You are treating women the same way men treat you.’ “

The film builds to an epochal moment that is not as widely remembered as it should be: the August 1970 Women’s Strike for Equality, organized by Friedan and NOW, that set thousands of women marching down Fifth Avenue on the
50th anniversary of the ratification of
the 19th Amendment. “Women on the March: ‘We’re a Movement Now!’ ” trumpeted the headline in the Voice the next week. In a writeup as richly detailed as Dore’s film, Mary Breasted laid out the strike’s three demands: “Free abortion
on demand, 24-hour day care for all mothers, and employment, pay, and
promotion opportunities for women equal to those of men.”

Not one of those has yet been won.
But that doesn’t mean the march or the movement failed. Breasted seemed to sense it even then: “But no one seemed to harp much on those demands,” she wrote. “The common bond was the demonstration itself, their presence in the streets
together, sharing defiant sisterhood.”

That defiant sisterhood changed the workplace, our sexual politics, our language. She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry
is the best filmed account of how that happened you could ever expect to see.

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Evocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie Explores A Rightwing Blowhard of Another Era

Used to be to get famous in the rightwing blowhard racket you had to have an act. Not today. Has anyone ever once thought, “Oh, I can’t wait to hear what Sean Hannity’s going to say next”? (Or “squeak next,” in Hannity’s case.)

Consider this scene from the funny, arresting new doc Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie. “There are almost no feminists who have ever burned a bra, so let me get that straight,” says a young Gloria Allred, her jet-black dome of hair suggestive not of an astronaut’s wife’s but of an astronaut’s helmet.

“There are almost no feminists who ever had anything that they needed to wear a bra for,” Morton Downey Jr., snaps back.

“Likewise on your jock strap,” says Allred.

The audience hoots. Downey turns to them and asks, “How does she know? She has a tape measure on her tongue?”

Downey’s briefly ubiquitous late ’80s shout-fest talk show was soundly denounced during its day for being all the things that it no doubt was: brutish, noisome, theatrical, and pandering. Downey himself, many suspected, was entirely full of shit as he presented himself as a working man’s truth-teller hollering about liberal pukes, lawless thugs, and Tawana Brawley—and opening his mouth so wide on so many magazine covers that by the time of his fall, not two years after his rise, all of America had intimate knowledge of his fillings.

The doc more or less confirms the full-of-shit hypothesis. Quite unlike the Secaucus, New Jersey, screamers who packed his WWOR studio, Downey was as much an everyman as the Kennedys he palled around with growing up. A frustrated crooner, a sensitive poet, a child of privilege, Downey was nevertheless always given to the legitimate impolite outburst: In hilarious home-movie footage that turns up in the doc, he always smiles at the chance to flip off his own family.

The story is a fascinating, hilarious one, well told. A couple years in radio taught Downey his racket: screaming that the U.S.A. is the strongest country the world has ever known, and that it’s also somehow being destroyed right this minute by everyone who isn’t exactly like the man screaming. Also key: Screaming that the media silences voices like the one screaming—even as that voice is making millions for media companies.

Rush Limbaugh was figuring this out at the same time. Limbaugh, of course, would never allow a Gloria Allred on the air. (He would just have called her names from his radio-hole.) But Downey’s shtick was antic confrontation, not mere talking points or political advocacy, and he was quick-witted enough to craft arguments and insults on the fly, some worth quoting years later, both for their outrageous bad-boyism but also for actually being funny, even in their puerile hostility.

At its best, The Morton Downey Jr. Show was a burlesque of the genre it helped midwife: Here’s the sexist asshole rightwing talker but mixed with Al Bundy, at the shoe store, facing off against women the writers dreamed up to annoy him. On one episode featured in the film, a wan vegan lists all the animal products she abstains from; watching Downey watch her, wolfishly, and hearing the audience’s anticipatory laughter is high cartoon comedy, something like when a hapless dowager tells the Three Stooges she’s hired as handymen to take care not to upset her priceless urn.

The doc makes some vague connections to today’s talk-radio culture, but it’s strongest as a character study and behind-the-scenes showbiz story. Show producers dish about the troubles of Downey-wrangling—he once asked a subordinate to hold his penis as he peed—and the troubles of booking serious guests as the show became more popular and ridiculous. On air, Downey started fights, threw guests out, and bellowed his mighty “shut up!”s. The generous sampling of clips in the film demonstrates that, for the guests, the heightened emotion was never just theater—there’s some fight-or-flight kicking in. At first the show gave early TV exposure to Allred, Pat Buchanan, and Al Sharpton, seen here calling an adversary “a punk faggot.” By the end, the producers were reduced to hauling in white supremacists and Jerry Springer-ready strippers. (The filmmakers toss in some anime segments, scenes of celebrities reading Downey’s ’60s poetry, and interviews with former fans.)

Downey, of course, crashed hard after claiming, fantastically, that some of those white supremacists assaulted him in an airport bathroom. As the directors make clear, he was already on the descent, from overexposure, from his drinking and carousing, from his audience-alienating desire still to be some kind of crooning folk singer. We see him butcher Merle Haggard’s “Are the Good Times Really Over?” on the goddamn Pat Sajak Show; we see him call an Inside Edition reporter a “cunt-lipped bastard.” Even if he had exercised control over himself, it’s hard to imagine Downey’s career would have survived into the age of Fox News: He bragged about his bad habits, never pretended he had religion, and once introduced his young girlfriend, Lauren, to a convention of fans by asking, “Wanna see what a 60-year-old guy is fucking these days?”

He stuck with Lauren, and she stuck with him. He eventually kicked the cigarettes that were his trademark, but he did so too late. Toward the end of his life he made a cause of it, railing against the smoking that killed him, with enough of the old theater. The film is like his life: scabrous, upsetting, kind of moving, funny as hell, alive with hints of how we’ve become what we are.

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MADDOW FOR PRESIDENT

Rachel Maddow continually reaffirms her celeb-pundit status with well-spoken rants that keep landing at the top of our Facebook feeds. The latest example is her Rush Limbaugh throwdown, in which she admonishes the conservative radio host for having absolutely no idea what birth control even does. Now the MSNBC host is taking on the Department of Homeland Security with a new book called Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power. Maddow traces our state of perpetual conflict back to the Vietnam War, through Reagan’s presidency, and into the Afghanistan and Iraq wars of the ’00s. Meet our liberal commentator hero at a book signing tonight.

Thu., March 29, 7:30 p.m., 2012

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Studies in Crap: ’30s Texas History Textbook on Lazy Indians, Idle Negroes, and Awesome White Folks!

Each Thursday, your Crap Archivist brings you the finest in forgotten and bewildering crap culled from basements, thrift stores, estate sales and flea markets. I do this for one reason: Knowledge is power.

The Lone Star State: A School History

Author: C.R. Wharton
Date: 1932
Publisher: The Southern Publishing Company
Discovered at: Submitted by a Dallas Junior Crap Archivist

Representative Quote:
“Thousands of the flower of Texas’ manhood had been left on the battlefields while mothers, widows, and orphans mourned them throughout the desolate land. Freedom of the slaves meant the loss of one-fourth of the property owned by the people of Texas.” (page 224)

It turns out that all of American history is decided by Texas, the state that nobody’s supposed to mess with even though it used to get its ass stomped by Mexico. Last year the State Board of Education stunned America by suggesting that Thurgood Marshall and Cesar Chavez be stripped from textbooks. Then, the governor got so mad about poor people maybe getting health insurance that he fantasized about secession, which sounds crazy only until you remember that in its first 15 years of statehood, Texas managed to quit both Mexico and the U.S., because that’s what patriots do.

Dentist Don McLeroy, of the Texas Board of Education, recently explained that his decision to edit brown folks out of textbooks has something to do with freedom: “We have an obligation to Texas to make sure [students] understand the original principles upon which America was founded.” The board votes this month on the changes.

To help them out, your Crap Archivist has boned up on how textbooks explained the principles upon which Texas was founded. Here’s how the The Lone Star State: A School History describes the early Texans’ conflicts with Mexico:

“It was impossible for two peoples of different racial origins, speaking different languages, and having different religious views and laws, to mix without trouble.”

And here is author C.R. Wharton on Native Americans:

  • “The Spaniards should have known from common sense that there was about as much possibility of civilizing the Indian as there was of taming lions and tigers.”
  • “The Indians were troublesome and stole everything they could.”
  • “The Indians did not like to work and often ran away or, in savage fashion, raided the missions and killed the priests… the Indians were lazy and neglected crops and herds.”

Wharton was wrong to write these things because today we know that Native Americans should not be mentioned at all.

Eventually, “people from the U.S. came and claimed the land after years of savagery.” Texas became a state, and then quit to be a Confederate state, and then became a regular state again. As the proposed schoolbook standards make clear, that meant only one thing: The federal government must be limited. For example, after the Civil War, Washington forced Texas’ Native Americans onto reservations, where they subsisted on meager government aid. Wharton made clear that this was unfair to everyone.

“Nor did this handling of the Indians suit the white people. They worked hard to make a living without the assistance of the government and they resented the government’s aid to the Indians.”

Damn that special treatment!

Wharton may complain about other races, but that doesn’t mean he’s interested in them. His first chapter concerns the earliest Spanish explorers and ends with this sentence:

“One hundred and forty-two years went by before a white man came again.”

The next chapter picks up exactly 142 years later. Some fifty pages after that, once he’s described the failure of Spanish missionaries to convert the natives, Wharton announces:

“We are now at the real beginning of Texas history. All that happened in the three hundred years after Pineda sailed our shores and Cabeza de Vaca tramped from Galveston Island to the Rio Grande was of little importance.”

The lesson is one the state board has taken to heart: The parts of history that bore you don’t matter.

That also applies to parts of the world your people haven’t made it to yet!

Anyway, the tyrannic federal government told Texans that the black people they could no longer own now had the right to vote. The results:

“The negroes had been given the right to vote and the ‘carpet baggers’ controlled them and their votes for selfish reasons.”

And:

“When the ‘carpet baggers’ arrived, they deceived and pampered the negroes and soon had them loafing about the country in idleness, homeless and helpless. Southern farmers could not get them to stay at home and work.”

Why does this all sound so familiar?

Wharton believes things got worse.

“These ‘carpet baggers’ even gave the negroes uniforms and guns, thereby making the latter very impudent and causing whites much annoyance.”

The solution?

“Finally, a mysterious order of the southerners called the Ku Klux Klan came into existence to scare the negroes into behaving. They rode throughout the country at night clothed in white robes and high hats telling the negroes they were ‘haunts’ from the dead of the battlefields.”

The book’s one other Klan reference:

“The political situation was complicated by the activities of the Ku Klux Klan, a fraternal order organized in a system of secret clubs or lodges just after the World War. Hundreds of thousands of people had joined the order and it gave support to Judge Felix D. Robertson, of Dallas, for governor.”

Speaking of governors, the only explanation for these boys’ beards must be that the ZZ Top hot rod can travel through time.

Assorted Ironies:

  • Change “colonists” to “Texans,” and this statement could fit right in to tomorrow’s textbooks:

“The colonists hoped for a day when they would govern themselves and have their laws written in English.”

“The Mexican government was very liberal with the colonists, made them large grants of land, and did not require them to pay taxes. Commerce was unrestricted and special grants were made for gins, saw-mills and other special businesses.”

  • Tensions between Texan colonists and the Mexican government escalated when president Bustamante passed a cruel 1830 law “prohibiting further immigration from the United States.” Wharton gets so worked up about this he might as well work for La Raza:

    “Such an act would have kept relatives and friends of the settlers from joining them in their new homes.”

 

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Barack Obama is Golden, Rush Limbaugh is Screwed — Predictions for the Year of the Tiger!

By Fatimah Surjani Ortega

Yes, Tiger, this could be your year
Yes, Tiger, this could be your year

Sunday ushers in the Year of Metal Tiger, which sounds like a golf club. That’s actually appropriate, because things look auspicious for Tiger Woods — as long as he can keep his dick in his pants.

Just in time for Chinese New Year, the Voice offers up this celebrity-centered translation of what’s in store for all you furry animals. We’re basing it on the teachings of none other than the Feng Shui Grand Master himself, Singapore-born Tan Khoon Yong.

Let’s start at the beginning, with those of you born in the Year of the Rat (1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008): Your advice for 2010? Pray hard, and pray often.

Governor, you're screwed
Governor, you’re screwed

You have a rough road ahead. Being a rodent, you tend to run and hide from big things. That’s not the game plan for this year. You need to find some courage and bluff your way through this year’s maze. Only through sheer self-confidence, and, well, assholery are you going to find your way to the cheese. Be brave, be a jerk, stay supremely self-assured, and you won’t end up some pussycat’s lunch. If people bitch and moan about you, put on earphones and turn up the volume.
In for a bumpy ride: Ben Affleck, Cameron Diaz, David Duchovny, Samuel L. Jackson, Jude Law, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford

Year of the Ox (1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009)

The future is bright, Barry
The future is bright, Barry

Barack Obama, an Ox, won the presidency in the Year of the Rat, which was a very lucky year for him. He took office in his own year, 2009’s Year of the Ox, which sounds just perfect, doesn’t it? Actually, it predicted disaster: when you meet your own year, Tan Khoon Yong tells us, you challenge the Grand Duke Jupiter God, and although we aren’t really sure what that means, it sure doesn’t sound good, does it? Well, that’s all over with now, and the GOP can really start sweating. Tiger and Ox get along just fine, and Obama should have a monster year. For all you Oxen out there, just keep this in mind: Don’t mix work with pleasure. You tend to work too hard, you lose focus, and your health suffers. Find time to chill. And men, treat your wives well and keep your eyes off the cute cows at the office.
Ready for a bull market: Susan Boyle, George Clooney, Mos Def, Heidi Klum, Barack Obama, Meg Ryan

Year of the Tiger (1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998)

It's not Rush's year
It’s not Rush’s year

Sorry, Tigers, but you’re fucked. The Feng Shui masters say you’ll be offering up a challenge to Tai Sui, the Grand Duke Jupiter, or God of the Year, and with every freaking thing you do, you’ll have to watch your back. This is not a year to take chances, and if things aren’t going your way you’re going to feel like crap. All the time. But don’t lose hope entirely. This is a year to count on yourself, because you won’t find help from others. Create your own opportunities through careful, logical planning, and count on your imagination for ideas. Be cautious and wise, and you can give Grand Duke Jupiter — and everyone else — the finger.
Who’s in deep shit: Tom Cruise, Jenna Jameson, Jay Leno, Rush Limbaugh, Mark Sanchez

Year of the Rabbit (1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999)

Get tanned and rested, and then make them pay, Conan!
Get tanned and rested, and then make them pay, Conan!

The lovable hare. Your charm makes you popular, and you feel good, but you might be looking for trouble. The new year should start with a plan to fix some lingering problems. Why? Hare men tend to cheat. And when you’re both rabbits — we’re looking at you, Brangelina — well, the tabloids may be in for a banner year. It won’t surprise anyone to learn that Tiger Woods is a randy rabbit, but if he’s really determined to change his ways, this year is on his side. Rabbits, stop trying to charm the rest of the world and use your powers instead to improve things at home and at work. And get some sun. Vitamin D can be the difference between a gloomy or glorious year.
Who needs some beach time: Angelina Jolie, Michelle Obama, Conan O’Brien, Sarah Palin, Brad Pitt, Alex Rodriguez, Tiger Woods

Year of the Dragon (1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000)

Keep the change, Fiddy
Keep the change, Fiddy

You self-obsessed lizard, you thought everyone was having a shitty 2009. Well, there has been a recession on, but things were tougher on you than others. And you aren’t getting a break any time soon. Yes, it’s another tough year for the dragons, and watch out for unpleasant surprises, all related to your usual shortcomings (you know what they are). But fuck it, don’t listen to this prediction. You did survive the worst recession in a generation, and if you did that, you’ll be fine. Cheer up, Smaug.
Keep your wings tucked and your head down: 50 Cent, Courtney Cox, Bret Easton Ellis, Courtney Love, Liam Neeson, Reese Witherspoon

Year of the Snake (1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001)

John, you ignorant slut
John, you ignorant slut

Things look good for snakes, but don’t get pleased with yourself just yet. Serpents tend to celebrate success with sexual adventure, and some of you will be determined to turn this into the Year of the Slut. Down, boy! Try to redirect that energy into your career or something, because giving in to your impulses is not a good idea this year.
Who’s champing to whore around: Mike Bloomberg, Tina Brown, John Edwards, Maggie Gyllenhaal, John Mayer, Sarah Jessica Parker, Taylor Swift, Oprah Winfrey

Year of the Horse (1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002)

Stay warm-blooded, Kristen!
Stay warm-blooded, Kristen!

Healthy as a horse? Tell that to Barbaro. Yes, it’s going to be that kind of year, Seabiscuit, and you better watch it. Trouble is looking for you, and it’s your health that’s likely to suffer. Avoid disputes, particularly anything involving documents that have your name on them, and gallop away from a deal that isn’t guaranteed. That said, a modest investment in real estate might be wise, and whatever you do, donate some charity or at least some blood while your health still holds.
Constitutionally challenged: Halle Berry, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Cynthia Nixon, Gov. David Paterson, Kristen Stewart

Year of the Goat (1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003)

Everyone loves you, Steve
Everyone loves you, Steve

So long, bad luck, here comes good fortune. If Steve Jobs knew what was good for him, he’d have delayed introducing the iPad until after Chinese New Year (and given it a better name!). At least he’ll have a good chance to gain some weight this year. Goats are in luck: other people will favor them this year, and they’ll find assistance from places they didn’t expect it. But Billy, don’t be a show off. Play things right, and you’ll gain back more than you lost last year.
Not scapegoats this year: Anderson Cooper, Benicio Del Toro, Steve Jobs, Rupert Murdoch, Michael Musto, Liev Schreiber

Year of the Monkey (1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004)

Jen knows from bad luck
Jen knows from bad luck

Monkey, your cycle of good luck has run out. Like the Tigers, you’re also offending the grand god of the year, and 2010 looks like twelve months of suckage. But monkeys often find ways to outsmart their misfortunes — except that they’re also accident prone. So figure things out with that nimble and creative mind, but don’t take risks or you’re likely to slip on a banana peel.
In the jungle this year: Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Aniston, Daniel Craig, Salma Hayek, Jason Schwartzman, Will Smith

Year of the Cock (1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005)

Time to make the big move, Jay-Z!
Time to make the big move, Jay-Z!

We know, we know, it’s always the year of the cock, at least in the Village. But this year, seriously, you roosters have much to crow about. The stars have all aligned, and you need to make your big moves RIGHT NOW. Andrew Cuomo? Nothing can stop you, certainly not the likes of David Paterson and Rick Lazio. The feng shui masters say that this is the year for cocks to lay the foundation for a brighter future (and yes, they really do talk like that, so stop giggling). Don’t mess up this opportunity. Be smart, but be bold.
Who wins: Beyonce, Gerard Butler, Andrew Cuomo, Jay-Z, Spike Lee, Taylor Momsen, Gwen Stefani, Tila Tequila

Year of the Dog (1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006)

These dogs won't hunt
These dogs won’t hunt

Sorry, puppies, you’re in the doghouse this year. Not only is your luck poor, other people are going to shit on you all year long (and not pick up after themselves!). But look, there’s only one way to deal with it: Don’t complain, don’t whimper, take your losses in stride, and stay out of other people’s business. Don’t drive yourself insane waiting for your luck to turn. There’s an end to this, and it’s just twelve months away. Until then, just take it like a mindless, happy puppy.
Bad dog, no biscuit: George W. Bush, Kelly Clarkson, Bill Clinton, Joseph Fiennes, Queen Latifah, Anna Paquin

Year of the Boar (1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007)

No one needs to tell Dave this is his moment
No one needs to tell Dave this is his moment

Boars have had it tough. Hard work didn’t pay off for political pigs Eliot Spitzer and Hillary Clinton in 2008. Last year, 2009, was also supposed to be a lousy one for porkers, but somehow David Letterman watched it happen to the other guys. For the rest of you pigs, 2010 might just be your year. Shrug off the uncertainty and make this a year you take a chance. Sure, others think you’ve been beaten — but now is the time to surprise them with your resilience. Spitzer wants to run again? Do it, man, and not just in your socks.
Who gets a break: Lance Armstrong, Hillary Clinton, Nicky Hilton, Mila Kunis, David Letterman, Ewan McGregor, Eliot Spitzer

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IT’S YOUR CHOICE

You can’t avoid election commentaries, so don’t even try. But you do have some control over how you choose to get your daily dose: Fox News or MSNBC? Brian Lehrer or Rush Limbaugh? Comics or news correspondents? Tonight, comics will be the ones in attendance at the 92nd Street Y’s panel, Countdown to the Election, and will include funnyman Richard Belzer and The View‘s sassiest host Joy Behar. The New Yorker‘s Jeffrey Toobin moderates. Meanwhile, over at the New-York Historical Society, contributors to the women-run news and culture site wowOwow.com, Lesley Stahl (60 Minutes) and Peggy Noonan (Wall Street Journal), make up the panel at Women’s Night. Countdown: At 8, 92nd Street Y, 212-415-5500, 92y.org, $35; Women’s Night: At 6:30, New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, 212-868-4444, nyhistory.org, $8-$15

Wed., Oct. 22, 6:30 & 8 p.m., 2008

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The New Disaster Movie

The movies love mayhem, and inevitably, the televised events of 9-11 were experienced by millions as a sort of real-life disaster film. Is a movie about 9-11 then a disaster movie about a disaster movie?

Oliver Stone’s upcoming World Trade Center is in some sense a remake of the 1974 Towering Inferno; United 93 could be construed as a revisionist sequel to the ’70s Airport series. One may be mega and the other meta, but both take their disasters extremely seriously. World Trade Center will likely be promoted as the most significant event in American history since JFK; United 93 is already the first movie since The Passion of the Christ to position itself as something other than entertainment.

Long ago, Susan Sontag wrote that only in the movies could one “participate in the fantasy of living through one’s own death and more, the death of cities, the destruction of humanity itself.” Yes, and what’s more, enjoy it! The old-school disaster movies that glutted theaters during the run-up to the millennium eschewed all but the most perfunctory human interest in F/X spectacles of wholesale urban destruction. Armageddon, Deep Impact, and Godzilla—three of 1998’s top-grossing movies behind Titanic—featured the destruction of New York City. Magical thinking perhaps, but on September 11, 2001, Hollywood felt implicated. Was Al Qaeda guilty of intellectual piracy? Within days, studios and studio execs were recalling, recutting, and canceling movies.

The summer of 2004 brought a new sort of disaster film—one with pretensions to responsibility. In old-school disaster films, nature was the terrorist. And while greedy, mendacious, or foolish individuals might be at fault, the system was essentially sound and sufficiently internalized to allow a natural leader to emerge from the chaos, often in uniform. The Day After Tomorrow, however, clumsily inserted itself into the presidential election by transparently blaming the Bush administration for the threat of global climate change.

A few months later, the puppet animation Team America satirized the whole notion of the new socially responsible disaster film, but last summer Steven Spielberg gave the mode its first real hit: War of the Worlds deliberately evoked the trauma of 9-11, complete with political allegory in which a deadbeat dad becomes a heroic solid citizen. The movie was not meant to be seen so much as experienced—or rather, since it reimagined the recent past, re-experienced. (The summer’s other great disaster show, Hurricane Katrina, reflected less well on the nation’s leadership—as did the recent TV movie Fatal Contact, remaking The Birds in the light of avian flu.)

Poseidon, which occupied the ‘plexes last weekend, is an old-fashioned disaster flick, and not only because it remakes the 1972 Poseidon Adventure. Poseidon is pure showbiz and all business: The audience doesn’t have to wait for the catastrophe. The movie is total action, predicated on the beauty of mayhem and the suspense of survival. Hundreds of extras may “die” for our amusement, but who cares? In lit-crit terms, Poseidon is a comedy—ending with the construction of two marriageable young couples. Yet the shadow of 9-11 is not altogether absent. The classic Vietnam- and Watergate-inflected disaster films of the early ’70s showed heroism under stress practiced by nearly everyone except top public officials;
Poseidon‘s principals include an ex–mayor of New York.

United 93 resembles an old-school disaster film in that it has been constructed as an Event everyone must see to fully participate in American life. But unlike
Airport or Poseidon, United 93 is not fun—if anything it is a ritual ordeal. Although time will tell how the movie will play overseas, it’s possible that the enjoyment demographic is strictly Al Qaeda. Zacarias Moussaoui was reported to have “smiled broadly” when the Flight 93 tape was played during his trial 12 days before Paul Greengrass’s film had its premiere at Tribeca.

Why was United 93 made, and why should people want to experience it? Is the movie a commercial enterprise, a form of knowledge, a sort of group therapy? Thanks to Greengrass’s brilliant direction, United 93 looks and sounds like a documentary—but it is a dramatic reconstruction. Despite the existent phone calls and flight recording, there can be no absolute certainty of what happened during the flight. The fatal stabbing of the plane’s captain and co-pilot, as well as a first-class passenger and one flight attendant, can only be surmised—and yet are witnessed by those who see the movie.

New disaster is experiential and communal. Explicit in its use of real time, United 93 is designed for audience participation. Just as the now notorious trailer distilled the movie’s narrative arc (albeit without offering the final catharsis), audiences mimicked the action: Having paid to see Inside Man, unsuspecting viewers had their attention “hijacked.” According to some descriptions, the angry patrons at AMC Loews Lincoln Square banded together to yank the trailer.

[

Since the ending is known, United 93 substitutes anxiety for suspense. Perhaps twice as much screen time is devoted to the FAA and air force command centers as to the plane itself. Is the system working? “We’re trying to get the military involved—we’re not getting an answer,” beleaguered air traffic controllers cry. The military, for its part, can’t find the president or vice president. (The spectator may insert a mental cutaway to Bush in Florida, reading “The Pet Goat.”) Greengrass forestalls the disaster, wringing maximum tension from the viewer’s foreknowledge that the passengers are doomed.

As War of the Worlds was both reviled and praised for exploiting 9-11, United 93 was said to be said—by whom?—to have been made “too soon.” But how could the movie be too soon, when the story itself was twice dramatized this season on TV?

Discovery Channel’s The Flight That Fought Back annotated re-enactments with interviewed family members; a few months later the docudrama Flight 93 attracted 6 million viewers, the most watched program in A&E history. (Less immediate and more intimate than United 93, Flight 93 was specifically designed for home viewing: At the heart of the movie are the agonizing phone conversations between the passengers and their distraught families, most located in beautiful suburban neighborhoods.)

Although not nearly as artful or coherent as United 93, Flight 93 received generally respectful reviews and was praised by the conservative
National Review as a metaphor for the war on terror: “The bad guys wield box cutters, invoke the name of Allah, and kill people; the Americans vote, say the Lord’s Prayer, and fight back.” The movie was not only appreciated for its realness but its politics.

Considering how frequently the actual Flight 93 was invoked by Bush in late 2001 and throughout 2002, a White House screening for United 93 has been conspicuously absent. Still, the movie did secure an early, enthusiastic endorsement from Rush Limbaugh. The talk show star characterized United 93 as “inspirational” while calling for the sort of leadership shown aboard the flight and describing his own experience of watching the movie: “The overwhelming emotion I had was sheer anger at the terrorists, bordering on hatred . . . ”

Rage strengthened Limbaugh’s resolve: “This movie is going to refocus, for those who see it, the exact reason we are in the war on terror.” (It’s worth noting that Limbaugh almost certainly saw the movie with its original end title, “America’s war on terror had begun.” Before release, this Pavlovian cue was removed.) Nor was that the only political conclusion that Limbaugh drew. Recognizing Bush’s association with Flight 93, Limbaugh attempted to inoculate the president by predicting that only the craziest lefties would use United 93 to scapegoat him.

Throughout the spring of 2002, as the first saber rattling over invading Iraq began, Bush repeatedly cited the heroic sacrifice of the Flight 93 passengers. “They realized that the hijacked plane they were on was going to be used to kill. And they decided to serve something greater than themselves. In this case, they served their country. They said a prayer, they told their loved ones they loved them, and they drove a plane into the ground.” Flight 93 was thus recuperated as a glorious defeat, like the Alamo or the Battle of Bataan.

But Greengrass’s interpretation of events is secular. He promotes official incompetence over conspiracy, shows hijackers and passengers addressing their God, and eschews nationalist appeals. United 93 even tends to collectivize heroism—a sore point for certain families who maintain that some passengers were more heroic than others. Even the line “Let’s roll,” first used by Bush as a rallying cry two months after 9-11, is barely heard—and may refer to the use of a serving cart as a battering ram.

United 93 suggests that, rather than patriotic self-sacrifice, the desperate passengers were motivated by self-preservation. They storm the cockpit preparing to take control and land the plane. Flight tapes indicate that the hijackers deliberately crashed the plane before the passengers could breach the cockpit. (Thus, Bush’s scenario—”they said a prayer” and “drove the plane into the ground to serve something greater than themselves”—actually more closely describes the terrorists.)

As a commercial moviemaker (rather than say, a historian), Greengrass has his primary contract with the audience. The ordeal must provide catharsis, and the one Greengrass offers is far more primal than Bush’s Flight 93 rhetoric: In the gospel according to Greengrass, the passengers not only enter the cockpit but actually appear to kill the hijackers. This thrilling finale is underscored with martial drumbeats. As master manipulator Alfred Hitchcock demonstrated in The Birds, the absence of music would have been enormously disconcerting—
let alone the unresolved non-ending Hitchcock gave his absurdist disaster film.

[

In its climactic moments, United 93 demonstrates a realism that goes to the dark heart of drama itself. This new disaster film may aspire to be more than entertainment, but if it is to fill the multi-plexes, someone will have to pay.

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Get Back, Loretta

Sunday’s March for Women’s Lives, [updated] which drew at least 750,000 people to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., is a good time to look at George Bush’s overall record on women’s issues. It’s nothing to crow about (unless you’re Rush Limbaugh). The administration has been steadily rolling back federal policies that help women. Abortion is just the visible part of this backlash, because it’s such a hot-button issue for Bush’s right wing legions. But the rest of his agenda is flying far under the radar.

Now, the National Women’s Law Center has released an extensive report on “the erosion of hard-won gains for women under Bush.” It’s called “Slip-Sliding Away,” and it examines 10 major areas of concern, from the workplace to the child care center and from the classroom to the military barracks. In each place, Bush’s policies make it harder for women to achieve equal rights.

For example, the Department of Labor has “refused to use tools at its disposal to identify violations of equal pay laws,” according to the report. Meanwhile, the Department of Justice has “weakened enforcement of the laws against job discrimination and even abandoned pending sex discrimination cases.” In schooling, the administration has proposed “reducing funding for, and even eliminating, programs that provide gender equity.” The Department of Education has refused to investigate the pervasive exclusion of women from math and science programs. And despite an outcry over previous attempts to weaken Title IX protections for women in schools, the DOE is still pursuing that goal by failing to use its “scarce resources to enforce the law.”

In addition, the administration has “archived” material on sexual harassment, making it unavailable to the public, notes the report. The president’s budget proposes slashing funds for services to battered women and a national domestic-violence hotline. The Department of Defense has allowed the charter of a 55-year-old committee that promoted the recruitment of women in the military to lapse. Current policy prohibits a servicewoman from having an abortion at an overseas military hospital unless she has been raped or her life is in danger—and even then, she must pay for the procedure herself.

Other moves, such as closing the White House Office for Women’s Initiatives and Outreach and padlocking key offices of the Labor Department’s Women’s Bureau, occurred some time ago. But the rollback has steadily advanced. By now, key advisory panels in social services include people hostile to women’s interests. Several Bush nominees to the federal bench have distinguished themselves with sexist comments. One potential jurist declared that women must be “submissive” to their husbands; another opined that women might not have the right to litigate against verbal sexual harassment.

Then there are the broader policy decisions that affect women’s lives, such as cutting child-care budgets, freezing funds for after-school programs, and imposing harsh new requirements on welfare recipients. Plans to transform Medicare and privatize Social Security affect women disproportionately because they are more likely than men to be poor. It remains to be seen how single mothers will fare under the president’s initiative to encourage marriage.

The report acknowledges that the administration has taken some constructive actions, such as prosecuting people who smuggle women into the country for prostitution. But the pattern is one of “serious steps backward.”

Will John Kerry take these findings and run with them? If his reaction to Sunday’s march is any sign, don’t count on it. He sent his daughter to D.C. and snuck off to Iowa (though he showed up at an earlier, less publicized, abortion rights rally). Many Democratic strategists think the party should downplay women’s issues in order to chip away at Bush’s hold on the dude vote. (Remember, only 22 percent of white males voted for Al Gore.) If the president is to be held to account, women will have to do it. It’s a matter of liberty—and life.