The NBA finds itself on the horns of a dilemma in the controversy surrounding Don Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers whose racially bigoted remarks were recorded and sold to a webloid by someone (V. Stiviano) who may or may not be his girlfriend.
The Clippers are playing the Oklahoma City Thunder in the second round of the playoffs. The dilemma for the NBA is whether to promote the Clippers as having overcome the terrible adversity of working for a racist owner, or to promote the Thunder as the city having had to overcome the terrible adversity of domestic terrorism. In the race to have the most poignant victimization story, is it better to have suffered the emotional insult of working for a company owned by a guy who has expressed racial bigotry against blacks, or to have suffered the deaths of over a hundred residents because of the madness of a disgruntled citizen? It’s all about the narrative.
Oklahoma City would obviously have the better case for sympathy, except Timothy McVeigh’s bombing of the city’s federal building was over two decades ago. So maybe the Clippers should win the series. The only time anyone ever talks about the Oklahoma City bombing anymore is when the Thunder find themselves on a superlative playoff run and the NBA does its obligatory story on how the city suffered so much and how the move of the team from Seattle to Oklahoma City was so instrumental in its healing. There is a statue memorializing the bombing right outside the arena in which the Thunder play. Which the NBA inevitably pans to with its cameras at some point during a playoff series with a Thunder home game.
The NFL does much the same anytime the New Orleans Saints have a good season. During their 2009 Super Bowl run, all you ever heard was how the team’s success, after several decades of football ineptitude, helped the city heal from the devastation of Hurrican Katrina. But I’m pretty sure none of the residents of the 9th Ward made it to the Super Bowl that year.
It must be a reflection of the times that America celebrates and memorializes its tragedies and ignores its victories. There are memorials for 9/11 and the OKC bombing, but nothing for killing bin Laden, or for the Iraq war or the Afghanistan occupation. Perhaps had bin Laden been a more attractive victim, we’d have lionized him instead of killing him. But he was the son (one of hundreds, but still) of a rich Saudi businessman. So we killed him, but nobody takes much pride in it. And given what the end game has been for Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s probably best that the US doesn’t memorialize those two operations as victories. Count the lack of memorialization as rare glimpses of truth in an otherwise almost wholly Orwellian state.
America loves the histrionics of victims overcoming circumstances to achieve their dreams. Especially so when it comes to deciding upon whether or not a kid gets to achieve that ultimate of American dreams, admission to an elite university. Witness the New York Times article on what it believes were four exemplary essays submitted in support of applications to college. One kid was homeless, and told of having to steal wifi by driving around in the family home (i.e., the car) looking for hot spots in order to complete homework assignments. Another kid was the son of a dad who had lost his job and his indifference to his father’s depression that ensued (but they weren’t yet homeless, so his narrative was less compelling). Another was the child of a single mom (of course) who worked cleaning houses to provide a middle class upbringing, even if it included shopping at thrift stores way before they became cool with the hipsters. And another simply extolled the virtues of working at a fast food restaurant. My guess is that the acclaim bestowed upon these essays had more to do with the artfulness with which they were composed than with any real circumstances their authors had to overcome. Let’s get real. Nobody in this republic is a victim of much of anything except the good fortune of having been born American and thereby being too rich to have suffered any real deprivation that would make for a compelling life narrative. But writing well, in this age of wealth allowing for its consumption, is almost always handsomely rewarded. As these essays illustrate. The homeless girl was accepted to the 2018 class of Yale University. No doubt she will one day preside over the republic as a justice of the Supreme Court or some other such indicia of success and power and privilege that a Yale degree bestows. Where she can enthrall (bore?) the world with her tale of overcoming adversity. Sort of like Sonya Sotomayer does now.
More often than not, the circumstances to be overcome are self-inflicted, as another story line, provided compliments of the New York Times, illustrates. In Addict. Informant. Mother. by Susan Domimis, we are introduced to Ann, a woman who is all three of the nouns in the title. But guess what—the addict in her overwhelms everything else. She’s addicted to heroin. Her husband, Tom, introduced her to the drug shortly after he began his downward spiral into addiction that ultimately landed him in jail, where he is now, riding out a sentence for possession. Heroin addiction is not psychosomatic. It is physiological, and almost impossible to overcome without the aid of circumstance or intervention (Tom broke his through incarceration, where he couldn’t get the drug even had it been available, as he had no way to get money to buy it). If Ann only knew what a compelling narrative overcoming her heroin addiction would make. She doesn’t understand how close within her grasp is the lionization of her status as a victim who successfully endured and overcame her circumstances. If she got herself cleaned up and blamed the whole thing on Tom after divorcing him so she could raise their children as a single mom, she could maybe even get into Yale; and who knows, could maybe even run for governor of the state of Texas one day. Though her victimization is mainly self-inflicted, if she fobbed it off on her husband she could make her struggles work for her. Somebody just needs to explain to her that she has a plausible chance at the American dream of admission to an elite university awaiting her sobriety.
The victimization narrative cuts internationally. Want to know how to get Western women riled and ready to act to end atrocities against women, at least through a hashtag campaign? Show that an Islamist group is kidnapping Nigerian girls and selling them into slavery and claim that the whole cult of Islam is likewise focused on enslaving and oppressing women, as Ayaan Hersi Ali, the controversial Dutch politician of Muslim African origin, recently did in the Wall Street Journal:
It is also time for Western liberals to wake up. If they choose to regard Boko Haram as an aberration, they do so at their peril. The kidnapping of these schoolgirls is not an isolated tragedy; their fate reflects a new wave of jihadism that extends far beyond Nigeria and poses a mortal threat to the rights of women and girls. If my pointing this out offends some people more than the odious acts of Boko Haram, then so be it.
It’s all bunk. Of course, Boko Haram is an aberration that doesn’t remotely represent mainstream Islam, not in Nigeria or in any other place where vast populations of Muslims live. The compelling narrative is that the cult’s nihilistic ideology is widespread.
Yet it is impossible for the ideology of a nihilistic cult to become widespread for very long. A nihilistic cult would at best reject and refuse any attempted enhancement of its group members’ prospects for survival and propagation. At worst it would seek to impair them. Islam grew from the tiny seed of a Bedouin tribe over fifteen hundred years ago to become the religion of over a billion. Islam is not a nihilistic cult. Some who practice Islam might be nihilistic and there might arise nihilistic cults within Islam, just as has happened within Christianity and Judaism. But Islamic theology is a life-affirming one, just like its sister Abrahamic religions. People like Hersi Ali who wish to equate Islam with its most outrageous adherents seek to demonize those they view as enemies, and demonization of an enemy is the first step required of successfully coaxing men into killing their fellows.
She would like Western women to believe that Boko Haram’s kidnapping of young girls is equable with mainstream Muslims’ requirement of modesty in the dress and manners of its women. Nothing could be further from the truth. And the requirement of modesty in dress and manners is seen as oppressive only by the likes of Western women grown accustomed to flaunting their sexuality, not so much by the Muslim mainstream who can see how well such decadence has worked out for them. What the Western women don’t realize is that without males to enforce a female code of modesty, they are the ones oppressed, required to race their sisters to the bottom in sexual suggestiveness and provocations in order to gain attention.
Even Obama is in the story telling mode, speaking last week at the USC Shoah Foundation, he extolled the virtues of victimization stories:
I have this remarkable title right now — President of the United States — and yet every day when I wake up, and I think about young girls in Nigeria or children caught up in the conflict in Syria — when there are times in which I want to reach out and save those kids — and having to think through what levers, what power do we have at any given moment, I think, “drop by drop by drop,” that we can erode and wear down these forces that are so destructive; that we can tell a different story.
And because of your work, their stories, years and decades from now, will still be wearing down bigotry, and eroding apathy, and opening hearts, drop by drop by drop. And as those hearts open, that empowers those of us in positions of power — because even the President can’t do these things alone. Drop by drop by drop. That’s the power of stories. And as a consequence, the world will be a better place and the souls will be bound up in the bonds of eternal life. Their memories will be a blessing and they will help us make real our solemn vow: Never Forget. Never Again.”
Did you catch that? It was subtle, but Obama slipped his own victimization narrative into the compelling victimization narrative of the Jewish Holocaust, and the Nigerian kidnapped girls, and the Syrian children, by having to suffer for not being able to do more. Obama’s heart wouldn’t bleed so desperately had he the power to save these souls from suffering but his remarkable title isn’t enough. Oh, the tragedy. He undoubtedly believes that his remarkable title makes his victimization narrative the most compelling of all.
I personally feel a bit envious that all these people can conjure compelling victimization stories about their lives while I look at my own life and can’t (though I don’t envy the real stories of victimization, like those of the Holocaust victims, and the Nigerian kidnapped girls, and the Syrian children). I mean, I was born to a single mom. I never knew my dad. I am red-headed and was adopted at age five, to later suffer beatings just like the red-headed step child cliché provides. I was poor enough in college that I sold my blood to pay the rent, finally joining the Army in a bid to better my station in life. Which ultimately forced me to fight in a war for a cause (cheap oil for soccer mom SUV’s) I didn’t believe in. When I got married and had kids, the first child was stricken with leukemia, twice, and endured two bone marrow transplants. I had to give up a very successful career as a lawyer to care for him during his second transplant. At the moment I am fighting a low-intensity guerrilla conflict with a teenage daughter cum domestic terrorist. What more must I suffer until I qualify in my own heart as a victim? I just can’t get there. I see my life as just a life. There is no compelling victimization narrative here. I’m just an ordinary guy trying to make the best of the circumstances in which I find myself. Neither Mother Nature nor mankind has been unduly or unexpectedly harsh to me.
But maybe there is an angle from which to view my life that can make it out to be a compelling victimization narrative. Is it not the worst thing in contemporary society to not have a compelling victimization narrative? I am a victim of not having a compelling victimization narrative. That might be enough to get me in Harvard if I were younger. Maybe I could sell it to reach the heights of political office—feel sorry for me because I’ve never felt sorry for myself! It would be hard to fit such a thing on a political placard, but that would just be another obstacle, along with not feeling victimized by life or society or culture, that I would have to overcome.