Over on Daily Kos, there's been a many-diaried argument and discussion about a certain ad for the Gilligan's Island television show. I won't link to it, you can easily find it. Actually, I think it's gone now because the show already aired. But it was pretty stupid. The ad is two strippers dressed as Mary Ann and Ginger having a food fight and acting like they're turned on while they are fighting. For those that are into that sort of thing, be warned that the production values aren't anywhere near as good as the Paris Hilton ad, the girls aren't as good-looking as the ones in that one Budweiser ad (power-suited women fighting in the fountain), and it's not really even funny - the jokes fall flat. Even its badness isn't any good.
So there's not really even much reason for our baser sides to like the ad. And of course there are the other reasons for our more evolved sides to not like it. I noticed the ad a few times but never really even felt tempted to click on it and watch the video.
Until the outcry, which made me (and others) curious enough to actually watch it. A couple of diaries had been posted, written by women who were mad about it.
Now if you're reading along and are already rolling your eyes at these offended women, you are part of the problem. "Oh, here we go again," goes the reaction, mentally replaying old arguments with the militant feminists of one's imagination. That's not to say that there aren't a few college sophomore women out there that are a bit hopped up on hostility and haven't yet balanced their new understanding of womanhood with any significant understanding or respect for manhood. But this is where the problem starts - the generalizations.
Let's briefly review the problems with generalization and discrimination. It is not bad to recognize a grouping of people and identify patterns within that group of people. It is not really even bad to attempt to apply those patterns to groups of people in an attempt to understand those groups further. The main responsibility there is just to be careful not to confuse correlation with causation. (No small feat.)
The problem with generalizations is when you take these patterns of groups and try to apply them to an individual. It never works and it is always stupid. It's the problem with racial profiling, racism, sexism, and many other variations of stupid arguments that are a waste of time since they can so easily be avoided by actually listening to the person who's right in front of you.
This is what started happening on Daily Kos. Someone would post their own personal feelings in being upset by an ad. Someone else would react, complaining about generic feminist hostility. First person would (rightly) feel unreceived, and would then feel like their suspicions of sexism were being confirmed, leading to more accusations that the other person would roll their eyes at since they've heard it all before. And it would escalate.
The escalation culminated with Kos choosing to address the mini-controversy on the front page. It's important to recognize that at this point, the argument transformed from being about the ad, to being about the reaction to the ad. The ad was far less important than the discussion. The ad never had much power, but it immediately became a symbol, touchstone, and catalyst for all the later discussions and opinions.
Kos addressed it by venting aggressively about how stupid an issue the ad was. Now, that's true, in a way. The ad is stupid, and these kind of controversies only contribute to the success of an ad campaign. So I had a funny experience reading his response because I could feel a bit of a cackle in myself at the beginning: "Oh man, now they're gonna get it." By "them", I certainly didn't mean the women offended by the ad, I mostly meant the hand-wringing of an online community that sometimes gets too carried away with its own self-importance. I can imagine a website host that takes his site seriously, but has to deal with a bunch of people that turn it into a cause and take everything more seriously than he does. So I could definitely understand the impatience, and even enjoy the expression of that impatience. I probably got some satisfaction because of my own frustration with the site, which I believe has been going subtly downhill (in discussion quality) for quite a while - I think it could be better than it is at generating wisdom, and I can get frustrated that it doesn't meet my own judgments of its potential (understanding the irrelevance of them being my judgments), so I probably liked Kos' frustration in hopes it would lead to constructive changes.
So, for that variety of reasons, I wanted to eat popcorn when I started to read Kos' response, but that ended really quickly as I saw what he was actually writing. I think my reaction went something like "heh heh... hunh.... uhhhhh.... geez. ... holy crap."
Kos' theme was "sanctimony". The basic point is that the only reason to express a negative reaction to the ad on his site is out of a hypocritical urge to display oneself as morally superior to others.
If you're skimming, now's a good time to stop and let that sink in.
It discounted emotion-based motivation. It mocked vulnerability. It denied the existence of constructive intent. It basically ran over the sincere feelings of anyone who felt hurt.
Over the next several days, the community was littered with some of the stupidest logic flaws I've seen in a long time - the kind of logic that would have been torn apart by any of the argument proponents had that logic been applied to any other subject. It was basically the mixture of straw men and fantastical extrapolation that litters debates worldwide, here used to prove that those who were upset about the ad were hypocritical or sanctimonious in some way.
What's interesting is how easily these arguments spring unbidden to the minds of otherwise intelligent fellows. It's like some bizarre kind of mind control, all these men reacting to the same stimuli and making the same unthinking, unbending points. I would see some hardy souls (including myself a couple of times) try to meet these points on their merit, challenging them methodically. They'd be met with no response, and the points would just be repeated again elsewhere, by the same person. Again, these are Democratic men that seem pretty darn cool in other arenas.
And it all started because of one failure.
Folks are tempted to misidentify the failure. The failure isn't that someone sought a confrontation. I believe in confrontation. I believe that in order to evolve, confrontation is required. The problems with our society - bubbles, delusions, and denial - are because of a lack of confrontation. Confrontation yields balance. Bubbles pop. Delusions lift. Denials are forced into the open. It happens when the delirium is forced to confront reality, and reality wins. For greater balance in our world, this confrontation needs to happen more often.
But in most cases, confrontation requires an agreement. Oftentimes, one party can seek to confront, and the other is able to weasel away. It merely serves to postpone the confrontation to a more painful time, but it happens all the time. In order to receive the confrontation, you have to listen.
So that's what the failure was here. The failure to listen. This debate was never about the ad. It was about people not feeling received - it was about them believing they might be received, enough to air their grievances, and then having their hopes dashed.
Posted by tunesmith at June 11, 2005 03:31 AM
TrackBack URL for this entry: