The essence of tribal culture: A few nights ago, Fox News began spilling over with silly, overwrought piddle about a promotional ad by Melissa Harris-Perry of The One True Liberal Channel.
On cable, purveyors need outrage to sell every night. This was part of the outrage displayed by Sean Hannity and two guests after he played the ad:
HANNITY (4/9/13): I've known you for years. You came in fired up here tonight.It went on from there. For what it's worth, Varney is one of the dumbest pundits in the Fox empire. Perino, who is basically sane, tempered her comments later.
DANA PERINO: I'm fired up! This is— Look, I choose to use that word wisely. Can I talk about this?
OK. I thought when I first heard about it that she was just speaking off the cuff, but this was obviously well written, planned. They had a make-up artist, hair, lighting. This was a public service announcement for MSNBC, which is labeling itself as the Democratic Party spokesperson. If I were a middle American and I called myself a Democrat, I would be looking at this saying, "There is going to be a problem here. We do not agree with this, but this is what they're going to say that we are."
HANNITY: All right.
STUART VARNEY: You are not sufficiently fired up and I am. This is collectivism writ large and I don't like it...
The level of outrage was pretty silly—but so was Harris-Perry’s promotional ad. That said, when we live in tribal culture, foolishness will always be seen as a zero-sum game.
At Salon, Mary Elizabeth Williams has expressed this culture perfectly. If Harris-Perry made Those People mad, that means she has to be right:
WILLIAMS (4/10/13): If you can judge a person by her enemies, Harris-Perry should be a proud woman today. The Daily Caller ominously reported that “Melissa Harris-Perry wants your children.” Sarah Palin tweeted that “Apparently MSNBC doesn’t think your children belong to you. Unflippingbelievable.” Rush Limbaugh jumped on her comments by saying, “This is Marx, Mengele, communist manifesto, the nuclear family has always been under attack by communists, leftists. The nuclear family, just like religion, must be destroyed, and in its place the community, the collective.” And Glenn Beck fumed, “It is so far beyond what we have ever thought as a nation, it’s remarkable.” Well done, Harris-Perry. Well done.Translation: Palin and Limbaugh are very upset. That means Harris-Perry is right!
The conservative outrage was fairly silly, but so was Harris-Perry’s ad. As she starts her piece at Salon, Williams repeats major parts of the ad, leaves out other statements:
WILLIAMS: Melissa Harris-Perry thought it was, in her words, “an uncontroversial comment.” But when the MSNBC host and political commenter made a “Lean forward” spot for the network in which she made the bold wish “for Americans to see children as everyone’s responsibility,” the conservative spin machine went into extra-frothy mode.Guess what? By normal standards, children do “belong to” their parents. They don’t “belong to whole communities” in anything like the same way. Meanwhile, Williams edits down the ad, omitting some of the dumbness while failing to mark her omissions. This is the way the ad actually starts:
“We have never invested as much in public education as we should have,” she says in the spot. “We haven’t had a very collective notion of, these are our children. We have to break through our private idea that kids belong to their parents, or kids belong to their families, and recognize that kids belong to whole communities. Once it’s everybody’s responsibility and not just the household’s, we start making better investments.”
“We have never invested as much in public education as we should have because we've always had kind of a private notion of children. Your kid is yours and totally your responsibility.”
By normal standards, it’s strange to say that “we have to break through our private idea that kids belong to their parents.” It’s odd to say that “we've always had kind of a private notion of children.”
“Our private idea that kids belong to their parents?” Whatever Harris-Perry had in mind when she shot her ad, that’s a very odd thing to say.
Did Harris-Perry mean to propose some strange new social arrangement? We see no sign of that in her ad. But what she said is tone deaf and strange—and by her own admission, she had no idea of this fact. Harris-Perry wasn’t able to hear that.
The conservative uproar is typical of life in the tribal world. But so was Williams’ silly reaction, in which she judged what Harris-Perry said by the eternal tribal standard: It made the other tribe mad and so it has to be good.
Can we share a dirty little secret? Harris-Perry just isn’t that sharp. If you doubt that, just check out her performance last Sunday, where she got conned by a Rhee-type polemicist into agreeing with several anti-teacher, anti-union scripts, while running one of the dumbest half-hours we’ve ever seen on TV.
Harris-Perry just isn’t that sharp! She got sold to us by The Suits as Our Own Princeton Professor. It seems that we liberals bought the pitch, but she leaves a vast amount to be desired.
How sharp is Harris-Perry? Note the pitiful way she defends herself in her subsequent post at MSNBC. This person just isn't real sharp:
HARRIS-PERRY (4/9/13): So those of you who were alarmed by the ad can relax. I have no designs on taking your children. Please keep your kids! But I understand the fear.If you can’t see how sad that passage is, then you’re just as bad as the tribals at Fox. But cluelessness is the price we all pay for life within tribal culture.
We do live in a nation where slaveholders took the infants from the arms of my foremothers and sold them for their own profit. We do live in a nation where the government snatched American Indian children from their families and “re-educated” them by forbidding them to speak their language and practice their traditions.
But that is not what I was talking about, and you know it.
Harris-Perry just isn’t real sharp. If you’ve purchased the tribal way of life, it may be that you’ll never see that.