A 'scary time' for Trump's boys? It should be, as women have noth­ing to lose

The Guardian Australia - - Opinion - Van Bad­ham

The bril­liant Phil Ochs – Bob Dy­lan’s ri­val, the late, tragic Phil Ochs – said of the craft that de­fined him: “A protest song is a song that’s so spe­cific that you can­not mis­take it for bull­shit.”

Au­then­tic­ity is rare in the era of staged Rus­sian pro­pa­ganda videos, “in­flu­encer mar­ket­ing” and the kind of Amer­i­can pres­i­dent who makes 4,229 false or mis­lead­ing claims in 558 days.

So the na­ture of hu­man­ity to cher­ish scarci­ties per­haps then ex­plains the im­me­di­ate world­wide pop­u­lar­ity of “A Scary Time”. Com­posed and sung on the ukulele by a young Texan woman, Lynzy Lab Ste­wart, it sat­is­fies that def­i­ni­tion of a protest song with some pre­ci­sion. It was up­loaded on 8 Oc­to­ber. As I write this, the song’s al­ready clocked 25 mil­lion views and has be­come a me­dia story world­wide.

It’s a riff on Don­ald Trump’s re­cent quote re­gard­ing Brett Ka­vanaugh, the par­ti­san Repub­li­can judge and then nom­i­nee for Amer­ica’s high­est court, cred­i­bly ac­cused by three sep­a­rate women of sex­ual mis­con­duct or as­sault. “It’s a very scary time for young men in Amer­ica when you can be guilty of some­thing that you may not be guilty of,” Trump pro­claimed.

Since that time, an FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion ex­on­er­ated Ka­vanaugh of Dr Chris­tine Blasey Ford’s sex­ual as­sault – some­how, with­out in­ter­view­ing ei­ther of them.

Then, the pres­i­dent mocked and be­lit­tled Ford by pub­licly ly­ing about her tes­ti­mony.

Boys were shown just how pre­cisely scary rape al­le­ga­tions can be when Ka­vanaugh was then, um, re­warded with ap­point­ment to the supreme court of the United States.

And, at his con­fir­ma­tion cer­e­mony, Ka­vanaugh demon­strated the sin­cere level of his re­spect for women – by shov­ing his wife.

Yes – there’s rather a lot of bull­shit around. And, in song, Lab Ste­wart skew­ers it all.

To pop’s fa­mil­iar 4/4 time, her vo­cals are as light as a sea breeze while her lyrics cat­a­logue the rou­tines of ter­ri­fied self-pro­tec­tion into which women who live in the west are in­ured.

It’s a desta­bil­is­ing jux­ta­po­si­tion. “I can’t walk to my car late at night while on the phone,” she sings, “I can’t open up my win­dows when I’m home alone, I can’t go to a bar with­out a chap­er­one and I can’t wear a miniskirt if it’s the only one I own … ” Then comes the cho­rus, with a punch: “But sure is a scary time for boys!”

Trump’s rightwing mythol­ogy of con­fected male vic­tim­hood is ru­ined by the song’s pro­ces­sion of false equiv­a­len­cies. “It’s re­ally tough when your rep­u­ta­tion’s on the line and any woman you’ve as­saulted could turn up any­time,” she sings.

Ochs, a life­long ac­tivist, once ex­plained that a sin­gle “good song with a mes­sage can bring a point more deeply to more peo­ple than a thou­sand ral­lies”.

That’s be­cause protest songs reach into hu­man spa­ces that not all phys­i­cal mo­bil­i­sa­tions can. And they co­a­lesce com­mu­ni­ties when lis­ten­ers dis­cover ex­pe­ri­ences thought to be in­di­vid­ual are ac­tu­ally shared. Read the com­ments from women un­der posts of the video; you don’t need to live in Amer­ica to re­alise the same, spe­cific, fear-based reg­i­men­ta­tion of fe­male be­hav­iour the song de­scribes ex­ists ev­ery­where.

I’m older than Lab Ste­wart, and Aus­tralian – but I don’t go to bars alone, an­swer the door in silk py­ja­mas, jog at night with head­phones in, as she de­scribes, and for her same rea­sons: be­cause the threat of sud­den male vi­o­lence is a tan­gi­ble om­nipres­ence that all women are taught from child­hood to fear.

When protest songs catch on like this, it’s be­cause they speak to a re­sis­tance to­wards the cul­tural val­ues that for­merly co­erced col­lec­tive be­hav­ior un­no­ticed. They’re both a di­rect po­lit­i­cal chal­lenge to a pre­vail­ing sta­tus quo, and an in­dex of a threat to that sta­tus quo that’s grow­ing.

It’s why the re­pres­sion of protest artists is a char­ac­ter­is­tic of au­thor­i­tar­ian regimes; it was a sym­bolic af­fir­ma­tion of re­gained cul­tural con­trol in the 1970s when Pinochet’s Chilean junta had singer Víc­tor Jara– Phil Ochs’s friend – ar­rested, tor­tured, mur­dered and mu­ti­lated.

The emer­gence of a fem­i­nist protest song as a vi­ral hit does not ex­ist a uni­verse away from the tra­di­tions of con­fronta­tion be­tween cul­tural re­sisters and the state. Is it hard to be­lieve that the Trump­ist mob will weaponise the in­ter­net’s in­fi­nite av­enues of in­tim­i­da­tion against the girl with the ukulele?

Not when the fem­i­nist move­ment is mo­bil­is­ing the most co­her­ent grass­roots po­lit­i­cal op­po­si­tion to Trump.

While most Repub­li­cans and their fans were crow­ing the ap­point­ment of Ka­vanaugh as a vic­tory, only GOP sen­a­tor Lisa Murkowski – who sup­ported the man but voted against him – seemed to grasp the dan­ger his se­lec­tion posed to her own side. “I think we’re at a place where we need to be­gin think­ing about the cred­i­bil­ity and in­tegrity of our in­sti­tu­tions,” she said. “We’re deal­ing with is­sues right now that are big­ger than the nom­i­nee.”

Those is­sues are the very le­git­i­macy

of gov­ern­men­tal and ju­di­cial author­ity in Amer­ica, and be­yond.

The abil­ity to main­tain a sta­tus quo is weak­ened when di­vi­sion en­trenches. By choos­ing to pro­voke rather than neu­tralise op­po­si­tion, Trump’s move­ment has en­hanced and em­pow­ered it. Their man has been cred­i­bly ac­cused of be­ing a liar and cred­i­bly ac­cused of sex­ual as­sault; pro­mot­ing Ka­vanaugh to a place­ment of judg­ment over oth­ers weak­ens the author­ity of that per­sonal judg­ment but erodes faith, trust and re­spect in sys­tems of author­ity it­self.

As those whose ad­van­tage is de­pen­dent on main­tain­ing the sta­tus quo, the Trump­ists are en­dan­ger­ing them­selves by en­cour­ag­ing re­sis­tance, specif­i­cally, to the law. If a crit­i­cal mass of women cease to be­lieve that jus­tice serves them, they will ap­ply jus­tice of their own.

This is the in­cen­di­ary au­then­tic­ity that burns at the core of Lynzy Lab Ste­wart’s pretty song: women have noth­ing to lose by fight­ing the bull­shit. It’s a scary time for Trump’s boys, in­deed.

Pho­to­graph: Jim Wat­son/AFP/Getty Im­ages

Protesters against Brett Ka­vanaugh’s nom­i­na­tion to the supreme court in Wash­ing­ton DC. Don­ald Trump said: ‘It’s a very scary time foryoung men in Amer­ica when you can be guilty of some­thing that you may not be guilty of.’

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