Will Leitch, senior writer at Sports On Earth, culture writer for Bloomberg Politics, contributing editor at New York magazine, film critic for The New Republic and founder of Deadspin, is doing his yearly fill-in for Drew Magary on today’s Thursday Afternoon NFL Dick Joke Jamboroo. (Here is 2011’s version, and here’s 2012’s, and here’s 2013’s, and here’s 2014’s.) Leitch has written four books. Find more of his business at his Twitter feed and his official site.
In 2013, director Joshua Oppenheimer made a film called The Act of Killing. While the government of Indonesia was being overthrown by the military in 1965, the army hired some low-level thugs to, essentially, murder everyone even loosely connected to the communist regime. They put together death squads, invading homes to exterminate half a million of people in various cruel, sadistic fashions. It is one of the most horrible things that has ever happened. Oppenheimer’s film centers around an astounding conceit: Forty years later, he interviews the murderers—who are still celebrated by the country’s leaders today—and actually gets them to reenact their crimes, even getting some to pretend they are in a filmed dramatization of them. There is nothing quite like watching someone who once cut a man’s head off play-act doing so 40 years later, using one of his victims’ children as co-star.
Last year, Oppenheimer released a followup, called The Look of Silence. It “stars” the brother of one of the men murdered during the revolution—neither the man, nor his parents (who are seen, 40 years later, still devastated by the loss of their son), is identified; in the credits, he is listed as “anonymous” to protect him—watching The Act of Killing and then interviewing those same people to ask them how they could commit such atrocities and to look the barbarians in the face. He is patient and shockingly calm. He just wants to understand how they could hack his brother’s head off with a machete, remove his penis and throw him into a river, and then laugh about it and go have lunch.
This should be a film of righteous and furious anger, but it isn’t. It’s something much, much worse. Everyone the man interviews blows him off. I don’t mean that they refused to be interviewed, or refuse to talk about it. I mean that they think he’s an idiot. Why is he bringing this back up? Why would he even talk about this? Doesn’t he see that he lost? They tell him of their butchery rather openly, and are a bit bewildered by the man’s fuss. “Look around you,” one tells him. We see scenes from a school, in which children—including the man’s own son—are being taught the story of the Indonesian massacre, but rather than the truth (that poor peasant workers were murdered for having “communist sympathies”) they are told that the communists were rapist atheist savages who trying to enslave the insurgents’ wives and children. The massacre has become so ingrained into the culture of Indonesia, and the perpetuators so integral to their society, that it is as if it never happened at all. Even those who lost tell the man to knock off his search for justice, or explanation. He is seen as drudging up ancient history that’s now irrelevant. He sees his questioning as a search for truth. Everyone else sees it as a weak man not accepting the world for what what it now is, and has been for some time.
At the end of the film he simply looks at the screen, lost, baffled at what to do.
Last week, Politico’s Jack Shafer wrote a piece called “The Limits of Fact-Checking.” The article looks at a fascinating aspect of this year’s Presidential primary campaign: Nobody cares if you lie.
Specifically, no one cares if Donald Trump lies, though this, I suspect, has less to do with the fact that he lies as it does with the breathtaking bravado with which he does it. (I don’t say my name with the confidence and certainty that Donald Trump says everything.) Politifact noted that 76 percent of 77 Trump statements they tracked were downright lies, but it’s not just him. Carly Fiorina openly lied in the middle of a debate, was caught in the lie, and nobody cared. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are taking turns accusing each other of lying, while lying. Hillary Clinton made up something about Trump being used in ISIS recruiting, and only backtracked when Trump, of all people, called her out for it. (And even then, not really.) Now, I do not think it is news when a politician lies; it’s not news when anyone does it, because everybody does it, all the time.
But I am not used to people not caring. Here is Shafer’s conclusion:
It would stand to reason that the documentation of Trump’s lies—not to mention his rudeness and crudeness—would hobble his candidacy. Yet it appears to have had little to no effect. What to conclude from this? Perhaps that the fact-checkers don’t know what they’re writing about—which I reject—or that Trump supporters don’t know about the fact-checker’s findings, which seems wildly unlikely given the saturation coverage his lies have enjoyed. My guess is that Trump supporters don’t believe and just don’t care what the fact checkers say.
I don’t think it’s fair to limit this to Trump supporters. This might be something fundamental to humanity. Here’s Mother Jones in 2011 about “The Science of Why We Don’t Believe Science.”
Our “reasoning” is a means to a predetermined end—winning our “case”—and is shot through with biases. They include “confirmation bias,” in which we give greater heed to evidence and arguments that bolster our beliefs, and “disconfirmation bias,” in which we expend disproportionate energy trying to debunk or refute views and arguments that we find uncongenial. ... I don’t want to believe that my spouse is being unfaithful, or that my child is a bully, I can go to great lengths to explain away behavior that seems obvious to everybody else—everybody who isn’t too emotionally invested to accept it, anyway. That’s not to suggest that we aren’t also motivated to perceive the world accurately—we are. Or that we never change our minds—we do. It’s just that we have other important goals besides accuracy—including identity affirmation and protecting one’s sense of self—and often those make us highly resistant to changing our beliefs when the facts say we should.
And—and here I go with this again—this is where the Internet comes in.
Why do you put anything on the Internet? What’s the point? What does it do?
Sure, some of it is just ranting. I would guess that 64 percent of the people I follow on Twitter spent some portion of the last week screaming at an airline. It feels good—not good; better—to release some steam sometimes. But that’s not all of it, is it? At a certain level, any time we say anything, we are trying to influence. If I write a column saying Stephen Curry is awesome, or that Ted 2 is a bad movie, or that Cardinals fans aren’t all horrible I swear, I am trying to persuade you to my point of view. Maybe you don’t have to completely agree; I just need you to understand it. We communicate with each other because we want to inform and because we want to persuade. I tell you your sleeve is on fire. If you take no action: You should put that out. It’s the reason speech evolved in the first place.
The thing about that tree in the forest is that it doesn’t matter if it makes a sound. I need you to listen to my speech for my speech to have any meaning at all. Otherwise I am simply releasing air from my lungs through my teeth and throat in order to produce a certain sound, rather than just letting it go out my nose like it wants to. I am moving my fingers right now in a pattern that produces words that people other than myself can see and understand. If there is no one there who is doing so, I’m just a mammal cracking his knuckles strangely, alone in a room.
But the thing about this is that I’m just not sure people are listening. I don’t mean to me. (Though I suppose I mean that too.) But if the point of speech is to have an audience who hears you, what happens if the audience just doesn’t do that anymore? What happens if your speech is ignored entirely? What happens if people just don’t listen by choice and by design? What if there is so much speech, and such a natural human tendency to reflexively battle against having what they believe challenged, that all communication just goes one way? It’s just a thick cloud above us that we all keep populating ourselves but will never go walk around under. What if we never go outside?
We all do this. We all carefully curate our feeds, or our cable channels, or our reading material. We know if we are diligent about it, we can comfortably avoid having to read anything we disagree with. (Safe spaces are only literal on college campuses; the rest of us create them wherever we can.) But it’s not just that. It’s that reflexive defensive crouch we get into anytime we do or say anything. There was a time that if you said something offensive to a wide group of people, or just, you know, wrong, enough people yelled at you at once that you had to reconsider your stance. But now enough people yell at you no matter what you say that there is no natural corrective. You can tell yourself that they’re all haters. The people who get you, the people you understand you, they’ll be on your side. Even if the only person that ultimately fits in that category is you. There is no peer review, not anymore. All peers are self-selected. Voices outside the bubble are suspect, even if they’re right. Especially if they’re right.
It makes you wonder what the point of saying anything is. If no one is listening, if the nature of communication is just give but never to receive, if the camera is always pointing selfie, why wade into anything? Maybe you’re right, maybe you’re wrong, none of that matters, not really. You can have every fact at your disposal and still be wrong if enough people believe you are wrong. You can make up whatever fact you want, but if you say it to the correct people, you can still be right. You can avoid any contradictory information whatsoever. What is truth? What is correct? What is a fact? It is all debatable, in a world where everyone wants to talk, but no one wants to debate.
So truth then becomes a direction, rather than a destination. It is wind, the way traffic happens to be headed or stopped up at that particular day; attempting to change it is like changing the direction a stream flows. You can stand in the way of traffic, you can go along with traffic, but you can’t alter traffic. You can become a lone voice screaming at everyone that they’re going the wrong way. Or you can just merge into their lanes and go where they’re going, wherever that is.
The one thing you can’t do? Stop the cars.
Stanley Milgram was a Yale sociologist most famous for setting up the experiment where one subject was told to give a series of questions to an unseen person in an adjacent room. If the questions were answered incorrectly, the subject administered an electric shock, shocks that increased in voltage with subsequent incorrect responses. (There were no actual shocks involved, though the subject didn’t know that; the other person was part of the study and just pretending to be zapped.) Milgram found that most people would blindly obey authority and shock the person until they were dead. This makes up the thrust of the film Experimenter, which came out this year.
I found a different study Milgram did even more compelling. When at NYU, he would instruct three students to go to a public place and, silently, stop walking, point at a spot up in the air and pretend to be staring intently at it. Without fail, within a matter of seconds, dozens of people would stop and do the exact same thing, strangers together but separate, saying no words, just looking into the sky at nothing.
It could have theoretically been possible to stop them, to tell them there’s nothing there. But who would hear anyway? People are busy and tired. Everyone near you is looking upward. If no one is listening, perhaps, it’s best just to look to the sky and point, together, as one, for once.
All games in the Jamboroo are evaluated for sheer watchability on a scale of 1 to 5 Throwgasms.
Jets at Bills. Whew! All right, the Will-smells-his-own-farts section of my annual Jamboroo fill-in is now over. I thank you as always for indulging me. Drew will be back to his Aggrieved White Man business as usual next week.
Anyway, so, yeah: It’s me again. I’m Will Leitch, I founded this place more than 10 years ago now—we had a pseudo-celebration of this back in September, and I chatted about it—and I pop in once a year to give Drew a week off so that he can hang out with his family just long enough to wring another year of material from them for himself. Unlike Drew, I make sure to do a section on every game. Unlike Drew, I rarely talk about the games. Come on, it’s New Year’s Eve. You really shouldn’t be on the Internet anyway.
Vikings at Packers. Have the playoffs ever been so close to being set in stone going into Week 17 as they are this year? There’s this Steelers-Jets “battle” for the last playoff spot, there’s a couple slapfights for the No. 1 seed and the AFC South has, like, a 1-in-40,000,000 chance of going the Colts’ way. Otherwise? It’s just seeding. Even this flex game is sort of dull: It’s two teams who are already
in the playoffs just settling home-field advantage. The NFL is boring! Don’t believe me? Ask this guy!
Too soft! I love that the NFL was too dignified to let Trump be an owner, but hey, man, let’s let him lead the free world. You realize this means that Roger Goodell is running for President someday. (Man, I shouldn’t have said that out loud, he might be listening.)
Steelers at Browns. I promise this will be the last time I bring up Trump in this column, but I have to say: As someone who has just started writing about politics this year, Trump is irresistible to write about. As with everything else, Stephen Colbert got this exactly right, on his very first show, no less.
Every time I write about Trump, I imagine myself pouring all those Oreos down my throat. You cannot stop. Don’t believe any media person who tries to deflect blame for Trump. It is so, so our fault.
Seahawks at Cardinals. This is the best Chicago/St. Louis/Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals season of all time, which means there is absolutely no way that Carson Palmer is not getting attacked by a bear—hey, maybe he’ll be raped by a bear! I hear that’s a thing these holidays!—and missing the playoffs because he played in this almost-certainly-meaningless game. This is Washington’s path to the NFC title game: Sneak past Minnesota or somebody, and then get Drew Stanton in the divisional playoff game. I apologize for the Buzzsaw in advance.
Buccaneers at Panthers. This is the final year we’ll all be able to pretend Jameis Winston isn’t one of the best players in the NFL. This conversation, and that asshead’s dominance of every damned football discussion, is far from over. It just took one year off. Which magazine is gonna do the “Jameis Winston Doesn’t Need Your Forgiveness?” cover next August? Maybe it’ll be GQ. Maybe Drew can write it!
Patriots at Dolphins. The rest of the games are meaningless, so we’re lightning round now. Can you believe it has been more than 10 years since Tom Brady hosted Saturday Night Live? Remember this sketch?