All great scandals occur twice, first as Tom Wolfe novels, then as real-life events that nightmarishly mimic them.
I'm not sure, but I'm guessing this is an example of the patented Brooks humor. Oh, wait, that's Albert Brooks.
And so after "I Am Charlotte Simmons," it was perhaps inevitable that Duke University would have to endure a mini-social explosion involving athletic thugs, resentful townies, nervous administrators, male predators, aggrieved professors, binge drinking and lust gone wild.
Okay, maybe that is David Brooks humor. Or maybe he felt the need to call in some backup: Tom Wolfe, the bullpen ace of the conservative sociology staff.
The key word in the coverage has been "entitlement." In a thousand different ways commentators have asserted (based on no knowledge of the people involved) that the lacrosse players behaved rancidly because they felt privileged and entitled to act as they pleased.
The main theme shaping the coverage is that inequality leads to exploitation. The whites felt free to exploit the blacks. The men felt free to exploit women. The jocks felt free to exploit everybody else. As a Duke professor, Houston Baker, wrote, their environment gave the lacrosse players "license to rape, maraud, deploy hate speech and feel proud of themselves in the bargain."
It could be that this environmental, sociological explanation of events is entirely accurate. But it says something about our current intellectual climate that almost every reporter and commentator used these mental categories so unconsciously and automatically.
Several decades ago, American commentators would have used an entirely different vocabulary to grapple with what happened at Duke. Instead of the vocabulary of sociology, they would have used the language of morality and character.
And several decades ago, whites could simply murder blacks with impunity in many areas of the country. So maybe that's not the best place to go looking for tales of morality laid low.
But beyond that, and leaving aside how easy it is to say and just how much proof Brooks offers, what is this supposed to mean, "the language of morality and character"? Isn't the amply demonstrated racism on the part of some members of the Duke lacrosse team a matter of morality and character? Isn't the abuse of the less powerful by the privileged a moral issue? Is Brooks suggesting that the coverage should run along the lines of "Immoral college students, cast adrift in a world of moral relativity, drink, rape, and say bad things"?
The salient thing Brooks conveniently ignores is what makes this national news: rape on college campuses is sadly commonplace, and rarely more than a local story; rape by members of a prestigious institution's athletic teams is news. The racial component is, unfortunately, the result of racist comments, and later writings, by team members or others who attended the soirée. It would still be news if the victim was white. The "sociological" aspect of the story is just decent reporting. We may whine that under the circumstances it is fit into a particular script without solid evidence, but if so we have to indict 98% of the commentary we're bombarded with every day (not to mention, as Brooks did not, that the character of the "exploited blacks" has also been established with no knowledge of the people involved). Calling what happened that night "rancid behavior" does not mitigate the history of racism in this country, and referring to its acknowledgment as "the current intellectual climate" shows both a lack of sensitivity and a profound wish for a mass mind eraser.
Big time college lacrosse is basically a sport of Eastern elites. If people involved have been mischaracterized as such that's unfortunate, but it's nothing that doesn't happen every commentin' day of our lives. Your Republican party has been at this sort of thing for fifty years, David. I didn't see your column decrying Rita Cosby's "hoodlum voter" comment. I didn't detect any reticence on your part about characterizing the urban poor in the wake of Katrina, or jumping on the looting angle when that still had legs.
The other thing I enjoyed about this was the Wolfe connection. I checked back to Brooks' column eighteen months ago when Charlotte Simmons came out, in which he praised "the thousands of sociological details Wolfe gets right" (though presumably Brooks has no knowledge of the people involved). So I'm not sure why he objects to other commentators illuminating the sociology in this case. Oh, wait. Yes I am.