TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 2, 2021
Older blond woman shot down: As you may recall, we made the award-winning declaration several years ago.
"It's all anthropology now," we skillfully said. What we meant was this:
It no longer made a lot of sense to imagine a good outcome to our society's troubles. All that was left was the attempt to understand the basic elements of human wiring which were in the process of bringing our society down.
Otherization is one of those basic impulses. Enter Rebecca Onion at Slate.
Also, enter Professor Emily J. M. Knox (Illinois/Champaign), with whom Onion has conducted a highly instructive non-instructive interview for Slate.
Right away, let it be said that Onion isn't silly, stupid, crazy, dumb or even tribally nutty. She works from the saner, sounder, deeper end of the mainstream press corps pool.
That said, we humans want the things we want, and one thing we want is Others. In the Oscar-nominated film, The Sixth Sense, a little boy could see dead people. Especially at times of tribal war, we humans are built to see Others.
According to experts, human beings are wired to invent, and then to see, such beings. That explains the way Onion's interview feature started at Slate.
Headline included, Onion started like this:
The Woman Who Wanted Beloved Banned From Schools Is Right About One Thing
The campaign ad for Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin features an older blond woman, wringing her hands and telling a story about a book that her son had to read for school—one that was so upsetting, so explicit, that her “heart sunk” to think of it. Internet sleuths didn’t have to look far to find out that the woman was Laura Murphy, a Fairfax County conservative activist; the son is Blake Murphy, who’s now 27 and works for the National Republican Congressional Committee; the traumatizing reading was done almost a decade ago; and the explicit book was Toni Morrison’s much-decorated masterpiece, Beloved.
I called Emily J. M. Knox, a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s School of Information Sciences, and asked her to explain Beloved’s place in the history of book-banning and book-challenging in American schools. Knox, the author of Book Banning in 21st-Century America and the editor of Trigger Warnings: History, Theory, Context, explained that Murphy’s not wrong about one thing: Beloved is unusually graphic—and this can help us understand the book’s particular power.
According to the headline, readers would be learning about a woman "who wanted Beloved banned from schools." Reading Onion's introduction, you can quickly see how the headline writer could have received that impression.
You can also see the ridicule we humans will typically wring down on the heads of the people we construe and depict as Others. This tribally pleasing ridicule is a key part of the deeply inhuman human practice known as otherization.
For the record, the woman in question isn't just any woman—she's an "older blond woman." The woman's name is Laura Murphy. No effort is made to hide the ridicule aimed at her older blond head.
As the otherization begins, this older woman is "wringing her hands" about the "traumatizing reading" which was visited upon her son almost a decade ago. The mocking tone is obvious. Soon, the embellishments and the irrelevant factual statements start.
Briefly, let's be fair! Onion never explicitly says that Murphy was trying to "ban" the book in question. That said, Knox quickly seems to suggest as much, and Onion doesn't challenge or correct her.
(Knox: "One stance I take with people who try to ban books is that they’re not wrong, in one sense.")
In fairness, Onion never makes the explicit claim that Murphy was trying to ban a book. Throughout the interview, she and Knox refer instead to "challengers"—to people who have who have "challenged" books, leaving readers to puzzle out what that locution might mean.
Still, readers of Slate are instantly pleasured, right in the headline, with the claim that Murphy was trying to "ban" Beloved—and it's easy to see where the headline writer may have received that idea.
Embellishment is powerful; irrelevant information is fun. Right there in her introduction, Onion pleasures "us the liberals" with several of the widely-recited irrelevant facts we mentioned in discussing this matter last week.
In this lengthy interview feature, Onion never tries to define the actual proposal Murphy actually made. She never tries to explain the subsequent history, which involved Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe vetoing a proposal which had been passed by the Virginia legislature.
We aren't informed about such actual piffle. Instead, we're quickly offered irrelevant information designed to let us see Murphy as an Other.
Those instant irrelevant facts (and claims) would be these:
Murphy is a conservative activist: We're instantly told that the older blond woman is "a conservative activist." To the extent that that statement is true, a question arises: So what?
The fact that a proposal is advanced by an activist doesn't speak to the possible merit of the proposal. In Murphy's case, to the extent that she actually is "an activist," she became one in the course of pursuing this matter, back when her son was in high school.
Murphy's son now works for the National Republican Congressional Committee: We're told that the son of the older blond woman now works for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
This tells us nothing about the possible merits of Murphy's proposal, whatever it actually was. In a rational world, this fact would be completely obvious, even to people like Us.
The book in question is a much-decorated masterpiece: We're told that Beloved, the novel in question, is "a much-decorated masterpiece." Even if we totally accept that statement on face, its relevance isn't clear.
Beloved did win the Pulitzer Prize for literature. Many people do regard it as a masterpiece, though we don't know if everyone does.
That said, the older blond woman never said different, and such facts don't speak to the actual question at hand when she made her actual proposal a decade ago, whatever it actually was.
What is, or what was, the question at hand? Onion never explains. Slate readers aren't asked to know such things. Instead, they're offered the otherization of an "older blond woman" who has been seen wringing her hands and who wanted to "ban a book."
According to top credentialed anthropologists, the human impulse toward otherization is bred very deep in the bone. We humans are strongly inclined to "kill the pig" at times of heightened tribal conflict, or so these famous top experts have all despondently said.
According to these scholars, we humans are strongly inclined to put both ass cheeks on the scales as we sift the information and the claims our fellow tribals will hear. Onion tends to work near the top of the mainstream journalist pile, but she engages in this type of conduct throughout her interview with the professor, as she otherizes the older blond woman who has been wringing her hands.
This process of otherizations takes an array of forms. It's directly tied to the type of clownish performance turned in last Friday night by Rachel Maddow—the type of performance in which tribals are encouraged to assume the accuracy of everything their fellow tribals have said.
(No one but Others ever dissemble. No one but Others could ever turn out to be wrong. Has someone suggested that our side is wrong? If so, that will be disappeared.)
At present, this process is playing out everywhere, within our own highly moral blue tribe and also within the red. We'll continue with Onion's feature tomorrow, but it's all anthropology now!
Tomorrow: "Murphy’s not wrong about one thing!"