Part 4—Atomization and Babel: In theory, a democratic society shouldn’t have gatekeepers.
We shouldn’t have a narrow elite which limits the things we’re permitted to hear. In theory, we the people should be able to handle The Crazy and Dumb.
We should deal with all that on our own.
In theory, we don't need gatekeepers. In theory, talented watchdogs can help us see where The Dumb and The Crazy are. We don’t need people like Walter Cronkite to keep such work from our eyes and our ears.
By now, the gatekeepers are gone. Today, our discourse overflows with The Crazy and The Dumb.
It also swims with loud watchdogs who are totally lacking in skill.
In our next post, we’ll look again at the horrible watchdog work emerging from our press elite—in this case, from two major figures at the Washington Post.
For now, let’s consider an emerging watchdog at the new Salon—a watchdog who sinks her teeth into bare flesh as part of our emerging new progressive world.
The watchdog in question is Professor Cooper of Rutgers.
Cooper may be a superb professor. For one small glimpse of her life, read a deeply human interview with Cooper on NPR last year.
Yesterday, Cooper played a bit of a watchdog role by way of her column at Salon. Her piece, and the reactions to it, display the problems which are widely observed as our new “progressive” sites continue to emerge.
The professor’s piece appeared beneath the headlines shown below. Warning! At the deeply irresponsible new Salon, eye-catching headlines often have little to do with the contents of the articles they advertise:
White menaces to society: Keene State and the danger of young drunk white menThose were the headlines which caught readers’ eyes, baiting subsequent clicks. Beneath them sat the piece by the professor.
As the Keene State protests showed, some people feel the freedom to piss on people. Guess who they are
As we type, it has attracted more than 600 comments. In many of those comments, readers insult each others’ reading comprehension, insisting that the other commenters have failed to grasp Cooper’s point.
So what the heck was Cooper’s point? We can’t say we’re real sure. She starts with the recent disruptions at Keene State College in Keene, New Hampshire, where rioting students made a mockery and a mess of the community’s annual Pumpkin Festival.
What happened at the pumpkin event? Cooper linked to an AP report by Holly Ramer, who we last visited when she was bungling a history-changing claim: Al Gore said he discovered Love Canal!
On Monday, Ramer reported the pumpkin chaos. This is the way she started:
RAMER (10/20/14): Keene State College students quickly cleaned up from a chaotic weekend on Sunday after violent parties near the city's annual pumpkin festival led to destruction, dozens of arrests and multiple injuries.Violent parties, whatever they are, led to dozens of arrests. The violence prompted police in riot gear to use tear gas.
The parties around the school coincided with the Keene Pumpkin Festival, at which the community tries to set a world record of the largest number of carved and lighted jack-o-lanterns in one place. The violence prompted police in riot gear to use tear gas as they tried to control the crowds.
Sophomore Mallory Pearce, vice president of the student body, said she saw a car flipped over in a parking lot, another car being destroyed and people being pepper-sprayed.
"It got way out of hand. Everyone I talked to said, 'I feel unsafe, I'm going home.' They didn't want to be part of the riot, and they couldn't do anything to solve it," she said. "I honestly did not feel safe."
Cooper linked to that AP report. As she proceeded, she compared or contrasted those events to events in Ferguson, Missouri in the aftermath of the killing of Michael Brown.
What point was Cooper trying to make? Rashomon was clearer! In comments, antagonists struggled to locate her meaning. If we were looking for her nugget, this is where we’d start:
COOPER (10/22/14): But what the events in Keene suggest is that white folks often test the bounds and limits of public decency and order with little long-term reprisal. There were some arrests, and some tear gas. But no dead bodies. No stigma about white anger. No come to Jesus meetings about White America’s problem children. No public discourse about these “menaces to society.” As many commentators on Twitter pointed out, there’ll be no articles about the absence of white leadership, or about how white folks just need to learn respect for public property.According to the Rutgers professor, black students couldn’t have done what the Keene students did “and lived.” Presumably, this meant that the black students would have been shot.
How does it feel to be white? Does it feel like freedom? Freedom to piss on people and property with impunity? Freedom to burn shit up and live to tell about it? Freedom to threaten old people and wake up the next morning and chalk it up to drunkenness? License to kill?
This isn’t just about civility. This is, as are most things in this country, about stark and disparate forms of racial treatment. This is about the ways that white threat is largely illegible as “threat.” This is about the fact that a band of wild, drunken black college kids could not have turned over cars, threatened old people, and shouted about killing the cops and lived.
The professor offered no examples supporting this assertion. Her frequent references to the demonstrations in Ferguson led many commenters to miss a fairly obvious point:
Whatever one thinks of the conduct of the various police agencies which dealt with the Ferguson protests, demonstrators who were mostly black staged those protests “and lived.”
In fairness to the Rutgers professor, she did include one “for instance.” Continuing directly from above, she cited a campus event from last year:
COOPER (continuing directly): For instance, this is also black college homecoming season, and my alma mater Howard University canceled the annual free concert at the legendary Yard Fest this year, because there were a few issues with crowd control last year. The Yard Fest is the stuff of hip-hop legend, and it is the annual event that most alumni look most forward to participating in. But as a federally funded entity, Howard is hyper-vigilant about making sure campus events are models of black respectability. It cannot afford the public scrutiny if the event were to devolve into a cabal like that which occurred at Keene. So it canceled a portion of the event beloved by all of us, because any appreciable amount of black unruliness could be met with an unfavorable and devastating federal response.Presumably, the cancellation of the annual free concert at Howard’s Yard Fest is offered as an example of “stark and disparate forms of racial treatment,” including the use of those “death grips:”
It is an institutional example of how powerful systems of white supremacy are, how much those systems hold everyone from the most venerable black institutions to the most vulnerable black youth in their death grips.
At Howard, an annual event was cancelled. At Keene, the kids party on.
Or something! The Pumpkin Festival is a long-running community event in Keene, not a college function. Beyond that, it isn’t clear what percentage of the rioters were students from the college.
Meanwhile, since the rioting only happened last weekend, there has been no time for anyone to cancel anything in bucolic Keene, New Hampshire. And then, there’s the basic problem with the citation of Yardfest, which, on a smaller scale, featured some factual errors.
In fact, the annual free concert had already been terminated as of last year’s Yardfest. Under the new arrangement, 14,000 tickets to the concert had been sold; no one else was allowed to attend. This led to last year’s disturbance, in which people tried to force their way into the venue, producing injuries to citizens and police.
In no way was this disturbance comparable to the events in Keene. But guess what? A largely black crowd staged a bit of a public disturbance—and everybody “lived!”
Everybody lived at Keene State; everybody lived at Howard. Did the extensive Ferguson protests produce any deaths? Unless you’re counting Kajieme Powell, everyone lived there too!
What was Professor Cooper’s point in her piece at Salon? Commenters seemed to have no idea, in large part because the august professor hadn’t taken the trouble to articulate a clear central point.
Many commenters, speaking for Cooper, articulated perfectly sensible points on her behalf. But no clear point was found in her piece, which spilled with somewhat florid racial comments.
Several pumpkins were colorfully smashed as the professor vented.
At one time, the gatekeepers of the civil rights movement would have kept this unformed screed out of print. In those days, those people were deeply oppressed. In this case, the professor has a very good job at a major university—but she didn’t seem to take the trouble to articulate a clear point.
(To gain a fuller picture of Cooper, see that NPR interview.)
The professor chose to vent. In the comments to her piece, you’ll find a hint of where we go when our new progressive watch-dogs behave in such careless ways.
What happens when careless watchdogs vent? We break apart into name-calling groups. We live in an atomized Babel.
That atomized Babel serves the interests of the farthest of the far right. They want the society splitting apart (as is of course their right). Theoretically, we progressives want to build a functioning nation—a nation whose government can proceed to serve progressives ends.
The commenters screamed and yelled at each other. They insulted each other’s reading comprehension. They called each other names.
Some made perfectly sensible claims which the professor hadn’t bothered to make. Others cited unflattering crime statistics concerning our various “races.”
They engaged in standard Internet Babel. Do you know what they needed?
Good lord! They probably could have used a couple of very good gatekeepers!
Tomorrow: Two major watchdogs and us the people