Grace in the Age of the Fallen Empire
Keep in mind that I know posting this is taking a risk. But it's written out of love for the world of Arts & Entertainment that has been my bastion since childhood. Truth is truth, however, and I needed to write this for no other reason than to be able to sleep at night again. All I ask is if you're going to react harshly, please do so only after reading the entire article (ominous enough intro for you?)I've reprinted it here now for clarity and honesty. I guarantee it will piss off a few folks, mostly the white, straight, etc folks this article talks about (and no, it's not what you think). My target, however, is the industry itself, which has literally canceled its own people in response to a vocal few. And for what? We've definitely not learned from history. If when you're done, you think I'm out of my mind, read about the McCarthy Blacklist era of the fifties in Hollywood as an example of where we're heading, or have already arrived. Anyway, here are some of my thoughts.
A Letter to the Left and Right, #1: Grace In the Age of the Fallen Empire
The evil Empire has been defeated. The Rebels have established a new Republic and are working to repair the galaxy for a better, shinier future, including hunting down anyone who fought for or supported the fallen Emperor. Whether these people were evil or not, whether they'd been tricked or fooled into giving support, doesn't matter. They don't believe what the most vocal of the Rebels believe, and so do not have a right to citizenship in the New Republic.
No, this is not describing the Star Wars franchise. It's the world we're all living in now, especially within the Arts and Entertainment industry, and it's gotten very, very wonky.
Let me be clear about something as we start: politically, I lean liberal. In recent years I've moved a bit towards the center, not because I find myself agreeing with anything on the so-called "right" but because I find myself disagreeing with many of the behaviors of my compatriots on the "left."
For anyone not familiar with these terms, a simplistic but effective trick is: Left = Liberal [L=L] and Right = Republican… that's not completely accurate and there are shades of grey, but it should help you remember.
With a couple of exceptions since the George W reign, I've mostly voted Democrat because I honestly do see many in the Republican leadership as an evil empire. Your mileage may vary and I get it. I still love you.
I also see my fellow liberals, especially the more vocal of them, as having gone off the rails in a few distinct ways, destroying the careers of anyone working in the Arts that don't agree with their specific set of rules or beliefs. I love you, too, but we need to talk.
For this discussion, I'm putting aside the Black Lives Matter movement, because that encompasses a larger set of issues and social needs, so does not fit into this specific conversation. Residually it might apply, but that particular item is a nationwide crisis and has been since long before I've been alive. We'll talk about everything else, though.
Certain members of leadership aside, I believe people who follow one socio-political leaning or another have the good of their fellow human beings held close their hearts. Both sides. A lot of people on both ends of the spectrum, of course, don't agree with that sentiment.
The intentions of the Left's vocal majority (as well as the more silent liberals like myself afraid to say anything for fear of being put against the wall and shot) are largely positive: they want to make a better world for everyone, not just straight, cisgender (or is the term heteronormative these days? I can't keep up with the language so excuse me if I use an older term for this article) white people as it has been for most of the country's history. That said, I do suspect things on that end are being manipulated by something or someone(s) with far more sinister intentions. No differently than the painfully-obvious forces who have been manipulating the Right forever – but I'll get into that in a bit.
Why am I writing this now, when this has been going on for years?
My last (but far from only) straw was the Gina Carano incident a few weeks back. She played a character on The Mandalorian. I didn't much care for her character, myself, it felt a bit stilted, but my wife liked her as did many others. Problem is, the actor is apparently a die-hard Republican and Trump supporter who drank the Kool-Aid on a lot of the conspiracies his people were spreading, especially the anti-mask and voter fraud programs. An online movement has called for her firing since November, because she posted things were supportive of former president Trump and the far right. Granted, she also mocked the trend of people publishing their pronouns which may have offended some of you personally, but she wasn't, as far as I can see, mocking actual transgender folks. More on this major (and central to everything) topic later.
More recently, she shared a tweet comparing persecution of conservatives with that of Jews in Nazi Germany. Not the brightest idea – and though I do understand the point she was trying to make, the post she'd shared was a bit extreme with the imagery. I should also add my Jewish son-in-law did find it antisemitic, and his opinion, being Jewish, does carry more weight. However, I'm not sure that was her intention, it was simply a (bad) historical comparison. Nevertheless Disney+ fired her from the show and any future project. Variety Magazine had the most even-handed write up of the story if you want more info here (https://variety.com/2021/tv/news/gina-carano-mandalorian-controversy-twitter-1234905140/). Agree or not with that final post of hers, remember that people have been calling for her firing months before because of (mostly) politics.
Carano is the latest performing artist to be fired for not being left-thinking (she was very, very much so, and honestly didn't seem like someone I'd probably want to hang out with but that's beside the point, it really is). Agree with certain "rules" people have laid out for everyone else to believe in, or incur their wrath. This trend has been gaining momentum for years.
Here's the thing: there will always be people crying for someone to pay, someone whose behavior or lifestyle does not match their own or who did something long ago which was offensive. Everyone feels threatened by something. The squeaky wheel will always squeak. Now, sometimes their target has truly said terrible, mean-spirited and downright vile things (yes, I'm referring to the late Mr. Limbaugh as a prime example). However, some people like Carano are merely vocal about beliefs. They were opposite from my beliefs, but I never wanted her fired.
In the end, how a publisher/corporation/streamer reacts will decide how much power any group of people have over their fellow human. A corporation will invariably react out of fear for lost sales and viewership. Disney+ catering to cries of #FireGinaCarano encourages this, and makes it a more frequent event as angry people scour the internet – sometimes going back decades - for ammunition against targets they do not like. Even what I'm writing right now could become a target (when I mentioned I needed to write something about this my youngest daughter said, "Be careful," which honestly increased the need to say something).
Magazines and Publishers dropping artists when their personal opinions or lifestyles do not coincide with the far Left – even artists who do but have said something the company is afraid might anger the masses - need to stop and remember how many more people there are, from both parties, who find themselves frustrated when their networks or magazines or publishers make decisions solely to please either end of a social spectrum. They need to remember, always, that some people have different opinions than the ones who are complaining.
Isn't that what being tolerant is about? There have been so many cries over the years that the political Right is intolerant, and in some ways they are, but when it comes to rejecting opinions and attacking the person having them, I've found my fellow liberals to be far worse.
Yes! you say, I'm intolerant of injustice.
I am, too, which is why I'm writing this. Now be quiet and keep reading. I'm getting to the main point.
But first we need to stop and take a breath. People don't do that enough in discourse these days.
I need to remind myself that there's a specific perspective that I, personally (again your mileage may vary), need to maintain for anything good to come out of this, especially today. I'm a Christian, and everything I say and do must be filtered through what is taught in the Gospels. Not what Moses wrote in the Old Testament, nor what Paul wrote in his letters. Jesus boiled everything down to two primary principles for the kingdom: Love God, and Love Each Other. Everything else stems from these two commands.
You're not loving God, or yourself for that matter, if you're not loving your neighbor. All of your neighbors. It's very hard to love all of my neighbors without keeping Jesus in the center of my own life, especially when loving your neighbor is not contingent on them loving you back. Granted, some of the horned-rebels storming the Capitol in January, or calling for violence even now behind their anonymous message board names, don't love their neighbor. And, they will face the legal consequences of their actions, in a proper court of law. Some others, I would venture more than a few, do love their neighbor and actually thought they were doing the right thing. Brainwashed into believing words that many others could see were obvious lies, because they were told them by the president of the United States. Think about that for a moment.
Remember, until you've been in someone's shoes, you do not know their whole story.
Many of my liberal cohorts might think they are loving their neighbor, but Gina Carano is also your neighbor. J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, is your neighbor. Gareth Roberts, screenwriter for a number of Doctor Who episodes is also your neighbor. And these are just a few examples.
From safe, comfortable couches people have called for the social and financial spurning of someone like Rowling because she doesn't agree that a transgender woman is one hundred percent female. They cry for her career to be ended with words like "transphobic," but refuse to understand her perspective. Not that she needs to justify anything – it's her opinion, gruffly as she may have expressed it from time to time, and who also calls for equal rights and fair treatment for the trans community even now – but the loudest voices don't seem to care she was abused and raped in the past by men, and as such probably has an innate distrust of the opposite sex, or that she has rallied most of her life for women's rights. When she sees someone born biologically male insisting to be one of those women, legitimately or not… I personally understand her pushing back, as I try to understand her perspective.
Everyone's personal experiences will drive their view of the world. I'm amazed that so many people I know who have been through terrible life experiences have such a positive view of the world, and people in general. While on the other side, dismayed so many who have had loving, comfortable lives have grown to be so vindictive and scathing to others with different opinions than themselves.
However, if you think how someone like Rowling, for example, views life means she deserves to be fired and ostracized from the arts community, read the next paragraph, then you can stop. But read the next paragraph first.
Here is the point that everyone has to understand: someone not agreeing with the same things you believe is not an attack on you. If it was, then everyone who is not Muslim should probably be considered Islamophobic. Don’t agree? A Muslim's very existence, or anyone of devout religious belief, is centered on their faith. Mine is. Do you believe Allah is the one true God and do you follow the teachings of the Prophet Muhammed? If you don't, by your own standard you hate all Muslims and are Islamophobic. There can be no picking and choosing simply so you don't look bad. Anyone who is not Christian hates all Christians and is persecuting them for their religious beliefs; and to step into even more extreme waters, anyone who does not believe in the tenets of the Republican party is advocating the rise of an oppressive authoritarian government without political discourse.
Now I don't believe you are Islamophobic if you aren't a Muslim, or that you are attacking an entire belief system, or me personally, if you are not a Christian. Or that other thing which I don't feel like retyping because it was too long with big words.
But you cannot have it both ways.
The rules can't be the rules some of the time, to suit your whim or feed your righteous indignation.
Grace is a missing ingredient in all of this. Acceptance that people:
Come from different backgrounds,
Have different upbringings and experiences, and have
Grown up wealthy or
Been molested or beaten before they were ten or
Grew up in a healthy loving family,
Have parents and grandparents who tended a farm and felt ignored for decades,
Never felt need or want for anything,
See their future as frightening and dark, because Fear has ruled their life, or
See their future as full of unlimited potential,
all of this builds their own worldview later on.
Everything has become black and white, right or wrong, good or evil. Yes, I will propose that the previous administration fanned these flames. Regardless, everyone has drawn a line in the sand and will not listen to another opinion. Other opinions are evil.
A virus to be wiped out.
But why? Why are these two extremes so extreme? What is driving the vocal left and the right of society these days?
The Right, specifically the people who have rallied behind Donald Trump, and who make up a good chunk of the country if you look at the numbers, are driven by fear. This fear is fueled and stoked by those who wish to gain, or remain in, power.
The Left is driven by a combination of rage and the need to be affirmed by others. They feel driven to bring equality to every person regardless of race or creed or orientation, which itself is a wonderful thing, yet much of it seems to be driven by guilt over the fact that they themselves are straight, white, cisgender and/or privileged. Not to mention burdened by guilt for what our ancestors have done. I say this because the majority of voices (remember, BLM excluded) crying for justice against their fellow person are mostly white, straight and cis. You might argue this point, and you are free to, but pay attention next time when something ignites. Look who is shouting the loudest. You might be surprised. Even family members of, say, transgender people, who have the most right to raise their voices, need to look at whether a person is attacking someone they love, or simply has a different opinion.
At times Rowling, or Carano and others, have stated their points with a somewhat mocking or frustrated tone. Were those attacks, or merely opinions amplified by the elevated status of the speakers? I'm not saying which, because I wasn't the one hurt by any comments. All I'm suggesting is that your first reaction should be to take a breath, and try to understand the other side even if you don't like what they said. Personally, I enjoy listening to Bill Maher. The man is level-headed and intelligent, but he constantly mocks anyone of faith, and does so very meanly. I don't think he should be fired, and if I swallow my pride I might even agree with some of his points (this is the subject of another essay in the future so let's move on).
Look at yourself now. Seriously look. Whoever is reading this is likely getting very defensive. Is your reaction fear, that maybe I'm giving the liberal huns too much room to move closer to your neighborhood, or anger that I am attacking you or some underrepresented person group and so you need to lash out, and do so publicly so others see you doing it?
Really - look at yourself. I've been doing that myself lately and it's resulted in some sleepless nights. That's why I'm writing this, before I give myself a heart attack.
What motivates you?
Whatever it is, it's also what the people who want to control you can capitalize on. Remember that. Be bigger than that. The Far Right stokes the fears of the conservative mindset: immigrants will kill and rape your children, Blacks will burn your stores, liberals will make the USA a communist state. The Far Left stokes the guilt and indignation in its "constituents," pointing at conservatives (and anyone not agreeing with you) as terrible people who should be punished, banished from decent society, unless re-educated to better fit into society at some far future date.
Both sides mock the other for ignoring science.
Both sides ignore science when it suits them.
Fear and Rage. Left and Right.
And we in the middle, who try to understand both sides (not agree with both sides, but accept them as someone's opinion) are silent because we'll be attacked if we try to reason with either.
In the end, corporate America will decide which side to cater to, depending on where they see the money coming from. Don't believe me? In the late 90's and early naughts, especially after 9/11, the networks and media catered to the Right, politically. Freedom Fries and fears that Ellen DeGeneres's newly-acknowledged "gayness" might indoctrinate our children (remember that, Disney/ABC?). Now, they have jumped over the net to the other side, out of fear of losing ratings. Don't trust them. They are for-profit corporations.
Money is their driver.
I love Disney, they've built a massively entertaining product.
I simply choose not to make them – or any political party or ideology - my god.
Here's my final point, and personally a very painful one for me:
The Arts and Entertainment industry has a wonderful diversity of people, beliefs and personal / social orientations. For me, since childhood, it has been a bastion of love and freedom; an expression of who we truly are and could be. Let's celebrate each other, but remember that the better we get at this thing called Life, the stronger other forces will work to bring it down. Sometimes, people try burning down a concert hall simply to watch something burn. We still need to love those people, too, because there's a reason for their twitchy state (and their incarceration as arsonists).
The entertainment industry has seen this kind of moment in history before. Learn about it if it's not familiar to you, because as George Santayana said, "Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it." In the 40's and 50's McCarthyism destroyed the careers of anyone in publishing or film who might be associated with the Communist party. All of them, banned from working in the industry for having this specific political leaning, and sometimes for nothing other than an accusation. Many great artists never worked in the business again because of this. John Wayne, one of the most famous actors of the era, was a leader in this movement. Because of that I don't care to watch his movies, hating what he and his cohorts did. But I would never want his movies to be banned, nor would I ever have wanted him to be fired. If I did, I'd have been no better than him.
If there is evil among us, one of its names is Intolerance, of others who might be different from us. That includes someone with a different opinion or perspective. For years the only perspective accepted outside our private A&E world was a white, straight, cisgender, what-have-you perspective, but within this world we embraced everyone.
Grace was the word of the day; Love was the nourishment; Acceptance was the foundation.
Everything happening in the industry now is antithetical to all of that, and is being driven not by the need to protect the weak, but to have our views affirmed. Right now, I affirm you, and your existence. Everyone around us should expect the same in return.
The Empire has fallen, and we celebrate with everyone else, but the New Republic needs to take some time and breathe; to look under the couch for that Grace it needs to survive. There's a reason we rebuilt Japan after WWII, rather than pave over their country with concrete and kick the dust from our shoes. Every human being is worth our love, forgiveness, and acceptance. We don't need to agree with them, or even like them, but we have to love them. This isn’t easy. I love many people whose political and personal beliefs make my toes curl in indignation. My own father is one of them. I absolutely adore him. We just don't talk politics when I visit.
I believe in a world where people have the right to be free and treated with respect. All people. Every human being has been fearfully and wonderfully made, and should be treated that way. Even if we think they are weird, annoying, wrong, racist, mean or they smell.
A wise person told me recently, "We need to make a change as a society and… yelling at people for every mistake they ever made will not make [them] want to be better. It will make both sides just that much more spiteful and unwilling to listen to each other. Spread love not hate, and that's how you will help. If we teach our kids not to judge others, they will be the people in power and making the rules in the future. That is how we make change. We can't force anyone's hand, [only] create a culture that people will want to do the right thing, anyway."
That quote is from my 24 year-old daughter, and that in itself I think proves her point.
If you don't agree with any of this that's OK. Your opinion is as precious as mine – as long as you do not call for violence against me or my neighbor or try to destroy me or my neighbor for believing something you don't. Even if your opinion turns my stomach. Mine might turn yours. Or someone else's. Who knows?
That's the beauty of being human in a free world.