The Saga of Vanessa Hudgens

What You Need To Know: A Summary For You Lazy Asses

·         Vanessa Hudgens’s naked picture escaped her control and ended up on the Internet.  Moral panic and boneheaded idiocy ensued.

·         Instead of outpouring of sympathy, Hudgens is at the receiving end of a vicious blame-the-victim attitude, similar to that often mercilessly applied to rape victims.

·         There are two aspects in which the USA could use a LOT of improvement:

o        Treating sex and nudity as a personal and physical act first and foremost, and legislating appropriately.  Moral judgment on either is fine but is totally subjective and is thus incapable of being rendered as public law.  Laws should be amended to allow people to wear whatever the hell they want (or nothing at all if they so desire) and to engage in any kind of consensual sex they please, so long as no one is harmed or deprived of liberty in the process.

o        Treating public figures as people rather than circus animals.  Realizing that public figures are every bit as entitled to their private lives as the rest of us, and that they have feelings that can be hurt too.  Stop hounding celebrities and start focusing on what really matters in this country.

·         America is still culturally backward.  It’s time for us to get real, stop trampling on people’s sexual/clothing-related freedoms, stop disrespecting and objectifying our public figures, and start focusing on what really matters!

 

I don’t blog about this kind of stuff very often but I wanted to bring it up because it relates to what I discussed several days ago in The Saga of Larry Craig.  This story concerns 18-year old actress Vanessa Anne Hudgens, who is mostly known for her leading role in Disney Channel’s High School Musical.

 

Like Larry Craig, an embarrassing detail of Hudgens’s private life was revealed after several revealing photographs, including one where she is fully nude, were unwillingly leaked onto the Internet, undoubtedly for the benefit of the nation’s large population of celebrity-mobbing vultures who care too much about other people’s lives to attend to their own.  Needless to say, they generated a large amount of discussion.  I originally was going to post the link to the comments and the nude photo in question but I decided not to so as to not go against the point of this entry and further contribute to the spread of this fake controversy. (Though, I will say that if you ask me I think she looks great in that picture.)

 

Much of the commentary to me seem to be negative and scornful of Hudgens, mostly along the lines of, “I don’t feel sorry for her because she’s so stupid; she should’ve known that those pictures would get leaked.”  Yeah, because celebrities are not allowed to have private lives and do what they please in private.  Because celebrities are not allowed to ever trust anyone else with these kind of pictures, and heaven forbid the idea that that kind of trust could actually be broken.  Because celebrities should always be wholesome good people who are not allowed to do ANYTHING, repeat ANYTHING, that’s even SLIGHTLY risqué or sexual or anything that any one of our great Christian moral leaders/proselytizers would lecture us not to do (before going and doing it themselves, of course). 

 

Talk about total blame-the-victim here.  The argument that Hudgens deserves to suffer because she should have “known” it would happen sounds similar to the argument that women who wear scanty attire deserve to be raped because they should have “known” that their clothing would attract attention.

 

Never mind that, contrary to popular belief, nudity =/= sex and nudity =/= inappropriate or wrong or immoral.  And yes, some may say it’s wrong or immoral to take pictures of oneself nude.  These are the same people who tell us to wear chastity belts until we’re married, because it’s wrong to have sex with anyone other than a person of the opposite sex who you’re married to, because sex (and by totally illogical extension, nudity) has been arbitrarily deemed to be something sacred and ritualized and completely glossed-up instead of what it actually is: the physical act of reproduction.  Oh, and fuck the gays too.

 

Like Larry Craig, Hudgens received few kind of words of defense or sympathy.  The one saving grace is that unlike Craig, she won’t be losing her job over this; Disney has confirmed that she will be appearing in future HSM sequels.  But a Disney spokesmen left a rather condescending parting shot: “Vanessa has apologized for what was obviously a lapse in judgment.”  What was the lapse of judgment here?  Taking a naked picture of herself?  What, is she not allowed to have fun?  Are all celebrities supposed to sit on their ass and do nothing in their free time, and have no sex/private lives whatsoever?  Oh yeah, cuz that will send a bad message to the kids who look up to them as role models!  Because we can’t let our children learn to have fun, or take nude pictures of themselves, or – gasp – have sex!  Hey, to everyone who wants to invoke the whole “role model” argument, every child should have two people that they look up to more than anyone else – their parents.  And if that’s not happening, then the parents, not Vanessa Hudgens or any other celebrity, is to blame.

 

The statement continues: “We hope she’s learned a valuable lesson.”  Yes, there is a valuable lesson that I have learned and hopefully she and all other Americans have learned as well.  In case you haven’t caught it, here it goes.

 

The lesson is that whether it’s politics or TV, the United States as a whole has some serious growing up to do both in the way they treat their public figures, as well as the attitude and manner in which they handle the issues of sex and nudity (which are only related incidentally, I believe).  Seriously, with both the Craig and Hudgens dramas, I look around at my fellow Americans and, I hate to say it but I feel like I’m surrounded by idiots, utter buffoons and giggling five-year olds who think babies are brought to the world by storks.  It’s really long past time that we Americans start being mature and level-headed about issues of sex and nudity, neither of which is harmful or dangerous – quite the opposite in fact.  Sex and nudity are totally harmless and matters of personal discretion, and it’s time we start treating them as such.  We can start in the legal realm by getting rid of all sumptuary laws regarding clothing or the lack thereof (or regarding anything personal period, but that’s another subject) and all laws regulating consensual sex (this should be backed up by strong sex education in every school, and yes, part of strong sex ed is NOT being abstinence-only).  Sex is a personal and physical act first and foremost.  Any more significance you wish to cast upon it is your choice but don’t make your personal, subjective moral judgment the basis for laws that impose on OTHER people’s private and personal decisions.

 

Similarly, it really pisses me off how we have come to treat our pubic figures not as people but as circus animals.  Is it too much to ask as a public figure to be left alone to have a private life that’s actually private?  Public figures have private lives and feelings too, and people need to start realizing that.  I understand that many people have made public figures’ private lives a personal interest, similar I guess to how I’m interested in animal ecology.  I don’t understand why you’d be concerned about other people’s lives rather than your own, but having that interest is fine; just don’t cross the line of common decency and respect for people’s feelings.  News flash: public figures have feelings too! and they get hurt when people are fucking harassing them for pictures or juicy details, or when trust is betrayed and yet somehow they are the ones to blame (similar to that blame the rape victim bullshit).

 

Besides being the right thing to do, growing up about sex/nudity and leaving public figures alone also gives the added benefit of freeing up time and brainpower for more vital issues of a public nature, like the war in Iraq that’s continually claiming the lives of young Americans in the armed services. (On that note, I will start writing an Iraq entry soon!) To my knowledge, no one has ever died from seeing a picture of a naked woman on the Internet, or from a guy in the bathroom stall next to them tapping his foot and swiping his hand.  Let’s face it, America is still culturally backward.  It’s time for us to get real, stop trampling on people’s sexual/clothing-related freedoms, stop disrespecting and objectifying our public figures, and start focusing on what really matters!

 

P.S. Am I the only one who suspects that there wouldn’t be so much attention/criticism/scorn directed towards Vanessa Hudgens if she were a man?  You know, the double standard that says that guys can be sex machines but girls have to be all dainty and chaste?  Another sign of the backward culture we live in.

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The Saga of Larry Craig

What You Need To Know: A Summary For You Lazy Asses

·         What happened on June 11 in that Minneapolis airport bathroom is a he-said-he-said debate.  For the sordid details, read the entry.

·         Even if the police officer’s account is accurate, what Larry Craig did was NOT a crime, and his charge was unfair and unjust.  It was a very unfortunate mistake for him to plead guilty when in actuality he was innocent of any wrongdoing.

·         The personal lives of politicians, insofar that they have or do not compromise the politician’s ability to dispense his/her public duties, should be off-limits to the public and should not be raised as an issue.  They also do not constitute grounds for resignation, impeachment, or deprivation of seniority or chairmanships.

·         When the hell are we as a country going to stop being distracted by what happens in people’s private lives and start focusing on what really matters?

 

I’m sure all (three) of you have been following the drama that has befallen Senator Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho).  As I think that politicians’ personal life affairs that do not interfere with their professional lives and duties are their business and should be left alone by the public, I really feel sorry for Craig, and I most certainly think that he should NOT have announced his resignation, nor should he resign from office.

 

To properly comment on this sensational tale, I first will tell you exactly what happened.

 

(Visit the Wikipedia entry for general information on the whole story.)

 

On June 11 2007 Craig was in a mens’ restroom in the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and was subsequently arrested by airport police Sergeant Dave Karsnia.  That’s about all that Craig and Karsnia agree on, as from there it becomes more of a he-said-he-said situation.  I will present both sides of the story.

 

Karsnia’s story (as it appears in his police report, click here for the PDF format):

 

Karsnia was working undercover at an airport restroom based on several complaints about lewd behavior that the airport’s police department had been receiving.  He had been sitting in a bathroom stall for 13 minutes when, at 1213 PM, he saw Craig standing outside his stall.  Craig would repeatedly peer into the stall, then look down at his hands and fidget with his fingers.

 

At 1215, someone in the stall to Karsnia’s left exited the stall, and Craig went in, placing his roller bag in front of the stall door before sitting down. (Karsnia notes that the placement of the roller bag has been used in the past to obscure detection of those engaging in “lewd conduct”.) At 1216, Craig tapped his right foot several times and moved his foot closer to Karsnia’s.  Karsnia interprets this as an invitation to engage in the aforementioned lewd conduct.  Karsnia moved his foot up and down slowly in response.  Craig moved his right foot all the way so that it touched Karsnia’s left foot.  At 1217, Craig swiped his left hand under the stall divider from front (door side) to back, palm up, three times.

 

At 1219, Karsnia held his police ID with his right hand under the stall divider to show Craig, and with his left hand pointed towards the exit.  Craig responded, “No!”  Karsnia pointed again, and Craig left the stall.  Karsnia left his stall and motioned Craig to leave the restroom.  After some initial resistance and hesitation, Craig complied with Karsnia’s requests and went with him to the Police Operations Center, where they had a nice chat. (Note: Craig shows Karsnia his business card in or outside the POC, not in the bathroom.)  Craig was photographed, fingerprinted, and released at 105 PM.

 

Craig’s story (as it appears in the transcript of the interview with Karsnia in the POC):

 

Craig entered the bathroom and waited (“a minute or two at the most”) for a stall to open.  He looked not at Karsnia’s stall, but at the one next to it, which he entered when it was vacated.  He went in, sat down, and positioned his legs: “I’m fairly wide guy… I had to spread my legs… When I lower my pants so they won’t slide.”  He bumped his foot with Karsnia’s, then reached down with his right hand to pick up a piece of toilet paper.  Craig disputes Karsnia’s contention that he slid his hand under the stall divider.

 

Mugshot of Craig upon arrest.  Source: Wikipedia

 

Okay, so there you have the two stories. (For more information about bathroom signaling, read this Slate article.) Craig was charged with Interference with Privacy under MSS 609.746 Subdivision 1(c) for allegedly peeping into Karsnia’s stall (this charge was later dismissed) and Disorderly Conduct under MSS 609.72 Subdivision 1(3) (it is assumed that this charge was for allegedly soliciting sex with the foot tapping and hand swiping).

 

Unfortunately for Craig, even though he denied Karsnia’s account of the story, he pleaded guilty to the charge of disorderly conduct; the guilty plea was processed on August 8 2007.  Craig claims to have plead guilty in hopes of putting it behind him and making it “go away”, and has since regretted that decision.

 

When the story broke in the last week of August, the vilification and condemnation came swiftly – and none of it from Democrats, all of it from Craig’s fellow Republicans.  No one stood up for Craig, with the possible exception of Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA-4) who stated that Craig should not have to resign.  Under enormous pressure from Senate Republicans, Craig announced his intent to resign effective September 30 barely a week later, on September 1.

 

Senate Republicans defend their swift punishment of Craig as opposed to their lackadaisical attitude towards the sexual escapades of Senator David B. Vitter, who was discovered to have used the services of a D.C. prostitution ring, on the basis that Craig pleaded guilty to a crime and Vitter did not.

 

But, as The Volokh Conspiracy, a website that serves no purpose for me and does not interest me outside of the context of writing this entry, asks, what was Craig’s crime?  First off, we don’t even know whose story is actually correct.  But even assuming that Karsnia was telling the truth and Craig did tap his foot and swipe his hand, so what?  How is that a crime?

 

Craig was charged for disorderly conduct; the actual language for the charge states:

 

…engaging in offensive, obscene, abusive, boisterous, or noisy conduct or in offensive, obscene, or abusive language tending reasonably to arouse alarm, anger, or resentment in others, in a public or private place, knowing, or having reasonable grounds to know that it will, or will tend to, alarm, anger or disturb others or provoke an assault or breach of the peace.

 

In other words, it’s something the police can use when people do something the police don’t like.  Because there’s no other way to explain how this charge could be applied to Craig.  What part of what Craig supposedly did reasonably fits under the definition provided?  The language seems to state that the conduct not only has to be offensive, obscene etc. but also that the offender has know that it will alarm, anger or disturb others.  Considering that Craig initiated the process with foot tapping and Karsnia responded in kind, Craig obviously would not have known that Karsnia would be alarmed, angered or disturbed!

 

Even if Karsnia had not responded in kind, what Craig did is still not really a crime.  First, the foot tapping and hand swiping would have to be proven to be actual signals for soliciting sex.  Otherwise, I could get arrested for swiping my hand in the bathroom even if I was not intending to ask for sex.  Second, mere solicitation of sex is not a crime.  If it were, I think a lot more people would be paying fines.

 

Let’s face it, the story of Larry Craig is something that has been blown way out of proportion.  His only mistake was to plead guilty to a crime that doesn’t exist.  The act that he supposedly did itself does not constitute a crime and the charge of disorderly conduct was unfair and unjust.  Moreover, Craig should not have to resign.  The personal lives of politicians, insofar that they have or do not compromise the politician’s ability to dispense his/her public duties, should be off-limits to the public and should not be raised as an issue.  They also do not constitute grounds for resignation, impeachment, or deprivation of seniority or chairmanships.

 

Even worse, personal intrigues serve as a distraction from more important and pertinent public issues, and this distraction can sometimes be useful.  Look at me – instead of writing about Iraq and the impending progress report, I’m blogging about what Larry Craig did in a Minneapolis bathroom. (The Iraq entry is forthcoming, I promise!) When are we as a country going to finally grow up and be able to focus, like serious adults, on what matters, instead of constantly being distracted by sexual escapades and giggling like little five-year olds when someone’s naughty-naughties pop up in the news?  When are we going to let private lives be private?  And yes, public officials still deserve to have private lives.

 

Dave Karsnia lamented in a different context, “No wonder why we’re going down the tubes.”  Some people say it’s because of sex, drugs, violence, etc.  Others say it’s because of scary gay people.  A couple of dumbasses I read about in the news say it’s because of the Democrats.  I say that the reason why we’re going down the tubes is because there’s been a mutual failure – by both the people and the government – to focus on what really matters in society and in our country.

SEPTEMBER 30 2007 ADDENDUM: Today is the day when Larry Craig is supposed to resign – but lo and behold, he is still in office.  He’s said that he will not resign until the Hennepin County court rules on his motion to withdraw his guilty plea.  Good for him.

OCTOBER 4 2007 ADDENDUM: Larry Craig has decided to
serve out the remainder of his term even though the court ruled against his
motion to withdraw his guilty plea.  Good
for him!  I’m glad he decided to stay –
it will send a vitally-needed message that personal matters that do not
interfere with public duties are not grounds for resignation.

Follow Up to New Orleans: The Nation’s Shame

What You Need To Know: A Summary For You Lazy Asses

·         Try to read the whole thing.  It should be an interesting read.

·         But in case you can’t, here’s the bottom line:

Republican* belief in small government à Republican campaign rhetoric saying that government should be small à Republicans making the government small once they have control of the government à Republican-controlled small government can’t do jack shit à Republicans take the failures of their small government as “proof” that government always fucks up and thus needs to be small à Republican belief in small government.

*I use “Republican” and “conservative” interchangeably.  If you prefer, replace “Republican” with “conservative” wherever it appears above.

 

I didn’t include this part in “New Orleans: The Nation’s Shame” because I didn’t know how to fit it in without disrupting the entry’s flow.  I know it’s long, but try to read the whole thing – it should be an easy read anyways.

 

There may be underlying reasons to the agonizingly slow pace of NOLA’s recovery that appeal to the cynical eye.  Besides the fact that NOLA is a Democratic stronghold in an otherwise Republican state and that the diaspora of New Orleans residents to other states may very well have made the state as a whole even more Republican, the utter incompetence of the government before, during, and after the storm as well as throughout the recovery serves the interests of the conservative movement as an “example” of how the government is all bad and can’t do nothing right and yadi yadi yaddah.  To quote Al Franken, “Republicans run for office saying that the government doesn’t work, then they get elected and they prove it.”

 

Conversely, the devastation of New Orleans would have provided the American public with a great demonstration of how much good the government is capable of doing.  If we had a strong, active federal government like the kind I advocate, it would have conceivably reinforced the levees and prevented the mass flooding from happening in the first place, then speedily repaired any damages and, along with state and local governments, efficiently rebuilt New Orleans, brought New Orleans residents back home and made the city better and brighter than ever before.

 

Obviously, that was not what happened.  The government – at all levels, I’m afraid, but especially at the federal level – failed New Orleans just before the storm.  It failed it during the storm.  It failed it right after the storm.  And it has continuously failed New Orleans since then, and it continues to fail New Orleans today.  This is through no real fault of Democrats, mind you (at the federal level, anyway – I couldn’t care less about Kathleen Blanco and Ray Nagin) but rather, Republicans, as they control the White House and, until recently, Congress, and as such they’re the ones that have been at the helm of any federal efforts that could’ve helped NOLA.

 

Consider that, if they do a good job for New Orleans, they’ll go against the anti-government philosophy they so strongly believe in.  On the other hand, if they do a bad job, that’ll fit right in with the anti-government philosophy they so strongly believe in!  By making sure that the government doesn’t do anything right, always fucks things up, and doesn’t care for and doesn’t do right by the American people, the Republicans have shown the people of New Orleans and the country as a whole that the government can’t do anything right, always fucks things up, doesn’t care for and can’t do right by the American people, and that people should not trust in the government to take care of their problems, but should instead place their faith in private businesses – several of which have been awarded handsome salaries and exclusive contracts for Gulf Coast reconstruction by the Bush administration.  Combine that with NOLA’s mostly Democratic voting tendencies and the total fuck up of any and all government efforts relating to New Orleans is a done deal!

 

To illustrate the point:

 

Republican* belief in small government à Republican campaign rhetoric saying that government should be small à Republicans making the government small once they have control of the government à Republican-controlled small government can’t do jack shit à Republicans take the failures of their small government as “proof” that government always fucks up and thus needs to be small à Republican belief in small government.

*I use “Republican” and “conservative” interchangeably.  If you prefer, replace “Republican” with “conservative” wherever it appears above.

 

Of course, there’s no way – to my knowledge anyway – to really prove that President Bush and Congressional Republicans deliberately sabotaged the reconstruction of New Orleans in service of conservative ideology.  But the motive is certainly there, and the example of New Orleans is just one in a long line of government fuck ups that fit a pattern, a pattern of “government should just step back and not interfere, and instead let private businesses do the important jobs” – a mantra that Republicans have been happy to openly proclaim, not to mention campaign on.  Consider also that while a lot of the problems that have beset New Orleans have been the result of government doing something badly, many others have been the result of government doing nothing at all – and while Republicans might not say they’re for bad government (government doing something badly), they will freely and proudly say they’re for small government (government doing nothing at all).  Plus, a big reason why government efforts have done so many things badly is because they’re underfunded and underequipped – and conservative Republicans are always the ones calling for and pushing through lower government spending.

 

I would point out to anyone ready to disparage the government for being incompetent that it’s the conservative small-government way of thinking, not the government itself, that leads to the kind of government failures we saw in New Orleans.  And in New York City.  And all over the country, over the past six years of Republican domination.

 

I found a great read called Framing Katrina by George Lakoff and John Halpin, that agrees with many of the points I made and lays out a really strong strategy for liberals/progressives to talk about Katrina and New Orleans.