The Moralist, the Moralizing, and the Moral of the Story

Fight: Mikasa awakens ― Detail of frame from Attack on Titan episode 6, 'The World the Girl Saw: The Struggle for Trost, Part 2'.

There is no moral to the story; it is convenient word play in an age of professional moralists and societal resentment toward morals of stories.

A personal moment: Something strange occurred by which a blog accustomed to calling thirty hits an outstanding day pulled about sixty for two in a row. The phenomenon on this occasion is one of a scant few posts written directly about the infamous former FOX News personality Bill O’Reilly, on an occasion he appeared to throw his own mother under the bus.

One of those weird curses of privilege: Since people are reading it, do I deliberately write a follow-up? Great, who wants to read that much of me crowing about the demise of Bill O’Reilly’s tenure at FOX News? And can I really muster the will to wallow in such sordid tales when it means putting Bill O’Reilly’s face on a protracted discussion of sexual harassment and belligerence? And how much should I really complain about the world when this is the question I’m nibbling through lunch time?

Maybe it’s these conundra, even more than the low ethics, that we come to disdain about conservatives. I can still remember a Doonesbury episode from the Time of the Blue Dress, and the idea that Mike was relieved that his twelve year-old daughter already understood enough about fellatio that he need not explain that aspect of the headlines. The idea of putting Bill O’Reilly‘s face on any discussion of sexual harassment almost feels like harassing belligerence of its own.

To the other, it is not so much a question of passing on opportunity; rather, well, damn it, the smartest thing to do would be to stop now.

Okay, look, to the one, I cannot quite explain what seems so irksome about Leonard Pitts Jr. very nearly smirking for women as he explains, “Wednesday, the day Bill O’Reilly got fired… was a pretty good day”:

On the day O’Reilly was fired, Gail in West Palm Beach researched real estate for a potential buyer. Georgina in New Orleans chased down rats in a property she owns. Laura in Hood River, Oregon, prepared for breast cancer surgery. Lynn drove her semi from Seattle to Ontario, California. In Tallahassee, Marty trimmed the shrubs.

In other words, women did what they do every day. They lived lives of challenge, routine, reward and, most important, volition beyond the entitlements of men.

Meanwhile, a man rich and powerful and beyond judgment—or so he surely thought—was finally held to answer for years of allegedly treating women like things. It was belated comeuppance, to be sure, but it was comeuppance just the same.

Perhaps it is a moment in the eye of each beholder; maybe it would not feel so patronizing if it did not come on the heels of reading Clarence Page, who received the news of the FOX News host’s ouster under the headline, “Did Donald Trump have a role in Bill O’Reilly’s downfall?”

Fans of Bill O’Reilly are predictably upset that Fox News pulled the plug on his popular show, “The O’Reilly Factor.” But take heart, folks, O’Reilly isn’t really gone. You can hear his spirit in the Oval Office.

“Personally, I think he shouldn’t have settled,” President Donald Trump said of O’Reilly after new allegations of sexual harassment were reported and before the Fox News personality was let go. “I don’t think Bill did anything wrong.”

Nothing wrong? O’Reilly would follow his friend, founding Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes, out the exits under similar harassment charges—which both men have denied. Each was accused of repeatedly using his position to sexually harass and abuse women at Fox News.

The postured cynicism is a tested and valid narrative form, and Page is reasonably correct insofar as consumer outreach to advertisers was the strongest pressure; this is just how it works with American businesses. Detail of 'Lucifer' by Franz von Stuck, ca. 1890. To the other, we might contrast O’Reilly’s dismissal from FOX News with a golden parachute and the fact, as Page observes, that “President Trump is still in the White House”:

Could bitter feelings left over from his campaign actually have spurred more of a backlash against O’Reilly’s sponsors? Either way, O’Reilly’s fall signals an overdue advance in the long-running battle to have sexual harassment charges taken seriously.

So, what, then? Just get that up on the table? Maybe this is only happening because people are pissed off at Donald Trump? But, you know, either way, let us call it an “overdue advance”?

(Are you certain about that, Mr. Page?)

Never hand out excuses like that. If this is only happening because people are upset at Donald Trump, then we are all just being sanctimonious and opportunistic for the sake of self-gratification.

Please: If this is just another chapter of posturing for the sake of being seen because the opportunity arises, then we are not learning anything at all. Saying no to sexual harassment in our society needs to be more than the weekly in thing to do. It should be more than a trend in response to celebrity scandal.

We would do better, perhaps, to heed author Katherine Tarbox, who, by contrast, received the news of O’Reilly’s golden tumble from grace by the headline, “The attitudes about women that doomed O’Reilly hid in plain sight for years”.



Image notes: Top ― Detail of frame from Attack on Titan episode 6, “The World the Girl Saw: The Struggle for Trost, Part 2”. Right ― Detail of ‘Lucifer’ by Franz von Stuck, ca. 1890.

Page, Clarence. “Did Donald Trump have a role in Bill O’Reilly’s downfall?” The Chicago Tribune. 21 April 2017.

Pitts Jr., Leonard. “Women don’t slow down for fools like Bill O’Reilly”. The Miami Herald. 21 April 2017.

Tarbox, Katherine. “The attitudes about women that doomed O’Reilly hid in plain sight for years”. The Washington Post. 20 April 2017.

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