Monday, January 14, 2013

Let me tell you a story

Number 26 in the Norman Rockwell inspired blog series.

Before I tell you the story, there are a couple of "set up" things I'd like to share.

First, if you've been following my Norman Rockwell inspired blog series, you know that this post wasn't scheduled to be number 26.  Don't be concerned.  I will get back on track, and you will get the originally scheduled number 26, which by the way, will be titled, No Difference.

Second, I was tempted to call this blog Me and Musberger, but decided against it, because using the name Musberger might keep some potential readers from reading the post.

Here's the story.  In case you missed it, last Monday (Jan 7, 2013) Alabama played Notre Dame for the college football championship.   And if you missed it, you obviously don't care who won, or if you're like my friends David Atkinson and Emma Calin, you're still wondering why there are points on our footballs.  So I'm not going to talk about the game, though I must admit it is tempting. 

Instead, I'm going to talk about comments that were made by Brent Musberger, the game's primary commentator, and the discussions, apologies, and truth-avoidance that have unfolded since he made them.  

Rather than spend three thousand words telling you what Brent said - here's a clip.  You can see and hear it for yourself.  

I don't often watch or listen to the news.  This morning, on the way to Starbucks to get a latte for my lovely wife, I happened to hear a segment from a popular NPR news talk show.  I couldn't believe that Brent's remarks about Katherine Webb were still headline news a week after the event.  That's why I listened to everything that was being said.  Since then, I've done a half hour's worth of research, and here's what I've discovered.

  • Brent's remarks are being labeled "sexist."
  • When Brent's name is mentioned his age is always noted - "73 year-old Brent Musberger," or more creatively, "Brent Musberger, 73."
  • ESPN, one of Musberger's employers apologized for the commentator.
  • Brent didn't apologize.
  • Katherine Web said she didn't expect an apology because what he said wasn't offensive.
Now, let me tell you a story, the one that isn't being told.  Musberger's remarks weren't sexist, though they could cost him his job, and if that happens, sexist remarks will be the reason given.  Those who are upset over the remarks aren't upset for the reason they are giving.  They are upset because Brent Musberger violated a rule that each of us has been inoculated with since we were kids.  He failed to "act his age." 

Age is a basic standard in our judgement system.  Until you're five years old, everything you say is "cute."  After five, everything you say is judged first by your age.  For example, when you are sixteen you can talk about sex like you are an expert, and everyone over twenty-five knows that you are making it up as you go, and that's to be expected "at your age".  I will also note that sexual remarks made between the ages of 25 and 40 are usually made gender to gender: men will lie to men about their sexual exploits, and both the teller and the hearer know that lies are being told.  Women tell women about their sexual experiences, and I'm never privy to those conversations.  

Now we have come full circle and we're back to Musberger and my contention that the entire issue is about age, not sexism.  Note, if a forty year old jock had made the same comments about Katherine Webb, no one of have blinked, much less gotten upset over it.  Also worth noting is, I suspect that more than one woman looked at A.J. McCarron, Alabama's quarterback and Katherine Webb's boyfriend and said, aloud and or to herself, "My, he is a lovely." 

We have an unreasonable expectation that one day, if we "act grown up" long enough, we will wake up and be grown up.  This is Norman Rockwell's painting of himself and a Boy Scout.  Rockwell called the painting Scouting.  Obviously Rockwell depicted himself in the painting at about the same age as "73 year-old Brent Musberger," and he would like for you to think of him as a man who has "grown up" and become the personification of the Boy Scout Pledge:

On my honor, I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country and obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.

I love Norman Rockwell.  However, I also know, based on 70 years of waiting for the day that I would be "grown up," that the two figures he has depicted in the painting, Scouting, are the same age.  Obviously I'm not talking about their calendar age.  I'm taking about their ego age.  

Each of us is the product of a collection of beliefs that we accumulated from age two or three through the ages of ten to twelve.  We have taken those beliefs, moved them around, lined them up, personified, and organized them, until they formed our picture of who we are, and who we expect everyone else to be.  In effect, we are all ten to twelve years old, acting like we believe a (insert your calendar age here) should act.  And, and this is where Brent comes back into the conversation, he failed to act like we believe a 73 year-old should act.  Which, by the way, looks something like this:

Isn't that lovely?  Exactly what we've been taught to expect an old man to be.  
And now, 72 year old Norman Rockwell painting 25 year old Ann Margret in 1966.

Once again, a picture is worth a thousand words, or as in this case, three pictures are worth three thousand words - Thanks, Norman.  Thanks Brent, for not apologizing and Katherine, thanks for knowing that there was nothing to be apologized for.

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