Obama Canceled. Meygn Kelly vs. Jordan Peterson on Women in the Workdplace. Female MMA Fighter Refuses to Back Down to Communism. [Special Culture Report] (The Five for 04/16/21)

Hey, welcome to The Five.

There’s a lot going on in the world…and I decided that if I’m exhausted from all the “breaking news” maybe you are too.

Today, we step away from the headlines of the 24/7 news cyle to take a look at the stories shaping the culture, which in turn shapes tomorrow’s headlines.

Let’s get into it…

[one]

A suburban Chicago school will no longer be renamed after President Obama, due to protests.

Newsweek Reports:

Thomas Jefferson Middle School will instead be named after John Lewis, an icon of the civil rights movement and Democratic congressman who died in July 2020.

Local opposition to the proposal to honor the Obamas centered on the former president's deportation policies and the fact that his administration deported more people than his successor Donald Trump.

Waukegan's Board of Education moved to rename two middle schools in the area in March.

One was named after Jefferson, the nation's third president and a slave owner, and the other after Daniel Webster, a former U.S. secretary of state. Daniel Webster Middle School is being renamed after Edith Smith, an activist who fought for the desegregation of Waukegan schools.

"I will not be part of renaming a school after someone who did not and does not represent the undocumented community," said Edgar Castellanos, a District 60 school board member who said he came to the U.S. as an undocumented child.

Whatever your opinions are about the 44th POTUS, the fact that Barack Obama broke the color barrier for leading the most powerful nation in the world is unprecedented. It is worth remembering.

One of the most concerning things about the whiplash of values and ideas the U.S. has been undergoing since 2015 or so is the call to dismantle virtually every system that runs our current society. From police to schools to the structure of the Supreme Court, the theme of 2021 seems to be “burn it all down” without asking “what will it take to build something back?”

The 11 year Holodomor Famine in Ukraine under Soviet occupation happened, in part, because the successful farmers were slaughtered by mobs who accused them of “stealing” from society due to becoming successful enough to have one hired worker.

In the spring of 1933, 725,000 hectares of grain were unharvested and left to rot in the fields. That winter and spring, 2 million hectares went unplanted.

The situation quickly became desperate as millions starved to death.

Survival was a moral as well as a physical struggle. A woman doctor wrote to a friend in June 1933 that she had not yet become a cannibal, but was "not sure that I shall not be one by the time my letter reaches you." The good people died first. Those who refused to steal or to prostitute themselves died. Those who gave food to others died. Those who refused to eat corpses died. Those who refused to kill their fellow man died. Parents who resisted cannibalism died before their children did.

-Timothy Snyder, Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin

You might be wondering if I’m over-reaching here, connecting some silly school board protest to one of the worst famines in history. I don’t think so.

The same attitude that leads Waukegan School Board member Edgar Castellanos to think “I’m smarter than President Obama and could have handled waves undocumented immigrants differently, so I’m going to tear down the former President” was also found in the CHAZ (Capital Hill Autonomous Zone in Seattle) last summer, a micro-experiment in extremist ideology and Communism.

Much like the enraged Ukrainians, the CHAZ occupants thought they could simply blow up society and make a better one. The first sign things were going really badly was the “tomato farm,” which featured some dirt dumped on top of cardboard. This instantly choked out the roots of any plants that started to germinate and resulted in a 100% crop failure.

Will the would-be Obama School opening the fall 2021 semester under a different name bring down the U.S.? Obviously not. But it is a good example of how quickly power hungry extremists will disregard (even the very recent) past and established best practices.

It often only becomes obvious just how incompetent these individuals are after they have ascended to leadership and their potent concoction of ignorance and arrogance have inflicted significant human suffering and done significant damage to a town, a region or a nation.

[two]

To connect the last story to this one, a major factor that forms a society is the heroes that nation elevates. In the case of Obama School, the message seems to be “no heroes, because they all made mistakes.” (Somehow, the exception is the person making the statement, who are infallible in their own eyes).

We need heroes. We need role models. An unexpected turn of 2021 has been the rise of YouTube star Jake Paul as a (seemingly legitimate) boxer who may bring a legion of young fans back to a sport that faded from the public consciousness in the 90’s.

Tomorrow night, Paul squares off against former ONE FC and UFC fighter Ben Askren, who’s moving from MMA to boxing in a PPV event that features musical performances from Justin Beiber, The Black Keys, Doja Cat and Snoop Dog, bringing a n adrenaline shot of youth to boxing’s viewership.

Rolling Stone reports on Paul “disrupting” the boxing world:

“I’ve always played sports and been competitive my whole entire life – I’m super competitive,” Paul tells Rolling Stone. “When I moved to Los Angeles to act and make content, it was a great opportunity, but I sort of left sports behind. When I got the opportunity to box when I was 21, it brought back the old Jake Paul. It brought back the competitive, athletic Jake Paul. I just fell in love with it. When I won my first boxing match, it was one of the best feelings I’ve ever experienced in my life.”

Paul’s boxing career began as something of a sideshow. He was called out by fellow YouTuber Ali Eson Gib for a bout in January 2020, which he easily won by first-round TKO. His second fight came 10 months later, when he beat former NBA player and Slam Dunk champion Nate Robinson with a knockout that went viral.

Paul is worth $11.5 million from his multimedia empire (built largely on YouTube), and has no need to push himself to excellence in such a brutal sport. As much as he’s treated like a joke, I believe this is one of the most countercultural acts we’ve witnessed in an era where finding an excuse is encouraged.

The other countercultural moment happening right now in sports comes via Lithuanian born UFC fighter Rose Namajunes, who described the personal motivation to best her upcoming opponent Weili Zang, a Chinese MMA phenom who seems to push Chinese Communist Party messaging from her platform.

Recently, Rose used the phrase “better dead than red” in an interview (an anti-Communism slogan that popped up during Cold War). Namajunes was born into the wreckage of post-Communist Lithuania (just a year after the fall of the Soviet Union) and lost family to Stalin’s forces.

Rather than respond with hostile intent to the blowback, Namajunes encouraged people to watch The Other Dream Team, a documentary about the 1992 Lithuanian Olympic Basketball team, who became a symbol of the end of Soviet oppression and the hope for a newly freed Lithuania.

I see Namajunas as a hero in an age where the rhetoric bends towards extremes because she drew a clear line in the sand about a fact (the horrors of Soviet occupation) without personally demonizing her opponent, who is essentially pushing an opposing agenda by promoting the ruling Communist party in China.

[three]

One of the biggest conversations over the past few years has been pay issues around gender and profession. There’s plenty of info out there about this, so I haven’t seen a need to cover it (nor have I had a unique angle that would make me think lending my voice was necessary).

That changed when I heard this conversation between journalist Megyn Kelly and psychologist Jordan Peterson.

Kelly: Men are the ones who set up the system. Men are the ones who initially placed the values on the traits that men have. That’s where I see the patriarchy, that doesn’t enure to the benefit of women.

Later, Peterson promotes women in the professional world.

As soon as women enter the workplace, the human race has twice the problem solving brainpower. Who would object to that?

Which set up this exchange.

Peterson: “What’s the right attitude for a man competing against a woman at work? Is it to stomp her like he stomps his buddy at a sport.

Kelly: “Yes. In a corporate setting where it’s a battle of minds, kill her. If you take your foot off the gas, it’s sexist.”

I have no doubt about Kelly’s sincerity here, but I was taken aback back her statement.

I’ve worked in settings that have involved multiple Fortune 100 companies. I’ve personally interfaced with CEO’s and executives of multi-billion dollar companies, and I’ve never personally met someone in business with the shrewd kill-or-be-killed worldview of Megyn Kelly.

While applaud Kelly for being tough and succeeding in two very difficult domains (law and TV) I wouldn’t want her success or the benefits if it required that kind of predator instinct.

The cultural conversations around gender, profession and pay are cultural flashpoints…that often have very little to do with regular people. The issue almost always comes up around pro sports, entertainment or really high positions in the business world…which affects almost nobody in a nation of 350 million people.

If it’s your dream to succeed in the cut throat worlds of corporate executives, high powered lawyers, pro sports or entertainment, go for it. I have no idea if you’ll be “compensated” fairly or not…but you’ll probably wind up rich if you make it.

Since all of us only have so much capacity to care about issues…I’ll close by saying, somebody call me when we’re talking about how much we pay cops, teachers and social workers. Other than that, I’m sitting this one out. I don’t have the energy to focus on the problems of any group of people with vastly more wealth than me.

[four]

Fast rising country star Morgan Wallen has been sitting in metaphorical “time out” after his career was derailed after Wallen screamed a racial slur at a friend on the tail end of a three day bender.

I’m not Wallen apologist (or fan), and I’ve said from the beginning…he’s going to have to reap the consequences of his actions. The singer hinted at a comeback after a fan led effort bought billboards in Nashville asking him to return, Wallen hinted on Instagram he would return to music soon.

The part of this story no one has focused on is that Wallen’s neighbor caught the interaction on a doorbell cam, and rather than address it personally leaked the video to the press.

This is the element of cancel culture nobody talks about. Snitching has now become rewarded in modern society.

This is only possible in a culture where shame is no longer something that exists, because Wallen’s neighbor should have experienced shame when releasing a video to the public before first speaking to Wallen about the obvious substance abuse issue that was going on. The neighbor was happier to drive the news cycle than help someone he knew.

If we’re going to have a healthy society, we need to reclaim a healthy amount of shame…the emotion that hits when we’ve harmed the innocent and need to correct course and make amends.

Former Navy Seal Dan Crenshaw sums it up well in his book Forititude.

“You have a duty to accomplish something every day. You have a duty to live up to your best self, the person you want to be, the hero archetype that you admire. You have a duty to embrace shame and learn from it. You have a duty to be polite, thoughtful, patient. You have a duty to overcome your hardships and not wallow in self-pity. You have a duty to contribute, even if your contribution is small. You have a duty to be on time. You have a duty to do your job, even if your job sucks. You have a duty to stay healthy, both for yourself and so that you do not become a burden on others. You have a duty to be part of the solution, not the problem. In other words, don’t join the Twitter mob. You have a duty to try hard not to offend others, and try harder not to be offended.”

[five]

As always, let’s head into the weekend with a pop culture roundup:

  • Viral Americana sensation (and active duty Navy sailor) Zach Bryan made his debut on the Grande Ole Opry, and I’m going to go on record as calling him a generational talent within the genre. If you’re hoping to catch Zach live as the pandemic restrictions end…good luck. He’s mostly unable to play live due to being active military.

  • The early reviews for the uber-violent video game crossover describe it as a “gleefully violent” film. As if you need reviews of a movie featuring a character named Subzero who can freeze his opponents blood into an ice dagger and use it as a weapon…you either know instantly that you’re in the target demographic/psychographic for a movie like that, or you’re not.

  • Pete Davidson will play punk rock pioneer Joey Ramone in an upcoming biopic. In other “movies I’m looking forward to” Mads Mikelson (Hannibal, Rogue One, A Star Wars Story, Dr. Strange) and Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Amazon Prime’s Fleabag) have both joined the cast of Indiana Jones 5, which is being directed by James Mangold (Walk the Line, Ford v Ferrari, Logan). If the current release date holds, the final Harrison Ford installment of the franchise will premier 2 weeks after Ford’s 80th birthday.

  • If you have Discovery+, gonna go ahead and point you to the new show Restaurant Rescue, as Crown Candy, a sandwich and malt shop that’s been in business since 1913 in St. Louis, will be featured next week. The episode’s guest host is rapper Nelly aiding the local business (and/or desperately trying to remain relevant), which survived the Spanish Flu of 1918 but is in danger of closing due to COVID.

  • The outlet Saving Country Music (the best outlet covering Country/Americana/Roots/Bluegrass etc) is launching Country History X, a podcast that promises to “delve into the darker side of country music, meaning crime, death, drugs, deception, and murder. But it will also tell more inspiring stories, and the story of redemption through music.” The show will be on most podcast platforms as well as the SCM’s YouTube channel. And while I’m recommending YouTube channels, the Punk Rock MBA channel is a must-subscribe if you’ve spent any time in a mosh pit. Start with the video Pop Punk is Back, which looks at how the sounds of the 00’s MTV/Warped Tour bands are merging with hip hop.

  • Quick music roundup. The new Eric Church album Heart has a Skynyrd-meets-Stax-Records vibe I loved at first play through. The follow up, Soul, releases Tuesday. NEEDTOBREATHE dropped Live from the Woods Vol. 2, three years after the first installment (weird). Miranda Lambert’s collaborative Texas songwriter project dropped another single. In my opinion, 90’s darling Alanis Morrisette is doing the best work of her life right now. Most songs about COVID are pretty cringe, but “I Miss the Band” captures the ache for live music to return like no other songwriter I’ve heard in this weird year. Finally, I threw the new BROCKHAMPTON album into my running playlist. Somehow, the Wug-Tang-Meets-Backstreet-Boys (kind of a rap group, kind of a boy band) thing works quite well.

    [epilogue]

    On April 6, 2007 Chief Mike Petty breached the door of an al Qaeda hideout in in Iraq. The first one in, Petty was shot 16 times, plus another 11 rounds caught by his ceramic body armor.

    Petty’s Silver Star Citation reads:

    Despite multiple gunshot wounds, he continued to engage the enemy, transitioning to his pistol after the loss of his primary weapon, eliminating three enemy personnel without injury to the women and children in close proximity to the enemy personnel. Additionally, his decisive leadership and mental clarity in the face of his injuries ensured the success of the mission which resulted in the destruction of four enemy personnel and the recovery of sensitive United States military equipment and valuable intelligence concerning enemy activity in the area.

    When I read Petty’s brief bio, I assumed he was a casualty of war. Miraculously, he survived and spent two years recovering from a myriad of injuries. Petty currently competes in triathlons to raise money for veteran PTSD. I haven’t had a chance to read his book yet, but it’s on my list.

Until the next one,

-sth