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Otium cum Dignitatae

Tuesday, May 10, 2005


Instead of writing another remembrance of things past, I decided to have a little fun, and show you this text deconstruction from a couple years ago. It is written by one Dan Neils, and was published as an opinion piece in The Oregonian.
The subject at hand is a minor scandal of a couple years ago: a woman whose last name was 'Toogood' was caught on surveillance camera in a mall parking lot, beating her child. A brief debate followed about whether or not abusing one's child in a public place is one's inherent right, and whether or not Ms. Toogood's being a part of that American/Irish clan of what-amounts-to-Gypsies, The Travellers, was in any way relevant. Mr. Neils' thoughtful comments bore the headline, "A Healthy Dose of Discipline". My text deconstruction's title is, "No, this really isn't from 'The Onion'."
He opens by stating his name, and pointing out that he occasionally spanks his kids. He then asks for understanding, and starts to offer justification:
"I do not spank them to punish them but to consistently teach them discipline while they are young and moldable."
(It takes a decent man to assess a being's...Moldability. He's a decent guy, since he doesn't actually beat his kids. But-read on.)
"I love them enough to help them learn to respect authority. I want to help them learn to control their emotions and to consider the feelings of others when they cause others pain. I want them to feel the painful consequence of harmful actions and attitudes."
(Is it me, or is there something a little pro wrestling about 'wanting them to feel the pain'? The nice guy facade, loosely constructed, starts slipping.)
"I wish I could say that I have never lost patience and that I have never grabbed my child out of anger instead of love. I have been known many times to cross the line. You know what I mean."
(These ominous lines say it all. Buried none too deeply here is an abuser, and one dumb enough to try to defend it in public. Yeah Dan, we know what you mean.)
"Have you ever been in an airplane with a screaming child beside you? Hour after hour the child wails, moans, kicks your seat and ignores the cringing parent. You start to simmer, then slowly you lose sanity."
(You might not want to so casually throw around phrases like 'lose sanity', Dan.)
"I feel at times like making my child shut up. Sometimes in the store, I will grab him a little harder than I should, or raise my voice, or pinch his neck to tell him to 'shape up'."
(Now he's starting to admit it. 'Pinch his neck'? And, who doesn't want to make your child shut up? I've personally found that abused kids tend to be loud as hell. Whereas kids raised with consistent boundaries not backed up with violence tend to be pretty well behaved. The unspoken premise here is that, if it weren't for pesky societal norms, we'd all beat our kids.)
"Sometimes when he melts down in the restaurant, I will quietly take him to the car screaming"
(Not to be nitpicky, but what's a car screaming?)
"...and make good on the quietly offered promise of a spanking. As we approach the car, repentance awakens, but discipline is still required."
(That's a full-blown sadist talking. Check the love of authoritarian language.)
"If you see me in the back seat appropriately spanking the boy, and he is crying for mercy, please don't whip out the cell phone and call the police."
('Appropriately spanking' rolls off the tongue nicely, doesn't it? Dan, just putting the word 'appropriate' in front of something doesn't make it so. And you might have edited out that 'crying for mercy', too. It makes you sound like a child abuser or something.)
"If I seem to be causing hurt with indiscretion, please discreetly call the police to investigate the matter. Please don't call the news station."
('Indiscretion', indeed. I'm not sure that's the right word for what you meant, but it is appropos. You're no longer pleading for the media not to oversensationalize things, you're begging that we don't tell on you.)
"Understand that I am working on some good future citizens-one who has learned already, and the other still in training."
(His kids are 5 and 3 and a half, respectively. Nice to hear you beat the three year old. Can we talk about how you train your pets?)
"Although Toogood was clearly guilty of crossing the line and her actions were indefensible, she deserves the respect and opportunity to discreetly explain her actions and to receive a fair judgment from the system. She shouldn't have to hire a lawyer and have a news release. We treated her worse than a terrorist."
(This paragraph is great. After that sweaty fantasy he just led us through, the bully remembers why he was inspired to write this piece. Let's see: Okay, Toogood's actions were 'indefensible'. So let's let her...Defend herself? In some scenario that apparently doesn't require a lawyer? Again, the only reason for the media frenzy was that she was caught on videotape not just spanking her kid, but beating them. This isn't even the whole "what I do in the privacy of my own home" thing anymore. You feel sorry for her Dan, admit it. But you also claim to not be as bad as her, even though it kind of sounds like you are. Then you invoke the specter of terrorism, ya' half-wit. Yes: we force terrorists to have press conferences and write op-ed pieces about them.)
"Why do we shamelessly reveal our intolerance by parading her in the media, convicting her in the court of public opinion and breaking up her family? Can the damage be undone?"
(Here's where I gotta thank the media. Even people with no need for spin control know the language of spin. Just enough touchy-feely cliches thrown in, and you'd never know that we were talking about a woman beating her children in public.)
"Toogood deserved to be punished-but not abused. Her child was not physically harmed."
(The tape seems to suggest that the child was physically harmed. That's why we're here listening to you whining about the breakup of families. Families tend to be sacred to abusers, I've noticed. Like people who believe that much in the family unit as an ideal already have opened the door to irrationality, and even though it sounds stupid to the rest of us, they'll brutalize members of their own family to 'preserve' the family. They truly think that it's love.
They also think that beating family members who disagree with their vision of what's right is the same as preserving the family unit. These are basically childish personalities we're talking about here, and they think that the needs of other people aren't as important as theirs. Ultimately, it's that most childish of attitudes; I know what's right, and you don't.
Sure, the media is often a distorting presence in our culture. But crying in public about how hard the media presence has made it to beat your kids isn't a valid objection.
At the risk of sounding really sanctimonious, why is it that I've never felt so much as an inkling of need to beat my own kid, or anyone else's? It's fucking unimaginable to me, because they only know that you're beating them, when you're beating them. They 'learn' nothing. Besides, if you're a good parent, you set boundaries without beating them. Is it any wonder that the most obnoxious kids I've seen tend to be the abused ones? This is the only attention they get, and furthermore their parents are acting childishly, so where in the hell will they ever learn to act like adults?
This eye-for-an-eye bullshit philosophy being espoused here makes me want to "accidentally" break this man's arm, after grabbing him a little too hard in public, when he is whining and throwing a tantrum, like he is here.
Then pinch his neck.)



Blogger carrier said...

The op-ed guy is clearly gushing at the public confessional. For whatever reason he decided to defend his own actions while pleading for leniency on behalf of someone else. The most common thread among domestic abusers seems to be that they are stupid people. Oh there may be a few intellectual abusers like op-ed guy, but they all suffer from some horrifically imbalanced sense of propriety that allows abuse to be acceptable. If you can't figure out that in the long run abuse will only foster negative results, then you are a stupid, stupid person. Spot on with the 'I love my family so much I'll do whatever it takes' scenario Rich. Denying an individual the right to certain liberties in order to keep them safe seems to be the way to go these days. A fine example of how well this method of control works may be found at the federal level.

4:28 PM  
Blogger Gringa Alta Prima said...

OK, so that’s creepy. It kinda reminds me of a George Michael song.

I don’t know if you’ve ever sat down with the lyrics of 'Father Figure' by this guy, but it’s worth a gander.

So, it starts out innocently enough:

“That’s all I wanted
Something special, something sacred
In your eyes.”

ok, so he’s not talking about fucking little kids yet, but remember that...

“Sometimes I think that you’ll never
Understand me.”

“I will be your father figure
Put your tiny hand in mine”

But, you know, none of us should misunderstand little George, because...

“Sometimes love can be mistaken for a crime.”

“Greet me with the eyes of a child,” he says, and, oh no, I’m losing my lunch...

But if you still don’t think Michael Jackson co-wrote this song, remember…

“That’s all I wanted
Just to see my baby’s
Blue eyes shine.”


*all quoted lyrics courtesy of George Michael from 'Father Figure' off Faith, 1987.

1:01 AM  
Blogger rich bachelor said...

Ah, and who said that post-structural critique doesn't serve to spark worthwhile commentary?

3:38 PM  
Blogger Melissa said...

I think it is different for every parent and depends on the situation. I smacked my daughter once on the butt, and I felt awful. I think it was because I knew I was angry when I did it. The guilt I felt afterward was enough to turn me off from the whole spanking thing. I noticed my daughter was more aggressive in the weeks that followed and began hitting at me and yelling "stop it!" This was an exact replica of what I had done to her. The only thing the spanking taught her was to be violent. Now I use time outs, which is much more effective anyway. I think it is different for every parent though.

12:53 AM  
Blogger Melissa said...

I would also like to mention that the song "father figure" is not necessarily a molester song. Alot of ADULT woman search for father figures, and many men are happy to oblige. Although this PROBABLY isn't the most healthy basis for a relationship, it isn't pedophilia, and is pretty commen.

1:00 AM  

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