This will be a short one, as this is a post I hadn't planned on writing (I've been working on a more positive post for a bit, and I will likely add a post soon talking about the summer class I just finished teaching). As a Renaissance scholar, it's been impossible NOT to follow the story about the Public Theater's production of Julius Caesar. To be perfectly clear up front, this blog post is NOT going to re-hash all the points that have been made by others in my field. Yes, the rage from Republicans regarding this production is misplaced. This is a matter of fact, not one of opinion. Sarah Neville has shown how the play is, by design, not about sending a singular political message, but rather how it, through its "interpretive instability" leads people to see what they want in the text, appropriating it along those lines. Jyotsna G. Singh offers an historical context for the play, pointing out similarities between Caesar in Shakespeare's time and the political situation today. Singh notes that "Shakespeare had inherited over 1,600 years of ambiguity, with little consensus over whether Caesar's killing was justified." The result of such ambiguity was a play where heroes and villains are painted in tones of gray. Finally, Sophie Gilbert at The Atlantic has shown the absurdity of being outraged at the Public Theater's production due to the fact that it's not the first, second, or even third time such an angle has been taken with this play. A 2015 production put Hillary Clinton in the Caesar role. A 2012 production put Barack Obama in the Caesar role. Earlier productions featured JFK and Reagan.
So I wasn't going to write about the Caesar outrage. It seemed that it had all been covered. But a combination of humidity induced insomnia and the fact that I am literally writing this from the scholar residence at the Folger Shakespeare Library has made me change my mind about joining the fray. There IS one aspect of this issue that I have yet to see anyone address (not saying it hasn't been, just saying I haven't seen it). Almost every character in this play exists on a razor's edge of morality. Caesar may have been a tyrant, and he may have been a savior. Antony, Lepidus, and Octavius may have been acting in the name of friendship, and they may have been acting in the name of self-interest. Each conspirator falls along the spectrum of morality in terms of their motive, and at the very least, you must admit that good men and bad men alike stab Caesar. In a play replete with such moral ambiguities, there is one scene that is clearly a depiction of immorality: the murder of Cinna the Poet. It's a short scene, and one that the education wing of the Folger Library uses frequently (another reason, perhaps, this scene came to mind tonight). You can see the scene HERE if you aren't familiar with it.
This scene follows shortly after the famous "dueling speeches" scene where first Brutus gives a speech that gets the mob riled up in favor of the conspirators, and then Mark Antony gives a response that turns the Roman mob against the conspirators. By the time the two orators--both of whom seem to truly believe that they are acting in the best interests of Rome--are finished, the Roman mob is out of control. They don't trust anybody and, following the lead of their politicians, they are filled with suspicion, doubt, anger, and violence. That is their state when they encounter gentle Cinna the Poet, who unfortunately shares a name with a conspirator. The angry mob gangs up on Cinna, intimidates him, interrogates him, and finally kills him. Note the final lines of this scene, however. This is not a case of mistaken identity. Cinna the Poet does reveal that he is not one of the conspirators. That he is Cinna the Poet, not Cinna the Conspirator. The mob seemingly takes that information at face value. And then they kill him anyway, for his "bad verses."
The mob wasn't trying to achieve a goal. They did not believe in a particular ideology. Not really. They were enraged, that rage had to be vented, and it ultimately didn't matter who was on the receiving end. This, too, has been happening in our current politically charged theatrical situation. The Boston Globe ran a story this week reporting that Shakespeare theaters across the country, from Lenox, Mass. to Dallas, Texas and several more in between, have been receiving dozens of unhinged threats from people offended by the Public Theater's production. These theaters, which have nothing to do with the Public's production, received dozens of messages, "including threats of rape, death, and wishes that the theater's staff is 'sent to ISIS to be killed with real knives.'" These threats were fueled by the intentional fanning of those initial flames of rage. Long after it was clear that the play isn't about what people had been told, folks like Donald Trump Jr. tried to blame the production for the shooting in Virginia. Some of the actions were those of cowardice rather than those of opportunism. Delta and Bank of America, rather than standing firm and highlighting what the play is actually about, stepped aside and withdrew their support, lending the perception of credibility to a protest about nothing.
But let's pause for a moment and ask an important question: What was the Roman mob actually angry about? Were they angry at the conspirators for killing Caesar? Were they angry at themselves for cheering Brutus after his speech? Did they feel deceived by Brutus? Does it have anything to do with Brutus, Antony, Caesar, or any of the rest? That's the question of this play, because anyone who has been paying attention lately can see that that's where we are right now. Mobs of people protest and counter protest. They dox people online and send death threats. And it doesn't matter if the person (or in this case the play) is ACTUALLY doing what they've been told it does. Someone from their "side" has pointed at it and declared it the enemy. And, just like the Cinna the Poet scene, the mob isn't even going after the right target. We aren't thinking. We are segregated into packs who follow blindly and attack whichever target is identified, regardless of the facts. We are the Roman mob, and we are killing Cinna the Poet by the thousands because we are all too willing to mindlessly vent rather than stop and think.
We, as a society, needed the message that the Public Theater's production was putting forward. Those who came out in droves to protest this production (and sent death threats to many other companies simply because they turned up in a flawed Google search) need to take a moment to look inward and figure out why they are so very angry. It isn't because of this play. As so many others have pointed out, that logic doesn't stand. The play literally ISN'T doing what the mob has been told it does. Yet they protest it anyway. They kill Cinna the Poet regardless of whether or not that target makes any sense, and it has to stop. We need to figure out why we are ACTUALLY so damned angry and why we are so content to be a mob whose unfixed rage can be manipulated so easily by so few for such selfish reasons. Our elected leaders need to decide if this cut-throat game of win at all costs via violent rhetoric is worth the inevitable result. And remember that "inevitable result" is precisely what Julius Caesar is about. This play shows us what happens when society reaches such a point. Rome (the United States) falls into ruin and despotism. And while the dream of Rome survives elsewhere, Rome itself never truly recovers. It isn't a play about one side violently deposing the other. It's a play about the collapse of democratic society where everyone from every side loses. Think about that next time the occasion to "kill Cinna for his bad verses" presents itself. And then maybe see the play rather than wishing death upon others.
I swear that I will not make a habit of breaking my topic rotation (I set up a rotation of six different topics, largely to prevent me from going on extended political rants). And I will never post two unrelated political posts in a row. I think of this post as more of an addendum to what I wrote yesterday. After I wrote yesterday's post, professor Rachel Fulton Brown wrote three more. One that inexplicably made a lengthy metaphorical connection between Milo Yiannopoulos and Jesus Christ (seriously), one where she played ignorant about why so many people were upset with her views, and one, titled "Bully Culture," which is the main focus of what I need to address today. At the end of yesterday's post, I noted that I was not angry, but rather disappointed that a scholar of Fulton Brown's stature bought Yiannopoulos's scam so completely. After reading Fulton Brown's "Bully Culture" post, I went very quickly from disappointed to angry. The cause of this shift was that Fulton Brown, in that post, went very quickly from ignorant to dangerous.
I'm going to take an unusual step here, and speak directly to professor Fulton Brown.
Professor, you open "Bully Culture" with the following line:
"Everybody hates a bully, or so we say. Yesterday, the national media bullied into silence a young man who had risen to fame speaking to audiences of young women and men about the lies that the grown-ups had told them for decades."
You essentially open a blog post about lies with a lie. The "national media" bullied Yiannopoulos into "silence"? How? By reporting on the words that he said? By seeing a video that clearly depicted a man supporting sex between adolescent children and adult men, and somehow NOT seeing that this sort of egregious view supposedly meant the exact opposite in "English humor" language? And how did they silence him, exactly? Did they do it when they turned out en masse to cover his press conference? Did they silence him when they provided a massive platform for him to announce the planned creation of his new media company? Nobody silenced him. He said a horrendous thing for shock value. When it didn't get the kind of shock he wanted, he lied about it, getting MORE attention. This narrative that he is the victim is, like most narratives from Breitbart and its ilk, pure bullshit.
But that isn't what took me from "disappointed" to "angry," professor Fulton Brown. I became angry when I started reading your lists of "lies that grown ups" tell to children. And before getting into those in detail, I want to thank you, professor. You did more to expose the kind of person you and your Breitbart ilk are in those few paragraphs than any expose could have done. You start by spinning the hell out of liberal positions by suggesting that the furthest extreme--an extreme held by a scant few--represented the entirety of liberal thought. I've translated your "lies" below. The extreme version (the one you used) is on the left. The real liberal position is on the right.
You claim that "everyone knows these are lies" and then go into several ridiculous "for example" statements, like a young woman who loses her virginity to a man who doesn't want to marry her and a young man who is "tempted into exciting and transgressive sex with an older man and finds himself trapped by his desire in a lifestyle he cannot leave." Professor, this is just ridiculous. Did it ever occur to you that the young woman in your example might not want to marry that man either? And incidentally, very subtle work here, trying to bring back fraudulent and hyperbolic claims that the LGBT population "recruits." This entire concept is absurd. You may have tried to be more sneaky about it but professor, like Anita Bryant, you have pie on your face.
After these offensive remarks that attempt to bring society back into the 1950s, you spin a fantastical narrative, professor. You spin a world so magical and unrealistic that it would likely sit somewhere between Narnia and Hogwarts. In your ridiculous fantasy world, young people are flocking to Milo Yiannopoulos because:
" All their lives they had been wanting to push back against the grown-ups for taking away their sense of self as boys or girls. For telling the girls that they should want to play with trucks as much as dolls. For telling the boys they were evil for wanting to play with swords. But the grown-ups had bullied them into silence.
Some bullies were worse than others. Some were their parents, forcing them to pretend to like their step-parents and step-siblings. Some were their teachers, forcing them to pretend that they liked talking crudely about sex while learning English or math. Some were actors and actresses, forcing them to pretend that they enjoyed watching ever more violent sex. Some were their peers, forcing them to pretend to like not being boys or girls. Some were adults who called themselves friends and promised to take care of them if they let the older person have sex with them."
Where is this world, professor? Where is this world where straight children are pressured by the adults in their lives to be gay and transgender? Hell, where is the world where adults even tell children that it's okay to be that way? Where is this world where girls and boys are encouraged to play with the toys they enjoy rather than the toys that society has dictated belong to children of their gender? Where is this world where children pressure their peers to be gay and transgender? The world I grew up in, an exotic place called "reality," looks quite different. In "reality," children are often thrown out of the only homes they've ever known by the adults in their lives for being gay and transgender, leading to absurd rates of suicide and homelessness among LGBT youth. In "reality," conservatives are so concerned that clothing and toys are gender conforming that they boycott stores just for removing the gendered advertising. I once sent a class of freshmen composition students to the Strong Museum of Play. The only order I gave them was to observe the children at play and look for gendered trends. Almost every student, on separate visits, noticed that the children wanted to play at every exhibit, but their parents, sometimes forcefully, herded their children to the "gender appropriate" exhibits. In "reality," professor, children are not pressured by their peers to be gay and transgender; they are tortured by those peers for being gay or transgender. You have created a false world where up is down in order to sustain your persecution complex. Your concept of the world is not only false; it's ridiculous and dangerous.
Why dangerous? Why did I go from disappointed to angry? It comes down to two lines in particular:
" He joked about wishing that he might be cured, perhaps through prayer or electric shock. And he described how he had learned to be gay."
"He hated the bullies for telling young women that it was okay to be fat, despite the health risks and guarantee that it would be harder for them to find boyfriends if they were morbidly obese."
In these two lines, you further so many dangerous and false beliefs. Beliefs that, when uttered by someone who should know better, influence people who don't know better. First, you reference (with reverence), Yiannopoulos's support for electro-shock conversion therapy. You repeat the absurd notion that people choose to be gay. These "therapies" have been shown to be abusive, dangerous, and completely ineffective. They scar children for life. Seek out people who have been through these "therapies," professor. Do your research. Your words encourage people to inflict this kind of suffering on children.
Your second passage is just as bad. This may come as a shock to you, but insulting someone doesn't encourage them to lose weight. Even more dangerous is your absurd concept that the motivation for women to lose weight is to make it easier for them to "find boyfriends." That comment made me throw up in my mouth a little. I am likely not alone in that, as that comment reflects the exact mindset created by the "beauty industry" that encourages eating disorders.
And so, professor, I am no longer disappointed. I am now angry. I am angry because you have been conned by this obvious con-man (Milo Yiannopoulos). I am angry because your "Bully Culture" post clearly shows why you were so easily conned. He told you what you wanted to hear. You wanted to hear that gay people were dangerous to children. You wanted to hear that gay people have a privileged life. You wanted to hear that women should feel an obligation to be wives and mothers. You wanted to hear that overweight women were faulty. You are a person filled with thoughts and views that demonstrate both a disconnect from reality and a disdain for your fellow human beings (at least the ones that don't look and think like you). When you research, your work shows skill and careful attention to fact. When you blather--and professor, that's exactly what you've done over the last couple of days--you ignore any fact that doesn't fit your world view.
In your most recent blog post, professor, you state that you are "quite honestly struggling to understand" why people are upset with you. I will explain it to you. It's not just because you have a long-standing and frankly odd obsession with Milo Yiannopoulos. It's because the clear source of your support, the clear reason he resonates with you, is because of the fact that you both hate. You hate a great number of things and people. And Milo Yiannopoulos arrived and told you what you wanted to hear. He told you that that hate was good and Godly. He told you that the clear facts about the dangers of your views weren't real. He told you that you were the one being persecuted. And you bought it. And you had the temerity to compare him to Christ. So I'm angry, professor. I'm angry as a scholar and a Christian. I'm angry that you have the gall to wrap Republican far right bigotry, misogyny, and homophobia in the trappings of religion and then judge us from your self-made cross. I'm angry because you have lost sight of actual Christianity in the process. I'm angry because, in your insistence to play the victim, you write things that perpetuate behavior that leads to the creation of actual victims.
I ask that you apply the same drive and effort to research your social positions as you do your academic texts. And when you do so, and you find the hate within you that is so clear to the rest of us, I recommend seeking help from Christ. The real one. Not your three-named false idol.
PS: Please stop referring to "Chivalry." You clearly only understand the concept in terms of the way the Victorians re-imagined it. Call Richard Kaeuper. He can teach you something about the concept.
Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, in a recent tweet, highlighted the rather disturbing views of one Rachel Fulton Brown. To be completely clear from the outset--I have never met Rachel Fulton Brown. She is a noted medieval historian at the University of Chicago whose work has a stellar reputation. That is, in large part, why I was so alarmed by what she wrote recently. Brown is, in addition to being a scholar of medieval religion, a staunch conservative in the Trumpian mold, contributing to Breitbart "news," and serving as academia's prime cheerleader for one Milo Yiannopoulos. She recently published a short piece in Sightings, a newsletter released by the divinity school at the University of Chicago. In this piece, and in several posts on her personal blog, professor Brown proceeded to characterize Milo Yiannopoulos as some form of comedic genius and social satirist, out to expose the left for perceived slights. Professor Brown's reactions and interpretations of this man are downright terrifying, and any scholar, particularly one of her work and reputation, should know better.
I want to address three key points made in the recent posts by Brown: her notion that Milo Hanrahan is some sort of transcendent genius, her claim that universities were founded on debating theology to the borderline exclusion of everything else, and her clear perception that Christians are a targeted and persecuted class on college campuses. First up, Milo Hanrahan and his perceived brilliance. These are two direct quotations from professor Brown's recent posts:
"Milo is an imp--and he relishes it. He is an imp, a clown, a fool. Or, as I prefer to call him, a holy fool. He is dangerous not because he incites violence (again, he never does, except against Dylann Roof), but because in being willing to make himself a fool, he forces others to recognize their own foolishness. Who really came off better in the exchange between Milo and Wilmore? Wilmore, who lost his cool and started cursing Milo? Or Milo, who thereafter happily egged all the other panelists on?"
"Milo, as I do, believes we are in a fight for the very existence of our culture. This is not a fight we, women, gays, minorities, all those who depend on America and the West for its ideals, can afford to lose. If on occasion he cracks a joke that makes some people uncomfortable, so be it. Jokes sting only our pride. If the joke hurts your feelings, it was something you were already anxious about yourself."
Floored yet? I sure was. Brown sees Milo Hanrahan as a "holy fool"--a person who champions his Catholic faith by pointedly mocking those who--in her view--transgress that faith. He, despite also claiming to be many things that ALSO transgress that faith, is a crusader in Brown's eyes, fighting the good fight and making people uncomfortable with his "truth." There is, of course, a problem here. That problem is that Brown judges Milo Hanrahan by what she chooses to see in him (like defining himself as a Catholic because he wears a "pair of gold crosses around his neck") and by taking his comments at face value. The issue is that Milo Hanrahan has said a lot of things, and many of them conflict with each other. At various points, he has claimed to be Catholic. He has also claimed to be Jewish. He has also claimed to not be a racist because of his long-standing relationship to a black man. He has also claimed to have been in a long-standing relationship with a Muslim man. He has also claimed to be an active prostitute who supplements his income via "sugar daddies." This may, of course, all be true. He might be a Jewish Catholic dating a black Muslim man who pays him for the privilege. It's hard to verify, since Hanrahan doesn't seem to ever be seen with such a man, nor has one been specifically mentioned in any of the articles and bios I've looked through today. But it's okay. I'm sure we can take what he says at face value. He seems like such a straightforward guy.
Speaking of, you may have wondered by this point why I've been referring to Milo Yiannopoulos as Milo "Hanrahan." If it makes you feel any better, I can also call him "Milo Andreas Wagner." He's gone by all three names--born with Hanrahan, and used the other two professionally. He used the "Milo Andreas Wagner" handle in England, where he founded a failed tech site--the Kernel--and ran it into financial chaos. Near the end of that debacle, his employees had to sue him for their wages. It seemed that when they wanted to be paid for work completed, Milo-the-Many-Named-One called them "prostitutes" (Lewis). This same Milo was expelled from his grammar school and dropped out of two different colleges. When his act didn't work in England, he brought his show across the Atlantic. So what we have here is a man with three different names, a checkered academic history, and a track record of running his endeavors into the ground and screwing people over. This same man is a self-professed Catholic when speaking about Christian issues, but a self-professed Jewish man when he is accused of being anti-Semitic. He has also, apparently, been dating a black man or a Muslim man or a sugar daddy for the better part of a decade, and boy does that man (men?) hate cameras, because there doesn't seem to be any indication that he exists. This is professor Brown's "holy fool" crusading to share "truth" with the corrupt liberal bastion of academia.
The reality is that Milo Hanrahan is cut from the same cloth as Ann Coulter and Sarah Palin. All of them subscribe to the "Jerry Springer/sex tape/reality television" theory of fame and fortune. All three tried (and failed) to grab fame and success in a more legitimate manner. All three play clear characters (Coulter plays the bitch, Palin plays the soccer mom with a shotgun, and Hanrahan plays the sassy gay conservative). They are all also tokens. A token can be a powerful political tool. We saw it several years back when the Republicans trotted out "Joe the Plumber" to make it seem like they gave half a damn about blue-collar workers. We saw it in the minstrel show tradition that tried to use narrative and caricature to convince people that African Americans were awful people who were happier enslaved (and many social stereotypes from the minstrelsy tradition are still rampant today). Palin, Coulter, and Hanrahan are all caricatures of traditionally liberal voting blocs--soccer moms, women, and the LGBT community. By trotting them out on the national stage, the Republicans use them and their routine. It's their opportunity to point to people like this and say "see, women agree with us! Gays are MORE conservative than us!" This kind of schtick isn't a marathon crusade for 1st amendment rights as professor Brown seems to believe. It's a sprint to grab as much as they can for themselves before their act gets tired. Because there comes a point, as the Revenge Tragedy genre has shown us, where shocking statements and actions no longer become shocking. People start to tune them out and look for the next thing. Why do you think all three of them go on paid speaking tours and try to publish books at a breakneck pace?
The bottom line is this--Hanrahan isn't a Christian soldier marching on. He's the shill who panders to you in increasingly discordant notes until even you start to tune him out. Professor Brown defined him as a man who "holds out the possibility of conversion, of changing hearts and minds." He holds no such possibility, nor is that his goal. His job is to rile up the base by telling them what they want to hear. His job is to create an enemy by picking various targets (minorities, generally) and intentionally making statements that marginalize them. His ultimate job is to pit those two sides against each other and then light the fuse. What professor Brown fails to note is that words matter. People like Milo Hanrahan and Ann Coulter know this. They bank on it. They march that fine line between inciting violence and firing up a crowd. That's why Hanrahan does things like raising $100k for a "white male" scholarship fund only to not actually use the money for such a fund. Both actions fuel his identity as a cartoony villain (Resnick).
But enough about Hanrahan. He doesn't matter. As I tell my students, it's important to pick an audience that doesn't agree with you but might be persuaded. That's why arguing with a con like Hanrahan is a waste of time. He will always move the goalposts in order to keep the fight going. He seeks discord, not debate, which is why he has no place on a college campus (more on this below). Let's move on to professor Brown's claims that universities were founded on debating theology. She claimed that "the medieval university on which American colleges were modeled was founded as a place to wrestle with theology; all the other arts and sciences were intended to stand in the service of this task. Moreover, the freedom of speech enshrined in our national culture was established first and foremost as a freedom to wrestle with religion." The problem here is that this is just not completely accurate. Medieval universities were initially founded on community, rather than space. And those communities, while they did have a heavy focus on religion, were hardly solely devoted to that topic. If anything, they were designed to shut down dissenting approaches to theological thought. Peter Abelard is a prime example of this, as he was expelled from several teaching posts and brought up on heresy charges more than once in order to silence him. This is also true of the 15th century scholar Lorenzo Valla, who was vilified by the Catholic Church for exposing the forgery of the Donation of Constantine. Further, American universities were based more on the Humanist tradition of Renaissance universities--which looked back to antiquity. Professor Brown claims that "culture's wellspring is religion" and uses that presupposition to lament the lack of focus on said religion in modern universities. This is just incorrect. Culture existed long before the Christian religion, and the humanist tradition (which was the model for our modern universities) looked not to religion but to antiquity. If anything, I would argue that early American universities were inspired by a combination of English humanism and American Puritanism.
But professor Brown went even further, citing a Milo Hanrahan speech wherein he noted that:
"122 of the first 123 colleges in America were Christian universities. Think about Harvard University, one of the epicenters of liberalism today. This is the founding statement of Harvard: ‘Let every student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well, the maine end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life, John 17:3.’”
This quotation, and the way professor Brown uses it to bolster her perceived case demonstrates the problem. Hanrahan tells her what she wants to hear, and her deft analytical mind (meant completely in earnest) missed the con. A historian should know better. Hanrahan's stats lack context. Yes, most early schools were established as Christian institutions. Yes, the founding statement of Harvard was a Biblical passage. But when historical context comes into the picture, it muddies the narrative of "wondrous Harvard, jewel of Christian academia" (quotes added to convey sarcasm). Harvard, the school praised by Hanrahan and Brown, was founded in 1636. It did not admit black students until the late 19th century (250 years later). It did not admit women until World War II (300 years later). In 1920, Harvard held a "Secret Court" where they interrogated several young men accused of being homosexual. Most of those men were expelled, including some who were cast out not for being gay, but for having too much compassion for people who were. As a result of the actions and decisions of that secret court, several young men died via suicide. Harvard kept this chapter of its history quiet for 82 years. So forgive me if I see the words of Milo Hanrahan and professor Brown, wistfully recalling the whitewashed institutions of yesteryear and their superior Christian foundation, in a more negative light. That foundation was not used to engender faith and spirituality. It was used to exclude women, African Americans and to root out and persecute homosexuals. I much prefer today's Harvard to the one Hanrahan and Brown envision.
Which brings me to professor Brown's third, implicit claim--her clear notion that Christians are a targeted and persecuted class on college campuses. She clearly feels victimized for her Christianity, arguing that "judging from my own experience of over 30 years in the academy, it is considered a terrible breach of etiquette, horribly rude even, to mention your religious faith if you are a Christian, never mind suggest that it in any way affects your work as a scholar." In fact, she doubles down on this claim in her response to her colleagues that were upset with her post about Milo Hanrahan, stating her belief that her colleagues have "decided that I need to be shamed for expressing my position as a Christian." I apologize in advance for being so blunt regarding a senior scholar, but this appears to be a bit of a persecution complex. She shares none of the messages critiquing her, only sharing the one message from a friend of hers that defended her (in its entirety). All due respect, but "Christian" is not a "bad word" in academia. Anyone who feels otherwise, I ask you--have you ever had to ask a professor for permission to miss class for a major religious holiday? No, of course not. The university is closed on every major Christian holiday. My Jewish and Muslim students are placed in a position where they actually need to seek permission to exercise their faith. Have you ever been encouraged to let people call you "Muhammed" or ""Fathima" because it would be easier for your instructor to remember/say your name? No, of course you haven't. But my Chinese students are actually taught to offer up anglicized--almost universally Biblical--"English names" to make it easier for their instructors and peers to call them by "name." The entire academy is built around privileging Christianity, and non-Christians have rarely (in my experience) had an issue with it. But this goes back to professor Brown's and Milo Hanrahan's earlier point--the idea that early American universities were so much better than the ones we have now. Those universities where Christianity was not just privileged, but actively enforced. The good old days before women, African Americans, international students, and LGBT students were "allowed" (or, in the parlance of Milo Hanrahan and professor Brown, before "multiculturalism" and "feminism" were mean to poor, persecuted Christianity). And I want to be clear before moving on--I have no problem at all with Christianity. I have a problem with politicized Christianity, where the only parts of the Bible valued are the ones that back up the alt-right conservative party line. I have a problem with the kind of politicized Christianity that sees a man like Donald Trump praising the religious views of himself and Hanrahan while dismissing those of Pope Francis. That kind of Christianity, to use professor Brown's own terminology, seems more like a "cult" than a religion to me.
Ultimately, this is the point of this blog post: I'm disappointed. Not angry. Disappointed. As a young scholar, I look to the big names in the field to approach situations analytically. But professor Brown has, in post after post after post, missed the point. The case of Milo Hanrahan is not about free speech. His goal isn't to "speak." It's to "incite." His livelihood is to troll for reactions and create fires in his wake and, like a professional athlete, he only has a limited time to do it before people tune him out (like Palin and Coulter). He's playing a role that only works if he incites one side and enrages the other. It's the sociological equivalent of shouting fire in a crowded theater. I love the First Amendment. I think it is crucial and the bedrock of our country. But that's not what this is about. College campuses are places designed to engender debate and discussion. For that to happen, both sides need to approach that space with ideas based on experience and research and with the idea that they are seeking knowledge as much as dispensing it. Milo Hanrahan does neither. He doesn't drop "truth bombs"--just bombs, designed to cause the chaos that follows, which he, as professor Brown showed, clearly enjoys.
Professor Brown's "holy fool" is in reality a token shill. His joke at his own expense on Bill Maher's show, praised by Brown as his ability to laugh at himself, only serves as one more shot at a favored target of the Right. They are using him, and he is gleefully allowing himself to be used. I don't hate Milo Hanrahan. He, like Palin and Coulter before him, is going to be a rich man when his run has fizzled. We may never find out who he really is or if he actually holds any of these beliefs. We have enough names and biographies for him at this point that he could be three people. But hey, he's getting his. I've ignored him almost completely because it seemed obvious to me what he is--an attention seeking internet troll who, in our current political climate, can turn said trolling into a fortune if he plays his cards right. If anything, I pity him. No, I'm disappointed by the fact that a respected scholar at an illustrious institution bought Milo Hanrahan's schtick hook, line, and sinker. You were played, professor. Nowhere is that more obvious than in this passage that you recently wrote:
"This is not how Milo, by his own account, expected things to turn out when he came to America. As he told Tucker Carlson on Fox News the night after the riot, Milo, who comes from the U.K., saw America as 'the land of the free, the home of the brave.' 'In America,' he said, 'I always imagined that this was a country where you could be, do and say anything.' Much to his dismay, he found America even more oppressive to freedom of speech than Europe. He has been particularly surprised by the atmosphere on college campuses, where he has encountered 'restrictions on the freedom of speech, groupthink and penalties, social and institutional and financial penalties for free expression like nothing I ever experienced before'" (Brown).
He found no such thing, professor Brown. Again, you are taking him at his word. The word of a man with a history of academic failure. The word of a man with three names. The word of a man who was an abject failure before he realized that he could come to a country that wouldn't see right through him. A country with plenty of free speech and a large audience ready and willing to buy his bullshit--including, unfortunately, an eminent scholar at an esteemed academic institution.
Passages about Hanrahan and Brown were pulled from the following sites/articles:
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