PATHEOS: Sex, Shame, and the Superbowl

February 4, 2013 | By: Elizabeth Duffy | Patheos

There was something very wrong about the Beyonce act during half-time of the Super Bowl. The thing that was wrong about it was also wrong with a commercial that aired several times during the bowl for a show called Two Broke Girls that featured the main characters of that show performing a striptease, with a pole, licking icing off their fingers, etc. It was also wrong with a “Go-Daddy” commercial in which the model Bar Rafeali, represented the “sexy” side of the business, and a chubby, hirsute male represented the geeky side, or “brains” of the business (the two sides then engage in the most disgusting kiss ever committed to film).

Calah at Barefoot and Pregnant, has written a very good post called “Slut-shaming and the Attractiveness Factor” about how we should not judge Beyonce’s performance, and women/girls in general, on whether or not we find their behaviors “attractive” or sexy, but rather we should judge the objective morality or immorality of those behaviors:

“I do not want my daughter to grow up in a world where the boys and men around her constantly judge her morality in terms of physical attraction. I don’t want her to hear things like, “waiting till marriage is sexy” or “it’s a turn-off when girls smoke”. I want her to hear things like, “your virtue is worth too much to throw away on someone who is not going to commit his life to you.” I want her to hear someone say, “smoking damages your body, and you’re too precious to damage for recreation.” I want her to grow up in a world where men and women talk about issues of virtue and modesty in terms of objective truth, not in terms of sex appeal.”

Calah is absolutely right that women/girls shouldn’t be threatened into virtue at risk of appearing unattractive to men. Not only does it provide little impetus for good behavior, it is also a poor school of virtue for girls.

Performing a strip-tease for an international audience that includes millions of people is not wrong because the gal doing it might be deemed “unattractive,” but because it violates a host of other virtues. It’s a very good point that needs to be made again and again.

Calah also brilliantly points out that if the only reason to behave well is to appear attractive for men, then appearing attractive is also probably a good reason to behave badly, which is why, we might assume, Beyonce’s act played as it did–so that she might appear attractive to the mostly male viewership of the Superbowl.

And yet, there was something terribly unattractive about her show.

To review: Beyonce wore a black leather body suit cut low in the breast, and high at the hip. She wore black thigh high boots. She performed a number of pelvic thrusts that required viewers to gaze on the small triangle of fabric covering her nether-parts, and she spent the entirety of the performance making a very angry face.

By certain objective standards, this was not a beautiful dance. Aristotle says, “a concept of beauty occurs when all parts work together in harmony so that no one part draws unjust attention to itself”

The problem with Beyonce’s performance is that it focused unjust attention on her sexuality. And yet, I suspect the performance did not portray “her” sexuality so much as a sexuality imposed on her, not only by culture at large, but by marketers, choreographers, costume designers–a team of people who had to agree on the image they wanted Beyonce to portray to America during the Super Bowl.

This is where we need to make room in the conversation for shame–not slut shaming, but sexual shame–and our collective lack thereof.

It’s shameful that advertisers and choreographers are so dull, so uncreative, so tired, that performing a striptease is the only move they can think of to appeal to viewers.

It’s shameful that porn and stripping are such quietly lucrative industries that market researchers are eyeing their profits and saying, “Yes, this is what people want for their money, for their entertainment.”

And yes, it’s shameful that so many people are so desensitized that a nearly naked woman gyrating in a fashion clearly designed to ignite the erotic impulse, cannot get a rise out of certain skeezy parts of the population. I don’t quote Naomi Wolf often, but she did say that in a culture where pornography is ubiquitous, and people are used to viewing air-brushed, unrealistically enhanced figures, “real naked women are just bad porn.”

I don’t think it’s wrong to say that Beyonce’s performance failed at being sexy. It failed because it was a highly-stylized corporate “concept” of sexiness. It failed because it aired alongside a number of similarly uninspired commercials proposing similar corporate ideals of sexiness. It failed because people who are immersed in pornography find very few things sexy anymore, and because people who appreciate Aristotelian standards of beauty do not want to see anyone, man or woman, stripped of all the balancing characteristics that make them human and truly beautiful, so that they can be objectified as only one thing–their sexuality.

Dr. King’s Dream.

Tonight, raindrops splatter against the window – briefly clinging to its cool, damp surface before slowly sliding down and collecting into amorphic pools on the pane. The myriad of drops represent people, the descent – their lifespan from birth to death. Each drop begins as a single entity. Gradually as it makes its descent, it merges with others along the way – simultaneously absorbing and imparting en route to its destination. We are like these drops, absorbing and imparting through life’s travels until we arrive at the end of our journey.

———

On January 15th, civil rights icon, Martin Luther King, Jr. would have turned 89 years old. MLK Jr. Day is just around the corner. Lulled by the rain’s rhythmic symphony as I sip my tea, I find myself reflecting on his immense contributions to society. Its amazing how much our perception evolves as we grow older. As a child, I remember taking part in school assemblies and activities dedicated to honoring his vision and achievements. But I didn’t begin to truly appreciate Dr. King’s legacy until I became involved in activism myself.

A clergyman born in Atlanta, GA, MLK Jr. was a prominent leader in the African American civil rights movement and is best remembered for the advancement of his cause through civil disobedience. He was one of the first public speakers of his time to speak out against the Vietnam War. He was also one of the greatest orators in American history, with a gift for inspiring and motivating audiences with his powerful, heartfelt speeches.

Dr. King credited Gandhi as being one of his greatest inspirations because of his success with non-violent activism. After visiting Gandhi’s birthplace in India in 1959, King was quoted as saying: “I am more convinced than ever that the method of nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for justice and human dignity.” His commitment to ensuring a peaceful resolution for the civil rights movement gained the respect of the world and earned Dr. King a Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

Although all of Dr. King’s notable speeches have been indelibly engraved into the pages of history, one I find particularly inspirational is his “I Have a Dream” speech. One excerpt reads:

“There is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.”

In his message, Dr. King stressed the importance of using non-violent means to achieve end results. This is especially relevant in today’s culture of violence marked by numerous school/public arena shootings and high murder rates that, in part, dominate the national discourse.

Our country has progressed remarkably in the last fifty years in terms of bridging the racial divide. Our black president is being sworn into office next week to serve his second term. But as I reflect on the current political and socioeconomic climate we live in, I can’t help wondering what Dr. King would say about our America today. Institutions like Guantanamo harbor detainees under deplorable conditions without access to attorneys or a trial. Legislation like the NDAA makes a mockery of due process.  Our Executive Branch possesses unilateral power to authorize drone strikes that kill innocent people in remote regions of the world as we continue to wage wars on multiple fronts. The powerful NRA battles executive attempts to control gun violence after school children and numerous citizens have lost their lives in senseless, tragic attacks. Government officials have blanket authority to conduct warrantless surveillance of our country’s citizens. And the list goes on.

Dr. King had a vision for our country, and he sacrificed and worked hard for that vision to be realized. The invaluable contributions he made through his wisdom, foresight, courage, and patience helped pave the road for those that have followed in his path.  As I reflect on how far we have come as a nation, I recognize there is still much work to be done to protect the ideals of America. Each one of us has an individual responsibility to transform our culture of violence and to advocate for peace and religious tolerance. We must petition our elected officials and call for an end to war and drone attacks targeting children and innocent civilians. Our government should be held accountable for upholding our Constitutional rights and protecting its citizens.

Dr. King realized the beauty of America lies in her freedoms, values, and diversity. He affirmed, despite the difficulties and challenges of the times, that he had a dream, deeply rooted in the American dream, that one day our nation would live true to its belief that all men are created equal. His work and beliefs continue to inspire me. As I work for justice, equality, and peace, I renew my commitment to keep in mind Dr. King’s vision and the founding fathers’ creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Editorial: The Tide of Islamophobia

My piece on notorious Islamophobe Pamela Geller’s appearance at Maryland Conservative Action Network (MDCAN)’s conference appeared in this morning’s Editorial section of the Baltimore Sun.

Today, the Maryland Conservative Action Network (MDCAN) – an organization dedicated to facilitating dialogue amongst Maryland’s conservative population – is hosting a day-long conference in Annapolis entitled “Turning the Tides.”

Unfortunately, instead of a legitimate conservative candidate, the keynote speaker selected by MDCAN for this conference is none other than Pamela Geller, the leader of a designated hate group and one of America’s most virulent Islamophobes. Geller most recently has received media attention for posting inflammatory ads in metro stations across the country equating Muslims with savages and inciting hatred and fear of Muslims post 9/11. Geller’s actions and words have also caused friction and backlash against American Muslims related to the “Ground-Zero” mosque controversy in New York City. In the past, she has suggested on her blog that President Obama was the secret love-child of Malcolm X, and has expressed support for the urination on corpses of dead Afghans by U.S. Soldiers.

Disturbingly, MDCAN has often opted to invite guest speakers who are well-known bigots and anti-Muslim fanatics, and who aggressively advocate against religious and ethnic minorities. The troubling list of speakers at past MDCAN events have included Frank Gaffney, another well-known Islamophobe who was extensively cited by Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik in his chilling manifesto released in the wake of the 2011 Norway attacks, and Fred Grandy, a former radio show host and former congressman who has actively promoted conspiracy theories of “creeping Sharia” and who has warned Americans repeatedly that “Muslims working within our government is cause for concern.”

Without question, CAIR-MD upholds our Constitutional right to free speech. However, it is reckless and irresponsible of an organization like MDCAN to welcome bigots and hate-mongers like Geller as designated speakers at publicized events knowing that she will continue to actively perpetuate fear and intolerance against Muslims. We strongly denounce the racism, fear-mongering, and Islamophobia perpetuated through her words and actions, and urge the organizers of this conference and all people of good conscience to do so as well. We also ask all public officials scheduled to attend this conference to reconsider their decision to do so in order to preserve the honor and integrity of their offices and the people – of whom include many American Muslims – that they represent.

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A Jewish Problem: Anti-Muslim Hate-Mongers

By: Rabbi Bruce Warshal

Three weeks ago a man [assumed to be Muslim] was pushed from behind into the tracks of an incoming New York subway meeting instant death.  The perpetrator was apprehended and she declared, “I hate Muslims (and Hindus) ever since 2001 when they put down the twin towers.  I’ve been beating them up.”

This is just one instance of violence and harassment against Muslims in America among many this past year.  In Missouri the Islamic Society of Joplin’s building was destroyed by a suspicious fire.  The Islamic center of Greater Toledo, Ohio was torched.  A New York man was stabbed repeatedly outside a mosque   proclaiming, “I don’t like Muslims.”  In Panama City, Florida a mason jar filled with gasoline was thrown at the home of a Muslim family.

The FBI reports that in 2010 there were 160 anti-Muslim hate crimes committed, the last year that FBI statistics are available.  The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Muslim equivalent of the ADL, reports that there were 18 attacks specifically against mosques in 2012.  The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that in 2011 the number of anti-Muslim groups increased to 30, up from 10 the previous year.

It’s not just violence.  It’s an attempt to “cleanse” America of a Muslim presence.  This past year the following organizations were attacked by Anti-Muslim activists: Campbell’s Soup for offering halal certified soup; Whole Foods for “whoring itself out to Islam” for offering halal foods during Ramadan; the Boy Scouts of America for having an Islamic Scouting group; the Metropolitan Museum of Art because it opened an exhibit on Islamic Art Treasures; the Family Feud television game for having a Muslim family compete; and Dr. Phil was labeled an “Islamo-panderer” for being sympathetic to Muslim guests.

This Islamophobia and outright hatred has spread to the political arena.  The most egregious instance this past year was when Representative Michelle Bachmann declared that the Muslim Brotherhood had “penetrated” the U.S. government, specifically singling out Huma Abedin, a prominent Muslim-American aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  This McCarthy-ite maneuver was mildly criticized by House Speaker John Boehner (“Accusations like this being thrown around are pretty dangerous”), but actually supported by the only Republican Jewish member of Congress, Eric Cantor, when he praised her saying, “Her concern was about the security of the country.”

The Republican Party is close to declaring open warfare on Muslims.  In 2011 and 2012, 78 bills or amendments aimed at interfering with Islamic religious practices were considered in 31 states and the U.S. Congress.  Of these, 73 bills were introduced by Republicans, one by a Democrat in Alabama, and four were bi-partisan.

Most of these bills were aimed at outlawing Sharia law (comparable to Jewish Halacha), a non-existent problem.  Muslims do not want to foist Sharia law onto America any more than Orthodox Jews want to foist Halacha onto America.  (I have written a column on this and I will share it with any reader upon request.)  Yet six states actually passed anti-Sharia laws – Arizona, Kansas, South Dakota, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Louisiana.

Representative John King as Chair of the Homeland Security Committee held hearings this past year on Muslims in America. His first hearing was titled, “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community’s Response.”  This was truly a McCarthy witch hunt. A few years back he claimed with absolutely no evidence that “80% to 85% of the mosques in this country are controlled by Islamic fundamentalists.”  The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights pointed out to King before the first hearing that, “Experts have concluded that mosque attendance is a significant factor in the prevention of extremism.”

Now the big question:  Who are the major perpetrators of this anti-Muslim hatred?  Answer: Jews.  Sixty two of the above 78 referenced anti-Muslim laws were based on David Yerushalmi’s American Laws for American Courts (ALAC) model legislation.  Not all, but a great preponderance, of anti-Muslim hate-mongers are Jews, including the following:

Pamela Geller – known for her leadership in the movement against the proposed mosque near Ground Zero.  She has recently started an anti-Muslim billboard campaign on highways and in New York subways. She has attacked a group of Christian, Jewish and Muslim clergy in Denver because they started an interfaith “Love Thy Neighbor” campaign.  She called the Christian and Jewish participants “quislings, craven, cowardly, knaves,” for participating with Muslims.

Steven Emerson – a supposed expert on terrorism.  The New York Times book review noted that his book entitled “Terrorist” was “marred by factual errors…that betray an unfamiliarity with the Middle East and a pervasive anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian bias.”

Robert Spencer – of Jihad Watch.  He has proclaimed Muhammad, the founder of Islam, a “con man” and, “From a historical stand point, it is not even clear that Muhammad existed.”

Daniel Pipes – has encouraged derogatory cartoons of Muhammad to be published every day “until the Islamists become accustomed to the fact that we turn sacred cows into hamburger.”

David Horowitz – who combines anti-Muslim with anti-liberal rhetoric.  In his book Horowitz says that both Muslims and progressives abhor America and American values.

What does this rogues gallery of haters have in common?  First, they are all staunch supporters of Israel and they believe that delegitimizing Islam somehow helps Israel in its conflict with Palestinians.  Of course, they are hurting Israel in that they are turning a conflict over land into a religious war.  I do not blame the Israelis.  It’s a fair generalization to say that Israelis exhibit animosity toward Palestinians, but they do not denigrate their religion.  It is these American Jewish zealots that hate Islam, not Israelis.

Second, most, if not all, of the above are welcomed speakers at synagogues (mostly Orthodox) and Jewish Federations, simply because they are pro-Israel.  (Pam Geller was invited to speak at the Los Angeles Federation but was disinvited after an outpouring of community outrage.)  What does this say about our Jewish sensitivity to bigotry in America?  Does being pro-Israel excuse all other sins?  Bernie Madoff is pro-Israel.  Does that make him fit to be a synagogue or Federation speaker?  This is truly a disgrace to our community.

The biggest disgrace is that our rabbinic and lay leaders remain silent.  Very few rabbis have preached against anti-Muslim hatred from the pulpit.  Most of our national Jewish organizations issue statements weekly on behalf of Israel, but not very often against the increase in hatred in this county against Muslim Americans.

How would you feel if Jews were being pushed onto subway tracks; if 18 synagogues were attacked this past year; if 31 states were to pass laws against Halacha (Jewish law); and if the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) were resurrected and hearings were held to determine if all Jews in Hollywood were communists (we have been there!)?  We of all people should empathize with our fellow Americans who happen to be Muslims.

The Muslim writer Sheila Musaji has written: “It takes courage to speak out against Islamophobia (or any bigotry).  It takes courage to defend the ideals of America.  It takes courage to stand for the principles and values of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  Many of those speaking out in defense of American Muslims have been attacked in articles coming out of the Islamophobic echo chamber.”

Yes, it takes courage.  And I have seen few rabbis and lay leaders exhibit this courage.  Where are you?

  • ·        Rabbi Warshal is the Publisher Emeritus of the Jewish Journal and the author of “Provocative Columns: A Liberal Rabbi Reflects on Beliefs, Israel & American Politics.”  He can be reached at brucewarshal@comcast.net.

NDAA – Threat of Indefinite Detention without Trial

Note: Last Wednesday, President Barack Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 into law despite admitting that he “signed this bill despite having serious reservations with certain provisions that regulate the detention, interrogation and prosecution of suspected terrorists.” [See CAIR's statement]. It is deeply disappointing that the President has once again allowed Congress to restrict his authority to transfer or prosecute detainees at Guantanamo. ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero said, “[The President's] signature means indefinite detention without charge or trial, as well as the illegal military commission, will be extended. He has also jeopardized his ability to close Guantanamo during his presidency.” Although many of the dozens of prisoners have been cleared for transfer, they too will continue to be held without being charged with a crime.

Over eleven years after the tragic attacks of 9/11, Americans are still experiencing its residual effects as our rights and liberties continue to be unjustly compromised in the interests of national security. Not only were planes hijacked that day, our freedoms, an entire religion, and American’s sense of security were also annexed and expropriated. Our nation has recovered remarkably; but while the spirit of the American people is resilient, we are reminded constantly that our country -
though one Nation, under God – is now in fact divided on multiple fronts, does not equally uphold liberty and justice for all of its Constituents, and all that for which it stood is no longer defined the same way.
One such reminder manifests in the form of legislation like the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA – an act passed by Congress every year to monitor the budget for the U.S. Department of Defense.
Over one year ago, on December 31, 2011, President Obama signed into law the NDAA for fiscal year 2012, or H.R. 1540, amidst a fury of controversy over unprecedented power granted to the military to seize suspected terrorists anywhere in the world, including U.S. soil, and imprison them for an unspecified
time without due process. This behemoth, 1,600 page charter, allotting $662 billion of taxpayers’ money towards defense funding, contained controversial, vaguely-worded provisions that allow for detention of persons – including Americans here at home – indefinitely by the military without trial or military
tribunals, and contains implications for abuse of presidential powers by significantly broadening the scope of executive authority with a simple pen stroke.
Specifically, sections 1021 and 1022, reminiscent of Draconian laws, authorized
indefinite detention by the armed forces without trial – this, despite the Constitution’s sixth amendment which guarantees right to fair trial for all, and the Posse Comitatus Act which limits governments’ use of military intervention to enforce laws.
Implications of the NDAA, its’ potential consequences, and the subsequent erosion of the diligently-drafted laws meant to preserve and uphold the principles and values our country was founded upon, have all elicited vehement protests in communities across America.
Unfortunately, the protests appear to be falling on deaf ears.
On December 4, 2012, the U.S. Senate unanimously voted to approve
the $631 billion NDAA for fiscal year 2013, except this time with a measure that
appeared to attempt to address concerns regarding the indefinite detention specifically of U.S. Citizens and green card holders. The Feinstein Amendment, proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), in part read: “An authorization to use military force, a declaration of war, or any similar authority shall not authorize the detention without charge or trial of a citizen or lawful permanent resident of the United States apprehended in the United States, unless an Act of Congress expressly authorizes such detention.”
Although it postulated a fair trial only for prisoners that are U.S. citizens or green card holders, the amendment was nonetheless an effort to remedy the Act and make it more Constitutional.
However, a Congressional committee eliminated even that provision, thereby making the Act as unconstitutional as last year’s NDAA. When the government can arrest suspects without a warrant, hold them indefinitely without trial or due process, and deny access to legal counseling or admission of bail, we have in effect disqualified the sanctity of the Bill of Rights.

James Madison, credited as the Father of our Constitution, once famously said, “I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power, than by violent and sudden usurpations.” If he were alive today, he would have born witness to the grim, sobering reality his words foreshadowed.