Political default settings

So right-wing pundit Ben Shapiro recently announced he was giving up sports because it’s getting too political with all those athletes taking the knee during the anthem. Which as LGM points out, ignores that playing the national anthem is political too. But Shapiro doesn’t notice (assuming he’s sincere, which I do not assume) because that kind of politics is a default setting, something taken for granted. It’s an unmarked category, something that’s treated as normal and unremarkable: “if you had asked a lawyer in 1960 to name three characteristics that every current Supreme Court justice shared, it’s very likely the lawyer would not have mentioned either race or gender. In other words, we notice characteristics we don’t expect to see much more than characteristics we assume will be present.”

The NRA’s Wayne LaPierre, for instance, said prior to the 2016 election that he didn’t want Clinton in office because America didn’t need two “demographically significant” presidents in a row. In his eyes, putting in a white man had no demographic significance; it was an unmarked category. Columnist Suzanne Fields once complained that the American Psychological Association had stopped  classifying homosexuality as a disease not for science because of modern cultural assumptions gay is okay (which she disagrees with). The possibility earlier generations assuming homosexuals were mentally ill was also a response to cultural assumptions did not occur to her, or if it did she kept silent about it.

Then we have the rants of various right-wing SF authors that they’re tired of political Social Justice Warrior novels where Earth conquering alien races is treated like a bad thing. The good old days when Earth empires were perfectly acceptable? No, that wasn’t political at all.

Part of what freaks out 21st century conservatives is that things that were unmarked back when I was born are now marked categories. Having a white male in the Oval Office isn’t just a fact of life, it’s a choice, just like a black or female president. While male characters still dominate action fiction and specfic, people are now conscious that writing about white men is just as much a choice (which some men think is the only right choice). And that raises the uncomfortable (for many people) possibility that even if they’ve worked hard for what they got, they still benefited from being white and male. Conservatives hate being called on it; more liberal people may not want to think they’ve benefited from the oppression of others (I certainly don’t). As a friend of mine said, it’s like learning your family fortune came from blood money.

Much easier to imagine the social hierarchy of the 1950s or the 1920s was a natural one: reserving the Ivy League for white men or favoring white men in jobs was meritocracy in action, not affirmative action for white people.

At least, that’s what some people tell themselves.


Filed under Politics, Undead sexist cliches

3 responses to “Political default settings

  1. Yes, well said about those ‘unmarked categories’ that seem normalized!

  2. It’s very easy for people to miss until they get marked. I’ve certainly missed a few in times past.

  3. Pingback: Undead Sexist cliches: no woman is ever unmarked | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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