The Year of (Finally) Listening to Women

Activist Tarana Burke created the “Me Too” campaign in 2006.

In the fall of 2013, Americana artist Neko Case released her sixth studio record, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You. The album’s lead single is a song called “Man,” in which the golden-voiced Case sings, “I’m a man, You’ll have to deal with me, My proxy is mine, You’ll deal with me directly.” Case is, of course, a woman, but she often writes songs from different viewpoints, and the aforementioned lines from “Man” perfectly encapsulate the cultural zeitgeist of the current Age of Trump, an age defined in large part by the resurgence of chauvinistic male dominance. This is an age when America elected president a man with small, pussy-grabbing hands and a gargantuan maw who stood as the proxy for a potent army known as the “Alt-Right:” a group of internet-sulking, white-supremacy touting, man-child dipshits with massive chips on their shoulders towards women. And the civilized world just had to deal with Trump directly.

Thankfully, at the start of 2017, women in the U.S. and throughout the world immediately began to contest the Age of Trump. In January, following the Orange One’s sparsely attended inauguration, an estimated 470,000 to 680,000 women descended on Washington D.C. in the Women’s March, part of a global phenomenon during which women of all backgrounds rallied in public spaces around the declaration that “Women’s Rights are Human Rights and Human Rights are Women’s Rights.” This was the first shout in what became the year’s defining cultural theme: the absurd-that-it’s-still-radical-notion that women need to be listened to. By October, the social dam had burst, and a simple Twitter hashtag, #MeToo, embodied the seismic cultural shift that finally cracked the heretofore inviolable temple of societal male privilege. 2017 really was the year during which we (finally) started listening to women.

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The Strange Story of the Forever 1980s

The highly anticipated second season of the Netflix series Stranger Things arrived in October 2017 to usher in the 1980s once again.

In July 2016, streaming media service Netflix quietly unleashed an eight-episode period drama to little initial fanfare. The drama, a show titled Stranger Things, focuses on a group of ordinary kids living in the ordinary American Midwest (the fictional small town of Hawkins, Indiana) who experience some decidedly extraordinary events. The period is the early 1980s.

During the course of the first season of Stranger Things, the main cast of kids, including Dustin, Mike, Lucas, the mysterious girl known as “Eleven,” and teenagers Jonathan Byers and Nancy Wheeler, investigate the disappearance of local kid Will Byers, who vanishes one night following a “Dungeons and Dragons” showdown with his pals. The quest to find Will steadily unveils a host of supernatural events that involve, among other things, an interdimensional monster, a shady government agency, and a creepy alternative universe dubbed “the Upside Down.” Oh, and lots of callbacks and Easter eggs to 1980s culture, from a synth-based soundtrack, to references to films like The Empire Strikes Back and E.T., to VHS tapes, to John Carpenter. Not to mention kids on bikes.

The effort by series creators/producers Sean and Matt Duffer paid off: Stranger Things became a word-of-mouth sensation and one of Netflix’s most successful shows ever. The show’s unabashed “love letter to the 80s” aesthetic was a massive part of its appeal. On October 27, 2017, the much-anticipated second season of Stranger Things only further piled on the 80s domination of contemporary culture, forwarded by an ad campaign that placed the show’s characters smack in the middle of classic 80s horror films. If Stranger Things demonstrated nothing else, it provided yet further evidence that the 1980s, a decade that ended twenty-eight years ago, will live forever.  Continue Reading

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The Cruel Patriarchy of White Supremacy

It’s America, 2017, and white supremacy is all the rage once again. But it’s not like we didn’t see this coming. When a certain boorish Manhattan tycoon announced his run for the presidency back in June 2015 on a platform of pure white resentment, the internet’s copious population of pasty, man-child nematodes crawled out of their literal and digital basements to voice their support for a candidate who vowed to give a voice to America’s most oppressed group: white males.

From the dankest bowels of the internet, on sites such as 4chan, Occidental Dissent, and the Daily Stormer, white supremacists celebrated Donald Trump’s unlikely presidential victory. Now, well into the first year of his presidency, they continue to stand behind their orange führer. This support was on full display on August 11 in Charlottesville, Virginia, when various gobs of reactionary slime — including neo-Nazis, the Alt-Right, the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Confederates, and gun-toting militia members — oozed together for a “Unite the Right” rally. While these various groups ostensibly gathered to protest the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue from Emancipation Park, this event was actually a “coming out” party for a resurgent form of white-identity politics in America emboldened by Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency.

Plenty of historians have already written about the controversy surrounding the removal of Confederate monuments from public spaces throughout the United States. But I’m going to emphasize another key element that fuels the white nationalist agenda: patriarchal gender oppression. Underlying all of the “pro-white” bluster and neo-Confederate ideology of the new crop of white supremacists is a deep contempt for female empowerment. The trifecta of patriarchy, misogyny, and gendered paternalism has been central to American whiteness for hundreds of years. Gender oppression is baked into the crust of white supremacy.

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Modernity, Capitalism, and Nostalgia in Ohio’s Amish Country

Berlin, Ohio

If there’s one thing Americans embrace and reject in equal measure, it’s modernity. In the world’s most mega-capitalist society, modernity has always accelerated at an absurd pace, as the demands of the profit-driven marketplace have continually spurred ever-more complex technological innovations that have repeatedly caused massive social and political disruptions in American society — all in the name of efficiency, of course.

There’s a place in north-central Ohio, however, where the pace of modernity — at least on the surface — seems to have slowed down a bit, if not ceased altogether. Holmes County is the heart Ohio’s Amish Country. The most notable residents of Holmes and the surrounding counties are the various factions of Amish and Mennonite peoples. In fact, Holmes County contains the largest contiguous Amish settlement in the world. Depending on their doctrinal and cultural traditions, Ohio’s Amish people seem to reject the trappings of modernity — with its endless work, slave-like reliance on technological gadgetry, and soul-melting stress.*

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Save the American Small Town?

“Well I was born in a small town, And I can breathe in a small town”

John Mellencamp

“There is only one good thing about small town, You know that you want to get out”

Lou Reed

America is a vast landscape, both in its geographic expanse and its demographic diversity. But if there’s one place in which, culturally speaking, the signifying torch of “America” still burns brightest, it’s in the small town. Not a single small town, of course, but the thousands upon thousands of Mayberrys that dot the American landscape — from the oldest New England settlements, to the Midwestern corn baskets, to the Southern white-picket fence farmsteads, to the West-Coast logging villages.

If you grew up in a heathen-infested big city like New York, Boston, or (gasp!) San Francisco, then you likely can’t appreciate the potent brew of aw-shucks Americanness that supposedly streams in the blood of every red-white-and-blue hayseed. Being from a small town is like being born with microscopic Lee Greenwood midichlorians in your circulatory system; it’s an instant indicator of authentic Americana. In much of the popular imagination, a small-town provenance means you’re from — in the infamous words of a former red-state governor and notorious airhead — the “Real America.”

Or so goes the popular myth. But if small-town America is the “Real America,” then Real America is in serious decline. The American small town ain’t what it used to be, and that’s both a good thing and a bad thing.

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The Death of America in Small-Town Ohio

Trumbull County, Ohio is one of those quaint little patches in the American quilt. Located in the Mahoning Valley, on the far northeastern edge of the Buckeye state, Trumbull borders Pennsylvania and serves as a microcosm of Ohio itself, with a mixture of Rust Belt decline, Appalachian culture, small cities, rural hamlets, and lots of corn fields. The county’s combination of redneck charm and economic anxiety have made it a go-to stop for vote-craving politicos, who barnstorm Trumbull’s many barns every election season promising an imminent return to a mystic Mayberrian past of small-town fuzziness and industrial might embodied by the now-defunct Republic Steel blast furnace in the county seat of Warren.

With a rich history of organized labor, Trumbull (along with neighboring Mahoning County, home to the former “Steel City” of Youngstown) has long been a stronghold for the Democratic Party. In fact, the last time Trumbull voted Republican was for Richard Nixon in 1972. That is, until the county balked tradition and supported Donald Trump for president in 2016. Trumbull County is now Trump country thanks to a fear of death — a death brought on by economic stagnation, declining public health, the opiate epidemic, and the impression that America has been lying comatose in an open grave for too long.

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The Occult Roots of Modern Conservatism

Quick, off the top of your head, who’s the intellectual founder of modern conservatism? Maybe you think it was Edmund Burke, the 18th-century Irish statesman who critiqued the French Revolution and served as an intellectual foil for leftist radical Thomas Paine. Or perhaps you think that modern conservatism stems from the 20th-century British political philosopher Michael Oakeshott, who ruminated on the “conservative disposition” that was supposedly “cool and critical in respect of change and innovation.” Then again, maybe you think modern conservatism goes back to Sarah Palin, who once saw Russia from her house.

If you picked any of these figures, you’re wrong. Modern conservatism doesn’t stem from a well-known political philosopher or a politician. The foundations of modern conservatism lay in the teachings of a disembodied spirit-entity known as “Seth,” as channeled through the writings of a mid-20th century occultist named Jane Roberts.

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Faith, Nostalgia, and Hurricane Capitalism

Battle Creek, Michigan used to have factories. It doesn’t have many of them anymore. As The Guardian’s Chris Arnade writes in his profile of Battle Creek’s disenchanted voters, “with the economic backbone broken, with hope in the future dimming, faith has become more central as a source of community, solace and hope.”

American society has reached a very real tipping point. Capitalism’s creative destruction has left millions of people with nothing more than amorphous notions of “faith” to lead them through the penury-stricken Land of the Free. Those just retiring are hoping to scrounge together what little benefits they have left, while those just starting out are facing the bleak reality of a future without any retirement at all. If you were a betting person, however, you’d know that rolling the dice on faith usually means giving away your chips to the House.

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Make the Great Lakes Sick Again

A long time ago, Jesus and Ronald Reagan took some time off from cracking the skulls of petulant Berkeley protestors to write the Christian Bible. After receiving divine inspiration from the prophets in the oil, gas, and coal industries, Reagan wrote the now famous verse in Genesis 1:26: “Then God said: Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the tame animals, all the wild animals, and all the creatures that crawl on the earth.”

Ever since that sacred meeting between The Gipper and Hey-Zeus, the unofficial Republican platform has loosely revolved around the Dominion Mandate, which supposedly gives man (and maybe woman, if she asks politely and still has supper ready) the right to exercise dominion over the earth and plunder its natural resources at will for the glory of God and Exxon Mobile. Of course, not all Christians subscribe to this hollow interpretation of Scripture, and not everyone who wants to defile the natural world is a Christian. Consider President (“I got 3 million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton”) Trump.

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Dependency in the Age of American Fascism

Conservatives harbor an aversion to all-things “public.” They tend to see the world through a deeply individualistic lens in which there’s no public interest, only private gain. Their world is one in which capitalism is not a system created by human beings that’s subject to human flaws and shortcomings, but a sanctified doctrine received from atop Mount Sinai for the purpose of separating the worthy from the unworthy via an unassailable “market” that capriciously decides who shall rot in shantytowns and who shall lord from golden penthouses.

Of all the ideas that come together to “make” conservatism, chief among them is that the pursuit of material wealth and social power through capitalism constitutes the ultimate human purpose on this earth. In other words: it’s the money, stupid. For the Right, wealth is both the means and the ends to measuring human worth. This is why, during the long buildup to the 2016 presidential election, protests from warbling scribblers like Charles Krauthammer, Cal Thomas, and Peter Wehner that Donald J. Trump was “not a conservative,” did little to damage Trump’s appeal to legions of Republican voters.

The Big Orange Tyrant now sits in the Oval Office as the leader of a conservative party that dominates American government at the federal, state, and local levels. Either Donald Trump isn’t a conservative, or he hoodwinked millions of conservatives into supporting his lurch towards the presidency. I’m willing to give conservative voters more credit than are conservative pundits. Voters know that Trump is conservative. His wealth is all the proof they need.

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