Daily Dojo

Specious As Ya Wanna Be . . .

The following post is aimed at a narrow audience, but I had to get it off my chest.

Homer: Well, there’s not a bear in sight. The Bear Patrol is sure doing its job.

Lisa: That’s specious reasoning, Dad.

Homer: Thank you, sweetie.

Lisa: Dad, what if I were to tell you that this rock keeps away tigers.

Homer: Uh-huh, and how does it work?

Lisa: It doesn’t work. It’s just a stupid rock.

Homer: I see.

Lisa: But you don’t see any tigers around, do you?

Homer: Lisa, I’d like to buy your rock.

Philip Tatler IV supplied that Simpsons sample in a discussion string on John August’s site, called Silent Evidence, it’s a great little read, John’s article, and I highly recommend it.

There’s a lot of specious reasoning running around in politics now . . . for example:

BUSH: We have to invade Iraq, they’re about to attack us with Weapons of Mass Destruction, they could launch in twenty minutes!

CIVILIZED FOLKS: But according to several reports, they don’t have have WMD’S . . .

BUSH: We have to strike back at the terrorists who attacked us on September 11th!

CIVILIZED FOLKS: Right. but Iraq had nothing to do with the attack on the World Trade Center, that was al Qaeda and Saddam hates al Qaeda . . .

BUSH: Saddam is a vicious dictator! He’s torturing and killing his people!

CIVILIZED FOLKS: Right. So is the guy in Korea, and we’re not doing anything about him, not to mention Darfur. Plus, I don’t know that invading and dropping bombs on Iraq is the best way to HELP the Iraqi people . . .

BUSH: We have to fight the terrorists over there so we don’t fight then over here! They are a terrorist nation!

CIVILIZED FOLKS: Right, again, Iraq didn’t attack us, we . . .

BUSH: Traitor! Don’t you love your country?! How dare you disrespect the troops by questioning their resolve!

And it goes on and on . . . another definition is:

Fallacy of Exclusion

We hear it today, when pundits claim:

TONY SNOWJOB: Everyone thought Iraq had WMD’s.

Uh, no, they didn’t. Remember some idiot in Congress renaming french fries and french toast because France didn’t buy it? Remember the millions of people marching in protest in the United States prior to the invasion? Maybe in your house, they did. Not mine and not in many, many others.

Specious Reasoning is by no means the property of the Bush Administration (though they have taken it to NEW HEIGHTS, I would say) but is part and parcel of many of discussions on both the right and the left (you bet) simply because it’s SO EASY . . .

And I posit it’s probably harmless in everyday life, between friends, just conversation over coffee, they’re like little white lies you tell yourself.

I’ll admit, I’ve been guilty of it, you bet.

JOSH: The subway’s broken down again!

BUDDY: Yep, three times this week, every time it rains the trains go dead.

JOSH: All subways everywhere SUCK!

When actually, it’s probably just the subways in New York that suck (even more specifically, the trains I ride in New York) because as anyone could tell you, the trains in Japan and the subway in London (called the Tubes) are really nice and really dependable.

While it’s more dramatic and fun for me to say, ALL SUBWAYS SUCK . . . it’s more correct for me to say - THE SUBWAY TRAINS I HAVE TO RIDE IN NEW YORK SUCK!

And listen, we all have fun with that kind of thing, the important thing to note is that when called on it, admit that it’s either a personal preference (I just don’t like trains) or that you erred in your statement.

What does this have to do with theatre? Well, let me tell ya . . .

A Blogger accused the New York Theatre Community of some bullshit bigotry toward Iowans, based on a promotional video of a showcase for a show called Iowa ‘08 on youtube and the show’s website.

I’m not going to link to the Blogger, simply because I don’t want to send anymore traffic his way. He’s not in New York, he’s neither a writer, director, actor or producer. He’s a theatre professor.

This is beyond a small lie one tells to oneself, in my opinion. And I am going to explain why his position is a fallacy (fancy word for bullshit) and specious reasoning, as per Lisa Simpson.

His argument is kinda distilled as follows:

BLOGGER: This promotional video shows the SHOW is the kind of bullshit I am talking about when I insist that the NYC aesthetic is not universal, and in fact is openly scornful and dismissive of experiences and lifestyles that take place west of the Hudson and in places with less than 7 million people!

READER: But you haven’t seen the show, you haven’t read it, it might be better than the youtube clip . . .

BLOGGER: It’s PROOF that New York theatre BIASED against all other states in the country!

READER: But this is one small showcase, runs less than 16 performances, that’s not the sum total of New York theatre, there are great shows here not set in New York, written by people not from New York . . .


READER: What? What does that have to do with theatre?


READER: But you said . . .


I took dramatic license with it, but that pretty much sums it up (he did bring up BAMBOOZLED, I shit you not).

He’s been challenged on it, sure, by me and others, but all for naught. Mac Rogers brought up a nice list of questions, politely asked, that the fellow dodged.

Because he’s caught up in his own vicious circle of specious reasoning.

First, let’s address this. He holds up one showcase, produced in New York about Iowa politics, as an example of a New York bigotry toward Iowans in particular and theatre communities everywhere. He calls it bullshit.

He hasn’t seen the show, hasn’t read the scripts, he doesn’t live in New York, nor has he spoken to the writers on the show. Other than the promotional thing, he knows nothing. He knows nothing of the other work being presented here, and to buttress his argument, he chose a film, written and directed by a New Yorker named Spike Lee, set in New York and produced and financed in New York, as proof the theatre community is bigoted toward the “flyover” states.

And while I would absolutely agree that what the blogger has said is in no way as damaging as the lies told by the Bush Adminstration (before and after the war), nor has anyone or will anyone die in combat due to his statements, (at least, I sure hope not) and absolutely state that his claim is more ridiculous than anything dangerous, while I admit that . . .

I do want to underline that this line of thinking and thought is intellectually dishonest and usually entirely self-serving.

And for me, because the blogger in question is apparently widely read and well trafficked on his site, disturbing. Especially since he’s a professor of theatre and is supposed to teach youngsters how to use their minds . . . yet he avoids really using his own as he should.

Both the awesome writers Mac Rogers and Matt Freeman have pointed out, on their blogs, that bloggers are not under any obligations to be journalists, but we are obligated not to make statements we know not to be true.

Which is why, when I post, I tend to stay just on my experiences. I share what I’ve seen to be true for me. Which makes it fallable, you bet, but we all are. And why listening and objective questioning is important.

For example:

If I say, “I hate musicals based on movies!” you can disagree, but it’s not imprecise for me to say that (unless you catch me secretly enjoying LEGALLY BLONDE, THE MUSICAL, because, as we all know, not everything that could be said “was” said in LEGALLY BLONDE, the movie, so we needed LEGALLY BLONDE, THE MUSICAL to set the record straight . . . but I digress.)

So I state my opinion on that. And you agree or disagree, dependent upon your taste.

But . . . if I say on my blog, “I’m not seeing any good shows in New York, not a one, therefore they all suck, New York Theatre sucks!”

That would be specious, because . . .


I’d hang my head and say, “No,” in a quiet voice.

You’d ask again, “How many shows have you seen?”

I’d cough and say, “Um. One. Just one. Some Shakespeare thing. In the park. Not Central Park, some park in the Bronx. It sucked. They served punch, too.”

And you would say, “You’re not seeing enough shows, then. A lot of them are AWESOME and you shouldn’t exclude them.”

And you would be RIGHT. I would be WRONG.

Like this Blogger in Question.

This Blogger holds up a showcase of short plays in New York, that he hasn’t seen, as evidence of a racist cultural hegemoney that New York and L.A. practices against the rest of the country.

Note, he doesn’t write the words “bigotry” or “racism” in his original post, but references it in his follow up post on the subject, where he asks:

” What is the ratio of television shows set in big cities to television shows set in the south or in a rural setting? Or if that is too hard, name some TV shows set in the south or a rural setting. Next: when was the last time you saw on TV or in a movie a southern police officer who wasn’t represented as a stupid racist?”

Which is again, a fallacy, because we’re speaking of theatre, not television, but again he’s wrong on both parts . . . One only need to read Horton Foote’s plays to know a southern cultural view is and has been present on stage in New York very often, won a Pulitzer, in fact (MAN FROM ATLANTA) . . . and Tennessee Williams, just off the top of my head, and Robert Schenken and Naomi Wallace (she’s from Kentucky) and Sam Shepard . . . shit, do I really need to go on?

And I note that much of my work is set in the midwest.

In terms of what he mentioned via the television shows, I don’t know the actual numbers he asks for, but I do know THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW was pretty damn popular, even though it was set in a small town and had a small town sheriff who was neither ignorant nor racist. And it spawned MAYBERRY RFD. PICKET FENCES was pretty popular. I would say Kyra Sedgwick’s character in THE CLOSER is an example of a Southern police officer who is neither ignorant nor racist, though that show is set in LA. IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT, the series, was exactly that . . . Small town Southern cops who were smart and fair, if I remember right. FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS is supposed to be good, though I haven’t seen the series, only the film, and isn’t condenscending toward Southerners . . . And it’s really not what the argument is about, television shows, right?

The whole television thing is a fucking dodge, this was about theatre, right?

In that same post he states that a New York aesthetic discriminates against all others accuses us of racism via a cultural hegemony -

“These shared beliefs are created, in part, through the repetition of images that are internalized by the culture, including those that it insults. (To see this in action, read Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye,” which is a powerful illustration of the destructive power of internalized racism.)”

There is more, but why bother? His entire argument is unsound and specious. As anyone who has every been to New York (and paid attention) knows, there is not just ONE culture here, but MANY cultures . . . and that’s reflected in much of the arts . . . there are artists from all over the world (and many from Iowa) given voice here. And my experience is that very little is forbidden here, in terms of expression, which is one reason why New York is attractive.

New York is NOT scornful of lifestyles west of the Hudson, in fact, New York doesn’t really care what kind of lifestyle you have here, you can do whatever you want!

Not necessarily true elsewhere.

I would say, having lived elsewhere, that a gay couple living together would be a lifestyle looked upon with great scorn in parts of Iowa and the South. They call that sin there. Here, we call it Chelsea. That’s not on New York, nor me. That’s just what is for right now. To maintain New York is scornful of other lifestyles is completely ridiculous, absolutely.

Quite the opposite, it’s REAL OPEN here. You can express yourself in ways in New York that one can’t always in small towns . . . that’s not to say a small town voice isn’t represented, they are, just that there are many voices here, but not just one. I’ve written work about small rural towns and it’s been presented on stage. I don’t represent New York, nor do the Iowa 08 guys. I represent me. They represent them.

There is not just one New York aesthetic.

To accuse New York of racism via a showcase about Iowans is absurd.

And can I add, as a born and bred Iowan, people in Iowa are in no way in any position of having their rights taken away, they’ve not been discriminated against in no way, as people of color have . . . so to state that New York is bigoted toward Iowans does a disservice to all who have experienced REAL BIGOTRY and discrimination.

This particular blogger, had he said:

BLOGGER: The promotional clip of this show looks like it ridicules Iowans, and does so very badly. In my view it looks like the show is ignorant.

No one would have taken issue with it. And he actually says that in his follow up post. The one where, ahem, he compares the New York aesthetic to a racist cultural hegemony. Yeah, that one.

And when challenged, on issues like this, my experience is he either dodges the question or trots out some random quote from an old book, points at it and says SEE! THAT’S WHAT I’M TRYING TO SAY! And it usually has nothing to do with the argument at hand.

Now I should note that this is NOT an isolated event with this Blogger, this specious type of argument, in MY experience (I don’t claim to speak for anyone else) . . . and he’s also called New York Theatre folks BIGOTED before, too . . .

In my travels, I’ve had the misfortune to actually meet REAL bigots, people who believe those folks of other races / sexual orientations are less than human, I’ve met fucking people like that, people who refuse to believe facts that do not conform to their chosen narrow world view, people who hate, and it’s an insult to call us that.

This from a guy who claims civility on blog but, as evidenced by the post that started this whole mess (which featured the word BULLSHIT prominently) obviously doesn’t practice it. Other people have addressed him civilly and reasonably, and I have in the past, but just as it hasn’t worked with the Bush administration and Christian Scientists, it doesn’t work with him.

Please note. I am not calling him a Republican nor a Christian Scientist, as far as I know he’s neither. I only call him intellectually dishonest, which is something anyone of any political or religious affiliation can be guilty of. Many people can make wild claims and not listen when corrected, as this person does. Anyone can be pigheaded. I’ve met many.

One thing I know for certain is this: You cannot reason with someone who doesn’t speak the language.

That may seem mean or harsh to some, but I remind you that, as a member of the New York Theatre Community, I’ve essentially been called a BIGOT by this guy and besides, I don’t promise to be civil here in the Dojo, but I do promise to tell the truth as I know it . . . and sometimes the truth is uncomfortable and uncivil.

I don’t know WHY this blogger is as popular as he is, I truly don’t . . . he’s good at getting folks RILED up, that’s for certain (like certain pundits on Fox) . . . and created conflict draws attention, I guess.

It’s been said he asks questions, and that’s a good thing. I would agree questions are good, dependent upon the questions, there are smart questions and questions that are not. Glenn Beck asks questions, too. Specious ones.

As Mac said, we’re not really talking about matters of opinion or taste . . . it’s one thing for a couple guys to disagree on whether or not MIAMI VICE the movie was great or sucked ass . . . each fellow states their opinion based on their own experience of the film, as per their tastes.

It’s quite another to hold up one piece of artistic work, that one hasn’t seen, as a condemnation of an entire community. And that it shouldn’t even be expressed.

For me, that squeaks into censorship, which makes me queasy . . .

And it’s a particular insult to lump us with THE KLAN.

Listen . . . some would say we all have these little, tragic flaws . . . a fallacious flaw, and I wouldn’t necessarily disagree.

Me? Right now my fallacious flaw is that I believe Republicans are corrupt. I’m amassing data, and so far I think I’m making my case . . . sample RIGHT HERE . . . but if showed data proving I’m wrong, I’ll man up and admit it. When Republicans impeach Bush and Cheney, I’ll applaud them . . . but that’s me, I admit it up front.

I’ve tangled with this Blogger fellow over many an issue, as have others . . . I keep vowing not to engage him as that it’s so entirely frustrating, he’s very difficult to communicate with, I think, and rarely mans up . . . in fact, I stopped reading his blog long ago, and only know of this subject because I read the Marvelous Mac Rogers site, where he politely took said Blogger to task and was basically brushed off . . .

I could have ignored this, as I have other things, but this subject I felt needed to be addressed, not so much because it’s about Iowa or New York Theatre (both communities I’m members of) but rather because how the message was delivered by said Blogger.

His specious reasoning, in other words.

Listen, it’s a free country when it comes to speech, he can say what he wants, and so can I . . . I don’t dispute his or anyone’s right to be as specious as they wanna be . . . you bet, have at it. But let’s call it what it is, can’t we?

I think in light of what our country has gone through over the past seven years, in all areas, from the arts to farming to health care to politics, we need to be especially vigilant against fallacious thoughts and arguments and recognize them for what they are . . . bullshit.

In other words, this Blogger is absolutely free to shovel his shit, but let’s call it what it looks, smells and tastes like, okay?

And I’m mystified . . . so I have to ask the theatrical blogosphere . . . why do you read this guy? Why is he so popular? I just wonder . . . why can’t we just all collectively turn our back on this Blogger, this guy who essentially called those of us in New York bigots?

Anyway, I hope this is the last I have to say about this guy . . . but you never know . . . I do believe those of us who write publically online in some form or fashion, that we do have an obligation toward some form of the truth, as least.

And you don’t get it by dodging, nor do you get it by always by being civil all the time. You get it by saying it and backing the shit up.

I know we like to get along, we want the drama on the stage and on the page and no where else, I hear that, but sometimes one has to stand up to a bully who calls you names, because being polite means nothing to them. That’s what I believe, anyway.

Sorry folks, I had to get that off my chest.

2 Responses to “ Specious As Ya Wanna Be . . .”

  1. Scott Walters Says:

    Joshua — Just a small personal request: please, if you value Laura Axelrod, please remove the link to her blog from your post. She doesn’t appreciate the traffic, and if you doubt me look at the comment she left after the first link to her. She really doesn’t want to be involved in this.

  2. Joshua James Says:

    I bet you would like it removed, seeing as that your comment is what it is . . . if Laura wants me to remove a link, she is of course free to email me and we can discuss it, we’ve always had a cordial communication and I do value her . . . I’m open to whatever she wishes to communicate with me, either here or privately.

    But I don’t know that it is something to discuss with you. It’s her blog, not yours.

    How Laura feels about this discussion is how Laura feels, I don’t begrudge her feelings at all, I often feel frustrated with theatre folk myself . . . but her blog is also public, as is the comment you left there . . . if she wishes for me to take action regarding this link, I’m happy to hear from her.

    BTW, I’m due for an upgrade on this blog in the next 24 hours, so our comments here may be lost. It will not be because I deleted them, just that things happen in switchover . . .

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