How To Explain When Smart People Just Don’t Get It

(Subtitled) Or “How I learned to stop worrying and love porn.”

Last weekend, the DMN ran an essay by Jim Sleeper titled Pornification of the Public Square. In it, he argues for more speech restrictions from liberals (cursorily and without conviction) and more restrictions on the free market from conservatives (clearly his main target with this little essay). Now, with the exception of when I’m driving (if you live and drive in Dallas, you’ll cut me some slack on that one), I really do try to assume intelligence when I hear or see something that seems stupid from another human being. But it is often hard to reconcile as you get to know more. This is one of those cases.

Mr. Sleeper’s main beef seems to be with the sexualization of everything we encounter these days (this is a bad thing?). His essay starts off with an anecdote (which is good storytelling, I’m lazy so I just use stolen references to old, influential movies) about his friend who was watching The Daily Show with his 9 year old daughter. At the time, the Gannon/Guckert affair was in the news and Jon Stewart was making funny with the fact that Gannon used to be a male prostitute. To facilitate such funniness, he had a picture up with the main parts blurred out. Fat, naked Gannon lay spread eagle with only some strategic blurring. The friend watching the show with his 9 year old was horrified (HORRIFIED) to see such a thing on The Daily Show and made the following statement:

    “Jessie gasped. Her face clouded over and she looked our way but didn’t ask anything, and sometimes you just let things roll. We clutched hands silently, knowing damage had been done. I don’t want to beat up on Stewart; I’m a liberal. Maybe I should have used better judgment, but, man, my parents never had to think about jumping up and shielding my eyes when we watched Walter Cronkite.”

Now, there are like 42 things wrong with that statement, none of which are addressed in the 5000 or so words the Sleeper writes after that. First of all, the guy doesn’t want to beat up on Stewart because he (the guy, we’ll call him Dumbass for short) is a liberal. So apparently, if you’re a liberal, you can’t criticise anyone else who’s liberal, especially not a super funny, successful “newscaster” (yes those are scare quotes, if you don’t know why, well, I’ve got another paragraph coming up just for you) who’s also liberal.

Second, Jessica probably gasped because of the nasty, scary, naked, fat guy with the important parts blurred out combined with the supposition that he used to work as a prostitute. That gasping was clearly mis-interpreted as good, old-fashioned Protestant naïveté when it’s probably the horror of discovering all prostitutes don’t look like the ones she’s been seeing on the Internet after Dumbass goes to bed. But then, sometimes “you just let things roll” and Dumbass makes no effort to fulfill his parental duties of either explaining why Gannon is naked or explaining the real purpose of The Daily Show, which leads me to the most important thing wrong with that statement.

Definitely key to this whole discussion is the last little kicker about Walter Cronkite. When I read this, I got whiplash on that statement after I did a quadruple take (similar to a quadruple salchow). This cuts to the heart of what I think is wrong with much of the fringe left. They honestly can compare Jon Stewart and The Daily Show to Walter Cronkite and the CBS Evening News and their head doesn’t explode. Do they really think that? Is Stephen Colbert the next John Stossel? Do they really get their ideas about what’s going on in the world from a “News program” on a comedy channel for god’s sake? If that is really true, I’m starting to understand why there is a complete lack of real ideas coming from that direction.

Sleeper asks why the photo was flashed and I have to assume he’s geniune since he tries to answer his own damn rhetorical question (which is a lot like watching one of my cats eat its own puke, they seem to be doing it successfully and enjoying it but damn that’s something I didn’t need to see). A little hint: they showed it because IT’S A COMEDY SHOW AND FAT, MALE, NASTY EX-PROSTITUTES THAT ARE NOW IN THE PRESIDENTIAL PRESS CORPS IS A HILARIOUS CONCEPT, you idiot.

It’s hard for me to take the rest of the article on its merits after that 3 paragraph introduction but this quote is his main point: “ To take proper account of this, we need to change the debate about pornography and freedom of expression in this republic.” By changing the debate, he means that we need to limit freedom of expression through litigation and regulate the market for that expression as well quoting D.H. Lawrence along the way:

    “It is the business of our Chief Thinkers to tell us of our own deeper desires, not keep shrilling our little desires in our ears.”

Let that one sink in for a minute. Our “Chief Thinkers” should tell us of our own deeper desires. Again, there are so many things wrong with that statement for anyone who aspires to freedom and liberty that I can’t even begin to grok it. Quoting it tells us much about Sleeper’s internal philosophy but nothing about why porn or sexualization of concepts is bad.

The article drones on for quite some time, quickly diving into why conservatives are really to blame for this thing called pornification, arguing forcefully, if not succinctly, that the love of the free market allows for such “little desires” to be fed . Grafs like this are typical:

    By defending business at all costs, today’s conservatives are tearing up the social contract they claim to defend. Corporate minions and shareholders who are busy hollowing out our children’s sense of themselves as rational citizens and even as sexual beings are among the real traitors to the civic-republican society our parents and grandparents struggled with, loved and served.

So corporate minions (All conservatives no doubt, god knows none of those good, upstanding liberals would ever be a corporate minion-I don’t even think they have a Corporate Minion major at Yale like they do down here at the Texas schools) are deviously thinking up new ways to hollow out our children’s sense of themselves as rational citizens? Who knew the makers of that Gillete Fusion commercial were so crafty? I thought they just made a really stupid commercial about a razor with five blades.

The article is much longer with a million more soundbites to discuss but I shan’t bore you. In the end, sometimes you just have to realize that people who are professors and who you think are probably smart can be stupid. I can’t come up with any other explanation.