It’s a gloomy day, here. Los Angeles is in the throes of a late-winter storm, and the wind is howling. Gusts are whipping dead palm fronds into the streets and windows are rattling in their jambs. The local news says it’ll be the worst of the season, and perhaps the year. According to the weather report, we should be expecting sunny skies in three or four days, but in the meantime, there’s not much to do but hunker down, take a breather, and watch the weather dredge up all the debris. This may be a long-winded metaphor — so to speak — but what can we learn from the brunt of a sudden storm, on a global level, if not a local one? Our maiden ship of western democracy is riding a rough wave suddenly, and its bow is facing a steep tilt. A a lot of us find ourselves sliding pretty far backwards on the deck, but many others have spent eight years girding themselves for this moment, grasping the railing with every ounce of strength they’ve got. Okay, last over-the-top analogy, I promise, but you know what I mean.
A year-or-so ago it seemed like “the right side of history” was drawn pretty far to the left, embracing a new-ish age sloping towards a feminist agenda (equality, I guess), and the promise of the first-ever female American president. As far as the “coastal elites” knew, the lot of Americans were perfectly okay with this. And with one blow to the head of liberal America, we now find ourselves disoriented, bewildered, and trying to shake out a very loud ringing in our ears. But barring the loss of Hillary Clinton, what have we learned from her campaign?
TV Land’s Teachers, an often laugh-out-loud funny and surprisingly shrewd sophomore-season sitcom, took aim at just that very topic. One of its principal characters, the bawdy, sexually voracious Chelsea Snap (Katy Colloton), decides — in small-if-not-large-part for attention — to run against the stalwart Brent (Ryan Hansen) for School Council. Inspired by Brent’s previous lack of leadership, Chelsea’s rag-tag group of female colleagues buck up her confidence, poising her with a proper stance on the ‘issues,’ and rendering her as a new face for change. But when Chelsea falls into a one-off tryst with her competitor, at his incitement, all of a sudden her colorful house of cards gets demolished with a stiff, rebuking wind. Once a salacious d**k-pic surfaces on her phone during a bake sale, all the mothers in the school system gasp, shriek and hitch their wagons elsewhere. The conductor of this steam train of judgement is Mrs. Chan, the buttoned-up conservative mommy blogger and “president of the parent group, ‘2,000 Moms’.” Under her word, it becomes a pandemonium for Chelsea, with her colleagues leveraging their student base to make construction paper-rockets to cover up all the d**k drawings defacing her campaign posters, etc.
But with all the indignant leers and hatred suddenly being heaved at Chelsea, Brent’s reputation — though he explicitly takes credit for the d**k-pic and outs their sexual relationship — remains utterly unsullied. Mrs. Chan goes so far as to chastise Chelsea for “distracting Brent from doing his job,” while his tan, exposed-tooth smile goes on winning the heart of any parent in sight. But as Chelsea’s colleague and goof-around gal pal AJ (Cate Freedman) starts a grassroots campaign in the ladies’ bathroom, spouting unfounded rumors about Brent having herpes, etc., an interesting premise comes to the fore. From speaking with “the janitors, the crossing guards, the lunch ladies,” etc., AJ gleans that, amidst all the loud slut-shaming going on at the school, there’s a whole silent wave of people nesting in the woodwork that support Chelsea, but are reticent to voice it for fear of being shamed themselves.
There is, in the context of this TV episode and, I’d argue, the real world, a difference between the popular narrative and the majority opinion. Though Donald Trump — to ground the notion in real life — misses absolutely zero opportunities to unzip his fly and wave his electoral win to the masses, the louder fact might distract Americans from the more valuable fact, that more people supported Hillary than not. And when Chelsea sticks to her guns, honing her positions on the ‘issues,’ she wins. However, the discrimination towards Chelsea, by nature of what discrimination is — emotionally-driven presupposition and projection — has no real rooting in any code of ethics, and so, most importantly, is utterly unreceptive to counterargument. What Chelsea learns is that any self-declaration of good character that runs contrary to her opponents’ criticisms of her only fuels and validates their hateful feelings. So, what’s the point? The basis of the double-standard is ultimately irrelevant, if it’s an opinion that still holds such popular ground, even if it’s not necessarily the majority.
If there’s one thing that’s become clear from Donald Trump’s presidential win, it’s that conservatives are sick and tired of being told what to do, and what’s permissible to say. Liberal political correctness, at the suggestion of Bill Maher, among others, is a bit off the rails. Speaking from rather recent personal experience, people form other parts of the world, that aren’t held to quite so rigorous a standard of political correctness, think Americans are overly touchy, overly offended, and overly apologetic. I reserve any judgment on this one way or the other, but with Republicans essentially holding a right-only block party in both houses of Congress, however unfounded their hatred of the liberal agenda may be, it’s absolutely necessary to take stock of the popular narrative, if for no other reason than assess what hurdles are teed up to be jumped over. A pervasive message, even if it’s a minority view, can have some legs to it as long as enough people hear it.
Operating on a plane of thinking angled so diametrically opposite to reality, the cupboard of alt-right, Twitter-obsessed, ‘Magic R‘-waving, conservative extremists and “patriotic” nutbags have carved out such a deep crater of partisanship, that there’s simply no shout from sea level that’s loud enough to reach them. So, the first step in combatting this level of delusion is to NOT TAKE THEIR FUCKING BAIT. Think about it like this: when you’re in a spat with a friend or a spouse, the name-calling and stone-throwing, while sometimes illuminating, won’t quell the fight. It’s when one side makes one conciliatory gesture that the other’s side feels respite from attacks to their ego. And when an ego is waxed, the space is cleared for provocative thought to settle. Our politics are so trussed by our egos, and the nature of partisanship so closely aligned with our pride, that sometimes a level of decorum can prove more effective in making voices heard. Unless of course the fight is on a policy-level, in which case squabbling shouldn’t even be an issue, but here we are.
“…I know it’s not really important, like which department stores are selling Ivanka’s panty liners, but…”
So what is there to learn here? In the final scene of ‘Snap Judgment,’ Chelsea basks in the pride of her victory, and just after her declaration of joy “to have defeated sexism,” a (male) passerby on the street gives her the parting words of, “Hey, you won…smile.” This is a marathon, not a sprint, honey. But remember this, Chelsea (and the rest of us alike): Just because you hear the voice of opposition constantly, doesn’t mean you’re in the minority. And just because your character is under attack, doesn’t meant you have to feed the trolls. Hold your head up, work closely with the people you trust, and focus on the issues. And focus on the issues. And for god’s sake, focus on the issues, would ya?