“Unwinnable” Cultural Debates

Related Post Roulette

47 Responses

  1. Avatar Glyph says:

    I win all my cultural debates.

    Slightly OT, but given this post and past convos, I can only assume this is like catnip to you?:


    I’d like to see it, assuming it comes around here and I can get out to it.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Glyph says:

      I saw that review! Yes Elizabeth Moss in shorts is catnip for me.*

      *I had a crush on her since the West Wing. She is still not enough to make me watch Mad Men though.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Oh…uh, I didn’t mean Moss, I meant that Pryce plays a Roth-esque character (and Schwartzman’s is named “Philip”).

        What’s your beef with Mad Men, speaking of unwinnable cultural debates?Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Saul Degraw says:


        I know. I was being silly.

        Like the Allure of Antebellum discussion, I think too many people pay attention to the glamor of the early 1960s and ignore all the really horrible things about the early 1960s like the racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, etc. I’m someone who generally dresses up more than down but even I think the suit all the time to go to the city culture is too much. The show does try to portray all the really bad things about the 1960s but I think it undercuts itself with stuff like the Mad Men collection at Banana Republic. That just gives me cognitive dissonance. To be fair, I am a sucker for Japanese clothing companies that take their inspiration from vintage American workwear so….yeah.

        I also remember a time when it seemed like every woman on OKCupid had a picture of her at a Mad Men party where you wear that early 1960s kind of clothing and tried to be Jackie Kennedy in her Pill Box Hat. So the glamor outrules the message. This might just be a shortcoming of all Film and TV though. Truffaut famously theorized that a truly anti-war film was impossible because of the aesthetic nature of film.

        Plus my mom was born in 1946 and she was a teenager and young adult in NYC during the 1960s. She welcomed the hippie era because it meant not needing to dress up all the time just to go out.

        Of course now people think we went too far in the other direction.Report

  2. Avatar Doctor Jay says:

    Well, quite a few women online these days will say that Joss Whedon isn’t a feminist. To wit, http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Joss_Whedon.

    To me, if Joss Whedon isn’t a feminist, nobody is. The criticisms in that link seem to be of the form, “If some character in your work does something flawed and human, you fail my feminist test”. As if they are the anointed gatekeeper of feminism.

    But no, I’m an introvert. I don’t have the war. I just politely say, “Well I guess you’re entitled to your opinion,” and move on.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Doctor Jay says:

      I haven’t heard the Whedon isn’t a feminist meme before but I do know that the new thing is to debate whether it is useful to have men declare themselves to be feminists or not:


      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        I’m still confused on when this entire ally thing started. In high school and college, I remember that men could refer to themselves as feminist. Sometime in my late twenties or early thirties this seemed to change. Men could no longer be feminist but only feminist allies. You see the same thing with other outsiders a particular group. You have to be a member of group x to really be a y and everybody else is just an auxillary.

        Its really silly. I don’t refer to non-Jewish supporter of Israel as Zionist allies. They are Zionsits even though they are not Jewish. From a strategic standpoint, treating people who agree with you but are not a member of the in-group as allies and auxurillies seems dumb. You don’t want to alienate people that agree with you. Such things tend to be fatal in politics. The Civil Rights movement started to lose ground when it began alienating a lot of non-African American supporters.Report

      • Avatar Doctor Jay in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        That stuff about Macomber’s work is pretty spot on, observationally. There’s a bunch of confusing contradictions, and feminism as a movement is very balkanized.

        And then there’s this:

        “As the father of daughters,” Obama apparently needed to create a female human with his very own sperm in order to understand that it’s not OK to beat them.

        I think that belongs in the dictionary under “unfriendly readings”. Also cross-referenced under “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”. Which ties in nicely with the stuff about fragmentation.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Doctor Jay, feminism like any other ideology is best understood as a school of thought rather than a unified movement with one set of beliefs. All feminists have the goal of female emancipation and equality but how they define emanicipation and equality or what they are willing to do to achieve their goals varies a lot. The debates on pornography among feminists is a good example of this.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        I’m pretty sure this changed from the Civil Rights Era — where you could be a “civil rights activist” and not be black. To the “we want equality for gays” Era, where you really couldn’t be gay — and might have wanted a bit of air between you and the gay, even if you wanted to give them all the rights you have.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        @leeesq though there are very few people that believe that achieving pay equity will bring about the End Times and Second Coming.Report

      • Avatar j r in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        “As the father of daughters,” Obama apparently needed to create a female human with his very own sperm in order to understand that it’s not OK to beat them.

        This is exactly the same sort of guff that the reactionary crowd gave Obama over his statements on Trayvon Martin.

        Are you guys starting to realize that this is just two sides of the same dysfunctional coin?Report

      • Avatar Doctor Jay in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        @kim It’s probably worth noting that I was alive in the 60’s and an impressionable youth.

        And today, it’s kind of an open question as to whether I can become a woman – which is to say that the existence of trans people tends to tie feminists in knots. I am not a woman, though I am quite aware of certain behaviors of mine that are more “feminine”, and not at all displeased by them.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        noted: you grew up around TOS.
        Personally, I see it as: “sure, call yourself a feminist. we could use some more folk.”Report

      • Avatar Doctor Jay in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        @j-r I try to keep firmly in mind when voting that what matters to me is actual policy. And real bias.

        There really is a bias against women in many spheres. There really is a bias against black male teens in law enforcement. That really matters.Report

      • Avatar j r in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        There really is a bias against women in many spheres. There really is a bias against black male teens in law enforcement. That really matters.

        There is nothing in that statement with which I can even think to disagree.Report

      • Avatar Doctor Jay in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        @leeesq said “I remember when men could refer to themselves as a feminist…”

        Yeah, I remember those days well. For most of my life I could self-describe as a feminist with no pushback. These days, “feminist” denotes both a set of ideas and an identity. I endorse these ideas, but I do not have the identity.

        I think this (embracing male feminists) is difficult for some women because of their fears that men will “take over”, and that they will be silenced. I think they also struggle with the idea that they are conditioned to respond to male approval. So I get that there’s some conflict for them.

        However, I prefer organizing along the axis of aims, rather than along the axis of identity.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Well, I might remove the word “teens”, and possibly even “male”, but those would just be quibbles.

        EDIT: that was @j-rReport

      • Avatar Doctor Jay in reply to Saul Degraw says:


        Uh, “TOS” means what? Time of Satan? Terms of Service? Time of Salinger? (That’s sort of true) Treading Outside at Selma?Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        The Original Series.Report

    • Avatar KatherineMW in reply to Doctor Jay says:

      Yes, that attitude bothers me, too. I get the sense they’re claiming Joss is just saying he’s a feminist in order to get positive attention. To which I say: which do you think is more popular in Hollywood these days – feminism, or Joss Whedon? I’d lay strong odds on the latter.Report

  3. Avatar Kim says:

    Murakami did it backwards. You’re supposed to do your “high concept” work for the nobel, and then have fun writing for the masses.Report

  4. Avatar Kazzy says:

    Why do we engage in unwinnable cultural debates? Because we assume we’re right. And that we can win.Report

  5. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Many people confuse art and ideology. If work of art says something that you find ideological distasteful than it has to be immoral. Its not really that complicated. Philip Roth has some not necessarily feminist friendly ideas regarding women. He is still a very important novelist and a really good writer.Report

    • Avatar Glyph in reply to LeeEsq says:

      I linked this yesterday, but will do so again:


      Not a big fan of Soviet totalitarianism (nor poetic paens to founder of), but damn if this isn’t one of the most beautiful books I own.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to LeeEsq says:

      So, I haven’t read Roth. But I have read writers that did a VERY POOR job of portraying women in their stories (yes, I’ve read 1950’s scifi). I hold that strongly against them when evaluating “are they a really good writer”?

      I’ll rate the didacticness as well — it’s one thing if gray mouser has 2D women, it’s another if he goes around talking about how the only thing women want is his big wang.Report

    • Avatar greginak in reply to LeeEsq says:

      The Soviets and East German’s made some great looking, wild sci fi movies in 60’s. Famously some american producers like Corman bought the footage, re-dubbed it and sometimes added in a few scenes with american actors. Francis Ford Coppola got his start that way. In the flicks that used the Russian footage there are occasional red star, but the quality of work was far better then almost anything done in the west at that time. Queen of Blood is a great example of that’; about 75% fantastic for its time russian film with dubbing and the other 25% is american actors is filling out the story with new footage. Still fun to watch.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to greginak says:

        My current desktop wallpaper is from a Russian pulp sci-fi book/mag, and I also like the Russian Futurists (the band, and the art movement). But that’s a little different, in that it’s not explicitly encomiums to totalitarian despots.

        I mean I even have a real (visual) weakness for the stuff that’s explicitly political/propagandistic in nature – you know, the Brave And Strong Soviet Man Marching Into The Future With A Flag In One Hand And A Shovel In The Other, all bold clean lines and simple color schemes.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to greginak says:

        OH AND ALSO – I watched half of Berberian Sound Studio last night and hope to finish it tonight. You might dig it. I might even do a review. It’s on Netflix streaming.Report

  6. Avatar TC says:

    I can’t win that debate with myself. I enjoyed reading Roth, Bellow, and Marques. I’m a psycho.Report

  7. Avatar Lurker says:

    Freddie DeBoer had a great post a few months ago on the sort of unsupported, just-trust-me attacks on Roth your friend made.


    I meet and interact with a lot of young lefties who are just stunning rhetorically weak; they feel all of their politics very intensely but can’t articulate them to anyone who doesn’t share the same vocabulary, the same set of cultural and social signifiers that are used to demonstrate you’re one of the “right sort of people.” These kids are often great, they’re smart and passionate, I agree with them on most things, but they have no ability at all to express themselves to those who are not already in their tribe. They say terms like “privilege” or “mansplain” or “tone policing” and expect the conversation to somehow just stop, that if you say the magic words, you have won that round and the world is supposed to roll over to what you want.

    First, you marinate in a stew of people who agree with you and cast out non-believers from your “safe-space.” Then you suppress any heterodox expression lest you be considered unsafe yourself. Soon enough, the opinions and behaviors of those outside your bubble become completely inexplicable. You don’t even speak the same language any more.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Lurker says:

      “Anyone who disagrees with the existence of Israel is a self-hating Jew”
      … yup, sounds familiar.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Lurker says:

      I like some of what Freddie says but he can also be very strident and do the just trust me thing as well. I’ve interacted with Freddie on facebook and gotten into these kinds of arguments with him. I think DeBoer is known for being strident as well.

      The Internet seems to reward people for being strident over being nuanced. DeBoer points this out in the linked to essay and I concur that there is something really affirming but likes and this comments.

      I consider myself a member of the left but I have some idiosyncratic views (or views that get challenged as not being left like my Zionism but that is another story.) There are plenty of times I get along and agree with my friend and Freddie but when we disagree, we really disagree.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        One thing he is exceptionally good at is self-diagnosing without recognizing, or at least admitting, that’s what he’s doing.Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        That is Freddie to a T. I’m not sure there has been any other writer that could write something i completely agree with and then find insufferable and shallow in the same paragraph.

        When he was here he could make a good point with one hand while dumping a can of gas on the conversation with his other hand.Report

      • Avatar Lurker in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Freddie has some really bad moments, but he’s really doing a good job picking apart this particularly dysfunctional corner of the online social justice world.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        I miss Freddie, I came onto the sight just a modest bit before he left. Man those were the days.Report

      • @north Me too. And I’m going to wager that you’re selling yourself short – I’m pretty sure you were around for most of Freddie’s time here. He was, after all, one of the original OGs (IIRC, the name “League of Ordinary Gentlemen” was even his suggestion). But I’m pretty sure you were one of the first, if not the first, regular commenter who didn’t follow us from one of our previous sites or from Culture11.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Thanks @mark-thompson if memory serves I found my way here via a post on foreign policy that was linked by The Dish. So you can blame Sully for my being around here.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Lurker says:

      Or as Julian Sanchez called it, epistemic closure. There is something about the internet that seems to amplify people’s sureity about their own views and create a you are for us or against us atmosphere. Thats probably because very few blogs are that diverse ideologically speaking. On LGM, threads tend to explode when a regular expresses a heterodox views on a particular subject.Report

  8. Avatar Chris says:

    So as far as I can tell, your argument is that Roth should win because he captures a particular experience very well, and your friend’s argument is that he shouldn’t win, because he captures a particular experience very well. I’m not sure the argument between you is unwinnable, because you may both have very similar criteria for awards such as the Nobel. Of course, people being people, you’re both unlikely to actually listen to each other, but that’s a different point: the argument is not unwinnable, ya’ll are.

    I have to say, while on the subject, that the annual Roth whine fest has become, for someone who’s only read one of his novels many years ago and has no desire to read any more, really obnoxious, to the point that I feel at least a twinge of schadenfreude when someone else’s name is announced.

    Also, clearly if a Frenchman was going to win, it should have been Tournier. He’s sort of the French Roth (literary fiction that is widely popular), except unlike Roth (and Modiano), he has a genuine world-wide following.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Chris says:

      1. What is your proof that Philip Roth does not have a world-wide following? I can prove his novels are translated world-wide and also available in the Anglophone countries world-wide but I have no proof on sales. You might be right.

      2. I at least provided evidence and thought on what I think Roth represents. If you are going to say something like X is sexist pig who writes drivel. There should at least be a pointing to a problematic passage or plot for evidence instead of X. And generally the Noble Prize for Lit does make statements like the one I did for Roth in their announcements.

      Mario Vargas Llosa won for “for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt, and defeat”

      I am not saying that Roth is perfect or a saint. He is far from it. My friend could be right about the absolute sexism of American Pastoral but I did not pick that up on the first read. I would just like something more than “American Pastoral is sexist drivel.” “American Pastoral is sexist drivel and if you look at Pages X-Y and …..” is something I can go back and examine.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        +1. You do actually have to make arguments to convince people.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        First, Llosa was pretty much undeniably deserving. I’m sure there were people who complained (likely Roth fans, mostly ;)), but talk about a well-deserved award…

        As for Roth’s misogyny, it’s not like tons of ink hasn’t been spilled on the subject. Didn’t someone resign from the Booker lifetime committee when he was voted to win the aware a few years ago, for precisely that reason? Your friend may not have provided examples, but that may be because he assumed you were paying attention to what people were saying about Roth loudly and often.

        And I can find no evidence that Roth is popular outside of the English-speaking world. If you have his sales numbers for Poland or China, I’m willing to admit I’m wrong.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        One reason why the Noble Prize Committee might struggle with Roth is that he does tend to use humor to make a point even in his really dark novels. Humor doesn’t translate as well as drama or tragedy because its more culturally dependent.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Then again, so does Saramago, often in a very subversive way, and he won.Report

  9. Avatar ScarletNumbers says:

    For those who don’t know, Roth grew up in the Weequahic neighborhood of Newark, New Jersey.

    Until about 1967, Weequahic was a heavily Jewish neighborhood. Since then it has been heavily African American.Report