Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Arianna and RuPaul: What Do They Have in Common?

RuPaul Charles Arianna Huffington
So, what do Arianna  Huffington and RuPaul, drag queen extraordinaire, have in common? (Besides the obvious, I mean.) To answer this intriguing question, let's take a closer look.

May the Best Woman Win
Arianna (Stassinopoulos) Huffington, author and syndicated columnist, is also the co-founder of Huffington Post. It is supposed to represent the voice of the Left but many of the executive decisions of late have caused more head scratching than a case of lice in an all-girl's school. Many of her long time readers have even started to question whether her qualifications are deserved or merely a product of her own press.

Her history, as juicy as it is, is much too complicated to go into but it is worth your time to research. (Just don't eat anything from the salad bar, y'all )
Huffington Post, or HuffPo, as her dwindling numbers of readers call it, used to be considered a entertaining alternative to the mainstream news media. (That Left wing biased one, I'm talking about.)  It would provide a fine mix of defiant left wing viewpoint from an assortment of contributing bloggers. The comment section was more of an open forum, lots of fun but often subject to heated arguments.

Then things began to change. Unless you've just been revived from your coma, you probably have heard that Arianna made a fortune selling off the kit and caboodle to AOL for a reported $315 million. Arianna has an enlarged role as executive editorial something or other. Since it was announced, the deal raised enough eyebrows to make Donald Trump a new wig because, according to critics, much of the content came from unpaid labor.
Profiting from other writer's hard work? Not Arianna.

Another thing that began to change of late- which might or might not be related- was a tightening of the editorial policy. The first time this matter came up was when editors at HuffPo decided to ban Jesse Ventura's blog post about his doubts on the 9-11 attacks. The post was deleted and replaced with this:
Editor’s Note: The Huffington Post’s editorial policy, laid out in our blogger guidelines, prohibits the promotion and promulgation of conspiracy theories — including those about 9/11. As such, we have removed this post.
RuPaul Charles is a different kettle of fish, so to speak. His over-the-top female impersonations are filled with startling glamor, bitchiness and sudden, jarring shifts of manner.
RuPaul holds court in his sly mockery (or is it?) of reality/competition shows called quite aptly, "RuPaul's Drag Race."  Unlike Arianna, RuPaul doesn't pretend his queen-dom is a democracy.  Female impersonating contestants vie for such (probably imaginary) titles like "Drag Queen Superstar of the Year."
While the winning contestant does eventually win a financial prize, given the amount of makeup, the number of wigs, gowns, tatty jewelry and shoes, the sum hardly begins to cover the expense. No, in truth, the real prize of the contest is the fame and the glory. Bathing in the blistering star-shine of their idol, RuPaul, and the kindness of being treated as a (near) equal, that, for the winner and the runners-up, is worth all that lady-fussing. There is also  the bestowed dignity that comes with recognition of impersonation as a high art.
In some ways,  I imagine that this must be how Huffington Post contributing bloggers must feel sometimes.
At the end of the challenges, RuPaul determines the winner with a great of solemn deliberation. While the panel that sit with her provide advice, as she states, the decision of the winner in each episode is hers and hers alone. With a clap of his hands, she says,"Silence!! I have made my decision."
And, naturally, no matter how illegitimate it might seem to you or to me, that decision- made by the queen herself- is  the final verdict. There is not point in talking about it. No sass or you shall be exiled.

It's Verboten, Darlin'
Apparently Arianna runs things pretty much the same way over at Huffington Post. At least her editorial policy is a lot like that. According the rules for both her blog contributors (as well as her commenters) all discussion of conspiracy theories is forbidden. It's a very interesting position to take, especially from a self-proclaimed liberal. (Since her well-publicized sell-out , many of her loyal fans have finally started questioning her qualifications for that title. Like RuPaul, she didn't start out like that.)
Every site owner (as every editor) has the right to restrict any opinion that crosses the editorial line. There's really not much new in that. However, the policy at Huffington Post has hardly been uniformly applied and it was often applied mysterious ways.

For example, Arianna Huffington was clever enough to realizeHUFFINGTON early on that Sarah Palin is a veritable gold mine when it came to blog traffic and any mention of her would bring swarms upon swarms of readers and an an avalanche of comments.
Whether it's "Sarah Palin's Top Ten Ways to Remove Warts" or "Todd Palin's Secret Childhood Pet," anything with Palin in the headline was money in the Huffington bank account.
In most cases, the accompanying reader comments were witty and snarky and silly. Not often would you find a truly obnoxious or threatening comment there. (That's excluding the wandering Palin defenders and they could be nearly as shrill and senseless as their heroine.) All in all, the comment section was usually the best thing about any of the posts at Huffington.

Still, over time, the moderation policy grew more and more complicated and restrictive until nearly every comment critical of Palin would have to be typed in a kind of code in order to bypass the automated censors. At the same time, comments that were in support of Palin, no matter how aggressive and vitriolic, would be sail past all controls.  Long time members would suddenly find themselves banned from the site without explanation or opportunity for recourse. Dumped on the shoulder of the information highway like a dead Granny. Eventually, I lost interest in the site and from what I have heard, a lot of people have also managed to find their way to the exit.

Ironically this subject came up again recently, with those questioning the official details surrounding Sarah Palin's son, Trig. After the publication of a scholarly examination by a Professor Scharlott,  which provided the outlines of the strange Palin pregnancy and the mainstream media failure to investigate the story, Huffington Post editors apparently decided that this was a conspiracy theory and the discussion of it would not be tolerated. Ironic, because this kind of attitude perfectly illustrated the professor's claim of an artificial silence that the news corporations had imposed on all questions about the birth of Trig.
Huffington Post appears to have drawn the line on acceptable political debate to exclude theories about the nativity of Sarah Palin’s youngest son.
Palin critic Geoffrey Dunn, who has contributed a long line of attacks on the former Alaska governor to the site, published his version of the “Trig Truther” theory to Business Insider today, after Huffington Post turned the blog post down.
“We did pass on a submission by Geoffrey Dunn about Trig, as it ran counter to our policy against conspiracy theories,” Huffington Post spokesman Mario Ruiz confirmed in an email.
Dangerously Naïve or Incompetent?
The banning of conspiracy theories is an interesting one  and it got me thinking. The exact definition of a conspiracy theory is fairly straightforward and neutral. It is a theory about a some anonymous group of people who have  joined together to commit some dark covert deed. That's it. But nowadays the implied meaning is quite different. It has come to mean, a  preposterous, often complicated, illogical idea supported with little real evidence. And the implied definition has lately replaced the actual one . So, any theory today can be readily dismissed by calling it, "just another conspiracy theory."
Let's face it. it takes a pretty unimaginative journalist and an incompetent editor to state categorically that conspiracies do not actually exist in this world. Isn't that a hopeless naïve idea?
Not only is it hopelessly, dangerously naïve, it is demonstrably wrong.  There are plenty of examples of formerly considered conspiracy theories which have later turned out to be true.

The Mafia. A lot of people do not realize that, until the 1960s, organized crime was  virtually unknown. J. Edgar Hoover, the head of the FBI, had long denied the existence of an organized crime syndicate, despite mounting evidence to the contrary. All during the 1950's, crime bosses from around the United States met to centralize their power and organize. Meanwhile, the public was told that such claims were the products of crime writers and the crimes were committed by locals only.

Watergate. From the time of the burglary of the Watergate offices, speculation began that there was much more to it than met the eye. The idea that the White House might have ordered the break-in and then might have attempted to hide the fact were dismissed and denied. It wasn't until 1974, some two years later and after persistent investigations by reporters, did the truth come out.

The Iran-Contra Affair. Starting in 1985, the Reagan administration, initially in an effort to free hostages, then President Reagan authorized the sale of arms to Iran. Meanwhile, the official policy that the US, in no uncertain, never never would negotiation with terrorists. If that was a conspiracy enough, the profits made from the illicit sales were used to illegally fund right wing militia groups bent on destabilizing a democratically elected Central American government.   Despite numerous ongoing investigations by reporters, the details of the plot were uncovered by Congress in 1987.
You need more? Ok, then, but I'll let you google them for yourself.
  • Counter Intelligence Programs Against Activists in the 60s
  • The Tuskegee Syphilis Study
  • Warnings about Asbestos
  • The Dangers of Cigarette Smoking
  • The BCCI Scandal
  • Operation Ajax
All of these started out as, what people like the editors at Huffington Post would probably call, conspiracy theories. The public was told what they thought was the truth which later later turned out to be anything but.
Conspiracy theories exist because they serve a specific function. Where full disclosure and open frank discussion is forbidden and when trust between the powerful and the public fails, that information vacuum is filled with theory and conjecture.
If there are people who simply cannot believe the official story of the September 2001 attacks, if there are people who cannot believe a woman would, in the middle of labor, chose to fly across the country, risking the life of her unborn baby, then all the imperious clapping of manicured hands and all of the pro- announcements to the peasants that further discussion is hereby outlawed by the queen, is certainly the wrong approach.
Of course, a tongue-in-cheek drag competition contest might be able to get away with it but not a reputable liberal news organization.

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