Here Comes Bubba

Over the weekend, Media Matters released its first report garnered from listening to Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s multi-year habit of spending an hour a week on the shock-jock radio show “Bubba the Love Sponge.” It made clear how much Carlson enjoyed wallowing in chauvinism as well as his bizarre defensiveness about forced child marriage.

Maybe someone should look into that?

After a 24-hour news cycle, complete with op-ed reactions and a non-apology from Carlson, Media Matters came in for round two, the blatant racism edition.

Researcher Madeline Peltz, who deserves a medal for sitting through so much of the Florida-based “Bubba” radio show, chronicled in this second piece how Carlson called Iraqis “semiliterate primitive monkeys” and said that Afghanistan will never be “a civilized country because the people aren’t civilized.” Echoing the rhetoric commonly found on white nationalist and neo-Nazi sites, Carlson argued that white men deserve the credit for “creating civilization.”

Actually, the Mesopotamians “invented” civilization (writing, cities, and legal codes anyway). Where was that again? Oh right, modern day Iraq.

Carlson also griped that radio diversity initiatives were “worse than Jim Crow” and said Michelle Obama “got ghetto and started snapping her neck.”

There’s lots more, but you get the idea.

Carlson’s Fox News show has been bleeding advertisers thanks to previous on-air statements about how immigrants make the country “poorer and dirtier.” In response to the Media Matters exposé, activists have renewed their pressure campaign on advertisers, demanding that they stop supporting Carlson’s show.

While the crassness of the language in the “Bubba” clips might be shocking, the ideology on display isn’t any different than what Carlson has peddled on his Fox News show since he took over the prime evening slot from Bill O’Reilly. He just does it more subtly now that he has a national audience and has to pretend to be legitimate.

For at least the last couple of years, Carlson has been taking ideas from fringe right-wing forums and white nationalist groups, cleaning them up with euphemistic language, and presenting them as mainstream conservative commentary.

That’s why Republicans think that they need Carlson. The big story of Donald Trump’s regime has been Republicans deciding, or perhaps realizing, that racist and sexist grievances are their best bet for staying competitive in electoral politics. That and healthy doses of gerrymandering and voter suppression.

They can’t run on their actual policies of massive tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, paid for by slashing programs like Medicare and Social Security, if paid for at all. Most people are wise to that scam now. The decline of religious fundamentalism has also made it harder for Republicans to run on culture-war issues as well.

All Republicans politicians feel they have left is to inflame white people’s fears of increasing diversity and men’s resentment of the #MeToo movement and women’s growing independence.

Carlson has a knack for making hateful ideologies and irrational attitudes sound more acceptable than they are. He employs lofty-sounding terms like “Western civilization” when what he really means is white nationalism. In doing so, he aids Republicans in their quest to convince large enough numbers of white people to vote their resentments instead of their economic self-interest.

News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch is a proponent of the “never back down” strategy Carlson is employing. This approach makes sense for the audience Fox News is trying to cultivate, which is mainly white people, especially older white men who view women and people of color as inferior and are sick of being made to feel bad about it. It also plays to the enduring desire to “own the libs.”

That’s what the whole narrative surrounding “political correctness” is all about: Teaching conservatives that bigotry is a form of courage, and that politics is about irrationally lashing out at people who have less than they do instead of realizing that it’s the oligarchs who are screwing all of us.

As long he can keep herding people to the polls to vote for Republicans, and against their own self-interests, Carlson will have a home at Fox News where he can make his stupid, scrunched-up Tucker Carlson face.

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*visible confusion*

Windy City Blues

Earlier this week, Jussie Smollett, best known for his portrayal of R&B singer Jamal Lyon on the Fox television series Empire, exited a Subway (the restaurant) in Chicago and was attacked by two men in ski masks. As the men attacked Smollett, who is black and openly gay, they hurled racial and anti-gay slurs at him and told him “This is MAGA country.” Smollett suffered a broken rib but was discharged from Chicago’s Northwestern Hospital Tuesday morning. Chicago police are investigating the attack.

Before his arrival in Chicago, Smollett had received threats, which for him is probably pretty common sadly, but many far-right extremists are claiming the Jussie Smollett attack is a left-wing hoax and a “false flag” and insist that Smollett is lying.

Because of course they are.

One of the would-be detectives on right-wing cesspool The Donald posted that Smollett “got mugged and is trying to turn himself into a race martyr.” Another described the attack as “another phony hate crime.” It’s not clear whether they think that the attack or hate crimes in general are “phony”.

In fact, many right-wing commentators and outlets been pushing the “fake news” narrative as well. Generally they’ve been following a, “That two Trump supporters were just waiting with rope and bleach at 2 a.m. for some celebrity to attack makes no sense” line of thinking.

Even right-wing Republicans who are expressed sympathy for Smollett were not safe from outraged Trump enthusiast and conspiracy buffs who believe that the attack on him is a hoax. Anti-Trump conservative Ana Navarro posted on Twitter, “I saw Jussie Smollett in Miami last week. I can’t believe this happened. It is sad and disgusting and deplorable.”

That didn’t sit well with Trump supporters who furiously attacked Navarro in the comments. One angry Trumper replied, “You disgusting hateful bitch….. U r the epitome of fake news and of a FAKE REPUBLICAN! Can not WAIT til God knee jerks you down ten notches @ananavarro!”

Gosh, who could possibly think that Trump supporters, who get this bent out of shape over tweets, would target and attack someone? Especially given their Dear Leader’s propensity for publicly attacking people who criticize him.

When a long list of prominent Democrats and CNN became the targets of a domestic terrorist in 2018, many on the far-right were quick to claim it was all a left-wing hoax as well. And now, many on the far right are assuming that the violent attack on Jussie Smollett is yet another left-wing plot to discredit Donald Trump’s presidency.

This presumes that Donald Trump’s presidency has any credibility to begin with.

The Ultimate Conspiracy

Members of the Flat Earth Society claim to believe the Earth is flat (I say claim because, come on, really?). Walking around on the planet’s surface, it looks and feels flat so they deem all evidence to the contrary, such as satellite photos of Earth as a sphere, to be fabrications of a “round Earth conspiracy” orchestrated by NASA and other government agencies.

The belief that the Earth is flat has been described as the ultimate conspiracy theory. According to the Flat Earth Society’s leadership, its ranks have grown by 200 people (mostly Americans and Britons) per year since 2009. Judging by the exhaustive effort flat-earthers have invested in fleshing out the theory on their website, as well as the staunch defenses of their views they offer in media interviews and on Twitter, it would seem that these people genuinely believe the Earth is flat.

But in the 21st century, can they be serious? And if so, how is this psychologically possible?

First, a brief tour of the worldview of a flat-earther: While writing off buckets of concrete evidence that Earth is spherical dating back to the ancient Greeks, they readily accept a laundry list of propositions that some would call ludicrous. The leading flat-earther theory holds that Earth is a disc with the Arctic Circle in the center and Antarctica, a 150-foot-tall wall of ice, around the rim. NASA employees, they say, guard this ice wall to prevent people from climbing over and falling off the disc.

Earth’s day and night cycle is explained by positing that the sun and moon are spheres (go figure) measuring 32 miles (51 kilometers) that move in circles 3,000 miles (4,828 km) above the plane of the Earth. (Stars, they say, move in a plane 3,100 miles up.) Like spotlights, these celestial spheres illuminate different portions of the planet in a 24-hour cycle. Flat-earthers believe there must also be an invisible “antimoon” that obscures the moon during lunar eclipses.

Furthermore, Earth’s gravity is an illusion, they say. Objects do not accelerate downward; instead, the disc of Earth accelerates upward at 32 feet per second squared (9.8 meters per second squared), driven up by a mysterious force called dark energy. Currently, there is disagreement among flat-earthers about whether or not Einstein’s theory of relativity permits Earth to accelerate upward indefinitely without the planet eventually surpassing the speed of light. (Einstein’s laws apparently still hold in this alternate version of reality.)

As for what lies underneath the disc of Earth, this is unknown, but most flat-earthers believe it is composed of “rocks.”

Then, there’s the conspiracy theory: Flat-earthers believe photos of the globe are photoshopped. Yes, even the ones taken before Photoshop was invented. GPS devices are also rigged to make airplane pilots think they are flying in straight lines around a sphere when they are actually flying in circles above a disc. The motive for world governments’ concealment of the true shape of the Earth has not been ascertained, but flat-earthers believe it is probably financial somehow. “In a nutshell, it would logically cost much less to fake a space program than to actually have one, so those in on the Conspiracy profit from the funding NASA and other space agencies receive from the government,” according to the flat-earther website’s FAQ page. What the benefit was to the the ancient Greeks, Romans, etc. is anyone’s guess.

The theory follows from a mode of thought called the “Zetetic Method,” an alternative to the scientific method, developed by a 19th-century flat-earther, in which sensory observations reign supreme. In Zetetic astronomy, the perception that Earth is flat leads to the deduction that it must actually be flat; the antimoon, NASA conspiracy and all the rest of it are just rationalizations for how that might work in practice.

Those details make the flat-earthers’ theory so elaborately absurd it sounds like a joke, but many of its supporters genuinely consider it a more plausible model of astronomy than the one found in textbooks. In short, they aren’t kidding. At least, not on purpose.

Strangely, the Flat Earth Society thinks the evidence for global warming is strong, despite much of this evidence coming from satellite data gathered by NASA, the kingpin of the “round Earth conspiracy.” They also accept evolution and most other mainstream tenets of science. Keep in mind what I said about things making some kind of logical sense.

As inconceivable as their belief system seems, it doesn’t really surprise experts. Karen Douglas, a psychologist at the University of Kent in the United Kingdom who studies the psychology of conspiracy theories, says flat-earthers’ beliefs cohere with those of other conspiracy theorists she has studied.

Douglas says that all conspiracy theories share a basic thrust: They present an alternative theory about an important issue or event, and construct an often vague explanation for why someone is covering up that “true” version of events. One of the major points of appeal is that they explain a big event but often without going into details. Much of the power lies in the fact that they are vague.

The self-assured way in which conspiracy theorists stick to their story imbues that story with special appeal. After all, flat-earthers are more adamant that the Earth is flat than most people are that the Earth is spherical likely because the rest of us feel that we have nothing to prove. If you’re faced with a minority viewpoint that is put forth in an intelligent, seemingly well-informed way, they can be very influential. That is called “minority influence”.

In a recent study, political scientists at the University of Chicago, found that about half of Americans endorse at least one conspiracy theory, from the notion that the current president was actually born in Kenya to 9/11 was an inside job to the Moon landing conspiracy. Many people are willing to believe many ideas that are directly in contradiction to a dominant cultural narrative. They say that conspiratorial belief stems from a human tendency to perceive unseen forces at work, known as “magical thinking”.

However, flat-earthers don’t fit snugly in this general picture. Most conspiracy theorists adopt many fringe theories, even ones that contradict each other. Meanwhile, flat-earthers’ only hang-up is the shape of the Earth. If they were like other conspiracy theorists, they should be exhibiting a tendency toward a lot of magical thinking, such as believing in UFOs, ESP, ghosts, or other unseen, intentional forces. It doesn’t seem like they do, which makes them anomalous relative to most Americans who believe in other conspiracy theories.