WASHINGTON, Oct. 9, 2015 – What would you do if you and a dozen other unarmed civilians were trapped in a room with a gunman intent on mowing you all down?
You might just stand your ground and wait to die, fall to the floor weeping to beg for mercy or you might try hiding in a corner.
None of those options comes with good odds of survival.
Dr. Ben Carson, the Republican presidential candidate who, after Donald Trump, is attracting the most attention, suggested another course of action: Join with the others in the room to rush the gunman and reject the status of “victim.” Some might not survive, but most would. Those are better odds than you get by spending your last moments on your knees.
Whether Carson would actually do that is something that we can hope no one will ever know for sure. We might want to believe that we would go down fighting, or that by banding together we would avoid going down at all, but you can never know how you’ll respond at the point of a gun until that gun is aimed at you.
What is clear is that Carson’s solution is the one that gives the best odds of survival. It is eminently rational.
You might be killed, but you might not be, and you don’t have to be a victim.
Drew Magary at GQ finds that solution personally offensive. So offensive does he find it that he vomited his bile into print with the headline, “F*** Ben Carson.” However, unlike CDN, GQ didn’t spell the word with asterisks.
The f-bomb can, in the hands of a skilled wordsmith, be used with devastating effect. In spite of heavy overuse, the word retains a shocking crudity guaranteed to draw disapproving stares anywhere you use it except among teenage boys, who delight in the power to shock.
But because very few of us are wordsmiths and because the word is so overused, most who use it sound just like teenage boys.
Magary is no wordsmith. He goes, like a teenager, for shock rather than impact. “While establishment puds like Jeb! Bush and Marco Rubio can’t decide if they want to beat Trump or emulate him, the Good Doctor made it clear this week that he is not only willing to replicate Trump’s signature brand of hot-garbage-spewing, but he’ll say even DUMBER shit.”
This isn’t even pretend journalism; it is pure teenage rant.
The question is, why did GQ print that article with that headline? Was it an attempt at edgy? Did they want to make a point along the lines of, “some candidates are so awful that sometimes the only reasonable response is ‘f***.’”
But more likely is that it was a form of sly racism, the sort of racism reserved by liberals for uppity conservative black men.
University of Pennsylvania professor Anthea Butler deployed the same sort of verbal artillery against Carson last month. On Sept. 29 she called him a “coon.” This was in response to Carson’s unremarkable assertion that people should have the right to display Confederate flags on private property.
Butler, a frequent guest on MSNBC, deleted the tweet from her Twitter account, but as the name of her own Tumblr account – “nosecretsonthenet” – makes clear, it’s difficult to hide your Internet past.
Comments by a GQ writer and an Ivy League professor don’t by themselves define a trend, but there’s ample evidence that we live in a time of diminished standards and expectations for public discourse. GQ may not be the New York Times, but it has a reputation for some degree of sophistication. U Penn isn’t Harvard, but to be a professor at an Ivy League school likewise suggests a greater level of sophistication than you expect to find at Bo Didley Tech.
Yet both fall easily into crude and racist teenage rant.
Sophistication may be a thing of the past. We live in more democratic, earthier times. There’s something admirable in our view about calling a spade a spade, a coon a coon, and telling people to f***-off because we really don’t give a s*** about what anyone thinks.
If discourse is debased, perhaps it’s because we have to cut through so much competing noise to be heard. Magary argues, “Carson is a soft-spoken fella who knows that he has to make even sillier comments than the competition just so that his silly comments are heard. … You are now bearing witness to an arms race of stupid … Stupid is what gets you attention, and attention is what gets you better polling numbers.”
We could add that shocking crudity gets you more page views than sophistication, and f-bombs get you heard. If politics is an arms race of stupid, journalism is an arms race of shocking. Don’t bother with reasoned analysis, just call the opposition names and then toss an f-bomb for good measure.
Little wonder that journalism is dying. What we get in its place is entertainment. Bread and circuses can’t be far behind.