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“reductionist, simplistic, awful caricature of genuine political debate”

October 17, 2014

Gawker: “Crossfire Is Dead, Again” by Hamilton Nolan:

It’s not sad for the loss of Crossfire—the show was always a reductionist, simplistic, awful caricature of genuine political debate, which is one reason it was canceled the first time in 2005, only to be resurrected like a lurching zombie last year.

That’s a good description of zombie politics: “reductionist, simplistic, awful caricature”. Reductionism leads to a misconception of the whole. Sometimes the simple is more confusing than the complex.

But what to do when awful caricature is the character’s only essence? If Crossfire can’t exist as a noble political debate, where is the political debate that makes the public square so valuable to American democracy? Nolan thinks it’s the internet. He’s not sad about Crossfire’s second demise, but I think it’s sad to lose the promise of argument as a way to reach truth through dialogue. Crossfire at it’s best did that, admittedly it failed a lot, but at it’s best it demonstrated the idea of dialectical opposition, of truth through the mediation of opposites.

The problem is that people assume one side is right rather than try to see the truths in the mediation. See CacheValleyDaily: “COLUMN: Zombie Moralism” by Harry Caines, which begins by quoting “Waling Dead”:

“You are either the butcher, or you are the cattle.”

What a tragic false dichotomy. Caines column is a nice description of the monster’s history but concludes with another tragic choice. First, he claims zombies are simply unreasonable:

Zombies never leave and never cease wanting to eat us. They challenge our moral ambiguity. They cannot be reasoned with or persuaded to change their diet.

So he decides that in the event of a zombie apocalypse he would loot the guns at Wal-Mart, and

I would kill the weak, old and infirmed on my way into the mountains as both an act of mercy and a necessary undertaking to ensure they would not hunt me down when “turned” by zombification.

Oh my. That’s a bit extreme, no? He’s going to kill innocent unaffected people just because he expects they will get infected and he needs to fortify the area? What kind of horrible mentality is that? He concludes:

Some of you might find that a ghastly thing to admit. But that is what you need to do if you are to survive in a world dominated by zombies. You need to remove yourself from humanity. The fact that some of you disagree with that is why this genre of horror will be with us for a long time.

Well yes, it is those questions that keep this genre going but his terrible answer is precisely why we need to keep talking about this. This is a debate that needs to be had. We can’t kill people just to fortify ourselves. That’s Nazi-style eugenics. Being human means sharing humanity with the weakest of us.

I’ve heard it said that anyone suspected of contact with ebola should be locked up and quarantined and they can sue for their due process violations later. This is the same attitude that propels ideas of indefinite detention for suspected terrorists. Fear persuades us to allow oppressive action.

Blytheville Courier News: “The value of TV time” by Chris Pinkard:

I know a lot of people say that, but I really, really do. I know spending mass amounts of time in front of the boob-tube gets a bad wrap. It’ll rot your brain. It makes you antisocial. It gives you unrealistic expectations for life.

But TV has a number of advantages. First, it teaches critical thinking. Whether it’s whatever sitcom Fox is trying to sell or CBS’s latest crime drama or AMC’s stellar zombie hit “The Walking Dead,” TV, enough crumby TV, teaches you to look at the information presented in the first act and develop a theory for how the episode will progress.

He must be sort of kidding because he goes on to recommend “The Aquabats! Super Show!” but I guess maybe he can make an argument about how that show could actually inspire critical thinking. Still TV can be good for critical thinking but it’s not about the show it’s about how we watch it, it’s about the questions we ask of the text.

TV doesn’t teach critical thinking, neither do books, these texts are tools for thinking. Reading texts (and here I mean to include visual texts and other cinematic media), questioning these texts, and discussing them with other people, those are skills of critical thinking and through practice we bootstrap our abilities.

Critical thinking makes no accounting for taste. We are free to write that “Hamlet sucks …” as is the headline for Robert Speer’s review of a new Chico State production, “… and eats brains, too”, it’s a zombie Shakespeare mashup, “Living Dead in Denmark”:

What would Shakespeare think of Living Dead in Denmark, Qui Nguyen’s silly but fun mashup of characters from the Bard’s plays thrust into an apocalyptic zombie gore-fest?

He’d appreciate the concept, I’m sure, though someone would have to educate him about zombies. He knew about ghosts and witches, of course, but blood-sucking, brain-eating undead creatures would be new to him.

That said, “Shakespeare in the Bush” by Laura Bohannan suggests that Hamlet’s father’s ghost was a “zombis” because he had a physical form. Also, Laertes was in league with the witches. The essay describes the interpretation of the Hamlet story by African tribal elders in dialogue with the Bohannan:

“It was Hamlet’s dead father. It was a thing we call a ‘ghost.’” I had to use the English word, for unlike many of the neighboring tribes, these people didn’t believe in the survival after death of any individuating part of the personality.

“What is a ‘ghost?’ An omen?”

“No, a ‘ghost’ is someone who is dead but who walks around and can talk, and people can hear him and see him but not touch him.”

They objected. “One can touch zombis.”

“No, no! It was not a dead body the witches had animated to sacrifice and eat. No one else made Hamlet’s dead father walk. He did it himself.”

“Dead men can’t walk,” protested my audience as one man.

I was quite willing to compromise.

“A ‘ghost’ is the dead man’s shadow.”

But again they objected. “Dead men cast no shadows.”

“They do in my country,” I snapped.

The old man quelled the babble of disbelief that arose immediately and told me with that insincere, but courteous, agreement one extends to the fancies of the young, ignorant, and superstitious, “No doubt in your country the dead can also walk without being zombis.”

From the depths of his bag he produced a withered fragment of kola nut, bit off one end to show it wasn’t poisoned, and handed me the rest as a peace offering.

These kind of open debates and cross-talks are important for societal growth. It’s important that we continue to examine and reexamine the conventional narratives. It’s not that either side is right or wrong. There are multiple ways of interpreting a text. The value come from sharing the nut.

We cannot privilege our own understanding of the world, we cannot assume we are correct, and so we should not kill innocent people to fortify our protection. I do not share Harry Caines amoralism, but as a city dweller, I’ll surely be one of the dead. His perspective is both intriguing and repulsive. It is worth debating, it is worth trying to demonstrate that society is only as good as we treat the weakest of us. But that may leave us all a pack of zombies. Perhaps only the ruthless will survive, but then perhaps I’d rather be one of the dead.

And what of the animals? We cannot justify our killing them either. And yet people continue to try: “10 Reasons Why I’ll Never Be Vegan” by Lauren:

Food is complicated, but let’s start with the many aspects of a balanced diet on which everyone agrees – even the vegans and paleos! This includes:

Enjoy an abundance of freshly prepared vegetables
Minimized processed foods and instead cook meals from scratch
Eat mindfully and slowly
Source local, organic foods and support small farm

Let’s not just start there, let’s end there. Lauren goes on to provide 10 rationalizations for consuming animals. They are really interesting facts and I am sure many of them can maybe be debated, but in the interest of killing Crossfire, let’s focus on what she says we agree on. Because I think maybe most people don’t really agree on those things.

They may say they do in public, but in practice they don’t. So what if a TV show actually tried to argue representing those people’s unspoken desires. What if we stopped being so politically correct that we need to turn off the arguments and instead turned to arguments about the real debates people don’t vocalize.

We need shows like CrossFire, not to rerun the same party-line nonsense we already know but to explain debates we aren’t yet understanding. If “everyone agrees” why are we buying so much McDonalds? We have climate change deniers debating on TV, where are the nutrition deniers, or the butcher shop apologists? We need more arguments about more of our society, because the beauty of democracy is that never “everyone agrees” and we need argument to help us find the complications that might ultimately simplify this mess – we need texts to read together, sharing unpoisoned nuts. Together, such a simple idea yet so complicated.

Rice and beans and salad for my dinner, but ironically it’s the dog who refuses to eat unless I add some turkey to her already lamb based processed food, she’s the smart one, refuses to discuss it too.

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