Tag Archives: Tea Party movement

Debating the religious right

9 Mar

First up, don’t, if you can help it.

by Medusa's Lover via flickr

One might as well get in a fight with a three year old about the existence and purpose of the tooth fairy. Rigidly faith based positions founded on moral absolutes are not debatable This is but one of the things inherently wrong with them.

The female face of the Australian religious right

Reluctant as I am to make any of this about Melinda Tankard Reist, she is undoubtedly the public face of the religious right in their attitudes to female sexuality, and the influences of popular culture on boys and men.

I don’t know of anyone else in this country commenting as loudly and as frequently on this topic, and topics related to it from that perspective. Having positioned herself thus, I have little choice but to acknowledge her primary role.

The religious right believe that to succeed, a society must operate within a framework of common assumptions. Dissent is divisive and must be smothered. It therefore makes sense that censorship through protest is a cornerstone of what some describe as a dominionist sexually and socially ultra conservative theocracy.

Tankard’s Reist’s practice is to resort first to censorship. In this she has adopted the tactics of the American religious right, and Tea Party luminaries such as Sarah Palin herself described as a dominionist, though this is contested.

Research confirming close ties between the Tea Party and the religious right is here

The narratives of propaganda

Religious campaigners are not required to provide any evidence that the object of their disapproval is what they say it is. They simply have to use florid rhetorical propaganda to inflame and frighten enough petitioners so that corporations will be equally frightened, and for the sake of peace and unwanted attention, pull the offending material.

If at all possible, they make at times extremely tenuous links to the welfare of children. The threat of being promoted as acting against the interests of children will cause just about anybody to fall to their knees, begging the Christian conservatives for mercy.

Again, they are not required to provide any evidence for their claims, though they do sometimes offer the opinions of a like-minded individual, preferably one with some experience in a relevant field. For example, this quote from sexual assault counsellor Alison Grundy quoted on MTR’s website:

“Now we have thirty years of research to show that the sexualized and violent messages of popular music, media and video games do shape and provoke male aggressive and sexualized violence. I wonder how long it will be before songs like this are seen as inciting crimes under the criminal code?

Any research that directly links any part of popular culture to the increased abuse of women’s and children’s human rights is important. MTR and her fellow travelers argue that popular culture causes an increase in violence and sexual offenses against women. Research supporting this claim, is, one would imagine, foundational to the religious right argument.

However, the reader isn’t told what the research is, who conducted it, when, and where, and how, and we are not provided with any links. This is not unusual, as those forum commenters who’ve attempted to find links to another survey quoted by Reist in her article New song from Delta’s man (Delta’s man? He has no name?) feeds rape myth, have discovered. Despite many requests, the sources have not been supplied.

On her website, Tankard Reist provides share buttons under the French Vogue photo shoot of sexualized five-year-old girls so that visitors can boost their circulation on the Internet. This on-going exploitation of the little girls is justified as raising awareness.

However, sourced research that supports serious claims against popular culture and female sexuality is entirely absent.

The Australian religious right don’t feel the need to interview males about their reactions to popular music and video clips before agitating for censorship on the grounds that they provoke violence of all kinds. Collecting and collating data, reaching informed conclusions as to the effects these things actually have on the demographic, well, why go to all that trouble when God is in the house telling you everything you need to know?

Fox News by Justin via flickr

The US neo cons, Tea Party supporters and the religious right long since perfected the art of moral panic by rhetorical floridity. They are enabled in their endeavours by such luminaries as Rupert Murdoch, and his Fox News media slaves Bill O’Reilly, the recent Mormon convert Glenn Beck, and Megyn Kelly. Fox News is apparently the trusted news source for a majority of Tea Party followers, more than twice as high as in the general population

It’s all relative, isn’t it?

John Malkovich, in the character of hapless CIA operative Osbourne Cox in the Coen Brothers’ movie Burn after Reading (2008) is confronted about his drinking by an aggrieved co-worker.

“You’re a Mormon,” he snarls back, “everbody’s a f*cking alcoholic to you.”

In the same spirit, (acknowledging the blatant use of stereotypes) when your bottom line for the expression of female sexuality is that it should be confined to the marriage bed, everybody’s sexually licentious. If Victoria’s Secret underwear is pornographic to you, everybody’s a pornographer.

Incidentally, it’s likely that only in a wealthy Western liberal democracy could women’s underwear be co-opted as a symbol of the abuse of women’s human rights. Women in many other countries can’t afford it, are earning five cents a day making it, or are distracted by mass rapes, genital mutilation, hunger, and sexual slavery.

Even in this country we have our distractions. A report on the economics of Domestic violence released by researchers at UNSW on March 7 revealed it costs Australia 13 billion dollars a year. Abuse of children, and sexual assault continue at alarming rates but strangely, the most vocal advocate for women and girls in this country has selected underwear and bad songwriters as her symbols of injustice in her tilt against the abuse of women’s human rights.

To be fair, I notice there is a piece on the website about the bustling streets of Mumbai in honour of International Women’s Day.

Disclosure rocks

Here I need to take a personal moment. Another of the shared religious right/Tea Party/ neo con tactics (taken to new heights by Sarah Palin’s Got you in the cross hairs campaign against Democrats who voted for healthcare reform) is to discredit anyone who disagrees with them by launching a personal attack either on their private life and/or their knowledge base. This tactic is also used by feminists of all persuasions, including Christian.

I’ll disclose my credentials in the area of women’s human rights, in the vain hope of forestalling more “feminist” tirades against my ignorant “anti feminist” bent.

By the way, is anti feminist the same as un Australian, only specially for women?

I’ve just completed a chapter for a forthcoming book on human rights titled Intimate Violence as Human Rights Abuse: Re-Framing Intra-Familial Violence against Women and Children.

I’ve published nationally and internationally on this topic, as well as presenting at conferences around the world. I’ve also written extensively on the failure of prominent male human rights commentators to include intimate violence as human rights abuse in their publications and their thinking.

That’s enough trumpet blowing for one day. May it keep me safe from harm.

Truth claims, damned truth claims and statistics

In psychological terms, the interpretations put on the expressions and representations of female sexuality by many on the religious right are nothing more than their own projections, fed by, among other things, their faith-based beliefs about sexuality. These are then extrapolated into truth claims, and concerted efforts are made to impose them on the rest of humanity.

Truth claims such as these need to be taken out of the sphere of personal projections and religious imaginings, and backed up with hard evidence.

OMG by Skye Nicolas via Wikimedia

If Christian conservatives don’t provide evidence they should be ignored. We should learn from the US experience while we still can, that it’s not good enough for our cultural and social landscape to be determined by people who are offering nothing more than their own projections, based on their relations with imaginary friends.

If they are too lazy to get out and find hard evidence for their claims, there’s no reason why anybody should listen to them. Hard evidence is the first step on the road to addressing the problems.

Let’s trash the songwriter’s partner while we’re at it

Through laborious trawling I discovered innumerable Christian websites that instruct the Christian wife on her manifold responsibilities to her husband. Among them I found this one and a warning, turn off your sound unless you want your senses assailed by the most spectacularly awful piano rendition of Rock of Ages known to humankind, rivaled only by the pianist accompanying Elvis’s cover of Unchained Melody circa 1977. The quote is:

The wife is to reprove her husband privately and lovingly when he is in sin and point him back to the Lord.

As well as following that lead from US religious right, Tankard Reist also seems to be taking a lesson from political dictatorships in the matter of holding responsible the relatives of those who’ve offended you, as well as the original offender.

On her website you’ll find an attack on singer Delta Goodrem, songwriter Brian McFadden’s girlfriend. The Christian right apparently holds Goodrem partially responsible for the offending lyrics in his latest song, because she should have vetoed McFadden’s work. Reist suggests that Goodrem is perhaps inured to violence against women, and therefore didn’t notice it was present in the song.

She then reveals that Goodrem is a spokeswoman for Avon Voices, an organisation that works to raise awareness of violence against women. There’s also a video of Goodrem speaking on behalf of this group.

I cannot find any explanation for this flaming that is not born out of deep and incomprehensible malice. Goodrem bears no responsibility for her partner’s actions. She merely lives with the man against whom the Christian right has taken censorious action.

In what feminist universe is a woman subjected to this kind of malevolent public harassment, solely because another woman doesn’t approve of something her male partner has done?

Answer: in the co-opted feminist universe inhabited by Christian conservatives.

As L. Cohen puts it about another kind of prison:

I don’t believe you’d like it
No, you wouldn’t like it here
There’s not much entertainment
And the judgments are severe…
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Palin’s got them in her sights in the USA

10 Jan

by Ramon Duran via flickr

Twice a year I make the journey from Australia to the USA, to visit with my loved ones who live there.

I have other reasons. I also love America. I love its complexities. I love its idiosyncrasies. I love its ambiguities, its ambivalences; I love the impossibility of ever being able to define the country, or confine it in any particular categorical cage. No matter how hard one tries, America’s contradictions thwart all attempts at constraint.

And this I what love, in an individual and a nation.

When the American people elected Barack Hussein Obama as their president I was astounded, and filled with admiration. This brave new world that has such people in it, was what I thought, and said, though many laughed at me and called me naïve. What I was responding to was simply the fact that America had elected this man. I had no great expectations, he is, after all, a man and not a god, but that the country had chosen him seemed to me a wonderful and hope-filled thing.

Today, reading of the death and injury visited upon bystanders and participants in a political gathering outside a Safeway supermarket in Tuscon, Arizona, I’m sad again for another gun slaughter in America.

A few short weeks ago I was in the car park of just such a shopping mall in Nevada, a state that borders Arizona, and shares a geographical similarity. There I noticed an over-sized four-wheel-drive that bore the numberplate Jim Crowe. Jim Crow is not a neutral name in the USA. It refers to the racial segregation laws enacted in 1876 that were in effect until 1965. These laws mandated segregation in public schools, public spaces, transport and restrooms. Restaurants, drinking fountains and the military.

I pointed out the number plate to my son. He whispered that there is a great deal of racial tension in the state of Nevada.

A few days earlier I’d spent the day at a local public elementary school. At the end of morning assembly children and teachers placed their hands over their hearts, faced the flag, starkly outlined against the blue desert sky, and recited: I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. It was moving, to hear the children’s voices earnestly piping these noble sentiments. It was remarkable to witness just how much they seemed to mean what they said.

The Nellis Air Force Base is just outside of Las Vegas, and as we stood in the playground with our hands on our hearts, squads of fighter jets flew over in formation, in rehearsal for another theatre of war. It was a numinous moment.

The Tea Party

On the website of the USA Tea Party movement, whose most famous member is Republican Sarah Palin, there is a map of the USA. Various congressional seats are highlighted in various states on this map, including the Arizona seat where the wounded Democratic Representative Gabrielle Giffords, murdered Federal Judge John Roll, and a murdered a nine year old girl, were gathered with others injured and killed on an ordinary day, carrying out their ordinary daily duties.

The congressional seats marked out on Palin’s map are targetted with gun sights. They are the seats currently held by Democrats who voted for health care reform.

In states where the Democrats have recently retired, the rifle cross hairs are drawn in red.

Palin’s tweeted slogan is Don’t retreat. Reload.

Above the website map is the exhortation: We’ve diagnosed the problem. Help us prescribe the solution.

I hear Palin has since removed this from her website. But I found it at the Huffington Post.

It’s too simplistic to blame Palin and her followers alone for this most recent mass shooting. Yet in a gun culture such as that in the USA, where the right to bear arms is fiercely protected, it is but a short step from rhetoric to action when the weapon is sitting in your closet. The escalating vitriol towards politicians with whom one does not agree, the sense that anyone who is not with you is against you, the incitement to violence and killing such as that directed towards the foreigner Assange, for example, all speak to a culture that can quickly become murderously out of control.

The notion that if you don’t like something someone says you can and should kill them is promoted, and not only metaphorically, by conservative public voices in the USA such as Glenn Beck, employed by Fox News, owned by Rupert Murdoch. The notion is based in concepts of morality that conflate disagreement with heresy and blasphemy, punishable by death in a righteous political war.

There are consequences to a rhetoric in which voters are defined as soldiers, the opposition is portrayed as morally bereft, and the solution is prescribed in metaphors of war. It permeates the atmospheres. It makes possible that which should not be possible. It promotes a culture of violent action and reaction, because it makes the unthinkable thinkable, and therefore all too possible.

Words matter. Words both construct and describe the world in which we live. Words can kill.

Winter in America is cold

In San Francisco, the iconic Virgin store on the corner of Powell and Market has closed down. Riding the trolley bus down Market towards City Hall, we see store after store with boarded up windows covered in graffiti.

In the big Westfield shopping centre there’s hardly anybody looking in the up-market Nordstrum store. There are groups of homeless and disaffected people resting in comfortable chairs in the halls and lobbies outside the stores, their broken plastic bags of belongings in unsteady piles beside their legs. It’s warm in here, and dry. San Francisco is experiencing one of its wettest winters for some time. Every morning we wake to the steady drip of rain on the apartment windows. On the television news, vision of cliffs in danger of collapse down on Pacific Heights, of apartments at risk of plunging into the ocean show just how vulnerable this city is to natural disasters.

We spend a lot of time in the Museum of Modern Art, and in Golden Gate Park at the De Young Museum. After three days of thinking the rain will stop, I’ve abandoned my torn hardware-store blue plastic poncho, finally accepting that it’s going to rain for quite a while and I’d better get a proper raincoat. I trot down Union Square to Macy’s, where they’re having a permanent sale, it seems. On the top floor I find thousands of raincoats. I’m completely bamboozled, and wander round irritated, overheated, and confused by choice. I want a cream Calvin Klein, on sale for US$80. It’s glamorous, it’s a movie star’s raincoat, and I’ve never owned anything like it. Instead, thinking of my grandmother, I choose a black one because it won’t show the dirt.

The poor are everywhere. Some have dogs, cats or birds for company. I don’t have enough money to give to everyone I see. There’s a long line of customers outside the Apple store on the day they release the iPad. A few homeless people push their way in and get onto the public computers. Apple staff don’t send them away, but they do hover.

Soon I’ll be leaving the USA. As always, sadness gets the better of me at Los Angeles International airport, and I cry quietly across much of the Pacific. I don’t like leaving the ones I love, and I don’t like leaving the country I love more and more with every visit. In spite of it’s exasperating contradictions. In spite of the notice in the local park that reads: No profanities. Have a nice day. I have barely been able to restrain myself from sneaking back into that park in the middle of the night with a black Texta stolen from a child’s pencil case, and scrawling No fu**ing profanities! Have a fu**ing nice day! right across that sign.

Back in Australia I notice in the airport car park a large four-wheel-drive with a sticker in its window that’s a map of Australia. Across the map is the slogan F**ck Off! We’re full!

I’m not one of the cohort who think that what happens in the US may just as likely happen in Australia. Our societies are very different, in spite of the influences of US cultural imperialism. Nevertheless, if we have any sense we will learn from the American experience. We’ll cool down our political rhetoric. We’ll call a halt to the verbal ferocities in our parliaments. Mindless slogans, ill-thought out verbiage, ad hominem abuse. We have a chance to avoid what the USA continues to suffer. Let’s hope we take it.

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