Newsroom: If One Innocent Man…

The December 7 episode of The Newsroom was probably meant to have everyone talking about its shocking final scenes. While one or two sites seem to have bit on that score, they weren’t the thing I found most (or particularly) shocking. The event(s) seem to have become something of a trope in Sorkin’s series. I was, however, moved to a lot of conflicting brain jibbering by Don Keefer’s (Thomas Sadoski) subplot in the episode.

Spoilers ahead for anyone who’s avoiding that kind of thing.

The basic theme of scenes within ACN this week was, essentially, how Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston) seems to have finally capitulated after the network’s recent sale. He pushes stories on everyone which, to a soul, they have issues with for reasons that boil down to variations on This Isn’t What News Is.

Don’s issue is with a story he’s been handed on a website created for giving women a safe, anonymous place to warn others about their attackers. The new network owner wants him to put the site’s creator, a rape victim (Sarah Sutherland), on air with one of the men she’s accused of rape via the website. Don’s not comfortable with the story. In typical Sorkin fashion, there’s a lot of Don half-saying why for a while, until he gets in a room with the college rape victim who built the website, where he encourages her not to participate in the show.

I’ll admit that the story certainly fits with the clear theme of this final season: that the Internet, by virtue of its lack of accreditation, is a troublesome source for anything resembling fairness or facts. It’s not like he pulled “the internet punishes people via mob mentality” out of thin air just for his campus rape story.

And it feels like there’s an effort being made not to turn rape victims into straw women. The arguments coming from Sutherland’s Mary are both strong and strongly acted. And while Don has plenty to say in response, I found it exceptionally telling just how quiet Sadoski plays his half of the back and forth. This argument, on just about any other topic, would usually have both parties similarly animated in their responses to one another.

I don’t know if it was Sadoski’s choice, or Paul Lieberstein’s (the director), but the stillness and lower volume of Keefer’s responses, the measured way he spoke, at least gave me the impression that people involved knew just how (justifiably) uncomfortable and possibly tenuous Don’s position was. This wasn’t Don as he usually is (as, honestly, many of these characters usually are), snapping back his rejoinders with an unshakable sense of his rightness.

All that said, whatever argument you put in a principal’s mouth has a tendency to automatically lend extra credence to that argument over any made by a guest star. When said principal’s argument is intertwined with a season-long case you’ve been making, it gets even stronger. When the final decision your principal makes falls in line with that argument at the “y’see, Timmy” moment in the episode… you get my point.

And that argument is, essentially, “A man might be falsely accused of rape via this website, and we’d be helping that happen if we brought you on our show.”

I get that this is about taking sensationalizing out of news. I get that it’s about not letting people like Nancy Grace call themselves journalists as they pronounce judgement on criminal suspects with little to no facts (or just ignoring facts altogether).


I just don’t know if this particular scenario is one that works. It is possible that some man some where might be accused of rape maliciously. But pretty much every statistic on this suggests that the opposite is true: men who rape are far more likely to get the benefit of the doubt that they just “misinterpreted signals.” That in matters of “he said, she said,” he said–especially Caucasian he said–holds extra weight just by virtue of not starting with that feminizing “s.” That a swath of rape victims continue to have their integrity called into question, and thus wind up double-victimized. That, as a result, another swath of rape victims never say a thing, because they’re trying to avoid having their lives ruined by the aspersions cast by their own attacker.

No, a website isn’t a court of law. But we’ve seen time and time again that the more likely response to exactly the scenario Sorkin posits (public naming of a rape suspect), especially on the Internet, is far more often to be a raging pile of flame war at best, and death threats at worst.

When women can’t even suggest that video games have a tendency toward objectifying women without receiving death threats, and when those threats are, like accusations of rape, dismissed as attempts to vilify men, I just have a really hard time listening to an argument to silence debate and visibility as regards rape culture. Which, no matter how carefully they tried, still hit me as an undercurrent of that storyline.

It certainly helps no one whatsoever that the “but what about false accusations” argument comes from a straight, Caucasian male character. Especially when stood next to said character’s girlfriend, Sloan Sabbith (Olivia Munn), who in the same episode grinds another ACN employee to dust, on air, over the stalker potential of his smartphone app.

Maybe those two storylines were meant to be a contrast, to provide some kind of give and take. But the fact of the matter is, I feel like this is the same kind of balance / equal time philosophy that suggests we should teach Evolution and Creationism as two kinds of science, rather than a science and a theological doctrine; or that you should put climate change denial groups in a one-to-one pairing with scientists in a newscast.

In the end, though, however hard they tried, this storyline just feels like a Caucasian male character (with an argument constructed by a Caucasian male writer) essentially telling a female character–who is clearly meant as a stand in for the frightening number of women in similar situations–that she needs to behave better Because The System.

From a show whose mission statement has so very often been to flip off the status quo because it’s more important to be better than to behave, I can’t help but be disappointed.

ETA: I’m slow at this kind of response writing, so by the time I’d done this, it seems a metric ton of folks had already responded faster and better than I had. Abigail Nussbaum links to a wide selection of some of the best, as well as taking on Sorkin’s own response to the fallout from the episode. Click through and have a read.

Multiple Homicide Cake Is Everyone’s Right

For Valentine’s Day, Kansas lawmakers decided candy hearts weren’t enough, so they’re pushing for a whopping big anti-gay bill instead:

Any government employee is given explicit permission to discriminate against gay couples—not just county clerks and DMV employees, but literally anyone who works for the state of Kansas. If a gay couple calls the police, an officer may refuse to help them if interacting with a gay couple violates his religious principles. State hospitals can turn away gay couples at the door and deny them treatment with impunity. Gay couples can be banned from public parks, public pools, anything that operates under the aegis of the Kansas state government.

They’re protecting our sacred religious rights, you see. Helping to maintain Important Community Values. In Kansas, apparently, the most egregious threat to life itself is The Gay. I mean, I assume that, since this law does nothing to give religious folks the right to refuse services to, for example, convicted felons. Because, look, murder and rape are no reason to judge a person. They’re certainly not nearly as dangerous to society as two men kissing!

“Congratulations on your parole after serial rape” cake? Awesome sauce. “Congratulations on entering a mutually consensual, loving relationship” cake? Oh my god stop this before they assault the capital!

It’s sweet, really, the way Kansas lawmakers are working so hard to uphold solid community values and keep us all safe.

You know, I may be jumping to conclusions here, though. After all, looking at the wording in the official bill, we find it covers the “sincerely held religious beliefs of the individual or religious entity regarding sex or gender” in regards to doing any of the following:

[…]provide employment or employment benefits, related to, or related to the celebration of, any marriage, domestic partnership, civil union or similar arrangement;
(b) solemnize any marriage, domestic partnership, civil union or similar arrangement; or
(c) treat any marriage, domestic partnership, civil union or similar arrangement as valid.

Man, you know, I don’t know why I was worried. This is totally a religious freedom issue, and Kansas is ready to take a bold stand.

So, when I decide to declare myself a Shaker, I won’t have to serve anyone with a wedding ring, or whom I suspect might be in a sexual relationship. My business will have so much more money, since I also won’t have to provide spousal benefits to any employees, because my religion is against all marriages!

Oh, and if I join a fundamentalist order of some other religions, I don’t even have to provide services to women, since my strongly held religious beliefs tell me that women shouldn’t be out in public interacting with men in the first place. Damn, Kansas, when you take a stand for religion, you go hard core.

What? It says any sincere religious belief regarding “sex and gender,” doesn’t it? You don’t want to trample on my hard-won religious freedoms in those areas, do you?

You know what, I don’t care if you haters do, because Kansas has my back.

Countdown to Awkward

Having had some time to mull it over after a few quick, snarky Twitter posts, I thought it might be worth the time to unpack my frustrations with number seven on Newsarama’s recent The 10 Biggest Questions the MARVEL/NETFLIX Deal Raises:

[W]e can’t help but wonder will Marvel stay faithful to the comic book and make Iron Fist a blond-haired, blue-eyed martial arts expert?

Let’s be clear here, we know NOT all Asians know martial arts and there is absolutely no reason a Caucasian can’t be a martial arts expert. We’re not going there. In truth, the reason we bring it up isn’t a “diversity” issue … it’s a following the money issue.

I don’t believe the item is meant to sound racist. I’ll admit I can see the intent there, but great oogly-mooglies is it buried under a whole mess of awkward.

First of all, that whole “stay faithful” phrasing sort of can’t help but land badly. Faith is a loaded word, and pretty instantly pitches the question with an implied correct answer. Richard Dawkins notwithstanding, most people see faithlessness or a loss of faith in a negative light. It qualifies the question in a way that leans heavily in the direction of said blond-haired, blue-eyed territory. So in the end, what probably wanted to be value neutral comes across as some kind of “respect Iron Fist’s important Caucasian heritage.”

Speaking of value-neutral-that isn’t, the followup doesn’t help matters overmuch. The author kind of bends over backwards trying not to piss off the don’t diversify my comics crowd. Again, I realize there’s a lot of folks who are likely to storm off into NerdRage at the idea of diversity, but as I’ve said before, scare quotes imply an allegiance, whether you want them to or not.

Diversity is real. Its existence is not in question, but treating it with quotation mark insulation so you don’t have to touch it means, well, maybe you aren’t really ready to talk about it?

The write up probably doesn’t do itself any favors by choosing as its possible extra-diversity character the martial arts guy, and suggesting he could maybe be Asian. At least they admit the cliché, but with everything else already kind of piling up in the wrong column, it’s hard not to have that feel like a lot of flopping about and stumbling. If you aren’t saying you only think of Asians as martial artists, why is the martial artist the only one you’re suggesting be Asian? I mean, we do realize there’s nothing inherently Caucasian about women or blind, Roman Catholic men, yes?

So, there’s that in a bigger-than-nutshell. I think there was a fair amount of good intent there, but in the end, the execution makes some really painful missteps. The result is an incredibly tone-deaf attempt to discuss the topic of diversity in media that I think muddies rather than contributes to any real discussion of same.

Orphan Black: Multi-Pygmalion

At the vehement suggestion of my best friend, and with the help of On Demand, I started binge-watching Orphan Black. I still have several episodes to go, and probably a lot to say once that happens, but for right now: oh, my god, the accent craziness is slightly mind-boggling.

Since it’s in the promos, I don’t think I’m spoiling anything to say that a slew of the regular cast are all clones of one another. Which means the show’s star, Tatiana Maslany, is playing a whole bunch of different versions of herself. It’s not the first time someone’s had to play multiple selves for a television show, of course. Possibly just to make my head hurt, however, not only are there different versions of the main character, but half of them are from different countries. So, Maslany has to juggle American, British, and German accents, and that’s just in the first few episodes.

But it gets better. Because, you see, there are multiple plot elements which require different clones to impersonate each other. So, you have an actress trying to embody several different people with several different accents, and then having to figure out how each of those characters perceives the other characters in order to act like one of them is acting like another.

That sentence alone may have just killed several of my brain cells.

So, there isn’t just the British character’s accent, there’s the American character’s slightly off version of the British character’s accent, and another point where one of the European clones similarly has to do a slightly-slipping version of one of the American accents. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, the show gives several practicing montages, where Maslany has to show the progression from “doing the accent badly,” to “doing the accent much better.”

I … yeah. Accents and dialects are really fascinating to me in general. The sheer amount of work that must go into just figuring out the cadence of each accent and its variants, before dealing with physicality and other character nuance, is utterly engrossing here. There are sequences I’ve had to rewind just to get the plot again, because the first time through, I was distracted by the level of accent variance in play.

Even if the plot of this show was crap (and it’s not. It’s been quite fun-twisty so far), it’s been worth it just to witness the accent superpowers on display.

B.S. Required (Not the Degree)

What’s a young person to do with all this economic uncertainty and job worry? Well, lookee here: Yahoo! has just the answer to your prayers, without needing all that pesky college:

That would be the link text, anyway, for this article, which hasn’t nearly as misleading an a headline, although its sub-title starts with the hedge-betting “Earning a bachelor’s isn’t necessary…”

Of course, half of the jobs on the list do, indeed, involve “How to Prepare” segments listing bachelor’s degrees. So, you know, it’s not necessary. You might be able to find a way in without one. Sure, it increases your odds to have a higher level degree, because in a competitive job market where people keep stacking resumés, most employers are, unfortunately, likely to pick the person with the higher level of education for starting positions.

I’m all for creative writing, but maybe, when we’re pretending at journalism, we could strive for something more accurate and less misleading? Just a thought.

The Natural State of Idiocy

And there once again came a time when attempts to bend over backwards for new ways to say “gays are icky” and mask it as intellectual debate turned into this, from an interview with Cardinal Francis George:

We didn’t invent marriage. The church didn’t invent marriage. The state didn’t invent marriage. Nature gives us marriage. The Chinese are not Americans, and they’re not Catholic. They know what marriage is. Where did that come from?

This goes in so many directions, I think this one’s got to be another rapid-fire response. Form of: ravenous rant!

I know it’s a tad confusing, since we call ourselves “The United States of America ,” but we aren’t the only state in the sense you’re using it. The fact that the Chinese are not Americans, besides being a ridiculous amount of duh, does not mean that they didn’t have a state to establish their marital rites and institutions. Actually, the fact that you’re calling them Chinese, and thus labeling them with a collective national identity, pretty much means they have a state. If you’re going to prove that marriage isn’t a state construct, you’ll need to do better than just picking a different state.

If your go-to for proof that marriage is universally defined by a monogamous, heterosexual paradigm is to say “everyone else thinks so, too!” you’re more than a little off, there. Even if you want to argue the historical accuracy of reports of societies which allowed for same-sex unions, multiple societies have historically and unambiguously supported polygamy. If it’s some kind of universal constant that everyone recognizes, I’m missing how those societies aren’t part of the statistical set?

And just so we’re clear, let’s be honest about the fact that historically, even in Judeo-Christian nations, marriage was far more often a matter of property exchange in the beginning. Dowries weren’t just super-generous gifts. They were payment, whether the man was buying the woman or the family was paying him to take her. They also served to bolster relationships between nations, but that would suggest the state-that’s-not-America is involved, and that’s a false logic, right?

But enough about that. Let’s buy everything else you’re selling here and go right to the heart: Marriage comes from nature? From nature? You mean, the nature where male seahorses gestate children? Where hermaphroditic earthworms 69 each other? Or did you mean like bees, where the queen essentially reproduces via orgy? Well, let’s at least look at mammals, I suppose. You know, where monogamy is actually one of the rarer mating behaviors, and same-sex behaviors have been observed?

I know! Primates. Primates are the part of nature which is closest to people (though we should stop short of using any word that sounds like evolution, just to be safe). Primates must clearly be the example of marriage that nature has given…What was that? A gorilla male can have how many females spawn his offspring? A female chimp mates with how many males when she’s fertile? Oh! Oh, my.

Well, I suppose you can at least be happy you didn’t have to pay for that chimpanzee slut’s birth control, huh?

(via Joe.My.God.)

That amendment. I do not think it means what you think it means

It doesn’t come as a surprise that people still say hateful things, or have inexplicably strong reactions to what people who aren’t them might do in their own bedrooms, so at first I just rolled my eyes when San Antonio councilwoman Elisa Chan and members of her staff showed up in a recording doing just that.

But then Chan responded to the whole claptrap:

The comments from the staff meeting on May 21st were and are my personal opinions and thoughts as guaranteed to me by the 1st amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It is unfortunate that a former member of my D9 Council team betrayed the trust of my staff members and me. I will fight, I will always fight for our freedom of speech, especially in a private setting.

I just … there’s so many pieces of backwards nonsense here, I’m not quite sure where to start. Since it’s already backwards, let’s maybe start from the bottom and work our way up. Never let it be said I can’t work the theme:

1) Chan seems to be conflating freedom of speech and a right to privacy. Is the issue that she thinks the statements were made “in a private setting,” and therefore shouldn’t be subject to public scrutiny (the latter), or that she has every right to express those opinions as protected by the First Amendment (the former)?

2) Let’s start with the latter. I’m all for a right to privacy, even for public figures. Much as I know the world’s survival hinges on one more picture of some drunk celebrity’s junk hanging out, I think everyone deserves to have a door or two she can close.

But this isn’t Chan getting drunk and mouthing off at a friend’s dinner party. She’s a public official. She’s discussing public business (an ordinance and how to address it) with her staff. “At a staff meeting in a government building discussing public policy” seems remarkably Not Private to me.

Okay, so privacy isn’t really cutting it, so I guess we’ll pitch that and move on to First Amendment rights.

3) Just so we’re clear, the First Amendment doesn’t give anyone a right to “personal opinions and thoughts.” We call that magical “right” having a brain. That’s how having a brain works: you think. You form opinions. It’s kind of essential to the paradigm of sentience. It would be literally impossible to even conceive of a right if you didn’t have thoughts. If you know someone who’s managed to create a law that actually suppresses synaptic activity, let me know, because, damn, that is a writer with a lot more influence than I have ever seen.

4) What the First Amendment does grant is a freedom to express your personal thoughts and opinions without fear of prosecution. You can express whatever hateful thing you like in a public setting, and with only a few exceptions, there are no laws of which you can run afoul. Even the Founding Fathers apparently understood that haters gotta hate. Pay attention, though, because prefixes are important.

5) While granting you freedom from prosecution, the First Amendment protects everyone’s right to express ideas. By its very nature, it cannot protect you from persecution for expressing repugnant viewpoints. You get to say stupid shit, but people get to say they think it’s stupid. They get to say you’re stupid. They get to say whatever they want to, because they have the same bloody right you’re invoking here. See also: welcome to the internet.

Freedom of speech is not now, nor has it ever been, freedom from the consequences of your speech. Great oogly-moogly, do you have any idea how many people would be telling off their bosses every damn day and getting away with it if that were the case? Does the world really need more than one Charlie Sheen?

(via Joe.My.God.)