I want to be even more clear and say that I don’t know if people were racists. I don’t know what was in their hearts. And it wasn’t like I was giving them a racism scale when I talked to them. …
In Kansas [where voters have supported massive cuts to public services], for example, a number of very far-right people told me that they felt like minority school districts were taking all the state taxpayer money and buying party buses and having parties. And those tensions shaped policies that defunded schools or blocked immigration or cut health care services. So were the individual people racist? I don’t know. But the policy itself was shaped by racial tensions, and that, ultimately, dictated health outcomes across the board.
This is simply dumb for two reasons. First because Metzl redefines racism as feelings, nothing more than feeeelings. He describes it as a sentiment of animus, an emotional instinct. That’s not what it is.
But this bit is also dumb because Metzl repeats the foolish canard that racism is something possible to observe or identify only by reading people’s minds or peering into their “hearts.” As though people’s words and actions and choices bore no relationship to what is present in their minds and hearts.
Consider what these white conservative Kansans voluntarily told Metzl they “believe,” that: 1) “minority school districts were taking all the taxpayer money,” and 2) “buying party buses and having parties,” and therefore 3) that they are upset by this state of affairs, and 4) that this anger shapes their voting decisions, and 5) that it justifies their support for policies that cut school funding for both those “minority school districts” as well as cuts in funding for their own children.
Nos. 1 and 2 are demonstrably false, and the fact that they are demonstrably false is readily obvious to anyone who bothers to investigate even the tiniest bit. These folks’ failure and refusal to investigate even the tiniest bit proves that No. 3 is also false. We know they are not sincerely upset about this because they are supremely incurious about the facts of the matter. They are too unconcerned for anyone to believe their claim of being extremely concerned. Their pretense of anger over “party buses” they know to be imaginary is belied by the actual anger they demonstrate toward anyone who points out the non-existence of said party buses.
And since Nos. 4 and 5 are dependent upon Nos. 1 through 3, those claims are also not credible.
I don’t know what kind of “racism scale” Metzl imagines would be more clarifying, but if there were a Beaufort scale of white racism “minority school districts are spending all my tax money on party buses” would be a violent storm nearing hurricane force. The always false pretense of claiming to believe such a thing is evidence of a fierce racism that is only intensified, not mitigated, by the also patently false disingenuous qualifier “I don’t have anything against black people personally, but …”
• Three centuries after Candide, Panglossian theodicies are still beloved and popular. A century after Mark Twain applied the full measure of his powers toward them, Christian Science and the literary atrocities of James Fenimore Cooper endure. And 30 years after Spy magazine closed shop, Donald Trump is president and Bret Easton Ellis is still getting top-dollar book deals.
So I don’t harbor any illusions that truthful invective and stake-through-the-heart satire can ever be truly effective. I thus recognize that Andrea Long Chu’s delightful review of Ellis’ latest whiny screed will not mean the end of anything for the aging, entitled Brat Packer and his inexhaustible ability to keep getting publishing contracts in the hopes that maybe his next book will be the good one. But in a better world, it would:
This presents a problem for the reviewer in my position: namely, whether to take the bait. I could write an incensed review that fiercely rebuts White’s many inflammatory claims, thus giving the impression that they should be taken seriously; if my review were to go viral, it would likely trigger more bad coverage on pop-culture websites like Vulture and Vice; Bret Easton Ellis might trend for a bit on Twitter, where we would all take our best shots at dunking on this dude; and at the end of it all, the author would get to feel relevant again, and maybe finally write a movie that people actually liked. But why bother? For years now, Bret Easton Ellis has been accused of being a racist and a misogynist, and I think these things are true; but like most things that are true of Bret Easton Ellis, they are also very boring.
The thesis of White is that American culture has entered a period of steep, perhaps irreversible decline, and social media and millennials are to blame. This is ridiculous, not because social media hasn’t changed things tremendously, but because such claims are invariably rooted in a childish nostalgia for an uncomplicated mode of human communication that has never, in fact, existed. One supposes that the last freethinking men of ancient Sumer, lamenting that cuneiform had ruined their political discourse, must have longed for the good old days of throwing rocks at each other’s heads.
I suppose the one encouraging thing we can say about Bret Easton Ellis is that he’s already 55 and thus, unlike most other members of the execrable right-wing Gen-Xer cohort, is now too old for the court-rigging GOP to consider worth giving a lifetime court appointment.
• The title for this piece comes from a song on Alanis Morisette’s still actually very good 1995 album Jagged Little Pill.