Arrest the prejudices

Is it possisble to grow up without learning some prejudices?

I believe this is a timely question because I can’t see how you can avoid being influenced by people around you, or by society. We may be critical and disagree, but I still think we are influenced by the society we are a part of.

I have written in previous posts about whether or not we ought to boycott authors that stood for something untelable. There are some that have major problems with the Norwegian author Knut Hamsun, because even though his books are brilliant, he also supported Adolf Hitler to the very end. Some have problems with Edgar Allan Poe because at 26 he married his 13 year old cousin. I have no problem understanding the thinking, but I also think we could end up with a library without any books because we are all human.

We might be able to excuse Charles Dickens and Jane Austen. The former probably used Jewish stereotypes when he created Fagin in Oliver Twist, while Jane Austen has been accused of not taking a stand against slavery. The scholars are still arguing whether she was for, against or neutral, and if there’s evidence of all three in her authorship, I wonder how fair it would be to judge her with our standards.

What about Mel Gibson? He directed the film The Passion of Christ in 2004. The film describes the last 12 hours in the life of Jesus, but received very mixed reception because of the violence and an anti-Semitic message. I haven’t seen the film myself, so I cannot comment on how far Mel Gibson went, but I know the story well enough. It seems logical to me that with a film describing one of the most brutal and evil regimes in European history, a certain amount of violence is justified. Life in Galilee two thousand years ago was probably so bad that watching it would literally make you sick, and if you want realism a film could never be violent enough. Hollywood doesn’t make films to tell the objective truth, however. The point is to make money.

Regarding the process to get Jesus executed it doesn’t fit with our modern sensibility to blame someone, but if the aim is to make a film that remains tolerably loyal to historical facts, the crucifixion wasn’t some unexplainable thing that just happened. On the surface it was a power struggle where Jesus challenged those in power, the brutal Roman occupiers and the Jewish religious leadership. Both had good reason to fear Jesus as a political force, and a presentation dreading to upset Jews would have been one-sided.

There's always been an expectation that everyone will yield to the majority, but now it seems that we have been shuffled.
There’s always been an expectation that everyone will yield to the majority, but now it seems that we have been shuffled.

I don’t  know whether this film started Mel Gibson’s downfall, but it later went from bad to worse when it seemed like he no longer could control racist tendencies that may have been there all the time. He had several episodes where he said and did unforgivable things while intoxicated, and I think this is much of the reason why we haven’t seen his name on the big screen for a while. No one wants to work with him. I could understand this if his bad behaviour continued, and maybe it has, but what if he showed a willingness to restrain himself? Would that change things or isn’t that enough? I think it should be because we all have prejudices.

We shouldn’t hide weaknesses and only accentuate the good sides of celebrities. When we do we put the writer, actor or director on a pedestal, but I think we should recognize that it’s hard to escape prejudices completely. I think we can still read our favourite authors, but not pretend that they are without flaws. The only thing we can expect is for people to keep these things to themselves. I wrote about bronies a few days ago, in Cosplay for creepy men. I was very negative to this trend and quickly got an angry face on facebook, but the same principle applies there. We may dislike the fact that people who enjoy great respect in our community do things that make us uncomfortable, such as grown men playing in the nursery, or men dressing in women’s underwear. It is nevertheless worrying that people who want to keep the norms we grew up with are seen as bigots.

Some people are skeptical to gays and Muslims. I can’t lie. I would have been worried if my daughter had fundamentalist friends, whether they were Christians, Muslims or had extreme ideas about gay rights. There is a tendency to expect, and sometims even require, that everyone embraces the same ideas. We are being bullied into accepting whatever is popular at the moment. Some of this skepticism makes sense, but it is frequently compared to an irrational fear and even illness (fobia), while the fear of these individualists may be irrationality at its worst.

Most people like to think that they live in a tolerant society, which means that you allow the people you disagree with to argue their point, but in many cases the opposite happens. Gender identity is one of these cases, and there are many countries where men can decide whenever they want to identify as a woman. No medical procedure is necessary, but it’s still illegal to deny them the rights women have. The most controversial part has been laws that give men access to women’s restrooms and showers, for example at universities. I guess it doesn’t matter that some women and children may feel that no one cares about their need for boundaries.

When I wrote this in Norwegian I came across an article about at a debate that had taken place at the University of Oslo. A well-known”pit bull-blogger” claimed it was unethical to ban drawings and animation showing child abuse, and the sexologist Thore Langfeldt, who is often called in as an expert witness in trials was more cautious, but he said in this debate that sexual depiction of children isn’t necessarily abuse. It may seem that we are open to removing more and more boundaries, at the same time as we don’t acknowledge the prejudices many have.

As for the prejudices I started with it’s not really that relevant what negative opinions you have about religion, race or gender. What is interesting is whether or not you are willing to respect the law. We tend to change our opinion about someone the moment we discover that they don’t like homosexuals for example, but if they show that they are willing to treat them the same way as any other citizen, do we really have the right to continue our sanctions against them?

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