Is this Lil Caesars commercial anti-semitic?
In the current political climate with everyone on the lookout for alt-right dog whistles and symbolism, a recent Lil Caesars commercial has caught the eye of alt-right sympathizers and trolls across the web.
Although one would think that every corporation in the world would be on high alert for anything that could even potentially be perceived as anti-semitic, racist, or hateful in any way, this new commercial appears to be completely clueless that one of the actions in this advert could easily be seen as very offensive.
The latest issue of “men’s magazine” GQ focused entirely on “New Masculinity,” or as the publication puts it “the ways that traditional notions of masculinity are being challenged, overturned, and evolved.”
As far as many of us are concerned, the old masculinity was just perfect, but GQ has set out to change your mind. And what better authority offer a valuable perspective on masculinity than unfunny, female, man-hating comedian Hannah Gadsby.
In “Hannah Gadsby on Why Men Should Be More Ladylike,” the comedian offers a surface-level assertion that men should be more “feminine” and “ladylike,” characteristics she equates with being powerless, meek, and sheepish. In her attempt to bash men, she ends up revealing her true feelings about women, in what shapes up to be a strangely misogynistic tirade.
To give you a taste for Gadsby’s refined brand of humour, The New Yorker named her as having one of the best jokes of 2018.
“I don’t think even lesbian is the right identity fit for me. I really don’t. I may as well come out now. I identify—as tired.”
That’s it. That’s the joke.
In what appears to be an attempt at praise, The New Yorker describes how Gadsby spends part of her special “Nanette” actually explaining “how comedic tension works,” noting that “At times, the audience gets so quiet that it seems as if the sound mixer has turned the balance down to some kind of negative level.”
Gadsby begins her GQ piece by addressing “the men.”
“Hello, the men,” she writes, in what appears to be a sophomoric appeal to humour through either dehumanization, awkward phrasing, or a combination of the two. “My advice on modern masculinity would be to look at those traits you believe are feminine and interrogate why you are so obsessed with being the opposite.”
I would venture a guess that men are “obsessed with being the opposite” of women because they are set on living out the gender identity with which they most identify, that of a man. She later clarifies that she was indeed speaking directly to “straight white cis men.” How well would Gadsby’s comments be received if they were directed toward transgender men? Questioning why a transgender man is “so obsessed” with not being a woman would generally be considered extremely insensitive, and in some circles, even hateful.
“Because this idea that to be a man you have to be the furthest away from being a woman that you possibly can is really weird,” she continues.
It feels strange to even have to elaborate on why this statement is ridiculous, but in today’s world, such explanations are proving to be more and more necessary. Men are the complementary opposite of women. In order to be a man, you have to not be a woman. Because they are opposites. While both men and women are human and therefore share common elements of humanity, the “furthest way from being a woman” while still being a human is, by definition, being a man.
While GQ framed the piece as being one that would address “new masculinity,” Gadsby (surprise) simply attacks the value of masculinity altogether. “Why is everyone so scared of not being masculine?” she asks, before going on to ridicule “hyper-masculine man-babies.”
She then encourages men to look to “traditional feminine traits” and try “incorporating them into” their “own masculinity.” Again, what? Gadsby seems genuinely confused about the definition of masculinity, and how it relates to that of femininity. This is made even more evident when she goes on to encourage men to be “more ladylike” by tamping down their own confidence, or by refraining from sharing their own opinions.
Gadsby implies that confidence and opinion sharing are both masculine characteristics. What’s worse, she goes on to suggest that men “try pretending that you’re the least powerful person in any room and that no matter how hard you work you’ll never be the most powerful” and “Walk around like that for a couple weeks,” in order to become more in touch with their femininity.
If Gadsby thinks that women are the least powerful people in a room among men, then perhaps she is the one who needs to get in touch with her own femininity.
To imply that “incorporating” femininity into one’s own masculinity (never mind the oxymoron) would involve becoming sheepish, unconfident, less “bold,” and the least powerful person in any room, is the most blatantly sexist statement anybody has gotten away with publishing in any major publication in a very long time. But Gadsby’s words will be celebrated because they also happen to be bitter and anti-men.
If children are taught how to think, not what to think, there’s no ideology or dogmatic force that need be feared. Kids must learn to discern fact from fiction, to form opinions based on given data, to understand what data is relevant and what isn’t, and to weigh judgments against a set of moral guidelines. Parenting is not about making sure kids have all the right information, it’s about giving them the tools to access it, and the awareness to know what to do with it.
This concept was missed by writer Joanna Schroeder, who writes on parenting for Disney’s site Babble. In an epic Twitter thread, she asked “Do you have white teenage sons? Listen up.” And proceeded to rant about the problem with what white, teen boys like on the internet. It turns out that she has white, teen boys, and she’s been concerned about their online interests. She thinks the internet is trying to turn her boys into white supremacists.
Couple things: if you’re a writer, and you have kids, you should stop writing about them publicly in a non-fiction setting after they are six or so years old. Online lives live forever, and these kids are going to have a future in which their mother publicly told the world, to near 100K likes and 50K retweets (at time of writing), that she’s worried her kids don’t have enough discernment to not become white supremacists just because they’re exposed to some shady online content.
Next up, what Schroeder doesn’t realize in her quest to have her sons inundated with progressive/liberal perspectives, is that this ideology is the mainstream view. Teens aren’t looking for what culture and mainstream media wants to give them, they want what they can take. For better or worse, these days, conservatism is the counterculture. All those divisive podcasters and YouTubers, bitching about the state of illiberal liberalism that has taken over discourse, are the opposing team. Prevailing opinions about toxic masculinity, the danger of whiteness, and the slur that is ‘white cis het male’ are hard to listen to when that is exactly the thing that you are. It’s hard for me to listen to, and I’m not even that thing.
Schroeder isn’t the only progressive, left-leaning mom who is worried about what her sons are looking at online. I’ve heard from friends of teen boys that they don’t like the content their sons consume. But here’s the deal: that’s totes normal. Going all the way back to the 20th century, rock music, punk rock, even the early folk movement, did not have parents for fans. Parents never like the media their kids are into. That’s half the reason kids like it. Kids dress up and act out in ways they want their parents to disapprove of.
One time I was riding to school with my dad, and he let me play my music—a rare treat—so I popped in a cassette of the Beastie Boys License to Ill. It started with “Paul Revere,” first track on the second side. It goes: “The sheriff’s after me for what I did to his daughter / I did it like this, I did it like that / I did it with a wiffle ball bat.” My dad ejected the tape and chucked it from the window of the moving car. The next time it was my turn to play music, I stuck with R.E.M., because I’m no fool. I don’t blame him for chucking the tape, that’s his prerogative, it was his car, but that week I saved up my lunch money and the weekend saw me at the mall’s Sam Goody getting myself another copy.
It’s not a parent’s job to correct their kids’ taste, even if it’s bad taste. It’s a parent’s job to give their kids the tools of discernment, a household where rules and guidelines of conduct are clear, unconditional love, and the freedom to make their own choices. Schroeder goes on to tweet what comedians parents should ask their kids to watch and what lessons the kids should glean from those woke jokesters.
She notes “Here’s an early red flag: if your kid says ‘triggered’ as a joke referring to people being sensitive, he’s already being exposed & on his way. Intervene!” But like, it’s funny. Trigger warnings have been reported to be not effective by The New York Times, and the concept that a person doesn’t have a thick enough skin or sense of self to bear up when exposed to insensitive jokes is, well, silly. Lots of things are offensive if you decide they are. The kids who are accessing this countercultural content do it for the same reason the punks put safety pins through their cheeks: to be provocative.
All these Alex P. Keaton’s running around, flipping off their progressive parents with PewDiePie or whatever else, are not inundating themselves with what will become their permanent political perspective. Teens just aren’t doing that. They are trying out identities, and in the era of identity politics, one must. There’s no reason to believe that every white, teen boy is going to find his hate in the endless magazine of an AK-47. Most don’t, by a huge margin. Schroeder and other progressive moms and dad who are freaked out by the content their kids are consuming would do well to remember their own teen years, and realize that the danger is in stifling a kid’s outlet, in trying to force a kid into your way of thinking, instead of allowing for healthy self-expression, and providing the boundaries and love that are the backbone of a healthy child.
One of my favourite Seinfeld episodes had Kramer joining an AIDS walk. But he refuses to “wear the ribbon.” People keep urging him to take it, and he keeps politely refusing. They become more importunate. He won’t budge. Finally, they get ugly and turn on him with menace: “Who doesn’t want to wear the ribbon?” one walker yells accusingly, as others press in on him.
The scene is, of course, played for laughs, but it nevertheless reveals a dark truth about ritualized compassion. If your sympathy for a good cause has to meet a “compelled speech” standard to be considered sincere, then who is the more admirable character? In this parody of bullying virtue-signallers (not a trope in use at the time), we see that often those “wearing the ribbon” are more concerned about showcasing the “correct” public expression of their sympathy than the plight of the actual victims they are marching for. Bullying those who eschew conforming symbols thus provokes contempt for the bullies and respect for the genuine sincerity of the non-conformist.
I was reminded of this episode last weekend, after a talk I gave as part of a panel at the Manning Conference in Ottawa. My subject was the normalization of anti-Semitism in the progressive playbook. Afterward, Reyhana Patel, Head of Government and External Relations for Islamic Relief Canada came up to the stage with a few companions to interrogate me (and I use the word advisedly). Every one of their questions struck me as—politically—more than the sum of its parts, and delivered with an undertone of menace that was not the least bit funny.
The first question (the gist, not having recorded the exchange): “Your talk was about hatred. Why did you not mention Islamophobia?” My response: “My talk was not about hatred in general; it was about a very specific form of hatred, anti-Semitism.”
My answer did not please them, I could see, and they asked the question a few more times with different wordings. They really didn’t get it: Even though most people today have internalized the “correct” notion that one cannot mention anti-Semitism without “wearing the ribbon” of Islamophobia, ages-old anti-Semitism and the newly coined Islamophobia are apples and oranges.
Many people actively dislike Islam tenets, and a whole lot of people are uncomfortable with the cultural norms in Islam-ruled regions, especially with regard to women’s and gay rights, but hatred of Muslims for being Muslims has simply not been a systemic form of hatred in the west. By contrast, few people actively dislike Judaic tenets, but millions of people, even those who have never met a Jew, hate Jews. Would it have annoyed Ms. Patel & co if I had added that nowhere is Jew hatred more pronounced or vicious than in Islam-dominated societies?
I was also reminded of the watered-down resolution the Democratic Party passed as a gesture of appeasement to Minnesota representative Ilhan Omar, whose overt anti-Semitism had motivated a resolution condemning anti-Semitism. In the end, responding to pressure from Omar’s circle of support—and completely vitiating the presenting reason for the exercise—it included Islamophobia and other forms of hatred. That’s the ribbon-wearing way it goes in progressive circles everywhere, but the fact that this kind of appeasement has crept into the Democratic Party looks to many observers like an alarming tipping point for the party’s drift. Special kudos go, therefore, to Republican Senator Ted Cruz for sponsoring a resolution against anti-Semitism in the senate, as the appropriate response to Ilhan’s bigotry.
Next, they wanted to know why I hadn’t tweeted out a condemnation of the New Zealand mosque massacre. Ah, so it appears my social media accounts were being monitored by their group to see if I was wearing the “ribbon” for the tragedy. If they had done a thorough check, they would have seen that I am a Kramer regarding most massacres in terms of offering my Twitter condolences.
Every massacre of innocents sicken me. But I don’t represent the government or any official body; this massacre happened in a foreign country; and if I made it a principle to offer condolences on every act of mass killing in the world, I would be doing little else. Not wearing the ribbon, not tweeting a condolence, doesn’t mean I wasn’t affected by the New Zealand massacre, and tweeting out a condolence wouldn’t have meant I was a better human being than those who didn’t.
I could not forbear mentioning that I generally don’t tweet condolences to the many Muslim victims of massacres by other Muslims either. (Do they?) That did not go over well, if I am accurately judging the stony glares I received. I inferred from their injured tone that my failure to tweet condolence was proof of the Islamophobia they already feel I am guilty of. I did not go so far as to ask if sentiments they would like to see expressed should be compelled in order to be free of charges of hate, but it would not surprise me if these people with the soft voices, tight smiles and hard eyes believed that might be a reasonable proposition.
On to their third complaint, namely my National Post column last month critiquing World Hijab Day, whose stated purpose is to encourage women of all religions and backgrounds to wear and experience the hijab. (One of my female interlocutors was wearing a hijab; Reyhana Patel was not.)
I explained to them that I do not see the point of an official “day” celebrating religious proselytism. I added that I would be just as critical of a “World Crucifix Day” and surely they could see the awkwardness of that. They gave me the same unblinking looks of non-comprehension as before. The woman in the hijab pointed out that nobody is forcing me to wear the hijab, only suggesting it, so what is wrong with that?
I then had to tread where I didn’t want to. Not wishing to ratchet up the frostiness, I did not flatly state my belief that the hijab is a symbol of misogyny, I only explained that the hijab is a politically charged symbol, exactly as I had laid it out in my column. There are many women in the world that are forced to wear the hijab, surely they admit that, and if they do, can they not see the problem with promoting it? (In fact, some of my most forceful allies on this topic, like Sky News anchor Rita Panahi, are Muslim women who once did wear the hijab under duress and liberated themselves from it in adulthood.)
They apparently do not see the problem at all, because their response was more scowling, and a reiteration of the fact that nobody has to wear it, and that there is nothing wrong with advertising it. For anyone who wants a more elaborate understanding of my feelings about the hijab, please view my 2017 IdeaCity presentation: “How to Launder a Hijab.”
My encounter with these critics was unsettling, and meant to be. In retrospect, I see a certain irony in the air of righteousness that permeated their attitude. Because afterward I did a little research into the background of Patel’s umbrella organization, Islamic Relief Worldwide, whose presenting purpose—and actual activity, to be fair—is directed at fund-raising for the alleviation of global poverty. All power to them for that. But that is not all they do.
I invite you to consult this exhaustively researched and meticulously annotated report on Islamic Relief, drawn up by the extremely reliable Middle Eastern Forum. It is an illuminating document. Here is a statement from the report’s conclusion that struck me as most pertinent to the moral right of any representative of that organization to stand in judgment of me:
Islamic Relief is an Islamist institution. It was established by the Muslim Brotherhood and today continues to be run by key Brotherhood officials. It has funding arrangements with extremist and terrorist institutions, employs and appoints staff and trustees who express hatred for Jews and the West and provides platforms on a monthly basis to extremist preachers who spew anti-Semitic, homophobic and misogynistic rhetoric.
People in single-pane glass houses should not throw stones. If I had read this report before Ms. Patel and her allies rode over on their high horses to pontificate on my “Islamophobic” tendencies, I would have refused to engage with them, and told them to go take a hike.