Archive for the ‘Framing Narrative’ Category
Folks, I wanted to point your attention toward my latest book review of Charles Leerhsen’s TY COBB: A Terrible Beauty, which is up right now over at Shiny Book Review (SBR for short, as always).
Now, why am I so proud of this review?
I think it has to do with two things. One, Mr. Leerhsen’s baseball scholarship is superb. And two, I was pleased to realize, after reading Leerhsen’s book, that Cobb was not at all the virulent racist he’d been portrayed to be.
See, all of the stuff I thought I knew about Cobb was wrong — well, except for the actual baseball facts. (I knew Cobb hit .367 as a lifetime batting average, for example, and was the all-time hits leader until Pete Rose moved past him in the mid-1980s.)
Basically, Ty Cobb, since his death in 1961, has been the victim of a shoddy narrative. Apparently his “biographer” Al Stump was no such thing; instead, Stump invented the wildest flights of fancy about Cobb, figuring that as there was almost no film or still pictures or even radio accounts of Cobb’s play, Stump could do as he liked and no one would be the wiser.
Besides, monsters sell. So Stump made Cobb a monster.
Leerhsen proved just how fallacious Stump’s account actually was by going back and reading all of the various newspaper reports, which were readily available in the archives. (Thank goodness for archives, eh?) Stump made so many erroneous assumptions that it’s hard to believe Stump didn’t know what he was writing was dead wrong; in fact, Cobb himself was in the midst of a lawsuit at the time of his death, because he’d gotten wind of what Stump was about to do to him in the guise of Cobb’s “autobiography” (which was ghost-written by Stump), and wanted no part of it.
The most egregious fallacy of Stump’s was to paint Cobb as a racist. Cobb was anything but — in fact, according to Leerhsen, Cobb used to sit in the dugout with players like Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige during Negro League games, and famously remarked that “The Negro (ballplayer) should be accepted, and not grudgingly but wholeheartedly.” And Cobb was a big fan of Roy Campanella’s, plus he enjoyed Willie Mays and Jackie Robinson.
And as far as being a mean, nasty, vicious old cuss — well, how mean, vicious and nasty could Ty Cobb have been if he was willing to help the young Joe DiMaggio out when Joe D. signed with the Yankees? (Cobb understood baseball contracts, and young Joe didn’t.) How mean was Cobb when he helped Campanella and his family out after “Campy” became paralyzed? And how vicious was Cobb when, after his playing days were over and he had nothing at all to gain by it, he and Babe Ruth became fast friends?
Leerhsen has dozens of stories about Cobb, and very few of them depict anything close to the man Stump portrayed (and Tommy Lee Jones later masterfully acted in the movie version, Cobb).
While Cobb was a difficult man to know — he was prickly, quick to anger, and settled things with his fists more than once — he was not a monster.
Instead, Cobb appears to be the victim of one of the worst narrative frames in the history of all narrative-framing.
So do, please, read my review of Charles Leerhsen’s book TY COBB: A Terrible Beauty. Then please, if you have any interest whatsoever in early 1900s to the “Roaring Twenties” Americana, baseball history, or just want to find out what’s actually the truth about Ty Cobb, go read his masterful book for yourself.
Happy Easter, one and all!
A few years back, I wrote a blog called “Meditations on Easter.” In that blog I discussed the nature of forgiveness, redemption, and hope through the story of Jesus Christ. It is still my own, personal gold standard as to why people of all faiths should try to recognize why Easter remains such an important holy day, 2000 and some odd years later.
And this got me thinking.
Recently, I watched an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary called I Hate Christian Laettner. It’s about former college and pro basketball star Christian Laettner, who sank a game-winning shot in 1992 for his Duke Blue Devils in the NCAA championship game…but because he’d also stepped on an opposing player’s hand (Aminu Timberlake) earlier in that tournament and was unrepentant about it, his game-winning shot was highly controversial.
People still remember the shot, years later. But it’s not because Laettner was brilliant. It’s because many people, myself included, felt Laettner should’ve been suspended for stepping on Timberlake’s hand. And when he wasn’t, most fans were indignant — even furious — as it seemed like Laettner was getting special treatment due to his star status as one of college basketball’s best players.
And that has fueled a whole lot of hatred toward a guy who, at the time, was only 22 years old.
Yes, he was an arrogant cuss. Yes, he was a difficult and prickly personality.
But maybe he had a reason for being that way. He was a tall guy who was often mischaracterized in the press as something he wasn’t. He was called wealthy and overprivileged, simply because of the fact he was white and going to Duke. And it wasn’t true — his parents worked hard and were members of the middle class, something I never heard one word about until I watched the 30 for 30 documentary about Laettner.
This particular documentary really made me challenge my assumptions.
Simply put: We humans still have a lot of growing up to do in some ways, don’t we? We judge people based off the appearance, the outward aspect, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg.
In this case, much of the outward aspect of Laettner was flat wrong. He was a middle class guy who would never in a million years have been able to afford a high quality education at Duke unless he had a compelling gift for playing basketball. He needed that scholarship so he could go, grow, learn, and improve himself, both as a player and as a human being.
Now, did he do some stuff that was juvenile? Sure.
But at 22, I have to admit that I did all sorts of things that were juvenile, too. I was just fortunate enough not to be in the public eye, so my immature behavior was not trumpeted from the bully pulpit as Laettner’s lapses were.
After watching that 30 for 30 documentary, I was left shaking my head at how even someone like me — someone who’s very well aware of how the narrative can be framed as a writer and editor — can’t realize that Laettner’s story was far more complex than had been reported in the media.
Personally, I think Laettner showed a lot of class dealing with some of the stuff that was yelled at him during the NCAA Tourney back in 1991 and 1992. (“Ho-mo-sexual” and the like was yelled at him, and yes, that was considered a slur. How far we’ve come…that behavior today would not be tolerated. But I digress.) And I think, upon reflection, that he did try to rise above a lot of the nonsense directed his way.
But the most important thing I learned from the documentary is this: You have to know yourself. And you have to learn to forgive yourself.
Laettner knows he’s a much different person on the inside than was reported. He doesn’t give any weight, he said in the documentary, to people who don’t know him, because that wastes his time. (This is my best paraphrase, mind, as I watched this movie at least a week and a half ago and I don’t have a transcript in front of me.) The people who matter to him are those who do know him. His wife. His family. His coaches. His friends.
Everything else — everyone else — can go hang. Because they are irrelevant.
As Laettner knows, appearance is not the reality. And we human beings have to learn this, whether we’re sports fans or not.
And as it’s Easter Sunday, that got me thinking. If we’re supposed to forgive people who did us wrong, as the example of Jesus surely shows us we should do, why is it that many sports fans still cannot forgive Laettner?
Maybe it’s a flaw in ourselves that keeps us on the hate-train. And maybe it’s something we should try to rectify, before it’s too late.
Folks, for the past hour or so, I’ve been struggling with how I feel after hearing Adam Levine and his band, Maroon 5, sing their controversial song “Animals” while doing a guest musical performance on Saturday Night Live. As a woman, I suppose I should be appalled, as the video for “Animals” seems to glorify stalking — and excessively violent and bloody stalking at that. (In case you haven’t read anything at all about this controversy, please see this link from the LA Times as it’ll give you a heads-up.)
But when I listened to “Animals” as a song, I heard an entirely different narrative. One that deals with an obsessive love affair that’s run its course, where the couple in question has a tremendous amount of sexual chemistry and not much else, yet the male partner cannot let go quite yet and the female partner, for whatever reason, is allowing him to stick around so they can keep having great sex. Then she apparently kicks him out and pretends it didn’t happen afterward, only to repeat until she finally gets the stomach to tell him, “No more, buster.”
Or until he has the strength to tell himself that he deserves better than a woman who’s keeping him around just for sex.
So all the lyrics about “preying on you tonight” and “(I’ll) eat you alive, just like animals, animals, oh oh” take on an entirely different tone in that context. It actually sounded to me like the guy was trying to justify having kinky animal sex with this woman who otherwise despises him, and as such, that’s just sad. (And hardly objectionable.)
However, the narrative framing shifted once the video for “Animals” was released, and the shift isn’t pretty at all. The video (which I refuse to link to) stars Adam Levine and his wife, model Behati Prinsloo; Levine is a psychotic madman who can’t leave his ex-girlfriend alone. And when his ex lets him inside her apartment, the blood flows along with the sex. Sex is explicitly linked with death, and the obsessive ex-boyfriend of the song becomes a murderous stalker instead.
I’m not entirely sure why Levine and Maroon 5 chose to go in this direction for their video, mind you. But I’m guessing that it’s all about the free publicity. A controversial video gets noticed, so it usually gets downloaded more. That means, obviously, the music’s heard more, too. Maybe the hope was that after seeing this video, some people who’d never heard of Maroon 5 before — or hadn’t heard a Maroon 5 song in years — will go buy the new song (or better yet, their whole CD). Which will make Maroon 5 money in the short run, and possibly prolong their careers in the long run.
But all this controversy has actually worked to obscure Maroon 5’s music, much less Levine’s singing. And that’s a shame, because Maroon 5’s music is worth more than a few listens — and Levine’s live performance on “Saturday Night Live” showcased his impressive range and his pitch-perfect vocal control.
Maybe it’s all about the narrative framing as to whether the song “Animals” is actually offensive or not. Or maybe it’s in the ears of the beholder.
But the video of “Animals” will give most women nightmares, especially if they’ve ever had any run-ins with domestic violence in the past.
It’s a free country, and Maroon 5’s marketing people obviously have earned their money this year. But I’d rather have encountered the song “Animals” another way, so my own view of what the narrative is could more easily take hold over the extremely graphic, violent video.
Folks, I’m unhappy that seven-time Tour de France winner and noted cyclist Lance Armstrong has been stripped of his titles by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA for short). There are many stories about this right now; here’s one about a federal judge tossing Lance Armstrong’s suit against the USADA, and here’s another regarding what the USADA did after the lawsuit was tossed.
In addition, the USADA has banned Armstrong, who is a retired American cyclist, for life from all cycling events under its jurisdiction.
However, there’s a bit of a turf war going on. The International Cycling Union says that it’s the organization that has jurisdiction, not the USADA. And the ICU wants to know why, exactly, Armstrong should give up his seven Tour de France titles; apparently the USADA has not made its case to them.
My take on this is simple: Armstrong may well have used blood transfusions, but he was and is a cancer survivor. This may have been a part of his treatment; if so, the USADA should’ve left this alone. As for the whole notion of Armstrong using EPO, a banned substance, I think it’s been sixteen years since Armstrong first won a title. He’s a retired competitor. The USADA should’ve left this alone, too.
See, right now, sports seems to want to tear down its heroes. Whether it’s Ryan Braun in baseball or Lance Armstrong in cycling, the various anti-doping agencies seem to be on a crusade. This isn’t necessary. Worse yet, it causes immense damage that is incredibly hard to fight, even if you’ve made millions upon millions of dollars like Armstrong, had an exceptionally good and lengthy career like Armstrong, and even if you’re able to hire the best lawyers possible.
This is why Armstrong ended up ending his fight against the USADA — it’s incredibly difficult to prove that you are innocent, especially sixteen years after the fact. Then when you add in the fact that the ICU doesn’t believe the USADA has the proper jurisdiction anyway, it’s obvious why Armstrong decided to end his fight.
To me, the fact that Armstrong has stopped arguing with the USADA does not prove that he used banned substances. All it proves is that the USADA is on a witch hunt. And by besmirching Armstrong and his legacy, it apparently feels like it’s doing the right thing — even though 99 out of 100 people would’ve told the USADA to back off years ago, especially considering the fact that Armstrong is a symbol to millions and that Armstrong has retired from competitive cycling.
This is what should be at the bottom of every serious story about Armstrong — the fact that there’s an anti-doping turf war going on — yet because this fact hasn’t been brought up nearly as much as it should, we’re getting all sorts of stories on the Internet about how Armstrong’s legacy has been completely ruined.
Once again — the only ruination that’s occurred here is to those fanatics at the USADA, who really should’ve butted out of this one. Even if they’re right about what Armstrong did (something I find very hard to believe), they’re wrong about how they did it. And that wrongness is something that needs to end, here and now, before it ends up hurting another competitor who has far less money, energy, or time to fight than Armstrong did — ’cause as bad as these things are for Armstrong, at least he did fight and that shows that he believes himself to be innocent.
All the hand-wringing from well-known sports columnists aside, the fact of the matter is that the ICU thus far has refused to strip Armstrong of his titles just because the USADA threw what amounts to a huge hissy fit. People need to know this and realize that the way the media has slanted this story has got to end. (In other words, the narrative framing here is biased against Armstrong and is prejudiced instead in favor of the USADA.)
And I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m far more concerned with what a sports star does on the field — or on the track, as in the case of Armstrong — than whatever little turf war the USADA wants to win at the moment. (Aren’t you?)
Folks, I really don’t understand what the commissioner of the National Basketball Association, David Stern, thought he was doing on Wednesday afternoon, June 13, 2012, but here goes: Stern intentionally insulted sportscaster Jim Rome during Rome’s live call-in, nationally syndicated radio show after Rome asked a perfectly legitimate question regarding the upcoming NBA Draft. This happened about twelve hours ago, and is all over the news.
Here’s what happened. According to the Yahoo Sports blog “Ball Don’t Lie,” Rome asked the question everyone’s been asking since the New Orleans Hornets won this year’s NBA “draft lottery,” meaning the Hornets will get to pick first, consequently getting the best player available in the 2012 NBA Draft. As the Hornets are currently owned by the NBA (and have been since December of 2010), this didn’t look very good. Rome, being a well-known sportscaster, asked the question in what surely appears to be a rather non-confrontational way.
To wit (as transcribed by Yahoo Sports from the article referenced above):
“You know, New Orleans won the draft lottery, which, of course, produced the usual round of speculation that maybe the lottery was fixed,” Rome said. “I know that you appreciate a good conspiracy theory as much as the next guy — was the fix in for the lottery?”
“Uh, you know, I have two answers for that,” Stern said. “I’ll give you the easy one — no — and a statement: Shame on you for asking.”
“You know, I understand why you would say that to me, and I wanted to preface it by saying it respectfully,” Rome replied. “I think it’s my job to ask, because I think people wonder.”
“No, it’s ridiculous,” Stern answered. “But that’s OK.”
“I know that you think it’s ridiculous, but I don’t think the question is ridiculous, because I know people think that,” Rome said. “I’m not saying that I do, but I think it’s my job to ask you that.”
“Have you stopped beating your wife yet?” Stern asked.
Now, this was a truly ridiculous answer, especially as Stern had already said above that the draft lottery wasn’t fixed. It’s especially dumb because Stern is sixty-nine years of age, an accomplished and learned man, and really shouldn’t have said any such thing, especially because his asinine statement has for the moment eclipsed the NBA’s premiere event — the NBA Finals.
Rome handled this pretty well, as you’re about to see from the transcript:
“Yeah, I don’t know if that’s fair,” Rome responded. “I don’t know that that’s fair.”
“Well, why’s that?” Stern asked.
My aside — oh, come off it, Commish! You’re playing dumb here. (Or were you having a “senior moment?”) Whatever you’re doing, it’s wrong. Cut it out.
Back to the transcript:
“Because I think that there are — and I know you read your emails and I’m sure you follow things virally on Twitter — people really do think it, whether it’s fair or not,” Rome said. “You don’t think the question’s fair to ask if your fans think it?”
Good question. So, how does Stern answer it? (Warning: this next exchange is rather lengthy.)
“People think it because people like you ask silly questions,” Stern said. “I expect it to be written about — and actually, I commented last night in my presser that there was one guy who I won’t dignify by naming who says, ‘I have no reason to know anything, and I don’t know anything, but I tell you, I believe it’s fixed.’ OK, that’s good. Why is that? ‘Well, because this team won.’ And if that team won, it would’ve been fixed also, and if that team won, it would’ve been fixed also. And if every team was invited to have a representative there, and there were four members of the media there, and if Ernst and Young certified it, would you still think it? ‘Yes.’ So, I guess …”
“I think two things, which responds to this,” Rome interjected. “Number one, I don’t think so. I don’t think so — and I’m not covering myself — I don’t think so, and I think by asking the question, it would not suggest I think so. But the one thing I would say: The league does own the team, does it not?”
“… Yes,” Stern said, a question mark at the end of his sentence.
“Does that not make the question fair?” Rome asked.
“I don’t think so,” Stern said. “Number one, we sold it. We’re gonna close this week. We already have established our price. I think that if it had gone to Michael Jordan, which was the next team up with, in terms of a high percentage, they would’ve said, ‘Oh, David’s taking care of his friend Michael.’ And if it had gone to Brooklyn, which is going into Barclay Center, it would have been fair to speculate, I suppose, that we want to take Brooklyn off of the mat. So there was no winning. And people write about it, and it’s OK to write about it, and we sort of expect it, but that’s not a question that I’ve been asked before by a respectable journalist.”
This actually is a logic chain that makes sense. But why did it take Stern so long to come up with it? And why did he have to needlessly insult Rome before he got there?
Edited to add:
Upon further reflection, it seems that Stern wished to “frame the narrative” by giving a reason that explained why Stern had said something so insulting to Rome. Notice the slur about “respectable journalists” who supposedly wouldn’t ask such a question about “rigging the draft” — what was the point of that, especially as Rome had asked a perfectly legitimate question? (And am I really supposed to think that other sportscasters and journalists hadn’t asked Stern this question before Rome got around to it? Because I have a hard time buying that, too.)
That’s why, upon further reflection, I don’t think that Stern’s attempt at framing the narrative passes the “smell test,” even with the proviso that Stern’s logic chain regarding the other teams does make sense.
Back to the original blog.
From the transcript:
“I think I understand why you’re frustrated by that; I think that I understand why that would upset you,” Rome said. “I would hope that you would not hold that against me.”
“I wouldn’t hold it against you — you know, you and I have been into more contentious discussions than that,” Stern said.
“I don’t know, I’d put that one right up there,” Rome replied.
That’s the understatement of the year. But Stern was not yet done; check out this next line:
“Well, you know, it’s good copy, and you do things sometimes for cheap thrills,” Stern said.
I don’t know what Stern thought he was doing here, but that just escalated an already tense situation. And by this time, Rome was obviously getting exasperated:
“I did not do that for a cheap thrill,” Rome answered.
“Well, that’s what it sounds like,” Stern said.
“No, not at all,” Rome answered. “See, that’s where you and I — that’s our point of disconnect. That was not a cheap thrill and I was not throwing anything against the wall, and I was trying to be as respectful as possible. I’m just saying that people wonder about that. And here’s what I don’t want to do — I don’t want to say, ‘Hey commissioner, people would say …’ Because I’m going to ask a direct question. But people do wonder. But that was not a cheap thrill. I got no thrill out of that.”
“Well, it’s a cheap trick,” Stern said.
“No, flopping is a cheap trick,” Rome said.
Good one! (I get tired of watching NBA players, especially the stars, doing this all the time. It weakens the game and slows down the action.) This was an excellent way for Rome to re-direct the conversation back to basketball rather than whatever it was Stern thought he was doing. But once again, Stern didn’t take the high road:
“Well, no. But listen, you’ve been successful at making a career out of it, and I keep coming on, so …” Stern said.
“Making a career out of what, though, commissioner?” Rome interrupted. “See, I take great offense to that. Making a career of what? Cheap thrills?”
“What offense are you taking? You’re taking offense?” Stern asked.
I really do not buy Stern’s “I didn’t do anything” response here. Neither did Rome.
“I am. Now I am,” Rome answered. “If you’re saying I’ve made a career out of cheap thrills …”
“… taking on the world, and now Jim Rome is pouting? I love it,” Stern said.
Um, excuse me? Why do you wish to keep escalating an already bad situation, Mr. Commissioner? (Especially when this was entirely your own fault.)
Here’s the rest of the transcript:
“I’m not pouting; I take offense,” Rome said. “There’s a difference between pouting and taking offense. I take offense like you took offense to the question. What if I said — were you pouting when I asked the question?”
“What offenses? Do you want to hang up on me?” Stern asked.
“No, I can’t hang up on you, because I’m running out of time — I would never hang up on you,” Rome said.
“OK,” Stern said. “Listen, I’ve got to go call somebody important, like Stephen A. Smith, right now. He’s up next.”
“All right, you go make that call, and I’ll go talk to somebody else, too, I guess,” Rome said.
“All right,” Stern said.
“All right, commissioner. Have a nice day,” Rome said. “I did not hang up on him — we are officially out of time. We will come back and reset that momentarily. Stay tuned.”
As writer Dan Devine of “Ball Don’t Lie” said, Stern should not have done this because Stern is a “grown-ass man.” Devine also said, earlier in his critique:
Setting aside the moral/ethical/sensitivity argument you might make — “Hey, we probably don’t need to evoke domestic violence during a sports talk radio interview, especially when it’s not one about, y’know, domestic violence” — this wasn’t a loaded question. There most certainly was a way for Stern to answer Rome’s question — which, again, was “Was the fix in for the lottery?” — without in any way implicating the league in any impropriety.
This is undoubtedly the strangest sports story in the past ten years or more, because here, we have a commissioner in David Stern who’d rather cause trouble for a sportscaster than talk about his own product — the teams who are playing in the NBA Finals (the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat, to be exact).
Let me say it again, louder this time: David Stern would rather score cheap shots off Jim Rome than do his job, which is to promote NBA basketball. Stern shouldn’t behave this way no matter what questions Rome or any other sportscaster asks (even though Rome’s questions were fair), because it’s part of Stern’s job to handle the tough questions. (Otherwise, why accept the paycheck?)
And if I were an owner of any of the twenty-nine NBA franchises that aren’t owned by the NBA at this time, I’d be furious at Stern and be looking for a way to oust him over this. Because it’s just not right when a commissioner of a professional sport makes the story all about him, rather than about the players, coaches, or even the owners.
Folks, I never thought I’d have to write these words, but here they are: most blogs, believe it or not, are opinions.
This is such an obvious thing to talk about, but apparently there are people out there who don’t realize this simple fact. For example, if you blog specifically about sports, most of what you’re talking about are your opinions about what’s going on in the world of sports. Ditto for politics (except double that, and then some), current events, and just about everything else.
Yet some people are concerned that the quality of writing on the Internet is so low that it’s leading people to forget this. Take economist Graeme Maxton, for example. In his recent book THE END OF PROGRESS: How Modern Economics Has Failed Us, Maxton said on p. 76:
It is not just that much of the information on the Internet is of dubious provenance, it is that much of what is posted as “fact” is actually opinion.
Maxton also goes on to say on p. 77 that:
The Internet is a particular problem. As well as offering a cozy home for factual mistakes or a platform for those with ill-thought-out opinions, there is the diversion it provides. Studies’ show that people who read text that is scattered with hyperlinks understand less than those who read the old-fashioned printed word.
Note that Maxton does not directly reference these studies, as there is no endnote available. He also does not discuss anything specific regarding any actual studies that have been done in this paragraph, though in the next paragraph down he references a book by Nicholas Carr called THE SHALLOWS: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains that discusses the problem of hyperlinks and Web pages.
And, if you read the above-referenced paragraph very carefully, you’ll note that Maxton doesn’t point out the excellent, fact-based and fact-checked blogs that do exist on the Internet; he instead seems to paint all blogs and everything on the ‘net with a broad brush. While it’s possible Maxton was making the case that fact-based research should not begin and end on the Web due to these limitations (a completely inoffensive statement), he cheapened his argument when he didn’t admit that at least some good, hard-hitting, factually-based articles have been posted on the Web — and that some of these hard-hitting, factually-based articles have certainly been posted on blogs.
So these words by Maxton, while to a certain extent truthful, are also a way for Maxton to frame the narrative. In this case, Maxton’s narrative is simple: “The Internet is creating a bunch of morons who can’t think for themselves. Because of that, people who read blogs on the Internet may not realize they’re actually reading opinions, rather than facts. We must fix this!”
Yet that narrative, while it does contain truth, is also an opinion, is it not? (And in a hard-bound book, no less. For shame!)
That said, Maxton’s words remain prescient because there unfortunately are people out there who will read just about anything, then parrot it back without much further thought. And at least some of those will send material “viral” that may not deserve to be read by many people — or at least may not deserve to be thought of as factual rather than the opinions most blogs truly are (this blog included).
Mind you, most people who read blogs do seem to understand the difference between fact-based commentary (which can and usually does offer an opinion) and opinions.
But just in case you’re one of the people who haven’t figured that out as of yet, consider this lesson #1 in the importance of being overly obvious. Because when it comes right down to it, most blogs are opinions, folks. And it shouldn’t take an economist like Graeme Maxton to tell you so, either.
Recently, a student caught a secretary and a school principal kissing lustily on camera. The two people, Stephen McClenning and Billie Madewell, are married to other people; worse yet, they kissed on school time.
The student, Myranda Garber, 16, posted the video of the kiss online at YouTube; it’s several minutes long. Then, outraged condemnation followed — first other students were upset, then parents were inflamed, and then, of course, media outlets glommed on to the scandal, including the UK’s Daily Mail (where I found this article).
The narrative framing here is simple: how dare these two consenting adults kiss on school time? (With the additional parental framing, to wit: My children saw this on school time? For shame!) They’re married! It’s wrong! And how disgraceful these two did this, when they should’ve been working!
Now, I put all those exclamation points there for a reason, which is this: the artificial “shock and awe” over two adults over the age of consent having an affair is way overblown.
Here’s the truth about this affair: it was stupid. It wasn’t morally admirable. It hurt the two spouses unnecessarily, and no matter how hot these two were and are for each other, it never should’ve happened on school time.
But notice the words I used there — stupid. Not “morally admirable.” Hurt. “(Not) . . . on school time.”
Did you notice which words I didn’t use? (Hint, hint: anything that says this was a shocking, outrageous thing to happen in the 21st Century, and how dare this happen in front of supposedly-innocent kids, is what I was going for.)
I’m not personally offended by this couple even though I am against married people straying outside their given vows and word. Instead, I’m far more offended by the fact this 16-year-old student taped these two people kissing without their consent. I’m also upset that no media source has quoted a parent, or a student, who seems to think this simple act was wrong, even though it was.
Just because “everybody does it” doesn’t make it right.
In this case, the student was wrong to post a video of these two consenting adults publicly; she had every right to bring it to the school board, she had every right to bring it to her local news outlet, even — but to post a video at YouTube in order to shame these two while ousting them? That’s not just outrageous — it’s disgraceful.
That’s why my personal outrage is saved for the “Big Brotherish” aspects of this case. For example: the student doesn’t feel any remorse; in fact, her mother is upset that the girl has had to have been pulled out of school rather than the fact her daughter was using a cell phone on school time. Then, consider that neither the parent nor the child seem to feel that posting the video on YouTube was wrong, even though it blew up two families (which, granted, would’ve eventually blown up anyway) and was a blatant invasion of their privacy.
Worse yet, no lawsuits seem to be in the offing, because videos of this nature are now so commonplace that they hardly even get reported on any more (witness the lack of outrage by most United States newspaper outlets if you don’t believe me).
In American culture today, too much of what we used to expect as part of the United States Constitution — our right to privacy, which is codified under the Fourth Amendment — has been violated as a matter of course. Everyone, seemingly, has a cell phone, and most cell phones have cameras. People take pictures of everything and post it online, sometimes to make fun of someone doing something that’s minor but odd (such as picking your nose in public), sometimes to make fun of someone for not wearing any underwear (a la Britney Spears).
And no one thinks anything of this anymore, because so many people do it.
But that still doesn’t make it right, which is why I urge you to consider the following questions:
Where has the right to privacy gone?
And why aren’t more people complaining to get the word out that the erosion of our personal rights must stop forthwith?
Now, all that said, I reiterate that these two lovers definitely should not have kissed on school time. Getting caught doing that deserved reprimands and possible suspensions for a first offense (which as far as I know, this was); one of the two, probably the secretary as she was the lower-ranked person, should’ve started looking for another job. (It’s a sad truism that usually the higher-ranked person, who is almost always male, tends to get away scot-free in such cases.)**
Here’s the upshot: if the principal was a good educator, as he’s been alleged to be, and if the secretary was a good secretary who didn’t make mistakes on the job and actually helped the running of the school (as good secretaries the world over tend to do), they shouldn’t have lost their jobs for one indiscretion — especially as it was an indiscretion that was captured by a student who had a cell phone and felt the world had a right to know what these two people were doing.
And the fact these two lost their jobs over this seems extremely disproportionate, especially as the student, herself, has lost nothing at all.
** Note: I believe that the principal was far more at fault than the secretary; he’s the one in the position of power, and he’s the one who should’ve been fired if anyone was. Yet the secretary was forced out — this is what I meant by “sad truism” — while the principal was allowed to resign.
This is wrong, as the principal had all the power in that relationship, both personal and professional.
If the school, the parents, etc., were really so outraged, the principal should’ve been fired instead, and the secretary should’ve been allowed to submit her resignation.