I was musing early yesterday about whether calling the current reaction/over-reaction/ exploitation/ “Hey great now we can do all kinds of stuff because nobody will dare say no to us!” to the George Floyd video a “freakout” was excessively denigrating it, trivializing or misrepresenting it. I decided it was all three. By the end of yesterday, I realized I was wrong.
I’ll still use the “George Floyd Ethics Train Wreck” tag on posts emanating from this madness, but ethics train wrecks, situations where virtually anyone who gets involved instantly engages in unethical conduct, are more rational than ethics freakouts, which are almost entirely fueled by emotion, hysteria, hate, present time perspective, and mob mentality.
I haven’t used the description often here, but looking back through the lens of history, I’d list among past freakouts the Salem witch trials, the French Revolution and “The Terror,” World War I, the Holocaust, and the U.S.’s ” Red Scare.” There are others; I’m not looking to compile the definitive list. The definition of a freakout, as opposed to a an ethics train wreck, is partially that once the fever has passed, virtually everyone looks back on the event and thinks, “What the hell? How did that happen? What was wrong with those people?” The other distinguishing factor is that while wise members of a society will contend with each other during an ethics train wreck and try to stop the runaway train, the tendency of the un-freaked during a freakout is to try to keep their heads down, avoid making eye contact, and if confronted with one of the raving, just nod and mutter, “Sure. Whatever you say.”
THAT, as the partial list above demonstrates, is a dire mistake. Ethics freakouts get people killed, and do damage to lives and society that can take decades to repair.
Like “The Perfect Storm,” which arose when multiple meteorological phenomena converged by random chance, most freakouts, and certainly this one, arise from unlucky collisions of largely unrelated trends and events, including other ethics train wrecks. The George Floyd freakout had more ingredients than most, including the bizarre lockdown due to the pandemic, the increasing frustration of the Left over its inability to bring down President Trump, the expanding power of social media and its ability to bully and terrorize, and the transformation of the news media into an irresponsible propaganda force driven by greed and arrogance rather than professional ethics. Among the ethics train wrecks that carried participants to this freakout are the 2016 Post Election Ethics Train Wreck, the Confederate Statuary Ethics Train Wreck, the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman Ethics Train Wreck (and its offspring, the Ferguson Ethics Train Wreck), the Obama Administration Ethics Train Wreck, the Trump Impeachment Ethics Train Wreck, and the Trump Presidency Ethics Train Wreck. Again, it’s an incomplete list.
The last 72 hours have given us quite a few freakout symptoms. Among them was the “cancellation” of a hapless CW actor based on meaningless tweets he made six or more years ago. Of course, this was completely cruel and unfair, and to a culture not in the throes a freakout, would be obviously so. Here are some of the others, with comments:
- The Paramount Network cancelled “Cops,” thus accepting as not deranged the deranged suggestion of a Washington Post op-ed writer that all TV shows about police should be cancelled. I saw this coming, as did many others, for “Cops” is low-hanging fruit, a repetitious reality show that does less to glorify police than it does to show the seamy trailer park side of lower-class America, where fat guys hang out shirtless getting stones and nobody can speak English properly.
Like so many of the responses in the George Floyd Freakout, however, cancelling “Cops” is just a mindless insult to police officers inflicted to kowtow to the mob. The cancellation puts many people out of work, but they are just collateral damage to Paramount. What’s important is signaling the company’s virtue to the mob, hoping that their heads don’t end up in a basket.
- HBO Max removed Gone With the Wind less than two weeks after the new platform launched. The explanation from HBO Max is embarrassing:
Gone With the Wind is a product of its time and depicts some of the ethnic and racial prejudices that have, unfortunately, been commonplace in American society. These racist depictions were wrong then and are wrong today, and we felt that to keep this title up without an explanation and a denouncement of those depictions would be irresponsible.
The statement literally says that any past representation of a racist society in fiction must be “denounced” any time it is presented or mentioned. This move is also not much of a surprise; woke critics have been clamoring for censorship of GWTW for decades. I regard one’s reaction to the film as both an IQ test and a challenge to align priorities rationally, as well as see what is in front of one’s eyes rather than what one is being commanded to see. The film is culturally and artistically important in too many ways to list. It has iconic scenes and dialogue, and some of the best performances in Hollywood history. Among the best of the best—and certainly my favorite— is the performance of Hattie McDaniel as Mammy, which won her the first Academy Award ever given to a black performer. Mammy is the smartest, wisest, most admirable character in the whole movie, an odd feature for a film that is supposed to be irredeemably racist. The South’s slavery-dependent society gets crushed in the movie. Moreover, if depicting prejudices tickets a cultural work for censorship, what will save “To Kill A Mockingbird,” “The Heat of the Night,” or “Porgy and Bess”?
“Blazing Saddles” and “Airplane” are obviously out.
Two bits of irony: Today is Hattie McDaniel’s birthday. We could be celebrating a ground-breaking African-American actress whom the typical angry protester never heard of, and instead we are seeing an effort to bury her most important work.
The other irony is that “Gone With The Wind” has important lessons to teach that might moderate the freakout. After the young daughter of Rhett Butler and Scarlet O’Hara is killed when she falls off her pony, Rhett, mad with grief, kills the pony.
That’s an excellent analogy for the entire George Floyd Freakout.
- After movies and TV shows will be books, of course. Book burnings have arisen out of past freakouts: a few days ago, NPR allowed Juan Vidal, its “cultural critic,” to tell us that we are racist because of the books we read. He writes in part,
“You may have seen the phrase “decolonize your bookshelf” floating around. In essence, it is about actively resisting and casting aside the colonialist ideas of narrative, storytelling, and literature that have pervaded the American psyche for so long. If you are white, take a moment to examine your bookshelf. What do you see? What books and authors have you allowed to influence your worldview, and how you process the issues of racism and prejudice toward the disenfranchised? Have you considered that, if you identify as white and read only the work of white authors, you are in some ways listening to an extension of your own voice on repeat? While the details and depth of experience may differ, white voices have dominated what has been considered canon for eons. That means non-white readers have had to process stories and historical events through a white author’s lens.”
Just for giggles, I picked a shelf at random in our library, and immediately encountered “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” Sun Tsu’s “The Art of War,” and Richard Wright’s “Native Son.” That was random chance, of course; the vast majority of the books we own are by white authors, I assume. Unlike the race-obsessed (Abraham Maslow, a Jew, observed that “If your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Is that a less useful observation because he wasn’t black?), I don’t pay much attention to the color of authors, but rather to the content of their character, ideas, and their verbal skills. I had, like my father, greatly enjoyed “The Count of Monte Cristo,” and “The Three Musketeers’ without even realizing that the author, Alexandre Dumas, was black. Does it only count if you know you are reading a black writer?
Another feature of freakouts is strange rules, like “a mass gathering to protest a killing in Minnesota is worth risking the public health, but gatherings for any other purpose, including to protest being prevented from earning a living, is unconscionable and should be illegal.”
Vidal’s screed is a warning of the cultural indoctrination to come if the freakout continues. See Mao’s Cultural Revolution.
- Last night protesters in Richmond pulled down a statue of Christopher Columbus, spray-painted it, set it on fire, and tossed it in a lake. The nexus between George Floyd and discovery of the New World is too attenuated for me; I think the message is “America sucks.” The news report says this happened “after” a peaceful demonstration, another example of the Orwellian language the news media has adopted during the George Floyd Freakout. The Big Lie: any violence or property destruction during a demonstration doesn’t make that protest less peaceful, it’s just separate, that’s all. This makes as much sense as calling the arrest of George Floyd humane and legal, except for the killing thing.
The best example of the current freakout’s deliberate perversion of language still is the news media’s deceitful attempts to claim that “defund the police” doesn’t mean defund the police, which I wrote about in item #2 here.
In a more recent article about this, Dan McLaughlin concludes, “They think we can’t see what they are doing.”
But Dan, if you’re freaking out, you can’t see!