Semiotics and our tribe's values: When it comes to issues of race and gender, our tribe has extremely high values.
Until you peruse our work.
Case in point: Like the smarmy gang at the New York Times, the New Republic has been examining strip clubs in Tampa.
The Republican convention will be held there this month. This leads to high-minded journalism like that of Emily Witt:
WITT (8/23/12): GOP String DivasDoes “the rest of the country” associate Tampa with Magic Mike, a low-IQ movie? We’ll call that an overstatement. But surely, you knew where Witt’s examination of Tampa would lead.
In a matter of weeks, the Republican Party will descend on Tampa. With beribboned millinery and talk of the sanctity of marriage, the party whose members blanched at the word “vagina” will arrive in a city that the rest of the country now associates with Magic Mike, this summer’s unexpected blockbuster about the complicated emotional lives of male strippers.
People, this is the New Republic! Witt was soon giving us this:
WITT: The futuristic 2001 Odyssey club, which has a VIP room shaped like a flying saucer, installed Web cams in its dressing room earlier this year, and out-of-towners can form early attachments by watching the dancers grimly count their cash with unlit cigarettes dangling from their mouths. Other clubs are adding more shifts and flying dancers in from around the country. In a marquee event at Thee DollHouse, the porn starlet Lisa Ann will reprise her role from the parody Who’s Nailin’ Paylin? and its sequel, Obama’s Nailin’ Palin, in two live topless shows.As part of our progressive values, we rarely pass up the chance to sexualize Sarah Palin. The Times did it first, on July 27. Others were sure to follow.
We offer this as a reality check on the claims of our tribe. We’re very good at telling the world about our extremely lofty values. The truth of the matter is often somewhat different.
Our tribe’s sexual politics tends to be poor. This has been so for some time.
For further discussion: Will the New Republic survey strip clubs in Charlotte? Why and/or why not?
Who the Joe Hill is Witt: It’s an inspiring story. It includes an internship in Little Rock, which Witt refers to as “bumblefuck.”
That's in line with progressive values, which stress contempt for the laughable folk who didn't go to Brown.
According to Pro Publica (“Journalism in the Public Interest”), Witt graduated with honors from the Stabile Center for Investigative Reporting at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Before that, she graduated from Brown, with a bachelor’s in Portuguese and Brazilian Studies—and Art Semiotics!
“But wait,” you say. “What the Professor Harold Hill is art semiotics?” You’re asking a very good question.
At Brown, the semiotics major has been renamed. According to Brown, the renamed department “is committed to the study of media in the context of the broader examination of modern cultural and social formations.” It “combines the analysis of diverse texts—visual and verbal, literary and historical, theoretical and popular, imaginative and archival—with the study of contemporary theories of representation and cultural production and creative practice in a range of media.”
All this learning takes place within a society whose journalists still can’t explain whether Newt Gingrich proposed “Medicare cuts” in 1995 or was simply “slowing the rate at Medicare would grow.” Ain’t higher ed grand!
Back to Witt: Inevitably, her academic background led her to Tampa, where she used her skills to find a stripper who compares herself to Sarah Palin. To Sarah Palin getting "nailed!" In two live topless shows!
Studying semiotics at Brown wasn’t always this much fun. Last fall, Steven Johnson wrote an essay in the Times recalling his undergraduate days in the Brown department. “I was a sophomore in college,” the former semiotician recalled, “and my voice on the page sounded like that of a 60-year-old Sorbonne professor, badly translated from the French.”
Johnson recalled the riot of learning he encountered at Brown:
JOHNSON: [W]hen I arrived at Brown in the mid-80s, there were dozens of splinter groups huddled beneath the semiotics flag: Derrida’s deconstruction, post-Freudian psychoanalysis, postfeminism, poststructuralism, cultural studies. (We were post- a lot of things, it seemed at the time.) Insiders rarely talked about “semiotics,” in fact. The umbrella term was just Theory, with a capital T. Theorists like Derrida and Michel Foucault were heroes on many college campuses around that time, but somehow having a dedicated major that announced your allegiance—instead of hiding behind a more traditional degree in philosophy or English—made the affinity more pronounced.“But there was more than just the-latest-from-France fashion to semiotics in those years,” Johnson insists. Watching Witt sexualize The Other, we can see how right that is.
Some of this was posture, to be sure. “Going to college in the moneymaking ’80s lacked a certain radicalism,” [Jeffrey] Eugenides writes. “Semiotics was the first thing that smacked of revolution. It drew a line; it created an elect; it was sophisticated and Continental; it dealt with provocative subjects, with torture, sadism, hermaphroditism—with sex and power.”
Our tribe has very lofty values—until you review our work. Despite her background in semiotics, we'd say that Witt's piece makes this clear.
Witt's editor speaks: "Our Tampa strip club story is so much better than the @nytimes' Tampa strip club story," Franklin Foer boasts.