Political Review 19.1 | September 2013 | wupr.org
Editors’ Note Dear Reader, First, let us get the obligatory introductions out of the way. We are the new Editors-in-Chief of the Washington University Political Review, a position we extremely grateful to hold. Our organization has grown tremendously over the past few years, and we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the WUPR-ites who have come before us. We aim to build on the strong tradition of our predecessors and continue to present the Wash. U. community with a forum for informed, political discourse. We welcome all who wish to join us and encourage you to submit content or queries to firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to hearing from you. But enough about us. Now to politics. It has been a summer filled with important political developments here and abroad. While there have been many newsworthy stories from around the globe, from Edward Snowden’s asylum in Russia to the trial of ex-Politburo member Bo Xilai in China, our focus has again returned to the Middle East. Only weeks ago, President Mohamed Morsi, the first ever democratically elected president of Egypt, was ousted in what many international observers are calling a military coup. And as our issue heads to print, it seems almost certain that the United States will conduct limited military strikes on Syrian government targets in response to assertions that President Assad and his regime have carried out multiple chemical weapons attacks over the past year. On the home front, once scandal-ridden politicians are re-entering the public sphere in New York and South Carolina. And though we were tempted to fill 32 pages with Weiner-related puns, our writers instead offered poignant commentaries on the summer’s historic Supreme Court rulings, genetically modified agriculture, the expansion of the Al Jazeera Network, and more. These commentaries touched our own community as well, exploring racial politics and questions of free speech on the Wash. U. campus. But most of our efforts this issue were directed towards our theme, “The Politics of Pop Culture.” The realms of politics and pop culture have long been obsessed with one another. Our ongoing fascination with shows like Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing demonstrates an implicit understanding of the indelible connection between what is popular and what is political. Our writers focused keenly on this intersection, and the resulting pieces are as thought provoking as they are varied. We received articles about hip-hop and liberalism, TV shows, and the decline of political wit. Our writers tackled the effect of celebrity endorsements and the position of the LGBT movement in our political culture. In this issue, we sought to highlight the political in the popular, and we hope the product is as enlightening and entertaining for you to read as it has been for us to write.
Regards, Will Dobbs-Allsopp Moira Moynihan
Triple Feature: Three Blockbuster Supreme Court Cases and their Implications Nick Hinsch
A Post-Zimmerman Campus Camille Lynn Wright
Free Speech in Jeopardy Megan Zielinski
Bougie Dictatorship: The 12 Strange Case of Leftist HipHop Andrew Ridker
The Egyptian Jon Stewart 13 Razi Safi
The Wire’s Angry Dissent
The Simplicity of the IsraeliPalestinian Conflict
16 House of Cards: Down and Dirty Beltway Politics
From Hollywood, with Money 18 Aryeh Mellman
26 Hope and Change for Iran? Stephanie Aria
27 Immigration Reform: The Facts, The Politics, and Why Jack Krewson
Game of Thrones: A Lesson in 19 Cynicism Nahuel Fefer
Senator, You’re no Lloyd 20 Bentsen: The Decline and Fall of Political Wit Brett Mead
LGBTQIA Issues in Popular 21 Culture & Politics: Moments & Movements Vinita Chaudhry
The US and Vietnam: Cultural 22 Exchange over Legacy Sonya Schoenberger
From Seneca Falls to JJ’s 14 Diner: Parks and Recreation, a Feminist Manifesto
25 Al Jazeera America: Bringing the News Back to its Roots
GMO’s: A Blind Roll of the Dice with American Health
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Table of Contents
“Representative” Government 24 in the Lone Star State Hannah Waldman
Staff List Editors-in-Chief: William Dobbs-Allsopp Moira Moynihan
Scott Witcher Camille Lynn Wright Megan Zielinski
Executive Director: Nicolas Hinsch
Front Cover Illustration: Danielle Clemons
Staff Editors: Nahuel Fefer Gabriel Rubin Sonya Schoenberger
Front Cover Graphic Design: Andrew Ridker
Features Editor: Aryeh Mellman Director of Design: Michelle Nahmad Managing Copy Editors: Kelsey Garnett Stephen Rubino Director of New Media: Raja Krishna Programming Director: Hannah Waldman Finance Director: Alexander Bluestone Staff Writers: Stephanie Aria Claire Bartholomew Jessica Bluedorn Daniel Bram Vinita Chaudhry Henry Clements Michael Cohen Benjamin Cristol Kevin Deutsch Arian Jadbabaie Jack Krewson Brett Mead Henry Osman Andrew Ridker Razi Safi Ari Spitzer Sophie Tarazi Nishanth Uli Shira Weismann
Inside Front Cover Illustration: Andrew Catanese Back Cover Illustration: Esther Hamburger Illustrators: Alexis Copithorne Danielle Clemons Margaret Flatley Dara Katzenstein Simin Lim Michelle Nahmad Board of Advisors: Robin Hattori Gephardt Institute for Public Service Professor Bill Lowry Political Science Department
The Washington University Political Review is a student organization committed to encouraging and fostering awareness of political issues. We shall remain dedicated to providing friendly and open avenues of discussion for students irrespective of political affiliation or ideology.
GMOs: a Blind Roll of the Dice with American Health Scott Witcher
ecently, the agribusiness giant Monsanto, which produces 90% of all genetically modified (GM) crops, withdrew its requests to grow new genetically modified crops in European Union (EU) countries after becoming frustrated with the strict approval processes. Japan also instituted a ban on US wheat imports earlier this summer for safety concerns with GM foods. On the other hand, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows genetically modified crops based on Monsanto’s claims that its products are safe and solve many modern problems by producing higher yields in a sustainable manner. However, a closer look at the claims presented by Monsanto and the genetic engineering lobby show that their conclusions are biased, unsubstantiated, and use false premises which lack a solid scientific foundation. Many statements made by genetic engineering lobby “experts” demonstrate a lack of basic scientific understanding, and consumers should wonder about the accuracy of their conclusions. For example, they claim that, when inserting or replacing genes in crops, the results of these modifications are completely predictable because every gene codes for a single protein. The truth, however, is that scientific discoveries from the Human Genome Project and in the field of epigenetics highlight several external factors that can alter gene expression in an organism. One cannot simply replace genes like building blocks in a toy castle and foresee the outcome. Worse yet, Monsanto’s process has limited precision and often inserts genetic code into a random part of plant DNA, which eventually leads to the creation of
refreshing dose of honesty, the necessity of long-term independent studies. In evaluating the existing evidence without a clear conflict of interest, the AAEM stated: “Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food, including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system…There is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects. There is causation…” GM foods cause adverse health effects. The few unbiased studies done to date have shown that we are playing what activist Jeffrey Smith calls “genetic roulette” by lackadaisically allowing GMOs into the food supply. The scariest question is how the FDA and Congress have allowed these foods to remain in our food supply despite an obvious dearth of honest research. Approximately 50 foreign governments have passed GMO labeling laws and crop restrictions, yet the FDA lacks a mandatory safety assessment procedure for GMOs. Their justification comes from those studies funded by the same companies that profit from their GMO-friendly assessments. Even President Obama has flipped on this issue. He promised to get GMOs labeled in 2008, but in 2009 he appointed Michael Taylor, a former vice president at Monsanto, as deputy commissioner for the FDA. Taylor’s appointment should call attention to the revolving door of industry-friendly appointees in American politics. The “partnership” between many major industries and legislative bodies in this country is poisoning the integrity of each branch and level of our government. Monsanto can buy the
The few unbiased studies done to date have shown that we are playing what activist Jeffrey Smith calls “genetic roulette” by lackadaisically allowing GMO’s into the food supply. what microbiologist Thierry Vrian calls “rogue proteins.” This alone should lead the public to question the integrity or competence of those doing the modifications to our food supply. Scientific understanding aside, it would be naïve to assume that studies released and subsidized by companies that stand to profit from the findings are unbiased. History demonstrates that industryfunded studies are often rigged and unreliable. In the case of GM foods, industry-funded studies have almost unanimously positive verdicts on GM crops, while independent studies receive stiff opposition from the FDA and genetic engineering lobby. Those same independent studies also happen to paint a starkly contrasting view of GMO safety. Independent studies show that GM crops have levels of glyphosate (the main herbicidal ingredient in Round Up) and formaldehyde that far exceed EPA standards. Eating these foods involves ingesting unsafe levels of herbicide. In other studies, GM foods were also shown to have significantly fewer nutrients, such as calcium and magnesium, than unmodified crops. Even less flattering, in 2009 the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) called for a halt on allowing GMOs to enter the food supply. They cited, in a
science it needs and remain securely protected by the blind eye the FDA turns towards it, and sneaky legislation like the Monsanto Protection Act. GMO labeling is undeniably popular among Americans, and could theoretically be very beneficial to the consumer. However, if recent events have taught us anything, it is that the revolving door will prevail where it exists. It provides the means to circumvent even the most popular and practical regulations, and is the real problem that needs to be addressed. If not, corporations, government-sponsored regulatory agencies, and politicians will continue to line their pockets while allowing Monsanto and others to do as they please with the food supply supported by “science.”
Scott Witcher is a sophomore in the School of Engineering. He can be reached at email@example.com.
The Simplicity of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Henry Clements
he American media tend to portray the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as hugely complicated and mired in controversy. The situation is deadlocked, we are told, and no one agrees on the components of a final settlement. In reality, beyond U.S. borders, there exists hardly any disagreement at all. Indeed, there is close to unanimous international agreement on all the conflict’s major issues. Since 1974 the United Nations General Assembly has voted annually on a series of resolutions concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And, every year, the resolutions pass with the vast majority of nations voting in favor of a two-state solution, and the extreme minority voting in opposition. The teams don’t change. Virtually the entire world votes in favor of these resolutions, while Israel, the United States and a handful of others protest. Let’s look at the major issues and voting records: Borders In the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Israel captured the Gaza Strip and Sinai (then under Egyptian control), East Jerusalem and the West Bank (Jordanian control), and the Golan Heights (Syrian control). With the exception of the Sinai, recaptured by the Egyptians in 1973, these territories have since been under Israeli occupation. The Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 forbids the acquisition of territory by war, and the international community overwhelmingly believes that a resolution to the conflict requires an Israeli withdrawal to its pre-1967 borders. In 2012, at the U.N. General Assembly, fully 163 member states voted to pass a resolution reaffirming the necessity of a two-state solution within these borders, including the return of East Jerusalem to Palestinian control. Six member states voted in opposition: the United States, Israel, Canada, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Palau. Refugees During the 1948 Palestine War, 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly removed from their homes in what scholars now widely understand to have been an ethnic cleansing. United Nations Resolution 194, passed
in 1948, resolved that uprooted Palestinians should be permitted to return to their homes. In 2012 at the U.N. General Assembly, 163 member states voted to pass a resolution stressing “the need for a just resolution of the problem of Palestine refugees in conformity with its resolution 194 of 11 December 1948.” Six member states voted in opposition: the United States, Israel, Canada, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Palau. Settlements Since the annexation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem during the 1967 war, Israel has carried out continued and systematic construction of Jewish settlements in these Occupied Palestinian Territories (O.P.T.). While Israel dismantled its settlements in the Gaza Strip in 2005, there remain approximately 500,000 Israeli settlers living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In 2012, at the U.N. General Assembly, 169 member states voted to pass a resolution reaffirming the illegality of Israeli settlements in the O.P.T. Six member states voted in opposition: the United States, Israel, Canada, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Palau. The international consensus is clear: a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza neighboring an Israel within its pre-1967 borders. Jerusalem is to be divided, the settlements dismantled. A just solution to the refugee problem is to be found. Yet if the in-
ternational community agrees upon a solution, why has the Israeli-Palestinian conflict yet to be resolved? First, this conflict is one of many that evoke the greatest shortcoming of international law – the lack of adequate mechanisms of enforcement. Second, throughout its history, Israel has skirted the international arena for conflict mediation, preferring bilateral negotiations with individual Arab states. Indeed, Israel has found itself better able to achieve its goals when dealing directly with the weak Palestinians. The current negotiations are no exception. I am pessimistic about the talks in Washington. As long as Israel can exclude external actors from negotiation, they will prefer the status quo to peace, leaving the conflict unresolved while continuing to grab Palestinian land with impunity. Recently, the European Union enacted a ban on economic dealings with Israeli settlements. This was the first time that the international community turned its long held opposition to Israeli policy in occupied Palestine into concrete sanctions. If the world wants to see an end to this bitter and protracted conflict, more actions like this are needed to bring Israel to the negotiating table in earnest.
Henry Clements is a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Triple Feature: Three Blockbuster Supreme Court Cases and their Implications Nicolas Hinsch | Illustration by Danielle Clemons
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required to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in inheritance taxes. She sued the federal government, arguing that DOMA was unconstitutional. The Obama administration took the unprecedented step of refusing to defend DOMA, stating that it agreed the law was unconstitutional. The Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG), an organ of the Republicancontrolled House of Representatives, took up the defense instead. After DOMA’s prohibition of federal recognition for same-sex marriages was found unconstitutional by the district and appeals courts, the Supreme Court hammered the final nail into DOMA’s coffin with a 5-4 decision along ideological lines. The majority opinion, written by the relatively moderate Justice Anthony Kennedy, used strong language to describe the hardships inflicted on same-sex couples by what he viewed as the discriminatory nature
United States v. Windsor: DOMA is Partially Struck Down In perhaps the most publicized of the three decisions, the Supreme Court struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act, thus requiring the Federal government to recognize same-sex marriages performed by the states. In 1996, no states offered gay couples the right to marry, but a case moving through the court system of Hawaii raised the possibility that gay marriage might become legal in that state. This raised the possibility that the federal government and other states might be required to recognize gay marriages that took place in Hawaii. In response, Congress passed and President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) with overwhelming bipartisan support. DOMA contained two key provisions. First, no state would be required to recognize gay marriages performed in other states. Second, the federal government would not recognize gay marriages. The consequences of this second provision were enormous. Same-sex spouses of federal employees were ineligible to receive health benefits, gay couples received unfavorable tax treatment, and immigrants who married a member of the same sex were unable to receive green cards allowing them to remain in the country indefinitely. In the ensuing years, same-sex marriage did in fact become legal in 13 states. By 2009, even though the State of New York still did not allow same-sex marriage, it did recognize such marriages performed elsewhere. Thus the marriage of Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer was recognized as valid by New York when Ms. Spyer passed away that year. Edith Windsor inherited a large estate from her wife, but because the federal government did not recognize her marriage, she was
t the conclusion of its latest term in June, the Supreme Court handed down three closely watched decisions pertaining to same-sex marriage and voting rights. Let’s take a look at what exactly the Court decided in these cases, and what their practical impacts will be.
of DOMA. Kennedy writes that DOMA “demeans the couple, whose moral and sexual choices the Constitution protects” and that “it humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples.” While the opinion does not establish a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, the language in the majority opinion suggests that given the appropriate case, the current Supreme Court may be ready to pronounce bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. Justice Scalia, one of the Court’s most conservative justices, raised this possibility in his dissenting opinion, writing that “as far as this Court is concerned, no one should be fooled; it is just a matter of listening and waiting for the other shoe.” Hollingsworth v. Perry – Prop. 8 Invalidated by Technicality A second same-sex marriage case offered the Supreme Court another opportunity to
National establish a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, but due to a technicality the Court declined to even address the question at hand in the case. In the Spring of 2008, the Supreme Court of California ruled that the denial of samesex marriage rights was unconstitutional, and same-sex marriage became legal in California. This progress was short-lived, however, as California voters passed an amendment to the state constitution known as Proposition 8 later that same year which banned new samesex marriages in the state. Proposition 8 was then challenged in federal court by Kristin Perry, a gay Californian who was denied a same-sex marriage license. The government of California, led by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, refused to defend Proposition 8, so the proposition’s sponsors argued on its behalf. The district and appeals courts both found Proposition 8 unconstitutional, and the matter reached the Supreme Court. However, rather than answering the question of whether or not bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional, which would have had a national impact, the Court instead determined that the supporters of a ballot measure do not have the legal standing, or authority, to appeal decisions against their measure. Thus the Supreme
the moderate Justice Kennedy and joined by the conservative Justices Thomas and Alito and the liberal Justice Sotomayor. In his dissent, Justice Kennedy wrote that “the Court fails to grasp or accept…the basic premise of
Given the current stagnation in Congress, the Supreme Court has effectively gutted preclearance for the foreseeable future. the initiative process” by refusing to allow the sponsors of a ballot measure to defend it when the state government refuses to do so. Shelby County v. Holder – Voting Rights Act In a third decision that received less publicity but that was no less important, the Supreme Court upended a key portion of the Voting Rights Act designed to reduce suppression of the minority vote, but left open the possibility of its re-implementation. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was designed to combat the disenfranchisement of racial minorities, mostly African-Americans, in the South. Among many other provisions, section 5 of the Act implemented a system known as “preclearance”. This system required certain areas of the country that had a history of racial discrimination against voters to submit all proposed changes to their electoral system, however slight, to the federal government for pre-approval. Even relocating a polling station or changing voting hours in a single town required federal approval. The specific formula for determining which jurisdictions were required to obtain preclearance for voting changes was enumerated in section 4(b) of the Act; jurisdictions that required voters to complete any type of literacy test or other similar device as of November 1, 1964 or that had registered less than half of their eligible voters as of that date were required to receive advance permission from the federal government before making such changes. This formula led to preclearance being required for much of the South. In 2006, many provisions in the Voting Rights Act, including the preclearance formula in section 4(b), were set to expire. De-
While the DOMA decision does not establish a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, the current Supreme Court may be ready to pronounce bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. Court avoided answering the central constitutional question of the case and instead focused on a legal technicality. The original district court’s decision to strike down Proposition 8 went into effect by default, but the decision’s scope was limited to the State of California and the issue remained unsettled at the federal level. The Court’s decision in Hollingsworth v. Perry was also decided in a 5-4 vote, but did not follow the traditional ideological division that often pits the Court’s liberals against its conservatives. The majority opinion was written by the conservative Chief Justice Roberts and joined by fellow conservative Justice Scalia, but also by the liberal Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan. The dissent was written by
spite complaints from Southern states about the stigma of being singled out for racially motivated election rules, the Republicancontrolled Congress voted to renew the Voting Rights Act by a large margin, including
the existing preclearance formula based on conditions in 1964. Shelby County, Alabama was not on board with the renewal and sued to overturn it on Constitutional grounds. The district and appeals courts both found that based on the evidence that the Congress used when it renewed the Act in 2006, preclearance and the use of the 1964 preclearance formula were still justified. However, the Supreme Court did not agree. In a 5-4 decision along ideological lines, the Court found that while the concept of preclearance was constitutional, the use of the 1964 formula was not, and that Congress must pass a new formula based on current data to continue using preclearance. Justice Thomas went further, stating that preclearance based on any formula was unconstitutional. Several Southern states acted quickly in the wake of the decision to change voting laws in ways that would be detrimental to minority voting power. Within two hours Texas declared that its new voter ID law and redistricting map would go into effect now that the federal government could no longer veto them. The Obama administration has responded by moving to sue Texas. If it can prove that these laws will have a discriminatory effect, it may be possible to obtain a court order that will put Texas back into the preclearance system; such court orders fall outside the scope of the formula that the Supreme Court invalidated. A more comprehensive solution to the problem would require Congressional action, which is currently an oxymoron. One promising idea proposed by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) avoids the thorny political issue of deciding which states are assumed to be racially biased by subjecting the entire country to preclearance. However, given the current stagnation in Congress, the Supreme Court has effectively gutted preclearance for the foreseeable future. Nick Hinsch is a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences. He can be reached at email@example.com.
A Post-Zimmerman Campus Camille Lynn Wright
fter the announcement of the Zimmerman verdict, the first clear thought that rushed through my mind was, “I wish I were on campus for this.” After the initial grief passed, after the cold palms, heavy chest, and tight fists, came a sense of urgency. What did my peers think of the verdict? What kind of conversations were going on behind the closed doors of my fellow Washington University students and would these students prove to be my allies? Were they even aware this was going on? Would my schoolmates be too busy vacationing, working at their internships, or partying to acknowledge a circumstance that is of much gravity to me and to people who look like me? My desire to see what the climate on campus would have been like if this trial had taken place during the school year came in part from my experience after an incident with the fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) last semester. A racially charged exchange between some members of SAE and a few black Washington University students along with the ensuing Student Life article left reverberations of anger and distrust on campus. With the amount of racism spewing from the article’s comment section, it was hard for the black student population to tell which of our schoolmates were allies, which ones were consenting bystanders, and which ones were racial hecklers hiding behind the screens of cyber anonymity. That experience, plus a strange emotional cocktail of eagerness and anxiousness was what left me wishing school had been in session for the verdict. If the racism on campus was so easily revealed with an incident as micro as the one involving SAE, I dread what could possibly be looming behind the curtain after something as macro as the Zimmerman trial. As expected, there were the deniers of racism, the Zimmerman sympathizers, the people
who use their self-proclaimed objectivity to defend textbook “law” instead of fighting for real social justice. Yet, overwhelmingly, most of the people I knew seemed to be enraged over the verdict (though I will qualify as an avid inter-
anger, and isolation. What would our campus have looked like? Even though most students weren’t on campus the night of the verdict, I can only hope that the solidarity and rage I witnessed and felt in Union Square will be present and
If the racism on campus was so easily revealed with an incident as micro as the one involving SAE, I dread what could possibly be looming behind the curtain after something as macro as the Zimmerman trial. net slacktivist with Facebook allowing me to self-select my online social circle, my perception of said widespread rage is possibly distorted.) For the first time in many, many years, I was impressed specifically by the white outrage. As I marched in the Union Square rally in New York, people of all ages and races showed their real anger and human
empathy. In my experience, it isn’t often that I have seen white people being public and vocal about an issue concerning the black community. Yet in rallies across America, I saw pictures of black, brown, and white people walking together and holding signs, linking arms to block cars that tried to disrupt marches. The transracial solidarity was a pleasant surprise in a storm of resentment,
visible on WashU’s campus when we return for the fall semester. Our student population is distracted, complacent, and self-serving compared to the alumni who walked our campus in the 1960s and 1970s, and we need to change. I can only hope that the fiery anger spurred by the Zimmerman verdict opens our eyes to how we can make our campus better. I can only hope that those students who were believers in a “post-racial society” and “colorblindness” can use this verdict to reconsider. I can only hope that we can take the complaints towards WUPD officers seriously now, who year after year stop black men and women, myself included on this campus and demand for student ID cards like antebellum freedom papers. I can only hope that my peers finally see my black bitterness as justified, that because of this verdict my peers will finally believe me and other like-minded students when we dissent. I can only hope that we will see the same solidarity and passion on WashU’s campus that I saw rallying in Union Square. Camille Lynn Wright is a senior in the Sam Fox School of Art. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Free Speech in Jeopardy Megan Zielinski | Illustration by Margaret Flatley
o you think you’re guilty of harassment? No? ResLife may disagree. The first section of the Washington University in St. Louis Judicial Code states that “freedom of thought and expression is essential to the University’s academic mission.” It goes on to state that “nothing in this Code should be construed to limit the free and open exchange of ideas and viewpoints, even if that exchange proves to be offensive, distasteful, disturbing, or denigrating to some.” These bold statements describe the ideal college environment: open to discussions of any kind through which people can confront new ideas and learn more about their own viewpoints. I am proud to go to a university that has this grand mission, and I often find myself involved in just that type of deep conversation. Yet those of us who live in university housing face a severe threat to this freedom: the Office of Residential Life’s definition of harassment. ResLife defines harassment as “any behavior or conduct that is injurious, or potentially injurious, to a person’s physical, emotional, or psychological well-being, as determined at the sole discretion of the University.” This policy is inconsistent with the declaration of free speech in the Judicial Code. Though Washington University is a private institution and thus is not legally bound by the First Amendment, the statements in the Code represent a clear commitment to free expression that the university is obligated to fulfill. When universities promise certain rights to students in their official policies and materials, they must deliver those rights. The ResLife definition poses two major problems. Not only does the policy give administrators immense power by allowing them “sole discretion” to decide whether there has been a violation, but it is also substantially overbroad and vague. To get a grasp on where ResLife has gone wrong, we must turn to Supreme Court precedent. In 1999, the Supreme Court created the standard for student-on-student harassment in the educational setting, in Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education. In determining when a school may be held liable for ignoring harassment, the Court provided a definition of harassment: unwelcome, discriminatory conduct “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively bars the victim’s access to an educational opportunity or benefit.” Based on the ruling in this case, a stu-
dent must be more than just rude or offensive for his behavior to be harassment. The Davis standard permits punishment for a pattern of behavior that involves speech or conduct so awful, persistent, and focused on someone’s status as a member of a protected class that the law can no longer treat it simply as speech but as discriminatory behavior that constitutes a civil rights violation. This standard leaves plenty of room for administrators to respond to speech that is truly harassing. Furthermore, Davis is the controlling legal standard for peer harassment in the educational setting. This case is the only one of its kind deliberated on by the Court, so its logic is what lower courts must use to decide cases with similar fact patterns. Indeed, federal courts have struck down many overbroad speech codes at public universities. By looking at the ways in which our
policy differs from the standard set out by the Supreme Court, we can see how and why the Davis standard is the correct model for harassment and why we should revise the ResLife policy. One of the most important sections of this ruling that is ignored by ResLife is the “objectively offensive” requirement. Rather than considering a certain behavior from the subjective experience of a particular person, who might be very easily offended, courts look at the experience of reasonable men and women and how they would interpret certain conduct. This standard is used in many areas of law, from criminal to contract to tort law. By relying on this standard, the law is not set by the sensibilities of the most hypersensitive person in society but rather by a more objective standard. Beyond the legal requirements of this standard in court, many people would
National also find it a matter of common sense to have their behavior judged by an objective standard. ResLife does not even attempt to hide its removal of a reasonableperson standard. It boldly states that harassment is “determined at the sole discretion of the University.” Not only is a mention of objectivity absent from the definition, but they give themselves complete authority to choose what behavior constitutes harassment. The university is bound by no principles, so individuals in ResLife are free to interpret statements however they want with no limits. One would hope that ResLife would use this power justly, but we cannot rely solely on administrators’ goodwill. Equally importantly, the policy is exceptionally broad and disregards many of the requirements laid out in Davis. By defining harassment as “any behavior or conduct that is injurious, or potentially injurious…” ResLife has included a shocking amount of speech that is not harassment. By contrast, the Davis is much narrower and was carefully tailored to address only behavior that is truly harassing. ResLife has written a definition that is broad enough to encompass the everyday behavior of students. Take a moment to think about how many conversations and comments are just potentially injurious to a peer. Imagine two students talking in Bear’s Den about how easy an exam was, how they didn’t study at all, and that they left early because they knew they had an A. This conversation would seem harmless to most people, and I doubt many people would consider this conduct to be harassment. Now imagine a student standing behind them in line who studied for weeks for the same exam, struggled during the test,
ResLife defines harassment as “any behavior or conduct that is injurious, or potentially injurious, to a person’s physical, emotional, or psychological well-being, as determined at the sole discretion of the University.” and is expecting a C at best after working until the last minute. I submit that overhearing this conversation is potentially injurious, if not actually injurious, to the student’s emotional well-being. The conversation certainly qualifies as harassment under the ResLife definition, yet it does not even come close to meeting the requirements of the Davis standard (or of common sense). This conversation would also clearly be protected by the university’s promise of “free and open exchange of ideas and viewpoints.” It is certainly possible that through exercising its sole discretion, the university would choose not to punish those students whose behavior would not be considered harassment by a reasonable person. Unfortunately, university administrators often abuse their power and punish students for speech that is completely protected, whether it by the First Amendment in public schools or by a declaration of free speech in private universities. During my summer at FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, I encountered case after case in which students were punished for perfectly acceptable and constitutional conduct. In some cases even clearly constitutional remarks are vigorously pursued by the
administration, and students find themselves in a great deal of trouble. Since FIRE’s founding in 1999, the organization has fought and won more than 250 cases across the United States. One case stands out as a perfect example of a situation in which a Washington University student might one day find himself. In 2007, Keith John Sampson, a student and employee at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, was reading a book about the Ku Klux Klan during a break from work. The book, titled Notre Dame vs. the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan, chronicles the admirable efforts of Notre Dame students who defended their campus against the KKK in a 1924 riot. The cover features a picture of the KKK rally, including burning crosses. Unfortunately for Sampson, a co-worker was very upset by seeing this book, and she reported him to IUPUI’s Affirmative Action Office, which found him guilty of racial harassment without so much as a hearing, simply on the basis of the book’s cover. It’s hard to picture a college campus where students are unable to learn about controversial topics. A college student should have the ability to pursue knowledge about our culture and history, despite the fact that some people might have emotional reactions to the material. There are surely descendants of Holocaust survivors who would be upset by a discussion of Nazis, but that should not preclude professors or students from talking about them. We have come to Washington University to enrich our minds in the company of exceptional peers. The discussions we have in classrooms and in dorm rooms should push us to the boundaries of our beliefs, and we will emerge with a better understanding of the ideas we agree with and those we don’t. Sometimes these conversations have the potential to upset or offend us, but in order to allow people freely to express their opinions so that we can learn from them, we must not hold the threat of punishment over their heads. If someone says something you think is offensive, tell them why you disagree. ResLife thinks that we need to be protected, even from things that are only “potentially injurious,” but we don’t need that. We are smarter and stronger than that. Schools as prestigious as Penn and Dartmouth have eliminated their speech codes to open up their university to open dialogue and to facilitate learning. We should aspire to their standard and replace the harassment policy with one in line with the Davis standard.
Megan Zielinski is a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences. She can be reached at email@example.com.
The Politics of Pop Culture
The Politics of Pop Culture
Bougie Dictatorship: The Strange Case of Leftist Hip-Hop Andrew Ridker | Illustration by Michelle Nahmad
ey, remember that weird video from Game 5 of the NBA finals? Where Jay-Z just like, talked for three minutes, and superproducers/visual name-drops Pharrell, Timbaland, and Rick Rubin were all nodding along as if to say, ‘yeah Jay, totally’? And then at the very end, the screen went black and said SAMSUNG, like ‘ha ha, tricked you into watching a commercial’? As we now know, the electronics manufacturer had pre-purchased one million copies of Jay’s new album, Magna Carta Holy Grail, to give away to their subscribers for free, which in turn prompted the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) to ditch the rulebook and declare the album Platinum-certified before it was even released. We’d been warned. Here’s Jay in 2004 at his most quotable: I’m not a businessman / I’m a business, man. Maybe it’s no surprise that there are so few leftist rappers. For one thing, hip-hop came to prominence in the late seventies and early eighties riding twin waves of Red aggression and Wall Street chic. The art form is rooted in the politics of marginalized communities, but those particular politics have always operated within our capitalist sphere. There are a myriad reasons for this, wrapped up in the intersectionality of race, poverty, and systematic oppression—not to mention the commodification of youth culture—all of which falls outside the limited scope of this article. But what can be said for certain is that hip-hop is the genre of our times, and our times are nothing if not market-driven. Far-left rappers, already marginalized by their politics, tend to adopt extreme forms of delivery, either as a means of getting noticed or because they have the silver-lining luxury that attends independent distribution and cultish fanbases: the luxury of getting to say whatever you want, however you want. For Immortal Technique, that liberty is exercised through sheer, visceral anger. If you’re familiar with his work—and if you are, it’s probably carried over from a severely angst-ridden adolescence—you know that he won’t hesitate to conjure stomach-churners like “an aborted fetus in a jar” in service of his message. And though his fanbase is in no
small part comprised of suburban kids, his politics are firmly left. In “Peruvian Cocaine,” for example, I.T. represents a cast of characters—including a farmer with revolutionary dreams, his oppressive overseer, and a white-collar American distributor (I had two governments over-
thrown / to keep our son enrolled in a private school)—conveying an unsubtle but uniquely complex impression of the drug trade. On the other end of the spectrum are Oakland’s The Coup, led by Boots Riley and DJ Pam the Funkstress. Riley and co. are consummate humorists; if Immortal Technique
wheel, the terrain between them is minimal. Perhaps the only other notable name is Brooklyn-via-Tallahassee’s Dead Prez, whose M.O. “Revolutionary But Gangsta” signifies a merger of hip-hop and leftist tropes. They’ve become moderately well-known thanks to Dave Chapelle’s use of their track “Hip Hop” as his entry music on Chapelle’s Show, but their fame peaked in a weird ironic twist over a remix of their signature track “Hell Yeah (Pimp the System).” The remix features, of all people, Jay-Z, hip-hop’s own John D. Roc-a-Fella. A hyper-capitalist guest star, in theory and practice, muddles the leftist message—but then again, it’s hard to imagine anyone, even Marx himself, turning Young Hova away. In the first verse, Dead Prez’s stic.man describes a get-fed-quick scheme: robbing pizza delivery boys for the food. The crime is an intentionally desperate one, and one that calls out Domino’s—which notoriously practiced “pizza redlining” (the refusal to deliver to certain neighborhoods) in the 1990s—by name. The second verse by rapper M-1 proposes credit card fraud as a means of exploiting the system. But by the time Jay-Z appears in verse three, the rhetoric changes. It’s a memorable appearance, but Jay plays within the capitalist system, invoking supply and demand (with regard to both drugs and music) and his suburban aspirations. It’s no surprise that Jay’s guest appearance got Dead Prez some notice, but we’ve hardly heard from them since. Hip-hop is a
Hip-hop is the genre of our times, and our times are nothing if not market-driven. is leftist hip-hop’s school bully, The Coup are its class clowns. To quote Riley on the drug trade, rapping with an affected Transatlantic accent: Now philosophically, you’d be opposed / to one inhaling coke via mouth or the nose / but economically I would propose / that you go eat a dick as employment froze. Riley is a unique voice in hip-hop, but his work treads the thin line between novelty and novelty act. Though Immortal Technique and The Coup occupy opposite ends of the emotional
capitalist’s game, and Jay has won it—hold up, who you smackin’ on? he asks at the end of “Hell Yeah.” I’m only trying to eat what you snackin’ on. His belly is no doubt full.
Andrew Ridker is a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Politics of Pop Culture
The Egyptian Jon Stewart Rafi Safi
on Stewart and Stephen Colbert have been our generation’s major source of intellectual humor and cheap laughs. For many, they have even been an occasional news source. While widely different in style, their satiric comedic style allows their viewers to evaluate the political stories of the day and ridicule ideas that, while politically convenient, make absolutely no sense. Until recently, they were regarded solely as two comedians who make their living poking fun at issues in our daily lives. However, the recent events in Egypt show us that comedians are essential to the open national dialogue necessary for a free democracy. In 2011, Bassem Youssef, an Egyptian cardiac surgeon, started a television show called “El Bernameg” (literally: the show) after the Arab Spring in Egypt. The self-proclaimed “Jon Stewart of Egypt,” Youssef ’s television program is essentially indistinguishable from The Daily Show. However, unlike Stewart and Colbert, Youssef has faced a lot more criticism from his democratically elected government. In 2013, President Morsi’s regime issued an arrest warrant for Youssef for allegedly insulting Islam, insulting the President, “circulating false news likely to disturb public peace and public security and affect the administration,” and insulting Pakistan. What Bassem Youssef does in Egypt is no different than what Americans have been doing for centuries. Ridiculing our politicians is as quintessentially American as baseball or apple pie. As Americans, we hardly tend to notice it anymore, but I was first exposed to how strange this concept is in the Middle East when my brother-inlaw first moved to the United States. While watching The Colbert Report one night, he seemed puzzled that we were so quick to judge and mock our elected officials, even though we are the ones responsible for their rise to power. The reason we can mock our politicians is because we are the ones who voted them in—we are not dishonoring their titles by making jokes, we are simply expressing our opinions on how well they represent our voices. When I last visited Syria in 2009, I found it to be a (relatively) free society—however, what distinguished it from the United States was the lack of political expression among its population. The government operated under a rule of “we’ll stay out your business if you stay out of ours,” meaning that as long as you didn’t mock or criticize the government, you were assured a relatively happy, painless lifestyle with little interference from the government. As we now see from the 3-year long civil war there, that style of ruling is unsustainable. The history of US democracy has evolved tremendously since our founding. We no longer fear a fall of our government because someone makes fun of our political process. Furthermore, we see such expressions of opinions as strengthening our political system; our system is strong enough to handle the minor inconveniences that snarky comedians throw at it. Egypt, on the other hand, is still at an unsteady point in its formation of a democratic government which has been further shaken by the recent overthrow of President Morsi. Egyptians view comedians such as Bassem Youssef as threats to a functioning government. This perspective could not be further from the truth. When Jon Stewart
When Jon Stewart visited Egypt in June and appeared as a guest on El Bernameg, he told Yousef and his audience, “If your regime cannot handle a joke, you don’t have a regime.” visited Egypt in June and appeared as a guest on El Bernameg, he told Youssef and his audience, “If your regime cannot handle a joke, you don’t have a regime.” Stewart’s point demonstrates the role that he, Bassem Youssef, and Stephen Colbert play in a society. Their ability to expose the weakness of their governments only helps strengthen the underlying principles that the government is built upon. Bassem Youssef doesn’t undermine the work of hundreds of thousands of Egyptians who took to the streets in protest of Mubarak’s rule, nor did he undermine the rule of democratically elected Mohammad Morsi. In fact, Bassem Youssef plays the role of a freedom fighter in a far different sense than the protestors. Youssef helped show the Egyptian people that there are ways of voicing your opinion against the government that don’t have to include overthrowing of leaders or violence. While the revolution in Egypt is far too complex to discuss here, especially considering the recent removal of President Morsi, it’s fair to note that perhaps Bassem Youssef ’s comedic approach to political activism could ultimately play a constructive role amidst the instability and chaos in the region. At this point, all we can do is hope that the Egyptian people and their government can recognize the vital role that comedians such as Yousef play in their political society. Razi Safi is a senior in the School of Engineering. He can be reached at email@example.com.
The Politics of Pop Culture
From Seneca Falls to JJ’s Diner: Parks and Recreation, a Feminist Manifesto Moira Moynihan | Illustration by Alexis Copithorne
arks and Recreation is the greatest show on television. I say this for many reasons. It’s not hard to see that Li’l Sebastian is a heroic mascot for our nation, that Ron Swanson is a god amongs men, and that I wish I could have celebrated my 21st at the Snake Hole Lounge. But despite these clear points in Parks and Rec’s favor, the true power of the show comes from its political commentary. In a sea of media that portrays a misogynistic, pessimistic view of the world and government, Parks and Rec presents a distinctly feminist argument that celebrates the potential of government through a comedic lens. Parks and Recreation emerged as the result of several important events. Noting the success of the “Mockumentary” style of The Office, NBC officials wanted to produce a spin-off, capitalizing on the wide audience the comedy landmark had managed to gather. Beyond that, the idea for the show emerged amid the 2008 election, and the “hope and change” mantra of the Obama campaign made the idea of a show portraying an optimistic view of government more possible than it had ever been before. Having seen The Wire successfully flesh out the politics of local government, Parks and Recreation chose to read the fictional government of Pawnee, Indiana through a comedic lens, and
with Amy Poehler at the helm as the ambitious Leslie Knope, the show has grown into one of the most acclaimed on television. The most recent data available regarding women in media reflects what we already know: women in positions of power are few and far between. A study by the Center for Women in Television found that in the 2011-2012 television season, women comprised a meager 26% of all writers, creators, directors, producers, editors and directors. With 74% of these key positions of power being filled by men, it is not surprising to see women so often falling into stereotypical tropes, and being portrayed through and for the male gaze. What’s more, the Women’s Media Center found that women represent only 41% of all television characters, and that those who are represented are substantially less likely to be in roles of leadership or to achieve their goals as their fictional male counterparts. Though Parks and Rec fares only averagely when it comes to the number of women working behind the scenes, the cast manages to achieve near gender equity. When the show was still being conceptualized, there was serious concern that people would not watch a show that centered around the friendship of two women (Leslie and Ann),
The Politics of Pop Culture but much like Bridesmaids disproved that predominantly female casts fail at the box office, Poehler’s show has also defied expectations, faring well critically and playing a crucial role in NBC’s Thursday night comedic lineup. In the show, Poehler plays the ambitious Deputy Director of the Parks Department turned City Council Member, Leslie Knope. She is talented and driven, fiercely loyal, and by far the most productive member of her staff. Leslie represents an optimistic view of government, and she believes deeply in the potential of her department, and of herself, frequently noting that she will one day be the first female president. As odd as it seems to count Knope among the female politicians to whom young girls should look up, lack of role models is one of the most frequently cited reasons for the absence of female candidates on ballots at all levels of government. She herself decorates her office with pictures of some of the most powerful women of the last century, with her portraits of Madeline Albright, Condelezza Rice, Margaret Thatcher, and Hillary Clinton coming up as frequent points of conversation throughout the show. Her success in local politics in and of itself reemphasizes the potency of having had role models to look up to. What’s more, her own mother plays an important role in city government, even earning the fictional “Tellenson” award, adding her to the ranks of many important male government workers who’ve won it before her. Though the presence of strong female figures is invaluable in the fight for gender equality, in order to achieve many feminist goals, the presence of allied male voices remains critically important to achieving these goals. The men in Parks and Rec are not only portrayed as feminists, but they also actively promote these goals in their daily lives. While Andy Dwyer does take an intro Women’s Studies class, and Chris Traeger does explicitly ensure that he is not making women feel objectified, I think the most poignant case study of the male feminist within Parks and Rec is Ron Swanson. Ron Swanson embodies all of the tenets of traditional masculinity (albeit in a hilariously exaggerated fashion). He eats no fruits or vegetables, claiming that these are “his food’s food,” he is an avid hunter with a remote cabin in the woods, he frequently indulges in strong alcohol, he has cried only twice in his life, and he sports a handsome mustache, noting that facial hair and masculinity have been linked for centuries. Despite his hyper-masculine status, Ron explicitly states his preference to be surrounded by strong women. The traditional masculine/feminine distributions of power were inverted in his marriages to both Tammy
1 and 2, and in his later, healthier relationships, Ron is often the less dominant partner. Furthermore, he reemphasizes his actions with outright verbalizations of some of the unfair standards put on women, noting how nowadays, “Most women are vastly too skinny.” These body-positive messages sent out by the most masculine character in the show are further reinforced by the rest of the cast. For example, thoughvshe conforms the least to standard ideals of Western beauty, being both a black women and plus-sized, Donna is by far the most sexually desired character in the show. Whereas so many shows rely on models-turned-actresses to appeal to the male gaze, Parks and Rec suggests through its masculine characters that these standards are
timately open to both boys and girls). Leslie crafts a troop motto that at once hyperbolizes the mission of the group and embodies the importance of encouraging girls to see their own potential: “I am a goddess, a glorious female warrior, queen of all that I survey. Enemies of fairness and equality hear my womanly roar, yahhhhhh.” While many of its plotlines are ludicrous and the primary appeal of Parks and Rec remains the twenty-two minutes of sidesplitting humor it offers up every week, the powerful political implications of this series cannot be ignored. And they aren’t. Washington powerhouses Newt Gingrich, John McCain, Olympia Snow, and my favorite feminist, silver fox Joe Biden, have appeared
While much of this feminist discourse runs between the lines on the show, I love Parks and Rec, because it isn’t afraid to be explicit in its use of the f word: feminism. While so many women shy away from the word that seems to elicit unfair, or unrealistic, images of women who forgo shaving and burn their bras, Leslie and her team represent a more accurate portrayal of the modern day feminist struggle. not the only representations of beauty, nor are they realistic. While much of this feminist discourse runs between the lines on the show, I love Parks and Rec because it isn’t afraid to be explicit in its use of the f word: feminism. While so many women shy away from the word that seems to elicit unfair, or unrealistic, images of women who forgo shaving and burn their bras, Leslie and her team represent a more accurate portrayal of the modern day feminist struggle. When Leslie runs for city council against a wealthy heir of the Sweetums Candy Factory, we see her unfairly portrayed in the media as a harpy and a shrew. When someone calls Leslie her “second least favorite term for a woman,” she refuses to apologize for the angry reaction of her team, giving voice to all women who have ever been called a “bitch” by a man. She breaks down gendered limitations in traditionally male jobs, opening the position of trash collector to women. And in one of the show’s most explicitly feminist episodes, she passes on the torch of feminism to the next generation, by leading the Pawnee Goddesses (which is ul-
on the series, and even President Obama has said that he watches the show with Michelle and his daughters. In a world where women are so frequently under- and misrepresented, this is the kind of show women and girls of all ages should be watching. One that proves that feminism is not only important, but it can be pretty damn funny too. So while many may not be able to plan a Harvest Festival like Leslie or match her record setting consumption of JJ’s waffles, everyone can be happy to count her as one of their many feminist role models. Fictional or not, Leslie adheres to feminist mores that appropriately respond to the struggles of western women in the 21st century, and for this she occupies a crucial and necessary role in the modern television landscape.
Moira Moynihan is a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Politics of Pop Culture
House of Cards: Down and Dirty Beltway Politics Ben Cristol
he new Netflix original series House of Cards offers an eerily realistic glimpse into the internal machinations of congressional politics in Washington DC. Unlike predecessors such as The West Wing, House of Cards has a much darker, grittier tone. The protagonist in the series is Minority Whip Frank Underwood, who anticipates a nomination for Secretary of State by the newly sworn in president, whom he publicly endorsed early in the Democratic primary. Underwood is dramatically snubbed, after which he commits to seek revenge. After many years on Capitol Hill, Underwood has unmatched expertise and nurtures various professional relationships to exert his will. Underwood becomes somewhat of a mentor to a troubled younger congressman named Peter Russo, and he eventually is able to propel Russo to be a viable candidate for the governorship in Pennsylvania. Fully aware of Russo’s demons, Underwood exposes them, expecting the public to be receptive to a candidate who is honest about his problems and is in the process of overcoming them. In the real world, candidates for higher office who come with scandalous personal affairs are becoming more common, and possibly more accepted. Should this be cause for concern that uniquely American values are deteriorating? One evening, the fledging congressman from Philadelphia, Peter Russo, is thrown into prison after a wild night out. The omniscient and powerful minority whip, Frank Underwood, bails him out as part of a bargain, wherein Russo will do his bidding. Underwood promises to one day repay Russo. After neglecting his working-class constituents at the behest of Underwood, the damaged yet well-intentioned Russo spirals into a drug-laden depression. Upon noticing how much the manipulation has affected Russo, Underwood finally returns the favor to him. That ultimately comes in the form of prepping him to be the Democratic candidate for governor in Pennsylvania with the stipulation that Russo must get clean. Underwood convinces the DNC to back him despite their initial reservations and insists on making Russo’s sordid past a central part of his campaign message to portray his candidacy as a comeback story. As a result of Underwood’s efforts, Russo fares very well in the polls despite all the information that becomes available about his extracurricular activities. This particular mentality of legitimizing and even electing candidates who have a checkered past rife with immoral behavior pertains to certain modern day circumstances. In New York, disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner initially polled well in the mayoral race and was considered a frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. Unbelievably, this is someone who was so recently involved in a very public scandal, sending unsollicited, inappropriate photos to a number of younger women while married to a pregnant woman. Mark Sanford, former governor of South Carolina, resigned from his office after he was found to have mislead the public about a multi-day absence in which he happened to be seeing his mistress, despite being married with kids. Sanford subsequently was reelected to his old congressional seat in the House of Representatives. Re-
cently, Eliot Spitzer announced his intention to run for New York City comptroller after being out of the public eye for a few years. Spitzer infamously left the governorship after it was exposed that he frequented a high-end call girl service. These particular individuals have all reentered the political ring rather seamlessly, which raises questions about both the public’s forgiveness as well as the tenacity of tarnished political figures. Is the public more willing to issue scandal-ridden politicians a carte blanche if their unethical activities are restricted to their respective private lives? If politicians more directly abused their voters and constituents by misusing tax dollars or campaigns funds, for example, would the public be less forgiving? If increasingly more voters see politicians’ questionable personal activities as private and irrelevant, even if the behavior is immoral, should there be cause for concern that American society is moving away from a values system grounded in morals and ethics? These are our elected leaders after all, and as public servants, these concerns should not be addressed lightly. House of Cards may include the story of a scandal-ridden politician that differs in the details from the most well known ones of the day, but the societal context is still equally important. Due to the growth of alternative media, the potential scandalous personal activity of political aspirants will almost certainly become exposed. Society has surely become conditioned to these stories, but only time will tell if this will manifest itself as simple indifference or acceptance.
Ben Cristol is a sophomore in the college of Arts & Sciences. He can be reached at email@example.com.
The Politics of Pop Culture
The Wire’s Angry Dissent Gabriel Rubin
t’s good for froth,” David Simon says of the internet. But froth also spills from television sets, with hundreds of shows repackaging a successful formula of cheap laughs, sex, violence, and punctuating music. Simon, creator of HBO’s The Wire (among other masterpieces), has eschewed not only conventional television writing wisdom but media etiquette altogether in his grand attempt to showcase the “real America” through fictionalized drama. The United States, in Simon’s words, has “democratic ideas and impulses, but it is strained through some very oligarchical structures.” Most TV shows, even the best written, most critically acclaimed among them, tend to approach the American landscape without lifting that veil. For large portions of the country, certainly of advertisers’ target audiences, these shows portray the “real” America. They rarely engage with what Simon calls “the Other America,” the urban minority communities, which can’t relate to the laugh-track hijinks of sitcom suburbia. Or, in the words of Public Enemy, “you’re blind from the facts of who you are cuz you’re watching that garbage.” Simon, though, knows that blighted underbelly well. As a reporter for the Baltimore Sun, Simon covered homicide in West Baltimore for twelve years. He wrote a book about his experiences, which prompted NBC to ask him to create a show about cops and gangs in Baltimore. He obliged, writing and producing seven seasons of Homicide: Life on the Street during the 1990s. The show spawned numerous copycats and paved the way for galactically popular crime shows like the Law & Order franchise. Homicide, while watered down and dressed up for network primetime, nonetheless refined American views of crime and punishment from their Dirty Harry-delusions at a time when murder rates in American cities reached record levels. Cops, a Homicide contemporary and pioneer in reality television, performed a similar service by showing a (somewhat sensationalized) portion of America where assaults, drug busts, prostitution, and domestic abuse are a part of daily life. Network television has its (FCC-enforced) limits, though. The gruesome images and themes of inner cities, facts of life in Si-
mon’s previous profession, couldn’t be shown at prime time for fear of showing children (and their parents) realities that might upset their prefabricated understanding of their world. So in 2000 when HBO, a network beholden to no one but its shareholders and subscribers, asked Simon to adapt his book The Corner into a miniseries, he jumped at the offer. In six, hour-long episodes, The Corner explored the people in the midst of the Drug War at the intersection of Fayette and Monroe streets in West Baltimore. But while one corner was a good start, Simon wanted a bigger canvas. And HBO gave it to him. Simon and his co-creators had five seasons, or sixty-four hours, to introduce one America (HBO subscribers) to the Other America (West Balti-
ing that it mirrored the substance of Simon’s art: “we never arrive at a final conclusion, not only because we never discover the ultimate culprit… but also because the legal system is really striving for its own self-reproduction.” That self-reproduction makes up much of The Wire’s underlying sociopolitical critique. Cops, politicians, and drug dealers strive to climb the career ladder, regardless of whether they deserve a promotion. Meritocracy rarely garners more than lip service. Police majors “juke” (alter) crime statistics in order to show a semblance of progress, politicians stand in front of condemned housing project high rises proclaiming the beginning of a new, brighter day, just as their predecessors had when they presided over ribboncuttings in the same spot. Students, regard-
The gruesome images and themes of American inner cities, facts of life in Simon’s previous profession, couldn’t be shown at prime time for fear of showing children (and their parents) realities that might upset their prefabricated understanding of their worlds. more) in The Wire. He spent whole seasons on topics other shows wouldn’t broach for ten minutes. The second season explores the intricacies of a failing longshoremen’s union, the fourth spends hours in the classroom, illuminating the dire state of inner-city schools. The theme of institutions and their systemic failures bleeds through in nearly every situation. The Wire rebukes the American ethos of individualism, countering that for a forgotten swath of the population, an individual’s will to succeed means nothing in the face of punishingly irredeemable circumstances. The form of the television series works perfectly for Simon, as viewers come in with the acknowledgement that problems cannot (and even should not) resolve themselves in a single episode, season, or possibly ever. Philosopher Slavoj Zizek praised Simon’s groundbreaking use of the form, say-
less of actual aptitude, are pushed from grade to grade in a purposeless shuffle of educational ineptness and bureaucratic carelessness. Since no problems are ever truly solved, they perpetually recreate themselves. Simon warns of the supreme injustice of allowing some 10-15% of our population to wallow in post-industrial misery, structurally unemployed and unemployable. This America is what Simon desperately wants to show us. He is Antigone, unwilling to let the dead go to their graves without a full accounting of who they were and why they died. The Wire, says Simon, is a dissent that says, “We no longer buy these false ideologies… the false motifs you have of American life.” For most HBO subscribers, that’s quite the jolting eye-opener. Gabriel Rubin is a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Politics of Pop Culture
From Hollywood, With Money Aryeh Mellman | Illustration by Simin Lim
ne hundred and fifty of the biggest stars on the planet crowded onto the basketball court in George Clooney’s backyard. Actors, comedians, and even some former royalty were in attendance. Heck, a couple of superheroes even stopped by: Robert Downey Jr. and Tobey Maguire. In the midst of so much star power, no one could be faulted for struggling to determine the focus of this event. Yet when a slim, smiling man stepped to the podium, it was clear to all that President Obama was in charge tonight. Obama did not want for celebrity attention during either of his presidential campaigns. Aside from Clooney’s backyard-fest, he attended events hosted by musical visionaries Jay-Z and Beyoncé and fashion icons Sarah Jessica Parker and Anna Wintour. In contrast to his first campaign, Obama had a government to run during his second swing around the country, in addition to his whirlwind celebrity campaign. With such limited time, placing Hollywood parties so high on the presidential priority list remains somewhat puzzling. If you want medical advice, you ask a doctor. If you want your clothes fixed, you go to a tailor. Even if your tailor reads articles about medicine in his spare time, or volunteers at a hospital, you wouldn’t trust him with your health. Yet during political elections, a surprising phenomenon ensues: celebrities, who usually have little more than a passing interest in and knowledge of politics, but a large platform to speak from, give political advice, and voters actually listen to them! Unsurprisingly, most voters are loath to admit that Kim Kardashian has a stronger influence on their political preferences than Fareed Zakaria. A 2010 North Carolina State survey demonstrated that when asked, college students say that they would discount political advice from celebrities. However, surveys are not always representative of true intent, as people tend to answer survey questions in ways that
portray them more positively; those responses are not always reflective of reality. According to a well-publicized study, Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement of Obama in his 2008 primary was worth around one million votes. In a bitterly contested primary where Obama only received about 40,000 more votes than Hillary Clinton, the magnitude of a million vote swing, or even any number in that ballpark, is impossible to overstate. This effect is not only restricted to the Oprahs of the world; the study concluded that “lesser celebrities would still have an effect.” Yet even this persuasive power of celebrities doesn’t convey the full extent of their influence. In 2008, when the political circumstances all but guaranteed victory for the Democratic candidate, Oprah donated the maximum allowable amount of personal cash, $2,300. In 2012, when the race was much tighter, she went through Super PACs to wire over $75,000 to the Obama campaign. In a climate where finances are often viewed as having an undue influence on politics, money talks. Loudly. Going back to that magical night at Clooney’s, each of the 150 celebrities who attended paid $40,000 for the privilege, raising an easy $6 million for Obama. A few extra seats were raffled off to ordinary people, which raised an additional $9 million (who wouldn’t drop 20 bucks for the chance to hang out with Iron Man and Obama?). In total, the Obama campaign raised almost $15 million in one night, more than one percent of his total war chest. While the celebrities paid larger prices per person, tens of
In a climate where finances are often viewed as having an undue influence on politics, money talks. Loudly. thousands of people entered the raffle to join them, belying the notion that celebrities have no impact on campaigns. The rafflers may not have consciously supported Obama just because Clooney did, but money speaks louder than words. Since celebrities have such large bank accounts to draw from, and more free time than most people, it is no surprise that they choose to throw their weight around on issues that are important to them. Truly staggering though, is the degree to which they can influence elections, using both their Twitter accounts and their wallets. Even though they may have no better grasp of politics than a tailor does of medicine, the size of their influence far outweighs their expertise. Aryeh Mellman is a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences. He can be reached at email@example.com.
The Politics of Pop Culture
Game of Thrones: A Lesson in Cynicism Nahuel Fefer
“If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.”
BO’s Game of Thrones drills this lesson into viewers week after week. It raises their hopes for justice, revenge, or even just a small joyful break from the violence only to dash them against the rocks. The show has few true heroes, and the protagonists die just as pathetically as their opponents, and at a faster rate. Viewers almost expect their favorite characters to get killed off. Game of Thrones has taught watchers that, in Westeros, power carries the day, and that it is dangerous to conflate justice and power. The show is a lesson in cynicism. “Rhaegar fought valiantly, Rhaegar fought nobly, Rhaegar fought honorably. And Rhaegar died.” The show’s title refers to the kingdom’s nine ruling families attempts to seize, hold, or liberate themselves from the throne. At its core, Game of Thrones is about power: its acquisition, its use, and its abuse. The ruling families of Westeros play the Game of Thrones as a zero sum, well, game, and derive their power from the traditional sources: wealth, swords, religion, information…and dragons. “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.” Game of Thrones owes its popularity to its terrific source material, its talented actors, and its extensive depiction of sex and violence, but it is also indebted to American dissatisfaction with government. Americans disappointed with the Bush presidency clung to The West Wing, which offered them a romanticized Clinton presidency driven by the ideals and the nostalgia of its viewers. Today, following years of slow economic growth, stalled governance, and ugly campaigning, most Americans are too cynical for further disappointment - they are fundamentally disillusioned. Game of Thrones’s message resonates in such an atmosphere. Whereas The West Wing was about the use of power to produce positive change, Game of Thrones considers power an end in and of itself. Many Americans consider elections
nothing more than a game played by the rich – a game with ludicrously high stakes. In an age in which we are accustomed to hypocrisy and false piety, Game of Thrones’s unabashed cynicism and triumphant rejection of justice is refreshingly honest. The world of Westeros
tween the masses and their representatives in a republican society is harder to explain. It is easier to understand selfish ruling families going to war and threatening the kingdom than it is to understand many elected politicians fighting compromise at high costs to the American people: placing their party over their constituents. “He would see this country burn if he could be King of the Ashes”
Game of Thrones shows us a world that is honest and upfront about its fundamental brutality. While it is different from our own in countless ways, Game of Thrones urges viewers to set aside their innocence, abandon their heroes, and embrace cynicism. may be rife with deceit, but at least it is selfconsistent, and, in its own way, simpler than our own. Consider the relationship between rulers and their subjects, or rather, the lack thereof. In the show, various wars claim the lives of thousands of innocents and most lords don’t bat an eyelash. This makes sense within the context of feudalism – the long-term interests of the “smallfolk” are rarely considered, if ever. That a similar disconnect exists be-
As a result of Congress’s irresponsible behavior, its approval ratings have remained consistently below 15%, a historical anomaly. Obama has also been thrust off his pedestal, first by political failures and unfavorable compromises, and more recently by the NSA scandal. It makes sense that Americans have turned to a show known for tearing its heroes down. Game of Thrones shows us a world that is honest and upfront about its fundamental brutality. While it is different from our own in countless ways, Game of Thrones urges viewers to set aside their innocence, abandon their heroes, and embrace cynicism, lessons that can be readily applied to 21st-Century America. Game of Thrones also makes one last, telling choice: it ignores ideology, pausing only long enough to punish many of those who do hold tight to honor (the closest Westerosi substitute), and prefers to focus on power. The show’s irreverent treatment of ideology reflects a greater trend, as Americans are turning away from rigid ideologies. The percentage of Americans identifying as independent, as opposed to Republican or Democrat, has risen dramatically, from 35% in 2008 to 40% in 2012. This trend is likely the product of two factors: cynicism and pragmatism. The first tells Americans that true believers are rare, while the second tells us that ideology is often an obstacle to compromise. Game of Thrones presents viewers with a world that is a bloody mirror to their own, and it explores this world through the cynical and pragmatic lens that Americans have turned to in order to understand their own. Nahuel Fefer is a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Politics of Pop Culture
Senator, You’re no Lloyd Bentsen: The Decline and Fall of Political Wit Brett Mead
he American political system isn’t what it used to be. With Congressional job approval numbers hovering in the teens and a culture in Washington that seems more dysfunctional with every passing day, it’s time to face facts: politicians aren’t funny anymore. So how’d it happen? How did the famous witticisms of politicians past become the lame “zingers” of today? By my estimation, the last legendary quip to come out of the political sphere came in the 1988 Vice Presidential debates. Dan Quayle, George H.W. Bush’s running mate, had compared himself to JFK several times during the campaign. His opponent, the wily Democratic lifer Lloyd Bentsen, rose to the occasion when Quayle brought up Kennedy during their debate, replying: “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy; I knew Jack Kennedy; Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.” Watch Bentsen’s delivery; it’s perfect. His timing would make Louis C.K. envious. But watch any further than Bentsen’s line and the impending downfall of Washington wit is in plain view. Quayle, unable to think on his feet or otherwise, responds, “That was really uncalled for, Senator.” Quayle’s pathetic non-comeback set the precedent for scoring cheap sympathy points off any opponent clever enough to invoke the proud tradition of the political roast. But Quayle’s not entirely to blame and neither is the usual culprit, polarization. To
tionist senator Benjamin Wade joked that his colleague Judah Benjamin, America’s second Jewish senator and the Confederacy’s first Secretary of War, was, “A Hebrew with Egyptian principles.” Polarization doesn’t explain the lack of intraparty roasting either. Andrew Jackson, on leaving office, infamously declared, “I have only two regrets: I didn’t shoot Henry
Clay and I didn’t hang [my own Vice President] John C. Calhoun.” That Jackson probably meant it makes his statement only slightly less funny. Theodore Roosevelt, too, made comedic history with a quote about his future running mate, William McKinley,
Instead of writing their own material, our politicians just keep insisting that they were in on the joke all along. In doing so, they only drag our pop culture outlets of political humor down with them. argue that our politicians can’t joke around because they’re too far to the ends of the spectrum is to ignore history. Surely we’re not as polarized as we were in the lead-up to the Civil War, a time that gave us our first and only congressional caning (See: Sumner, Charles), yet that same era was a treasure trove of comedic gold. For example, aboli-
whom he quipped had, “No more backbone than a chocolate éclair.” The sad truth is that pop culture is mostly to blame. It’s stolen our politicians’ thunder. Not that it hasn’t tried to historically: many of America’s finest historical humorists cut their teeth on the low-hanging fruit of Congress jokes (See: Twain, Mark).
But never before have Americans routinely tuned in by the millions to watch late night comedy shows devoted almost entirely to politics. Saturday Night Live, no longer the titan of the comedy world that it used to be, surges back to the fore every election year while Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert enjoy devoted followings regardless of the political cycle. How can our politicians be expected to keep up? The bigger problem, though, is that they’re not even trying to keep up. Instead of writing their own material, our politicians just keep insisting that they were in on the joke all along. In doing so, they only drag our pop culture outlets of political humor down with them. Of all the election success SNL has had in recent years, it’s never had a bigger hit than it did with Tina Fey’s legendary Sarah Palin impression. But the worst of all the SNL Palin sketches was undoubtedly the one featuring Palin herself. In her cameo, Palin said nothing that even came close to a comeback. She could not, and did not, chide back in a way that showed any creative insight, nor did she address the underlying humor of Fey’s impression: her own incompetence and lack of experience. Palin’s cameo, like those of Barrack Obama and countless others, was not an attempt to heighten the humor, but rather to dull it. With a wink and a nod, those cameos tell viewers, “Hey, we’re all just joking here and I get it, too.” To make their own jokes instead of piggybacking on SNL’s would be to risk a Quayle-like reaction from the other side. Bentsen might have won that exchange, but too few of those who’ve followed him have dared to jest with his bravado. A line as cutting as Bentsen’s would now require a counterproductive disclaimer and a post-joke apology. As a case-in-point, I leave you with this “joke” from Newt Gingrich, tweeted after a red panda’s escape from the National Zoo: “In response to red panda charges, I have an alibi, Callista and I were feeding our pet elephants all evening (just a joke) help find panda.” Lloyd Bentsen is rolling in his grave.
Brett Mead is a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences. He can be reached at email@example.com.
The Politics of Pop Culture
LGBTQIA Issues in Popular Culture & Politics: Moments & Movements Vinita Chaudhry
cannot possibly count the number of times I have been asked if I watch Modern Family, The New Normal, or even Glee; people are generally not asking me for the sake of striking up conversation about good television shows, but rather because they are looking for my opinion on various depictions of LGBT characters. (To be honest, of these three I mentioned, I’ve only seen Glee, and my opinion on that show alone could take up the length of this entire article.) As an activist (in training) in the LGBTQ world, on the Washington University campus, and more broadly in St. Louis and New York City, it has been difficult for me to focus much on pop culture. The growing presence of LGBT people in pop culture is obviously fantastic for LGBT representation: the more faces of “real” LGBT people the world can see, the better. However, Lady Gaga saying that people are simply “Born This Way” seems largely irrelevant to LGBT life when across the United States and around the world people are being fired from their jobs for being LGBT, LGBT youth are homeless and many, especially transgender folk, are without access to homeless shelters, and countless people are murdered or commit suicide because of their identities. In this sense, I often do not allow myself to believe that popular culture icons have any relevance or influence in political discourse when it comes to LGBT people and their rights. More recently, it has become hard to drown out the noise of “Have you seen…?” or “Did you hear…?” when it comes to LGBT people in popular culture. There are no longer just three main characters I can think of as attempting to be representative of the LGBT community, as there were in the days of Will and Grace and Ellen. There are numerous LGBT characters on television, and many of
these are very human characters who, while they most certainly do not (and cannot) broadly represent LGBT people, do present LGBT identities in a way that is approachable, nuanced, and real. While it has been all too easy for me to critique these characters, when I take a step back and recognize where we are – I think of Laverne Cox on Orange is the New Black, where a transgender woman (of color!) plays a transgender character – I have to appreciate the ways popular culture
ternship this summer with the Empire State Pride Agenda in New York City, our deputy director reminded us post-DOMA decision: “This is a movement, not a moment.” These institutions are interconnected. Popular culture influences politics, and politics influence popular culture. All of these areas progress together, but they are affected by the same systems of oppression. In the representations of LGBT folk in popular culture and in the legislation that is passed for LGBT
The cultural moment created by forwardthinking producers, writers, actors, and artists (to name a few) is at present just that– a moment. has presented LGBT folks in way that almost creates a cultural moment. In this cultural moment, we have the first openly gay senator (Tammy Baldwin from Wisconsin); we have states making large leaps in their non-discrimination policies; we have the Supreme Court striking down anti-marriage laws; and we have a moment where LGBT rights are becoming part of a larger conversation about human rights and civil rights. This cultural moment is unlike anything LGBT movements across the United States have seen before. While I am impressed with and pleased by the presence of LGBT people in most areas of popular culture, I would by no means say that any work is finished, nor that popular culture has defined or created the political movement. The cultural moment that has been created by forward-thinking producers, writers, actors, and artists (to name a few) is, at present, just that – a moment. At my in-
folk, we see some of the issues that prevail within the LGBT movement. For example, discrimination on the basis of race, class, and gender identity, to name a few, continue to divide political activists and affect the images of LGBT people that we see in all areas of popular culture. There is much work to be done. We need to see more nuanced LGBT characters on television, and we need more of our legislators and political advocates to pay attention to the people at the margins of the movement (people of color and transgender folk, for example). However, taking a step back and recognizing our cultural and political moment, I am indeed hopeful for the future of LGBT politics and culture in the US. These moments give us hope, so we can move forward in the movement. Vinita is a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences. She can be reached at vinita. firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Politics of Pop Culture
The US and Vietnam: Cultural Exchange over Legacy Sonya Schoenberger
or six months, I lived on top of a furniture shop in Hanoi, Vietnam with two young men and their elderly grandmother. My host brothers dressed fashionably, talked smoothly, and drove shiny sports cars. They also followed the adolescent trends raging across the Pacific with unabashed enthusiasm. I woke up to Lady Gaga in the morning, struggled to make conversation about Twilight over dinner, and fell asleep to shrill imitations of Britney Spears. As I interacted more with my host family, I slowly began to realize that I, too, was simply a flashy accessory—a living, breathing specimen of American culture that they could house, feed, and flaunt before the neighbors. I embarked upon the artificial and elaborately staged experience of “study abroad” with little knowledge of Vietnam and its history. I
Ho Chi Minh continues to observe his nation through paintings and photographs, but his ubiquitous image is now crowded by pictures of Korean pop stars and advertisements for Westernizing face-whitening cream. knew that the United States had bombed and sprayed my surrogate countrymen with impunity, murdering over a million, and condemning unborn generations to horrific, mutilating birth defects. But I had little sense of what had come after. I arrived in Hanoi keenly aware that its residents had a thousand compelling reasons to resent my presence, and I was caught off-guard when they did not. In fact, most of the Vietnamese people I met not only indulged my nationality, but also vocally proclaimed their excitement at having the opportunity to interact with a representative of USA, “Number one country!” Today, 60% of Vietnam’s population is under the age of 30; 85% is under 40. Only a small fraction of the population can recall the war and its immediate aftermath. Generational turnover coupled
with rapid economic growth under a “socialist-oriented market economy” has changed the national landscape drastically since 1975. In 2010, 25 years after the implementation of the Doi Moi economic reforms in the late 1980s, Vietnam achieved World Bank Middle Income status; the signs of this economic transition are clearly visible on the streets. The air in Hanoi is thick with exhaust and laden with construction dust. For every building standing, it seems there are two rising beneath scaffolding and tarp. A decade ago the part of Hanoi where I attended school was rice paddies; today, it is bustling with shops, students, and technology stores. The late nationalist leader Ho Chi Minh continues to observe his nation through paintings and photographs, but his ubiquitous image is now crowded by pictures of Korean pop stars and advertisements for Westernizing face-whitening cream. As Vietnam’s people have looked west, so has their government. On July 25, 2013, President Truong Tan Sang visited the White House to discuss US-Vietnam bilateral relations and the larger TransPacific Partnership. The two heads of state discussed their war legacy and the jointly-supported programs that safely remove landmines, address vestigial environmental and health issues, and repatriate American remains. They focused, though, on the economic and cultural ties that are redefining the US-Vietnam relationship beyond the frame of this legacy, stressing the importance of humanitarian cooperation, scientific and educational exchange, and cross-cultural bonds. Today, cultural exchange between the two countries seems a bit of a one-way street, with the United States exporting much more than it accepts in return. While it was Vietnam that bore the brunt of death and destruction during the war years, public and political attitudes are far more colored by the war’s legacy back in the United States. The Vietnamese young people with whom I interacted never once asked me about war or politics; instead they asked me if I could buy them Apple products and invited me to sing pop songs in karaoke bars. In 2011, despite historical legacy, young people on the streets of Hanoi loved America--not for its foreign policy and its democratic ideology, but for its cultural exports and the images of wealth and prosperity it projects from across the Pacific. My materialistic host family was the exception rather than the norm in a country still struggling with widespread poverty; I came away after nine months in Vietnam with only a limited understanding of its society and cultural memory. I was bemused by its contradictions, but also heartened by the curious juxtaposition of communist nationalism and warmth towards the West. Given the United States’ military track record abroad, peopleto-people interactions, touring pop stars, and the wonders of the iPhone may prove an integral part of diplomacy, and key drivers in overcoming a bitter legacy.
Sonya is a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences. She can be reached at email@example.com.
The Politics of Pop Culture
WHICH COUNTRIES HAVE FAVORABLE VIEWS OF THE U.S.? 85%
PALESTINE EGYPT JORDAN PAKISTAN
16% 16% 14% 11%
PERCENTAGE OF PEOPLE WHO SAID THEY HAD FAVORABLE VIEW OF UNITED STATES 100% – 70% 69% – 30% 29% – 0% Design by Jacklyn Reich
RESULTS FROM PEW RESEARCH GLOBAL ATTITUDES PROJECT SURVEY IN SPRING 2013
“Representative” Government in the Lone Star State Hannah Waldman | Illustration by Dara Katzenstein
Being a Texan means being alternately independent, rugged, individualistic, simple, straightforward, doggedly determined, and proud; sometimes boastful and brash, materialistic but moralistic; religious; distrustful of government yet respectful of authority; believing in competition and survival of the fittest, yet concerned for those who might be down on their luck.” This statement, published in in the Handbook of Texas Online, affirms what many non-Texans believe about the Lone Star State and its people’s homogenous conservative values. Yet, in the second most populous state in the country, it is unlikely that a catchall definition accurately describes the state’s diversity of people and beliefs. But Texas’s diversity is nothing new, and the state has a long history of discounting the voices of many. In 1845, the year the United States won the territory of Texas in the Mexican-American war, the state’s population held differing opinions on topics ranging from economic priorities to slavery. Recognizing these differences, the document granting statehood attempted to accommodate this by dividing the territory into five separate states, a recommendation that was considered more than once up until the 1930s. Unfortunately for many abolitionists and African Americans living in the region, the U.S. annexed Texas in 1846 as a slave state. While slavery no longer exists as the subject of national debate, Texas’s historic disregard for its people manifests itself in the modern political landscape. For example, while abortion laws volley back and forth in state legislatures with few reaching consensus, Texas’s passage of Senate
The issue of reproductive rights presents only one of many examples where the Texas government says one thing, while its people scream another. Bill 5, prohibiting abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, seems disconcerting when considering the divided opinions of Texans on the issue. Unlike the constituencies of states that have enacted similar bans in the past (Kansas, South Dakota, and Oklahoma), polls by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research showed that 63% of registered voters felt that, prior to the ruling, the state had enough restrictions on abortion and 68% consider it very or extremely important that women have access to family planning and birth control. According to these statistics, Governor Rick Perry’s plans to, “make abortion, at any stage, a thing of the past” make him a powerful ideologue, not a public servant. Yet, it is naïve to expect politicians, even those elected by the people, to not inject their own prejudices into politics. The issue of reproductive rights presents only one of many examples where the Texas government says one thing, while its people scream another. Polls by The Texas Tribune show that only 36% of Texans feel that their state legislature deserves reelection, while 45% of the population disapproves of the job Rick Perry has done as governor with 15% not taking a position. The discrepancy between the people and their government exists
as a result of flaws in the system itself. One such problem originates in the tight controls placed on the Texas legislature. According to the Texas constitution, the legislature may meet for only 140 days over two years, unless the Governor calls a special session, which may last up to 30 days. By giving the executive branch this power, the state prevents the legislative body from ruling effectively by exempting itself from proper checks and balances. In addition to problems within the governing bodies, the state upsets voting procedures in order to receive the results it wants. Despite the recent states’ rights victory in removing a provision of the Voting Rights Act that required federal permission before changing voting procedures, Attorney General Eric Holder reinstated federal review in Texas on charges of discrimination. By shortening voting hours and requiring photo identification, the Texas government disenfranchised many minority voters, a group that historically votes blue. Furthermore, minority rights groups sued the Texas government, and won, on accusations that proved Republicans engaged in gerrymandering during the 2010 redistricting process, providing yet another instance of manipulative political practices. While it’s tempting to place the blame entirely on the Texas government, the citizens of Texas are culpable for their insufficient representation as well. Compared to other states, Texas ranks 42nd in voter registration, 49th in the number of citizens who contact public officials, and 44th in the number of people who discuss politics a few times a week or more. Further giving testament to a total lack of involvement on the part of the people, Texans show similarly embarrassing rankings when it comes to volunteering, donating, and other measures of civic engagement. At every step in Texas’s democratic process, beginning with the importance placed on voting to how votes translate to governmental influence, the people’s voice is muffled by the government’s agenda, along with a healthy dose of their own apathy. Like all state governments, the Texas government embodies a representative, not direct, democracy. In order for it to function successfully, the people must actively participate by giving their voice to their elected leaders, with the belief, or more likely the hope, that they can trust their representatives to govern in their best interests. For the system to work as designed, both the citizens and the politicians must do their jobs honestly and to the best of their abilities. . Hannah Waldman is a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Al-Jazeera America: Bringing the News Back to its Roots Raja Krishna
ave for a few well-researched investigations, the occasional substantive interview, and Fareed Zakaria’s analysis, our cable news sucks. American networks try to be information outlets, tabloids, soothsayers, and entertainers all at the same time. Far from being successful, this toxic mixture of conflicting incentives often results in downright embarrassing on-air moments. We all remember CNN’s infamously bungled coverage of the Obamacare Supreme Court decision, and, more recently, Fox News’ carelessly bigoted interview with Muslim scholar Reza Aslan, who dared to write a book about Christ. When the royal baby was born, it was hard to tell whether the infant or the news networks drooled more. But the recent launch of Al-Jazeera America (AJAM), the US edition of the Middle East’s largest news network, signals that American networks’ cringe-worthy devotion to demented punditry and spineless submission to consumer demand for populist reporting may soon come to an end. When it launched in 1996, Al-Jazeera turned the Arab world on its head. Uncharted journalism Al-jazeera literally means “the island” in Arabic. The organization has fully embodied the uniqueness implicit in its name—sometimes in very controversial ways. In its early years, the Doha, Qatar-based outlet quickly gained a reputation for reporting stories that boldly challenged governments of the Middle East, shocking viewers and governments alike. In addition to broadcasting Jews speaking Hebrew on air, the station also played videos created by rebel groups like Hamas. Al-Jazeera offices in Israel and Palestine were severely scrutinized and sometimes shut down temporarily. The Algerian government once cut power to multiple cities solely to prevent citizens from viewing a specific Al-Jazeera special report. During the Arab Spring and the anti-Morsi protests in Egypt, several countries, including Libya and Egypt, censored Al-Jazeera broadcasts, banned its journalists, and targeted its bureaus. Al-Jazeera’s relationship with the United States is especially complicated. Because the channel had opened an office in Kabul right before the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, it
was uniquely poised to cover what would become one of the most formative events of the decade. The channel frequently broadcast live images of the War on Terror in Afghanistan and Iraq, and sold exclusive images and video of the violence to its competitors. This behavior earned the network praise in the journalistic world, but much malign from the United States government. In 2001, a U.S. missile destroyed the office in Kabul. In 2003, the New York Stock Exchange banned AlJazeera journalists after the channel broad-
In order to succeed, the agency will have to combat the US stigma against Arabic names, the Middle East, and foreign things in general. cast bloody images of human damage from the war in Iraq. Unsurprisingly, the agency’s English-language channel was never made widely available in the United States. Shaky first steps In January of this year, Al-Jazeera announced that it had purchased Al Goreowned Current TV in a move to prepare for the launch of its American channel. The announcement generated much buzz among
the organization’s small but dedicated cohort of American fans, but despite the accolades Al-Jazeera has received for challenging the Westernized style of reporting, its success in the American market is far from certain. While the organization undoubtedly embodies the basic principles of journalism better than its domestic competitors, it might still find itself isolated on an “island” in the cable line-up. As of this writing, Time Warner Cable does not have plans to carry the network. Other carriers will likely delegate AJAM to the higher numbered channels, marooning the network’s world-class journalism in the cobwebs between TV Land and Animal Planet. Perceptions of the channel in the United States range from “praiseworthy, real news” to “terrorist mouthpiece.” In order to succeed, the agency will have to combat the US stigma against Arabic names, the Middle East, and foreign things in general. The fact that the channel has attracted popular, trusted—and most importantly Western—journalistic fixtures like Soledad O’Brien will certainly help, but Al-Jazeera may have to subsist on revenue from its existing international outlets until it can gain a significant foothold in the American market, which means first gaining Americans’ trust. It is unlikely that Al-Jazeera America will ever defeat CNN, Fox, and MSNBC in the ratings race, and this is not for a lack of trying. Unlike many of its competitors, the organization provides thousands of photos and videos to the public for free under a Creative Commons license, illustrating its commitment to publicizing underreported stories. In a sense, the network isn’t doing anything Americans haven’t seen before—it’s simply bringing journalism back to its roots. Don’t expect AJAM to cover Amanda Bynes’s latest legal troubles; instead of kneeling to populism, the channel has pledged to pursue “on the ground” American stories that truly need to be told, and to put pressure on its competitors to do the same.
Raja Krishna is a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences. He can be reached at anirudh. email@example.com.
Hope and Change for Iran? Stephanie Aria
orld leaders from both Western and Eastern nations received invitations from Iran’s foreign ministry to attend the inauguration of the country’s new president, Hassan Rowhani, on August 4. In a symbolic reproach to the nation’s hard-line Islamic clerics, Rowhani, the lone moderate in Iran’s June 14 election, won over half of the votes to secure an outright victory. Rowhani’s triumph surprised many Iranians who were disillusioned after the 2009 election, when a vote widely seen as rigged returned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to office for a second term. Many voters who anticipated a similar outcome to the controversial election of 2009 were shocked by the wide and indisputable margins of Rowhani’s victory. Yet according to the Iranian Interior Ministry, the voter turnout in the election was 72.7%, a clear indicator that many Iranians have retained their faith in the Iranian political process. The atmosphere on the streets of Tehran was festive as crowds of Rowhani supporters adorned in his purple campaign color gathered to celebrate his emphatic victory. Some chanted “Ahmadi bye bye,” proclaiming the imminent end to incumbent Ahmadinejad’s presidency. So who exactly is this lone moderate? Hassan Rowhani, a mid-ranking cleric, has been active in Iranian politics since the days of the Islamic Revolution. It was at this time that he became a supporter of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who led the overthrow of the US-backed shah in 1979. In 2003, Rowhani became the head of the influential Supreme National Security Council and took up duties as Iran’s chief nuclear envoy amid tensions with the West over Tehran’s burgeoning enrichment program. But two years later, he had a falling out with President Ahmadinejad over whether to suspend uranium enrichment in an effort to forestall international sanctions, a move which Rowhani supported but the president strongly opposed. During the campaign, Rowhani presented himself as a moderate, both on domestic and foreign policy, and appeared the most charismatic and pragmatic of all the eight candidates. He appealed to the young electorate that is vying for more political and social openness, a crucial move in a nation where there is an increasing di-
vide between the youth, who make up two thirds of Iran’s population, and the ruling hard-liners who use internet censorship, morality police, and other harsh measures to try to mold those born after the 1979 revolution. But while the people vote, the
It is not just Rowhani’s power that is limited, but his will for change. Iranian election process is hardly democratic. Clerics, who hold supreme power in the Islamic Republic, have allowed elections for decades, but they and their allies make the rules. Those already in power (a small elite group called the Guardian Council) choose who can run for office; they can easily deem a candidate unfit to run regardless of the will of the people. For example, former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a viable candidate in June’s election, was disqualified despite his popularity among reformists. Thus, with candidates such as Rafsanjani no longer in the race, Rowhani appeared as the most liberal option (especially to young voters) in the general election. By restricting liberal candidates from entering the public arena, the
conservative administration significantly influenced the results of the election. Although some experts believe Rowhani’s presidential election victory has opened the door for improved relations with the West, the United States and Israel remain apprehensive about making progress on their key demand – dismantling Iran’s nuclear program. In a statement released shortly after Rowhani’s victory was announced, the White House offered only cautious support, saying the United States “remains ready to engage the Iranian government directly in order to reach a diplomatic solution that will fully address the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.” In addition, two days after the election, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the international community “must not give in to wishful thinking or temptation and loosen the pressure on Iran for it to stop its nuclear program.” In reality, the president in Iran has little say in the country’s most substantive issues. Most of the power is instead held by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, a hard-liner who did not favor Rowhani. As president, Rowhani has little control over the country’s military and nuclear programs, which fall under the purview of the country’s ruling Islamic clerics. Yet it is not just Rowhani’s power that is limited, but his will for change. Even if he had greater influence, his desire for reconciliation might also be more limited than some in the West hope. Although he appeared during the campaign as a moderate conservative, calling for “constructive interaction with the world” and “a policy of reconciliation and peace,” Rowhani remains committed to maintaining Iran’s identity as an Islamic power and does not truly intend to seek conciliation with the West.
Stephanie Aria is a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Immigration Reform: the Facts, the Politics, and Why Jack Krewson
et’s get past the politics with regard to immigration reform. According to the Department of Homeland Security’s yearbook on immigration statistics, illegal border crossings are down 80% since their peak in 2000. Between 2009 and 2011, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) completed more employer audits and debarments than during the entire previous administration. Indeed, the Obama administration has deported illegal immigrants at nearly double the rate of the Bush administration. Under the Obama administration, the number of border patrol agents has increased from 14,923 to 21,444, exceeding the requirement of 20,000 agents set under the Bush administration. For the sake of your sanity, I’ll stop there. The bottom line is this: the United States has increased its commitment to border security under President Obama and enforcement is going better than ever. This, however, is not a tagline you will hear much in the news. For better or worse, politics affect policy; the debate over immigration reform, notably its immense focus on border security, reflects this fact. The Senate side The version of the immigration reform bill S744 passed by the US
Senate in early July balances the liberal desire to provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants with the conservative drive to increase border security. The primary enforcement provision is the bill’s requirement of a 90% effectiveness rating for border enforcement within five years. That means that 9 out of every 10 attempted illegal crossings would have to be thwarted by ICE estimates. If this target is not met, a border commission made up of state officials as well as presidential and congressional appointees would convene to offer new strategies with an additional $2 billion at their disposal for enforcement. The bill also requires an enhanced e-verification system to ensure that those who obtain temporary citizenship cannot simply stay after their term has expired. The bill would also provide an additional 20,000 border security agents, effectively doubling the 21,444 mentioned above. Again, your sanity is important to me. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, while approximately 8 million of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants play integral roles in the labor force, they are more susceptible to wage theft and poor working conditions. The immigration bill would solve the problem posed by unauthorized immigrants who are already here by
National creating an accountable path to citizenship. It would bring undocumented immigrants out of the shadows and onto the tax rolls by allowing them to apply for provisional status and eventually earn citizenship, but only after navigating a tough 10-15 year process that requires that they pass criminal and security background checks, pay fines and back taxes, learn English, and go to the back of the legal immigration line. Further, there are a series of benchmarks that must be met in order for any of these individuals to obtain permanent residency status, including meeting the 90% border security rate mentioned above. So if both sides of the aisle are happy, as evident by the bill’s passage 68-32, what’s the problem? Bipartisan vs Bicameral: The problem, is the entire house and the oversized struggle bus they appear to be riding. Don’t you just love the drama of a divided congress? At least this summer’s congressional record is consistent: the Senate decides on some sort of compromise that no one is entirely happy with (thus is the nature of compromise) and sends it to the House with high hopes. The House promptly avoids the matter altogether, tries to come up with a different
need not fear reprisal from this demographic of constituents because it simply doesn’t exist in their districts. Indeed Hispanics make up just 10% of the voting age population in Republican House districts, compared to 21% in Democratic districts. In the case of immigration reform, the buck stops with Republicans in the House and with what their constituents want. House Majority Leader John Boehner has indicated that the Senate version will not be brought to a vote in the House because a majority of his party does not support it (also known as the Hastert Rule). Several members have indicated that the House leadership plans to achieve its goals of immigration reform in several smaller bills, as opposed to the Senate’s single, larger one. This would begin with a bill tackling border security and end with a bill setting up a pathway to citizenship. One large barrier to this approach is institutional. Once different versions of a bill on the same topic pass both chambers of congress they are referred to Conference Committee where the discrepancies in each bill are hashed out in a manner as pleasing as possible to representatives from both sides. Thus, chances of reconciliation in Conference Commit-
The United States has increased its commitment to border security under president Obama and enforcement is going better than ever. option, and eventually fails to pass anything. One major point can be gleaned from the already dim and progressively dimmer prospects of both the Farm and Immigration Reform bills respectively: when the concept of bipartisanship meets that of bicameralism, the House of Representatives fractures and crumbles, destroying any chance of bipartisanship trapped inside. One look at House re-election rates and things start to make sense: 87% of House incumbents were re-elected in 2010. The House has a particularly strong incumbent advantage by design. Each of their districts is gerrymandered by their state legislators, which pretty much guarantees the member, or at least the party he or she represents, a majority vote. This ideological alignment ensures that Republicans in the House have no incentive to vote for an immigration bill that includes a pathway to citizenship for currently undocumented immigrants. Because the Hispanic vote trends Democratic, Republican districts
tees are nearly impossible because the aims, provisions, and scope of the House and Senate versions would be vastly different. What many do not seem to understand is that this Immigration Reform bill really does reflect a compromise of what both parties want. The loudest voices of opposition to this bill fear an economic downturn and lost job opportunities for “hard working Americans.” Individuals holding this view fail to recognize the simple economics of undercutting wages. When employers can pay undocumented immigrants lower wages through frequent minimum wage violations and off the clock hours, legal workers are the ones who get shortchanged. Further, under the legislation, work visas will not be allotted for any areas where unemployment is above 8.5% to ensure that this labor force only enters where needed. Overall economic implications of the bill are stunning. Indeed, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that overall, the Senate proposed bill would reduce the deficit
by around $135 billion over the period from 2013-2024. This figure accounts for necessary increases in enforcement as well as additional benefit program and discretionary funding needs. The equation is simple: 9.6 million more legal workers equals 9.6 million more people paying taxes – people who are already here in the first place. Perhaps Carl Becker was right, and “democracy works best when there is nothing of profound importance to discuss.” He was referring to the Civil War and slavery. While I don’t predict that a war will erupt any time soon over the issue of immigration, it is worth pointing out the storied, albeit unfortunate, influence racial discrimination has had on our history. Whether most of the disconnect lies with ignorance of economics or xenophobia is up for grabs. Having answered calls all summer in a Congressional office, I still couldn’t tell you which is the prime culprit. I can tell you that both exist. Ultimately, ideologically indentured representatives in the House are responsible for yet another important issue on the verge of compromise being tossed aside. For those advocating limited government, this stasis is a win. Of course, there are those on the left who are also unwilling to compromise (see gerrymandering), but this bill, if anything, is more conservative than not. This unwillingness to compromise, especially on anything that the Obama administration vaguely supports, has become the hallmark of many Republicans in the legislative branch. As the president said in a speech last week, Republicans are for “shutting down the government just because I’m for keeping it open.” This attitude is dangerous. It is the same attitude that plunged our country into the sequestration, ultimately costing thousands of government employees their incomes, which in turn won’t be spent in our consumer economy. It’s no wonder Congress’ approval rating is holding at a remarkably low 15%. If you think you can solve this problem, well, you should probably run for office.
Jack Krewson is a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences. He can be reached at email@example.com.
By The Numbers 33,000
Total workforce of the NSA after a 33% expansion since 9/11
US states with some form of a “stand your ground” law
Countries that allow same-sex marraige after England legalized it in July
Months Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was in power until his ousting in 2011
Months Mubarak’s successor, democratically elected Mohammed Morsi, was in power
Percent of legislation introduced that the U.S. Senate Passed in 2011-2012, a record low
People in the Philippines that fled from their homes due to massive flooding which left up to 60% of the Manila metropolitan area underwater
Rate that Mexico’s economy shrunk last quarter, its first quarterly economic decline in four years
Casualties in the Syrian civil war since its genesis in March 2011
Level, on a scale up to seven, that radioactive water leaks were measured at on the Fukushima nuclear reactor clean-up
Percentage of self-identified moderate and conservative Democrats that support Obamacare, down from 57% a year ago, and 74% just after the law was passed
Trips John Kerry has made to Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the past 6 months in an effort to restart talks between the two parties