Can We Still Consume the Work of Disgraced Artists — Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #119


Come­di­an Genevieve Joy, philosopher/NY Times enter­tain­ment writer Lawrence Ware, and nov­el­ist Sarahlyn Bruck join your host Mark Lin­sen­may­er to dis­cuss how we as spec­ta­tors deal with enter­tain­ers like R. Kel­ly, Michael Jack­son, Woody Allen, et al. We all watched W. Kamau Bel­l’s Show­time doc­u­men­tary We Need to Talk About Cos­by, so most of our dis­cus­sion is around that.

None of us seem able to sep­a­rate the art from the artist, but this varies by art form, how much of the per­son­’s per­son­al­i­ty and val­ues went into the art, and the specifics of the alleged crimes or bad behav­ior. Cos­by presents such a dra­mat­ic, unam­bigu­ous case because he was so uni­ver­sal­ly beloved, and vital­ly impor­tant to the black com­mu­ni­ty, yet his crimes were so numer­ous, heinous, well doc­u­ment­ed, and thor­ough­ly under­mine the image that he sought to con­vey. Does our dis­il­lu­sion­ment with him per­haps reflect not just on rape cul­ture but the impor­tance we put on celebri­ty itself that made Cos­by for a long time “too big to fail”?

It’s fine if you haven’t seen the doc­u­men­tary. You can expe­ri­ence Bell talk­ing about it on WTF and in Slate. For in-depth info on the charges against Bill Cos­by, try the Chas­ing Cos­by pod­cast.

Fol­low us @CAtFightJOy, @law_writes, @sarahlynbruck, and @MarkLinsenmayer.

This episode includes bonus dis­cus­sion fea­tur­ing all of our guests that you can access by sup­port­ing the pod­cast at or by choos­ing a paid sub­scrip­tion through Apple Pod­casts. This pod­cast is part of the Par­tial­ly Exam­ined Life pod­cast net­work.

Pret­ty Much Pop: A Cul­ture Pod­cast is the first pod­cast curat­ed by Open Cul­ture. Browse all Pret­ty Much Pop posts.

How Volodymyr Zelenskyy Went from Playing a President on a Comedy TV Show to Very Real Life

To the great dis­may of West Wing fans, Josi­ah Bart­let nev­er actu­al­ly became Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca. At some point, one sus­pects they’d even have set­tled for Mar­tin Sheen. Alas, play­ing the role of the pres­i­dent on tele­vi­sion has­n’t yet become a qual­i­fy­ing expe­ri­ence for play­ing it in real life — or at least not in the U.S. But things work dif­fer­ent­ly in Ukraine, which in 2019 elect­ed to its pres­i­den­cy the star of Ser­vant of the Peo­ple (Слуга народу), a com­e­dy series about a high-school teacher who becomes pres­i­dent on the back of an anti-estab­lish­ment rant gone viral. His name, Volodymyr Zelen­skyy, is one we’ve all become famil­iar with indeed since last week, when Russ­ian pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin ordered an inva­sion of his coun­try.

For as unlike­ly a head of state as Zelen­skyy, a more for­mi­da­ble test could hard­ly be imag­ined. The seri­ous­ness of the con­flict con­trasts stark­ly with the tone of Ser­vant of the Peo­ple, in light of which Zelen­skyy’s ascen­dance looks less like Mar­tin Sheen becom­ing Pres­i­dent than Veep’s Julia Louis-Drey­fus becom­ing Vice Pres­i­dent, or Yes Min­is­ter’s Paul Edding­ton becom­ing Prime Min­is­ter.

Still, the past decade’s fur­ther blur­ring of the lines between tele­vi­su­al fic­tion and polit­i­cal fact made the Zelen­skyy can­di­da­cy look less like a stunt than a gen­uine­ly viable cam­paign. Dur­ing that cam­paign the BBC pro­duced the seg­ment at the top of the post, which calls him “the come­di­an who could be Pres­i­dent”; Vice pub­lished the more detailed view above as elec­tion day approached.

Most offi­cials of Zelen­skyy’s rank are famous by def­i­n­i­tion. He had the advan­tage of already being well-known and well-liked in his home­land, but his per­for­mance so far under the har­row­ing con­di­tions of Putin’s inva­sion has won him respect across the world. There is now, in addi­tion to the fas­ci­na­tion about his rise to pow­er, an equal­ly great fas­ci­na­tion about that of Vasyl Holoborod­ko, the thir­ty-some­thing his­to­ry teacher he plays on Ser­vant of the Peo­ple. This Youtube playlist offers 23 episodes of the show, com­plete with Eng­lish sub­ti­tles. Give it a watch, and you’ll bet­ter under­stand not just Zelen­skyy’s appeal to the Ukrain­ian peo­ple, but that peo­ple’s dis­tinc­tive sense of humor — a vital strate­gic asset indeed in such try­ing times.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Why Rus­sia Invad­ed Ukraine: A Use­ful Primer

West Point Expert Gives Ukraini­ans Advice on Con­duct­ing Effec­tive Urban War­fare Against Russ­ian Troops

Why is Ukraine in Cri­sis?: A Quick Primer For Those Too Embar­rassed to Ask (2014)

“Borat” on Pol­i­tics and Embar­rass­ment — Pret­ty Much Pop: A Cul­ture Pod­cast Dis­cus­sion #67

Come­di­ans Speak­ing Truth to Pow­er: Lenny Bruce, George Car­lin & Richard Pry­or (NSFW)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Are You a Fascist?: Take Theodor Adorno’s Authoritarian Personality Test Created to Combat Fascism (1947)

A man of var­i­ous accom­plish­ments, Theodor Adorno is per­haps most wide­ly known as the very image of the mid­cen­tu­ry Euro­pean intel­lec­tu­al in exile. After his Jew­ish back­ground got him forced out of Nazi Ger­many, he spent fif­teen years in Eng­land and the Unit­ed States. Despite his geo­graph­i­cal dis­tance from the trou­bles of the Con­ti­nent — and even after the end of the Sec­ond World War — he under­stand­ably remained very much con­cerned with the nature of not just Hitler him­self but all those who sup­port­ed him. This led to such stud­ies as his 1947 essay “Wag­n­er, Niet­zsche and Hitler” as well as (in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Berke­ley researchers Else Frenkel-Brunswik, Daniel Levin­son, and Nevitt San­ford) the 1950 book The Author­i­tar­i­an Per­son­al­i­ty.

The Author­i­tar­i­an Per­son­al­i­ty’s best-known tool to diag­nose the tit­u­lar per­son­al and social con­di­tion is a quan­ti­ta­tive sys­tem called the “Cal­i­for­nia F‑scale” — the F stands for fas­cism — which pro­duces a score based on a sub­jec­t’s response to a set of propo­si­tions. “To cre­ate a per­son­al­i­ty test that actu­al­ly revealed latent author­i­tar­i­an­ism, the researchers had to give up on the idea that there’s a strong link between anti-Semi­tism and author­i­tar­i­an­ism,” writes Ars Tech­ni­ca’s Annalee Newitz. “Though their expe­ri­ences with the Holo­caust sug­gest­ed a causal con­nec­tion between hatred of Jews and the rise of fas­cism, it turned out that peo­ple with author­i­tar­i­an ten­den­cies were more accu­rate­ly described as eth­no­cen­tric.”

These would-be author­i­tar­i­ans also, as Adorno and his col­lab­o­ra­tors’ research found, “tend­ed to dis­trust sci­ence and strong­ly dis­liked the idea of using imag­i­na­tion to solve prob­lems. They pre­ferred to stick to tried-and-true tra­di­tion­al meth­ods of orga­niz­ing soci­ety.” Oth­er ten­den­cies includ­ed “super­sti­tion, aggres­sion, cyn­i­cism, con­ser­vatism, and an inor­di­nate inter­est in the pri­vate sex lives of oth­ers.” All these find­ings informed an F‑scale test which con­sist­ed of the state­ments below. For each state­ment, par­tic­i­pants had to select one of the fol­low­ing options : “Dis­agree Strong­ly,” “Dis­agree Most­ly,” “Dis­agree Some­what,” “Agree Some­what,” “Agree,” or “MostlyA­gree.”

  1. Obe­di­ence and respect for author­i­ty are the most impor­tant virtues chil­dren should learn.
  2. A per­son who has bad man­ners, habits, and breed­ing can hard­ly expect to get along with decent peo­ple.
  3. If peo­ple would talk less and work more, every­body would be bet­ter off.
  4. The busi­ness man and the man­u­fac­tur­er are much more impor­tant to soci­ety than the artist and the pro­fes­sor.
  5. Sci­ence has its place, but there are many impor­tant things that can nev­er be under­stood by the human mind.
  6. Every per­son should have com­plete faith in some super­nat­ur­al pow­er whose deci­sions he obeys with­out ques­tion.
  7. Young peo­ple some­times get rebel­lious ideas, but as they grow up they ought to get over them and set­tle down.
  8. What this coun­try needs most, more than laws and polit­i­cal pro­grams, is a few coura­geous, tire­less, devot­ed lead­ers in whom the peo­ple can put their faith.
  9. No sane, nor­mal, decent per­son could ever think of hurt­ing a close friend or rel­a­tive.
  10. Nobody ever learned any­thing real­ly impor­tant except through suf­fer­ing.
  11. What the youth needs most is strict dis­ci­pline, rugged deter­mi­na­tion, and the will to work and fight for fam­i­ly and coun­try.
  12. An insult to our hon­or should always be pun­ished.
  13. Sex crimes, such as rape and attacks on chil­dren, deserve more than mere impris­on­ment; such crim­i­nals ought to be pub­licly whipped, or worse.
  14. There is hard­ly any­thing low­er than a per­son who does not feel a great love, grat­i­tude, and respect for his par­ents.
  15. Most of our social prob­lems would be solved if we could some­how get rid of the immoral, crooked, and fee­ble­mind­ed peo­ple.
  16. Homo­sex­u­als are hard­ly bet­ter than crim­i­nals and ought to be severe­ly pun­ished.
  17. When a per­son has a prob­lem or wor­ry, it is best for him not to think about it, but to keep busy with more cheer­ful things.
  18. Nowa­days more and more peo­ple are pry­ing into mat­ters that should remain per­son­al and pri­vate.
  19. Some peo­ple are born with an urge to jump from high places.
  20. Peo­ple can be divid­ed into two dis­tinct class­es: the weak and the strong.
  21. Some day it will prob­a­bly be shown that astrol­o­gy can explain a lot of things.
  22. Wars and social trou­bles may some­day be end­ed by an earth­quake or flood that will destroy the whole world.
  23. No weak­ness or dif­fi­cul­ty can hold us back if we have enough will pow­er.
  24. It is best to use some pre­war author­i­ties in Ger­many to keep order and pre­vent chaos.
  25. Most peo­ple don’t real­ize how much our lives are con­trolled by plots hatched in secret places.
  26. Human nature being what it is, there will always be war and con­flict.
  27. Famil­iar­i­ty breeds con­tempt.
  28. Nowa­days when so many dif­fer­ent kinds of peo­ple move around and mix togeth­er so much, a per­son has to pro­tect him­self espe­cial­ly care­ful­ly against catch­ing an infec­tion or dis­ease from them.
  29. The wild sex life of the old Greeks and Romans was tame com­pared to some of the goings-on in this coun­try, even in places where peo­ple might least expect it.
  30. The true Amer­i­can way of life is dis­ap­pear­ing so fast that force may be nec­es­sary to pre­serve it.

You can take the test your­self here. But don’t take it too seri­ous­ly: the F‑scale “has been heav­i­ly crit­i­cized by many psy­chol­o­gists because it is a bet­ter indi­ca­tor of con­ser­vatism, an old-fash­ioned out­look, and a ten­den­cy to say ‘yes’ to any­thing rather than as a mea­sure of author­i­tar­i­an­ism,” write Fer­di­nand A. Gul and John J. Ray in their 1989 paper “Pit­falls in Using the F Scale to Mea­sure Author­i­tar­i­an­ism in Account­ing Research.” That aside, any rea­son­ably intel­li­gent sub­ject can eas­i­ly fig­ure out the motives of the test itself. Nev­er­the­less, as Giz­mod­o’s Esther Inglis-Arkell writes, it offers an occa­sion to con­sid­er whether “you’re super­sti­tious, con­formist, or any oth­er awful thing that will cause you to go out one morn­ing and annex some­thing” — no less a con­cern now, it seems, than it was in Adorno’s day.

Relat­ed con­tent:

An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to Theodor Adorno & His Cri­tique of Mod­ern Cap­i­tal­ism

Theodor Adorno’s Rad­i­cal Cri­tique of Joan Baez and the Music of the Viet­nam War Protest Move­ment

Hear Theodor Adorno’s Avant-Garde Musi­cal Com­po­si­tions

Theodor Adorno’s Phi­los­o­phy of Punc­tu­a­tion

Toni Mor­ri­son Lists the 10 Steps That Lead Coun­tries to Fas­cism (1995)

Umber­to Eco Makes a List of the 14 Com­mon Fea­tures of Fas­cism

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

by | Permalink | Make a Comment ( Comments Off on Are You a Fascist?: Take Theodor Adorno’s Authoritarian Personality Test Created to Combat Fascism (1947) ) |

Hannah Arendt Explains How Propaganda Uses Lies to Erode All Truth & Morality: Insights from The Origins of Totalitarianism

Image by Bernd Schwabe, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

At least when I was in grade school, we learned the very basics of how the Third Reich came to pow­er in the ear­ly 1930s. Para­mil­i­tary gangs ter­ror­iz­ing the oppo­si­tion, the incom­pe­tence and oppor­tunism of Ger­man con­ser­v­a­tives, the Reich­stag Fire. And we learned about the crit­i­cal impor­tance of pro­pa­gan­da, the delib­er­ate mis­in­form­ing of the pub­lic in order to sway opin­ions en masse and achieve pop­u­lar sup­port (or at least the appear­ance of it). While Min­is­ter of Pro­pa­gan­da Joseph Goebbels purged Jew­ish and left­ist artists and writ­ers, he built a mas­sive media infra­struc­ture that played, writes PBS, “prob­a­bly the most impor­tant role in cre­at­ing an atmos­phere in Ger­many that made it pos­si­ble for the Nazis to com­mit ter­ri­ble atroc­i­ties against Jews, homo­sex­u­als, and oth­er minori­ties.”

How did the minor­i­ty par­ty of Hitler and Goebbels take over and break the will of the Ger­man peo­ple so thor­ough­ly that they would allow and par­tic­i­pate in mass mur­der? Post-war schol­ars of total­i­tar­i­an­ism like Theodor Adorno and Han­nah Arendt asked that ques­tion over and over, for sev­er­al decades after­ward. Their ear­li­est stud­ies on the sub­ject looked at two sides of the equa­tion. Adorno con­tributed to a mas­sive vol­ume of social psy­chol­o­gy called The Author­i­tar­i­an Per­son­al­i­ty, which stud­ied indi­vid­u­als pre­dis­posed to the appeals of total­i­tar­i­an­ism. He invent­ed what he called the F‑Scale (“F” for “fas­cism”), one of sev­er­al mea­sures he used to the­o­rize the Author­i­tar­i­an Per­son­al­i­ty Type.

Arendt, on the oth­er hand, looked close­ly at the regimes of Hitler and Stal­in and their func­tionar­ies, at the ide­ol­o­gy of sci­en­tif­ic racism, and at the mech­a­nism of pro­pa­gan­da in fos­ter­ing “a curi­ous­ly vary­ing mix­ture of gulli­bil­i­ty and cyn­i­cism with which each mem­ber… is expect­ed to react to the chang­ing lying state­ments of the lead­ers.” So she wrote in her 1951 Ori­gins of Total­i­tar­i­an­ism, going on to elab­o­rate that this “mix­ture of gulli­bil­i­ty and cyn­i­cism… is preva­lent in all ranks of total­i­tar­i­an move­ments”:

In an ever-chang­ing, incom­pre­hen­si­ble world the mass­es had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe every­thing and noth­ing, think that every­thing was pos­si­ble and noth­ing was true… The total­i­tar­i­an mass lead­ers based their pro­pa­gan­da on the cor­rect psy­cho­log­i­cal assump­tion that, under such con­di­tions, one could make peo­ple believe the most fan­tas­tic state­ments one day, and trust that if the next day they were giv­en irrefutable proof of their false­hood, they would take refuge in cyn­i­cism; instead of desert­ing the lead­ers who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the state­ment was a lie and would admire the lead­ers for their supe­ri­or tac­ti­cal clev­er­ness.

Why the con­stant, often bla­tant lying? For one thing, it func­tioned as a means of ful­ly dom­i­nat­ing sub­or­di­nates, who would have to cast aside all their integri­ty to repeat out­ra­geous false­hoods and would then be bound to the leader by shame and com­plic­i­ty. “The great ana­lysts of truth and lan­guage in pol­i­tics”—writes McGill Uni­ver­si­ty polit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy pro­fes­sor Jacob T. Levy—includ­ing “George Orwell, Han­nah Arendt, Vaclav Havel—can help us rec­og­nize this kind of lie for what it is.… Say­ing some­thing obvi­ous­ly untrue, and mak­ing your sub­or­di­nates repeat it with a straight face in their own voice, is a par­tic­u­lar­ly star­tling dis­play of pow­er over them. It’s some­thing that was endem­ic to total­i­tar­i­an­ism.”

Arendt and oth­ers rec­og­nized, writes Levy, that “being made to repeat an obvi­ous lie makes it clear that you’re pow­er­less.” She also rec­og­nized the func­tion of an avalanche of lies to ren­der a pop­u­lace pow­er­less to resist, the phe­nom­e­non we now refer to as “gaslight­ing”:

The result of a con­sis­tent and total sub­sti­tu­tion of lies for fac­tu­al truth is not that the lie will now be accept­ed as truth and truth be defamed as a lie, but that the sense by which we take our bear­ings in the real world—and the cat­e­go­ry of truth ver­sus false­hood is among the men­tal means to this end—is being destroyed.

The epis­te­mo­log­i­cal ground thus pulled out from under them, most would depend on what­ev­er the leader said, no mat­ter its rela­tion to truth. “The essen­tial con­vic­tion shared by all ranks,” Arendt con­clud­ed, “from fel­low trav­el­er to leader, is that pol­i­tics is a game of cheat­ing and that the ‘first com­mand­ment’ of the move­ment: ‘The Fuehrer is always right,’ is as nec­es­sary for the pur­pos­es of world pol­i­tics, i.e., world-wide cheat­ing, as the rules of mil­i­tary dis­ci­pline are for the pur­pos­es of war.”

“We too,” writes Jef­frey Isaacs at The Wash­ing­ton Post, “live in dark times”—an allu­sion to anoth­er of Arendt’s sober­ing analy­ses—“even if they are dif­fer­ent and per­haps less dark.” Arendt wrote Ori­gins of Total­i­tar­i­an­ism from research and obser­va­tions gath­ered dur­ing the 1940s, a very spe­cif­ic his­tor­i­cal peri­od. Nonethe­less the book, Isaacs remarks, “rais­es a set of fun­da­men­tal ques­tions about how tyran­ny can arise and the dan­ger­ous forms of inhu­man­i­ty to which it can lead.” Arendt’s analy­sis of pro­pa­gan­da and the func­tion of lies seems par­tic­u­lar­ly rel­e­vant at this moment. The kinds of bla­tant lies she wrote of might become so com­mon­place as to become banal. We might begin to think they are an irrel­e­vant sideshow. This, she sug­gests, would be a mis­take.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2017.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Ori­gins of the Word “Gaslight­ing”: Scenes from the 1944 Film Gaslight

Han­nah Arendt Explains Why Democ­ra­cies Need to Safe­guard the Free Press & Truth … to Defend Them­selves Against Dic­ta­tors and Their Lies

Han­nah Arendt’s Orig­i­nal Arti­cles on “the Banal­i­ty of Evil” in the New York­er Archive

Enter the Han­nah Arendt Archives & Dis­cov­er Rare Audio Lec­tures, Man­u­scripts, Mar­gin­a­lia, Let­ters, Post­cards & More

Han­nah Arendt Dis­cuss­es Phi­los­o­phy, Pol­i­tics & Eich­mann in Rare 1964 TV Inter­view

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

When Eartha Kitt Spoke Truth to Power at a 1968 White House Luncheon

Actress Eartha Kitt amassed dozens of stage and screen cred­its, but is per­haps most fond­ly remem­bered for her icon­ic turn as Cat­woman in the Bat­man TV series, a role she took over from white actress Julie New­mar.

The pro­duc­ers con­grat­u­lat­ed them­selves on this “provoca­tive, off-beat” cast­ing, exec­u­tives at net­work affil­i­ates in South­ern states expressed out­rage, and Kit­t’s 9‑year-old daugh­ter, Kitt Shapiro,  under­stood that her moth­er’s new gig was a “real­ly big deal.”

As Shapiro recalled to Clos­er Week­ly:

This was 1967, and there were no women of col­or at that time wear­ing skintight body­suits, play­ing oppo­site a white male with sex­u­al ten­sion between them! She knew the impor­tance of the role and she was proud of it. She real­ly is a part of his­to­ry. She was one of the first real­ly beau­ti­ful black women — her, Lena Horne, Dorothy Dan­dridge — who were allowed to be sexy with­out being stereo­typed. It does take a vil­lage, but I do think she helped blaze a trail.

Eartha Kitt was a trail­blaz­er in oth­er ways too.

Cat­woman vs. the White House, direc­tor Scott Caloni­co’s short doc­u­men­tary for the New York­er (above), uses vin­tage pho­tos, clip­pings and footage to relate how Kitt dis­rupt­ed a White House lun­cheon the month after her Bat­man debut, tak­ing Pres­i­dent Lyn­don B. John­son to task over the hard­ships faced by work­ing par­ents.

John­son was clear­ly under the impres­sion that he was swing­ing by the White House Fam­i­ly Din­ing Room as a favor to his wife, Lady Bird, who was host­ing 50 guests for the Women Doers’ Lun­cheon. The theme of the lun­cheon was “What Cit­i­zens Can Do to Help Insure Safe Streets.”

Chair­man of the Nation­al Coun­cil on the Arts Roger Stevens had sug­gest­ed that Kitt or actress Ruby Dee would be fine addi­tions to the guest list in recog­ni­tion for their activism with urban youth.

As Janet Mez­za­ck details in her Pres­i­den­tial Stud­ies Quar­ter­ly arti­cle, “With­out Man­ners You Are Noth­ing”: Lady Bird John­son, Eartha Kitt, and The Women Doers’ Lun­cheon of Jan­u­ary 18, 1968, Kitt had an impres­sive track record of vol­un­teerism.

She taught dance to Black chil­dren who could not afford lessons, tes­ti­fied before the House Gen­er­al Sub­com­mit­tee on Edu­ca­tion on behalf of the DC youth-led Rebels with a Cause, and estab­lished a non-prof­it orga­ni­za­tion in Watts where under­priv­i­leged youth stud­ied tra­di­tion­al African and mod­ern dance and “learned about per­son­al­i­ty devel­op­ment, poise, groom­ing, dic­tion, and phys­i­cal fit­ness.”

She was being vet­ted for a seat on Pres­i­dent John­son’s Cit­i­zens Advi­so­ry Board on Youth Oppor­tu­ni­ty, chaired by Vice Pres­i­dent Hubert Humphrey.

Sure­ly, a dream guest!

Mez­za­ck writes:

Hav­ing select­ed Kitt as a guest for the upcom­ing lun­cheon, FBI clear­ance checks were con­duct­ed on her and oth­er prospec­tive guests at the White House. The FBI cleared her through nor­mal chan­nels. Because of pre­vi­ous embar­rass­ing sit­u­a­tions involv­ing enter­tain­ers invit­ed to White House func­tions, inquiries also were made of Roger Stevens office to deter­mine if Kitt would “do any­thing to embar­rass” the White House, “and the answer was no.”

Call it embar­rass­ment for a good cause.

John­son was unpre­pared for spon­ta­neous inter­ac­tion as hard hit­ting as Kitt’s, when she stood up to say:

Mr. Pres­i­dent, you asked about delin­quen­cy across the Unit­ed States, which we are all inter­est­ed in and that’s why we’re here today. But what do we do about delin­quent par­ents? The par­ents who have to go to work, for instance, who can’t spend the time with their chil­dren that they should. This is, I think, our main prob­lem. What do we do with the chil­dren then, when the par­ents are off work­ing?

Fum­bling for an answer, John­son inti­mat­ed that the male pol­i­cy­mak­ers behind recent Social Secu­ri­ty Amend­ments that could off­set costs of day­care were “real­ly not the best judges of how to han­dle chil­dren.”

Per­haps Miss Kitt would like to take her con­cerns with the oth­er women in atten­dance?

Under­stand­ably, Kitt seethed, and con­tin­ued the con­ver­sa­tion by con­fronting the First Lady over the war in Viet­nam.

Direc­tor Caloni­co tog­gles between Kitt’s rec­ol­lec­tions of the exchange and excerpts from Mrs. Johnson’s White House audio diary, cob­bling togeth­er a recon­struc­tion that is sure­ly faith­ful to the spir­it of the thing, if not exact­ly word for word:

Kit­t’s words as recalled by Mrs. John­son:

You send the best in this coun­try off to be shot and maimed. They rebel in the street. They will take pot and get high. They don’t want to go to school because they’re going to be snatched off from their moth­ers to be shot in Viet­nam.

Kit­t’s words as recalled by the speak­er her­self:

Mrs. John­son, you are a moth­er too, although you have had daugh­ters and not sons. I am a moth­er and I know the feel­ing of hav­ing a baby come out of my gut. I have a baby and then you send him off to war. No won­der the kids rebel and take pot, and Mrs. John­son, in case you don’t under­stand the lin­go, that’s mar­i­jua­na.

That last com­ment seems fun­ny now, and Calan­i­co can’t resist infus­ing fur­ther dark humor with a shot of a masked Kitt tool­ing around in Catwoman’s campy Kit­ty­car as the actress describes how the White House can­celled her ride home from the lun­cheon.

The next day’s news­pa­pers were full of emo­tion­al­ly charged reports as to how Kitt’s remarks had left the host­ess “stunned to tears” — a descrip­tion both par­tic­i­pants resist­ed.

With­in weeks, North Viet­nam launched the Tet Offen­sive, and John­son announced he would not seek reelec­tion.

Mean­while Kitt’s out­spo­ken­ness at the lun­cheon cast an instan­ta­neous chill on her career, state­side.

She spent the next decade per­form­ing in Europe, unaware that the CIA had opened a file on her, com­pil­ing infor­ma­tion from con­fi­den­tial sources in Paris and New York City as to her “loose morals.”

Her response to the most out­ra­geous alle­ga­tions in that file should make life­long fans of fem­i­nists who were bare­ly out of dia­pers when Halle Berry slipped into Catwoman’s skintight paja­mas.

Caloni­co is right to punc­tu­ate this with Kitt’s tri­umphant growl.

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

P.J. O’Rourke (RIP) Explains Why You Can Never Win Over Your Political Adversaries by Mocking Them

Don­ald Trump, as his sup­port­ers and detrac­tors alike can agree, is immune to humor. All the par­o­dy, satire, ridicule, and insult with which he was cease­less­ly bom­bard­ed dur­ing his four years as the Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca had, to a first approx­i­ma­tion, no effect what­so­ev­er. If any­thing, it just made him more pow­er­ful. “There has been tremen­dous scorn for and fun made of Trump, and indeed Trump sup­port­ers,” says the late humorist P.J. O’Rourke in the clip above from a 2106 Intel­li­gence Squared event. But “when you are angry at the estab­lish­ment, and you see the estab­lish­ment not just dis­agree­ing with your can­di­date but mock­ing your can­di­date, there is an ele­ment that says, ‘They’re mock­ing me.’ ”

As a result, “every time you went out to make fun of Trump, you increased his sup­port, because peo­ple were feel­ing scorned.” The result of the 2016 elec­tion, which hap­pened the next month, would seem to have borne this out. “When peo­ple feel they are out­siders,” O’Rourke says, “you can­not con­vince them by mock­ing them.” This may, at first, sound some­what rich com­ing from a writer who spent half a cen­tu­ry turn­ing every­thing that so much as approached the world of pol­i­tics into joke mate­r­i­al. But O’Rourke did­n’t engage in mock­ery, per se; rather, he straight­for­ward­ly observed that which came before him. “Humor isn’t about being fun­ny,” he once said in anoth­er inter­view. “It’s about putting emo­tion­al dis­tance between your­self and the pat­terns of human behav­ior.”

I’ve long kept that obser­va­tion in mind, as I have so much else O’Rourke wrote and said. If any one thing made me a writer, it was all the fif­teen-minute breaks from my high-school job at the Gap I spent read­ing his books at the Bor­ders on the oth­er side of the mall. I took a rebel­lious plea­sure, at that age and at that time, in get­ting laughs from the work of a writer who was clear­ly not a man of the left. Or rather, a writer who was for­mer­ly a man of the left: a self-con­fessed 1960s hip­pie, he like many of the Baby Boom gen­er­a­tion under­went a polit­i­cal con­ver­sion after notic­ing the deduc­tions from his pay­check. “I’d been strug­gling for years to achieve social­ism in Amer­i­ca,” goes one of his oft-quot­ed lines, “only to dis­cov­er that we had it already.”

Yet O’Rourke was nev­er a doc­tri­naire right-winger. Forged at the Nation­al Lam­poon (for which he wrote the well known piece “How to Dri­ve Fast on Drugs While Get­ting Your Wing-Wang Squeezed and Not Spill Your Drink”) he emerged as a 1980s lib­er­tar­i­an-lib­er­tine. In recent decades, dur­ing which he often appeared as a con­vivial polit­i­cal out­sider on shows like Nation­al Pub­lic Radio’s Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me, he shift­ed to the ter­ri­to­ry ref­er­enced in the title of his last book, 2020’s A Cry from the Far Mid­dle. In the video above he reads its intro­duc­tion, a dis­patch from a time of not just “moron pop­ulism and idiot par­ti­san­ship” but also a “griev­ous health cri­sis, lock­down iso­la­tion, eco­nom­ic col­lapse, and mate­r­i­al depri­va­tion.” Once a wise­crack­ing cor­re­spon­dent from the world’s trou­ble spots, he knew to bet that even in Amer­i­ca, “human nature will tri­umph over adver­si­ty and chal­lenge. And I don’t mean that in a good way.”

You can read O’Rourke’s obit­u­ary here.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Noam Chom­sky on Whether the Rise of Trump Resem­bles the Rise of Fas­cism in 1930s Ger­many

Come­di­ans Speak­ing Truth to Pow­er: Lenny Bruce, George Car­lin & Richard Pry­or (NSFW)

Kurt Von­negut Pon­ders Why “Poor Amer­i­cans Are Taught to Hate Them­selves” in a Time­ly Pas­sage from Slaugh­ter­house-Five

Mon­ty Python’s John Cleese Wor­ries That Polit­i­cal Cor­rect­ness Will Lead Us into a Humor­less World, Rem­i­nis­cent of Orwell’s 1984

Bill Hicks’ 12 Prin­ci­ples of Com­e­dy

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Read the CIA’s Simple Sabotage Field Manual: A Timeless Guide to Subverting Any Organization with “Purposeful Stupidity” (1944)

I’ve always admired peo­ple who can suc­cess­ful­ly nav­i­gate what I refer to as “Kafka’s Cas­tle,” a term of dread for the many gov­ern­ment and cor­po­rate agen­cies that have an inor­di­nate amount of pow­er over our per­ma­nent records, and that seem as inscrutable and chill­ing­ly absurd as the labyrinth the char­ac­ter K nav­i­gates in Kafka’s last alle­gor­i­cal nov­el. Even if you haven’t read The Cas­tle, if you work for such an entity—or like all of us have reg­u­lar deal­ings with the IRS, the health­care and bank­ing sys­tem, etc.—you’re well aware of the dev­il­ish incom­pe­tence that mas­quer­ades as due dili­gence and ties us all in knots. Why do mul­ti-mil­lion and bil­lion dol­lar agen­cies seem unable, or unwill­ing, to accom­plish the sim­plest of tasks? Why do so many of us spend our lives in the real-life bureau­crat­ic night­mares sat­i­rized in the The Office and Office Space?

One answer comes via Lau­rence J. Peter’s 1969 satire The Peter Prin­ci­ple—which offers the the­o­ry that man­agers and exec­u­tives get pro­mot­ed to the lev­el of their incompetence—then, David Brent-like, go on to ruin their respec­tive depart­ments. The Har­vard Busi­ness Review summed up dis­turb­ing recent research con­firm­ing and sup­ple­ment­ing Peter’s insights into the nar­cis­sism, over­con­fi­dence, or actu­al sociopa­thy of many a gov­ern­ment and busi­ness leader. But in addi­tion to human fail­ings, there’s anoth­er pos­si­ble rea­son for bureau­crat­ic dis­or­der; the con­spir­a­cy-mind­ed among us may be for­giv­en for assum­ing that in many cas­es, insti­tu­tion­al incom­pe­tence is the result of delib­er­ate sab­o­tage from both above and below. The ridicu­lous inner work­ings of most orga­ni­za­tions cer­tain­ly make a lot more sense when viewed in the light of one set of instruc­tions for “pur­pose­ful stu­pid­i­ty,” name­ly the once top-secret Sim­ple Sab­o­tage Field Man­u­al, writ­ten in 1944 by the CIA’s pre­cur­sor, the Office of Strate­gic Ser­vices (OSS).

Now declas­si­fied and freely avail­able on the Home­land Secu­ri­ty web­site, the man­u­al the agency describes as “sur­pris­ing­ly rel­e­vant” was once dis­trib­uted to OSS offi­cers abroad to assist them in train­ing “cit­i­zen-sabo­teurs” in occu­pied coun­tries like Nor­way and France. Such peo­ple, writes Rebec­ca Onion at Slate, “might already be sab­o­tag­ing mate­ri­als, machin­ery, or oper­a­tions of their own ini­tia­tive,” but may have lacked the devi­ous tal­ent for sow­ing chaos that only an intel­li­gence agency can prop­er­ly mas­ter. Gen­uine lazi­ness, arro­gance, and mind­less­ness may sure­ly be endem­ic. But the Field Man­u­al asserts that “pur­pose­ful stu­pid­i­ty is con­trary to human nature” and requires a par­tic­u­lar set of skills. The cit­i­zen-sabo­teur “fre­quent­ly needs pres­sure, stim­u­la­tion or assur­ance, and infor­ma­tion and sug­ges­tions regard­ing fea­si­ble meth­ods of sim­ple sab­o­tage.”

You can read and down­load the full doc­u­ment here. To get a sense of just how “timeless”—according to the CIA itself—such instruc­tions remain, see the abridged list below, cour­tesy of Busi­ness Insid­er. You will laugh rue­ful­ly, then maybe shud­der a lit­tle as you rec­og­nize how much your own work­place, and many oth­ers, resem­ble the kind of dys­func­tion­al mess the OSS metic­u­lous­ly planned dur­ing World War II.

Orga­ni­za­tions and Con­fer­ences

  • Insist on doing every­thing through “chan­nels.” Nev­er per­mit short-cuts to be tak­en in order to expe­dite deci­sions.
  • Make “speech­es.” Talk as fre­quent­ly as pos­si­ble and at great length. Illus­trate your “points” by long anec­dotes and accounts of per­son­al expe­ri­ences.
  • When pos­si­ble, refer all mat­ters to com­mit­tees, for “fur­ther study and con­sid­er­a­tion.” Attempt to make the com­mit­tee as large as pos­si­ble — nev­er less than five.
  • Bring up irrel­e­vant issues as fre­quent­ly as pos­si­ble.
  • Hag­gle over pre­cise word­ings of com­mu­ni­ca­tions, min­utes, res­o­lu­tions.
  • Refer back to mat­ters decid­ed upon at the last meet­ing and attempt to re-open the ques­tion of the advis­abil­i­ty of that deci­sion.
  • Advo­cate “cau­tion.” Be “rea­son­able” and urge your fel­low-con­fer­ees to be “rea­son­able” and avoid haste which might result in embar­rass­ments or dif­fi­cul­ties lat­er on.


  • In mak­ing work assign­ments, always sign out the unim­por­tant jobs first. See that impor­tant jobs are assigned to inef­fi­cient work­ers.
  • Insist on per­fect work in rel­a­tive­ly unim­por­tant prod­ucts; send back for refin­ish­ing those which have the least flaw.
  • To low­er morale and with it, pro­duc­tion, be pleas­ant to inef­fi­cient work­ers; give them unde­served pro­mo­tions.
  • Hold con­fer­ences when there is more crit­i­cal work to be done.
  • Mul­ti­ply the pro­ce­dures and clear­ances involved in issu­ing instruc­tions, pay checks, and so on. See that three peo­ple have to approve every­thing where one would do.


  • Work slow­ly
  • Work slow­ly.
  • Con­trive as many inter­rup­tions to your work as you can.
  • Do your work poor­ly and blame it on bad tools, machin­ery, or equip­ment. Com­plain that these things are pre­vent­ing you from doing your job right.
  • Nev­er pass on your skill and expe­ri­ence to a new or less skill­ful work­er.

Note: This post orig­i­nal­ly appeared on our site in Decem­ber 2015.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The CIA’s Style Man­u­al & Writer’s Guide: 185 Pages of Tips for Writ­ing Like a Spook

The C.I.A.’s “Bes­tiary of Intel­li­gence Writ­ing” Sat­i­rizes Spook Jar­gon with Mau­rice Sendak-Style Draw­ings

How the CIA Secret­ly Fund­ed Abstract Expres­sion­ism Dur­ing the Cold War

by | Permalink | Make a Comment ( 5 ) |

Toni Morrison Lists the 10 Steps That Lead Countries to Fascism (1995)

Image by Angela Rad­ules­cu, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

The term fas­cism gets thrown around a great deal these days, not always with high regard to con­sis­ten­cy of mean­ing. Much like Orwellian, it now seems often to func­tion pri­mar­i­ly as a label for whichev­er polit­i­cal devel­op­ments the speak­er does­n’t like. Even back in the 1940s, Orwell him­self took to the Tri­bune in an attempt to pin down what had already become a “much-abused word.” Half a cen­tu­ry lat­er, the ques­tion of what fas­cism actu­al­ly is and how exact­ly it works was addressed by anoth­er nov­el­ist, and one of a seem­ing­ly quite dif­fer­ent sen­si­bil­i­ty: Toni Mor­ri­son, author of The Bluest Eye and Beloved.

Fas­cism tends to come along with evo­ca­tion of Nazi Ger­many. In her 1995 Char­ter Day address at Howard Uni­ver­si­ty, Mor­ri­son, too, brought out the specter of Hitler and his “final solu­tion.” But “let us be remind­ed that before there is a final solu­tion, there must be a first solu­tion, a sec­ond one, even a third. The move toward a final solu­tion is not a jump. It takes one step, then anoth­er, then anoth­er.” She pro­ceed­ed to lay out a haunt­ing hypo­thet­i­cal series of such steps as fol­lows:

  1. Con­struct an inter­nal ene­my, as both focus and diver­sion.
  2. Iso­late and demo­nize that ene­my by unleash­ing and pro­tect­ing the utter­ance of overt and cod­ed name-call­ing and ver­bal abuse. Employ ad hominem attacks as legit­i­mate charges against that ene­my.
  3. Enlist and cre­ate sources and dis­trib­u­tors of infor­ma­tion who are will­ing to rein­force the demo­niz­ing process because it is prof­itable, because it grants pow­er and because it works.
  4. Pal­isade all art forms; mon­i­tor, dis­cred­it or expel those that chal­lenge or desta­bi­lize process­es of demo­niza­tion and deifi­ca­tion.
  5. Sub­vert and malign all rep­re­sen­ta­tives of and sym­pa­thiz­ers with this con­struct­ed ene­my.
  6. Solic­it, from among the ene­my, col­lab­o­ra­tors who agree with and can san­i­tize the dis­pos­ses­sion process.
  7. Pathol­o­gize the ene­my in schol­ar­ly and pop­u­lar medi­ums; recy­cle, for exam­ple, sci­en­tif­ic racism and the myths of racial supe­ri­or­i­ty in order to nat­u­ral­ize the pathol­o­gy.
  8. Crim­i­nal­ize the ene­my. Then pre­pare, bud­get for and ratio­nal­ize the build­ing of hold­ing are­nas for the ene­my-espe­cial­ly its males and absolute­ly its chil­dren.
  9. Reward mind­less­ness and apa­thy with mon­u­men­tal­ized enter­tain­ments and with lit­tle plea­sures, tiny seduc­tions, a few min­utes on tele­vi­sion, a few lines in the press, a lit­tle pseu­do-suc­cess, the illu­sion of pow­er and influ­ence, a lit­tle fun, a lit­tle style, a lit­tle con­se­quence.
  10. Main­tain, at all costs, silence.

Like any good sto­ry­teller, Mor­ri­son stokes our imag­i­na­tion while turn­ing us toward an exam­i­na­tion of our own con­di­tion. Over the past quar­ter-cen­tu­ry, many of the ten­den­cies she describes have arguably become more pro­nounced in polit­i­cal and media envi­ron­ments around the world. A 21st-cen­tu­ry read­er may be giv­en par­tic­u­lar pause by step num­ber nine. Since the 1990s, and espe­cial­ly in Mor­rison’s home­land of the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca, most enter­tain­ments have only grown more mon­u­men­tal, and most plea­sures have only shrunk.

Lat­er in her speech, Mor­ri­son fore­sees a time ahead “when our fears have all been seri­al­ized, our cre­ativ­i­ty cen­sured, our ideas ‘mar­ket-placed,’ our rights sold, our intel­li­gence slo­ga­nized, our strength down­sized, our pri­va­cy auc­tioned; when the the­atri­cal­i­ty, the enter­tain­ment val­ue, the mar­ket­ing of life is com­plete.” Few of us here in 2022, what­ev­er our polit­i­cal per­sua­sion, could argue that her pre­dic­tions were entire­ly unfound­ed. Few­er still have a clear answer to the ques­tion what to do when we “find our­selves liv­ing not in a nation but in a con­sor­tium of indus­tries, and whol­ly unin­tel­li­gi­ble to our­selves except for what we see as through a screen dark­ly.”

via Kot­tke

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Umber­to Eco Makes a List of the 14 Com­mon Fea­tures of Fas­cism

The Sto­ry of Fas­cism: Rick Steves’ Doc­u­men­tary Helps Us Learn from the Hard Lessons of the 20th Cen­tu­ry

Yale Pro­fes­sor Jason Stan­ley Iden­ti­fies 10 Tac­tics of Fas­cism: The “Cult of the Leader,” Law & Order, Vic­tim­hood and More

Hear Toni Mor­ri­son (RIP) Present Her Nobel Prize Accep­tance Speech on the Rad­i­cal Pow­er of Lan­guage (1993)

Why Should You Read Toni Morrison’s Beloved? An Ani­mat­ed Video Makes the Case

George Orwell Tries to Iden­ti­fy Who Is Real­ly a “Fas­cist” and Define the Mean­ing of This “Much-Abused Word” (1944)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

« Go BackMore in this category... »
Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.