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Why the paranoia isn’t completely off-base

By Amanda Marcotte
Tuesday, September 8, 2009 13:35 EDT
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Photo from dday. Yes, that’s a real book.

I know I’m going to sound like a broken record on this, but it’s because the wingnuts keep acting like a broken record, but the yanking their kids out of school thing? It’s amusing to me that Obama is being accused of “indoctrination”. Obviously, the real fear here is that schools are going to interfere with wingnut indoctrination of their own children, that this speech could interrupt a steady stream of at-home education in being racist, being afraid of liberals, and general intolerance. Schools have always been seen as a threat because children are as influenced by peers and non-parental adults as their adults. The wingnuts aren’t wrong to believe that their kids could be influenced to not be hateful by their peers, of course. What they’re wrong is in believing that teaching kids to hate is such a great idea.

We laugh at the wingnuts pulling their kids out of school, and we point out that Obama’s speech is perhaps the most bland, inoffensive, apolitical thing he’s ever written. But that’s exactly what the wingnuts are afraid of. They can just imagine their kids sitting in a classroom, watching this man speak—a Democrat, a liberal, a “socialist” (so they’ve been taught), a black “racist” (so they’ve been taught)—and two things might occur to them. 1) Their classmates do not share their fear and hatred and 2) Obama is saying the same sort of things that anyone would say. In fact, the sheer normalcy of the situation is hard to deny, and kids who are eager to fit in with their peers are extremely unlikely to start insisting that up is down and this normal situation is scary and fucked up. And that might be the first step towards becoming a more open-minded, decent human being. No wonder their parents are scared.

Wingnuts, particularly the Christian right, have always seen the appealing normality of the “secular” culture as its main threat. We laugh at the book I posted above, but you can sort of see the paranoid logic of it. The Beatles are threatening because the Beatles aren’t threatening. They’re wearing suits and are all sweet smiles, particularly in the early 60s. Sure, there was panic about their so-called long hair, but you can really see how that was grafted onto them in order to give shape to the general feeling that the Beatles would use their nice image to suck your kids in, and next thing you know, your kids would be buying more than Beatles records. They’d branch out, maybe even start asking about records by forbidden artists, more daring artists, maybe even black artists. The ugly fact of the matter is that at least through the early 70s, a lot of white adults were alarmed and angry over the potential of rock music to instill the values of integration into their kids, as evidenced by everything from the radio battles to the way that record companies used to use pictures of white kids dancing as the covers of albums by black artists, which seems to me a way to give kids cover to get the records into their houses without parents freaking out.

We might laugh at that book and the panic over the Beatles, but put yourself in a wingnut’s shoes. And you’ll see they actually were vindicated in their fears. The be-suited and smiling Beatles may have seemed innocuous, but by the end of the decade, Jimmy Hendrix was blaspheming “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Woodstock. From the perspective of non-nuttery, that doesn’t seem like a big deal, particularly since Hendrix was being profound, not disrespectful. But yeah, you can see what a wingnut is thinking. Plus, the Beatles themselves became drug-using, peace-promoting hippies.

If you are genuinely afraid of a Satanic/communist conspiracy, then you’re going to see normalcy as especially threatening. Since you are a wingnut, you might get ensnared into elaborate theories about subliminal propaganda or something like that, but the threat is actually right out there in the open. The non-nuttiness of most people, especially those around your kid, might turn them. Being stuck in Wingnutville isn’t exactly the most appealing thing in the world, since at bare minimum, it means giving up any hope whatsoever of being cool. The sexual paranoia, the constant fearfulness, the strong pressure to dress like an old person when you’re not even old enough to drink? Doesn’t really hold a candle to being part of mainstream youth culture. You take one look at the successfully indoctrinated children—go visit the College Republicans on some campus, for instance—and you see why it’s a hard sell. I’d imagine even more so when confronted with President Obama, who actually came as close to being cool as a politician can get. To make the whole situation worse for parents trying to raise a resentful weirdo with a chip on his shoulder and a hatred for people that aren’t just like him is that this new generation of kids especially reject homophobia and racism. That’s why home schooling is becoming a more popular option for wingnuts. You have to build that wall.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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