World Cup Teams Protest, Elon Offers Amnesty, Fox’s New Attitude on Crime, Georgia GOP Wants Fewer Voters, Push for Law Allowing Medical Misinformation, Antisemitism Invades Reality TV, and More!
My thoughts on the top--and not so top--stories in this week's political, sports, and pop culture news.
How do I choose the stories for my newsletter? How do articles about protests at the World Cup and voter suppression share the same space with articles about reality TV, movies, and music? My mission statement is that I investigate the intersection of popular culture and politics. Sounds fancy, but what does it mean?
Trying to understand pop culture is like a cat trying to catch a flashlight beam on the floor. We see it, we experience it, but it’s all happening so fast and it keeps moving that it’s hard to know what it means and how it’s affecting our culture and values in the long run. But to me, pop culture is the Lewis and Clark, Magellan, and Ponce de Leon of society—explorers charting new worlds, taking us to undiscovered countries, whether it’s in art, language, fashion, or social activism. As with any bold explorers, there are missteps (a reality TV star became president!), but there is also amazing innovation that evolves our culture toward who we want to be.
It’s all so wonderfully exciting. I’m glad we’re on this adventure together.
Sports: A Tale of Two World Cup Protests
Germany Protests FIFA Decision That Blocked Rainbow Armbands (The New York Times)
Summary: Two days after FIFA told Germany and several other European teams that if they chose to wear OneLove armbands supporting LGBTQ+ rights, the teams would be punished with yellow cards during their games. The armbands were meant to highlight Qatar’s criminalization of homosexual conduct.
In response, when the German team lined up for their team photo in Khalifa International Stadium, they covered their mouths to show how FIFA tried—in vain—to silence them.
My Take: The German team’s tweet is an eloquent moral line in the sand: “It wasn’t about making a political statement — human rights are nonnegotiable.” The team’s defiant photo has already become so iconic that we will be seeing it for many generations to come as a symbol of athletes who don’t leave their consciences in the locker room or at the bank.
When the German team lost against Japan, a lot of social media complaints were about how the team lost because it was distracted by their commitment to social justice. These comments show a lack of understanding of how elite athletes perform—and how human beings should act.
At that level, their stance on social justice isn’t a distraction but rather a bolster to who they are. Bill Russell and Muhammad Ali publicly stood up against racism and it never diminished their dominance. But even if it did, they would rather be complete human beings with loyalty to others rather than vapid sportsbots who must win at all costs.
Germany’s team captain, Manuel Neuer, explained after their loss to Japan: “We said they can take our armband, but as much as Fifa might want to, they will never silence us. We stand for our values and for human rights. We wanted to show that.”
Now, those are true sports heroes.
In Related News: “Iranian Soccer Players Refuse to Sing National Anthem at World Cup” (The Daily Beast)
Summary: “The Iranian national soccer team refused to sing their country’s national anthem before their first game of the World Cup in Qatar on Monday in an apparent sign of solidarity with protesters at home. All 11 starting players in the team playing against England remained mute as their fans at the Khalifa International Stadium booed and jeered while others wept and applauded. Iran has been roiled by months of protests which began when a young woman, Mahsa Amini, died in the custody of so-called ‘morality police’ after being detained for not wearing her hijab correctly. Violent regime crackdowns on street demonstrations have seen hundreds killed and over 15,000 arrested, with at least one unnamed ‘rioter’ being sentenced to death for his part in the protests.
My Take: It is one thing for athletes to protest when they come from countries that support free speech, but a very different thing when they come from a restrictive country like Iran, where publicly expressing anti-government sentiments can lead to prison and even death. Seeing these athletes risk so much to make their country free is what true patriotism is about. Their solidarity to the cause is inspiring—a lesson we could all learn from.
Social Media: That’s Not How Polls Work
Summary: After polling his 118.7 million Twitter followers, Twitter owner Elon Musk decided to offer “amnesty” to certain users who had previously been suspended for harmful practices. He immediately restored Donald Trump’s account, though Trump said he didn’t see any reason to return to Twitter. Also restored were the accounts of Ye (formerly Kanye West, who just announced his candidacy for president of the U.S.) and accused misogynist Andrew Tate. However, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones would not be reinstated.
My Take: This is not about Elon Musk but about the dangers of using social media polls to make decisions. In his tweet, Musk said, “Vox Populi. Vox Dei.” which is Latin for “the voice of the people is the voice of God.” Even if that were true, is this really the voice of the people? The numbers suggest no.
Musk has 118.7 followers. Twitter has 330 million users, 68 million in the U.S. His decision is based on the fact that 72.4% responded that they wanted him to restore accounts. However, that 72.4% is only of 3.1 million responders. That’s less than 1% of total Twitter users and only about 2.5% of his own followers. Factor in that those most likely to respond are his followers, who are likely more in line with his political philosophy. Also, factor in the question was phrased in such a way as to elicit a yes answer by trivializing the reasons these people were suspended.
The poll is meaningless as a “voice of the people” any more than a group of people sunning on the deck of a super yacht in the Mediterranean are the voice of the people. The people polled were predisposed toward the answer that Musk wanted—and yet, even then the number of respondents was relatively insignificant.
It’s his company and he can make any choice he wants. But we must all avoid using social media polls to “prove” anything.
News Media: Now That’s What I Call Fake News
Crime coverage on Fox News halved once US midterms were over (The Guardian)
Summary: In the weeks before the midterm elections, Fox News supported the Republican Party’s message to American voters that, thanks to Democrats, crime was taking over the country. Immediately after the election, Fox News’ reporting of crime was reduced by 50%, from 141 crime segments a week to 71.
My Take: It’s no secret that to politicians, perception is reality. And the best way to win elections is by scaring voters into believing their lives are in imminent danger unless their chosen candidate steps in to save them. Our culture is addicted to the Savior Syndrome, from our religions to our action movies to our notion of romance.
Fox News wanted us to believe that we were only months from Mad Max country, despite the fact that FBI statistics show a slight decrease in violent crimes. Fox News and the GOP have those same statistics, but chose to deliberately mislead the public—lie to us—in order to get something they wanted. Isn’t that the definition of a con job?
Kareem’s Video Break
Watch this 7’5” French phenom make a shot that is a nightmare for his defenders.
Politics: GOP Wants to Protect Us from Democracy
Republican voting law poses hurdles in Georgia Senate runoff (The Guardian)
Summary: In an effort to make voting more difficult for the young, the poor, and People of Color, Georgia’s Republicans passed a law that reduces runoff voting time from 63 days to 28 days. Another part of the bill is designed to keep college kids home for Thanksgiving unable to vote by excluding voting on Saturdays close to a holiday. A lawsuit brought by the Democratic Party of Georgia, Warnock for Georgia and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has made Saturday, November 26 open again for voting.
My Take: Fearing that Sen. Warnock will defeat Herschel Walker in the run-off, Republicans are resorting to every dirty trick they can think of. But none is dirtier—and more destructive to a democracy—than deliberately suppressing voters because they may not agree with you. To further insult Georgians’ intelligence, they called their legislation the “election integrity law.” But what they mean is the “election insurance law,” insuring they can prevent enough Democrats from voting to tip the election in Walker’s favor in order to have more power in the U.S Senate. That’s pretty much the opposite of integrity.
This is especially heinous considering there is no need for any new law regarding election integrity. There is no problem. Republicans have tried to whip up public support with lies, including from Trump. Last month, “A federal judge said in a ruling Wednesday that evidence shows former President Donald Trump had been told the number of 2016 voter fraud instances he alleged occurred in Georgia were wrong, but that he continued to make the claims both in court and publicly.” The same judge had ruled in a previous case that Trump had “more likely than not” committed felony obstruction and other crimes in his failed attempt to overturn the 2020 election.
The ideal of American democracy is that the parties present their political proposals and reasons for them and then Americans vote which they think is better. It’s not that one party, fearing they can’t muster the majority, restrict others from voting.
Medicine: Snake Oil Profiteers Want Protection
The right wing gets its knives out for California’s new medical misinformation law (The Los Angeles Times)
Summary: “Painfully aware of how attacks on COVID-19 vaccines and anti-pandemic policies have undermined public health, California enacted a law this year that makes spreading medical misinformation and disinformation about the pandemic grounds for revoking a doctor’s license.” Doing so opens them to discipline by the California Medical Board, up to and including license revocation.
As a result, two lawsuits financed by right-wing organizations have been filed claiming that such restrictions are a violation of free speech. In response to one of the lawsuits, “California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta argued that AB 2098 falls within an exception to the 1st Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech carved out by the Supreme Court. In several rulings, the court has allowed states to ‘regulate professional conduct, even though that conduct incidentally involves speech.’”
My Take: We can all agree that medical consensus is not always definitive. Wine is bad for you, wine is good for you, only red wine is good for you? Baby aspirin is good for the heart or ineffective? It can get confusing. But that is how science works. It makes conclusions based on research but then continues research to fine-tune its findings. Rather than be frustrated with contradictions, we need to be happy with the fact that scientists are relentless in their pursuit of truth.
Do you think the lawsuit backers (including the Koch brothers political network) don’t listen to their doctors when they get sick. Do you think they’re question the research on tumors when they need surgery? No. This kind of political maneuvering is meant to rouse those people easily manipulated. Those who suffer most from medical hesitancy are the poor, not the wealthy who can afford the best treatment money can buy.
Those who would exploit for profit people’s lack of understanding of how science works in order to sell crackpot cures—as they did during COVID—are especially despicable because they know people will get sick and even die without proper treatment. They don’t care because their attitude is that if you’re dumb enough to believe them you deserve whatever happens to you.
Pop Culture: Antisemitism Invades Reality TV
Andy Cohen Addresses 'Alarming' Antisemitism in U.S. amid Lizzy Savetsky's Sudden Exit from 'RHONY' Reboot (People)
Summary: Production on the new season of Real Housewives of New York City had already begun and is set to premiere next year, but new cast member Lizzy Savetsky abruptly left the show after receiving antisemitic attacks. “As a proud orthodox Jewish woman, I thought participating in this series would be a great chance to represent people like me and share my experience,” she wrote of Instagram. “Unfortunately, from the time of my announcement in the cast, I was on the receiving end of a torrent of antisemitic attacks.” Bravo’s Andy Cohen responded to her announcement by sharing his own experience: “What I can also tell you is that when I've spoken out against antisemitism, the response that I've gotten has been quite alarming.”
My Take: This is the real “cancel culture,” in which threats of physical violence keep any artistic or cultural work from society. This is different than a dissenting group threatening to boycott a work or sponsor, which is within every person’s right. If you’re a patriot supporting free speech, which of choice, threats or boycotts, endorses free speech and which one suppresses it.
Whats at stake is having people with different cultures being preemptively silenced from sharing their stories. Groups who share their heritages become more understood and therefore accepted by mainstream culture. Which is exactly what bigots want to prevent.
I don’t blame Savetsky for pulling out of the show to protect herself and her family. I hope that Bravo will find another Orthodox Jewish woman to take her place in order to show antisemites that they will not be bullied.
Movies: This Movie Better Be Nominated for Best Picture
The Banshees of Inisherin
This is one of the best films of the year. Like two of writer-director Martin McDonaugh’s other films (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and In Bruges), the movie is a study in personal relationships put under the pressure of social conflicts. The plot is simple: Two lifelong friends (Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson) are suddenly thrown into turmoil when one decides he no longer wants to be friends. The problem is that he has no compelling reason, just that his former friends is not too bright, has no appreciation of the arts, and is a waste of his time. The resulting turmoil eventually encompasses everyone on the tiny Irish isle.
The film blends just the right amount of emotion, humor, and absurdity to make a stark and compelling commentary about political divisiveness around the world. Farrell character represents conservatives: a nice but not too bright man happy in his unexamined life. Gleeson’s character represents liberals: artistic, depressed, and not nearly as smart as he thinks. The pettiness of their conflict destroys themselves and the paradise they had.
When I first saw the trailer for this film, I thought, “Who comes up with a concept so boldly original?” McDonaugh makes what seems like a small film about small people much bigger and important, making us reflect on ourselves and our relationship with those we don’t agree with. Yet, it’s also very intimate and touching. This should be a top contender for Best Picture of the Year—or else I’m returning the Oscar I received for my performance in Airplane!
Music: A Certified Genius Returns
Summary: “Joni Mitchell has announced a new live album of her recent surprise Newport Folk festival performance. Speaking to Elton John on his Apple Music radio show Rocket Hour in a rare, wide-ranging interview, Mitchell confirmed that she and her team are ‘trying to’ release an album of the show, a collaborative performance with US Americana singer Brandi Carlile which featured guests including Blake Mills, Marcus Mumford, Wynonna Judd and more.”
My Take: Mitchell is one of the top five songwriter-performers of the past century. What makes her so brilliant isn’t just the emotional and intellectual depth of her lyrics—which far surpass most writers—but her constant evolution musically. Her more jazz-oriented albums—Mingus, The Hissing of Summer Lawns—did not please those fans who wanted more of her folky confessionals. She didn’t care. She blazed forward creating music that no one had heard before, much of which is only now being recognized as ground-breaking.
But even if we just talked about her early work, Mitchell would still be one of the best songwriters in history. One of my favorite poems by W.B. Yeats is “Second Coming,” which also might be his most well known. Two of his best lines are: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.” Mitchell adapted the poem into the song “Slouching Toward Bethlehem,” rewriting his brilliant lines into even better lines:
The best lack conviction
Given some time to think
And the worst are full of passion
I selected the video of her playing “Woodstock” because her song captures the spirit of what Woodstock meant: the moment when young people realized they had a common voice and the numbers to make that voice meaningful. The world was never the same after Woodstock and Mitchell understands the longing for meaning that brought them all together.