Politics, Thinkpiece

BEHIND CLOSED DOORS

Header Image Source: CNN


Public figures like Caitlyn Jenner and Ivanka Trump are shying away from disclosing their political activities.

While promoting her new book, Secrets of My Life, Caitlyn Jenner sat down with Andy Cohen at Sirius XM Radio for a town hall-style meeting Wednesday, April 26. Jenner made headlines when she came out as transgender in 2015. In their discussion, Cohen steered the conversation towards politics—Jenner is famously a conservative Republican. Jenner said that she had been making trips to Washington, D.C. but that her influence in politics would be private and unseen.

It was a reiteration of the point she made the night before on CNN with Don Lemon. She said that she would not take up President Trump’s offer to go golfing after he revoked the former administration’s protection for transgender students. However, Jenner said she would go golfing with President Trump in private, because if she did it in public, her community would “go nuts” and ostracize her.

Besides the puzzling contradiction of going on public television to say that you will golf with President Trump in private, Jenner’s statement that much of her involvement in politics would be behind closed doors is troubling at best and dangerous at worst.

Jenner is markedly tone-deaf when it comes to issues of LGBTQ equality. On The Ellen Show, she did not express complete support for same-sex marriage, and that it was an issue that she used to be completely against as a self-identified “traditionalist.” Instead, she said that if “the word marriage is so important to you, then I can support that.” She claimed that the hardest part of being a woman was picking out “what to wear.”

These can be dismissed as tragically unfortunate choices of words, but the root of the issue is that Caitlyn Jenner is a person of immense privilege who wants to speak for, represent and negotiate on behalf of arguably the most disenfranchised and least privileged subsection of the U.S. population.

According to a 2016 Reuters article, “almost 60 percent of transgender Americans have avoided using public restrooms for fear of confrontation, saying they have been harassed and assaulted.” According to the Office for Victims of Crime, one in two transgender individuals are sexually abused or assaulted in their lifetime. 13 percent of African-American transgender people surveyed were sexually assaulted in the workplace, and 22 percent of transgender homeless individuals reported assault whilst staying in shelters.

And while Jenner is transgender, it cannot be denied that for 65 years she presented as a white, privileged man. And after she transitioned, she had unfettered access to the best surgeons and doctors, a private Malibu estate for recovery and no monetary restrictions. Some transgender people choose to not go through surgery, but for those that would like to the costs are usually prohibitive.

Jenner has also been largely isolated from the daily discomfort that many queer people experience every day—catcalling, harassment and discrimination. All of these things, combined with her inexperience with politics and her position as a conservative Republican who voted for Trump, make me uncomfortable that she might be the touchstone for Republicans and the representative of the LGBTQ community. That she would do it with no cameras, at private dinners and meetings behind closed doors is even more concerning.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Ivanka Trump in her interview with Gayle King for CBS News. “I don’t think that it will make me a more effective advocate to constantly articulate every issue publicly where I disagree,” she said. “And that’s okay. That means that I’ll take hits from some critics who say that I should take to the street. And then other people will in the long-term respect where I get to. But I think most of the impact I have, over time most people will not actually know about.”

This idea of silent impact does a few things. Firstly, it absolves people like Trump and Jenner from any responsibility. If you don’t know what they’ve done, you can’t blame them. Secondly, it’s impossible to hold them accountable for anything. If they never pledge any sort of action, it’s impossible to keep them in line. Lastly, it’s difficult expect them to operate within a rational, ethical framework because you have no idea what they’re doing.

And lastly, as a person with unparalleled influence and platform, you don’t get to be private. If Ivanka wanted to operate as a private citizen, she shouldn’t have moved to Washington, D.C. and taken a position in her father’s administration. When she made that deal with the devil, she gave up the right to be private. When you’re operating from the most powerful building in the world, the American public deserve to know what you’re up to. If Caitlyn Jenner wanted to remain private, she shouldn’t have dropped the tantalizing tidbits that she was taking meetings in Washington.

You can’t have it both ways. If you want public power, then you don’t get to wield it privately.

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Politics, television, Thinkpiece

BILL O’REILLY IS LET GO FROM FOX NEWS BUT THAT DOESN’T MEAN ANYTHING HAS BEEN SOLVED

Header Image Source: ABC News


On Wednesday, April 19, Fox News and its parent company, 21st Century Fox, announced that they would be terminating their professional relationship with Bill O’Reilly, the prime-time host of The O’Reilly Factor. A.k.a. they fired him.

The announcement comes after an April 1 New York Times story about an investigation into O’Reilly. Namely, that during his twenty-year career at Fox, O’Reilly and Fox paid out roughly $13 million to women who made allegations of sexual harassment by Mr. O’Reilly.

Social activists applauded the triumph of justice over injustice. However, in their haste to crow about this immediate victory, they forgot that the poison root of the issue still festers.

Since the article’s publication, more than 80 advertisers pulled support for The O’Reilly Factor, which was consistently the top-rated program in cable news. The initial Times article placed The O’Reilly Factor‘s earnings from 2014 to 2016 as $446 million from advertising. According to market research group Kantar Media, the amount of on-air advertisement bought dropped from nearly 16 minutes to eight minutes in just two weeks.

The Times reported that women inside the company expressed outrage and questioned “whether top executives were serious about maintaining a culture based on “trust and respect,” as they had promised last summer when another sexual harassment scandal forced the ouster of Roger E. Ailes as chairman of Fox News.”

The investigation found five women who had been paid off to avoid continuing forward with allegations of sexual harassment. Some of the alleged harassment consisted of O’Reilly taking interest in a woman, promising to help her career, and then making sexual advances on her. Other reported actions from Mr. O’Reilly were lewd comments, verbal abuse, and phone calls where it sounded and seemed as if O’Reilly were masturbating.

In the initial statement, and in articles from Fox since, the company has characterized O’Reilly positively. An internal memo, signed by Rupert Murdoch and sons Lachlan and James, all company executives, described O’Reilly as “by ratings standards…one of the most accomplished TV personalities in the history of cable news…In fact his success by any measure is indisputable.”

In an article centered on the news of O’Reilly’s departure, author Howard Kurtz called O’Reilly “the biggest star in [Fox’s] 20-year history.” Kurtz ended his article by writing, “Even most of his critics acknowledged that O’Reilly…is an extraordinary broadcaster.”

Wednesday evening, Fox News anchor Bret Baier addressed O’Reilly’s departure on air, saying, “Bill O’Reilly, the biggest star in the 20-year history of Fox News, is leaving the network in the wake of mounting allegations of sexual harassment and inappropriate conduct.” CNN reported on Thursday morning that the payout O’Reilly would be receiving will end up somewhere in the “tens of millions.” In the payout after his ouster, Roger Ailes received $40 million.

The continued characterization of O’Reilly as a star is troubling. It undercuts any progress the company claims to have made in the aim of strengthening “trust and respect.” The language and message Fox is sending is clear. By refusing to condemn O’Reilly they are making the point that his sexual harassment was acceptable as long as he was making them money.

They were fine paying $13 million dollars because what he was bringing in was so much more. And it was not until investors began pulling out—until O’Reilly became a liability— that he was let go from the company.

It also actively reinforces the notion that bringing complaints about things like sexual harassment against people in power is oftentimes fruitless. O’Reilly preyed particularly on women in subordinate positions, promising them jobs or promotions or access. He outranked them in power, money and influence. And he outranked them in importance, at least in the eyes of Fox. For the five women who had the courage to come forward, to deal with the career ramifications of being honest, there might be countless others, who did not want to come up against the might of an entire corporation.

Yes, eventually Bill O’Reilly was out of a job. But if the Times had not done their investigation, if the advertisers had not pulled out, it’s impossible to gauge when Fox would’ve grown tired of bankrolling O’Reilly’s predation. They didn’t grow tired of it in the twenty years O’Reilly was in their employ. Because that’s what it boils down to—they paid money, to the women in payouts and to him in salaries, to keep him in a position of power, the same one he would abuse to harass women. If they hadn’t been caught, every sign points to the likelihood that 21st Century Fox would’ve kept bailing O’Reilly out.

And so while Twitter erupts in the small and immediate victory of O’Reilly’s firing, we lull ourselves into complacency and forget the real meaning behind the story. Fox News is not dedicated to an atmosphere of “trust and respect.” They tolerated sexual harassment in exchange for monetary benefits.

They did not fire Bill O’Reilly because he was a sexual harasser. They did not fire him because people found out. They fired him because he cost them money.

O’Reilly is the head of the hydra—you cut it off and another one grows. The poison and power of corporations like Fox does not lie in extremities like O’Reilly. They originate from the core. The problem with Bill O’Reilly wasn’t just Bill O’Reilly. It always was, and still is, Fox.

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pop culture, Review, television, Thinkpiece

“PARIS”—KEEPING UP WITH THE KARDASHIANS

On March 19, Keeping Up with the Kardashians aired the episode centered around the Oct. 3 Paris robbery and assault of Kim Kardashian. The episode, titled “Paris,” was cut together clips of the Wests’ personal videographer, KUWTK film crew and camerawork done by Kim’s assistant Stephanie Sheppard. The result was 42 minutes (no commercials) of the most powerful reality television I have ever seen.

The episode was so effective because it was drastically different from how the Kardashians usually portray themselves. The blurry, ‘80s-style videography from Kanye’s personal archives is not typically (or ever) utilized in a KUWTK episode. Everyone holding a camera is a friend, rather than a crew member, meaning that Kim is much more open. That closeness between friends, Kim interacting with the camera, translates to the episode feeling much more dynamic and intimate.

The show also made the smart decision of not beginning the season with the Paris incident. In the episode-and-a-half period before the robbery, the show intentionally showcased more of Kim’s personality. She has often remarked that the show portrays her as dumber than she actually is, so this portrayal feels more authentic. We see her smiling, nosing around Khloe’s new relationship, thumbing through racks of clothing, laughing about her bodyguard tackling the butt-grabbing prankster to the ground. So when Kim finally gets robbed, and as the story gets retold through Kim and the people around her, we have become so attached to the bright, funny, sharp side of Kim that the robbery burns even brighter in comparison.

The Kardashians have built their careers on documenting their lives, but as they’ve gotten bigger, they’ve gotten better at hiding their true feelings. They say less, and everything they show is very edited. “Paris” is so raw and real and sad, that it’s antithetical to everything else they’ve ever shown.

Some people will criticize her for showing the robbery aftermath in the same way that people criticized her for documenting her life, claiming that she was the reason she got robbed. The common critique of “She flaunted her wealth” permeated every news title, the beginning of every argument. But in the same way that “she flaunted her body” is not a valid excuse for rape, flaunting anything should not be reason for inviting assault.

The gut reaction to victim-blame stems from this hatred of Kim Kardashian for being confident in her womanhood, particularly in her sexuality. Ask anyone who dislikes Kim, and it all begins with, “She’s famous for a sex tape!” As if she released it herself; as if she promoted it; as if Ray J is the most famous man in the world even though, through that logic, it should’ve promoted his career as well. A sex tape in 2007 does account for being arguably one of the most famous people in the world in 2017.

It’s the fact that Kim refused to be shamed or cowed by her sex tape. She didn’t let it define her. We as a society have such a visceral reaction to the notion of a woman not being shamed into the restrictive box set aside for female sexuality. And I truly believe that Kim refusing to be adhere to social norms led to resentment, and that resentment led to hate, and that hate led to victim-blaming.

Even though the sex tape wasn’t mentioned, it hung over the entire retelling. Because Kim is both a celebrity and a woman, the seriousness of the robbery becomes intersected with the threat of sexual assault. When the robbers came into her room, she was naked but for a robe. She detailed one robber pulling her down to the edge of the bed towards him by her legs.

“He pulled me toward him at the front of the bed and I thought, ‘OK, this is the moment they’re going to rape me,’” she said. “I fully mentally prepped myself—and then he didn’t.”

If this had been a male celebrity, I doubt that we would say that he was responsible for his assault. The notion of “asking for it” is so deeply associated with the feminine—blaming victims of rape for their assault by asking what they were wearing, how much they were drinking, who they were talking to—that anything done to a woman, especially a woman so closely linked with her sexuality, leads to victim-blaming. Because we see her “asking for it” in one sphere, and we transpose that onto another.

The Paris robbery has always turned into blaming Kim; blaming her robbery on her flaunting her wealth and life on Snapchat. But it needs to turn into a conversation on how we view women. How we shame and condemn women for owning their womanness; how we get angry about it. How we think, maybe in the darkest recesses of our inhumanity, that she had this coming.

Kim Kardashian did not have this coming. No amount of flaunting ever necessitates robbery or assault. She did nothing to deserve this. And as painful as I’m sure this reliving was for Kim, it was valuable. This is a woman who has an unparalleled platform and access. And instead of shying away from it, she used it for the broader good. She’s (hopefully) changing the way we talk about survivors of assault. Not with victim-blaming but with empathy and understanding.

“I took a tragic, horrific experience and did not let it diminish me,” said Kim on Twitter after the episode had aired. “Rather grew and evolved and allowed the experience to teach me.”

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