Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Projectile Vomit

These days, social media can seem a lot like that iconic scene from the original first Star Wars movie where our heroes are caught in the trash compacting room. In essence, we are all swimming in garbage, desperately trying to keep ourselves from being crushed by garbage, or perhaps we have just enough time to escape...

I am referring specifically to X, the site formerly known as Twitter, and what it has become of it since the Muskrat took over nearly a year ago. Like many people, I have remained out of a morbid sense of curiosity to see just how bad things could get. Well, if you recognize my Star Wars analogy, then we might be at the point in the scene where the walls are closing in but C-3PO wants Luke to listen to his misadventures with R2-D2 evading storm troopers. In other words, democracy has only a slim chance of survival while we are fretting over foolishness. 

Every now and then, since I won't pay for a blue check, I say something on that platform that gets noticed and I have to admit, it gives me a thrill to think that for a brief, shining moment, I'm not just some random person shouting into the cyberverse. That was, until last Sunday when I spoke out against the tirade posted by Keith Olbermann prior to the debut of Kristen Welker as the new moderator of Meet the Press. From that one tweet came a variety of responses, the kind where people unwittingly tell on themselves, particularly those who claim to be allies.

To recap, I was scrolling Twitter early Sunday morning on the 17th. I saw a series of tweets posted by the aforementioned Olbermann, whom I follow because I used to be a fan of his now-defunct show, Countdown, when it aired nightly on MSNBC in the early aughts. Back then I looked forward to his bombastic and hyperbolic rants against the Bush Administration, especially his nightly Worst Person in the World segment (framed by Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor). His most recent incarnation in media is as host of a podcast of the same name, which I assume follows the same format of ranting and raving about whatever annoys him on any given day.

Now, it is significant to highlight how this is Olbermann's latest incarnation having had a long broadcast career that has involved stints at ESPN, FOX Sports, MSNBC, Current TV, and TBS. At the conclusion of these high-profile media gigs, Olbermann has often left in a blaze of inglorious self-immolating and obnoxious defiance (and I'm using all of these SAT words in homage to this brilliant SNL skit). In simpler terms, he's a blowhard who gleefully juggles lit matches that burn everything and everyone in his wake. We all know people like him, brilliant yet dangerously toxic, so while I found his schtick entertaining 20 years ago, hubris isn't what one would call an endearing personal quality.

Yet, I still follow him, and even after last week, I haven't gone so far as to mute or block him because as long as we're all still using Musky's platform, we're all just wading in a galactic trash heap on a doomed Death Star. I know that KO's rhetoric is over the top, and there are instances when he can be: (a) hypocritical; (b) sexist; and (c) wrong. He's now leaning into stereotypical podcast bro territory, while I'm another long-winded mommy blogger (so make of those caricatures whatever you want). Once upon a time, people like us were on the same side, shouting into the void.

To be clear, my issue with Olbermann's tirade was that of all people who have been extended grace throughout their career (and he's been at this for 30+ years), he ought to be willing to do the same. He could have let the interview air before denouncing Welker as a failure on her first day on the job. If you read any of his tweets from last Sunday (and the week prior), he had a LOT to say. FWIW, I have an opinion on that interview which I most certainly plan to express without conducting a Salem witch-level trial and execution. Read on.

I hit send on my tweet and gathered my things. You see, those of us who live in the real world have more important isht to do than scroll Twitter all day. I headed over to my parents' house, so that meant that I wouldn't be at church that morning. Thus, I had time to actually watch the interview in real time to judge for myself whether it was as bad as it appeared from the pre-released clips circulating on social media. In the meantime, my tweet stirred up a little dust, beginning with some lady demanding to know who I was.

Now here's where this all got interesting because I could have ignored her and kept living my best life, but I was feeling froggy and decided that her snarky so-who-do-you-think-you-are deserved a clapback. Because I think that it is rather ironic to be confronted by a fellow unverified "nobody" on Twitter as if that question is supposed to make me feel ashamed for daring to call out someone's bullshit. I am who I am, I replied, to which this KO groupie responded that I was probably just some desperate clout-chaser. At that point, I got curious, checked her profile, and saw that we were ideologically aligned. In the real world, one might even say that we would be protest allies, so I decided to end the exchange with a go forth and #BeBest. 

I went about the rest of my day and came back to Twitter several hours later. There were a few more responses to my tweet, some aghast that I had deigned to challenge the wisdom that had erupted from Mt. Olbermann. One twit hit back at me three times with commentary about Welker's inadequacies for the role that went from 0 to sexist/racist in 60 characters. I stretched my Twitter fingers, took a deep sigh, and calmly replied that I had never mentioned Welker's race or gender in my original tweet. Because the point of my tweet to Olbermann had been to point out the hypocrisy that he who had been given numerous chances to screw up and piss folks off throughout his career would come down so hard against someone barely into her first day on the job. 

Nevertheless, they persisted in suggesting that I was making excuses for Welker because she was a Black woman, so again, I reiterated that I had not mentioned race or gender, nor had I defended Welker. I went to bed and woke up to more of their nonsense, so as I had done with the first KO groupie, I peeped this person's profile and determined that they were probably another so-called ally. Yeah, go feed your cats and #BeBest.

All week, what nagged at me about these petty skirmishes was how these attacks were coming from the same pink pussy hat, safety pin, middle management, pumpkin spice coffee club folks who walk their dogs past my house but don't speak. We're allegedly on the same side, until I dare to express an opinion that goes against their community standards. Suddenly, they can see my nearly 6-foot-tall frame to clearly glean enough of what I said to tell me what they thought I meant to say.

No bish, you said that. 

However, since you raised the topic of Welker's race and gender and her ability to perform the job, let's discuss. Because y'all are good for propping women of color up for failure by setting impossible expectations and then demeaning their achievements as unearned. Kristen Welker is only the most recent example in a long line of Black women who find themselves targeted and undermined by so-called allies. For when else is it acceptable to denounce someone's job performance before they even show up for work?

Before I bring out any CVS receipts, I need to emphasize that these attacks don't just come from our suburban athleisure clad fellow keyboard warriors. Sometimes the loudest haters are the men who fight alongside us while secretly listening to and agreeing with Charlamagne tha God.

Days before the interview aired, I expressed skepticism whether this was the right move for Welker's maiden show. I was concerned that her bosses at NBC were using this interview to ensure high ratings for her debut, but also setting her up for the predictable fallout that followed. I believe that platforming Donald Trump is always irresponsible and dangerous, regardless of the newsworthiness of his position in the polls. I imagine that back in 1939 when TIME Magazine designated Adolph Hitler as its Man of the Year, they thought they were doing the world a service by publicizing his views because he too was a compelling public figure. The difference as I see it is multifaceted--not only did we learn our lesson by legitimizing Hitler, but we should have known better than to underestimate Trump's appeal after 2016. We now know what manner of destruction he can instigate after January 6. He could have held a rally to broadcast his lies and spew the same poison, so why put a Black woman in the position of facilitating our demise?

I watched the interview (twice) and was dismayed that the edit we saw did not put Trump on the defense; instead, it allowed him to prate on unchallenged and unrestrained. He has posted many of the same fabulist boasts and dubious claims on his Truth Social without the imprimatur of NBC News. That Welker showed deference to the office he previously held didn't bother me (because every former President is addressed as 'Mr. President') as much as there appeared to be some manner of deference to him personally as well. The fact that I had to go look for the full fact-checked edit and potentially sit through that booshay a third time annoys me. It is unlikely that any of that previously unaired footage will get replayed or reposted as a rebuttal to his mendacity. Furthermore, it shouldn't be our responsibility to discern whether he was lying when the entire point of interviewing him should have been for us to see in real time how much of a prevaricating huckster he is. 

Yet, I'm clear that the network's goal was achieved--Welker's debut drew more viewers than her competitors. Whether that will continue is yet to be determined, but the gamble paid off and folks watched either to affirm their pre-emptive biases or like me out of curiosity. That doesn't mean she deserves any high fives, and I'm not dapping her up because that first Sunday was a stunt. The real work of retaining viewers and proving her chops starts this week.

Notice how I did not argue that she deserves a pass because she happens to be the first woman of color in the Sunday morning news anchor chair. Nope, I'm saying that she deserves the opportunity to prove that she can do this job the same as the others who preceded her. David Gregory served as the moderator for six miserable years before the job went to Chuck Todd who dragged us through nine more. To suggest that Welker is a failure as compared to her predecessors after one show is...I need to think of a more appropriate word than ridiculous. Furthermore, to argue that she deserves the same chance to sink or swim isn't making an excuse for her race or gender; it is consistent with what has been the pattern and practice prior to her assuming the job.

And because it was discussed on Twitter, Welker is qualified for the job. So are any number of other journalists who may have been considered. To assume that she only got the job because of her race and gender, but not on the merit of the work she had done to get to this point is an affront to EVERY woman of color in journalism. To say that she is qualified is not the same as saying she is the right fit to host this show, but she deserves the chance to convince us. Or not.

Which brings me back to Olbermann and his groupies who seem to think that his past role as a voice for our left-leaning frustrations against the system were supposed to buy him perpetual loyalty. Umm, no he can catch these Twitter fingers just like anybody else. He's hardly on the level of elder news-statesmen Dan Rather or Ted Koppel--he's a former sports anchor with strongly held political opinions and a perpetual axe to grind. If he's baying at the moon in the wee hours of a Sunday morning about someone else's job performance at the network where he used to work (and to which he was willing to return as recently as a year ago)...trust I'm not the one who is desperate for attention.

Finally, off the top of my head, I said I could produce receipts on the biases shown against Black women in visible positions, so let's start off with none other than Vice President Kamala Harris and the calls to replace her as Biden's running mate. I took note of how my Spelman sister Roz Brewer, the only Black woman serving as a CEO in the Fortune 500 until last month, was ousted from that position after less than two years. If we thought they had run out of tiki torches for the mob that organized to keep Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones from receiving honorary tenure at her alma mater, they had sufficiently re-stocked to prevent the appointment of journalist Kathleen McElroy at Texas A&M University. In Georgia, the legislature passed a law intended to reign in prosecutors who pursue criminal justice reform with designs to test it out against DA Fani Willis just as she is about to try her biggest case. 

But those are just coincidences, right? According to that second twitter heckler, this is just another day of playing BINGO for me, because I can't imagine a world wherein a Black woman might be judged fairly on her job performance and come up short. Okay, cat lady, I can produce more than a paragraph of receipts: I wrote this and this, and this when y'all were traumatized by a Black actress being cast as the heroine in a children's movie. You're probably still bitter about your pancake mix. So yeah, it is exhausting because sexism with a chaser of racism feels like a relentless deluge when allyship is so transactional and performative.

I said what I said, and so did Maya Angelou. I didn't accuse Olbermann of bias; I called him a hypocrite. If you insist on reading more into what I twote, comprehension is just one of your problems.

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Lionesses, and Tabloids, and Heirs (Oh My)

I know this is two weeks after the fact, but I could not resist jumping into the fray...because for this most recent installment of #RoyalNewsYouCantUse, the refrain shall be: You had ONE job!

I am referring to the PR debacle that is the British Royal Family under the almost year-long reign of King Charles III. Maybe it's me, but for someone who waited 70 years for this particular opening, he shouldn't keep having these kinds of amateur hiccups. I know he isn't the one mucking things up, but his royal handlers should be better at doing their jobs...unless they want us to think of King Midas with donkey ears whenever we hear God Save the King. As for Prince William the Favorite, he sure seems to be stumbling through this on-the-job apprenticeship, so things don't look that promising for his eventual ascension to the throne.

And you can't even blame this one on Harry and Meghan, although I'm sure someone will try.

Before we entertain those potential headlines, allow me to set the stage for what took place in the real world. The Women's World Cup Games were played in Australia on August 20, with the final match between England and Spain (definitely an ancient rivalry). Since soccer is a big deal everywhere else in the world except America, and our team had been eliminated several rounds ago, all eyes were on them. I had stopped paying attention, and don't know much about the history of either team, but I did notice an uptick in chatter on the social media app formerly known as Twitter. Prior to the game, some people were expressing concern that there would be no high-profile cheering section of spectators for the English Lady Lionesses, namely no one from Downing Street and no one representing the newly coronated King. However, to demonstrate their support of the team, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak posted several messages including a picture of himself at a pub; King Charles dictated a few words of well wishes; and Prince William took 15 seconds to post this video with his daughter, Princess Charlotte. Problem solved, right?

No. Because we keep forgetting that there are other royal families in the world, the Spanish Queen Letizia attended the game in person with her daughter, Infanta (Princess) Sofia. Her presence caused quite a bit of excitement, especially since she got to celebrate her team's win after she had been photographed congratulating the English team. Meanwhile King Charles commissioned someone to scribble his congratulations on an official notecard, and Prince William posted this tweet

As an American, the optics of this ain't none of my business, but I'm going to talk about it anyway! There isn't much happening on this side of the pond these days (unless you think the fourth round of indictments for our former game show host con man wannabe DESPOTUS is news you can use.)

Therefore, yes, I'm picking on the Prince of Woes because among his various assorted titles and honors, he is the President of the English Football Association (FA). And as we have already established, football (called soccer only here in the US), is a very big global deal. Even if his leadership of that organization has been a ceremonial formality since 2006, it would seem to me that once the British team advanced to the final rounds, someone should have made travel plans. Even the President of the Spanish Football Federation was there, kicking up his own PR disaster in Australia. I've seen the various explanations excuses for Prince William's absence, and each one is a gem. He was on holiday (vacation) with his family. It is asking much of him to jump on a plane to fly 20 hours for a game. It would have been a breach of royal protocol to visit Australia before the King. It isn't like anyone else was paying that much attention once the Americans got eliminated. It is the women's game and nobody cares...wait, isn't there some nonsense we can make up about Harry and Meghan to keep you all distracted?

Well, let's go through these one-by-one. It was August and summer is almost over, so the Prince and his family are entitled to spend time away before their kids go back to school. I'm sure that they deserve a break from all of their duties: garden parties, charity dinners, handing out medals at military parades, and gosh, what else do they do on a daily basis??? Not that I don't understand how it would have been a logistical nightmare to pack up the Princess, three children, nannies and attendants, and security for a plane ride to the other side of the world, especially on a mere three days advance notice. It takes at least that long to get just the right tone on a message from King Charles. Perhaps after His Junior Majesty compared fares and found that he would have to pay extra for everyone to be seated together, it wouldn't look right to fly solo. And though he might have been able to catch a ride with Queen Letizia and her daughter to share that carbon footprint, there is that pesky matter of British Royal Protocol.

Which means the future King of England couldn't so much as share a carriage ride through the streets of London in a gilded pumpkin carcass with his father, let alone share an airplane with a rival royal family. It would be against protocol, or am I conflating that with the edict that he can't visit any of their realms before an official visit from the reigning monarch? Is that why the Prince can come to America later this month, because we're no longer part of the British empire? He's coming to New York for a two-day trip to attend an environmental summit...

Before I get stuck in a room full of Prunellas reciting rules and arcane rituals associated with the Crown, I noted that their foreign trips are formally announced at least a month in advance. So perhaps the future King, ceremonial President of the FA, had reason to believe back in July that the Lady Lionesses (still ranked 4th by FIFA since 2019) would not have finished high enough to warrant any effort. Even though this had been dubbed the most successful women's sporting event in history, his women's national team made the finals for the first time, so everybody was anticipating the final match, it wasn't like protocol dictated the presence of royal family members at these kinds of event. Merely a coincidence that his late grandparents (at the 2:50 mark) were in attendance at England's last World Cup appearance at the finals in 1966.

If the U.S. had stayed in the tournament, we wouldn't have expected President Biden to have flown halfway around the world; instead, we might have dispatched the First Lady, who seems perfectly willing to fly off to spread goodwill anywhere they tell her it is needed. However, around that same time, we were dealing with wildfires in Hawaii and a hurriquake in California. Therefore, the next person in our delegation of official goodwill ambassadors would have been Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, whom I bet would have gleefully turned the plane around to be that Dad on the sidelines. You know, the one who does the absolute most for his girls? Like that time he didn't wait on the Secret Service to jump in to protect his wife from a heckler...

Before anyone derides women's sports as unimportant or insignificant enough to plan a state visit, feel free to continue to argue amongst yourselves why women's sports have become ground zero in our culture wars over identity and patriotism. But I digress. 

Prince William has ONE job. 

The job of the Prince of Wales is to ensure the continuity of the Crown that he hopes to inherit. Part of that is to stay alive along enough to get married and have children, which he has done. Another aspect of his job is to show up at all of those fancy garden parties, ribbon cuttings, charity dinners, military ceremonies, etc., but also to comfort and console the nation in times of grief and tragedy. Attending a soccer game doesn't fit into either of those columns, but neither did having tea with Paddington Bear or jumping out of a plane with James Bond. Nobody expected him to have his face painted with the Union Jack, but cheering for your home team ought to feign more enthusiasm.

That this generation of British Royals keeps getting tripped up over protocol, all of these years after the tragic death of Princess Diana exposed most of those rules as arbitrary and superfluous, just fuels the anti-monarchist point. It is an archaic and excessive institution that serves no real purpose other than to perpetuate itself. These rules about flags and travel protocols aren't chiseled in stone, yet they have become part of a number of convenient excuses whenever someone is called out for hypocrisy. Is it "royal protocol" that keeps Prince Andrew from facing trial or any culpability for his inappropriate sexual fetish for young girls? I have to know, what tightly coiled chignon-wearing society matron from the Australian outback would have had her girdle twisted that she had to settle for tea with the future Queen instead of the current Queen consort? 

All of this brings us to the matter of Harry and Meghan, who have been quietly living their best lives in sunny California doing yoga, meditating, and staying hydrated. My search algorithms tend to reflect whatever I have been researching, so guess what has been trending in my feed since I clicked on a few articles about the World Cup and the Lady Lionesses? Would you believe just as many articles about the Sussexes as esc├índalo engulfing the Spanish Football Federation President Luis Rubiales accused of inappropriately kissing a player? Call it a coincidence or confirmation bias that there are always more negative headlines about Harry and Meghan whenever the working British Royals get into some kind of PR mess.

Imagine how relentless the British tabloids would have been if this had been a faux pas committed by the Spare instead of the Heir. There would have been news panels of Royal experts assembled to dissect every misstep by the spoiled Duke and the entitled American commoner he married if they had allowed themselves to be upstaged by a royal from another country who visited one of their realms and got feted like she was the Queen. Oh wait, that actually happened back when the Sussexes visited Australia when they were still working royals...

This is where my petty impulses kick into a higher gear. It sure does look like the peak of ironic hypocrisy to invoke protocol as an excuse for someone not doing their job when that same excuse became a reason to criticize someone else for doing their job too well. You might recall that in 2018, the late Queen Elizabeth sent Meghan and Harry to Australia on an official visit. After it was deemed a success, they returned home to some resentment from the rest of the Royal family. Then the tabloids began ripping the Duchess over everything from her attire and nail polish, to her collaboration with British VOGUE, and eventually her love of avocado toast.

It must suck to be Prince William, caught in that eternal damned if he does or doesn't place between a rock and a hard place. Heavy is the head that awaits the crown, especially when the one person who could have shut down all of this criticism has remained conspicuously silent. King Charles put more effort into the announcement of his forthcoming state visit with his frenemies in France, thus signaling to the press that it was fine to accuse William of shirking his royal duties. Notice how everything for the Prince changed the moment he donned that ridiculous costume, bowed, and pledged his everlasting loyalty in front of the entire world?

As the British are about to mark the one-year anniversary of the death of Queen Elizabeth II, we can all imagine that Prince William is feeling it because what a difference this year without his grandmother has been! She was beloved and as long as she was alive, so was he. However, since her death he has received more scrutiny and bad press over just about everything. Remember when he was the favorite? How quickly the tides have turned...

So I just have one more observation to make, since it is clear after all of these years that Prince William hadn't been made aware of this most important aspect of his job: do NOT upstage the King! Neither with too much gushing positive press, and certainly not with this kind of embarrassing negative press. As far as KC3 is concerned, he fulfilled his royal duty in siring an heir; raising, loving, and protecting his son was someone else's job. That man waited all of his life for that Crown, so if need be, there will be blood.