Trigger Warning: I am about to make light, where making light is due, of some of the more sensitive topics currently sucking up so much of our collective bandwidth. But before you remember, suddenly, that time I called you “sweetheart”, or brushed your bosom, or inappropriately sang the old schoolyard chanty “Chinese, Japanese, Dirty Knees, Look at These!” while grabbing my junk and flipping you the bird, please know that where it is merited I condemn utterly, and forever, actual incidents of sexual assault, or actual racism, or any of those other interminable human ills that now light the flame of hashtag crusades. Disclaimer concluded.
Also, I don’t care about the NFL, so leave me out of all that.
What has my attention is, in particular, the #metoo, phenomenon, where suddenly hundreds of otherwise dyed-in-the-wool feminists, most of them actresses, or models, or women in the entertainment industry, who have been barking at mostly ambulatory white male adults for the last 60 years about how ambulatory white males are the root cause of all things wrong on the planet, have suddenly revealed that in the interest of—well, what, exactly—they have been ignoring actual crimes in private while lecturing us all in public. For years.
Weinstein I get. The guy is a troglodyte. One photograph is enough to know that if he didn’t do half of what he’s accused of, he’s definitely good for something, somewhere, that is equally repugnant or worse. He’s precisely the mugshot of some loser on the nightly news that finally got wrapped up, even if what he did isn’t what he’s currently in the can for. He’s exactly that guy.
But George Bush? Really? A 93 year old man with Parkinson’s disease confined to a wheelchair? This guy patted your butt, made a dirty joke, and you can’t get over it? I get it, there is some temptation to jump on this #metoo crusade—if only for the free attention it gives to flagging careers—but George Bush? This guy should probably just make you laugh and remember that time when we had a category for Dirty Old Men, and everyone knew Dirty Old Men eventually get parked in the corner, facing the wall, in their wheelchair. The Dirty Old Man is a typecast feature of human existence, sad as that may be, but it is hard to imagine old George Herbert Walker as a John F Kennedy or a Roman Polanski, which is to say a serial womanizer or a rapist—two guys who incidentally remain strangely adored by many of the same people we are now hearing from as #metooers.
And now it’s apparent that baseball players haven’t read the memo either. Making “Asian face” has been unacceptable since at least the conclusion of World War 2, when American propaganda hit its creative zenith of offensive caricature. Posters and pamphlets of that era invariably depicted the Japanese as buck-toothed, slant-eyed demons wielding the emperor’s gleaming bayonets. The Greatest Generation, those fine people–including George Bush—who temporarily saved us all from fascist doom, also had no truck with political correctness.
But Yuri Gurriel of the Houston Astros, who is Cuban, and therefore probably can’t be expected to enforce the American cultural embargo against offensive gesturing, and who went yard on pitcher Yu Darvish—who is Japanese–in the second inning of Game 3 of the World Series, offered this explanation to the carnivorous press (also guilty, it turns out, see: Mark Halperin, MSNBC) after his dugout pantomime: “I did not mean it to be offensive at any point,” Gurriel said. “Quite the opposite. I have always had a lot of respect [for Japanese people]. … I’ve never had anything against Darvish. For me, he’s always been one of the best pitchers. I never had any luck against him. If I offended him, I apologize. It was not my intention.”
Under the Big Book of Offenses rubric, which is a fluid chart—author unknown—which explains how to punish this variation of given and received offense–based on an exponentially growing number of factors including collective bargaining agreements–Gurriel has been given five days off at the beginning of next season. But one suspects that is only because they couldn’t find—after an exhaustive search no doubt–an ambulatory white male American to pin up against the bricks, except maybe Abner Doubleday, whose statue in Cooperstown was immediately shrouded by tight-lipped officials from the Hall of Fame.
No word yet on when it gets removed to a warehouse in Pawtucket and eventually sold for scrap, and rumors on the street suggest that Dianne Feinstein has introduced legislation to have all baseball statues removed, everywhere. Except Jackie Robinson, of course, who was pure as the driven snow.
At some point, an awful lot of this begins to remind me of recess shenanigans during the long ago, in elementary school, where we were unleashed each day at intervals to touch each other inappropriately, get in fistfights behind the monkey bars, rat-pack a bully in the sandbox, and ruthlessly gang-tackle the unsuspecting and entirely too happy math whiz on his dash across no-man’s land during the intermural brutality of Red Rover, Red Rover. When the whistle blew, we all got up out of the dirt, wiped away our tears, went back to class and ate paste and boogers.
Halcyon days, one thinks.
The only real question, back then, was when the worm was going to turn and it was going to be your day in the barrel. And when that day came, complete with road rash and a thorough bruising of one’s eggshell ego, so too came the bigger lessons about steeling one’s self for the big playgrounds of adulthood. And just in case we forgot what happened on our day in the barrel, we carried the lesson home on a teacher’s note, safety-pinned to our chests, a kind of explanatory poem penned by a teacher who was buoyed by a sense of humor and the knowledge that parents of that era expected their kid to take a few lessons in the school of hard knocks.
The three R’s were important, but there were other, unscripted lessons that also mattered.
Not so much, anymore. Not for the kids, certainly, and not for the so-called adults, either. I haven’t seen an elementary school recess lately, but in my imagination the kids are all just standing in the wet grass in a kind of fugue state, wrapped up in straight-jackets and staring at their toes with an air of severe constipation, doped up and dumbed down like amorphous Teletubbies, under threat of arrest for so much as thinking about beaning a fat kid in the face with a red rubber ball.
I’m not certain that state of affairs is so desirable. It seems to have created adults made out of cotton candy, who aren’t sure what actually constitutes an offense, and when, or how to deal with it when the real thing actually happens.
I realize, sitting here this morning, that #Itoo am in danger of becoming Walt Kowalski–hero of the film “Gran Torino”–in a number of different ways. Perhaps that’s just the way of things. I am also aware that my Ambulatory White Maleness is becoming a problem, and that there is a hashtag warrior waiting around every corner to pounce on my violations, real or imagined, and to find some way to line me up against the social media wall. Here’s the rub: on those vicious schoolyards of the long ago, I learned how to punch somebody straight in the face and let the chips fall where they may. It’s no fun to prey on a hard target.
That sort of thing works, by the way. Imagine if the first woman Weinstein proffered just hauled off and cracked him in the balls. They don’t teach that sort of tough at Teletubby U, I guess.
But these days one wonders if all of this real outrage against real offenses might somehow drift inexorably downstream until it becomes unreal outrage against imagined offenses, and if, in the hands of the wrong people, the supposed cures might only serve to preserve the disease.