Part 5—Before and after script: In the journalistic realm, was 2015 really The Year of the Liberal, as so many observers are suddenly saying?
On balance, we'd say it was. It was a year when we liberals saw our news orgs getting very badly dumbed down. It was also a year in which we liberals repetitively declared ourselves in thrall to our liberal scripts.
No official pronouncement was made, but devotion to script was quite prominent. Example:
In this post last Friday, we started discussing the way Ta-Nehisi Coates has portrayed the death of Trayvon Martin, starting with a discussion from July 2013.
In July 2013, a Florida jury acquitted George Zimmerman of criminal charges in the shooting death of Martin. At his web site at The Atlantic, Coates assessed the verdict.
To the surprise of some of his readers, Coates said he thought the jury "basically got it right:"
COATES (7/14/13): I think the jury basically got it right. The only real eyewitness to the death of Trayvon Martin was the man who killed him. At no point did I think that the state proved second degree murder. I also never thought they proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he acted recklessly. They had no ability to counter his basic narrative, because there were no other eyewitnesses.Many of Coates' readers seemed surprised by this assessment. In comments, Coates explained his view of the case as a legal matter.
Drawing on personal experience, he said that Zimmerman did have reason to fear "death or great bodily harm" once the fight with Martin got started that night. After quoting Florida law concerning justifiable use of force, he described his own youthful experience:
COATES (7/14/13): As a younger man, I was in a few fights—mostly on the losing end. Some I provoked. Some I didn't. But in almost every one I can make a case for "death or great bodily harm." One I remember specifically, a guy hit me over the head with a steel trash can at the start. But the fight ended with me overtop of him—much like Trayvon was said to be over Zimmerman—wailing away. He had started the fight—but by Florida law I was the aggressor.Punches actually do kill people and cause great bodily harm, Coates said. He also seemed to allude to the fact that the case's sole eyewitness testified that Martin had been positioned "over Zimmerman" and had been "wailing away."
Fights are not like boxing matches. If you provoke one and start losing, your life is basically in someone else's hands. You should be afraid. Punches actually do kill people and cause "great bodily harm."
A commenter found that analysis unsatisfying. Coates responded to his comment, explaining his point in more detail:
COMMENTER (7/14/13): I don't see how being on the losing end of a fist fight means a person "reasonably believes that he or she is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm."It should be noted that Coates was discussing this event as a matter of law. As a matter of morality, he seemed to think that Zimmerman had generally been in the wrong in the events which led to Martin's death. As in the first comment posted above, Coates seemed to assume that Zimmerman had provoked the fight that night. (That said, he never argued the case behind that assumption, and he seemed to be unfamiliar with some basic facts of the case.)
COATES: I am on the ground and you are on top of me wailing away. I am most certainly in "imminent danger of death or great bodily harm."
I say this as someone who has been in that position, and the person putting someone in that position. It is really, really frightening. And you are in danger of "great bodily harm" at the very least. Punches kill people. Skulls hit concrete or tables and cause great damage.
And that assumes that you know you are only being hit with someone's fist. What if it feels like your being hit with brass knuckles? What if you think you see the person reaching for something to finish the job?
Fights are not tame staid events. They are chaotic, random and very, very scary. They are not regulated. There are no TKOs. Fist-fights kill people—and there is no guarantee that a fist-fight will stay at that level.
On balance, as a matter of morality, Coates seemed to think Zimmerman had been in the wrong that night. But in the comments we've posted, he argued, rather strongly, that Zimmerman actually was in significant peril once the fight began.
He seemed to say that Zimmerman actually was in danger of "great bodily harm at the very least." He also said this:
"Punches kill people. Skulls hit concrete or tables and cause great damage."
"Fist-fights kill people," Coates said. As he reviewed the events of that night, he portrayed a "very, very scary" event in which Zimmerman actually could have been severely injured or killed.
Was Coates right in his legal assessment? We'd be inclined to think he was. At any rate, he portrayed the fight that night as a violent, scary event in which Zimmerman actually was in danger of great bodily harm—in which he certainly had reason to think he was in great danger.
In our view, Coates provided a service that day. Whatever you think of his ultimate judgments, he offered a view of these events which was challenging to many of his readers—which flew in the face of their presuppositions.
You might think he was right in his ultimate judgments; you might think he was wrong. But he was drawing on personal experience to challenge his readers' instincts—one might even say, their biases.
Coates drew a picture that day of a very scary event. For better or worse, you might say the portrait Coates drew that day eventually became the first part of a classic "before and after."
Within a month, he seemed to be stating a different legal view of the case, without explaining the change in perspective. And last year, Coates published a widely-praised, award-winning book, Between the World and Me. By the time he published his book, Coates seemed to be painting a very different picture of what had happened last night.
Below, you see the portrait Coates drew of those events in his award-winning book. Those very scary balled fists were gone, replaced by "hands full of candy."
In this passage, Coates is working off the remarkably strong "Us and Them" motif he develops in his book. For ourselves, we'd be inclined to call this new portrait of those events the "after" in a morality play driven by tribal script—the kind of script the elite white pseudo-liberal world rushes to applaud and shower with awards.
Coates is speaking to his son. He soon gives a new, improved portrait:
COATES (page 104-105): There it is—the right to break the black body as the meaning of their sacred equality. And that right has always given them meaning, has meant that there was always someone down below because a mountain is not a mountain unless there is something below.In 2013, Coates portrayed a "very, very scary" fight in which George Zimmerman had reason to fear that he might even be killed.
You and I, my son, are that "below." That was true in 1776; it is true today. There is no them without you, and without the right to break you they must necessarily fall from the mountain, lose their divinity, and tumble out of the Dream...But because they believe themselves to be white, they would rather countenance a man choked to death on film under their laws. And they would rather subscribe to the myth of Trayvon Martin, slight teenager, hands full of candy and soft drinks, transforming into a murderous juggernaut.
By 2015, the portrait had radically changed. Martin was now a "slight teenager, hands full of candy and soft drinks"—full stop.
In that new and altered portrait, Coates was disappearing memory of some of the events which occurred that night. Remember—script is often driven by disappeared facts, and by focus on other facts which are completely irrelevant.
In July 2013, Coates was willing to portray Martin as a young man "wailing away," a young man whose balled fists could have caused great harm or death.
By 2015, Martin's hands were full of candy. He was no longer wailing away.
Whatever you think of that evening's events, we'd suggest that you can picture the emergence of this second portrait as a triumph of tribal script. Fists are gone; in their place, we're pleasingly given candy. The person who could have killed Zimmerman is now a "slight teenager."
It isn't clear why that isn't a con—the kind of con which wins awards from elite white institutions. At any rate, you see in those two portraits the possible triumph of liberal narrative, liberal script.
Last year was rich with such triumphs. Do those triumphs serve progressive interests?
More on the topic tomorrow.
Tomorrow: Script runs on disappeared and irrelevant facts