Kareem Reacts to the News: Roger Stone Calls Ivanka “Abortionist Bitch,” 60% of GOP Candidates Election Deniers, Lisa Rinna’s Villainy, Fans Boycott "GoT," The Weeknd and Drake Boycott Grammys
My thoughts on the top--and not so top--stories in this week's political, sports, and pop culture news.
So many juicy stories, let’s just get right to it.
Summary: Danish filmmaker Christoffer Guldbrandsen released footage from his documentary A Storm Foretold of Trump pal Roger Stone ranting against Trump, his daughter Ivanka, and his son-in-law Jared Kushner after not getting a post-January 6 pardon from Trump on inauguration day of January 20, 2021.
My Take: Now this is reality TV at its best. Another Trump ass-kisser who got betrayed while his lips were still firmly affixed. Understandable, considering Trump had previously pardoned Stone after he was convicted of witness tampering, obstructing an official proceeding, and five counts of making false statements.
Not much to add that the video doesn’t already tell us about this self-important bloviating braggart. I post it here for your entertainment. Also, a reminder that in other clips from that same documentary, Stone calls Trump’s presidency the “greatest single mistake in American history.” That from a Trump insider.
A majority of GOP nominees deny or question the 2020 election results (The Washington Post)
Summary: “A majority of Republican nominees on the ballot this November for the House, Senate and key statewide offices — 291 in all — have denied or questioned the outcome of the last presidential election, according to a Washington Post analysis.” Election deniers make up 51% of GOP candidates, with most of them, 171, expected to win.
My Take: For a public official or candidate to deny the election results without any credible evidence is a direct attack on democracy and a threat to the country. Anyone running for office who denies the election outcome has no love for this country, only for their own political ambition. Most of them know there was nothing wrong with the election—even Donald Trump privately admitted he lost—so making this claim is purely a move to enhance their political careers at the cost of destabilizing their country. Alternately, if they really believe the election wasn’t fair without having any credible evidence, they are too unintelligent to be an elected official. To vote for such a candidate is to vote against democracy and America’s existence. Justify it anyway you want, but that’s the fact.
About 60% of Americans will have an election denier on their ballots in November. If all these deniers are elected as governors, U.S. Senators, U.S. Representatives, and more, they will have influence on how subsequent elections are conducted and how the votes are counted. They have already proven—through their efforts to pass laws restricting voter access to minorities, the elderly, and the poor—that they are willing to subvert the Constitution for their own ends. Here’s a list of candidates so you can see who the true subversives are. Remember them come election time.
Hey, election deniers, I will again make this challenge: If you truly are committed to the belief that the election was stolen, then you should be willing to wager everything you own on it—though I will accept your pledge to drop out of the race and never run for office again. Here’s the challenge: you bring all your evidence of election fraud before a panel of three professors of logic. They will access your evidence purely based on logical fallacies. If they declare you correct, then that really will boost your election chances. But if they declare the evidence is insufficient, you disappear from politics. Forever. Couldn’t be fairer.
But when you lose, you can’t then say the panel was rigged. Any takers? Ron DeSantis? Greg Abbott?
Support this newsletter by sending good thoughts—but mostly by subscribing!
SHAW UNIVERSITY STUDENTS SEARCHED BY DRUG-SNIFFING DOGS ON WAY TO CONFERENCE, PRESIDENT SPEAKS OUT (Black Enterprise)
Summary: A bus containing 18 Black students from Shaw University, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) was stopped by South Carolina police and boarded with drug-sniffing dogs. Shaw University’s president, Paulette Dillard, said, “The action taken by South Carolina Law Enforcement in Spartanburg County was unfair and unjust. I firmly believe had the bus been occupied by white students, they would not have been detained.” Nothing was found by the police, but the driver was cited for improper lane use.
My Take: A bus allegedly makes an improper lane violation and that’s cause to pull the bus over, board with armed police and drug-sniffing dogs, and subject the students to unwarranted stress and humiliation. As the son of a decorated cop, I don’t like to see every police action as motivated by racism. But the only probable cause here was Driving While Black.
There are so many incidents like this that it can seem exhausting and overwhelming. But every time we shine a light on this kind of behavior, it makes it harder to do again. The light is now on you Sheriffs’ Department of Spartanburg County.
Entertainment: No Black Dragons Allowed
‘Game of Thrones’ Fans Boycott George R.R. Martin’s Next Book, Accusing Coauthors of Racism (Variety)
Summary: Thousands of fans are threatening to boycott soon-to-be-released The Rise of the Dragon: An Illustrated History of the Targaryen Dynasty, Volume One, a reference book about characters made popular by the blockbuster series, Game of Thrones. At issue is the alleged racism of co-authors Linda Antonsson and Elio M. García Jr., who have publicly complained about the casting on non-white actors in both Game of Thrones and the new series House of the Dragon. Antonsson wrote that Black actor Steve Toussaint should not have been cast as the character of Corlys: “There are no Black Valyrians and there should not be any in the show.”
My Take: We’ve been hearing this same nonsense a lot lately, with superfans complaining about Black actors in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power and Obi-Wan Kenobi. The complaints usually take the form of racist online postings.
I doubt that Antonsson and García’s protestations are based on racism, just an obsessive, even cultish, devotion to the source material. Many fantasy fans (I am among them) love to enjoy a fictional world so stunningly different from our real one that we are completely transported. However, we only want to visit those worlds, not inhabit them. Stay too long and it messes with your perceptions of reality. Hence, the racist trolls whose imagination can only be dictated by others and are therefore unable to incorporate new ideas. They are basically like all religious fanatics fetishizing their holy book.
While the co-authors’ motivation for their complaints is not racist, the complaints themselves are. It’s truly shocking that they are so curled-up in the cavern of their fantasy world that they don’t recognize this. Movies and TV are not books. Plots and events need to be changed, characters merged or eliminated. Also, they reach a wider more diverse audience. That brings with it a huge responsibility to be inclusive in casting as well as behind the cameras.
Whining about casting Black actors just because it doesn’t strictly follow source material reveals one to be out of touch with the arts as well as with social values.
TV: When Reality TV Goes Dark
Summary: The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills cast member Lisa Rinna was booed by Bravo fans when she took the stage at BravoCon because of her harmful and outrageous attacks this past season.
My Take: Villainy in reality television is usually about as important—and unique—as a dog licking its own butt. Every show must have its villains, and usually those designated shit-stirrers embrace their roles with gleeful gusto. They know that villains are often the most memorable characters in these little melodramas. Memorable translates into social media followers, which translates into other lucrative jobs. Mostly, it’s all turgid turmoil in a tiny snow globe of the entitled elite, so it doesn’t matter in the real world. In part, its insignificance allows it to be entertaining.
But this season of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills is an exception. This time, the villainy is real evil—and the possible cultural effects can be widespread. It’s neither funny nor entertaining, but a troubling expression of our worst impulses.
I’m going to pause here to caution those of you so inclined not to write to tell me you never watch reality shows because their trivial or not “real” or beneath you. That’s what some people say about why they don’t watch sports or television or read only the classics or listen only to Beethoven. That’s cool. But this article isn’t about high culture, it’s about popular culture—and popular culture is more a reflection of who we are as a society and where we’re going. It influences politics and social behavior.
I also want to point out that the Real Housewives franchise has many influential celebrity fans including Michelle Obama, Meryl Streep, Harry Stiles, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Jonah Hill, Jessica Chastain, Melanie Lynskey and Jason Ritter, Florence Pugh, Chrissy Teigen, Mila Kunis, Elizabeth Moss, Sarah Paulson, Eddie Redmayne, Zooey Deschanel, Diddy, Megan Fox, and others. That extends the social influence of the show well beyond the number of viewers for each episode.
Here’s my quick pitch for what we can all learn from the Real Housewives franchise: Much of our best literature features unreliable narrators (like Holden Caufield in The Catcher in the Rye) who tell us their version of the truth while we clearly see how wrong they are and root for them to snap out of their delusion before it destroys them. That’s reality TV in a nutshell. We watch the cast in their confessionals explain, rationalize, and justify their questionable behavior while we clearly see how they have completely misinterpreted reality (or at least the reality we’re shown). Whenever one of the cast members finally realizes they may have gone too far and shivved their public persona, they usually start talking about their children, spouses, childhood traumas, and charities as damage control. Sadly, you can be a great parent or spouse and still be an awful person.
Sure, the flipped tables, thrown drinks, petty feuds, and screaming tantrums are fun to watch. The incessant demands for apologies—not just apologies but the right kind of apologies—does none of them any good image-wise. Worse, the obsession with physical appearance perpetuates the harmful idea that looks are a woman’s main attribute. I didn’t say only attribute, but—in these shows—main. Every time they meet, the first words are always, “You look amazing.” “You’re so gorgeous.” “That outfit is beautiful.” Compliments are fine, but should appearance always be the first concern? That sends an unhealthy message to young girls about the priorities in measuring their worth. Jewelry, clothing, make-up occupies much of their conversational bandwidth—or hawking their own lines of jewelry, clothing, makeup.
Which brings me back to this season’s villainy perpetrated by Lisa Rinna. In past seasons, she’s shown herself to be duplicitous, back-stabbing, untruthful, and vindictive. But, hey, who isn’t on these shows? Especially galling in the past was how whenever she got caught in her villainy, she would dismiss it with a girlish giggle and a pert smile and pretend it never happened. If she saw any weakness or faltering in one of the women, she would hone in on them like a bloodhound smelling a wounded fox, then lead the other women to the wounded fox so they could devour her. Crappy, but still at the edge of acceptable behavior for the show. And sometimes her husband, actor Harry Hamlin, would come wandering into a scene, all reasonable and calm and charming and you’d think, “He’s so cool, maybe I’m misreading the situation.”
Then she’d do it again. And again.
This season, Rinna’s mother Lois died so we definitely had to cut her some slack and accept some otherwise unacceptable behavior. But, though she may have gone on a few understandable grief rages, her attacks on the other women were still within her usual modus operandi. Whenever she wants to make the point that she’s passionate, she screams, as she did at Sutton Stracke (an easy target). She targeted most of the cast with accusations and innuendo.
But the worst was her relentlessly dragging Kathy Hilton through the mud so she could make herself a victim when someone else is clearly having a very traumatic breakdown. This is not a defense of Hilton’s behavior, which included some unhinged raging and ranting. But anyone with real compassion would have helped another human being through that emotional turmoil, not paraded herself around as the poor-poor-pitiful-me victim.
Later, she justified her endlessly talking about Hilton’s episode by claiming she would “get sick and get cancer” if she didn't keep sharing the gossip about Hilton. Thankfully, “Dr.” Rinna’s diagnosis was undercut by The American Institute for Cancer Research who assured everyone that you can’t actually get cancer from not gossiping. They suggested she used “the specter of cancer as emotional blackmail to justify airing her grievances.” That’s what I mean about the show’s influence: her misinformation about cancer needed a public correction by the AICR.
Of course, there always comes the apology tour afterward in order to repair any persona damage before the next season. This includes using the phrase “I own it” it lot. A lot! But that just isn’t enough this time.
In the past, I have praised Bravo TV for its commitment to diversity and Andy Cohen for his ingenious creativity. That praise still holds. Top Chef is still the gold standard of cooking shows. And all the Housewives shows and similar shows (Married to Medicine, Southern Charm) are undeniably fun. But Bravo has a responsibility to draw some ethical lines in the sand when it comes to self-serving cruelty that pushes past entertainment into enablement. The show is no longer fun when I feel that, by watching, I’m endorsing and participating in cruelty.
Bravo, do the right thing.
Music: Defying Categories
Drake And The Weeknd To Skip Out On 2023 Grammy Awards (The Hollywood Reporter)
Summary: Drake and The Weeknd continue to boycott the Grammys due to perceived past slights in which their work was either ignored despite massive sales and great reviews or wrongly categorized. Silk Sonic is also boycotting. At issue is the lack of gender and racial diversity among winners and the secretive backroom nature of the nominating process.
My Take: I’m not a fan of competitions among artists because the criteria is too subjective and the process itself can too easily be influenced by the business concerns of promoting certain artists. But I’m also realistic in that the public loves to see celebrities parade and perform. Still, I’d prefer that such awards be for the Five Best rather than the Best. Five Best Records of the Year, Five Best Movies of the Year, and so forth. Let us recognize more of our artists for their accomplishments rather than for being singled out.
Having said that, I’m thrilled that the winners will have their glorious and well-deserved time in the spotlight. At the same time, I’m in complete sympathy with those artists who question the transparency of the Grammys and their ability to reflect the times. That’s why I decided to post The Weeknd’s latest because you won’t hear it on the Grammys—and it deserves to be heard.