0049   |   December 10, 2018

Hagiography

C. Travis Webb, Seph Rodney, and Steven Fullwood discuss the media’s reaction to the death of the 41st President, George H.W. Bush. Did mainstream outlets “white wash” Bush’s legacy, or is there something to be said for speaking well of the recently departed? What is the role of public mourning and public anger in the establishment of community?

C.T. WEBB 00:18 [music] Good afternoon, good morning, or good evening, and welcome to the American Age Podcast. This is C. Travis Webb. I am editor of the American Age and you can find me through every channel related to the American Age: Facebook, Twitter, website, theamericanage.org. And today, I’m joined by Seph Rodney and Steven Fullwood, as usual. Gentlemen.
S. RODNEY 00:36 Hey. I am Seph Rodney. I am an editor at Hyperallergic. And I teach a research methodologies course at Parsons, part of the new school. You can find me at my website, sephrodney.com or on Twitter as sephspeaks, or on Instagram as sephsees. Thanks.
S. FULLWOOD 00:59 Yes [laughter]. And I am Steven G. Fullwood. I’m the co-founder of the Nomadic Archivist Project. And you can find us online at nomadicarchivistproject.com. You can find me personally on Twitter through my name, Steven G. Fullwood, or on Facebook through my name, Steven G. Fullwood, or through my IG as – now get ready for this – thelux, L-U-X, experimentdeluxe. I know. It’s very long, but I love it. So [laughter] this is how it’s going to be if you want to find me.
S. RODNEY 01:24 I love it too [laughter].
S. FULLWOOD 01:28 It has meaning [laughter]. And so.
C.T. WEBB 01:30 When Seph did his sephspeaks, I just had the image of little statues of Seph. Like one covering his eyes and the other covering his ears [laughter] [crosstalk] mouth [laughter].
S. RODNEY 01:37 Yeah. I like that [laughter].
S. FULLWOOD 01:40 That’s a good art project.
C.T. WEBB 01:43 So and this is to remind you that what we do here is to try and to practice a form of intellectual intimacy. We try to hear each other out and understand one another even if we don’t fully agree. We are speaking to each other from opposite coasts. I’m on the West Coast in Orange. And the gentlemen are in New York, so I’m quite jealous of that, although maybe not quite jealous of the cold.
S. FULLWOOD 02:04 Yes.
C.T. WEBB 02:04 So today, we’re talking about secular hagiographies. And a hagiography is kind of a religious biography that recounts the miracles of its protagonists, whether it be Christ or the Buddha or whatever. And I think, probably, the reason for talking about that is probably obvious, given the death of the 41st President of the United States, George Herbert Walker Bush. And there have been a number of stories out about him. Now, I proposed this topic– we decided on the topic yesterday. And I’m actually– I have a couple of questions, actually, specifically for both of you because I’ve seen some of your social media around this [laughter]. And I have an opposite take from, at least, what you both have represented on social media. Which I’d kind of like to just kind of walk through with you guys and see where the pushback is or in helping me understand it a little bit more.
C.T. WEBB 03:09 In the obituaries that I have read of the former President, New York Times, Washington Post, Fox, CNN, Vox, maybe Slate’s I read, and then bits of others, they do not seem hagiographic to me. Right? Now, they seem generous. Right? So they seem kind. As I would expect one to be kind about someone who had just died. As I would be kind to the person if I disliked intensely. I would not feel the need to spit venom at them. The tenor of the criticism– now, this is not necessarily yours, Seph or yours, Steven, but in general, in my Twitter feed. Because in my Twitter feed are people whose politics I share. I don’t share George Herbert Walker Bush’s politics [laughter]. Right? We are not on the same page.
S. FULLWOOD 04:18 Thank goodness [laughter].
C.T. WEBB 04:19 But let me– I don’t want to go too far down [inaudible]. A lot of it seems to be around this idea of kind of like when a white man dies, then people toll the bells, and cue the weeping, and all of the graciousness– let graciousness reign, and we paper over war-monger, and this and that and the other thing. So I’ve read a number of those. Most of them are historically inaccurate or outright false about the administration. Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t things to criticize about Bush, and I’m actually happy to do that with both of you, but I don’t see how it’s helpful. I don’t see how the other is helpful. I don’t see how coloring a complex human being with such a simplified portrait is helpful for the country, for one another, for even yourself inter-personally. Right? Like we don’t have to talk about the country. So anyway. So please, that’s a lot of talking, for me, to enter the show, which I [crosstalk].
S. RODNEY 05:30 Well, you’re saying the simplification is on those who feel as if he’s not being represented correctly or that the people who are sort of being generous with their portrayal of him?
C.T. WEBB 05:41 So I think in fairness that there is more nuance in the outlets obituaries of him than in the counter obituaries of him. Now, I’m not saying that they themselves were not also generous. I’m saying that that’s kind of what you do when someone dies. If my worse enemy died, I would not go out of my way to celebrate and throw a jig over his or her dead body. I wouldn’t feel the need to recount all of the ways that the dead person wronged me. Now, give me a couple months, and I’m happy to revisit that this person’s no longer on the Earth. But I mean, he just died, just a few days ago.
S. RODNEY 06:32 Okay. So I know that Steven is chomping at the bit to [inaudible] [laughter]. So please, Steven, do your thing, but I have shit to say about that.
S. FULLWOOD 06:40 I will definitely do my thing. And I will try to make it as quickly as possible and succinct. So Travis, what I wanted to say is that I’m sort of appreciative of all of it. I want to see all of it. I want the people who are going to paint the best picture. I’m there for the people who are going to– on my take, kind of call him on what he did. I think that the– I feel like the culture civility is even heightened more because we live in Trump times and therefore people are sort of– even I read those– I read a variety of obituaries and think pieces, and I think that, in the moment, we’re like, “This would seem to be a kinder man.” But it’s often in reflection of Trump and the environment that we’re in at the moment. I think, what exhausts me, is that I want the– I feel like I’m getting a fuller picture when I have all sides or relatively all sides. I’m okay with that. When someone dies, we bow our heads. Part of that bowing our heads though is whitewashing who they were. And those kinds of think pieces I find not just problematic, but disrespectful. He died on world AIDS day [laughter] and he didn’t have a great–
C.T. WEBB 07:59 He didn’t plan that.
S. FULLWOOD 08:00 He didn’t plan it. Not on– no, no, no. I’m not saying that he planned it [laughter]. No, not at all. I’m saying that I think that the criticisms of him, the insightful ones, the ones that aren’t just venom. Right? Because you said that earlier. And I was like, “I saw some venom.” “But the ones that were just more critical and thoughtful– Democracy Now! and these other ones, they were thoughtful. They were engaging. And of course, there was anger or frustration, but yeah. It’s messy. I’m okay with all of it. I’m okay with all of it. But to gloss over some of the things that this man did, I’m not in it. I’m not in it. And also, earlier you said something about the sort of bang the drums, raise the flag for the white male. It’s really– I hear what you’re saying in some regards, but it happens in all communities. Where the person dies, and everybody’s at the funeral extolling the virtues of this person, what have you, without complicating them. I’m okay for the complications. I’m okay with the complications. That’s all.
C.T. WEBB 09:00 Right. Right. Fair. Okay. Okay. I hear that. I hear that.
S. RODNEY 09:02 So a couple of things. One is I think that you both sort of have me at a disadvantage in that I haven’t read– I want to say, “Catholicly [laughter].” I haven’t read across the spectrum of responses to George Herbert Walkers Bush’s death. I do think that one of the problems with any sort of account of someone’s life– and this is the central problem of hagiographies, right, is that they’re one-sided. Right? So they don’t give you a full picture. So I think intellectually, Travis, one of the things that you’re arguing is that we need a full picture. Right? And anything that is venomous, or one-sided, mean-spirited, doesn’t really help us. But I want to suggest that there’s a couple of things that we’re at odds at. I think one is there’s essentially this collective effort to publicly mourn someone. Right? So that’s going on with Bush’s death. But the other thing that’s happening, which runs alongside and is also a collective action, but it is not quite the same thing, is people all want to take him to account. Right?
S. RODNEY 10:23 So I think that these things kind of overlap. And they use the same sort of mechanisms i.e. publicly related, publicly published think pieces, historical accounts, of the man, of his presidency. So I think that what happens is those two kind of efforts get conflated. And I think what you’re trying to do, Travis, essentially with the question you’re asking, is tease out the differences. So I do want to say about public mourning, that there should be a space, I think, in public mourning for calling some people, to some extent, to task. Like you should be able to say, at someone’s funeral, at least– no. Not should. No, there’s a tyranny in that. No. What I want to say is, I would like to be able to say, at my own father’s funeral, for example, “That my father did this. And my father did that. My father always loved being in church. He always loved the people who he went to church with. He loved the fellowship. But he was also a really shitty father.” Right? I want to be able to have the space to do that. And in fact, I just went to my library and I picked up this book which is the Short Stories of– Collective Stories of John Cheever.
C.T. WEBB 11:45 John Cheever.
S. FULLWOOD 11:46 John Cheever. Yeah.
S. RODNEY 11:47 There’s a story, “Goodbye, My Brother.” In it, he says– there’s a passage where he talks about wanting to basically come to terms with his brother in a way that revolves around his imagined funeral. And I have to find it. But I’ll find it and then I’ll come back to that. But I do want to just make that point that I think we’re at– where we end up being at odds is we are doing– I think some people are engaged in two very different collective actions, and I think that they get confused.
S. FULLWOOD 12:25 And I think rightly so because we’re not all on one page with these things, for sure. And we’re also generations of generations of generations living. And we all have different perspectives. And there’s the race dynamic, the gender dynamic, all of it. And so I’m not trying to sound like you both, but I like this conversation [laughter] for the nuance that we’re trying to tease out of here. I do. So what I wanted to say, though, in relationship to what you’re saying, Trav–, I mean, Seph, is that there should be a space for it. So there’s a show called BoJack Horseman. It’s an animated show on Netflix. He delivers, I want to say about 25-minute eulogy about his mother. And it’s kind of amazing because it offers all these things that we’re talking about, where he just– because he had a contentious relationship with his mother. And what I love about it is that he got it all in, kind of. And at one point– and the joke at the end is, “Oh, he’s at the wrong service [laughter].” But I’d recommend listeners and you both to take that in. It’s really powerful and thoughtful. It’s all the things people probably want to say, but feel held to a standard that I think should always be troubled. Always. Always be troubled.
C.T. WEBB 13:42 So I don’t know if I’m going to be able to articulate this exactly because I only have the shape of it based on the two things that you said. I don’t know that I can precisely locate it. But let me try. So one of the issues that I have with the analogy is that, Seph, you were directly wronged by your father. You were in direct contact with his thoughtlessness and selfishness. And no one in this conversation, nor anyone who has lived any length of time in the world, is without people that have wronged them. And I do believe that there are constituencies that were harmed by the Bush presidency. And there are constituencies that were harmed by kind of up-the-middle Republican politics. As there are constituencies who are harmed by Democratic politics and constituencies that are harmed by liberal agendas. Right? There is no win-win scenario in a country of 350 million people. I don’t mean it’s win-lose. But I do mean that someone has to pay the bill, always. Right? That just is a basic matter in a finite world. Right?
C.T. WEBB 15:17 And this is getting away from me a little bit. But my point is this, the pieces that I have read from major outlets that were critical of Bush and critical of what they would– I think it’s accurate for me to categorize as the hagiographies of him, were fairly ill-informed and listed things that are far more complicated than they represent them to be. Now, I’m not saying that that means that they don’t have legitimate grievances. What I’m saying is that what Bush is functioning as for that community is a sacrificial lamb for them to vent whatever wrongs they feel in life. And shouldn’t we– haven’t we– can’t we move past that? Why do we need sacrificial lambs still? I don’t need a sacrificial lamb. I don’t need Rush Limbaugh to be eviscerated on a table. Right? I don’t– or etherized upon the table. I was actually trying to do a little Love Song for J. Alfred Prufrock there [laughter]. I don’t need that. And I would make an argument– and other people do. I get that. But as a country, as intellectuals, as thought leaders, as elites which we all are–
S. FULLWOOD 16:48 You’re elite. I’m not elite [laughter].
C.T. WEBB 16:52 Steven. Yes, you are. Absolutely. You’re sitting in front of a Mac computer, right now [laughter]–
S. FULLWOOD 16:59 I’ll allow it. I will allow you, your language, sir [laughter].
C.T. WEBB 17:04 –at one o’clock in the afternoon on a Thursday.
S. FULLWOOD 17:08 These are choices I made.
C.T. WEBB 17:09 We are all elites. We are elites. Now, we aren’t patrician elites [laughter] the way Bush is. That’s a whole other–
S. RODNEY 17:18 Echelon.
C.T. WEBB 17:19 Yes [laughter]. That’s right. Just a whole other place. But we are elites.
S. RODNEY 17:25 Okay. Let me get back to–
C.T. WEBB 17:28 Please. Yeah.
S. RODNEY 17:28 –the point that Travis is making, if I may Steven.
S. FULLWOOD 17:30 Sure.
S. RODNEY 17:31 I think what you’re saying is valid, to a great extent. But let’s get down to brass tacks. Let’s put some specifics in play. The piece that I read in The Nation, and I just read this before we started the podcast– Again, I don’t have a sort of wide-ranging understanding of the pieces that have been written about him. But here– it makes very good points, I think, and very valid points. And here are the things that The Nation– and let me be specific here. Jon Weiner spoke with Harold Meyerson, the executive editor of the American Prospect. And he asked him, “The standard approach for George H. W. Bush is to start off with the good things he did and then mention that there were a few exceptions. We’d like to do it the other way around. What would you say is the worst thing George Bush 41 did as President?” So he let– Meyerson then goes on to list three things. And here they are: “His motive getting elected. The despicable Willie Horton ad, where he basically accused Michael Dukakis of allowing a convicted black rapist out to rape again.” Right? Despicable. Disgusting. And it actually started that kind of slide towards using white fear, white heterosexual, middle of the–
C.T. WEBB 18:52 That started under Nixon.
S. RODNEY 18:53 Okay. Okay. No, no. [crosstalk].
S. FULLWOOD 18:53 It started during slavery. Bye-bye [laughter].
S. RODNEY 18:56 But they weaponized it.
C.T. WEBB 18:57 You know what? Fair enough. Steven’s point is absolutely right. That’s right.
S. RODNEY 19:02 Okay. All right. Let me go on–
C.T. WEBB 19:03 It’s foundational to the country. I’m sorry. Go ahead.
S. RODNEY 19:05 Absolutely. Let me go on. “Nominating Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court. And pardoning many of the Iran-contra conspirators in order to block investigation of his own breaking the law.” And I’m quoting Meyers– rather I’m quoting Weiner here, in the piece from The Nation. Those things, it seems to me, are really valid and really damning.
C.T. WEBB 19:34 Okay. So I want Steven to be able to say something because I do have a response [crosstalk].
S. FULLWOOD 19:39 Oh, no. Please, do the response because I– yeah. I’m still thinking about something. Thank you.
C.T. WEBB 19:41 Okay. Okay. Okay. So the Willie Horton ad, where I live, is unforgivable. Right? I mean, where I live intellectually, emotionally. Right? In my space, in my corner of the world, that is unforgivable. In a corner of the world in which you are trying to win elections, black voters are not black voters. Black voters are Democrats. And so as a constituency it is a strategic position to take. If black voters were Republican voters, you can believe that they would be doing all kinds of other bullshit, racial wedges to muster the vote. Again, for me, that is an unforgivable position. I could not sanction that, given the history of race in this country, which Steven– I appreciate him reminding us of, “This is the common thread in American history, is forging a white identity against the black body.” That is baseline. That is what we’ve done since the beginning. So for me– but again, in the sort of back room, power play of, “I want to get this person elected,” this is a strategic networking choice. Right?
S. RODNEY 21:06 So you’re saying it’s not necessarily a moral or ethical one?
C.T. WEBB 21:09 That’s correct for some of these people. Now, we judge that morally and ethically. Right? So that’s one. Two– wait. What was– I know [crosstalk]–
S. RODNEY 21:19 Clarence Thomas and Iran-contra.
C.T. WEBB 21:22 Okay. So Clarence Thomas was– so again, [laughter] not where I live. Right? But he replaced Thurgood Marshall. Right? So he was another black justice on the Supreme Court.
S. FULLWOOD 21:37 Barely.
C.T. WEBB 21:37 And Clarence–
S. RODNEY 21:38 Yeah. Exactly.
C.T. WEBB 21:39 Right. Right. Okay. So okay. But this is– okay. So look what you both just did. You disowned his blackness because he is–
S. FULLWOOD 21:45 Yes [laughter]!
C.T. WEBB 21:45 –too politically to the–
S. RODNEY 21:48 Right. Absolutely.
C.T. WEBB 21:47 Okay. Okay. But by doing that, you are exercising a kind of racial tyranny. You are literally doing that, right now.
S. FULLWOOD 21:58 A racial tyranny. A racial essentialism. You can just lay it on out. Absolutely [laughter].
S. RODNEY 22:04 It’s true.
C.T. WEBB 22:04 Okay. So okay. So if–
S. RODNEY 22:05 Because black is a political category.
C.T. WEBB 22:07 Okay. Yes. And I am invested in undoing that. So Steven, if you’re going to be glib about it, I will be glib in return, which I actually appreciate because I think it makes a more interesting conversation [laughter]. But you will lose that fight. You lose it. That is a losing strategy. That is a losing historical move. It’s based on a foundational lie.
S. FULLWOOD 22:33 Oh, no. You’re right about these–
C.T. WEBB 22:33 And I absolutely, will not countenance it.
S. FULLWOOD 22:37 No. Definitely. You haven’t countenanced it several times.
C.T. WEBB 22:38 For myself. For myself. For myself.
S. FULLWOOD 22:41 In past conversations. Completely agree with you. Completely agree with you. And I still hold that stance. But I– actually, what I disagree with– that it’s a losing space. What I’m trying to do with it is tease it out. Because on one side–
C.T. WEBB 22:58 But you can’t because it started with a lie.
S. FULLWOOD 22:59 No, no. No, it–
C.T. WEBB 23:01 It started with a lie.
S. RODNEY 23:02 What’s a lie, Travis? What’s a lie?
S. FULLWOOD 23:02 Because we’re talking about the ways of which black folks–
C.T. WEBB 23:05 The lie is that there is anything essential about race. That there is anything essential in shaping our identity.
S. FULLWOOD 23:16 No. There’s a cultural experience. There is a complete cultural experience. And–
C.T. WEBB 23:20 Yes, based on a lie that was foisted upon an entire continent of humans to justify the accumulation of wealth and military aggression. How– where are you going– where in the chain are you going to make that an okay thing?
S. FULLWOOD 23:37 That’s funny. In the chain.
C.T. WEBB 23:38 It has to [laughter]–
S. FULLWOOD 23:39 Right?
C.T. WEBB 23:40 It was the– yes. That was intentional. You have to go back to the first manacle. And you have to undo it. It can’t– you are still– not you. I’m using the you in [crosstalk] second person.
S. FULLWOOD 23:52 Oh, I got this. I got this [laughter].
C.T. WEBB 23:54 Yeah, yeah. So one is using it, you can’t win that game. You’re always chained if you’re trying to play that game.
S. RODNEY 24:04 Okay. So here’s the thing. I think we– this is a tangent that will take us down a very long and winding road [laughter]. So I think we need to–
S. FULLWOOD 24:11 It’s a future episode because I’m getting– I’m putting together all the arguments [laughter].
S. RODNEY 24:14 Right. It’s another episode. Yeah. So it’s another episode.
C.T. WEBB 24:16 Hagiography [laughter].
S. RODNEY 24:18 So let’s– if I may–
S. FULLWOOD 24:19 That’s what we’re talking about [laughter]? Okay.
S. RODNEY 24:22 If I may, let’s pull it back.
C.T. WEBB 24:23 Please.
S. RODNEY 24:24 Let’s just kind of run roughshod over that point and get to the Iran-contra thing. So what’s your answer to that?
C.T. WEBB 24:30 So my answer to that is just run-of-the-mill, political venality. These are my people. And we’re on the same team. So I’m not defending any of this stuff. Right? I’m not defending it. I think–
S. FULLWOOD 24:47 We don’t think you’re defending it.
C.T. WEBB 24:47 –that he should have gone to jail [laughter]. Yeah. You guys may not, but people that listen to us may be like, “[inaudible].”
S. FULLWOOD 24:53 You don’t do their thinking for them, Travis. You put your facts out [laughter] and then let them think.
C.T. WEBB 24:58 Fair enough [laughter].
S. FULLWOOD 24:58 Respect your listeners [laughter].
C.T. WEBB 25:00 Okay. I appreciate that. Thank you, for the reminder. So that’s how I read that. That’s just like– that’s my team. Right? So that’s his team. That’s his– these are the people that were– they thought– whatever they thought they were doing, wherever he was at. And I’ve read accounts that he was kind of on the periphery of that decision-making, not completely out of the loop. But no, no. Under Reagan. I’m talking about–
S. RODNEY 25:23 Oh, the original thing. Okay. Yeah.
C.T. WEBB 25:25 The original Iran-contra was– he was sort of on the periphery of that kind of decision-making.
S. RODNEY 25:31 So essentially, if I can cut to the chase, you’re saying, Travis, there’s nothing about any of those things that indicate that HW Bush was just an evil person.
C.T. WEBB 25:43 Correct. Yeah. That’s all. Just a run-of-the-mill rich dude that–
S. RODNEY 25:49 Who happened to be a dick with his policies.
S. FULLWOOD 25:52 But does that make the offenses any less lethal?
C.T. WEBB 25:53 But not exclusively. He had other good– there were other good policies.
S. FULLWOOD 25:56 Does that make anything– is that thinking making anything less lethal or impactful or any of this stuff? You’ve done some great job thinking about it. Great. Whether you’re evil or not, it’s– so there’s another quote from– another quote I want to make [laughter] from BoJack Horseman. A reference to, rather [laughter]. And that is one of the characters named Diane–
C.T. WEBB 26:16 We should do a podcast on BoJack Horseman.
S. FULLWOOD 26:17 It’s an amazing show. It’s really dark. But one of the journalists, her name is Diane. Diane, when she’s asked by BoJack, “Do you think I’m a good person?” And she goes, “All I think– I don’t really believe I think deep down in anything. I think what you do is what you are.” And I think I do have it wrong. But that’s the essence of it. And so I’ve been thinking about, it doesn’t matter if you meant to hurt me or not, I was hurt or I was impacted. Or vice versus, if I hurt you, you’re hurt. My rationale for hurting you [laughter], is almost superfluous in a way.
C.T. WEBB 26:55 I do. So which policies that Bush pursued, hurt you?
S. FULLWOOD 27:04 Oh, no. He took away a lot of– had he acted quicker on AIDS, absolutely. He could have done better. He actually narrowed it down to a behavior thing. And that’s when he actually said that.
C.T. WEBB 27:14 I remember. Okay. I remember.
S. FULLWOOD 27:16 These are friends of mine who died. Had he specifically been more of a thought leader, a little bit more– had he had more actionable than “let the people sort it out” kind of thing, I think we could have come to something a little quicker. But he–
C.T. WEBB 27:32 Okay. So that would– it’s a perfect example– no, no. This is a valid– I know exactly the moment you’re talking about. I read that moment slightly differently. I don’t read his decision any differently than you do, I don’t think. But again, I would then come back to the sacrificial lamb. The entire country was culpable in how it dealt with the AIDS crisis. Not Herbert Walker–
S. FULLWOOD 27:56 He’s a leader. That’s the difference. The difference is that he is the President. That is completely different to me.
C.T. WEBB 28:02 But okay. So–
S. FULLWOOD 28:03 And so if he’s not funding AIDS organizations. If he’s not funding–
C.T. WEBB 28:06 They were though.
S. FULLWOOD 28:07 –the research.
C.T. WEBB 28:08 That’s not actually–
S. FULLWOOD 28:08 They weren’t–
C.T. WEBB 28:08 But that’s actually not true.
S. FULLWOOD 28:09 No.
C.T. WEBB 28:10 They were funding AIDS research. They did infuse AIDS research during his presidency.
S. FULLWOOD 28:17 [inaudible] more.
C.T. WEBB 28:17 Let me. I want to give you a chance to respond, but let me just– because I do think there’s a point that I want to make in there. But now, you are making the point that manners and decorum and social positioning matters just as much or more than policy. It feels to me like that’s the point you’re making.
S. FULLWOOD 28:35 I think one informs the other. The manners [crosstalk].
C.T. WEBB 28:37 And I do think that, but a very common– not to attribute it to you because you don’t make this move in our conversations. I can’t even remember a specific time, so you may have at some point, but I don’t ever remember you doing it. Which is that, “Oh, manners don’t matter.” Right? “It doesn’t matter that Trump is acting this way in public.” It’s really, “All of that’s irrelevant.” Right? “What actually matters are just policies, not actually how he conducts himself.” I don’t actually feel like that’s true.
S. FULLWOOD 29:09 It’s all of it.
C.T. WEBB 29:09 I actually think it really does matter. I think it actually really does matter what the policies are. So you gave a specific example though of where his lack of urgency– let’s call it that because I think that’s fair. His lack of urgency directly impacted people that you knew.
S. FULLWOOD 29:24 And his dismissal. No. Not just his lack of urgency. It’s dismissal. It’s on the people to do this. But what are they to do it with, in terms of education, in terms of all kinds of things that sort of affected and allowed the AIDS epidemic to grow? We needed leadership. We always need leadership to kind of give us– well, actually, you know what? I’m arguing against myself.
C.T. WEBB 29:45 I know [laughter]. I completely [laughter]–
S. FULLWOOD 29:46 Don’t always need leadership. No [laughter].
C.T. WEBB 29:47 [crosstalk] I sort of feel like [laughter]–
S. FULLWOOD 29:48 Can’t do that. Can’t do that [laughter]. I’ll say that the funding agencies that you’re talking about, some of them were funded. A lot of them weren’t or they were competing for those funds. So it’s not that simple.
C.T. WEBB 29:59 My understanding–
S. FULLWOOD 30:00 There should have been much more money.
C.T. WEBB 30:02 Yeah. My understanding is where they really fell down was not necessarily in medical research, but was in funding community education and initiatives to try and essentially move people’s sexual choices. I mean, that’s what we’re talking about. Trying to– you need to fuck with condoms. I mean, that’s really–
S. FULLWOOD 30:24 The thing is though,
C.T. WEBB 30:25 You can’t– I mean [laughter]–
S. FULLWOOD 30:25 Heterosexuals were dying. And that’s another thing about it. AIDS. It’s just refined that AIDS was a gay disease.
C.T. WEBB 30:31 Oh, I just said, “Condoms.” I didn’t– yeah. Yeah. I know. It’s nonsense. Yeah. That’s not– It’s just nonsense. It’s stupid.
S. FULLWOOD 30:34 You know? Of course, it’s nonsense. So it can not be– so earlier I wanted to say this to it–
C.T. WEBB 30:40 But again, we’re all guilty. We were all– the country was guilty of that. Not just him. So I’m sorry. Please. Please. Go ahead.
S. FULLWOOD 30:45 No, no. I appreciate the nuance in terms of other people. But again, there are specific blames. And then there are just ignorant people. And then there are all these different sort of aspects of it. I want to add this, though, I feel like by not being able to tell a particular story or being told that what you have to say, you should say it at a particular time. Wait until the person’s buried. Two or three months later come out with what you’re saying. And no one’s said that in this conversation, but I’ve actually been thinking about this. You’re not allowed to speak ill of the dead, but wouldn’t it be better and different if we spoke all of the dead. And I’m playing with the all and the ill because I want– I’m just asking for more accountability in the people that claim to have been– who are leaders.
S. RODNEY 31:34 Or better yet–
S. FULLWOOD 31:35 I do hold them to a higher standard. Absolutely.
S. RODNEY 31:38 Or better yet, in that moment of public mourning, holding to account the people who claim to know the deceased. So here’s the passage from John Cheever that I found. And it’s the moment when the two of the brothers get into a physical altercation. I’ll just read the whole paragraph. “Then I picked up a root. I’m coming at his back, although I have never hit a man from the back before. I swung the root heavy with seawater behind me and the momentum sped my arm. And I gave him, my brother, a blow on the head that forced him to his knees on the sand. And I saw the blood come out and begin to darken his hair. Then I wished that he was dead. Dead and about to be buried. Not buried, but about to be buried. Because I did not want to be denied ceremony, and decorum, and putting him away, and putting him out of my consciousness. And I saw the rest of us Chaddy, and Mother, and Diana, and Helen in mourning in the house on Belvedere Street that was torn down 20 years ago, greeting our guests and our relatives at the door. And answering their mannerly condolences with mannerly grief. Nothing decorous was lacking. So that even if he had been murdered on a beach, one would feel before the tiresome ceremony ended that he had come into the winter of his life. And that it was a law of nature and a beautiful one that Tifty should be buried in that cold, cold ground.”
C.T. WEBB 33:11 What story was that from, Seph?
S. RODNEY 33:14 A “Goodbye, My Brother” by John Cheever.
C.T. WEBB 33:16 Thank you, for that. Great reference for the conversation.
S. FULLWOOD 33:22 It’s perfect. You got right in between me and Travis, so that was great [laughter].
S. RODNEY 33:28 Well, I love the fact that we got to a place in our conversation where we had real disagreements and we haven’t resolved them. And that’s good. I mean, that’s lived life. That’s intellectual intimacy. Right? Sometimes you get to a place where we understand each other and we understand we’re not quite on the same page. And that’s okay. Yeah.
S. FULLWOOD 33:45 Well, that’s where the learning could start and it could be– I like being challenged. And I want an entire episode dedicated [laughter] to a few things that we’ve talked about today. But like you said, Travis, I don’t need a sacrificial lamb. But we talked about violence in our past episodes around, “Is it possible to live in that kind of world?” And me and my hippy self, say, “Yeah. A little LSD. Some chilling, hang out, what have you [laughter].” But people feel differently than me. And I’m still working through this idea of peace, and what does that look like, and a race dynamic that’s not artificial. Absolutely.
C.T. WEBB 34:38 I would say a race dynamic that is just not.
S. FULLWOOD 34:41 It doesn’t exist.
C.T. WEBB 34:42 Yeah. And that’s how I feel about it. I mean, I understand that– that’s my–
S. FULLWOOD 34:46 [crosstalk] the white people? Sorry [laughter].
C.T. WEBB 34:48 That’s my naivete. And I actually own that. If you put enough drinks in me, I probably would say– I don’t know that the United States can make it to the other side of that story. I don’t– as a culture– I worry in my darkest, most honest moments. Right? Because I have some hopeful, honest moments. That you can’t conceive of the country without that kind of racial parsing, but I’ll continue to work against that.
S. RODNEY 35:23 I think– I’ll just say that I think you should talk to kids who are running around and not thinking about this kind of stuff [laughter]. Because they can imagine it because they’re just in it. It’s when we put it on them and we’re constantly saying that this person’s different, and you’re different from that person. But I do think that it’s– I do live in possibility. To just get all new agey, I do live in possibility. I think our imaginations aren’t that great when it comes to not living in a racialized society.
S. FULLWOOD 35:55 And with that–
C.T. WEBB 35:58 Yeah. I was going to– actually, we’re– we’ve run over. So [laughter] Seph, you were such a good referee, this episode [laughter]. Do you want to say anything in close? I actually would appreciate giving you the last word.
S. RODNEY 36:10 Well, I want to go back to that story and that bit by John Cheever. And I want to say that there’s something really beautiful about the kind of ceremonial attention that we give to someone, to a human being who has passed along. I think that there’s a kind of persistent mystery about what happens to us when we die. And I think that’s part of the reason that we tend to treat this moment gingerly or tenderly. Because we really aren’t sure what happens to us where the soul or spirit or the ineffable part of us goes. And so we want to be careful about that. And that’s–
S. FULLWOOD 36:51 That’s beautiful.
S. RODNEY 36:51 –something I do appreciate.
S. FULLWOOD 36:55 Ceremony. Beautiful.
C.T. WEBB 36:56 All right. Well, I’m going to let Seph close on that thoughtful and beautiful note. Steven, Seph, thank you very much for the conversation.
S. RODNEY 37:05 Indeed. Thank you.
S. FULLWOOD 37:06 I enjoyed it. Thank you.
C.T. WEBB 37:07 We’ll talk to you soon. [music]

References

First referenced at 10:23

John Cheever

“John William Cheever (May 27, 1912 – June 18, 1982) was an American novelist and short story writer. He is sometimes called “the Chekhov of the suburbs”.[1][2] His fiction is mostly set in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, the Westchester suburbs, old New England villages based on various South Shore towns around Quincy, Massachusetts, where he was born, and Italy, especially Rome. He is “now recognized as one of the most important short fiction writers of the 20th century.” Wikipedia.

First referenced at 12:25

Bojack Horseman

“A humanoid horse, BoJack Horseman — lost in a sea of self-loathing and booze — decides it’s time for a comeback. Once the star of a ’90s sitcom, in which he was the adoptive father of three orphaned kids (two girls and a boy). The show was the hottest thing around, then suddenly, was canceled.” Netflix

Climate Change: Material Memory

Climate Change: Material Memory

Memory isn’t something that lives only in our minds. Memory lives in objects–in museums, and scrap books, and archives. How can archives help us make sense of climate change? What do we choose to preserve and why?

Toni Morrison: Her Life in Words

Toni Morrison: Her Life in Words

The hosts take a break from their long form discussion about climate change to discuss Toni Morrison, who died on August 5th. “We die,” Morrison said in her 1993 Nobel Prize acceptance. “That may be the meaning of life. But we do language,” she added. “That may be the measure of our lives.”

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Social Media Selves

C. Travis Webb, Seph Rodney, and Steven Fullwood discuss their social media profiles and what their profiles both reveal and conceal about their identities. Is it possible to remain nuanced and effective on Twitter or Facebook? Can one use social media without being leveled by it, or reduced to a caricature?

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