It Was Mother

It was If

It Was If
Wayras Olivier
AUGUST 2017


IF TODAY YOU WERE to read Michael Korda’s Power! How to Get it, How to Use it, your conclusion would surely be that not much has changed since 1975. For example, the office party remains in critical focus. Depicted in that magnified chapter, “the Power Spot,” its details, graphic and explicit (even by today’s standards) remain uncensored. Chairs, ones with arms and ones without, the former being the more regnant; the deliberately weak handshake, a potent marker of privilege and ascendency; and last but not least, the mini-bar, the area to congregate if you’re a shrimp. Stationed, meanwhile, in the right-southernmost corner of the room is where you’d find the boss, who commands the room by circulating through it counterclockwise, thus their right arm (the arm a knight uses to draw their sword), is free to move against, without consequence, their culture.

You too, may recently have found yourself—whether the party was held at the office or at a colleague’s home—at the mini-bar, and momentarily cornered by ability and competence that far exceeded your own. Your direct report, loosened by libations, pinches your cheek, a cotton gesture to make you feel sufficient and adequate to witness the momentary dropping of their right arm as they murmur a wistful counterculture verse or two:

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening

People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence

In this case, “The Sound of Silence”—covered recently by the metal band Disturbed—something you yourself may experience after your boss falls quiet upon asking the terrifically weighted: “What do you think?” The question, unqualified and deliberately obscure, is framed as such in the hopes that, when tackling the lyrics, you will surrender your artistic side and accidentally expose your political biases.

Equivocating by not first offering their opinion should give you the sinking feeling that your boss may think that Simon & Garfunkel’s folk lyrics: “People writing songs that voices never share, And no one dared, Disturb the sound of silence,” are not tragic. It’s mere common sense and practice; the downtrodden, when oppressed, your boss maintains, are supposed to remain meek, gentle and hushed if they know what’s good for them. On the other hand, your boss, you are loath to believe, may have chosen “The Sound of Silence” because it’s fungible with political correctness, that trendy virtue that you’re being tested for. Careful, you may think to yourself: race, class, and gender are “the holy trinity,” and your boss indeed may be a sanctimonious white blood cell, whose supposed protection of rights involves the termination of any free radical who uses free speech in vain.

We might assume that your boss certainly does “side,” whereby your failure to correctly identify “with whom” can quite quickly spell your doom. Think of just a few of the countless exchanges covered in the news that have occurred over the last year. For example, Jerelyn Luther, “the shrieking girl” from Yale who, with great hostility, publicly shamed one of her professors for his inability to model sensitivity and concern to those students on campus who were distressed or offended by certain Halloween costumes. She insisted that he concede to her premise; a laughable and imbecilic premise: universities are fundamentally supposed to be congenial homes, not places for intellectual discourse.

Or, perhaps Professor Jordan Peterson at the University of Toronto, or, let’s say, former senior editor of Breitbart News, Milo Yiannopoulos, who unlike Peterson, uses humor (vulgar humor, similar to the kind used by the imperishable Lenny Bruce) to query the ethics and ramifications of standardizing and monitoring compelled speech. They have both taken strong positions on—or simply flat out ignored—certain segments of culture who assert their Big Brother status, under whose chivalrous care push to institutionalize political correctness via thoughtcrime management. Micro aggression detection and unconscious bias testing of students, colleagues and co-workers—the supposed efficacy of which increases empathy, reduces the need for safe spaces, and minimizes thorny and awkward or hasty and graceless speech which can unintentionally promote violence.

Strong positions: Peterson, by refusing to conform to bill C16, the Ontario bill that currently makes it illegal to not address transgender individuals by their preferred pronouns. (Failure to use preferred pronouns, claims Nicholas Matt, historian and lecturer at U of T, is itself hate speech—the heuristics of that particular statement can have you stumped.) And Milo, by his campaign to undermine, quite fondly, the gender-pay gap or any other stat cited by any other movement (Black Lives Matter to name one), with counter stats, citing often non-partisan polls such as PEW.

How’s this for a long shot? Your boss only cares about that one thing Vespasian says has no smell. (Recall in The People vs. Larry Flynt, the occasion of Flynt (Woody Harrelson), lured rather effortlessly into evangelicalism after a meeting with Ruth Carter Stapleton, who did not once question the thing his board presumes immediately; that he can’t possibly be serious about his campaign. For one thing, Marjoe, the film that won the Academy Award for best documentary in 1972, had been in wide release for quite some time. In it, tent-revivalist and public figure, Marjoe Gortner, demonstrates unapologetically how to feign a savior and redeemer performance so as to amass large sums of money from charitable devotees. Aware most assuredly of Marjoe’s con, Flynt’s staff both confused and conflicted; both wince and grin when Flynt vehemently professes the sincerity of his motives while suggesting, in that notable and revealing scene, that they hire Marjoe Gortner to photograph Hustler’s theocratic-themed layouts.) Each honest-to-God position.

Continuing with our assumptions—about our boss—we might stop at Gloria Steinem, co-founder of Ms. Magazine. In her 1997 “Hollywood Cleans Up Hustler” op-ed for the New York Times, Steinem’s quibbling that Larry Flynt is not to be thanked for advocating or protecting free speech amended a perception for those who were perhaps too quick to believe that the film’s message was ‘all is fair in love and war.’ “Mr. Flynt’s victory only confirmed,” she writes, “the right to parody public figures (if the result can’t be taken as fact) and prevented plaintiffs from doing an end run around the First Amendment by claiming they suffered ‘emotional distress.’ ”

Finally, your boss, by having to repeat: “What do you think?” suspects that you’re merely stalling, and are terrifically afraid of others seeing your opinions as offensive. Itself a sign of poor judgment. That said, fear dramatized in that great scene, however grim, in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. “You knew something was wrong,” Stellan Skarsgård says to Daniel Craig, “but you came back into the house.” Did I force you? Did I drag you in? No. All I had to do was offer you a drink.” A bloody Craig, rather than insult Skarsgård, is now worse off, trapped in a basement, and forced to endure a lecture. “It’s hard to believe,” Skarsgård continues, “the fear of offending can be stronger than the fear of pain but, you know what? It is…”

Thus, the two urgent dimensions of real-world concern: remaining sincere while not offending, are on the line yet you falter with a disorganized and indecisive:

UHM?

Your boss, however, hears:

AUM!

To mutter AUM is to summon speech in its freest state, and unlike other movements—of the lip—it contains a rather novel teleology. In four steps, it systematically resounds both its gain and decline. But more critical, and perhaps more ironical, the yogic force is called out, and upon, to assuage emotional distress. Much as the letter A, stresses creation (a shimmy to unhobble inertia), and much as the letter U stresses preservation of that which thus far has been created, and much as the letter M stresses destruction, (loose lips now finished with sinking ships), nothing compares to the unstressed fourth step—silence, arrived at willingly by a speaker who’s free to control the wrecking of their own sound.

Your boss’s eyes widen as they comment on how politically savvy you are: wise and cultured, careful and farsighted, but remarks that you’re in deep; in what—like Katharine Ross and Dustin Hoffman at the end of The Graduate—you’re not quite sure.

W.