[The whole TWD blogging series is here.]

So, when we last discussed TWD, several things had happened:

Woodbury had collapsed, Andrea had died, and the Governor had abandoned his survivors. This was all part of the Battle of the Patriarchs.

Anyhoo, the Governor got rid of the handful of other dudes who had escaped with him and was supposed to have some sort of reflective travel thingie until he found a family with two sisters and their elderly father, and the daughter of one of the women. Amazingly, this small group had managed pretty well on their own up to that point, but, as soon as the Governor shows up, the little ladies become powerless, for instance, in getting the elderly man to bed or get him his oxygen tanks. They needed manly rescuing.

After convincing the women that their place, which had been safe so far, no longer is, they all go on the road, under the safe leadership of the Governor (because, really, that’s what women want). They find another group. The Governor kills the current leaders (so much for the whole crisis of conscience thing), takes over (because he’s The Man), and decides to go attack the prison where Grimes and his group are still holed up.

Meanwhile, Grimes is still a horrible leader. When Carol tries to teach the children how to defend themselves (a perfectly reasonable thing to do), Carl sees her, and she tells him not to tattle on her to her dad… because Grimes is a horrible leader but somehow, that never gets questioned. Follows a weird flu epidemic that conveniently kills the rescued members of Woodbury.

The worst of the last season was definitely when Grimes decides, all by himself, to exile Carol because he thinks she killed some of the flu sufferers, including Tyrese’s girlfriend (hence another episode of macho nonsense, with some “let him hit me” stuff, and Tyrese making the other men promise to find who killed her). So, while on a supply round, again, Carol shows she understands what situation they’re in pretty realistically (after the death of a young couple they encountered), and it’s not pretty. This solidifies Grimes’s belief that he has the right to just kick her out of the group. When he gets back to the prison, no one questions him, which is really completely barf-worthy considering the season opener last Sunday.

twd2Then, the prison gets attacked and is set on fire. The one highlight of the season is Hershel’s killing. Big fist fight between the patriarchs, where Grimes gets all bloody, in addition to his being sweaty and gross all the time. In the chaos, the group disperses, and for the rest of the season, we’ll follow the separate groups: Carl, Michonne, and a totally beat up Grimes (whose leadership is inexplicably restored the minute he starts to fee better), then Daryl and Beth (who gets kidnapped by a group of gross dudes), then Maggie, Bob, and Sasha (and with this group, we learned that black lives are less important than white lives, when Bob decides to go with Maggie and abandon Sasha). Tyrese ends up with the girls from the prison, Grimes’s baby, and they end up with Carol, who is left with the task of killing one of the girls who have become, well, insane, and can no longer be trusted to harm them.

Along the way, they pick up a few extra people: a big dude who protects a mullet dude who supposedly has the cure for the plague and needs to get to DC, and a couple of women from the previous group that attacked the prison.

twd1Separately, they are all following signs to Terminus, a supposed sanctuary, which turns out, surprise surprise, to not be that at all! The season begins after they have all been captured by the cannibalistic Terminus people, who used to be good guys, but then, bad guys came and took over Terminus. They took it back and turned bad guys themselves.

The big moral lesson of the opener is that, basically, there are no more boundaries between good guys and bad guys. Everybody is equally awful.

The whole episode is Grimes’s group’s escape from Terminus (in large part, thanks to Carol), killing a whole bunch of Terminus people. Grimes is still as awful a leader as he was before: after their escape, he wants to return to finish them all off. At least, the others dare tell him it’s a bad idea.

But, of course, because it’s TWD, there has to be some patriarchal BS: remember, they escaped thanks to Carol’s intervention (Carol is turning in to the most badass character of the show, without the credit from the other characters). When she is reunited with the group, she cautiously approaches while keeping her distance. We get a big moving reunion with Daryl. And Grimes, asshole that he is, says “did you do that?” (meaning, set Terminus on fire, which allowed their escape), and hugs and thanks her when it becomes clear that she did. Somehow, he has given her her seal of acceptance in the group (patriarchal acceptance is needed), and the others come and greet her as well.

I am waiting to see if the rest of the show will address her shabby treatment in the previous season and if Grimes feels at any point he has to make amends for kicking her out of the group.

But why anyone would still defer to Grimes is beyond me.

Last year, I posted about the first season of In The Flesh, a BBC zombie show that I liked quite a bit. Season 2 finished airing on BBC America last week and it is still very good. Season 1 was only three episode-long, but season 2 has six episodes, so, it allowed a more complex and multi-dimensional storyline as well as more character development.

[Spoilers included]

Season 2 picks up a little later and is marked by backlash on both sides of the issue. On the one hand, the living are no longer as frightened of the PDS sufferers as they were in season 1, and that leads to both interpersonal and political backlash, with the rise of the UKIP-type political party, Victus. Hence the arrival of the new Victus MP for Roarton, Maxine Martin, one of the new characters for this season.

The rhetoric of the party is very fascist and soon after her arrival, MP Martin starts registering PDS sufferers, and later on forcing them in to the new Give Back scheme, a forced labor program, supposedly designed to make PDS sufferers “repair” some of the damage they did during their time as zombies.

Why would they participate? Because concurrently, their basic civil rights have been suspended, and, supposedly, they can only get them back after completing the Give Back. Needless to say, this is a system of exploitation and abuse that generates resentment on the part of the PDS sufferers.

And, of course, no discrimination and stigmatization scheme would be complete without a visual status signal. So, it’s not a yellow star, obviously, but the orange vest that tells the world that one is a PDS sufferer working on the Give Back scheme, which makes enforcement of all the restrictions easier.

That resentment is then used to unofficially reactivate the Human Volunteer Force (under a new name) to enforce the Give Back scheme. That scheme is hilariously presented in all its hypocrisy, with fancy brochures and cheesy DVD presentation to the community. Also, most of the PDS sufferers are made to work building a fence whose purpose is not yet really known. And, of course, one of the rules is to use lenses and make-up. PDS suffered are forbidden from leaving their present location (so, no trip to Paris for Kieren). Any deviation from the rules marks the PDS sufferer as non-compliant, which can lead to their return to the treatment center.

On the other side, there has been radicalization on the part of the PDS sufferers as well, with the introduction of a social movement organization, the Undead Liberation Army (ULA), that conducts terrorist attacks, using a substance called “Blue Oblivion” that temporarily returns the PDS sufferers to their zombie state.

The ULA is led by a mysterious “prophet” (whom we do not see during this season) who appoints people to lead PDS rebellion in various areas. That is how another new important character shows up in season two, Simon, “the Irish” as some Roarton denizens call him. This dual radicalization (Victus v. ULA) has religious undertones on both sides, and the show treats religious fanaticism as inherently violent.

Whereas fear was still somewhat present in season 1, it is mostly mutual hostility that sets the tone of season 2, which is much darker than its predecessor and the entire season leads up to an ultimate confrontation by religious fundamentalists from both sides, exposing the absurdity of their beliefs.

Season 2 is also marked by the disappearance of older patriarchal figures, and their replacement by different, more diverse figures. Last season ended with the death of HVF leader, Bill Macey, shot dead by Ken Burton, who, himself is killed in an ULA attack in the first episode of season 2. Later on, Vicar Oddie, a big anti-PDS agitator, dies of a heart attack (and MP Martin could have helped him but decided to do nothing, in effect, letting him die). So, three old white men are out. Enters the black female MP (Martin). And then, younger characters take more center stage: Phil Wilson (the young town councillor who used to take his marching orders from Vicar Oddie, and now from MP Martin… up to a point), Gary Kendall (the new HVF leader who claims for himself the rank of captain), Simon (of the ULA), and Kieren Walker and Amy Dyer, of course.

In this season, the themes of the previous one (stigmatization) are still here, but the in-group / out-group dynamics are much more salient and obvious. Living and PDS sufferers position themselves in opposition to each other, extremist living not longer considering PDS sufferers as humans, and extremist PDS sufferers rejecting the label and considering themselves a kind of superior race to the living. How these distinctions and ideologies are created, sustained, amplified, and transmitted is the most interesting part of this season.

There is one narrative thread that is started in season 2, and, is one the most promising for season 3 (hopefully, there will be season 3): the two doctors that created the drug that keeps PDS sufferers from “turning rabid” also created the pharmaceutical company that mass produces it. In the last episode, the government agents are sent to Roarton to collect someone (we never know who it is until the very end) but we don’t know why. That government / corporate storyline will hopefully be developed more in season 3, as there are references throughout the season, to experiments (torture, really) conducted on PDS sufferers at treatment centers (Nazi experiments, anyone?).

In all, it is hard to avoid the comparisons with the rise of fascism and seeing the PDS sufferers as the racial/ethnic target of hatred, along with their economic exploitation, and the curtailing of their rights. It is hard not to think about the current situation in Europe, with the rise of far-right / fascist parties all over the EU.

There are also still interpersonal storylines going on throughout the season, that add a human (see what I did there?) dimension to the socio-political aspects.

I like the way that Kieren’s homosexuality is treated as a non-issue in itself, and so, his burgeoning affair with Simon is only a story because because of Amy’s crush on Simon, or the fact that Simon is then tasked by the Undead Prophet to kill Kieren. There is the Amy / Philip story, the Jem / Gary / Henry storyline, and a series of other secondary characters that really add texture to the entire series.

I highly recommend it.

NZ Herald CoverYesterday in Aotearoa/New Zealand it was Waitangi Day, which commemorates unification between the indigenous Māori inhabitants and the British settler population. For the nation-state of New Zealand, every 6 February is heralded as a day of celebration for all “Kiwis,” or New Zealanders, to express their collective patriotism. Well, that’s one version of it.

It was on 6 February 1840 when Te Tiriti o Waitangi was signed by 46 rangatira (Māori chieftains), and in the six months following, approximately 450 more. Te Tiriti was authored by the British and written in te reo Māori. Māori in contemporary society who believe in decolonization efforts (along with non-Māori allies) argue that Te Tiriti “cemented [Māori’s] overriding authority, while granting permission to the Crown to regulate the conduct of British nationals” (Mikaere, 2011, p. 129).

This historical document was also written in British English, and in this version, The Treaty of Waitangi mandated that the Māori population cede their sovereignty to the British Crown in return for protected property rights. Thus for the British, The Treaty of Waitangi has served as the central legal document that legitimized citizenship and continues claim to the land.

For Māori, The Treaty represents the beginning of British colonial, legal imposition into Aotearoa that was furthered substantially in the 1860s through legal maneuvering that privatized land ownership – a familiar colonial tactic employed across the Pacific.

With a national holiday celebrating The Treaty – a legal document that includes indigenous peoples – it may appear that in Aotearoa/New Zealand, the indigenous people have it comparatively good. But consider that prior to British arrival, the Māori population stood at somewhere between 200,000 and 500,000; by about 1900, their population dropped to 42,000. And today, Māori share the same types of social disparities as other indigenous peoples worldwide.

NZ Herald CornerIt is because of these historical concerns and ongoing disparities that not all Māori celebrate Waitangi Day. In fact, the national holiday has a history of Māori protest, which with all things considered, should hardly be surprising. Shouldn’t a place’s indigenous people have the right to protest on their own homeland?

And this brings me to this blog entry’s subject.

Yesterday’s front page of The New Zealand Herald (the country’s most prominent newspaper) made special effort to highlight a piece on Waitangi Day “protest free” with a white fist driven up.

The paper’s headline story, “Celebrating NZ’s day: Waitangi: What it means to you” strategically profiles an ethnically diverse group of individuals, some of whom speak to historical injustices and today’s social inequalities. Some excerpts from the story:

The important thing [regarding Waitangi] is probably the continued acknowledgement of the Treaty. And, along with it, the acknowledgement by Pakeha of all injustices committed against Maori, while their ancestors blatantly ignored the Treaty. Especially since the roots of the alarming inequality in the country today go all the way back to what we like to call colonisation; I don’t see how it could be any more relevant.

The Treaty of Waitangi was breached as bro and heaps of Kiwis don’t know that. I can’t believe the Government thought they could get away with the confiscation of land, the banning of te reo AND the pepper-potting – please look it up. I’ve met too many Kiwis that think we should just forget about it and that Maori should move on, and it’s exhausting explaining why that’s a really stink way to think…

A continued dialogue around the Treaty will always be important. The birth of contemporary NZ started under colonial rule that brought with it all the (problems) of colonisation. Continued conversation, debate and dialogue keep questions of power and exploitation alive, relevant and evolving and hopefully make us as a community more aware of the respect that is owed every human being and the land we inhabit.

Many Kiwis think we need to move on, but for me there is still so much work to do around the Treaty and race relations that it’s way too early to start celebrating. I want NZ to be a country that is world-renowned for its equality. Where it is a priority, not just a soundbite or media tag, but written into our constitution so any and all governments can be held to this one core value: equality.

Definitely some critical viewpoints.NZ Herald Waitangi Day

Still, because The Herald has framed these interviewees’ contributions within a dominant “protest-free” discourse and included the excerpts within a story that “celebrates” Waitangi Day, any radical critique of The Treaty is negated. Critique can only come through moderated reflections of “moving on” in reconciliatory ways that don’t attack the status quo, that don’t address land rights, that don’t address substantive changes in mainstream culture.

And this is how mainstream, neocolonial media makes itself appear progressive while actually supporting the state to minimize indigenous/human rights.

A while back, Dave Mayeda posted a great series of posts applying sociological theories of deviance to the TV show The Wire. So, I just thought I’d list them all here so you can all go read them as they were really great.

While I’m at it, I might as well link to my previous posts on The Walking Dead (in chronological order, from oldest to most recent):

It’s been a while since I have blogged about The Walking Dead (well, since last season). So, half of season 4 has come and gone and it’s time to review what, I think, has been the most consistent thread of the show: its misogyny. Fear not, unlike most of the human population, in TWD, misogyny is alive and kicking and it was on special display this half-season.

Last season ended with one of the best and most mistreated female character, Andrea, dying after the collapse of Woodbury. The Governor decided to evacuate, then massacred most of his followers and took off with a bunch of his lieutenants. The survivors were rescued by Grimes group and brought to the prison. That is where the new season picks up. We don’t know what happened to the Governor but Michonne is looking for him. Ok. So, now the prison has a bunch more people and children. It is pretty obvious that they are all non-entities, therefore, most likely, they will meet a red shirt fate.

walking-dead_3But there is this thing: Carol plays teacher to the bunch of kids the group has inherited. But in addition to storytime, the kids (boys AND girls) get training in weapon use, because, you know, it’s a useful skill to have in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. Enters the sociopath-in-chief, Carl, and Carol is quick to tell him “don’t tell your father”… Why? Grimes (whose death I would pray for at every episode if I were the religious kind) would, of course, not approve, and even though he’s no longer technically in charge, well, the patriarch’s opinion still matters more than a woman’s action (more on that later).

Of course, we all remember that Grimes did not want grown women to have guns, in the earlier seasons, but was ok for Carl to learn to use them (with the results we know).  It’s the men’s job to do the protection thing, as Lori used to remind Andrea in Season 2. And, of course, we all know that Carl will tattle. At the same time, it is pretty clear that Carol is in love with Daryl. Whether that’s fully reciprocated is not clear.

As you remember, when the show started, Carol was a battered wife, weak and submissive. At the show progresses, and after the death of her daughter, and especially this season, Carol has become a much stronger character. She seems to have figured out what times like these require and is no-nonsense about it. She’s becoming a leader, preparing the kids for their future when the current adults are gone, one way or the other.

Well, of course, we can’t have that.

Some flu-like bug infects the prison and secondary characters die like flies, including Karen, Tyreese’s girlfriend, who gets attacked by post-infection zombie after refusing to have sex with Tyreese (see what happens to women who don’t submit their male superiors?). Karen will later be murdered by some mysterious killer (along with another sick and close to death “patient” and their bodies burned. The fate of his property girlfriend will drive Tyreese to a fit of rage (even though the super-flu was guaranteed to kill Karen and turn her into a walker). Note: when Grimes discovers the crime scene, he sees a bloody handprint that is child-size (hint!!).

But, he confronts Carol and she confesses to the murders and provides a very rational explanation: they were going to die anyway, they were contagious and putting others in danger. But that’s a problem because the other men have promised Tyreese swift punishment for whoever committed the murders.

CarolBut, and this is one of the most vile moment of the show, even though it’s pretty clear Carol is taking the wrap for someone else, Grimes is an idiot, and, on their next supply run, he makes the unilateral decision to send Carol into exile, back into the zombie apocalypse, on her own (but she has a car and supplies!).

That is one of the most disgusting patriarchal plot of the show, and it is pretty clear that Carol is being exiled as potentially competitive leader, what with all her work with the children. And in TWD, women can’t be leaders. Even if Carol had killed the sick people, Grimes and the others have done way worse (including, for Grimes, killing Carol’s zombified daughter).

Throughout that supply run, Grimes keeps quizzing Carol. And when they run into a couple of other people, young man and woman who offer to help, Carol is the one who accepts and Grimes refuses, but she prevails. That means, of course, that decision will necessarily turn out to be a bad one, for which Grimes will blame her. And, as they wait for the young man to return, it is Carol who is rational about the fact that they need to leave, he’s probably dead and they need to get back to the prison. After all, if the young man and woman had listened to Grimes instead of Carol, they might have survived (how did they survive all along??). But Grimes uses that as his final reason to exile her.

Interestingly enough, somehow, he, alone, gets to make that decision, without the council that was created at the prison and that was supposed to handle all the decision-making. What follows is even worse: as people at the prison learn of Carol’s exile, none of them basically care, not even Daryl. No one question’s Grimes prerogative to have made such a unilateral decision. No one wants explanations beyond Grimes’s version of events. Patriarchal words carry all the power and no questions are asked.

So, that is the first patriarchal and misogynistic thread of this half-season. The second one has to do with the return of the Governor.

Lilly TaraWhen last season ended, the Governor and his acolytes just drove into the sunset. When we pick up, the Governor has been abandoned by them. He wanders all alone, long hair, beard, etc. Until he meets a small family of two sisters (Lily and Tara), their elderly, sick and dying father, and one of the sister’s daughter (Meghan, can this be even more heavy-handed).

We might as well name that storyline “the miracle of the patriarchy”. For instance, obviously, these two sisters have done pretty well for themselves so far, what with surviving this whole mess, keeping their father alive, and living in relative comfort. But somehow, as soon as the Governor (renamed Brian) shows up, the sisters become all powerless to do the things they obviously had to have been doing all along, like putting the disabled old man to bed, getting him a re-supply of oxygen, etc. All of a sudden, they need a man to do all the basic survival stuff (kinda reminiscent of the young man and woman in the previous thread). Not only that, but the little girl, Meghan, is described by her mother as not very talkative, but opens to the Governor. Is there anything that a patriarch can’t do?

Anyhoo, even though, they seem to have a stable situation, the sisters decide they need to leave and have the Governor guide them to wherever, after the old man’s death (you would think that would make their situation easier, but go figure). No surprise, Lilly and the Governor start having an affair. And, of course, the sisters turn out to suck at walking away from a decent place, one twists her ankle, so, of course, the Governor has to save the little girl. Really, women can’t do anything right.

As they meet the former acolytes of the Governor, and a group of survivors they have teamed up with (how original), the Governor returns to his murderous, pathological self and takes over the crew because that cannot be left to a bunch of Latinos. Long story short, the Governor wants the prison and riles up the crowd to get them to agree to go take it.

They go, mini-war starts where the Governor’s group uses a tank, thereby demolishing the very prison they want to occupy, which makes a lot of sense.

Interestingly enough, Tara, the soldier sister, turns out to be lesbian (and her lover is also ex-military… geez), but, despite her military experience and training, turns into a puddle of fear at the first exchange of shots. It’s so ridiculous.

But the main point of this whole plot is this: CLASH OF THE PATRIARCHS, that is, Grimes and the Governor having themselves a real man fight, with no weapons, just fists, dammit, because that is how real men fight each other. That is what this entire half-season has been about.

The only good thing about this half-season: Hershel is dead, thank goodness. No more pompous pontificating.

But as I mentioned, the misogyny of the show, unfortunately, is alive and well.

By David Mayeda

I love Aljazeera. It is my favourite news site, and I peruse its stories virtually every day. This is partly why I was so disappointed in its recent story on the over-representation of Māori in New Zealand’s criminal justice system produced by 101 East and titled, “Locked Up Warriors.”

The 26-minute documentary attempts to explore some of the underlying reasons as to why Māori, the indigenous people of Aotearoa/New Zealand who comprise 14.5% of the total population, represent over 50% of those incarcerated (and notably, a higher percentage of female inmates). Granted, the piece takes a few minutes to discuss New Zealand’s prison industrial complex, critiquing the government’s greater spending on corrections than education, but it is truly just a few minutes. What is seen throughout more of the piece are ties between Māori culture, families, poverty, crime, gangs, and prison life:

Take for example the section from approximately 7:30 to 10:00 focusing on a young Māori child. The discussions revolve almost entirely around his observations of community violence, gang conflict, and personal aggression. While this may not be an inaccurate portrayal of parts of this youth’s life, the focus is overwhelmingly negative. Likewise, in focusing on a resurrection of Māori culture, viewers only see traditional Māori culture transpiring within the confines of prison walls.

In short, largely because of the focus on disproportionate indigenous incarceration, the piece can’t help but reify racial stereotypes. This is an example of media showcasing indigineity through a deficit model. While the piece attempts to be sympathetic towards the Māori community, the focus fails to significantly showcase positive dimensions of Māori life.

Switching focus a bit, in Aotearoa/New Zealand, diverse Pacific peoples (e.g., Cook Islanders, Fijians, Samoans, Tongans) are also considered indigenous, due to their similar cultural mores and histories across the Pacific. And like Māori, diverse Pacific communities tend to show greater disparity levels.

These trends notwithstanding, Pacific (and Māori) communities demonstrate individual and group successes, as seen in the Pacific Achievers Project, which aims to get Pacific youth “to look into their own backyard for inspiration and see what’s special about the people in their own community.” Here’s a few of the videos posted there:

I see the above strategy to addressing social disparities as far more fruitful and respectful. No doubt, media and other social institutions need to address indigenous peoples’ social disparities, including disproportionately high incarceration levels, but those efforts must be more balanced than what was presented in the Aljazeera piece.

Let’s close out with something more positive, and pretty damn awesome!

This may be one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a long time.

As David Carr points out in the NYT, this kind of parody is usually only seen on Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert. To watch an actual MSNBC show and host mock itself is both refreshing and obviously troubling.

Following the shameful verdict in the Trayvon Martin case in Florida, cable news outlets were filled with angry white men discussing what “we” can do about the “black criminal culture” that is “so obvious” but that “no one will talk about.” Not only does the video parody this kind of knuckle-dragging thinking, it also changes labels and throws Wall Street crime under the same banner as “white” street crime.

That so many people watch cable news shows and assume what they’re hearing is the truth is not surprising. News (and reality, for that matter) has atomized along racial, ideological and political lines. If you’re liberal and Democratic, you go here, if you’re conservative and Republican you go there. If you’re white, you watch this, if you’re black you watch that. You get to hear exactly what you want, confirming every prejudice you already have, without any shred of disagreement in the process.

But are we really that polarized, politically anyway? Worth reading is this latest column (“The Stench From the Potomac”) by Frank Rich. From a meta analysis, he explains why the politics in D.C. isn’t broken or gridlocked or hopelessly dysfunctional. It is in fact, working extraordinarily well and in harmony, just as Mills envisaged 50 years ago under the rubric “the power-elite.”

The larger point being: the appearance of discord keeps the masses distracted. Whites scapegoat blacks, the poor stay at war with the middle class, men are from Mars women are from Venus, ad nauseum.

And while you’re pounding your fists, standing your ground, red-faced with “outrage” at this or that group, the power-elite picks your pocket and laughs all the way to bank.

Suckers.

Cross Posted to The Power Elite (fittingly enough)

David Neiwert has made a career of studying hard right-wing movements, mainly through his blog Orcinus, but also at Crooks and Liars and Alternet. In his latest book, And Hell Followed With Her: Crossing The Dark Side of The American Border, Neiwert explores the minutemen movement that gained popularity in right-wing circles, with media uncritical cooperation, back in the early 2000s, as he retraces the steps that led to the assassination of Junior Flores, a small-time marijuana dealer and his young daughter Brisenia, by minuteman leader Shawna Forde and her accomplices (one of which was never identified and remains at large).

The book opens with the chilling 911 call made by Brisenia’s mother, who was wounded during the attack but survived and was able to identify her attackers. From there, Neiwert follows several investigative threads that shape the narrative: (1) the border context, especially Arivaca, where the murders took place, with its mix of wealthy ranchers, and near-poor locals, like Flores (which is where the whole marijuana trafficking comes in); (2) the nativist movement latest incarnation with the minutemen; (3) the rise and fall of Shawna Forde within that movement.

I would not say that Neiwert is the best writer as there are quite a few stylistic repetitions but the narrative is indeed compelling and thoroughly sourced. It does a good job of weaving together local context, individual trajectories, and social movements and their convergence during that one night in Arivaca.

As Neiwert shows, there is nothing really original, in terms of social movement, regarding the minutemen:

“The Minuteman movement that grabbed national headlines in the first decade of the twenty-first century was not a spontaneous eruption of border nativism, as the media would often portray it. Rather, it was the direct offspring of the border militias of the 1990s, which were the stepchild of the Klan Border Watches of the 1980s, which in turn were modeled on a 1960s vigilante movement calling itself, ironically, the Minutemen.” (Loc 494-497)

And the underlying ideology for these movements is always the same as well: the United States is being invaded by hordes of non-White savages from the Third World, who commit all sorts of unspeakable crime and bring medieval disease to this country, and it is up to white men with guns to protect and reclaim it. These movements perfectly fit Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities as members of these movements are linked together through series of myths and made-up stories that reinforce the ideology and are now easily circulated through the Internet.

The fear of uncontrolled immigration has long been a topic of concern for militia, christian identity, white supremacist movements in the Pacific Northwest, and in the border states in the Southwest. These are the same people who believe in black helicopters, New World Order, and la Reconquista. they would fit Adorno’s Authoritarian Personality typology.

And their favorite tactic has been that of the lone wolf: the individual who acts on behalf of the movement but with enough distance from it so that the movement can deny its link to the individual when things go South: think Erik Rudolph or Timothy McVeigh, and now Shawna Forde.

The larger context, though, for these movements is as follows:

“The extremist right in America has always fed on real grievances that go either unaddressed or are mishandled by the mainstream system— by government, and in particular the federal government. In the 1980s and ’90s, they channeled discontent with badly malfunctioning federal farming and land-use policies in rural America into uprisings like the Posse Comitatus and Patriot/ militia movements and their various offshoots, such as the Montana Freemen. This led to armed standoffs with federal agents and varying waves of domestic terrorism, all of it emanating from the American heartland.

What these extremists always tell their audiences is that there are simple reasons for their current miseries— inevitably, it is a combination of a secret cabal of elite conspirators running society like a puppet show at the top, crushing the middle-class working man from above, while a parasitic underclass saps his strength from below. This usually plays out, in the world-view of right-wing extremists, as being part of a secret conspiracy to enslave ordinary working people and destroy America.

What gives them special traction, however, is their knack for finding unaddressed grievances and exploiting them as examples of this conspiracy, thus manipulating working-class people who have legitimate problems. Their agenda comes wrapped in an appeal telling people that they not only feel their pain but have the answers to end it. And their strategy works, time and again.

In the twenty-first century, right-wing extremists became focused on a similarly dysfunctional immigration system as a means to recruit believers, in part because nativism is part of the genetic structure of the racist American right, dating back to the heyday of the Ku Klux Klan, and in part because it was such a ripe opportunity target. After all, American immigration policy in the past forty years and more has time and again proven a colossal bureaucratic bungle that no one has been able to untangle.” (Loc 893-908)

And then, there was something even more specific that triggered the rise of the minuteman movement:

“The big gorilla among these was the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which was negotiated by Bush Sr., Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney, and Mexican president Carlos Salinas de Gortari in 1993, and then ratified with the active support of Bush’s successor, Bill Clinton. The treaty, which in creating a trilateral trade bloc opened up the ability of investment capital to cross borders freely, was sold to the American public as, among other things, an essential component in controlling immigration.

(…)

Cheap American corn put over a million Mexican farmers out of business, and that was just the beginning. With the economy collapsing around them, scores of manufacturers who specialized in clothing, toys, footwear, and leather goods all went out of business. The only upside to NAFTA for Mexico— the arrival of new manufacturing jobs, including auto-building plants, as they departed the United States for cheaper shores, and of a fresh wave of maquiladora, the plants where various manufacturers would outsource their labor to Mexico— proved illusory.

(…)

In the meantime, the American economy— riding along first on a technology bubble and then on a housing bubble— was bustling, creating in the process in excess of five hundred thousand unskilled-labor jobs every year, the vast majority of which American workers either would not or could not perform. Yet the antiquated American immigration system only issued five thousand green cards annually to cover them.

The result was a massive demand for immigrant labor in the United States and an eager supply in Mexico seeking work. At the border, where a rational transaction should have been taking place, there was instead a xenophobic crackdown aimed at keeping Mexican labor in Mexico, with predictably limited success.

(…)

Typically they would travel to one of the old border-crossing towns— Nogales or Ciudad Juarez— and there contract the services of a coyote, or guide, who would take them out into the countryside and across the border and hook them up with transit to wherever their destination might be. As the tide rose and the crackdown increased, the prices for these services started to rise as crossing the border became harder and harder work.

(…)

Much of this was happening on people’s private lands along the border or on federal lands leased out to ranchers who worked them. And so naturally those people were increasingly coming face to face with the brutal realities being created by American border policies— the dead and the dying and the desperate, all wandering through the desert in hopes of reaching the Promised Land. Most of these encounters were simply with people who wanted a drink of water, but some were not so benign, and these moments could be fraught with danger, at least in the minds of the ranchers if not in reality. The crossers also left trash in the desert that was a danger to livestock, and they frequently cut fences, meaning the loss of livestock.” (Loc 993-998)

That’s the larger context for the emergence of the latest version of the nativist movement. But this movement would never have taken off as it did if it had not been for the active, uncritical support of media figure Lou Dobbs (he of the immigrant plague fame) and Fox News. The leaders of the minutemen had almost open, non-stop access to the media that way and they used it skillfully to spread their made-up narrative of border atrocities. And so, if the government was not going to protect and secure the borders, then, real (white) Americans would take matters in their own hands and guns and do it themselves. Hence were born these border watches.

However, if you want to build a respectable right-wing movement that you hope to mainstream, and out of which you hope to make political careers, you need to be careful whom you attract. And so, right from the start, the leaders of the movement, mainly Jim Gilchrist and Chris Simcox, took pain to explain that their movement and its members were not trigger-happy racists, that all border watchers were vetted through background checks (none of which were true). But, of course, also right from the start, the movement attracted white supremacists of the Stormfront type.

What is another theme of the book is that most of mainstream media slept on the job when it came to examine the roots, realities, and membership in the movement, which made it complicit in it:

“In one important way, the Minuteman Project was indeed a success, but not for actually doing anything substantive to stop illegal immigration. Rather, it was eminently successful in mainstreaming and legitimizing extremist vigilantism. After all, not only was it eagerly embraced by a gullible press, but in short order it was given the blessing of a wide range of public officials and politicians.” (Loc 2645-2648)

And, so, the coverage of the border watches was mostly shallow, superficial, and positive. So that even the most basic claims made by movement leaders, that could easily have been verified, such as how many people actually showed up for border watches (hint: much less than reported by movement leaders) went unexamined.

However, it did not take long for discord to threaten the movement unity. According to Neiwert, that is neither new nor surprising;

“The Minutemen’s fractious behavior was in many ways a product of the combative personalities its core ideology attracted. The long history of nativist organizations in America is littered with the same story: gathered to fight the perceived immigrant threats of their respective times, and riding a wave of scapegoating and frequently eliminationist rhetoric, they all have in relatively short order scattered in disarray, usually amid claims of financial misfeasance and power grabbing. This was true of the Know Nothing Party of the 1850s, the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s, and all of their many shortlived descendants since then.” (Loc 2851-2855)

Neiwert goes into some details on the clashes of personalities that ended up breaking up the movement into separate organizations as well as turf wars over who gets to use the label “minutemen”, and the financial shenanigans within the different splinter groups. But it was the perfect context in which someone like Shawna Forde would thrive.

There is one book in the French comic Asterix, titled La Zizanie (discord, in English), and it follows a Roman agent who has a knack for starting conflict between people, while always pretending to be on the outside, with clean hands. He starts the discord, then, sits back and enjoys the strife that follows.

Based on Neiwert’s description of Shawna Forde, she was exactly like that. If Shawna Forde had not ended up being a cold-blooded killer (now sitting on death row), one would feel sorry for her miserable childhood: the abuse, the repeated abandonment, the complete absence of security and nurturing. No wonder she became a delinquent early in her life.

From that awful childhood, she turned into a manipulative sociopath, a constant liar, stirring up trouble and conflict without seeming to, then, watching the explosions and trying to benefit from them. And she probably tried to have one of her husbands murdered.

But it is this character who managed to work her way through the minuteman movement, awarding herself a variety of inflated titles, and, from ended up in Arizona, to coordinate border watches. But Shawna Forde loves money, so, she needed a way to get it. She came up with the plan of ripping off drug dealers. That is how she ended up leading the murders at the Flores home. Minutemen have since tried to make it look like Junior Flores was a kingpin, but Neiwert’s research reveals a more complicated reality (included the fact that the biggest drug deals in this story was one of Shawna’s accomplices, and former friend of the Flores family).

After the murders, of course, everybody in the minuteman movement was scrambling to distance themselves from Shawna Forde but there is no denying that she was deep into the movement, had access to its leaders, was well considered and promoted. But that is the point of the lone wolf tactic: to provide plausible deniability. Except, in this case, it was harder to accomplish. And so, the murders at the Flores home dealt an almost fatal blow to the movement.

But even with after the killings, the mainstream media continued to carry water for the movement:

“Much of the media calculus in its handling of the Flores murders appears to have been founded on two key narratives favored by media outlets: it ran directly counter to the long-running narrative depicting the Minuteman movement as a collection of friendly neighbors out watching the border in their lawn chairs, and most significantly, it was concluded by the people calling the news shots that because Junior Flores was in fact a marijuana smuggler, he had essentially asked for the fate that descended on his family. After all, weren’t drug-related murders a common occurrence on the border?

(…)

As Dan Shearer at the Green Valley News discovered when he began examining the facts on the ground, these kinds of crimes are decidedly not very common, even on the border, despite the media hype and the hysteria stirred up by Minutemen like Shawna Forde. She may have fully believed, as she told the Norwegian documentarians, that life is cheap on the border: “Shootings and deaths occur on a daily basis out here.” They do occur— but neither that frequently, nor are they greeted with a shrug.” (Loc 6191-6194)

However, in 2008, the economy collapsed and a new president got elected:

“They don’t call themselves Minutemen anymore, because of Shawna Forde— or more precisely, thanks to Gina Gonzalez and her will to fight. There are still border watchers out there, and the shells of the national Minuteman organization linger on in a zombielike half-life. But the Minutemen and their nativist supporters have gone on to greener, Tea Partying pastures now.” (Loc 5998-6001)

And when all was said and done, the minutemen did not have much to show for all their bluster and inflated claims. But none of that seemed to matter as Tea partyer had by then turned their attention to health care reform.

At the same time, there is something disturbing and pathological when it comes to the personalities attracted to these types of nativist movements (remember convergence theory of collective behavior?). Neiwert cites James Aho’s This Thing of Darkness – A Sociology of the Enemy, on this theme:

“Whether embodied in thing or in person, the enemy in essence represents putrefaction and death: either its instrumentality, its location (dirt, filth, garbage, excrement), its carriers (vermin, pests, bacilli), or all of these together. . . .

The enemy typically is experienced as issuing from the “dregs” of society, from its lower parts, the “bowels of the underworld.” It is sewage from the gutter, “trash” excreted as poison from society’s affairs— church, school, workplace, and family.                 The enemy’s visitation on our borders is tantamount to impending pestilence. . . .

The enemy’s presence in our midst is a pathology of the social organism serious enough to require the most far-reaching remedies: quarantine, political excision, or, to use a particularly revealing expression, liquidation and expulsion.” (Loc 6362-6370)

These rhetorical forms were clearly present in minutemen internal discourse. Of course, for the media, there was a wholly different rhetoric dedicated to refuting accusations of racism. However, what minutemen have achieved is the mainstreaming of the dehumanizing “illegal alien” label that is now commonly used in by media and politicians.

Add authoritarian personality types to the mix, and you get Neiwert’s not-very-optimistic conclusion:

“If nativist sentiments in America ever were to build beyond short-lived, self-destructive movements like the Minutemen, the potential for large-scale evil, as Staub defines it, would grow exponentially. When such movements remain small and naturally attract psychopathic elements by practicing a politics that sneers at empathy as weakness, the tragedies they produce will generally be on a small scale like the murder of Junior and Brisenia Flores or numerous other acts of violence against Latinos inspired by inflammatory nativist rhetoric. Translated to a larger scale as a mass movement, where those same antisocial personalities obtain real power, these propensities will produce tragedy on a much larger scale.” (Loc 6406-6410)

An important read that also has the secondary effect of explaining a lot about the Tea Party movement (which already seems to have fizzled the same way that the minutemen did), its rise, media uncritical reporting, inflated claims, imaginary narratives, etc. The very same elements are present and it is no surprise that they attracted the same crowd that needed a new home after Shawna Forde had trashed the place.

By David Mayeda

As noted in my previous post, there are rare cases when mainstream media do a little sociological work to explain criminal behaviors in the news, albiet when the offenders are of high social status. But in most cases, the news simply reports crime, noting what parties were involved and how they were impacted. This leads readers to believe that crime is a manifestation of individualized behavior, and that is largely what we see in this story from The Guardian (a media source which I admit, often has excellent reporting).

The story, titled “Three teenagers sentenced for homeless man’s murder,” details a particularly brutal act of violence, where three boys have been adjudicated for killing a homeless individual. If one reads through the story, the information presented essentially (1) recounts how the murder took place, (2) describes the sentences levied upon the offenders, (3) notes two of the boys’ criminogenic family ties, and (4) offers information on the victim’s experience. Virtually no text is offered that might explain this violent act by way of sociological analysis, except however, a significant comment from the judge:

    The judge told the mother: “You have another son who is serving life for murder. There are not many parents who have that sort of personal agony to bear. But then again, not that many mothers would have shown themselves to be either so unwilling or unable to shoulder the responsibility of motherhood as you have.”

So if any explanation for this very heavy violence is presented at all, it falls upon the mother. This lack of broader explanations illustrates mainstream media’s typical approach to crime. Yet considering the severity of this crime and the offenders’ youth, one would think this would be a case when the media needs to look for broader explanations.

However, no speculative questions are offered which might tap into fathering (or lack thereof), socio-economic status, or the fact that the young offenders were all male. No doubt had the youthful offenders been girls, there would have been a major discussion on girls being out of control. But when three boys engage in extreme violence, broader cultural discourse around violent masculinity is completely dismissed.

In short there is no sociology whatsoever, no work presented by the media that would speak to wider, more complex causes underpinning the violence…just a quick jab attributing youthful violence to poor mothering. And finally, one must wonder, had these boys been of color and/or of immigrant background, would the media have highlighted those statuses as potential causes of the violence?

Photo via The Guardian.

By David Mayeda

On occasion, mainstream media do a little sociology when covering crime-based news. A few recent stories in the New Zealand Herald serve as good examples. First this story titled, “Cop drank and gambled away stolen drug cash” (20 April), reporting how a former drug squad detective “was sentenced to 80 hours of community work and ordered to pay reparation of $3467.50” after he was caught stealing money seized in a raid, as well as from an in-house collection.

Granted, this is not a heinous, violent crime; nor is it a white-collar crime tied to tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. But look at the degree to which the offender is described, which lends to reader sympathy. To begin with, the story’s subtitle reads, “Stressed officer’s actions a cry for help, says lawyer.” Additionally, in the middle of the story a robust section is devoted that further contextualizes the detective’s alleged illegal actions:

    The court heard that before the thefts Langford had several “issues” including the death of his father, a relationship break up, and being diagnosed with cancer.

    “On top of that he felt tremendous work pressure which wore upon him,” lawyer Richard Earwaker told the court.

    “It’s one of those situations where you have a man who had an otherwise good career, had performed ably and well.

    “He acknowledged he had become somewhat bitter and twisted after spending years in the force. Disillusionment was the only causal factor. It was progressively building up.

    “There were a whole series of major personal and professional situations contributing to where he ended up and decisions he made. He is extremely remorseful and ashamed of where he is standing right now.”

    Langford had tried to speak to his bosses about being “unhappy” at work.

    “It doesn’t seem to have been recognised that he was in trouble. It seems that this is almost a cry for help,” Mr Earwaker said.

Here, we actually see a little bit of sociology, as the story’s author taps into a meso-level analysis, describing how personal health problems, familial tragedy, breakup with an intimate partner, and work-based concerns collectively impacted the detective in adverse ways. While the Herald is not necessarily excusing the detective’s actions, the paper is making a serious effort to explore multiple background reasons as to why the detective broke the law. And one might argue this presented backdrop increases the likelihood that readers will feel more compassion for the detective. Onto the next example…

This story (22 April), titled “Rugby player losing battle with demons” is about one of New Zealand’s male rugby stars who plays for the famed “All Blacks.” The athlete was recently charged with assault, tied to an alleged conflict with his partner; he has openly apologized for his actions: “To my partner and her family I just want to say that I’m sorry to hurt someone that you love and care so much for. To be in this situation, I know it’s hurting them and it’s definitely hurting me, so I apologise to them.”

This story has been granted extensive media attention, largely because the alleged offender is of celebrity status. Additionally the athlete was part of New Zealand’s 2012 “It’s Not Okay” campaign, which aims to prevent and reduce family violence, and he appears to be demonstrating a good deal of public remorse.

Furthermore, like the previous story, this one has led to the Herald doing a bit of sociological work, writing quite extensively how participation in rugby at the elite level too often contributes to serious mental health concerns. In fact the subtitle of this story reads, “Rugby stars predisposed to suffering mental health challenges because of anxiety, says players’ union boss.” A majority of this particular story also details the hardships that often accompany athletic participation for males:

    Little work has been done on how young players cope, but a players’ association survey of former players found many struggled with life after retirement. The survey of 123 former professional players found they suffered from:

        • Feelings of depression or despair (35 per cent).
        • High levels of anxiety and stress (30 per cent).
        • Alcohol or substance abuse (23 per cent).
        • Relationship issues (20 per cent).
        • Aggression issues (13 per cent).

    “We believe that athletes do have a higher propensity to have challenges in this [area] than normal people,” Mr Nichol told the Herald yesterday.

    “We do a lot physically for athletes but we don’t do enough mentally.”

    Over a five-year period up to 2011, 81 players sought professional help for off-field issues. While incidents such as Savea’s alleged assault of his partner hit the headlines, many others were averted through successful intervention, said Mr Nichol.

    “The reality is we are always going to have players who come into the professional rugby ranks who have challenges. We just need to get our heads around that and say ‘okay, how do we deal with it’? When we stack up against other sporting codes, we do a lot. We do pretty well, but we are the first to say we need to do better.”

Again, the Herald is not making excuses for family violence, but it is making a strong effort to explain how sport can harm athletes, which may contribute to subsequent deviance. The story surely could have gone further, tapping into broader masculinity issues, but at least we get a hint of sociology here. And again like the story with the detective, the Herald presents this story in a way that lends readers to feel compassion for the offender – he is young and has been thrust into a potentially harmful work-based environment.

So why in these two stories do we get a little bit of sociology, some broader social explanations to criminal offending? Why are these stories written in ways that help readers feel compassion for the alleged offenders? In both cases, the alleged offenders already had high social status. The detective worked for the police force and is male. Think about the multitude of offenders who have been arrested for theft. How many even have stories written about them at all? And if they do, the news typically only reports the crime’s basic details (e.g., who’s involved, what the crime is, and who is affected). The news almost never educates the public, explaining how family problems, romantic hardships, or toxic-working environments (let alone poverty) can influence individuals’ criminogenic behaviors. But in this case for an otherwise law-abiding detective, broader explanations are presented abundantly.

For the rugby star, it is worth noting that he is a male of color, of Samoan descent. Imagine then if a young Samoan male, but not an athletic celebrity, was arrested for assault of a domestic partner – would the news even report it? And if they did, even if the offender was publicly remorseful, would the news explore potential ties between work-based anxieties and the violent behavior? Probably not. Instead, the news would simply report the basic information provided by police, and that would end it. However, in the case of a rugby star who plays for a nationally revered team, mainstream media takes extra steps to tie sport’s detrimental influences on the player. So for these higher-status individuals, criminogenic behavior is not individualized. Instead the criminogenic behavior is tied to institutional hardship.

These individuals’ social statuses and cultural capital appear to have shaped how the media reported their alleged criminal behaviors: not only do readers get broader explanations for their actions, but readers are also led to feel offender sympathy.

Up next: When Mainstream Media Does No Sociology on Crime

Photos via the New Zealand Herald (here and here).

By SocProf.

There are some good points in this speech and it makes a good, relatively short, video to show in class and that would probably trigger discussion with students. But, I confess to not liking the whole TED “let’s make it cool, yo” (and she does actually say “yo” in the video) attitude.

Also, a quick read of Karen Sternheimer‘s Celebrity Culture And The American Dream would have told her that the “celebrity and motherhood” trope is not new exactly new.

But anyway, see for yourself: