I’m Proud to Be Whatever They Say Tony Dungy Is
NFL analyst Tony Dungy tweeted a dumb joke last week. You might even call it a “dad joke” (Dungy is father to ten). In response to a Minnesota high school’s plan to put tampons in the boys bathroom, Dungy quipped that other schools were supplying litter boxes for students who identify as cats.
The usual online outrage ensued. Dungy apologized, not for being “transphobic” (which in this case means holding the perfectly rational belief that only women menstruate), but rather for unhelpfully needling people who reject this belief: “As a Christian I should speak in love and in ways that are caring and helpful. I failed to do that and I am deeply sorry.” If you don’t have anything nice to say…etc.
Dungy also believes that abortion is wrong. As far as I know, he hasn’t made any mean jokes about his opponents on this issue. But it doesn’t matter. Just for speaking at the March for Life rally, Dungy has been called “regressive,” a “right-wing zealot,” and an “extremist.”
I’m old enough to remember when “queer” was a slur. But then gay rights activists did something very smart: they embraced the label as both a unifying umbrella identity (encompassing anyone departing from heterosexual norms) and as a defiant rallying cry (“We’re here, we’re queer…”).
These days, calling somebody “far right” or “extremist” or anything ending in “phobe” serves the same function “queer” once did. The point is to dehumanize and disqualify. So perhaps it’s time for a unifying, defiant rallying cry of our own. We need a term for all people (wherever they find themselves on the increasingly useless conservative/liberal spectrum) who accept human frailty and promote human flourishing against the totalitarian fantasists who dominate public life. “Far right extremist” has a nice ring to it.
Another problem with the superficial left/right framework is how easy it makes it for grifters and fakes to target us. Michael Avenatti and Black Rifle Coffee Company are but two recent examples.
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Acclaimed new TV programs are like new Covid variants. They seldom live up to the hype, and one begins to suspect their main purpose is to provide the digital cognoscenti with something new to write about. And yet, the medium does still surprise with genuinely entertaining and thought-provoking art. Return’s Jack Moody makes a compelling case for two recent science fiction series, AMC+’s Pantheon and Apple TV+’s Severance, by showing how deftly they articulate a new kind of dystopian future, one in which “the convergence of money and information makes it easier than ever, and almost irresistible, to atomize and automate parts of ourselves, destroying the unity and integrity of our selves.”
Last July a man emerged from the bathroom of an Indiana mall with a rifle and began shooting at people. Fifteen seconds later (during which time he managed to kill three and wound two) he was dead, thanks to the quick and courageous intervention of 22-year-old Elisjsha Dicken, a bystander who happened to be in possession of both a handgun and the skills to use it.
Dicken is what those in our interminable gun control debate call “a good guy with a gun.” That he was particularly effective in the role didn’t mean we could dispense with the usual anti-gun disclaimers; as usual, media accounts took pains to emphasize that most mass shootings don’t meet with armed resistance, those that do resist risk being killed themselves (oh, really?) and anyway such resistance could easily make things worse, theoretically speaking.
And yet surely none of the people in the mall that day regretted Dicken’s willingness to put himself in harm’s way. Maybe you can’t make general policy out of individual acts of extraordinary heroism, but policy measures success in statistics. Knowing that your imminent death was in fact exceedingly unlikely offers little consolation.
We’ve more or less forgotten the shooting Dicken ended; six months is a long time when very day brings news of a fresh massacre. Whether we’ll some day put a stop to the carnage with “gun restrictions” or “mental health” or something else remains to be seen. At any rate, such a solution seems to belong to the distant future. Until we figure it out, we should scorn the media’s attempts to exaggerate the threat, while celebrating the courage of those who dare to meet it head on.