Part 2—"Feminist hero" returns: We humans! When we read a favorite novel or watch a favorite TV soap, experts say that we engage in "the willing suspension of disbelief."
In all candor, we're not sure how "willing" this well-known proclivity is. But how might the impulse be defined? We'll let the leading authority on the non-rational process explain it:
The term suspension of disbelief or willing suspension of disbelief has been defined as a willingness to suspend one's critical faculties and believe something surreal; sacrifice of realism and logic for the sake of enjoyment. The term was coined in 1817 by the poet and aesthetic philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who suggested that if a writer could infuse a "human interest and a semblance of truth" into a fantastic tale, the reader would suspend judgement concerning the implausibility of the narrative. Suspension of disbelief often applies to fictional works of the action, comedy, fantasy, and horror genres.Does current American "news reporting" fall into the "horror genre?" We're going to leave that obvious question for another day.
Meanwhile, leave it to Coleridge! According to the leading authority, he noted that we humans are willing to "suspend judgement concerning the implausibility" of fantastic tales.
According to that leading authority, we're inclined to "suspend [our] critical faculties and believe something surreal." This seems to involve the "sacrifice of realism and logic for the sake of enjoyment."
This description recalls Professor Harari's account of the way our disordered species, Homo sapiens, came to gain control of the planet. Seventy thousand years ago, chance mutations gave us the ability to invent and affirm sweeping group "fictions." Or so Professor Harari says, explaining that this emerging ability allowed our somewhat murderous ancestors to cooperate in much larger groups, driving all other human populations into extinction.
Whatever! More generally, we the humans are strongly inclined, in various settings, to suspend our disbelief—to disconnect our critical/rational judgment. We may do this when we watch Days of Our Lives on our giant TVs, or when we read silly screeds from tribal leaders in our silliest newspaper, the Hamptons-based New York Times.
It can get very silly in the Times, but the novelized narratives found in the Times tend to support tribal verities. We liberals may tend to suspect our critical judgment in the face of such offerings, getting swept along in the flow.
We may do this "for the sake of enjoyment" and for the sake of tribal unity. Consider what happened on Sunday past, when the Times published a piece which might be called, "Return of the Feminist Hero."
(We say "return" because of this earlier "Feminist Hero" piece in the new Salon.)
True feminist heroes are of course very much worth admiring. The movement has a great deal to teach, as it has done in the past.
That said, the "feminist hero" presented this Sunday may be a peculiar choice for this status. In an essay for the Sunday Review, Jill Filipovic dropped this designation on—who else?—Stormy Daniels. Again!
Is there anything "feminist" or "heroic" about the aforementioned Daniels? Those would of course be matters of judgment. Such questions can never be settled.
We'll focus instead on the way this New York Times scribe told you the Stormy story. When we ardent and fiery liberals sign on to narratives like this, are we perhaps displaying "a willingness to suspend [our] critical faculties and believe something surreal?"
The Filipovic piece appeared beneath this headline: "Stormy Daniels, Feminist Hero." The essay began in a basically accurate way:
FILIPOVIC (8/26/18): Let’s take a moment for Stormy Daniels.So far, so mostly accurate! Let's review what's been said:
On Tuesday, Michael D. Cohen pleaded guilty to breaking campaign finance laws, charges stemming from payments he made to two women, one of them Ms. Daniels, with whom Donald Trump is said to have had an affair. Mr. Cohen, a former lawyer for Mr. Trump, says he made the payments at the direction of the president, in an effort to influence the 2016 election.
It’s an extraordinary admission, and an extraordinary political moment—not just because of what it means for Mr. Trump. It marks an unanticipated feminist turning point. Ms. Daniels is an adult film star and, like the president, an unapologetic self-promoter. Hers is not a female archetype that has historically garnered much respect, trust or sympathy. Yet here she is, an imperfect, entirely self-possessed woman telling her story with clarity and without shame. And here we are, actually listening to her.
There's nothing legally wrong with being an adult film star, though it may or may not seem like a feminist act.
There's also nothing legally wrong with being "an unapologetic self-promoter," although our society is sinking beneath the weight of this widespread cultural impulse. This rarely looks "heroic," except to dopes, when it's practiced by men.
Beyond that, Daniels is plainly "telling her story," or at least some version of same, without any hint of shame. Whether she's telling her story "with clarity" may be a point of dispute—but of one thing we can be certain:
Without any question, we the nudniks are indeed, and without any doubt, "actually listening to her." If you subscribe to cable TV, you really don't have much choice!
(We'll note one factual point. Is Trump "said to have had an affair" with Daniels? According to Daniels, they had sex on one occasion. It's just as easy to type that fact as it is to embellish the tale.)
So far, so basically accurate! But as the Times narration continues, we hit out first puzzlement point:
FILIPOVIC (continuing directly): Mr. Trump’s own incompetence, inexperience and misogyny didn’t stop his ascent to the White House; neither could a woman who spent her life cultivating capability, expertise and political pedigree. The usual rules don’t seem to apply to Mr. Trump. And under the usual rules, a woman who so thoroughly breaks norms of female decorum and political propriety would be shamed into silence.In Filipovic's fourth paragraph, we're told that Daniels refuses to be "shamed into silence" by "norms of female decorum." As a general matter, that sounds like a good way to go.
Which is why there is so much power in the fact that Ms. Daniels does not believe her job or her involvement with Mr. Trump or the payoff is her shame to carry. She wants him held accountable, and the justice system is actually stepping in. She is refusing to slink away, despite being paid to do exactly that in a pattern we’ve seen too many times from influential men seeking to maintain their dominance and avoid responsibility.
But by paragraph 5, our narrative is starting to take on a possibly puzzling aspect. We're told that Daniels wants Trump to be "held accountable" for something' The problem:
We aren't quite told what it is he should be held accountable for.
We're also told that Daniels doesn't want Trump to "maintain [his] dominance and avoid responsibility." Again, we aren't exactly told what he'd be avoiding responsibility for. We aren't told how he would be maintaining dominance by having paid Daniels the big sack of cash she'd been pursuing for years.
At this point, our story is taking on a familiar old sound, and especially so if we suspend our critical judgment. In the next paragraph, our story is perhaps a bit imprecise again. Here's what the Sunday Times offered:
FILIPOVIC (continuing directly): Ms. Daniels is a sex worker, making her the kind of “bad woman,” scorned for her work, who is not often believed when she indicts a powerful man.Is Daniels a "sex worker?" The term strikes us as a bit imprecise in this particular context. But again, we're told that Daniels wants to "indict a powerful man," namely Donald J. Trump.
Once again, we aren't quite told what it is she wants to indict Trump for. What is it that the fellow has done? This basic question keeps getting glossed as our story sweeps us along—as we're invited to suspend our disbelief and our critical judgment.
In our view, Donald J. Trump is a deeply disordered person. That said, in this rather familiar story, what exactly is he being "indicted" for? For what is he being "held accountable?" We ask this because, according to Daniels, she had sex with Trump exactly once, in July 2006, and she has said, on network TV, that this admittedly grisly act was "entirely consensual."
At this, their first of their two meetings, Donald J. Trump had floated the idea that Daniels might appear on The Celebrity Apprentice. After that, according to Daniels, she and Trump had sex.
One year later, they met again, according to Daniels. According to Daniels, Trump said, unconvincingly, that he was still working on that TV deal. According to Daniels, they didn't have sex on that second occasion, and they never met again.
Four years later, Daniels began seeking money for the chance to "tell her story" about the time when she had sex with the famous unattractive fellow whose wife had just given birth. (Anderson Cooper, interviewing Daniels on 60 Minutes: "In May 2011, Daniels agreed to tell her story to a sister publication of In Touch magazine for fifteen thousand dollars.")
In 2016, with Trump even more famous, she began trying to sell her pointless but slimy story again.
These are a few of the basic outlines of the story as told by Daniels. (Trump denies that they ever had sex.) For ourselves, we're unclear which part of this basic story is either "heroic" or "feminist." But we think the Times should have been much more clear on the question of what Trump is supposedly being indicted for.
We also don't know why anyone is inclined to listen to a scumbag like this. We're forced to listen to Donald J. Trump because, helped along by people like Cooper, he managed to get himself elected president.
For that reason, we're forced to listen to the scumbag Trump, and to his frequently ludicrous TV lawyer. But why exactly are we listening to the scumbag Daniels, and to her patently ridiculous TV lawyer? We're seven grafs into the New York Times narrative and we have no real idea.
Can we tell you something about those seven paragraphs? They seem to be telling a very familiar, indeed iconic, story—the story of the innocent young woman defiled. Unfortunately, this is a very important cultural and historical story, one which has been told in famous novels, one which is being acted out all over the world today.
The Times almost seems to be selling that story as it glosses Daniels' tale! If we suspend all disbelief and all critical judgment, we may even get swept along in the claim of feminist heroism derived from this bowdlerized tale.
Isn't the real story this?
Daniels wanted to get on TV, so she BLEEPed an unattractive old man whose wife had just given birth to the couple's first child. When the old goat wouldn't give her the TV spot, she began trying to sell her utterly pointless story, for cash.
However gruesome, her one sex act was "entirely consensual," she told Anderson Cooper. She also said this to Cooper on that ridiculous night:
COOPER (3/25/18): A lot of people are using you for a lot of different agendas.Five months later, our silliest newspaper comes along with our feminist hero. In reality, she's the one who BLEEPed the old goat in hopes of getting on TV, then tried to humiliate his family by "telling her story" for cash.
DANIELS: They're trying to. Like, oh, you know, "Stormy Daniels comes out #MeToo."
This is not a MeToo. I was not a victim. I've never said I was a victim. I think trying to use me to, to further someone else's agenda does horrible damage to people who are true victims.
Along the way, Daniels has come up with exciting stories about being threatened and otherwise misused. Her lawyer seems to have abandoned the story of the thug on the parking lot, though the story may return and it could even be true, since everything imaginably is.
That said, Daniels is, at least on her face, a scumbag not unlike Trump. Her TV lawyer is visibly demonic, perhaps even more so than Trump's.
Despite these matters, it's easy to get swept along in the willing suspension of disbelief. At times like these, we humans are inclined to want to believe—and our own tribe is full of people who are willing to hand us our latest group fictions.
Our view? It seems to us that we all have a citizen's duty not to suspend our rational judgment. That said, it's easy to buy into a tale, as Coleridge so thoughtfully said, and the world is full of ridiculous people who have perhaps been swept along or who are willing to play you.
Tomorrow: Thinking the unthinkable, Part 1 and Part 2