Charlotte Allen suggests that one of the factors behind the overzealous rape prosecution of the three Duke lacrosse players is that major segments of the Duke faculty — which helped to push the “metanarrative” forward — are, well, a bunch of raving loons.
OK, my words, not hers. But, walk like a duck, talk like a duck, it’s pretty much a duck.
(bolded text is mine)
Although outsiders know Duke mostly as an expensive preppie enclave that fields Division I athletic teams, the university’s humanities and social sciences departments–literature, anthropology, and especially women’s studies and African-American studies–foster exactly the opposite kind of culture. Those departments (and especially Duke’s robustly “postmodern” English department, put in place by postmodernist celebrity Stanley Fish before his departure in 1998) are famous throughout academia as repositories of all that is trendy and hyper-politicized in today’s ivy halls: angry feminism, ethnic victimology, dense, jargon-laden analyses of capitalism and “patriarchy,” and “new historicism”–a kind of upgraded Marxism that analyzes art and literature in terms of efforts by powerful social elites to brainwash everybody else.
The Duke University Press is the laughingstock of the publishing world, offering such titles as Appropriating Blackness: Performance and the Politics of Authenticity and An Archive of Feelings: Trauma, Sexuality and Lesbian Public Cultures. Phrases such as “race, gender, and class” and “privileged white males” come as second nature to the academics who do this kind of writing, which analyzes nearly all social phenomena in terms of race, gender, class, and white male privilege. A couple of months after the lacrosse party, Karla F.C. Holloway, a professor of English and African-American studies at Duke, published a reflection on the incident titled “Coda: Bodies of Evidence” in an online feminist journal sponsored by Barnard College. “Judgments about the issues of race and gender that the lacrosse team’s sleazy conduct exposed cannot be left to the courtroom,” Holloway wrote. “Despite the damaging logic that associates the credibility of a socio-cultural context to the outcome of the legal process, we will find that even as the accusations that might be legally processed are confined to a courtroom, the cultural and social issues excavated in this upheaval linger.”
There was a fascinating irony in this. Postmodern theorists pride themselves in discerning what they call “metanarratives.” They argue that such concepts as, say, Christianity or patriotism or the American legal system are no more than socially constructed tall tales that the postmodernists can then “deconstruct” to unmask the real purpose behind them, which is (say the postmodernists) to prop up societal structures of–yes, you guessed it–race, gender, class, and white male privilege. Nonetheless, in the Duke lacrosse case the theorists manufactured a metanarrative of their own, based upon the fact that Durham, North Carolina, is in the South, and the alleged assailants happened to be white males from families wealthy enough to afford Duke’s tuition, while their alleged victim was an impoverished black woman who, as she told the Raleigh News and Observer in a credulous profile of her published on March 25, was stripping only to support her two children and to pay her tuition as a student at North Carolina Central University, a historically black state college in Durham that is considerably less prestigious than Duke. All the symbolic elements of a juicy race/gender/class/white-male-privilege yarn were present. The theorists went to town.
The metanarrative they came up with was three parts Mandingo and one part Josephine Baker: rich white plantation owners and their scions lusting after tawny-skinned beauties and concocting fantasies of their outsize sexual appetites so as to rape, abuse, and prostitute them with impunity. It mattered little that all three accused lacrosse players hailed from the Northeast, or that there have been few, if any, actual incidents of gang rapes of black women by wealthy white men during the last 40 years. Karla Holloway’s online essay was replete with imagery derived from this lurid antebellum template. She described the accuser and her fellow stripper as “kneeling” in “service to” white male “presumption of privilege,” and as “bodies available for taunt and tirade, whim and whisper” in “the subaltern spaces of university life and culture.” On April 13, Wahneema Lubiano, a Duke literature professor, wrote in another online article, “I understand the impulse of those outraged and who see the alleged offenders as the exemplars of the upper end of the class hierarchy, the politically dominant race and ethnicity, the dominant gender, the dominant sexuality, and the dominant social group on campus.”
Nothing like a good metanarrative.
Sometimes I read one to my kids at bedtime. Usually they are complete fiction, like the above blather by Holloway and Lubiano, but better written.
This is the faculty at Duke University, a very prestigious academic school. Since sh*t flows downhill, one can safely assume similar fatuousness at universities, especially in humanities and the social sociences, all over the nation. We pay them lots of cash, and send our young adults there. In this exchange we imagine we are getting something worthwhile in return. And that, generally, used to be true.
But today, it amounts to sending our best young people to a giant and expensive education experiment, inverting the value of traditional knowledge in favor of silly theories based on long-descredited Marxist concepts of class struggle.
Remember, we pay lots of money for this: college tuition is the only cost that has outrun inflation over the last 20-30 years.
And bonus points if you note the irony of female minorities at cushy university teaching gigs using their teaching gigs, funded by (mostly white) wealthy parents and patrons, to indoctrinate young folks into thinking that there is in place a systematic suppression of females and minorities by white capitalist male oppressors.
It doesn’t appear to be working very well.
Q: If you pay an academic lots of money to get their opinion on whether the sky is blue, and they call you a white male oppressor, does that make them a genius able to pick through complicated ideas more craftily than you or I, or just an incompetent boob in a cushy academia bubble? Discuss.
Following close behind these geniuses were many of our leading lights in the press:
The academic-speak of Lubiano and Holloway was undoubtedly a bit arcane for the average reader, but there were plenty of news reporters and commentators to translate the pair’s concepts into plain English. On April 22, Slate legal columnist Dahlia Lithwick penned what read like a pop version of Lubiano: “The Duke lacrosse team’s rape scandal cuts too deeply into this country’s most tender places: race and class and gender.” Lithwick alluded to “[m]ounds and mounds of significant physical evidence” that a rape had occurred (this was after the meager results of the accuser’s medical examination had been publicized as well as the negative DNA tests for the lacrosse team) and maintained that anyone who believed the players were innocent had a “creepy closet under the stairs” of his brain. Lithwick’s position was that the facts of the case were essentially unknowable, as though this were Rashomon and not a matter of whether a grave felony had occurred that could send three young men to prison.
Following just behind Lithwick was Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post on April 25. “[I]t’s impossible to avoid thinking of all the black women who were violated by drunken white men in the American South over the centuries,” Robinson wrote. He continued: “The master-slave relationship, the tradition of droit du seigneur, the use of sexual possession as an instrument of domination–all this ugliness floods the mind, unbidden, and refuses to leave.” He characterized Duke as a hotbed of “preppy privilege” and referred to the accuser as “the victim,” whose main mistake had been choosing outcall stripping as a profession. On May 24, another Washington Post writer, Lynne Duke, weighed in with yet more Robinson-style rhetoric: “In the sordid but contested details of the case, African-American women have heard echoes of a history of some white men sexually abusing black women–and a stereotype of black women as hypersexual beings and thus fair game.” Like Lithwick, Lynne Duke placed great stock in the supposed results of the accuser’s medical examination, which even then were known to be ambiguous.
While these examples from journalism are from opinion writers, it is also certainly the case that the news coverage of these innocent young men was incendiary. There was little hint of a sober and cautious examination of facts in order to determine the truth, from which guilt and innocence would naturally follow. There was certainly no hint of skepticism towards the “victim”, which must always be at least considered, since they sometimes lie to cover their own failures and embarrassments. You see, in the press’ “metanarrative”, victims are noble, unless they are white, then they are getting what they damn well deserve.
It was all about jumping to conclusions, and wanton disregard for truth in favor of sensationalism and ratings. This is the same press that likes to pretend it is objective. This is the same press that millions of people still implicitly trust, despite repeated and egregious violations of that trust.
So, a question: will all the appropriate apologies be forthcoming?
I think we already know the answer.