Monday, April 10

Bobo in Chapel Hill

David Brooks, "Virtues and Victims", New York Times April 9
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.


Anonymous said...

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"?

Sadly, I believe he is.

Brooks is an asshole. I love that he thinks this is about the bad influence of shock jocks on what are apparently otherwise upstanding boys who would simply have been studying for finals were it not for Howard Stern saying "titties" on air.
It fits nicely in with his narrative about "Charlotte Simmons" and his suggestion that gang rape is about "lust gone wild", as though these poor guys were just foolish for having been infatuated, this evening, with a stripper who for some bizarre reason didn't *want* to fuck them all. I mean, really, if they were smart, they'd have kept their lust in check long enough to find a real whore, right?

He seems to be regarding this as something very much like the time those wretched pranksters on Greek Row watched "Animal House" and ended up kidnapping their rival fraternity's mascot pig.

I mean, really, how is this *not* a result of a privileged group behaving in an entitled way because they felt their victim was socially powerless?
Why the hell *does* he think this happened? Apparently because strippers inflame lust. The fact that they are societally marginalized as women, minorities, and sluts and rarely report rape is, evidently, just a coincidence.

Anonymous said...

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"?

Well, that was I Am Charlotte Simmons in a nutshell.

James Briggs Stratton "Doghouse" Riley said...

"Shock jocks and raunch culture". I started a paragraph about that, got off track, and cut things short. I'm still a little under the weather. As if that comment weren't bad enough referring to a possible rape, he was talking about the kid who wrote the "cut their skin off" email. Does Howard Stern flay guests alive? Are torture and murder "raunchy"? I think Brooks, like many another faux-libertarian who had the brains to see how far gone the Republican party was but defended it nonetheless, has now twisted his intestines to the point where he's shitting up.

Anonymous said...

Once again, you've handily whacked another pathetic Brooks splooge. So how come he's the effing "professional columnist"? It's always boggling how the observations of jerks are elevated to insightful commentary by dint of... well, I don't know, what? How does one become a David Brooks, aside from all the right-wing foundation money that goes into its creation?

Michael Harrington, if memory serves, did another study after writing The Other America, this one about affluent children. The one factor he found common to practically all of them: a sense of entitlement—a belief that their privileged place in society was a birthright, and that the less fortunate didn't exist as anything more than something to be better than. Add to this the special treatment and inordinate behavioral latitude lavished on athletes in Duke-like settings and the word entitlement doesn't do it justice.

The Duke story is not about one individual but a group, acting with shared values (or lack of them), engaging in behavior with a gender and racial animus that simply can't be explained as psychological aspects of individual character. This is textbook social pathology. To say otherwise is right-wing libertarian idiocy, which brings us back to David Brooks.

Jaye Ramsey Sutter said...

One aspect of this story that enrages me is how Brooks' paper keeps putting this story on the sports pages. Yes, yes it is about a team, but rape isn't a sport. The woman isn't a goal, although it is interesting that they rape her as a team, cover it up as a team. They are sort of having sex with each other as they take turns raping her.

It is interesting, too, that the story has the whole race, economic, social, educational angles but those aspects tend to diminish the bottom line--rape on college campuses is common and that blunt truth is dulled with all the childish "compare/contrast" in the reporting.

Tom Wolfe my ass. The story shouldn't wear a white suit or in the case of David, Brooks Brothers. It is about rape and the sense of entitlement that these "men" have isn't about race, class, or expensive schools. Why does anyone expect people with money to act any different? Only the poor uneducated flabby men rape? Their entitlement doesn't even come from sports--unfortunately it comes from being a certain type of male. Present company excluded--even liberal male bloggers don't seems to get it.

But y'all do. And yes David Brooks is an asshole.

Anonymous said...

Totally offtopic: I note that the random motto generator merely announces itself no matter how often I refresh.
I assume that all the mottos it is generating are exactly the same but *made up of different pixels*.

I therefore, Riley, am in awe of both your grasp on the mysteries of the cosmos and your programming skills.

Anonymous said...

Did Brooks mention that "decades ago" the whole thing would have been hushed up by cooperative police and possibly a little cash passed under the table?

Anonymous said...

jaye, I didn't notice that this was on the sports pages until this morning, since I tend to only get my news online. That's, you're absolutely right, appalling.