Fox Sports, Fox News, and Toxic Masculinity

August 26, 2019
Posted by Jay Livingston

Doug Gottlieb, who talks about sports on Fox, had this to say about Andrew Luck’s decision to retire from the NFL.

(Click for a better view.)

In his announcement, Luck said,

For the last four years or so, I've been in this cycle of injury, pain, rehab, injury, pain, rehab, and it's be unceasing, unrelenting, both in-season and offseason, and I felt stuck in it. The only way I see out is to no longer play football. . . . After 2016, when I played in pain and was unable to regularly practice, I made a vow to myself that I would not go down that path again.

The injuries requiring rehab included
  • Torn cartilage in two ribs
  • A partially torn abdomen
  • A lacerated kidney
  • A torn labrum.
  • A calf injury, which extended to a high ankle sprain.

Gottlieb’s tweet was not about Trump or Democrats or politics, yet it seemed so Fox-like. It too me a moment or two to see the common intertwined threads, but there they were: toxic masculinity and antipathy towards young people.

I rarely use the phrase toxic masculinity rather than machismo because so often the toxicity, the damage, is indirect and intangible. But here Gottlieb’s waving the flag of masculinity is clearly a demand that Luck do even further damage to his body. That’s typical, for in many cases the masculinity being called for is toxic to someone else, not the one waving the flag. In this post  ten years ago, I noted that commentators who wanted the US to continue to torture Afghanis, Iraqis, and other non-Americans framed it in terms of masculinity. To ban torture was to “emasculate” the CIA.

As for the millennials, what nettles Gottlieb and many others on the right is the refusal of young people to get sucked into the masculinity game. What must be especially infuriating to him and other masculinists is the indifference of many young men to the old machismo-based insults — “weak,” “soft,” “pussy,” etc. That response, or lack of response, calls that whole game into question, and often the anger of older people towards kids seems to be an effort to deny that maybe these younger people have a point. Maybe there’s something to be said for a less rigid and brittle masculinity, one where, instead of doing the hard work of rehab so that you can keep injuring yourself, you respond to the messages your body is giving you.

It’s not just Gottlieb. News of Luck’s retirement broke during a Colts exhibition game. Word spread quickly through the stadium, and the fans booed.

Like other elements of the “culture war,” the Gottlieb reaction to millennials (or what he imagines them to be) is nothing new. In 1970, Philip Slater in The Pursuit of Loneliness wrote of

a vague resentment towards youth — a resentment with roots in the parents’ discontent with their own lives. It’s a condition ideally suited to produce anger toward young people who live differently and more pleasurably than did the parental generation.

The old-culture is saying, “I worked hard at an unrewarding job, I gave up pleasure and fulfillment. Now you should do the same.”

In that light, it’s especially noteworthy that Luck was supported in his decision by nearly all NFL players who made public statements. They where highly critical of the booing fans and of Gottlieb. Troy Aikman, a former NFL quarterback who also now works for Fox, called Gottlieb’s tweet “total bullshit.” Here is a more thoughtful response from All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, now in his ninth season, who missed most of last season with a torn Achilles tendon.

See also the comments on Gottleib’s tweet (here ) — much criticism, little support, and a couple that stooped so low as to mention Gottlieb’s credit card theft of some years back.

Addendum, Aug. 29: A day after I posted this, the New York Times ran a piece (here )by Michael Serazio, “Why Andrew Luck’s Retirement Was So Shocking.” Serazio refers t the “collective gasp . . . from the sports world” at Luck’s announcement.

My impression was that most people in the sports world, especially players, understood Luck’s decision. Serazio has a different impression, though he cites only one NFL player who criticized Luck — former quarterback Steve Beuerlein, who wrote that Luck “owes it to his team” to keep playing.

Either way, Serazio is pointing out the same basic problem with “hegemonic masculinity” — it’s toxic. “Our shock at a player’s willingness to opt for self-preservation over inevitable bodily immolation shows how deeply rooted that toxic masculinity remains.”

Old Whine, New Bottle — Luxury Beliefs II

August 22, 2019
Posted by Jay Livingston

In the 1930s, wealthy Republicans called FDR “a traitor to his class.” The logic of this label seems to be that if you’re rich, you ought to favor policies that benefit the rich, not the poor and the working class.

In the 1960s, Republicans disparaged wealthy Democrats as “limousine liberals.” It’s the same idea — if you’re rich enough to ride in a limo, you shouldn’t be a liberal —  but adds something special. It questions the motives of liberals and says they are hypocrites.

In 1970, journalist Tom Wolfe gave the same idea yet a new name, “radical chic,” in his long article about a fund-raiser that Leonard Bernstein held for the defense of thirteen Black Panther party members who were in jail awaiting trial. (See this post.)  What interested Wolfe was not guilt or innocence or justice (eventually all the Panthers were acquitted of all charges) but the motives of Bernstein and his guests.

Apparently it bothers the hell out of conservatives when people of privilege say and do things that might help the less privileged. Conservatives are still serving up this same complaint. The new label on the bottle is “luxury beliefs.” The term was coined recently by Rob Henderson and got some attention, especially over on the right, when the New York Post ran his op-ed “‘Luxury beliefs’ are the latest status symbol for rich Americans.”

Here’s the gist of it.

In the past, upper-class Americans used to display their social status with luxury goods. Today, they do it with luxury beliefs.

People care a lot about social status. In fact, research indicates that respect and admiration from our peers are even more important than money for our sense of well-being.

We feel pressure to display our status in new ways. This is why fashionable clothing always changes. But as trendy clothes and other products become more accessible and affordable, there is increasingly less status attached to luxury goods.

The upper classes have found a clever solution to this problem: luxury beliefs. These are ideas and opinions that confer status on the rich at very little cost, while taking a toll on the lower class.

It’s a commonplace observation that people are sensitive to how others respond to their ideas. Like the clothes we wear, the ideas we express are part of our self-presentation (now called “signalling”). That’s true for people of all social groups. But with ideas, it’s more likely that what people are signalling is not social status in the usual sense but membership in a group.

Henderson’s argument in 2019, much like Tom Wolfe’s in 1970, is based on attributing motives that the people he’s attributing them to would deny. He’s saying “upper-class Americans” (a term he does not define) espouse their beliefs not because, as they would claim, the ideas are true or will make for a better society, but in order to signal their own high social status. Of course,  Henderson has no evidence of that motive (or if he does, he’s keeping quiet about it). Impugning the motives of others is easy. Providing evidence is hard.*

What’s new is Henderson’s assertion that these luxury beliefs harm the lower class. Here too, as I said in the previous post, Henderson presents no evidence that the ideas of the privileged about marriage and family have “trickled down” through the class strata or that it’s those ideas that have damaged the lives of the poor. He makes a similar claim about ideas regarding the importance of luck and other factors beyond the control of the individual. Henderson doesn’t mention it, but on this point there is some evidence, which I hope to get to in a later post.**

* Tom Wolfe too  “reported” the thoughts and motives of the people he was writing about even when those people never expressed the ideas he attributed to them. You might think of this as “making stuff up,” but it brought Wolfe much admiration for his “novelistic techniques.”

** That post is now here.

Luxury Beliefs — Blaming the Libs

August 20, 2019
Posted by Jay Livingston

If I could buy stock in words and phrases, I’d invest heavily in “luxury beliefs.” I predict that we’re going to be hearing a lot more of it, especially from the right wing.

The idea is an an update of Charles Murray. Nine years ago in Coming Apart, Murray argued that the economic and moral decline of the White working class (those whose education ended in high school or earlier) had been caused by educated liberals. It wasn’t that elite liberals were promoting harmful policies, and it wasn’t because they were setting a bad example. Just the opposite. They were following the “success sequence” — getting more education, working hard at their jobs, waiting till after marriage to have kids. The trouble was that they were not trying to inculcate these practices in others. They were not preaching what they practiced.

Murray had no data for this claim, and I thought that the idea had disappeared. But over on the right, blaming the libs is just too tempting. Why let it wither away just because there’s no evidence?

So now Rob Henderson goes Murray one better. In a New York Post op-ed , he argues that those successful, educated liberals caused the decline of the White working class by holding “luxury beliefs.” It’s a clever coinage which will no doubt bring Henderson a lot of attention, especially from conservatives.

Normally, I would not pay much attention to the New York Post (see this from 2007), but the article is already bouncing around the conservative Internet, and Caitlin Flanagan, who turns up in mainstream publications like The Atlantic, tweeted it.

Luxury beliefs are “ideas and opinions that confer status on the rich at very little cost, while taking a toll on the lower class.” For example,

Affluent, educated people raised by two married parents are more likely than others to believe monogamy is outdated, marriage is a sham or that all families are the same.

It’s safe for the affluent educated to hold these beliefs about marriage, says Henderson, because in their own marriages they are conventionally monogamous. But that belief was disastrous for the less educated and less affluent.

This luxury belief contributed to the erosion of the family. Today, the marriage rates of affluent Americans are nearly the same as they were in the 1960s. But working-class people are far less likely to get married. Furthermore, out-of-wedlock birthrates are more than 10 times higher than they were in 1960, mostly among the poor and working class. Affluent people seldom have kids out of wedlock but are more likely than others to express the luxury belief that doing so is of no consequence.

How did that happen? How did the beliefs of the educated become the beliefs of the lower classes? Henderson’s answer: they “trickled down.”

You can see the contradiction here. Henderson is saying that elite ideas trickled down to the working class and poor. But he begins by saying that those people are less likely than are the affluent to believe that “monogamy is outdated.”

Nor does he say how that trickle-down happened. Tracking the diffusion of an idea is not so easy to do, especially when you are trying to document the diffusion across class lines. The double meaning in the title Coming Apart was not just that the White working class was coming apart but that the educated and affluent lived in a bubble separated from the working class and poor, having little interaction with them and sharing almost none of their culture.

But if Henderson is correct, somehow those beliefs just trickled out of the affluent bubble and poisoned the minds of the less educated, causing them to do things that undermined their chances for a better life.

Whose Opinion Counts? (It’s Good to be a Professional)

August 18, 2019
Posted by Jay Livingston

Chefs in ambitious restaurants hate the word “fusion,” says Gillian Gualtieri, who interviewed chefs in Michelin-starred US restaurants. “It’s the other f-word.”

As she was saying this in her talk at the ASA meetings last week, I was dimly remembering that in restaurant reviews in the Times and elsewhere,  fusion was a big compliment. It suggested a chef who was creatively blending and balancing different traditions to come up with something new and wonderful.

After her talk, I asked Gillian, “Don’t restaurant critics still use ‘fusion’ as a term of high praise?” Yep.  “But these elite chefs pay more attention what other chefs say than to what Pete Wells says.”  (I’d forgotten that chefs on their night off might well eat at another restaurant. Pete Wells is the restaurant critic for the New York Times.)

Of course, the opinions of other chefs don’t carry much weight outside of chefworld. But a rave review in the Times will book a restaurant solid for months to come; a bad review can leave tables empty.

        *                    *                    *                    *

At another session, I listened to Rachel Skaggs (Vanderbilt) talk about the dilemma faced by Nashville songwriters. In the old days, songwriters wrote the songs, and  country performers sang them.  But in the last 10-15 years, with decline in the business, songwriters have had to co-operate and collaborate with the singers. And they don’t like it. Maybe that’s one reason Nashville songwriters were so willing to talk to Rachel and give her such great quotes. Or maybe Rachel’s just a great interviewer.

Sometimes songwriters choose the strategy of actually working with the singers — giving the singer what he or she wants. The other strategy is to write the song first and then con the singer into collaborating in the way the songwriter wants — basically convincing the singer that the song was mostly the singer’s idea. It’s what Rachel calls “the manipulation dance.”

        *                    *                    *                    *
These papers were both in panels on culture, but they were also about work. They reminded me of an observation — probably commonplace in the sociology of work — that I first heard long ago when I took a course with Everett Hughes. One of the things that distinguishes a “profession,” he said, is that the work of its practitioners can be judged only by others in the profession. Or more accurately, theirs are the only judgments that matter and that can have real consequences

Over the last fifty years, maybe more, this aspect “professional” has become diluted as more and more white-collar workers styled themselves professionals. The “yuppies” of the 1970s and beyond were spun out of the acronym for Young Urban Professional. But most of them were not doctors or lawyers. Their work in finance, real estate, fashion, advertising, etc. may have left them with a lot of money to spend, especially if they had no kids, but the important judgments of their work came from people outside the occupation — clients, customers, and critics.

Even lower-level professionals who make far less money — teachers, social workers — answer not to the students or clients who are the recipients of their services but only to others in the profession (though some of these may have become administrators). Of course, student evaluations, outcomes assessment, and Yelp reviews may be changing all this, but still to a great extent being a professional means never having to say you’re sorry. It’s something elite chefs and top songwriters can only dream of.