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Posts Tagged ‘newspaper’

The Post-Truth Era Strikes Again!

Posted by Scott on March 7, 2008

by Dr. Albert Mohler Jr.

The question of truth has always haunted authors of controversial stories — including both fiction and non-fiction. Nevertheless, non-fiction was understood to represent a claim to be a true, even if highly interpreted, account of reality. Or, at least that has been the understanding until recent times.

Now, in the age of Stephen Colbert’s concept of “truthiness” and what others have called a “post-truth era,” the lines between fiction and non-fiction are becoming more and more blurred. This is true even in the case of some well-known, popular, and influential works.  Does the truth matter anymore?  Do we care if fiction is presented as non-fiction?

In 1992 Guatemalan author Rigoberta Menchu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, largely on the basis of her book, I, Rigoberta Menchu, in which she claimed that she and her family had been subjected to horrible persecution by right-wing Guatemalan forces and the government. While it is likely that this was true, at least in general terms, serious questions have been raised about specifics in her story. Is this not a problem?

In 1976 Asa Earl Carter released another book destined to be a best-seller. Writing under the pseudonym of Forrest Carter the book appeared as The Education of Little Tree. The book was presented as an account of the life of a young Native American boy. It later turned out that the story was not an autobiography at all, but a work of fiction. Nevertheless, the book is still cited as a non-fiction account in many contexts.

President Ronald Reagan had asked historian Edmund Morris to write what many considered the authorized biography covering his life and presidential administrations. Readers were shocked when Morris’s book, Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan, appeared. The book was not a traditional biography at all. Instead, Morris wove together fictional and historical materials so that the reader is never sure which is which. After controversy ensued, the book’s publisher had the audacity to claim that Morris’s methodology actually represented an improvement or advance in the biographical form.

Two years ago, James Frey was forced to admit that his purported memoir, A Million Little Pieces, was not a truthful account of his struggle with drug addiction.  Then, just last week, the literary world was shaken by the news that Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years by Misha Defonseca is yet another fake.

All this is background to today’s revelation in The New York Times that the book world has been rocked by yet another literary admission.  Truth has been victimized again.

From the story:

In “Love and Consequences,” a critically acclaimed memoir published last week, Margaret B. Jones wrote about her life as a half-white, half-Native American girl growing up in South-Central Los Angeles as a foster child among gang-bangers, running drugs for the Bloods.

The problem is that none of it is true.

Margaret B. Jones is a pseudonym for Margaret Seltzer, who is all white and grew up in the well-to-do Sherman Oaks section of Los Angeles, in the San Fernando Valley, with her biological family. She graduated from the Campbell Hall School, a private Episcopal day school in the North Hollywood neighborhood. She has never lived with a foster family, nor did she run drugs for any gang members. Nor did she graduate from the University of Oregon, as she had claimed.

Riverhead Books, the unit of Penguin Group USA that published “Love and Consequences,” is recalling all copies of the book and has canceled Ms. Seltzer’s book tour, which was scheduled to start on Monday in Eugene, Ore., where she currently lives.

Here is the most interesting section from the paper’s report:

“I’m not saying like I did it right,” Ms. Seltzer said. “I did not do it right. I thought I had an opportunity to make people understand the conditions that people live in and the reasons people make the choices from the choices they don’t have.” Ms. McGrath [editor for Riverbend] said that she had numerous conversations with Ms. Seltzer about being truthful. “She seems to be very, very naïve,” Ms. McGrath said. “There was a way to do this book honestly and have it be just as compelling.”

That is the saddest aspect of this entire controversy.  This statement just about says it all:  “There was a way to do this book honestly and have it be just as compelling.”  The truth would have served just as well — and would have led to none of these embarrassments and humiliations.

We may live in what some would style a “post-truth era,” but the fact remains that the distinction between fiction and non-fiction matters — and far beyond the literary world.  The truth always matters, and only the most deluded may believe that we can live without it.

Still, there is hope in all this.  Every one of these revelations has brought a sense of outrage.  This just might be a sign that an instinct for the necessity of truth survives even yet.

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Masculinity without Manhood?

Posted by Scott on March 7, 2008

by Dr. Albert Mohler Jr.

It does not take great intellectual sophistication to see that we are in a period of widespread gender confusion. As with so many other developments of our times, our evolving language betrays more substantial shifts in the culture.

Writing in The Boston Globe [warning, article includes crude language], Mark Peters argues that the proliferation of “man” terms indicates this confusion over manhood and masculinity.

“Hey guys. Is it time for a manogram? Did you get your manimony check?,” he asks. Then he points to the bigger picture:

If you feel like you’re seeing man words everywhere, you’re not alone. Movies, TV shows, ads, and the Web have been pumping them out. Some are painful puns, some crude slang, and as a genre, they say a great deal about our ever-in-flux gender roles.

Man words come from many man caves. Manimony (alimony paid to fellas) got a boost when it was used on “Cashmere Mafia” this month, just as “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” spread manscaping, which encompasses shaving, waxing, plucking, and other deforestation of the male bod. Manny – the word, not the ballplayer – was popularized by stories about Britney Spears’s male nanny, and mancation caught on after Vince Vaughn said it in “The Break-up.” Commercials feature man laws, man food, man suits, and man thongs. US soldiers in Iraq call the traditional Muslim dishdasha a man dress, while a resurgence of traditional manly activities has led some to discuss a menaissance.

So a “manogram” is a prostate exam and a “mankini” is a swim suit popular in Europe — where it should stay. Peters, who is a keen observer of language, understands well that these linguistic innovations indicate confusion.

Here is the most important section of his article:

How to act like a man is a humdinger of an issue if you are one. The late Steven L. Nock, a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, said in an e-mail to me last year that it doesn’t take much for women to prove that they’re “real women” in the widely accepted senses, but men are in a more slippery situation, especially with the role of father/protector/provider not considered as necessary or desirable as it once was. “[M]asculinity must be continuously earned and displayed. It is never won,” Nock wrote. Without a traditional role to embrace, being a man requires constantly defining yourself in opposition to all things female: “No wonder things like man-purses attract attention.”

Peters, citing the late Steven L. Nock, argues that men “are in a more slippery situation” precisely because “the role of father/protector/provider [is] not considered as necessary or desirable as it once was.”

This really does get to the heart of the issue. Men should not expect to be comfortable with an understanding of masculinity that is not based in these roles and responsibilities. When manhood is not defined in these normative terms, confusion necessarily follows — complete with a new and confusing vocabulary.

In a biblical perspective, manhood is defined in these roles and responsibilities.  A man is defined in terms of who he is and what he does in obedience to God.  A society that rejects or sidelines these roles and responsibilities — that does not honor fatherhood and hold it out as expectation — will sow seeds of disastrous confusion.  The damage to our language is among the least of our problems.

While the Bible clearly honors men who forfeit the blessings of wife and children for the sake of the Gospel (see, for example, 1 Corinthians 7:7-9, 32-28), the history of the Christian church indicates that these represent a minority.  The normative expectation is that a young man will mature to take on the role of “father/protector/provider” that Peters correctly sees as “not considered as necessary or desirable as it once was” within the secular culture.  Those men who are faithfully living out these responsibilities are not likely to be too concerned about finding true masculinity.  They are living it.

When this expectation is no longer normative, it should be no surprise that men struggle to define masculinity.  The focus shifts from family to fashion accessories.  Our language betrays our confusion, but the confusion reveals a larger betrayal. 

We lie to ourselves if we believe that we can hold onto a healthy masculinity without honoring true manhood. 

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Boys…diagnosed with ADHD, but are they really? Dr. Mohler Jr.

Posted by Scott on February 27, 2008

OK, So What Kid Doesn’t Fit this Description?

When thinking of signs of our times, consider this advertisement from a Nebraska newspaper. The ad was brought to my attention by a helpful listener to the radio program.

Now, let’s think carefully about this. Can’t sit still? Can’t play quietly? Loses things? Does not seem to listen? Has difficulty paying attention? Is fidgety? Honestly, do you know any 6 to 12-year-old children who do not fit this description?

The number of children — especially boys — diagnosed with ADHD has skyrocketed in recent years. While some boys may well have some kind of genuine problem, the vast majority appear to be diagnosed as, well . . . boys. As physician Leonard Sax, author of Boys Adrift, explains, a diagnosis of ADHD lets everyone off the hook, so to speak. The boy is told he is not responsible for his behavioral problems, the parents are relieved of anxiety over inadequate parenting, teachers and bureaucrats have a new pathological slot into which boys can be filed, and drug companies get to sell pills. Everybody wins.

But, as Dr. Sax argues, the diagnosis and the drugs can have far-reaching consequences for the boy. I am not a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a pharmacologist, or a medical professional of any sort. I am a former boy, however, and I know very well that every boy I have ever known would fit the categories described in this advertisement.

I would write more about this, but I just can’t sit still. Now, what were we talking about?

Dr. Albert Mohler Jr. (February 27th, 2008)

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Parents Acting Like Teenagers!

Posted by Scott on November 21, 2007

Dr. Mohler’s Blog

“Freak Dancing” — When Parents Advocate Misbehavior

The Wall Street Journal is out with one of the those eye-opening stories that defies common moral sense. It seems that Jason Ceyanes, the 35-year-old superintendent of schools in Argyle, Texas, decided to crack down on sexually-suggestive dancing at the local high school. But, when the superintendent banned “freak dancing,” he got into trouble with some of Argyle’s parents.

Here is how The Wall Street Journal introduced its account of the controversy:

A new resolve by school officials in this booming Dallas suburb to crack down on sexually suggestive dancing — and skimpy clothing — has sparked a rancorous debate over what boundaries should be set for teenagers’ self-expression. Argyle joins a long list of other schools around the country that have banned the hip-hop inspired dancing known as “grinding” or “freak dancing.”

But in Argyle, a once-sleepy farming community strained by explosive growth from an influx of well-to-do suburbanites, the controversy has gotten vicious. Some parents blame the newly installed school superintendent, Jason Ceyanes, 35, for ruining their children’s October homecoming dance by enforcing a strict dress code and making provocative dancing off-limits. Disgusted, a lot of kids left, and the dance ended early.

Mr. Ceyanes says he fears current cleavage-baring dress styles combined with sexually charged dancing could lead to an unsafe environment for students.

“This is not just shaking your booty,” he said. “This is pelvis-to-pelvis physical contact in the private areas…and then moving around.”

“Freak dancing” is well known throughout the nation, and it involves what can only be described as “sexually charged” physical contact and movement. But many of the kids in Argyle were “disgusted” that freak dancing was banned at the homecoming dance, so they left. That might be fairly easy to understand. After all, adolescents are expected to exhibit adolescent patterns of misbehavior. What makes this story so interesting is that so many parents responded by joining their adolescents in immature response. In fact, their protest of the superintendent’s policy is shocking.

As the paper explained, “Many parents support Mr. Ceyanes’s actions. But another vocal faction has been harshly critical of the new superintendent, creating a deep rift in the community. These parents defend the children of Argyle as ‘good kids,’ and say they should be trusted to dance and dress the way they want.”

Here is one of the moral hallmarks of our confused age. Parents defy authority and propriety and justify the misbehavior of their own children while calling them “good kids.” In this case, they argue that these “good kids” should be allowed “to dance and dress the way they want” — even if that means sexually suggestive dress and sexually charged dancing.

Mr. Ceyanes held a public meeting for parents and played a video of freak dancing. “I cannot imagine that there is a father in this room who could watch this video and be all right with a young man dancing with his daughter in that fashion,” he told the parents.

This is further evidence of a trend long in coming. Fashion styles for adult women now mimic those of adolescent girls. Why? So many moms want to act like teenagers and dress as provocatively as their offspring. Far too many parents want to act like their teenagers’ friends and peers, not like parents. Parents, after all, are expected to act like adults, and this is a society that depreciates adulthood and valorizes adolescence.

When a story like this makes the front page of The Wall Street Journal, something significant has shifted on the moral landscape. When parents demand that their “good kids” be allowed to freak dance at school events, the real story shifts from the kids to the parents.

___________________

The Wall Street Journal also features this video coverage of the story [go here].  We discussed this issue on Tuesday’s edition of The Albert Mohler Program [listen here].

-Scott Bailey 2007

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