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Published: Fri, 20 Apr 2018 00:00:00 -0400

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Trump's Anti-Speech Agenda Gets a Boost From Lefty Lawyers and Academics

Mon, 19 Mar 2018 00:00:00 -0400

It may not yet be "the end of free speech," but that particular fundamental right is probably a bad candidate for a new life-insurance policy. We have an environment in which the president of the United States is dismissive of the free speech rights of his opponents, prominent constitutional scholars sniff at free speech unless it's used by the "right" people for their favored goals, and the country's leading civil liberties organization is suffering an internal revolt by staffers who oppose "rigid" support for free speech protections. Last October, President Trump said "It's frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write." That came just hours after he tweeted, "With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!" And even before Trump took the oath of office, he'd huffed that protesters who burn American flags should face loss of citizenship or jail. So if you're an academic with expertise in constitutional law, and you have months to watch a populist politician who commands the power of the presidency fulminate about punishing those who criticize him, what do you do? If you're Georgetown Law's Louis Michael Seidman, you suggest that the president might be on to something. In a forthcoming paper, Seidman's main complaint is that free speech doesn't inherently favor progressivism—it allows too much voice to people who disagree. "At its core, free speech law entrenches a social view at war with key progressive objectives," writes Seidman. Sure, "the speech right has instrumental utility in isolated cases," he adds. But "significant upside potential"? Nah. The doctrine of free speech "is dominated by obsession with government restrictions on speech and with government interference with listener autonomy," and as such it is "ill-equipped to deal with a world where there is too much speech and where listener autonomy makes real conversation impossible," writes Seidman. [M]ight free speech law be reformulated so as to constitutionally mandate aspects of the positive program favored by progressives? For reasons that I explain below…I think that this outcome is very unlikely. At its core, free speech law is much more conducive to constitutionally required libertarianism. Seidman considers that free speech might be defended on grounds of tolerance, the search for truth, or popular sovereignty (though he is "agnostic about the value of free speech as so conceived"). But he tuts that "[progressives] just can't shake their mindless attraction to the bright flame of our free speech tradition. Progressives need to turn away before they are burned again." This isn't the first time Seidman has put forth such a wish. In 2016, he wrote for the Nation, "Would the election of Donald Trump threaten the sanctity of the United States Constitution? We should be so lucky." In fact, Seidman has long been an advocate for dumping the Constitution and its protections in their entirety. He just thinks that Trump is the wrong vehicle. And Seidman isn't alone in arguing from academia that free speech is overrated. His paper favorably quotes Laura Weinrib of the University of Chicago Law School, author of The Taming of Free Speech: America's Civil Liberties Compromise. Weinrib complained in a Los Angeles Times op-ed last summer that "free speech has served to secure the political influence of wealthy donors," while "labor's strength has plummeted, and the Supreme Court is poised to recognize a 1st Amendment right of public sector employees to refuse to contribute to union expenses." In its early days, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) viewed free speech as a tool of social justice, suited to particular purposes under particular conditions," wrote Weinrib, calling on the modern organization to rededicate itself to progressive political goals over civil libertarian advocacy. The ACLU may be close to taking her advice. Last fall, about 200 of the organization's staff members signed a letter objecting to the groups' "rigi[...]

Forget Lefty Politics: Here's Why the Oscars' Ratings Hit an All-Time Low

Wed, 07 Mar 2018 15:00:00 -0500

Don't you just hate it when the leader of the Free World is right about something? Well, Donald Trump is accurate about the sad! ratings for Sunday's broadcast of the Academy Awards: Lowest rated Oscars in HISTORY. Problem is, we don't have Stars anymore - except your President (just kidding, of course)! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 6, 2018 Politifact, which chronicles the truthiness of Trump's proclamations, notes that Sunday's show pulled just 26.5 million viewers, which represented a nearly 20 percent decline on the 2017 show. What's more: Was Trump right that 2018 marked a low point for the Oscars? Since the beginning of Nielsen TV audience ratings in 1974, yes.... This is not a one-year downward blip, either. Oscars viewership in 2018 fell by 39 percent from its level just four years earlier, in 2014, when Ellen DeGeneres hosted for ABC. And get this, 2017 was also the worst year for ticket sales in Canada and the United States since 1992. What's going on? A common complaint on the right is that Hollywood is alienating mainstream American audiences by being so doggedly and dogmatically left-wing. A standard formulation of this argument runs something like this 2015 Blaze article by William Avitt: The summer blockbuster is not the place people go to be preached at, or lectured about how they are destroying the environment and starving the homeless for the purpose of their own greedy indulgences. And when half of the country's population is of the Conservative persuasion, moviemakers are severely alienating a large portion of the audience by doing so. Well, maybe, maybe not. Out of last year's Oscar noms for Best Picture, the horror film Get Out made $255 million at the box office even as it was a highly charged statement about race relations. The World War II action film Dunkirk made over half-a-billion dollars worldwide and it too is a political movie, even if its actual ideology is not really clear. The current box-office smash, Black Panther, like last year's Wonder Woman, is brimming with politics, none of which can be easily interpreted as right-wing or conservative. I'll also point out that while Sunday's Oscars event featured explicit shout-outs to the #MeToo movement and calls for racial and gender equity in front of and behind the camera, the winner of the Best Actor award, Gary Oldman, is a self-described libertarian whose portrayal of conservative icon Winston Churchill was widely praised by critics across the ideological spectrum. But if Hollywood's increasingly open hostility to audience members of "the Conservative persuasion" doesn't explain why viewership is tanking, either on Oscar night or at the theater, then what does? The answer, I think, is everywhere around us. We have so many more options on how to spend our leisure time than we did 20 or 30 years ago that the audience for older versions of entertainment are pretty much down across the board. Politifact again: Ratings for the most recent Grammys fell by almost one-quarter in just one year, while the Screen Actors Guild Awards fell by 30 percent and the Golden Globes fell by 5 percent. This year's Super Bowl had the lowest audience since 2009.... "Every awards show on television has seen erosion, and many are notching record lows in viewership," [NPR movie critic Eric] Deggans said. "There are more things than ever competing for an audience's attention, and more alternatives for people who might not want to sit through something as conventional as an awards ceremony." Between better and better cable TV packages, Netflix and Amazon streaming, YouTube, smart phones, and more and different types of sports, concerts, restaurants, you name it, it's really hard to maintain market share, much less grow it. "Cultural proliferation"—massive and ongoing increases our ability to make and consume creative expression under the circumstances we prefer—means that legacy institutions such as the Oscars, the Olympics, and the Super Bowl are almost certain to decline. That loss has nothing to do with politic[...]

Cutting Federal Funding for the Arts Wouldn't Kill Them; Might Make Them Better

Tue, 13 Feb 2018 15:45:00 -0500

How bad is Donald Trump's budget plan for fiscal 2019? It's a disaster area, which somehow cuts a lot of little-bitty stuff while growing already-bloated federal outlays from an estimated $4.2 trillion this year to $4.4 trillion next year: Give the president credit, though. He's diverted attention from his overall increase in spending and gigantic increases in deficits by driving critics crazy with proposed cuts to programs and agencies they love, such as the EPA, the Small Business Administration, food stamps (SNAP), and, of course, the National Endowments for the Arts (NEA) and the Humanities (NEH). From a representative writeup, at Hyperallergic, a newsletter that is "sensitive to art and its discontents": [Like last year, the budget plan calls for] eliminating the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), among other programs. President Donald Trump's budget proposal includes a spending increase for the military, border security, and the ongoing opioid crisis, with his proposed budget for defense in 2019 swelling to a whopping $716 billion. Although it's Congress that passes the federal budget each year, and the president's recommendations are merely that, this is the second year in a row that Trump has called for the elimination of the NEA and NEH. Trump's 2019 "Major Savings and Reforms" document calls for slashing the NEA's budget from $150 million in 2017 to $29 million in 2019. The NEH would similarly be cut down from $150 million in 2017 to $42 million in 2019. The document cites as justification that enough funding exists outside of the federal government to keep the NEA's projects afloat... We can agree that Donald Trump's budget priorities are stupid at best and philistine at worst. But there's still no question that federal funding for the arts is a bad idea for a number of reasons. For starters, it is true that philanthropic giving for the arts continues to rise. According to Charity Navigator, "total giving to charitable organizations was $390.05 billion in 2016 (2.1% of GDP). This is an increase of 2.7% in current dollars and 1.4% in inflation-adjusted dollars from 2015." Those figures are the most recent and for the arts, things are better still: "Arts, Culture and Humanities saw an increase of 6.4% to $18.21 billion." And that $18 billion is just for charity aimed at the arts. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American spends around $2,900 on "entertainment," a category that includes movies, museums, concerts, and the like. Whether the NEA gets cut to $29 million next year or stays at $150 million doesn't really matter when you consider the amount of money we're willing to shell out for concerts, plays, galleries, you name it. I can sympathize with individual groups and artists who might see their funding cut, but that's not the same as saying the arts will suffer. As Jim Epstein argued last year at Reason, federally funded services such as PBS and NPR are actively blocking innovative shifts to the internet and related platforms that make production and distribution cheaper and easier. Watch below: src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0"> When it comes specifically to the NEA, there is simply no question that federal funding is unnecessary to keep arts groups afloat. But that's not even the best argument against state-sanctioned culture. Back in 2011, Meredith Bragg and I also argued that ...Publicly financed art is easily censored art. Last December, the National Portrait Gallery almost immediately pulled a four-minute video called "A Fire in My Belly" after complaints from the Catholic League and politicians such as Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who objected to images of ants crawling over a crucifix. It's hard to imagine a private museum so quickly and cravenly pulling an offending piece. But when[...]

Why This Is TV's Golden Age!: Podcast

Thu, 18 Jan 2018 17:00:00 -0500

At the dawn of the TV era Americans could choose between one of three channels. Even cornball programs like "My Mother the Car" could command a percentage of viewership that would dwarf today's juggernauts on streaming video. Is America losing some of its unity as families quit watching the same Friday night lineups?"

"I think that's a lot of crap," says Glenn Garvin, a Miami Herald columnist and Reason's resident television critic. "…the explosion of television material that started with cable in the 1980s has been a grand thing. What if you don't want to watch "My Mother The Car," "The Rifleman," "The Beverly Hillbillies?"

Reason's Nick Gillespie spoke with Garvin about the future of television, and why we're living in its golden age. As viewership continues to fragment, the behemoth models of old are dying out, replaced by higher quality, bespoke programs. The future is long-tail.

Audio production by Ian Keyser.

Subscribe, rate, and review the Reason Podcast at iTunes. Listen at SoundCloud below:

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But What Does Star Wars *MEAN*?

Fri, 15 Dec 2017 11:39:00 -0500

Going to see the new Star Wars flick this weekend (read Kurt Loder's review here)? Or do you hate the Star Wars universe and can't figure out what the hell is wrong with all those people?

Either way, you'll want to watch this debate about the cultural meaning of Stars Wars and featuring Reason's Peter Suderman, Washington Free Beacon's Sonny Bunch, and The Washington Post's Alyssa Rosenberg. It dates from December 2015 and took place as Rogue One debuted. "All culture is participatory culture," I note at the outset in my role as moderator, and Star Wars has created the very template by which consumers create individualized meaning in their lives out of mass-produced media.

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For more Reason coverage of Star Wars over the years, go here.

More Americans Support Same-Sex Marriage Than Ever

Mon, 26 Jun 2017 15:45:00 -0400

As Gay Pride month draws toward a close, a new poll by the Pew Research Center suggests the fight over same-sex marriage in the United States is over. This is not Roe v. Wade 2.0. Sixty-two percent of Americans support legal recognition for married gay couples, while only 32 percent opposed, according to the latest poll numbers gathered earlier in June. Gay marriage and homosexuality itself does not represent the cultural divide it used to and is becoming "normalized" in the eyes of most Americans. It's worth remembering majority support for same-sex marriage recognition surpassed opposition for the first time in 2011. This shift has taken place over just six years. Pew notes that demographic groups historically more opposed to same-sex marriage have shifted significantly. For the first time a majority of baby boomers support legal recognition. Over the past two years, support for recognition among African Americans has increased from 39 percent to 51 percent. Support from younger white evangelical Christians has jumped from 29 percent to 47 percent in just a year. In terms of the political fight over who "owns" the LGBT vote, it's worth noting what's going on with Republicans. For the first time, opposition to legal recognition among Republicans and Republican leaners has dropped below the majority. It's nearly split now—47 percent favor recognition while 48 percent oppose it. That shift in the political winds is very important in terms of how elements of the LGBT movement are attempting to tie it to "The Resistance" and reinforce the idea that the real LGBT political movement leans to the left. The end result this year has been a purging of actual LGBT people from pride marches for not holding the right views or for being—interestingly enough—members of disfavored groups. A gay supporter of President Donald Trump became a national news story because a pride parade in Charlotte, North Carolina, is refusing to let him participate. In cities like Minneapolis and Washington, D.C., protesters attempted to block police participation in the parade, in some sort of attempt to draw attention to police abuse. In Chicago, people said they were told they could not wave flags displaying the Star of David and express their Jewish heritage within the parade because it made others uncomfortable. In each of these cases, people are trying to purge other LGBT participants for reasons that have little to do directly with the gay community. Trying to ban the police was particularly loathsome (and you could tell from responses to the behavior in the media coverage), given that gay people have both been fighting for years to get police to treat them with respect and to serve as openly gay police officers. The political roots of gay pride are deeply embedded in stopping police violence targeting gay people. That's what the Stonewall Riots were about! There's something particularly narcissistic about trying to purge your adversaries from your sight by denying them participation in these events and thinking that this is a useful response. There is nothing about purging police from a march that's going to improve the relationship between police and minority communities. Purging Jewish flags is not going to do a single thing to improve the relationship between Israel and Palestine. That support for gay marriage has so dramatically increased is a direct reflection of the value of participation, not of purging and segregation. LGBT people are increasingly visible in all communities (not just urban enclaves), and the realization that gay marriage helps strengthen families and social stability has undoubtedly contributed to the dramatic drop in resistance to gay relationships. Activists might want to keep that in mind before trying to deliberately boot people out of the movement.[...]

Are You Ready for the "Intimacy Economy"?

Fri, 26 May 2017 10:00:00 -0400

We've all heard of the "sharing economy" and the "gig economy," app-driven services such as Uber and Airbnb that have radically altered transportation, travel, and an infinite number of other business sectors. But are you ready for the "intimacy economy"? That's economist and media-studies professor Glenn Platt's term for the ways in which the internet and connectivity are shrinking the distance between performer and audience, producer and consumer, and celebrity and fan. "When I talk about the intimacy economy, I'm talking about this growing category of successful business models that are built on one-to-one relationships and experiences that are personal, authentic, and unscripted," explains Platt, the founder and director of the Armstrong Institute for Interactive Media Studies (AIMS) at Miami University of Ohio. He points to an example involving Craig Finn, best-known as the frontman for the indie rock band The Hold Steady. As a way to raise money for his latest album and tour, Finn set up a crowd-funded pledge drive through which fans could sign up to download the album or have it shipped early. The really interesting thing, though, were the higher-level offerings for funders, says Platt. These included paying a couple of hundred dollars to go record shopping with him in New York. "Here you are, a music fan," he says, "and [Finn] is willing to go record-shopping with you. You're getting to do the equivalent of going to church with one of your rock-and-roll heroes....It's different than saying, If you pay extra, you're going to get an autographed picture." In a wide-ranging conversation about technology and disruption, Platt tells Reason's Nick Gillespie how the intimacy economy will revolutionize not only business but also political and cultural practices. In a world where mass personalization and individualization is the new normal, the intimacy economy provides a bold new way of thinking about the future of interactive media. Produced by Ian Keyser. Subscribe, rate, and review the Reason Podcast at iTunes. Listen at SoundCloud below: src="" width="100%" height="450" frameborder="0"> Don't miss a single Reason podcast! (Archive here.) Subscribe at iTunes. Follow us at SoundCloud. Subscribe at YouTube. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. This is a rush transcript—check all quotes against the audio for accuracy. Nick Gillespie: Hi, this is Nick Gillespie and this is the Reason podcast. Please Subscribe to us at iTunes and rate and review us while you're there. Today we're talking with Glenn Platt. He's the C. Michael Armstrong professor of interactive media studies and the founding director of the Armstrong Institute for Interactive Media Studies at Miami University. Glenn thanks for joining us. Glenn Platt: Hey Nick. Nick Gillespie: Let's talk about this concept of the intimacy economy that you've talked about. I've actually used it in a couple of articles that I've written at Reason and elsewhere. What do you mean when you talk about the intimacy economy and why is it so important? Glenn Platt: Sure, when I talk about the intimacy economy what I'm talking about is this is a growing category of successful business models that are built on one to one relationships and experiences, that are personal. authentic and unscripted. And so we're starting to see more and more of the non stylized relationships and I say "brands" here because I come from a business perspective. But, really, when I say "brands" we're talking about celebrities, we're talking about if any ... I don't know, institution of the third kind that normally interacts with people in a one to many fashion. Nick Gillespie: Right, or in a bureaucratic way. So, let's put a little flesh[...]

Boujee, Bougie, Bourgie: Who's Appropriating Whose Culture? An Answer in 12 Songs

Fri, 21 Apr 2017 13:45:00 -0400

In order to empower "a culture of controversy prevention," administrators at American University (AU) prohibited the school's Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity from calling its badminton fundraiser "Bad(minton) and Boujee," a pun on the popular Migos song "Bad and Boujee." AU officials told the frat that them using the word boujee might be seen as "appropriating culture." "Which culture?" asks Catherine Rampell at The Washington Post. "Latin? French? Marxist? Urban hip-hop? Maybe their own?" Administrators weren't clear. But as Rampell notes, the term boujee comes from the Latin "burgus," which described a castle or fortified town. This evolved into the French "bourgeois," for people who live in town rather than the countryside. Town dwellers were more likely to engage in commerce and craftsmanship, and so rose over time to achieve middle-class incomes. That's why Karl Marx later used the term to derisively refer to the class that upheld capitalism. Over time, "bourgeois" morphed into a more generic description of middle-class (and eventually upper-middle-class) materialism and obsession with respectability. More recently, "bourgeois" was shortened to the colloquial "bourgie ," alternately spelled "bougie" or "boujee," used disdainfully to describe upper-middle-class or high-end tastes (driving your Prius to Trader Joe's after yoga class, for example). The "boujee" variation is common when referring to middle-class or upwardly mobile blacks, as in the Migos song. That's hardly this spelling's exclusive usage, though, as is evident from its entries in the crowd-sourced slang glossary Urban Dictionary. So, in a way, "boujee" is indeed an appropriation — or rather an appropriation of an appropriation of an appropriation. That's how language works. It's fluid, evolving, constantly taking from other tongues, dialects and usages. Did administrators really consider all this? Probably not, considering their refusal to articulate who was appropriating what from whom and emphasis on "controversy prevention." More likely, they just heard "frat event named after rap song" and decided to act out of that bureaucratic favorite, an abundance of caution. As Freddie de Boer notes on Facebook, the AU situation nicely illustrates how students, regardless of their ideology, "are powerless in the face of a relentless pink police state that renders every unruly impulse anodyne and unchallenging through an architecture of limitless conflict avoidance. Neither the black bloc nor the alt right can possibly defeat the army of chief litigation officers who have machined the controversy-avoidance mechanism to perfection." But back to bourgie. Google defines it as "exhibiting qualities attributed to the middle class, especially pretentiousness or conventionality." Yet the term is used differently in different subcultures—the people and milieu that Ke$ha calls bougie are different than those that the guys of Migos do, to keep in the musical vein. And they're both shades off from the "Bourgie, Bourgie" folks sung about by Gladys Knight and the Pips in their 1980 disco hit, or those conjured in The Submarines 2008 indie-pop "You, Me and the Bourgeoisie," or Discobitch's 2009 "C'est Beau La Bourgeoisie," or Jacques Brel's 1962 "Les Bourgeois," or Prince's 2013 "Da Bourgeoisie." I've heard white Midwesterners use bougie to describe anything associated with hipsters/liberals/The Coastal Elite, and liberal coastal hipsters use it to describe anything that might be quintessentially suburban or "basic." Sometimes bourgie might be a big-ass McMansion, sometimes a pumpkin spice latter, a snotty attitude, a $10 burger, Manuka honey lozenges, Sheryl Sandberg-style feminists, picnicking on a first date, or ordering first-date food that's too fancy. So, yes, the term might mean certain things in American black culture that it doesn't among lower-class white Ohioans, leftist acad[...]

Meet Eric July

Thu, 20 Apr 2017 07:00:00 -0400

It starts out as a typical music video. A camera follows a rapper into an abandoned warehouse with urban hieroglyphs spray-painted on the walls. Inside, artists thrash their heads in time to a Richter-magnitude rock riff. A guitarist dressed like a skateboard punk leaps into the air as if performing a half-pipe aerial. But this is no ordinary rap-metal group. Listen close and you'll hear the black M.C., Eric July, rapping about how taxes are theft: "They say, 'Who's going to build the roads?' without taxation / So you give them a reason to confiscate my payments / And that's exactly what the state needs / for you to think you need them." This is Backwordz, a band that bills itself as "the libertarian Rage Against the Machine." The song in the aforementioned video is called "Statism," and it appears on the Dallas quartet's debut album, Veracity. Backwordz recently signed to Stay Sick Recordings, the record label of Chris Fronzak, singer of the immensely popular metalcore band Attila. Fronz boosted Backwordz's profile by guesting on another single. The video for that one, titled "Self Ownership," depicts a disillusioned government employee telling protesters outside city hall that politicians won't save them. Other songs on the album, which sold more than 3,000 copies in its first week, rail against handouts and preach self-reliance. It's music that won't be showing up on the Bernie Sanders Spotify playlist anytime soon. Last fall, Stephen Humphries talked to July about his intellectual journey from Obama supporter to advocate for liberty. Reason: Tell me about your upbringing and how you wound up at the University of Memphis on a track and field scholarship. July: It's just a typical story: Young black kid, no father around, ends up being a knucklehead. My mother was working two or three jobs at a time just for me. I was getting in trouble a lot. She put me in Mansfield Summit [secondary school in Arlington, Texas]. She gave me her car to drive me out there to go to a much better school. It's funny, because we [libertarians] talk about school choice. We had to go through back ways in order to get admitted into a school by using other people's addresses. I was gangbanging. I never really got into the thing of selling drugs and wasn't around people that did all that. But I never turned down a fight. I was beefing on people because they were on another side of the city. It was that childish. I saw a lot of people that I would hang around get shot and killed. The person I was dating...ended up getting put in harm's way. Some guys rolled up on us when I was just hanging out, and I thought, "If they start shooting at me or they jump me, she's right here with me." The reality really set in. It was a life-changing experience. During the latter half of my senior year...I wanted to make a change. I was a good track runner. Track and field was my ticket out of the boneheaded stuff I was doing in high school. You campaigned for Barack Obama in 2008. What's your view him and the legacy he's left? I look back at my photos of Barack shirts and it's so embarrassing! The thing that was attractive to me was the same thing that was attractive to a lot of young black folks in college—that he was a black guy. He had the swagger and he was one of us. The legacy he left us is [bad] not just from an economic standpoint with precedents like Obamacare. He expanded government, expanded power, he was a warmonger, and he bombed more countries than [George W.] Bush. But because he was one of us, we didn't hammer him like we did Bush. Tell me about how and when you became a libertarian. I always credit economics. I had never heard the word libertarian until I went to college, [but] I wanted to know about black economists. I had a friend at the time, Bab, who was going through that same phase of getting interested in things outside of t[...]

When Playboy Made It Big

Sat, 18 Mar 2017 06:00:00 -0400

Playboy magazine used to be the contraband men of all ages hid in their sock drawers. Now it might as well be another pair of socks. It's hard to get excited by a nudie magazine anymore—especially one without any nudes. Since March 2016, Playboy no longer features naked ladies, which is kind of like Hershey's still selling almonds without the chocolate. But props where props are due: It's unlikely we would be as blasé as we are today about sex, porn, and even women's lib if it weren't for Hugh Hefner and his crazy 1953 creation. Hef was a frustrated cartoonist at the time, working in the Esquire subscription department because that was the closest he could get to the world of publishing. When his request for a $5 a week raise got turned down, he decided to strike out on his own. Somehow he pulled together $10,000 and prepared to launch a racy new magazine: Stag. Fortunately for him, the name was already taken. So instead he called it Playboy. The first edition featured a centerfold (a word we wouldn't even have without him!) dubbed "Sweetheart of the Month." In the very next issue, the sweetheart was rechristened a "Playmate." As the author Julie Keller has mused, "There is a vast ideological gap between the words." There sure is. The former harkened back to Mary Pickford, courtship, a-settin' on the velveteen settee. The latter is someone you play with. It's fun, but it's not forever. Thus began the smashing of taboos. The genius of Playboy was not that it published naked young ladies. There were other ways to get your grubby paws on those pictures even then. As Time noted in a cover story on Hefner at the height of his career—1972, when his magazine was selling 7 million copies a month—"He took the old-fashioned, shame-thumbed girlie magazine, stripped off the plain wrapper, added gloss, class and culture." As its subscriber base grew, so did Playboy's reputation as a purveyor of taste. It showcased some of the best writers around: Truman Capote, Kurt Vonnegut, Joyce Carol Oates. Its interviews were so candid and surprising that they often made news, as when Jimmy Carter admitted that he had "lusted in his heart" or Martin Luther King Jr. told interviewer Alex Haley about the first time he experienced racism. So, yes, you really could read Playboy just for the articles. Then again, you could read The New York Review of Books for the same thing. Did you? The writing not only provided gentlemen with an excuse to subscribe, it helped change the entire perception of nonmarital sex, from dark, dirty doings with prostitutes to a sophisticated pastime men pursued with willing women of their own class. This, of course, required willing women. And that required a revolution. Hefner himself has said he was a feminist before it was cool. Exactly how feminist is a question for the gender studies classes. Sure, he "objectified" women's bodies. But he also supported birth control (he had to), premarital sex (ditto), and sexual pleasure for both partners (why not?). He got behind the Equal Rights Amendment, and he clearly believed in women in the workforce—he hired hundreds of them to be bunnies. Ironically, one thing he did not seem to like was real, earthy sexiness. Peter Bloch, a former editor at Penthouse, recalls getting Playboy every month, "opening it up with great anticipation and always being disappointed. Because the girls were very cute, but they were photoshopped and in weird poses. Any woman I saw walking down the street seemed more sexy." It's possible that's because Hefner wasn't really selling sex. He was selling lifestyle. The women were simply part of a modern man's lair, along with a wet bar and a hi-fi. That's why Hef made sure all the advertising was aspirational. Howard Lederer, then the magazine's ad director, told Time in 1972: "We create a euphoria and we wan[...]

The Solutions Are Sitting Around a Campfire, Not In Congress

Mon, 27 Feb 2017 12:15:00 -0500

"Our Miserable 21st Century" is the headline on a recent piece in Commentary, not to mention a pretty good summation of the general mood these days. Economic malaise, an opioid crisis, climate change, spiking crime rates in major cities, a political atmosphere that's about as chummy as a prison riot... Nobody should dismiss these grim signs of impending societal collapse, or the many others that, while equally important, have not yet received sufficient attention. (I refer of course to the use of "concerning" as an adjective—as in "The president's behavior is very concerning"—along with the appalling, yet apparently proliferating, belief that "to include" is a suitable replacement for "including." It isn't.) At the same time, it is possible to make too much of our current troubles. A little perspective is in order. One way to regain that perspective is to spend a few minutes on, which tracks the generally meliorating conditions of human existence over the short, medium, and long term. It is filled with data showing how much better things today are than they once were: Hundreds of millions of people have climbed out of poverty. Literacy rates are rising, the gender wage gap is shrinking, child mortality is falling. Air travel is both cheaper and far less dangerous, food is more plentiful, malaria deaths have plunged, and on and on. If your learning style is more experiential than data-driven, then you might try spending a few days with a Cub Scout pack. Few things are as likely to restore your confidence that everything is basically OK. To begin with, you will not hear word one about President Trump. That in itself is a blessing. Because no matter how you feel about Trump, the topic is guaranteed to enrage: Either you are enraged by what the president is doing, or you are enraged by all the people who are enraged by it. The man must be the country's No. 1 salesman for hypertension medication. You also won't see any strife over identity politics. Eight-year-old boys don't care if you're an immigrant or black or white or Asian or Muslim or evangelical. They just don't. As comic Denis Leary once put it, "Racism isn't born, folks, it's taught. I have a 2-year-old son. You know what he hates? Naps. End of list." And you won't see any class divisions. One boy's family might live in a trailer park. Another's might live on Park Avenue. Nobody cares. What they care about is making sure their Pinewood Derby cars come in right at the regulation weight limit of 5.0 ounces, so they will overcome the forces of inertia and friction and get rolling down the track more quickly. This is a matter of intense focus and concern (though it is emphatically not "concerning")—especially to the parents, some of whom have devoted far more time than any grown person should finding ways to add a marginal amount of velocity to a block of pine sitting on four plastic wheels. The parents also spent untold hours sitting around dinner tables planning Cub Scout events, and more untold hours at those events, to keep the momentum going in an organization that exists for the simple, old-fashioned purpose of teaching kids how to be better people: better students, better stewards, better children to their parents, better citizens of their communities. And to keep that momentum going they've gone on campouts where they stood in the cold rain eating scorched eggs and raw bacon around a campfire with a ridiculously high smoke-to-BTU ratio, complaining about all the sleep they didn't get thanks to lying on a bed of jagged rocks. Some of them, if they were Boy Scouts, share stories about how different camping was when they were coming up. None of this fancy high-tech gear, microfiber jackets with water-beading technology and headlamps brighter than an airport runway. Back th[...]

When Play Drives Progress

Thu, 16 Feb 2017 06:00:00 -0500

Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World, by Steven Johnson, Riverhead Books, 322 pages, $30 At the 1996 Republican convention, Newt Gingrich gave what the editors of The Weekly Standard condemned as "the worst and most embarrassing speech of his career." Pulling Olympic gold medalist Kent Steffes up on stage, the speaker of the House and leader of the Republican Revolution sang the praises of the unplanned creativity that had produced…beach volleyball. "There's a whole new world of opportunity opening up that didn't exist 30 or 50 years ago—and no bureaucrat would have invented it," he said. "That's what freedom is all about." Yikes. Newt obviously didn't get the memo. Conservatives weren't supposed to celebrate beach volleyball. They were supposed to be serious, to praise hard work, self-restraint, and small-town virtues—"God, family, honor, duty, country," as nominee Bob Dole said in his convention speech. Not fun in the sun. Or anything else spontaneous and creative, especially if it came out of California. "Locating the spirit of American freedom in Olympic beach volleyball," the Standard said, was completely off-message. (Never mind that the convention crowd cheered.) I highlighted this strange political moment in my book The Future and Its Enemies, published two years later, because it captured an important clash of worldviews. On one side were those who celebrated entrepreneurship, spontaneity, innovation, and the market's ability to produce new pleasures. On the other were those who believed that prosperity flowed from diligence, thrift, and self-denial, and worried that too much fun threatened to destroy culture, markets, government, and all things good and true. The latter view, particularly dear to neoconservatives, I dubbed the "repression theory of progress." Best articulated in Daniel Bell's The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, which built on Max Weber's idea of the Protestant ethic, the repression theory predicted that consumer culture's emphasis on "play, fun, display, and pleasure" would ultimately undermine the whole system. Capitalism contained the seeds of its own destruction. Steven Johnson does not buy the repression theory of progress. Nor does he accept its counterpart on the left, where technology and markets equal oppression and drudgery. A man of the center-left, he is a classic dynamist: a genuine liberal who appreciates the power of inventions and institutions that emerge from the bottom up. In Wonderland, Johnson, whose previous works include How We Got to Now (the basis for a PBS series) and Where Good Ideas Come From, explores the playful sources of innovation. "When human beings create and share experiences designed to delight or amaze," he writes, "they often end up transforming society in more dramatic ways than people focused on more utilitarian concerns. We owe a great deal of the modern world to people doggedly trying to solve a high-minded problem: how to construct an internal combustion engine or manufacture vaccines in large quantities. But a surprising amount of modernity has its roots in another kind of activity: people mucking around with magic, toys, games, and other seemingly idle pastimes." Johnson is not a theorist. He never attempts to define play or to clarify why he highlights some experiences designed to delight or amaze rather than others. (Why so little on sports in a chapter on games? Why so down on the automobile? Why spices rather than, say, dyes and pigments? In a resolutely global and multicultural work, why so little on China?) He doesn't separate playful forms of consumption from playful forms of production, nor does he try to explain why some types of play lead to bigger things while others are simply ephemeral fun. He mines the scholarly literature [...]

A Quarter of Transgender People Report Restroom Confrontations

Thu, 08 Dec 2016 12:35:00 -0500

Public policy on how and where to accommodate transgender people ballooned into a national debate this year and may well have contributed to the defeat of incumbent North Carolina Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. McCrory put it all on the line defending HB2, the state law that both requires transgender people in public schools and government buildings to use the restrooms and facilities of the gender on their birth certificates and forbids cities within the state from passing their own accommodation regulations. But this debate, while taking up plenty of media real estate and undoubtedly at least influencing some voting choices, has been notable for how much of it is based on emotion and fear and not facts and data. The results of a new poll of transgender Americans put together by the National Center for Transgender Equality aims to give a better sense of what these people actually experience in the world. The survey of 27,715 was organized in 2015, greatly expanding on the 6,400 transgender people surveyed in 2011. Since bathrooms seem to be the point of conflict at the moment, it's worth noting that 24 percent of transgender people say their presence in a restroom has been questioned or challenged in the last year and 12 percent say they were verbally harassed there. Outside the bathrooms, 46 percent say they were verbally harassed in the past year. As for the rest of their lives, close to a third of transgender people said they've been homeless at some point of their lives and close to a third say they're currently living in poverty. A full 40 percent of transgender people say they've attempted suicide in their lives—seven percent say they've tried in just the past year. But a comparison between the polling from 2011 and 2015 shows signs of improvement in some areas. The comparisons aren't perfect because the questions are a bit different. But in 2011, 26 percent reported losing their job because of being transgender. In 2015, and given a much larger sample size, only 13 percent reported losing their job. The number is cut in half. They didn't focus on just bathrooms in 2011 (because it hadn't become a thing yet), but 53 percent reported being harassed in areas of public accommodations then. That's still a larger percentage than the general harassment (46 percent) reported in the new poll. But some issues—particularly mental health and family acceptance—haven't changed that much. The high rate of suicide attempts is unchanged, though logically it will take years for that number to shift if the poll is asking over a lifetime as opposed to the previous year. A higher percentage of transgender people (23 percent) report facing housing discrimination in the more recent poll than the older one (19 percent). Though again the questions aren't apples to apples. Another 11 percent in the previous poll also reported getting evicted because of their transgender identity. The most recent poll results can be viewed here and the numbers from the 2011 poll are here. What should the average (likely non-trans) libertarian or liberty-minded reader take away from this? Maybe a better sense of why there's such a push to use government regulations to fix some of these issues but also some knowledge that culture is showing signs of becoming friendlier to trans people even in just a short time frame. It's important when attempting to make the argument that additional government intervention in business and private spaces isn't needed or justified—and brings about harm to individuals' right to freedom of association—to be able to show alternative ways that culture is getting better for transgender people. Though many of these numbers are improved, they are still remarkably high. It's also a good reason why it's i[...]

LGBT Lives Are Better Than Ever, Yet The Culture War Grows Louder

Thu, 01 Dec 2016 13:15:00 -0500

My public reaction (on Twitter) when I saw BuzzFeed's strange, now-viral piece about a couple of HGTV hosts going to a church whose pastor doesn't support gay marriage was to wonder if the media outlet was going to write a similar piece about every single Catholic in America or just the famous ones. Whatever the stated intent for running a story about the church attendance of some C-list home improvement show hosts (they do well in cable ratings, anyway), the subtext is clearly intended for us to look askance at Chip and Joanna Gaines for belonging to a church whose pastor preaches against gay marriage. The weirdest part of the piece is that it's entirely speculative. The Gaineses didn't respond to requests for comment, so it's a piece that cannot even tell the reader whether the Gaineses themselves support or oppose gay marriage. Robby Soave noted this morning a couple of media outlets like Jezebel and Cosmopolitan running with the story. There's also been a much larger blitz of responses that are critical of the BuzzFeed piece. Here's some critical analysis over at the Washington Post from an engaged gay man who worries that the digital media environment under the Donald Trump administration is going to end up as "four agonizing, tedious years of 'gotcha' non-stories like this one." There is some possible good news here amid the media feeding frenzy surrounding the story: At the time that I'm writing this, a host of outlets have written about and linked to the BuzzFeed story. But I haven't seen a peep at the major blogs or media outlets (such as The Advocate) that specifically cater to LGBT readers. I may have missed a blog link somewhere given the size of the internet, but this "controversy" doesn't seem to be a focus of sites that are narrowly focused on LGBT lives and issues. Why is this good news? Because it's a sign that the people who are actually affected by cultural attitudes toward gay marriage recognition understand where the battles truly are (to the extent that there are any battles left). Whatever the Gaineses and their retrograde preacher believe about gay marriage is not relevant to whether the practice will continue. There is no indication that any of these people in this story have influence to alter the state of legal recognition (or any interest in doing so). There is a lot of focus at LGBT sites about who will be serving the Trump administration and fears about what they may do. Trump actively courted LGBT voters, which is remarkable on its own for a representative of the Republican Party. Let's not forget that the Republican Party's opposition to gay issues hasn't been just a plank in the platform—it's also historically been an issue to campaign with, something largely absent from this year's race. Trump nevertheless did terribly with gay voters, according to exit polls. But while Trump doesn't seem to personally have much opposition to the LGBT agenda, the same cannot be said for the people he's selecting for his administration, and that's where all the power will be. I've noted previously fear over Trump's selection of Rep. Tom Price to head the Department of Health and Human Services, given his record of opposition on gay issues. Betsy DeVos, Trump's pick for secretary of education, didn't just oppose legal recognition of gay marriage; she actually bankrolled ballot initiatives to block it. Her family has significant connections to organizations that have done everything they could to halt the legal normalization of same-sex relationships, and it's worth analyzing how that might affect what she does in Trump's cabinet. So having said that, what I'm seeing from pieces like this bizarre one from BuzzFeed, and from things like a gay politician's at[...]

Media Attacks on HGTV’s Gaines Family and Victoria’s Secret Might Make You Welcome Trump’s Apocalypse

Thu, 01 Dec 2016 08:15:00 -0500

(image) We are the architects of our own suffering. A writer for Cosmopolitan is claiming that Victoria's Secret has engaged in "racist" cultural appropriation because the company recently featured Asian-inspired lingerie in its fashion show.

The post's title states the matter plainly: "Why Can't Victoria's Secret Stop Designing Racist Lingerie?" asks Helin Jung. (The answer is obvious: because it's not doing so in first place.)

In the esteemed view of a progressive women's magazine, it's racist to let a Nepalese woman design South Asian-inspired jewelry for Victoria's Secret models to wear on the runaway.

"Don't let yourself be hoodwinked by Victoria's Secret's brazen attempt to re-label what is clearly cultural appropriation by turning it into a celebration of 'culture,'" writes Jung. "The brand and its creative leads shamelessly cherry-picked imagery, breaking apart aesthetic references from wherever they wanted and stitching them back together again. They're telling us it's worldliness. It's not, it's a hack job."

If this is racism—if racism means, essentially, recognizing and incorporating the inherent beauty of other cultures—what word would Cosmopolitan use to describe Victoria's Secret if the company only featured designs that were 100 percent Eurocentric? Reasonable people might conclude that Cosmo is getting things exactly backward: Victoria's Secret has engaged in racial inclusivity, rather than racism.

Meanwhile, HGTV is facing criticism from BuzzFeed because the stars of one of its biggest shows—Chip and Joanna Gaines of Fixer Upper—are members of an anti-gay church. The article did not say whether the Gaines are anti-gay themselves, or whether Fixer Upper actually discriminates against gays (it has never featured a gay couple, although other HGTV shows do so routinely), because its author simply doesn't know. The views of the Gaines' pastor are, remarkably, the only evidence.

Oh, Jezebel and—you guessed it—Cosmopolitan eagerly piled on. Reminder: We don't actually know if Chip and Joanna are anti-gay, so this is sort of a premature public-shaming.

People have every right to boycott television personalities for being anti-gay, though we might expect the journalism outlets accusing them of such to actually confirm it first.

Occasionally, there are reasons to be grateful that President Donald Trump's apocalypse is only 50 days away. No doubt the smug sanctimony of media figures who casually labelled everyone a racist, sexist bigot—sometimes for good reason, other times not so much—had something to do with Trump's election in the first place.