I was planning to write the other day about Michael Calleri, a long-time film critic in upstate New York, whose story has been making the rounds of the Twitt-o-Blog-o-verse. As is often the case, David Futrelle beat me to it. (He beat me on my recent Slut Vote post too, but only on a technicality: I had submitted the Slut Vote piece to TPJMagazine by a November 8 deadline — and on November 9 the good Mr. Futrelle posted “Romney: Defeated by sluts?” Such is the soul-crushing devastation to which Your Humble
Monarch Blogger is routinely subjected.) Since it’s too late to simply recount the story it and leave it at that, I will instead offer it up for examination as the fifth lesson in the Palace’s ongoing and highly-acclaimed seminar series on the subject of Conservative Personality Disorder.
Pencils ready, class? Let’s begin.
The Michael Calleri story is a textbook case study in CPD. Calleri reviewed films for a local weekly newspaper, The Niagara Falls Reporter, and for other print, online, radio and television venues. In almost two decades as a movie critic he enjoyed complete journalistic independence: not one editor, publisher, producer, anchorperson, station manager or media owner had ever so much as hinted at which films Calleri should or should not write about, or how. One day, the much beloved publisher of The Reporter moved to Los Angeles and sold the newspaper to some d00d; as Calleri puts it, “the new guy’s only genuine association with professional journalism was that he read newspapers.” After hearring the rest of this story, one may reasonably doubt whether the d00d even had that much experience.
Soon after the paper changed ownership, Calleri found that his reviews were occasionally cut from the print edition of The Reporter; then they were subsequently dropped from the online edition as well. He noticed that the names of two longtime colleagues, the managing editor and the senior editor, no longer appeared on the paper’s masthead. Both were women. In an effort to find out what was going on, Calleri emailed the new d00d several times and eventually ended up on a phone call with him. He describes it thusly:
It was one of the strangest phone calls I’ve ever had. Over the course of a truly bizarre hour, I listened to the new owner as he philosophized about the Bible, the sadomasochism of the Greeks, the decline of the Romans, the secrets of the United States of America’s Founding Fathers, threats to the Western world, the role women played in the history of the planet, and the role they should play in the future of a cohesive society.
Calleri once again emailed his new boss for specific guidance as to why some of his reviews were being published but not others. This is the reply he received:
Michael;[sic] I know you are committed to writing your reviews, and put a lot of effort into them. it [sic] is important for you to have the right publisher. i [sic] may not be it. i [sic] have a deep moral objection to publishing reviews of films that offend me. snow [sic] white [sic] and the huntsman [sic] is such a film. when [sic] my boys were young i [sic] would never have allowed them to go to such a film for i [sic] believe it would injure their developing manhood. if [sic] i [sic] would not let my own sons see it, why would i [sic] want to publish anything about it?
snow [sic] white [sic] and the huntsman [sic] is trash. moral [sic] garbage. a [sic] lot of fuzzy feminist thinking and pandering to creepy hollywood mores produced by metrosexual imbeciles.
I don’t want to publish reviews of films where women are alpha and men are beta.
where [sic] women are heroes and villains and men are just lesser versions or shadows of females.
i [sic] believe in manliness.
not [sic] even on the web would i [sic] want to attach my name to snow [sic] white [sic] and the huntsman [sic] except to deconstruct its moral rot and its appeal to unmanly perfidious creeps.
i’m [sic] not sure what headhunter [sic] has to offer either but of what I read about it it sounds kind of creepy and morally repugnant.
with [sic] all the publications in the world who glorify what i [sic] find offensive, it should not be hard for you to publish your reviews with any number of these.
they [sic] seem to like critiques from an artistic standpoint without a word about the moral turpitude seeping into the consciousness of young people who go to watch such things as snow [sic] white [sic] and get indoctrinated to the hollywood [sic] agenda of glorifying degenerate power women and promoting as natural the weakling, hyena -like men, cum eunuchs.
the [sic] male as lesser in courage strength [sic] and power than the female.
it [sic] may be ok [sic] for some but it is not my kind of manliness.
If you care to write reviews where men act like good strong men and have a heroic inspiring influence on young people to build up their character (if there are such movies being made) i [sic] will be glad to publish these.
i [sic] am not interested in supporting the reversing of traditional gender roles.
i [sic] don’t want to associate the Niagara Falls Reporter with the trash of Hollywood and their ilk.
it [sic] is my opinion that hollywood [sic] has robbed america [sic] of its manliness and made us a nation of eunuchs who lacking all manliness welcome in the coming police state.
now [sic] i [sic] realize that you have a relationship with the studios etc. and i [sic] would have been glad to have discussed this in person with you to help you segue into another relationship with a publication but inasmuch as we spent 50 minutes on the phone from paris [sic] i [sic] did not want to take up more of your time.
In short i [sic] don’t care to publish reviews of films that offend me.
if [sic] you care to condemn the filmmakers as the pandering weasels that they are…. true hyenas.
i [sic] would be interested in that….
I want to highlight that this missive was written by an editor and publisher of a “weekly newspaper with a circulation of 22,000, which is available in Niagara Falls and Buffalo in Western New York state, a metro area of 1.2-million people.” (As I hinted earlier, one might quite reasonably suspect that this person has never even seen a newspaper, much less read one.) And it probably goes without saying, but of course this d00d has seen neither Snow White and the Huntsman nor Headhunters.
Volumes could be written on the toxic, anxious masculinity that this afflicted individual manifests. (It’s also a pretty safe bet that he is as aggressively homophobic as he is misogynist.) I wonder what it must be like living in an alternate universe where the Rambo and Die Hard movies were never made, and James Bond doesn’t exist. In Frank’s strangely barren world, he remains unaware that virtually the entire Hollywood blockbuster genre is comprised of films where manly men are the heroes and villains, and women are just lesser versions or shadows of males. Poor Frank has never even heard of films like Independence Day, Mission Impossible, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Spiderman, Desperado, The Rock, Batman, Speed, Predator, Lethal Weapon, the entire Clint Eastwood oeuvre, the Bourne franchise, and about umpteen zillion other movies wherein manly muscled men march around shooting up everything that moves and blowing up everything that doesn’t, beating up bad guys with their bare hands, and maybe occasionally rescuing inconceivably incompetent, uppity damsels from the most dastardly of (male) villains. But never mind all that: this poor d00d’s wee-wee goes frighteningly flaccid at the mere thought of… Snow fucking White?
From the perspective of the world-renowned, undisputed leader in the field of Conservative Personality Disorder research, there are potentially many illuminating takeaways from this story. Of the twenty hypothesized CPD symptom clusters, Frank-the-editor-and-publisher displays at least ten of them in a single email:
-superficiality: self-aggrandizing displays of “holier-than-thou” behavior;
-willful ignorance: dogmatic;
-irrationality: hyper-religiousness pervading all social interactions;
-tribalism: obsession with strict in-group/out-group delineation, typically with respect to race, class, ethnicity, sex, religion, cultural practices, immigration status, gender, and/or sexual orientation; believes out-groups are inherently, profoundly, and fundamentally different from and inferior to in-group members, and denies or rejects obvious commonalities;
-misogyny: anti-feminist; proponent of strictly binary gender roles and stereotypes with power and authority vested only in males; patronizing and unjust treatment of women; patriarchal;
-self-righteousness: judgmental; hypercritical, scornful and disdainful of out-group “others”;
-amorality: markedly unconcerned with the welfare or suffering of others, especially out-groups;
-poor facility with native language: unusual capitalization;
-limited dimensionality of thought: anxious and unnerved by cognitive ambiguity, and highly motivated to eliminate it by reducing complex real-world phenomena to discrete dualities; binary thinking;
-stunted self-awareness: aggressively defensive of one’s own culture, subculture, family structure, or way of life as objectively superior to all others despite (a) limited exposure to meaningfully diverse alternatives, (b) plainly evident personal anger, poor relationships, bitterness, and persistent unhappiness that no reasonable person would wish to emulate, (c) refusal to acknowledge other practices and points of view as valid, positive, or potentially beneficial, and (d) nevertheless attempting to compel all others to emulate one’s “superior” culture, subculture, family structure or way of life through legislative action, ballot initiatives, and/or social opprobrium;
If we sneaked a peek some of Frank’s other emails I think we can be fairly certain we’d quickly spot the other ten.
But the one additional symptom cluster upon which I wish to focus today is hierarchical worldview. This particular concept serves as a critical nexus between all of the other CPD manifestations Frank displays in his email:
-hierarchical worldview: opposed to equality in principle; pronounced preference for institutions with rigidly maintained lines of status or authority; insistence on win-lose outcomes regardless of obviously superior benefits to alternative win-win scenarios; rigid belief that one person must be “in charge,” and rejects team-oriented approaches to decision making and power-sharing (e.g., proponent of unchecked Executive power, male place as unchallengeable head of household, etc.); rationalizes and justifies social Darwinism, typically along racial, ethnic and/or gendered lines; projection of one’s own “dog-eat-dog world” mentality onto all others; displays anxiousness over status or ranking of self in social or professional hierarchies, especially when ambiguous or unclear;
The impulse motivating the hierarchical worldview is an unabashedly authoritarian one. (It should be noted here that authoritarianism is itself a distinct CPD symptom cluster, one that we world-renowned CPD experts use to identify and describe observable behavior, rather than mental cognition or motivation.) In my exhaustive studies of conservatives in the wild, I have found that the hierarchical worldview reveals itself in conversations concerning a vast array of subjects, from the intimately personal to the broadly global. For example, just the other night I dined at a local seafood joint with My Amazing Lover™ and a small number of acquaintances. The group included a couple from Boston who had recently repatriated back to the States after several years on business in Geneva, Switzerland. I noticed that they made a few declarative statements concerning immigration, ethnicity, and other topics that identified them as conservatives, and, not wanting to disgorge my delicious crab ravioli or otherwise deploy it as a projectile in their general direction, I focused my efforts on enjoying copious amounts of white wine. But then Conserva-d00d said something quite revealing. The subject of conversation at the table was French culture as it relates to business practices in that country, a subject about which I know very little — except that to the consternation of Western capitalists, socialism is thriving in the form of a kick-ass, cradle-to-grave safety net and 4-week paid vacations. These 4-week paid vacations Conserva-d00d explicitly disdained, a sentiment shared by Conserva-chick who reinforced her husband’s scorn for excessive Riviera-lounging with a weary head shake and exasperated eyeroll. He went on:
Conserva-d00d: The problem doing business with the French is that they have their priorities completely upside down. In America, the customer always comes first. After that comes the business, which is supposed to exist to serve the needs of the customer. The employee comes last in the scheme of things, and is there to support the business, which is how it should be. But in France, the employee comes first, at the very top. Then comes the business itself. It’s as if the business exists just to support the employee! The customer comes last, at the very bottom. It’s incredible! Completely upside down!
(I am of course paraphrasing here. See “copious amounts of white wine,” above.)
Iris: Well, that’s one way to look at it, but I don’t see it that way at all. You’re putting customers, businesses and employees in a hierarchy, either the correct “American” one, or the “upside down” one as the French allegedly view it. But either way, a hierarchy is only one way to conceptualize the relationships between them, and a particularly unhelpful one in my view. As I see it, there is no hierarchy. These three entities are interdependent. None of them can exist and thrive without the viability and support of the other two. (And if you wanted to broaden this analysis, you could add a fourth entity to the mix: government.) Now you can of course make the case that in France, the employee entity is not adequately supporting the business. And I can make the case that we have a different problem here, that the business entity is not adequately supporting the employee. But my point is that these entities all function best when their relationships are in balance: a win-win-win. Happy customers->profitable business->happy employees->happy customers->profitable business->happy employees and so on, in a self-reinforcing loop. Problems arise and send the whole system into a downward spiral — a lose-lose-lose — when any one of them operates as if the system were indeed a hierarchy. It’s not.
[Someone else at the table places a piece of cake in front of Iris.]
Iris: Oh sure. Let’s all play “kill the diabetic socialist.”
Conserva-d00d: Hahaha! Oh, you’re no socialist, believe me! Far from it.
[Laughter all around as My Amazing Lover™ deftly steers the conversation to a lighter topic. I think it was pictures of people having sex with cats or something.]
For a long time, the connection between social and economic conservatism escaped me. It was not obvious to me: what did all those godbot panty-sniffers really have in common with Ayn Rand, say, or Alan Greenspan? The answer is a hierarchical worldview.
Our friend Frank-the-editor-and-publisher cannot conceive of an egalitarian relationship between men and women. For Frank, it’s either “degenerate power women” and unnatural “weakling, hyena-like men-cum-eunuchs,” or “heroic,” “good strong men” and women who are “lesser in courage[,] strength and power.” Someone must be assigned the “alpha” role, the dominant, the Top Dog in charge; therefore someone else must be assigned the “beta” role, the obedient follower, the weakling in need of leadership and protection. Guess which one Frank just knows is his natural, rightful, divinely-ordained position? (Hint: it’s definitely not the unmanly one!)
Frank is a run-of-the-mill gender essentialist. As such, he is constitutionally incapable of recognizing that as human beings, men and women have vastly more commonalities than differences, and further that individual men and women can manifest qualities like courage, strength, power and leadership in similar ways. Over here in reality, it’s just an easily observable fact that all men are not braver, stronger, or more powerful than all women, not even potentially so. My piece on gender essentialism and overlapping bell curves would sail right over Frank’s (very, very manly!) head, but two essential points I made therein are (1) to the extent that gender differences exist they fall on widely overlapping bell curves, and (2) such differences are largely if not entirely inconsequential with respect to nearly any endeavor in the real world.
But the fact remains that the mere thought of a strong, courageous and powerful woman — even a fictional one flitting around a magical woods in a dress with a bunch of big badass men chasing her — sends Frank into paroxysms of deranged misogyny. Of course men who view the world the way that Frank does undermine the power and leadership of actual women in the modern workplace, but that’s another post. Yet another post could explore poor Frank’s inability to be secure in his own humanity without the constant and ubiquitous reinforcement of media messages portraying women as weak, fearful and helpless, so that he — a MAN! — can fantasize that he is righteously strong, brave and powerful. A third post could document that the only people I’ve known who are as obsessed as Frank is with “manliness” are my gay friends. (Actually, that one’s really more of a tweet than a blog post.) But I digress.
So: Frank is deeply offended. By reality. He finds it morally repugnant that the real world does not comport with his hierarchical fantasy adventure story in which Frank stars as the brave, strong, powerful — and above all manly — hero.
Meanwhile, economic conservatives like my recent dinner companion project a hierarchical worldview onto business models, labor and markets. First, let’s be clear: when we refer to the interests of a for-profit business entity, we do not mean the interests of the abstract legal construct, or the physical and financial assets of the corporation. We are talking about the financial interests of a distinct and relatively small group of people: owners, investors, shareholders, principals, upper management and other stakeholders. To the extent that such people view their own financial interests as “above” those of employees and/or customers — and almost without exception in the 21st century United States they certainly do — sooner or later the business will flounder and fail, and when it does, its employees and customers will flounder and fail along with it.
When a business does not value and actively invest in the well-being of its employees, its best people will ultimately abandon it and those who stay will be subpar and unmotivated — if not downright adversarial. Its customers do not remain happy for long in such a scenario. Ask the people who lost their homes and retirement savings in the wake of the financial crisis. Or those whose mortgages are underwater in a depressed housing market. Ask those whose jobs were outsourced or eliminated while companies were squeezed and then liquidated to enrich vulture capitalists. Witness the relentless union-busting, the disempowerment of workers, endemic wage stagnation and the erosion of labor rights.
It is not a coincidence that those who insist on imposing hierarchies where synergistic relationships ought to be recognized are invariably those who place themselves at the top of them. The warped “business first” paradigm is why we find ourselves in a country in which corporations are “people” — not coincidentally, the very same “people” that own our politicians and control our government. They see themselves as the rightful, deserving beneficiaries of such a system — and they may very well be, at least in the short term.
But the stubborn fact remains that our species is a remarkably interdependent one. No matter how complex and diversified our civilizations become, to one degree or another we rise and fall as one. When the institutions we create, from “traditional marriage” to rapacious corporations, fail to operate in accordance with this basic truth, misery for many is never very far behind.
Related posts from the Palace’s free online university: