Of Whites and Men
In the aftermath of the events of August 11/12 in Charlottesville, white noise was the best way I knew to describe the now loudly surfacing collection of white nationalist groups. Like an assorted Whitman's boxed-chocolate sampler. Only, well, significantly whiter.
Mostly men, these whites had made a rather concerted, even vitriolic plea for wider cultural attention to their fringe ideas. Upon getting my attention, I wrote in late August:
It is hard to find [within white nationalist narratives] any actual, comprehensive vision to heal the fissures and fractures of American society...to redeem the breadth and width of our social story. [Instead] There is only misguided intellect masquerading and marauding as cultural grievance and the naked will to power. There are only the recycled temptations of social Darwinism's end-game: competition, conflict, supremacy, exclusion.
Quite serious stuff, naturally.
Recently, however, I took to binge-watching Season 7 of "Portlandia" via Netflix. If there's ever a show that'll remind you that there is, indeed, another form of public discourse which appears to work far more effectively than standard argumentation, it's the parody-rich "Portlandia."
For me, parody has that unique quality of masking absurdity or ridiculousness by actually uncovering it.
So, for instance, when Jason Kessler—principal organizer for the ill-fated Unite the Right rally—says, as he does in an interview for an episode of "This American Life," that whites "are being replaced culturally and ethnically" and that this meets the United Nations criteria for "genocide," of course it's genuinely hard not to laugh.
But the whole matter is no laughing matter. Until, that is, you are submerged headfirst into a "Portlandia" parody—part sketch, part musical—called "What About Men?".
Over a casual bike ride through quiet residential streets in Portland, Ore., surely one of America's poster-children for a progressive twenty-first century society, two anxiety-ridden dudes discuss feminism and its cultural impact.
We see these guys caught up in a frantic search for some movement to belong to, for something that can narrate their own believed sense of disenfranchisement, marginalization, and powerlessness. They lament—with straight poker-faces, no less—that men are the ones being left behind in all the progress.
"Men need safe spaces, too," one dude says, with the other guy responding, "The only place I feel safe expressing myself is social media—under a pseudonym."
Feeling safe...on social media...under a pseudonym.
Absolute comedy gold.
Eventually, these anxious guys punctuate the thick cultural air with that vague proclamation that has become all too familiar of late: "In some ways it kind of feels like we're a minority all of a sudden."
Cue the music video.
The "Portlandia" parody functions successfully in that vintage round-about-way: it captures perfectly the absurdity of the supposed victimization of males. Meanwhile, the sheer ridiculousness on display also serves to uncover yet another outlandish story in the broken real world of actual injustice, suffering, and pain: the supposed victimization of whites—most of whom, yes, also happen to be men.