Everybody’s talking about — scratch that. Culture is too atomized for everybody to be talking about anything.
Lots of people who don’t usually cop to knowing about, much less watching, porn — writers at high-end intellectual magazines, columnists for The Washington Post — are talking about Belle Knox, the Duke University freshman who embraced her outing as an adult film actress in an eloquent, feminist theory-imbued attack against slut-shaming.
Social media has responded as you’d expect: lots of mean slut-shaming that proves Knox’s point that “We deem to keep women in a place where they are subjected to male sexuality. We seek to rob them of their choice and of their autonomy. We want to oppress them and keep them dependent on the patriarchy.”
Big corporate media is reacting like George C. Scott finding out his daughter is a whore. Considering that the average age of a journalist is Old Enough to Be Knox’s Mom or Dad, knee-jerk Talibanality comes as little surprise, though quite unpleasant to watch.
About that Post columnist:
If Marcus hates the sin and not the sinner, it’s hard to tell. Her column drips with condescension and contempt.
“Methinks the freshman doth protest too much,” writes Marcus. Because, you know, like, 18 years old is mature enough to decide which Arabs to shoot, but not to have sex for money.
“Even more heartbreaking is listening to Knox’s still little-girlish voice describing how she’ll tell her parents. ‘I don’t want to,’ she told the Duke Chronicle last month, in the whiny tone of a child told to go to bed.”
Marcus goes on. Who could stop her? “She mentioned rough sex, which requires an unpleasant discussion of what kind of pornography we’re talking about here and the increasingly violent nature of the Internet-fueled pornography trade. These are not your father’s Playboys. Letting a man ejaculate on your face is not empowering under anyone’s definition of the term. It’s debasing.”
One: bukkake predates the Internet. If Marcus doesn’t know that, or how to Google, she should have spoken to or been edited by someone who does.
Two: what’s sexy and what’s empowering are purely subjective. Knox describes feeling “fear, humiliation, shame” — not from her work, but from neo-Puritan assholes on the Internet giving her a hard time. “Doing pornography fulfills me,” she writes.
Part of respecting women — of being a feminist — is taking them at their word. Thus, in the absence of evidence that Knox is lying or insane, I choose to believe her.
So. Why did Knox become a sex worker? Her answer: “If Duke had given me the proper financial resources, I wouldn’t have done porn. My story is a testament to how fucking expensive school is.”
Media gatekeepers are ignoring it, but this is the real/big story.
Each year in the United States, 12 million freshmen take out student loans. By the time they graduate (or not), they wind up owing $26,000 — plus several times that amount in compound interest payments. In many cities, that’s more than the cost of a house.
Duke University charges Belle Knox $61,000 a year in tuition, room and board. I don’t care how many hours she could have put in at Starbucks; the only way a typical college kid can generate $250,000 in cash over four years is to think outside the box.
Knox isn’t alone. Many college students work as prostitutes.
When I attended Columbia University, I met many students who cut moral and legal corners to make their bursar bills.
I knew students who were call girls, including one who brought her clients to her dorm room to save on hotel rooms. Topless and nude dancers weren’t rare at Columbia. A close friend took advantage of his room’s southern exposure to grow pot plants; he sold his stash out of a deserted Butler Library stack full of 17th century Italian folios. Another pal was banking six figures as a cocaine dealer (it was the ’80s.)
I discovered that one of my classmates was sleeping in the park. There was nothing left after he paid tuition.
One of my buddies, now a minor success in Silicon Valley, had a unique racket. He climbed outside locked campus buildings using grappling hooks. Yes, like a ninja. He entered the chemistry and physics department storerooms through the windows. He then sold the chemicals — including radioactive stuff — to an oily man who worked at the mid-Manhattan consulate of a nation that did not get along with the U.S.
I won’t mention the guy who sold his poo in the Village.
Reagan slashed student financial aid during my freshman year. To pay my way sophomore year, I broke laws.
If I knew then what I know, I wouldn’t have done it. Going into debt or risking jail to pay exorbitant tuition at an “elite” school like Duke or Columbia is insane. You can get an excellent education at any number of cheaper, no-name schools. You can save tens of thousands of dollars by attending a community college for two years, then transferring for junior year; the name on the diploma is what matters.
But that’s the point. I was 18. Like Knox. There’s a reason the military recruits 17- and 18-year-olds. They don’t know anything. I still can’t believe when my mom drove me to the bank to sign the student loan agreement. I was 17. Seriously? I couldn’t vote or drink.
I thought Manhattan was Long Island.
Americans hear a drumbeat of “unless you attend college, your life will suck” propaganda the first 18 years of their lives. Their parents say it. Their teachers say it. Their guidance counselors and the media say it. The college/university industry spends millions to advertise the message that the more you spend on tuition, the more you’ll earn during your lifetime.
The President says it too.
Everyone says college is a must and that expensive college is better than cheap college. Of course Belle Knox and young Ted Rall and 20 million new suckers every year believe it.
Ruth Marcus concludes: “Knox’s pathetic story wouldn’t be worth examining — exploiting? — if it didn’t say something deeper about the hook-up culture run amok and the demise of shame.”
Belle Knox has nothing to be ashamed of.
The real sluts are the cash-whore trustees of Duke University, who are sitting on top of a $6 billion endowment, and the overpaid college and university officials who have jacked up tuition at twice the inflation rate year after year.
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COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
My mother retired recently from teaching under pretty much the best possible working conditions one could expect in an American high school: she taught high school French in an Ohio suburb whose demographics are at least 90% white, ranging from middle to upper-middle class. By the end of her career, she was relatively decently paid. Her students weren’t hobbled by poverty or challenged due to not having mastered English. Since French was an elective, her kids pretty much wanted to be there (though getting cut due to low enrollment was a worry).
Still, it was a tough job. Sure, class is 8 to 3 and she got those long summer vacations. But I remember watching her get up at 5:45 so she could prepare for class during the calm before the morning bell. She rarely got home before 5 — there’s always some meeting to attend — and then she had to grade papers and prepare the next day’s classes. Teaching is a performance. You’ve got roughly six hours to fill, keeping the kids entertained and engaged enough to get them to pay attention to what they need to learn. It’s exhausting, especially when you were up until 11 the night before correcting tests and averaging grades.
The summers were nice, but my mom spent the last half of June and the better part of July crashed out, recuperating. As for the last half, it wasn’t like we could afford to go on any trips. Not on a crummy teacher’s salary. For the first few decades of a teacher’s career, the pay is crap.
Raises don’t keep up with inflation. Parents constantly complain, often without cause. Administrators constantly lard on more responsibility, more paperwork, more rules, always more stuff to do on the same crummy salary. Moreover, budgets are always being cut. Even in lily-white districts like my mom’s, teachers find themselves hitting the office supply store to buy stuff for their students — out of that crummy paycheck.
During the last few decades, particularly since Reagan, the Right has waged war on teachers and their unions. From No Child Left Behind to the sneakily anti-unon, anti-professionalization outfit Teach for America to the Common Core, conservatives are holding teachers accountable for their kids’ academic performance. Sometimes it’s fair. Sometimes it’s not. Even the smartest and hardest-working teacher is going to have trouble getting good state test scores out of a classroom full of kids brutalized by abuse at home, poverty, crime and neglect.
The latest skirmish in the edu-culture war is over tenure, and it’s unfolding this week in Los Angeles County Superior Court. Superintendent John Deasy of the Los Angeles Unified School District is supporting a lawsuit, backed by a right-wing front group called Students Matter, that would eliminate teacher tenure as we know it in California. Tenure, say nine students recruited as plaintiffs, makes it too hard to fire bad teachers.
Not so fast, counter the unions. “Tenure is an amenity, just like salary and vacation, that allows districts to recruit and retain teachers despite harder working conditions, pay that hasn’t kept pace and larger class sizes,” James Finberg, a union lawyer, told the court. It also protects workers/teachers from being fired over their political beliefs, gender and religion — or just being too “mouthy,” i.e., speaking out against budget cuts.
As a parent, it’s easy to see why it would be good to make it easier to fire bad teachers. As the son of a hard-working teacher, it’s easier to see why teachers would need tenure. As in any other workplace, which teachers are judged “good” or “bad” falls to the boss — in this case, usually the school principal — who may or may not render a fair judgment free of personal bias based on personality or philosophy. Accusations of wrongdoing or incompetence levied by parents may or may not be fair.
Until my mom got tenure, she was afraid of disciplining students. She didn’t dare be active in her union. She didn’t want to reveal, in a Republican town, that she was a Democrat. Tenure didn’t make her lazy after she got it, but it did make her more relaxed, less terrified of her boss. Which made her a better, wiser, smarter teacher.
Tenure doesn’t prevent districts from firing teachers. It makes it hard. (Not impossible: two percent of teachers get fired for poor performance annually.) Which, frankly, is something that every worker who has ever experienced an unfair review should be able to empathize with. If anything, the only thing wrong with tenure is that only teachers can get it.
Time for #OWS to Broaden Its Appeal
It has been 30 days since Occupy Wall Street began. The movement hasn’t shaken the world à la John Reed—not yet—but at one thousand occupations and counting, it can’t be ignored.
OWS has become so impressive, so fast, that it’s easy to forget its half-assed origin. No matter. The fact that the French Revolution was partly set off by the drunken ravings of the Marquis de Sade hardly reduces its importance.
Soon the Occupiers will have to face down a number of practical challenges. Like weather. Winter is coming. Unless they move indoors, campers at Occupy Minneapolis and Occupy Chicago will suffer attrition. But indoor space is private property. So confrontation with the police seems inevitable.
As I saw at STM/Occupy DC, there is an ideological split between revolutionaries and reformists. Typical of the reformists: This week OWSers urged sympathizers to close their accounts with big banks like Citibank and Bank of America and move their savings to credit unions and local savings and loans. If revolutionaries get their way, there will be no banks. Or one, owned by the people.
There is no immediate rush, nor should there be, to issue demands. The horizontal democracy format of the Occupy movement’s General Assemblies is less about getting things done than giving voices to the voiceless. For most citizens, who have been shut out of politics by the fake two-party democracy and the corporate media, simply talking and being heard is an act of liberation. At some point down the road, however, the movement will come to a big ideological fork: do they try to fix the system? Or tear it down?
The Occupiers don’t have to choose between reformism and revolution right away—but they can’t wait too long. You can’t make coherent demands until you can frame them into a consistent narrative. What you ultimately want determines what you ask for in the time being—and how you ask for it.
Trotsky argued for the issuance of “transitional demands” in order to expose the uncompromising, unjust and oppressive nature of the regime. Once again, an “epoch of progressive capitalism” (reformism, the New Deal, Great Society, etc.) has ended in the United States and the West. Thus “every serious demand of the proletariat” de facto goes further than what the capitalist class and its bourgeois state can concede. Transitional demands would be a logical starting point for an Occupy movement with a long-term revolutionary strategy.
Both routes entail risk. If the Occupiers choose the bold path of revolution, they will alienate moderates and liberals. The state will become more repressive.
On the other hand, reformism is naïve. The system is plainly broken beyond repair. Trying to push for legislation and working with establishment progressives will inevitably lead to cooption, absorption by big-money Democrats and their liberal allies, and irrelevance. (Just like what happened to the Tea Party, a populist movement subsumed into the GOP.)
Revolution means violence in the streets. Reform means failure, and the continued, slow-grinding violence by the corporate state: poverty, repression, injustice.
At this point, job one for the movement is to grow.
I don’t mean more Facebook pages or adding more cities. The day-to-day occupations on the ground need to get bigger, fast. The bigger the occupations, the harder they will be for the police to dislodge with violent tactics.
More than 42 percent of Americans do not work. Not even part-time. Tens of millions of people, with free time and nothing better to do, are watching the news about the Occupy movement. They aren’t yet participating. The Occupiers must convince many of these non-participants to join them.
Why aren’t more unemployed, underemployed, uninsured and generally screwed-over Americans joining the Occupy movement? The Los Angeles Times quoted Jeff Yeargain, who watched “with apparent contempt” 500 members of Occupy Orange County marching in Irvine. “They just want something for nothing,” Yeargain said.
I’m not surprised some people feel that way. Americans have a strong independent streak. We value self-reliance.
Still, there is something the protesters can and must do. They should make it clear that they aren’t just fighting for themselves. That they are fighting for EVERYONE in “the 99 percent” who aren’t represented by the two major parties and their compliant media.
OWSers must broaden their appeal.
Many of the Occupiers are in their 20s. The media often quotes them complaining about their student loans. They’re right to be angry. Young people were told they couldn’t get a job without a college degree; they were told they couldn’t get a degree without going into debt. Now there are no jobs, yet they still have to pay. They can’t even get out of them by declaring bankruptcy. They were lied to.
But it’s not about them. It’s about us.
The big point is: Education is a basic right.
Here is an example of how OWSers could broaden their appeal on one issue. Rather than complain about their own student loans, they ought to demand that everyone who ever took out and repaid a student loan get a rebate. Because it’s not just Gen Y who got hosed by America’s for-profit system of higher education. So did Gen X and the Boomers.
No one will support a movement of the selfish and self-interested.
The Freedom Riders won nobility points because they were white people willing to risk murder to fight for black people. Occupiers: stop whining about the fact that you can’t find a job. Fight for everyone’s right to earn a living.
The Occupy movement will expand when it appeals to tens of millions of ordinary people sitting in homes for which they can’t pay the rent or the mortgage. People with no jobs. Occupy needs those men and women to look at the Occupiers on TV and think to themselves: “They’re fighting for ME. Unless I join them, they might fail.”
The most pressing issues for most Americans are (the lack of) jobs, the (crappy) economy and growing income inequality. The foreclosure and eviction crisis is also huge. OWS has addressed these issues. But OWS has not yet made the case to the folks watching on TV that they’re focused like a laser.
It takes time to create jobs. But the jobless need help now. The Occupy movement should demand immediate government payments to the un- and underemployed. All foreclosures are immoral; all of them ruin neighborhoods. The Occupy movement should demand that everyone—not just victims of illegal foreclosures—be allowed back into their former homes, or given new ones.
For the first time in 40 years, we have the chance to change everything. To end gangster capitalism. To jail the corporate and political criminals who have ruined our lives. To save what’s left of our planet.
The movement must grow.
Nothing matters more.
COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL
America’s New Radicals Attack a System That Ignores Them
“Enraged young people,” The New York Times worries aloud, are kicking off the dust of phony democracy, in which “the job of a citizen was limited to occasional trips to the polling places to vote” while decision-making remains in the claws of a rarified elite of overpaid corporate executives and their corrupt pet politicians.
“From South Asia to the heartland of Europe and now even to Wall Street,” the paper continues, “these protesters share something else: wariness, even contempt, toward traditional politicians and the democratic political process they preside over. They are taking to the streets, in part, because they have little faith in the ballot box.”
The rage of the young is real. It is justified. It is just beginning to play out.
The political class thinks it can ignore the people it purports to represent. They’re right–but not forever. A reckoning is at hand. Forty years of elections without politics will cost them.
Americans’ pent-up demand for a forum to express their disgust is so vast that they are embracing slapdash movements like Occupy Wall Street, which reverses the traditional tactic of organizing for a demonstration. People are protesting first, then organizing, then coming up with demands. They have no other choice. With no organized Left in the U.S., disaffected people are being forced to build resistance from the ground up.
Who can blame young adults for rejecting the system? The political issue people care most about–jobs and the economy–prompts no real action from the political elite. Even their lip service is half-assed. Liberals know “green jobs” can’t replace 14 million lost jobs; conservatives aren’t stupid enough to think tax cuts for the rich will help them pay this month’s bills.
The politicians’ only real action is counterproductive; austerity and bank bailouts that hurt the economy. Is the government evil or incompetent? Does it matter?
Here in the United States, no one should be surprised that young adults are among the nation’s angriest and most alienated citizens. No other group has been as systematically ignored by the mainstream political class as the young. What’s shocking is that it took so long for them to take to the streets.
Every other age groups get government benefits. The elderly get a prescription drug plan. Even Republicans who want to slash Medicaid and Medicare take pains to promise seniors that their benefits will be grandfathered in. Kids get taken care of too. They get free public education. ObamaCare’s first step was to facilitate coverage for children under 18.
Young adults get debt.
The troubles of young adults get no play in Washington. Pundits don’t bother to debate issues that concerns people in their 20s and 30s. Recent college graduates, staggering under soaring student loan debt, are getting crushed by 80 percent unemployment–and no one even pretends to care. Young Americans tell pollsters that their top concerns are divorce, which leaves kids impoverished, and global warming. Like jobs, these issues aren’t on anyone’s agenda.
This pot has been boiling for decades.
In 1996 I published “Revenge of the Latchkey Kids,” a manifesto decrying the political system’s neglect and exploitation of Generation X, my age cohort, which followed the Baby Boomers.
We were in our 20s and low 30s at the time.
Un- and underemployment, the insanity of a job market that requires kids to take out mortgage-sized loans to attend college just to be considered for a low-paid entry-level gig in a cube farm, the financial and emotional toll of disintegrating families, and our fear that the natural world was being destroyed left many of my peers feeling resentful and left out–like arriving at a party after the last beer was gone.
Today the oldest Gen Xers are turning 50. Life will always be harder for us than it was for the Boomers. If I had to write “Latchkey Kids” for today’s recent college grads, it would be bleaker still. Today’s kids–demographers call them Gen Y–have it significantly worse than we did.
Like us, today’s young adults get no play from the politicians.
The debts of today’s Gen Yers are bigger ($26,000 in average student loans, up from $10,000 in 1985). Their incomes are smaller. Their sense of betrayal, having gone all in for Obama, is deeper.
Young adults turned out big for Obama in 2008, but he didn’t deliver for them. They noticed: The One’s approval rating has plunged from 75 percent among voters ages 18-29 when he took office in January 2009 to 45 percent in September.
Politicians like Obama ignore young adults, especially those with college degrees, at their–and the system’s–peril. Now, however, more is at stake than Obama and the Democrats’ 2012 election prospects. The entire economic, social and political order faces collapse; young people may choose revolution rather than accept a life of poverty in a state dedicated only to feeding the bank accounts of the superrich.
As Crane Brinton pointed out in his seminal book “The Anatomy of Revolution,” an important predictor of revolution is downward mobility among strivers, young adults whose education and ambition would traditionally have led to a brighter future.
In February Martin Wolf theorized in The Financial Times that the Arab Spring rebellions in Egypt and Tunisia owed their success to demographics; those countries have more young people than old ones. On the other hand “middle-aged and elderly rig political and economic life for their benefit in the U.K. [he could also have said the U.S.]: hence the way in which policies on housing or education finance are weighted against the young.”
Right here and right now, though, the young and the old are on the same side. Though the young are getting screwed the hardest, almost everyone else is getting screwed too. And with 80 percent unemployment, the young have a lot of free time to rise up.
COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL
Can Obama Get Reelected?
Usually I don’t care about political horseraces. Yet I am fascinated by Obama’s reelection bid. Never mind what’s good for the country. I’m dying to hear him make his case for another four years.
I don’t pretend to be able to predict the future. But I have a rich imagination—and I still can’t begin to guess how the president can convince a majority of voters to choose him over the Republican nominee whether he be Mitt Romney or she be Michele Bachmann.
Obama is good with words. But what can he possibly say for himself after this first fiddling-while-Rome-burns term?
The president only has one major accomplishment to his credit: healthcare reform. However—assuming Republicans don’t repeal it—it doesn’t go into effect until 2014. Which, from Obama’s standpoint, actually helps him. After people find out how it transforms the First World’s worst healthcare system into something even crappier and more expensive, they’ll be burning him in effigy.
“Socialized” (if only!) healthcare has driven away the Reagan Democrat swing voters who formed half of Obama’s margin of victory in 2008. Unless the GOP nominates some total loon (hi Michele) or past-due retread (what up Newt) these ideological reeds in the wind will blow Republican.
The other major component of the Obama coalition, young and reenergized older liberals, see ObamaCare as a right-wing sellout to corporations. Nothing less than single-payer would have satisfied them. On other issues it seems that Obama has missed few opportunities to alienate the Democrats’ liberal base.
“The combination of Afghanistan and Libya could bring a bitter end to the romance between Democratic liberals and Obama,” Steve Chapman writes in Reason magazine. “Many of them were already disappointed with him for extending the Bush tax cuts, bailing out Wall Street, omitting a public option from the healthcare overhaul, offering to freeze domestic discretionary spending, and generally declining to go after Republicans hammer and tong.”
Chapman predicts a strong primary challenge to Obama’s left flank—someone like Russ Feingold.
Lefties are also angry about Obama’s other lies and betrayals: keeping Gitmo open, signing off on assassinations and even the torture of U.S. soldiers (PFC Bradley Manning), redefining U.S. troops in Iraq as “support personnel.” Just this week he reneged on his promise to get rid of Bush’s kangaroo courts and put 9/11 suspects on trial.
Everyone—left, middle and right—is furious about his Herbert Hoover-like lack of concern over the economy. While the multimillionaire president blithely talks about a recovery as he heads off to golf with his wealthy friends, unemployment is rising and becoming structural. Obama will surely pay for the disconnect between reality (no jobs, shrinking paychecks, hidden inflation) and the rosy rhetoric coming out of the White House and U.S. state media.
What, exactly, will be Obama’s 2012 sales pitch? I seriously want to know. Think about it: how many other presidents have been so disappointing that they had to distribute lists of their accomplishments so their supporters would have talking points?
Among the highlights of one of these enumerations going around the Internet are:
“1. Ordered all federal agencies to undertake a study and make recommendations for ways to cut spending.
“5. Families of fallen soldiers have expenses covered to be on hand when the body arrives at Dover AFB.
“14. Removed restrictions on embryonic stem-cell research.”
I’m in favor of these things. (Although I’m not sure why, with real unemployment over 20 percent and the NSA rifling through my email, I should care about numbers 76—”appointment of first Latina to the Supreme Court”—or 86—”held first Seder in the White House.” Really?)
Will micro-mini-accomplishment lites be enough to pry liberal asses off the sofa on Election Day? I think not. On the Big Issues That Really Matter—war, the economy, civil liberties—Obama is a right-wing Republican. He’s only a Democrat on the little stuff. Liberals won’t turn out big for Obama in 2012.
That goes double for the youth vote, a big bloc for O in 2008. From student loan debt to unemployment (which hits Americans under 30 even harder than other age groups), Obama hasn’t delivered. They’ll sit on their hands.
“We’ve always known that lasting change wouldn’t come quickly or easily,” began Obama’s official campaign announcement.
Remember those Soviet-style “Hope” and “Change” posters from ’08, presenting the skinny Columbia grad as a postmodern Messiah for a nation ravaged by eight years of Bush? Just guessing, but somehow I doubt Obama’s propaganda would have gone over as easily with the caption “Change That Won’t Come Quickly or Easily.”
“It begins with us,” will apparently be one of the slogans for Obama-Biden 2012.
That’s the problem Obama faces next year. In 2008 he told us it was going to begin with him.
(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)
COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL