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The Politics of Reading Critically

By       (Page 1 of 2 pages)   1 comment
Message BK Faunce

It's a bit dated, the footage is grainy black and white and it's shot at night, from a balcony across the street, with very poor lighting. But re-watching the 81-second video of four LA police officers repeatedly beating a defenseless Rodney King on 3 March 1991 teaches a valuable lesson in the politics of reading critically.

The video is a horror show of police brutality, of "swarming" and "power strokes" and tasing the cops would brag about later. It records the kind of sadistic behavior that is normally associated with terrorist cells, religious fanatics and death squads in totalitarian regimes, not with those who are sworn "to protect and to serve". In less than a minute and a half Mr King would suffer eleven skull fractures, broken facial bones, a broken ankle and multiple bruises and lacerations, in addition to long-term brain damage and kidney failure. The savagery of the officers shocked a nation.

The Beating of Rodney King
The Beating of Rodney King
(Image by Patrick Murfin)
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Yet not everyone read the video the same way. All four officers were acquitted of the major charges against them by a jury that deliberated for a single day; only one had the jury deadlocked on a charge of excessive force. Let that sink in for a moment. The jurors in the trial of the police officers who beat Rodney King saw the same 81-second video the public saw and came to an entirely different conclusion. Most of the jurors refused to speak to the media after the verdict, but one did, and his comments are revealing: "The cops were simply doing what they were instructed to do," he said, adding, they were "afraid" the prone, broken and bloodied black man would "attack". Fifty-six baton swings, three tasers, and a brutal kick to the head, but Mr King is considered the threat.

The same concerns came into play recently when a video of white male neo-catholics surrounding and then mocking Nathan Phillips, a native healer, went viral. People were outraged at the behavior of the mob, in particular the kid with the smirk. To quote Chauncey Devega: "A group of white teenage boys donned their MAGA hats, which are overt and intentional symbols of bigotry, racism and ignorance attended a right-wing Christian rally aimed at denying women their reproductive rights, then happened upon a group of 'Black Israelite' cartoon bigots, and in retaliation decided to harass and insult a Native American." Their arrogance, their privilege and their racism were on full display.

But here again, not everyone read the video the same way. Within hours of its release, the neo-catholics hired a right-wing PR firm, RunSwitch, to counter the bad press: "We are working with the family to ensure an accurate recounting of events which occurred this past weekend." Accurate, get it? And quicker than you can say "whoa Nellie!" the neo-catholics were all over the airwaves, friendly white faces doing friendly interviews with friendly corporate news outlets, writing friendly press releases and defending everything they did as completely acceptable and anyway

they have "rights".

And it worked. Overnight the Covington neo-catholics morphed from privileged little bigots into innocent victims "targeted" by a political agenda. The press apologized, the bishop apologized, an "investigation" concluded the kids did nothing wrong, one family sued, and on it goes.

Speaking of bringing suit, after the "investigation" was made public, the Washington Post circulated an article that appeared to give Nathan Phillips a chance to respond: "Nathan Phillips Says Covington Catholic Teens Were Disrespectful After Investigation Clears Them." Only it doesn't. The headline is bait to get readers interested. Then the corporate switch. Of the 20 paragraphs that comprise the article, over two-thirds (14) center on the lawyer filing suit, not Mr Phillips, giving the neo-catholic's legal team a national platform from which to shape the narrative. Worse, it reduces Nathan Phillips to a doddering old crank. He appears to have no position to argue, no historical context to provide, just a complaint about the "tomahawk chop" the neo-catholics can be seen performing in the video. Thankfully, the lawyer is allowed to dismiss Phillips' complaint out-of-hand (get it?): the chop can't be racist, he insisted, if "hundreds of thousands" of sport fans enjoy doing it. He should have added: "Besides, only liberals and 'Native Americans' think that way, and who gives a damn about what they think?" Actual quote used in the article: "I ask everybody to remember what we all saw." Actual answer to the actual quote: fat chance.

Want more evidence?

Just last week a group of engaged young people went to see their Senator about the very real dangers associated with climate change. To normal people, to people with children, to child advocates, to anyone with two eyes and half a brain, the video captures the poisonous sense of entitlement that courses through the veins of the ruling class. Female student: "We're your future voters." DiFi: "How old are you?" Student: "I'm 16." DiFi: "You didn't vote for me." Considering Senator Feinstein's history, the exchange should not be surprising. She is a reliable stooge for corporate profits and a paid cheerleader for eternal war, thus her duplicity is all but expected, delivered, of course, with an undertone of unwavering nastiness.

Ah, but, like the video of the neo-catholics, when elites are threatened with evidence of their bad behavior, a gaggle of paid stenographers is quickly dispatched to make sure the rabble know how to read the evidence correctly.

And here it is: a pox on all those misguided, misinformed voices of outrage. What you see in the video, what you actually see when you take off the blinders, is "a master class in patience, grace and asserting [] well-earned authority." That's right. The video doesn't show Senator Feinstein being rude to her constituents. You don't see her caught off guard by well-informed youngsters. She's not throwing a tantrum, a grown-up smart-ass snapping at kids to mind their own business, and by the way if you don't like it run for office yourself. Banish those thoughts. Purge the images. Watch the video again. It wasn't DiFi being "rude" and acting a "bully." It was those bratty kids! You see that now, don't you? Of course you do! Senator Feinstein wasn't being the vile, self-serving, self-centered corporatist that she normally is, attacking anyone who challenges her privileged perch. Not at all. She was being ... graceful. Say it after me, children. "Graceful." That's it. Now, go play outside and let the adults talk.

Or how about this?

In bold lettering, this article appeared recently on the Washington Post website: "An American Got Sick in Taiwan: He Came Back with A Tale of the 'Horrors of Socialized Medicine'." What's that, you say? More proof that Medicare-for-All is a liberal fantasy that simply will not work in the US? That the health-care industry is right? That socialized medicine is a horror story and Americans should fear it? The title clearly suggests that that's what the article will be about: the student's horrible experience with socialized medicine.

But guess what? It's a lie. If one takes the time to read through the piece, one discovers that the student says the exact opposite: "But here in Taiwan I was able to receive speedy, quality care comparable to what I would have gotten in a US hospital for relatively small amount of money." His "horrors of socialized medicine" comment was a throw-away joke, which the writer of the piece naturally distorts into a pro-corporate meme. Naturally.

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BK Faunce is a retired Associate Professor of English (UMW / UCSC) specializing in British Romantic Literature, Film Theory and Writing. His recent work examines the use of state power and its impact on visual culture.

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