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Sunday, 22 April 2007


Alec Baldwin is the latest “victim” of self-inflicted speech act trauma. Unlike other white male celebrities such as Mel Gibson, Don Imus, and Michael Richards who recently have been pilloried for their thoughtless and harmful speech, Baldwin’s words originally were part a private speech act. 1 Another thing that distinguishes Baldwin’s words is that they do not contain racial epithets or formulate racist indictments.

Baldwin’s tantrum manifests the tensions between his frustration as a jilted parent, his use of the discursive conventions of an adolescent, and his judgement as a rational adult—all are present in his voicemail message to Ireland (his daughter). Unfortunately for Baldwin and his daughter, Baldwin’s frustrations are evident to the exact degree that his strategy is ineffective. Baldwin seeks on one level to cultivate empathy in his adolescent daughter by assuming the simultaneous roles of peer and parent. The probable results, however, are hurting/humiliating Ireland, vindicating Kim Basinger (Ireland’s mother and Baldwin’s ex-wife), and embarrassing (after the publicizing of the message) himself.

Yet, I can’t help but wonder what eleven-year-old would submit a voicemail delivered to her by her father to the public at large. Or was the dissemination of the private voicemail initiated by someone else? Whoever is responsible, the dissemination of the voicemail seems a vindictive act in some ways more characteristic of an adolescent than an adult. I am also somewhat embarrassed for Baldwin, but I don’t think his tantrum in and of itself is a sign that he is a bad parent (though he very well may be). I also suspect Ireland is nursing her hurt feelings. Basinger, for now, is keeping mum, which in the realm of public and judicial opinion is to her advantage.

As a cultural critic, what I’m most curious about are the various rhetorical strategies present in Baldwin’s voicemail which inchoately suggest that parenting is not merely a matter of rationality, but that it is a constellation governed by the gravitational forces of love, desire, vanity, and anger to name a few. I also find the message absurd and to this extent funny, even as I recognize that Baldwin’s vows to “straighten [her] ass out” could greatly distress an eleven-year-old girl, presuming, that is, she is in fact not “a rude, thoughtless, little pig.” end of article

1 Imus and Richards spoke in the context of a public performance while Gibson spoke while being questioned by public servants, thus placing their speech acts within the public record.

Saturday, 21 April 2007

Blaming Virginia

There are a thousand things to say about the tragedy that transpired in Blacksburg, Virginia, on 16 April 2007, and many people more eloquent and thoughtful than me are saying them. John Derbyshire, however, is not one of them.1

The scenario Derbyshire imagines comes directly out of his Hollywood-inflamed imagination, where timing, morality, and cinematic fortune come together like a well-oiled machine to produce heroes. He notes that

It’s not like this was Rambo, hosing the place down with automatic weapons. He had two handguns for goodness' sake—one of them reportedly a .22.

At the very least, count the shots and jump him reloading or changing hands. Better yet, just jump him.

Setting aside Derbyshire’s portrayal of the South Korean Cho as the negative of Rambo—who cinematically undoes the United States’ protracted and traumatic failure in a different Asian theater—Derbyshire’s delusion seems the product of loss. That is, people like Derbyshire feel keenly the loss of so many scholars and students and this loss drives them to fantasize about how the tragedy might have been prevented even as it unfolded.2 The result is an incongruous aprés coup intervention, an urgent fantasy of rushing Cho through the intermittent spray of bullets either to die heroically or to stop the bloodshed.

Like many late-blooming bookworms, I’ve had my humiliating encounters with bullies and, like many Asian-American children of the late 70s, I studied martial arts because Bruce Lee is bad.

One day, Sifu sought to teach us a lesson about defending oneself in a situation where one is unarmed and the adversary possesses a weapon. Sifu held a wooden knife and I squared off to repel his attack. We ran the trial a dozen times. Even though Sifu was not using the knife as a range weapon, I was “stabbed” in my leg, neck, abdomen, face, and chest. What we learned that day is that, if unarmed, the best way to defend yourself against an armed adversary is to run the other away. I shudder imagining a 9mm “knife” that could be delivered at range half a dozen times in a few seconds.

Derbyshire later asserts that “It’s true—none of us knows what he’d do in a dire situation like that,” but he’s wrong. What he would do in such a dire situation is die, just as the thirty-four men and women who found themselves on the target end of Cho’s “two handguns” died. In fact, Derbyshire would die a bit more quickly were he foolish enough to rush an armed adversary with no weapon besides his bare hands. end of article

1 Essentially, Derbyshire’s remarks blame Cho Seung-Hui’s victims for not defending themselves.
2 I am ignoring the out-of-proportion value accorded by many (including myself) to the victims of Cho, especially in comparison the hundreds of lives lost to war, disease, suicide, and accident every single day.

Thursday, 05 April 2007

The Cruelest

The problem with dying folks is they don’t die immediately. They retreat, diminish, deactivate, reanimate as living dead. Once entombed, they come back, lurching parodies of human self possession. They are not in control of themselves, their muscles and being propelled as pure motorized instinct. They are different, alien, other, at once of like mind and behavior. They are aggregate and unindividuated. end of article

Monday, 02 April 2007

Cautious optimism

This is huge. Huger than huge. This augurs the possibility that license holders may once again implicitly (and by default) allow fair use of copyrighted material.

Congress, are you listening? end of article

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