FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 25, 2022
Now she's moving on: What is an "imitation of life?" An imitation of journalistic / intellectual life?
Almost surely, opinions will differ. For one possible example, consider the latest letter to one of Slate's advice columnists—the latest letter of a certain type.
The columnist in question is Jenée Desmond-Harris, a graduate of Harvard Law School and a good, decent person. She was previously a senior staff editor at the New York Times, where she's now a contributing opinion writer.
Desmond-Harris currently serves as Slate's latest incarnation of "Dear Prudence." As such, she sits at the helm of one of the site's roughly three million advice columns.
There's nothing "wrong" with advice columns; sometimes they're even instructive. Increasingly, though, Slate columnists seem to be prepared to respond to letters of this possibly suspect type:
I recently moved to a new state a few thousand miles away. My family and I found a home online and randomly moved next door to a guy from our previous town with a relative who works at my previous office. Small world. He’s been nice and recently gave our family a Christmas gift. I would like to reciprocate, but he left town the next day and didn’t get back until after New Year. I feel weird giving a Christmas gift that late. Would it be weird if I gave him Juneteenth cookies? The better half says it would be weird. I think it would be weird to give him a Valentine’s gift, and I don’t want to wait until the 4th of July. Also, part two, would sugar cookies with Pan-African flag icing be a good Juneteenth cookie? Advice is greatly appreciated! Thank you for your time.
— Cul-de-sac of Confused Caucasians
Tell the truth! Does anybody really believe that this was an actual letter stating an actual concern?
Everything is possible, of course. But does anyone really believe that?
Desmond-Harris, the Harvard Law graduate, doesn't really believe that. But then again, so what? In one of two reports Slate devoted to this letter, Desmond-Harris began her discussion as shown:
Jenée Desmond-Harris: I hope you found this question as hilarious as I did. I don’t even know if it was fake, but it was too entertaining not to answer.
It was too entertaining not to answer, even though it was maybe fake! Disclaimers like this are amazingly common at this devolving site.
With sadness, we'd be inclined to describe that statement by Desmond-Harris as an "imitation of life." That said, Slate now seems to be running on the rocket fuel of advice columns, in which columnists respond to entertaining letters whether they're real or fake.
Slate still sprinkles in the occasional serious essay. But advice columns built around race and sex increasingly seem to be the way the site pays the bills. This seems to be what Slate has to do to get us lunkheads to click!
This particular Prudence went to Harvard Law School. She'll respond to all your concerns, even if you made them up and they carry a bit of a smell.
When Roosevelt looked around the country, he saw a nation ill-fed and ill-clothed. When we look around our tribal redoubts, we see an ever-increasing array of journalistic / intellectual imitations of life.
And yes, that's basically what we thought we saw when Michele Tafoya spoke.
As we've noted in the past several days, Tafoya spoke about a certain practice at her children's schools—the institution of race-and-ethnicity based "affinity groups." In Tafoya's view, this practice is "teaching [kids] that the color of their skin matters" in an inappropriate way. She also seems to think that it's driving groups of kids farther apart.
We don't know if that's right or that's wrong. Also, nobody cares!
Tafoya discussed this topic for the first time last November 2, in a guest appearance on The View. Last Wednesday, she appeared on Tucker Carlson Tonight, where she restated her view.
You can watch the bulk of last week's appearance here. As you can see, Carlson played videotape of Tafoya's earlier statement on The View, along with Whoopi Goldberg's instant reaction and a brief exchange between the two which we'll show you below.
Carlson praised Tafoya for her viewpoint. At this point, Tafoya described the "affinity groups" in a bit more detail, then offered this recommendation:
TAFOYA (2/16/22): It breaks my heart that my kids are being taught that skin color matters...If the world is integrated, let's continue that and have everyone find out what we all have in common, not just what we have in common with people who look like us.
At this point, Tafoya's statement of principle was still pretty fuzzy. On the whole, Tafoya doesn't strike us as a hugely insightful spokesperson on matters of race—but then again, almost no one is, and at this point we'll offer a small political warning:
Carlson responded by praising Tafoya's statement. "Man!" he said. "I bet you twenty bucks that 95% of Americans agree with what you just said!"
Carlson's percentage might be a bit high, but we're inclined to agree with the general thrust of his statement. Tafoya seemed completely sincere, and her "pro-integration" stance emerges from a general framework which has largely become sacred American writ.
Tafoya still hadn't been asked to describe those "affinity groups" in any detail. For that reason, the actual merits of her complaint are impossible to assess.
That said, within the political realm, our tribe may tend to get out over its skis with our progressive views about matters of race, a possibility which was suggested by that recent recall election in San Francisco.
We've been fascinated with Tafoya's presentations because of the imitations of life with which her statements were greeted.
The floodgates really opened after her appearance with Carlson. In this lengthy report in the Washington Post, Timothy Bella described the way one team leader reacted to Tafoya's statements:
BELLA (2/18/22): Tafoya has swiftly shifted from covering the NFL—where she was interviewing players and coaches in the midst of a racial reckoning within the league—to emerging as the latest conservative voice to lash out against critical race theory and diversity initiatives in schools nationwide.
“It breaks my heart that my kids are being taught that skin color matters,” Tafoya, 57, told Fox News host Tucker Carlson on his Wednesday show.
But her interviews in recent days about her jump to GOP politics have been met with backlash from critics decrying her for fueling an already contentious culture war surrounding critical race theory, an academic framework for examining the way laws and policies perpetuate systemic racism. Though critical race theory is not taught in any K-12 systems, the intellectual movement has been a talking point for conservatives nationwide who’ve pushed back against racial equity initiatives by schools, including teaching about racism in American history, that have come in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder in 2020.
“Imagine leaving a high-profile job over a made-up issue,” tweeted Jemele Hill, a contributing writer for the Atlantic and incoming CNN Plus host. “Does Michele Tafoya even know what CRT is? Does she have kids in school being taught CRT? Can she provide any examples?”
We'd call that whole passage sad.
For starters, was it true? Had Tafoya somehow emerged "as the latest conservative voice to lash out against critical race theory?"
In fact, she hadn't mentioned critical race theory on The View or on Carlson's show at all. She had spoken about those "affinity groups." CRT hadn't been mentioned.
This, of course, didn't stop Hill from offering the condescending tweet which Bella now quoted.
“Does Michele Tafoya even know what CRT is?" the well-meaning know-it-all asked. "Does she have kids in school being taught CRT? Can she provide any examples?”
We'll guess that Tafoya doesn't have kids being taught CRT in school. In fairness, though, she never said that she did.
She'd said that she had kids in school who were being taught that their skin color matters in a way which was inappropriate and divisive. We'll guess that Tafoya could have provided lots of information concerning the "affinity groups" at her childrens' schools. But no one ever asked her to do so, and the fact is nobody cares.
No one asked any questions about those groups when she appeared on The View. Carlson didn't ask her any questions either.
Do Tafoya's kids go to public schools? No one even asked that! The truth is, nobody actually cares about any of this, except to the extent that launching pads can be created for our next recitations of script.
Where did Hill get the idea that Tafoya had been sounding off about critical race theory? We don't know, but she linked to a Fox News report about Tafoya's appearance with Carlson which used that term in its headline.
That may have been close enough for journalistic work. Hill proceeded to sound off in the usual condescending way.
Later in his report for the Post, Bella quoted Dave Zirin's reaction to what Tafoya had said. Zirin seemed to have the inside track on Tafoya's monstrous motives. Greg Sargent was cited too:
BELLA: On Fox, Tafoya told Carlson that her shift from sports to Republican politics came after she had “been waking up every day with a palpable pull at my gut, that my side, my view, my middle ground, kind of moderate viewpoint is not being represented to the rest of the world.”
“And so, rather than just banging it out on Twitter or Instagram every day, I thought, ‘I’ve got to do something. I have benefited greatly from the American Dream, and I feel like for the sake of my kids, and because I so love this country, I’ve got to start giving back,’” she said.
Critics, however, have accused Tafoya of arguing against critical race theory in an effort to raise her profile in conservative politics. Washington Post opinion writer Greg Sargent wrote that “Tafoya plans to devote more time to criticizing critical race theory and airing other views about race, and Carlson is trying to turn her into a new right-wing hero.”
“This is someone who’s made a mint off of Black labor and the destruction of Black bodies,” tweeted Dave Zirin, sports editor for the Nation. “Maybe this is in Tafoya’s mind the logical next step.”
Skillfully, Zirin knew what Tafoya had possibly been thinking. It's the ugliness of comments like Zirin's which can lead to political defeat.
Many voters have seen Tafoya working as a sideline reporter. Presumably, people had liked Tafoya or she wouldn't have stayed on the air.
Now, Zirin was telling those voters that Tafoya had thereby "made a mint off the destruction of black bodies." One thinks of the former board member in San Francisco who tweeted that Asian-Americans were acting like a bunch of "house [N-words]" in failing to criticize Candidate Trump in a way she found sufficient.
We fiery progressives may turn people off in these ill-advised ways.
Tafoya believes that her kids' schools are laboring under a mistake. When she offered that viewpoint on The View, this instant exchange occurred:
TAFOYA (11/2/22): Why are we even teaching that the color of the skin matters? Because to me, what matters is your character and your values.
GOLDBERG: Yes, but you know—you live in the United States. You know that color of skin has been mattering to people for years.
TAFOYA: Can’t we change it, that it doesn’t?
GOLDBERG: We need white people to step up and do that!
It proceeded from there. On its face, Goldberg's attempt at rebuttal had nothing to do with what Tafoya had been saying. But no one expects conversations on The View to make traditional sense.
You can watch the two segments of The View to see where this "discussion" went next. Click here, and then click this.
To our ear, Tafoya was asked to sit silently by while her four hosts took turns issuing orations about facts which everyone already knows. To our ear, the stars were perhaps a bit rude, and perhaps a bit officious.
The stars never made their way back to what their guest had said. Instead, they sounded off about the need to teach the full sweep of American history, a topic Tafoya hadn't raised and a point she hadn't challenged.
The View exists to create big fights, thus generating publicity. In that way, the show is an imitation of life, but it reflects the way our national discourse frequently works.
A graduate of Harvard Law responds to letters she knows to be fake. When a parent describes a practice at her childrens' schools, her statement launches a thousand scripts about an array of different concerns.
Everywhere FDR looked, he saw a nation ill-fed and ill-clothed. Everywhere we look, we see imitations of life.
For ourselves, we're actually curious about what's going on in the schools to which Tafoya referred. We'd like to know what's happening there! Then too, we've always liked kids.
An array of experts have asked us to cite this key anthropological point:
It' easy to see imitations of life when they're produced by Others. It's hard to see these imitations when they emerge from the streets of Our Town.
She's made a mint off broken bodies. Now she's moving on!
"It was too entertaining not to answer, even though it was maybe fake! Disclaimers like this are amazingly common at this devolving site."ReplyDelete
Does Somerby not understand that advice columns are entertainment, not news? If he doesn't understand THAT would be hilarious, but I suspect that he is choosing to gripe about this anyway.
Gosh, people spend hours of time reading books that are largely fake -- it is called fiction.ReplyDelete
"When we look around our tribal redoubts, we see an ever-increasing array of journalistic / intellectual imitations of life."
Meh. Dembottery ain't much of imitation of anything, dear Bob.
Dembottery that you describe and abundantly quote in your post is nothing but meaningless drivel. Nothing journalistic nor intellectual about it.
"Slate still sprinkles in the occasional serious essay. But advice columns built around race and sex increasingly seem to be the way the site pays the bills."ReplyDelete
People ask for advice about the things that give them anxiety. It shouldn't be surprising that sex and sexual etiquette are on that list. Why race? Because rules are changing and people who formerly knew how to behave are less sure now about what is right.
People know they should give holiday gifts to family and close friends, but where do you draw the line? Work associates? Neighbors? And reciprocity is part of human relationships, so if someone gives you a gift, there is an obligation, but what kind? This person next-door is a former friend, so what is owed them, socially speaking.
Somerby has admitted he doesn't get along well with his neighbor. It isn't surprising he would have little empathy with such a letter writer, someone who actually worries about the feelings of someone next door.
But who is most likely not to care about feelings? If you believe the research, conservatives. And because conservatives care less about feelings, they are guided less by social norms because they don't care about the consequences for breaking them (social distance), so they would never write such a letter and, as they stroll about in their "Fuck Your Feelings" t-shirts, would think that anyone who is concerned about reciprocity must be made up.
This editor doesn't want to get pranked, but on the other hand, finds it difficult to reject an actual concern, so she answers anyway. But Somerby thinks she is wrong to do that -- that it cheapens the publication. Again, he is coming from a space where he has little regard for niceties. That's on him.
Given that the advice columns and the serious articles come in the same package, how does Somerby know what people are choosing when they read Slate? Seems to me he is leaping to a conclusion based on his own prejudices, not evidence.Delete
"they carry a bit of a smell."ReplyDelete
This isn't a good way to talk about a question about Junteenth, a black holiday.
"When Roosevelt looked around the country, he saw a nation ill-fed and ill-clothed. When we look around our tribal redoubts, we see an ever-increasing array of journalistic / intellectual imitations of life."ReplyDelete
Why should anyone be permitted to talk about anything else when there is an ill-fed or ill-clothed child wandering around?
And yet Somerby wastes yet another day talking about Tafoya while Ukrainians are fighting for their country and their lives! Who is the imitation of life here? I think it is Somerby.
It must suck to be obsessed with him then.Delete
When the FDA puts a label on a product that says "Not to be taken internally." and puts it on every single bottle, every day of every year, does that mean they are obsessed with that product?Delete
If a restaurant puts a sign up that says "No shirt, no shoes, no service." do you conclude that the restaurant is obsessed with shirts and shoes?
Someone has to stick up for truth in our society. Somerby isn't going to do it. Labeling lies and misinformation is our society's choice of how to protect people from being taken advantage of by the unscrupulous. That isn't obsession -- it is a public service to protect people from dishonesty.
It would suck to believe Somerby and wind up a casualty of covid through disinformation, or to elect another Trump or equivalent politician downticket because you didn't know any better.
Personally, I think it would suck to be Somerby.
It must really, really suck to be obsessed with him to the point one quixotically rationalizes their obsession with fanciful comparisons to government agencies. I'm sorry for what you're going through and all that you've been through.Delete
"In fact, she hadn't mentioned critical race theory on The View or on Carlson's show at all. She had spoken about those "affinity groups." CRT hadn't been mentioned."ReplyDelete
This is hair-splitting. Conservatives have been using the term CRT to refer to any and all race-related content in public schools, not just the specific material taught at the graduate level about systemic racism. If conservatives use the term that way, on what basis can Somerby complain if a news reporter does the same thing?
Tafoya's complaint about affinity groups falls into the broader category of objections that conservatives have been labeling CRT, even if Tafoya herself did not use that word. Bella, Zirin and the other critics they refer to are all correct about what Tafoya has been doing, in my opinion.
Somerby's complaint that Tafoya had to use the actual term CRT or she wasn't talking about conservative racial issues with schools, is clearly an obfuscation and distraction. It furthers his desire to ignore Tafoya's affiliation with conservative politics (she is working on a Republican campaign) and pretend she is simply an upset parent. Given her lack of details about her kids' school experiences, that pose seems to have been adopted to further this attack on schools. How can it be a genuine complaint that her child is no longer friends with the same kids they knew in elementary school, when she is just now complaining about affinity groups (in today's schools) and her kids are now 13 and 16? That makes her concerns seem cooked up just to attack race-related education, a CURRENT conservative talking point in the culture wars.
Somerby's inability to see beyond the superficial and recognize Tafoya's motives shows that he himself has no genuine concern either, except to support those same conservative talking points by mischaracterizing liberals and the press.
"TAFOYA (11/2/22): Why are we even teaching that the color of the skin matters? Because to me, what matters is your character and your values.ReplyDelete
GOLDBERG: Yes, but you know—you live in the United States. You know that color of skin has been mattering to people for years."
Somerby says that Goldberg's response had nothing to do with Tafoya's statement. Does that make sense to you?
Tafoya talked about skin color mattering and so did Goldberg. It is Somerby who isn't recognizing how the discussion was responsivel to Tafoya, not Goldberg.
"Instead, they sounded off about the need to teach the full sweep of American history, a topic Tafoya hadn't raised and a point she hadn't challenged."ReplyDelete
This is because the View participants were addressing the larger CRT issue raised by conservatives, not Tafoya's specific statement about affinity groups. Tafoya raised that issue when she asked why anyone needed to address skin color at all -- which is a variant of the conservative belief that it is racist to address race as part of American history, and that racism is no longer a problem, except for the left.
These View participants were addressing the larger issue because they related Tafoya's statements to the set of conservative beliefs being pushed as campaign issues all across the country. They saw the bigger picture represented by Tafoya's claims. Somerby does not. Somerby argues that they must remain narrowly focused on only the exact words used by Tafoya, without relating that to anything else about her life, current career, or attitudes about race. In that sense, Somerby is being excessively literal, either because he is autistic or brain damaged, or as a tactic to play gotcha with Whoopi and her associates, who he calls a bunch of ugly names: rude, unintelligent, officious. And I believe that this is how Somerby fights the culture wars on behalf of Trump and other conservatives, as he has been doing for some time now, while continuing to call himself liberal. And that's dishonest.
"letters she knows to be fake."ReplyDelete
No, I don't believe the editor knew one way or the other.
School size likely has an effect on friendship networks, but the research on this is slow going.ReplyDelete
Here's a 2010 study: "Identifying the roles of race-based choice and chance in high school friendship network formation"
Speaking from personal experience, this could be called the "reverse racism" fallacy. American schools are crowded and barely integrated sometimes. If you are not living with us in the white neighborhoods, your reality might be different enough that we don't make friends. Especially in a large school where everyone is feeling lost.
Change the system, don't kill the messenger.
"She's made a mint off broken bodies. Now she's moving on!"ReplyDelete
Is it any better to say that she profited in an industry where black people were allowed to be players but not managers or head coaches?
Further, there has been neglect of the serious injuries sustained by black players in the name of sports, especially when they sacrifice their futures for high pay and glamor while too young to appreciate the costs.
Why is Somerby not talking about the cash Tafoya stuffed in her pants while ignoring racial exploitation? Her cluelessness on racial matters now, as a Republican activist, seems like motivated blindness to the working conditions of athletes, many of them black.
It has been many decades since Bryant Gumbel exposed such issues after leaving his morning show. A sports reporter should know about this, especially with the filing of the Flores class action suit, which Somerby dismissed a few days ago. People are rightfully upset, which leads to the kind of language Somerby disparages today, about broken bodies. That phrase is literally true of Tafoya.
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