Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sunday Reading

Teaching A Pig To Dance — John Cassidy in the The New Yorker on what the GOP can learn from the Supreme Court.

The Roberts Court, unlike the G.O.P., has recognized that changing social attitudes and family structures have rendered obsolete old, absolutist notions that marriage and family life—those based on religion or a particular view of sexuality. The Roberts Court, unlike the G.O.P., has recognized that elections matter, and that deliberate efforts to undo their results, such as the attempt by the Hughes Court of the nineteen-thirties to block key elements of the New Deal, and the effort by today’s Republican Party’s to block Obamacare, can do great damage to institutions whose legitimacy depends on popular support. And the Roberts Court, unlike the G.O.P., has recognized that the most effective way to undo iconic liberal rulings and iconic liberal pieces of legislation, such as Roe v Wade and the Voting Rights Act, is not to challenge them head on—down that road lies the danger of a big backlash—but, rather, by chipping away at them.

The Court’s rulings on affirmative action and voting procedures were models of crafty conservatism. In declining to rule in favor of Abigail Fisher, a white woman who challenged the University of Texas’s right to use race as one of its guiding factors in deciding which students to admit, the Court didn’t throw out affirmative action in college admissions, and for that many liberals were grateful. But in ruling that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit had failed to apply “strict scrutiny” in reviewing the University of Texas’s admissions process, and in sending the case back for further review, the Justices made it a good deal harder for other colleges to justify similar policies. (Eric Lewis has more on that.) In the coming years, we will almost certainly see a series of rulings against affirmative action in the lower courts. The conservatives will eventually get what they want, and they’ll get it without embroiling the Roberts Court in a racially charged controversy.

The Court’s attack on the Voting Rights Act, though also somewhat indirect, was potentially even more far-reaching. Rather than ruling that racial discrimination was a thing of the past and that there was no need for the federal government to oversee voting at the local level, the Court left in place the general principle that there is a need for outside supervision. But it gutted the Act’s enforcement mechanism, opening the door for states like Texas to introduce voter-identification acts that suppress minority turnout and redistricting maps that favor Republicans. And, once again, the Court attempted to shift responsibility, inviting Congress to rewrite the V.R.A.’s enforcement mechanism to reflect “current conditions”—something that is unlikely to happen, given the G.O.P.’s control of the House.

Act strategically, avoid looking like radical ideologues, don’t pick fights you can’t win, and when you have to give ground, do your best to describe it as a victory of conservative values. These are the rules of the Roberts Court. In principle, they could serve well any right-leaning institution looking to prosper in a society that is growing steadily more liberal on social issues but which still has some distinctly conservative instincts, especially on matters having to do with law and order, government efforts to help individual groups, and national security. The Roberts Court has provided the template. But is the G.O.P. willing to adopt it?

Wedding Bells and Cash Registers — Tracy Clark-Flory at Salon on how marriage equality will be great for business.

The very same day that the Supreme Court handed down rulings in favor of marriage equality, popular wedding site The Knot premiered its digital magazine for LGBT brides- and grooms-to-be. It was a powerful reminder: There’s a lot of money to be made on gay marriage. Same-sex weddings will bring California businesses $492 million in the next three years, according to one recent estimate. In 2004, Forbes predicted that if legalized in all states, same-sex weddings could generate $16.8 billion from LGBT couples who decided to get hitched. It’s already an estimated $55 to $70 billion industry. Major brands have begun to take note.

This year, Nordstrom launched a commercial for its “wedding suite” starring both straight and gay couples. Last year saw a spate of LGBT-friendly ads. Target began selling same-sex wedding cards and promoting a gender-neutral registry with a print ad featuring two men holding hands. (The company’s record on LGBT rights is hardly pristine, though: Target courted controversy in 2010 by donating $150,000 to a conservative, anti-gay marriage gubernatorial candidate.) Macy’s ran a subtle print ad featuring a multi-layer cake with a barely noticeable groom-and-groom cake-topper. (The subtlety didn’t stop the American Family Association from freaking the hell out — which makes total sense, the American Family Association protesting the promotion of … families.) Tiffany & Co., which more than a decade ago made its registry gender-neutral, launched the website What Makes Love True, which features stories about real people; its homepage currently features one gay couple, out of two-dozen couples (to that, I offer a one-handed clap.) J.Crew featured its first photo shoot of a gay wedding.

Hotels, including the Marriott and W chains, have made the greatest effort to court same-sex couples, with everything from special wedding and honeymoon packages to “marriage equality” discounts. “They see the dollars and cents,” says Bernadette Coveney Smith, founder of 14 Stories, the first same-sex wedding planning company in the U.S. “Hotels control the food and beverage, and food and beverage is the biggest wedding line item. So it’s just business.”

Dobie the Rebel — “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis,” a classic 1950’s TV sitcom, laid the groundwork for today’s shows.  By Neil Genzlinger.

Dobie GillisThe show starred Dwayne Hickman as Dobie, who when the series began was a 17-year-old high school student with nothing on his mind but girls. Just what Dobie hoped to do with the scores of young women who drew his attention over the show’s 147 episodes was always left pristinely vague. The implied progression seemed to go from light necking directly to marriage, with nothing in between.

The show was based on a series of stories by Max Shulman, who also created the television series. Through four seasons, Mr. Hickman (who was in his mid-20s when the show began) went from high school student to Army grunt to collegiate Romeo, with he and his friends rarely having a care more traumatic than where to hide a rival football team’s lucky pet goat after making off with it.

Such empty-headed stuff can be fun to watch just for the soon-to-be-familiar faces that turn up. Who’s that in the second episode, playing Dobie’s smooth-dressing rival for the affections of a pretty girl? It’s Warren Beatty, unknown at the time but handsome as heck. The minor character who turns up at a high school event in a June 1961 episode? Jo Anne Worley, still a few years away from “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.”

But is there any substance to the silliness? Fans of ABC Family’s “Pretty Little Liars,” to pick just one current teenage-centered show, have seen plotlines involving lesbianism, student-teacher romance, shoplifting, bulimia and more. Elsewhere, it’s hard to find a teenage character today who isn’t a child of divorce or a high school that isn’t struggling with racial tension, bullying or pregnancy. There is none of that in “Dobie Gillis.” Just a very white world of simple stories and little stress.

But hold on.

“In its own way, although it was simplistic and seems perhaps naïve because it doesn’t show anything negative about society, it was revolutionary,” said Sheila Kuehl, who played Zelda Gilroy, a recurring character with a single-minded determination to marry Dobie. And Ms. Kuehl knows something about revolution. In 1994 she became the first openly gay candidate to be elected to the California legislature.


If Zelda nudged the feminist needle ahead, another character, the show’s most enduring one, did the same for the anti-Establishment ethos. He was Maynard G. Krebs, Dobie’s best friend and in many ways his polar opposite. Where Dobie was neat and well groomed, Maynard had a scraggly goatee and an even more scraggly sweatshirt. Where Dobie talked nonstop about girls, Maynard was interested in them only rarely.

Bob Denver memorably incarnated Maynard, whose aversion to work (one trait he shared with Dobie) and casual disregard for rules and social strictures were legendary. Ratty, ridiculous Maynard was a sort of advance scout for the authority-defying years ahead.

“Maynard was one of the key characters, and frankly one of the most popular characters, because he was anti-Establishment,” Ms. Kuehl said. “And we did not see full-blown anti-Establishment until later in the ’60s.”

She called the character “not just iconic, but a harbinger.”

Doonesbury — We’re still there.