Friday, Jan. 18, 2019
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Friday, January 18, 2019. I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Everything comes back to the sexual and moral revolution...even shaving products
These days it seems everything is part of the cultural, political, and moral equation, even when it comes down to the equipment a man chooses for shaving. The front page of The Wall Street Journal on the 15th ran a story with this headline: Gillette Urges Men To Shave Toxic Masculinity In New Ad.
Well, Alexandria Bruell tells us one of the manliest brands in men's products is hit on an unusual strategy for divided times, questioning toxic masculinity. She went on to write, "Gillette, the Procter & Gamble company brand that for three decades has used the tagline 'The Best a Man Can Get,' is building a new campaign around the Me Too movement, 'a risky approach,' said the Wall Street Journal, that will be the latest test of how successfully big consumer brands can navigate tricky social movements. Time will tell if this is indeed a successful media strategy, but in the short term it's not looking so good. The positives for Gillette are the fact that the almost two-minute video on YouTube has been seen about 14 million times, but the downside is that the likes versus dislikes are running two to one in favor of the dislikes rather than the likes. Gillette has clearly hit a nerve even as it is trying to establish a new brand identity. But what's going on her is far more interesting than just another corporation trying to engage in modern left-word virtue signaling.
As the journal tells us, the ad was created by the ad agency Gray. It's entitled We Believe. It opens with the audio of news about the Me Too movement, bullying, and what's identified as toxic masculinity. A narrator says the journal goes on to dispute the notion that boys will be boys asking, "Is this a best a man can get? Is it? We can't hide from it. It's been going on far too long. We can't laugh it off making the same old excuses."
I have viewed the video several times just to make sure I didn't miss the main point, but in essence the main point is unmistakable. Gillette is trying to do cultural placement in this ad. It's known as virtue signaling. It is meaning to enter into contemporary controversies in such a way that the brand is identified with the Me Too movement. Now, that might seem at least at face value to be a very dangerous strategy for a brand that has been built upon masculinity. As The Wall Street Journal and other media have observed, Gillette has not been subtle over the last several decades in trying to stake out its claim that a certain kind of masculine man uses its products. But now, as others have noted, it appears to be criticizing, that's a mild term, the very product consumers that it is been building as a consumer base for so long. So what's going on here?
Well, it turns out that there is corporate background to this that has to do with the fact that Gillette has been losing market share and it has been doing so consistently over the last several years. Procter & Gamble as a major corporation, it owns the Gillette brand, has been for decades now involved in virtue signaling, mostly for very liberal causes. And it was involved in that effort long before the term virtue signaling entered into the vocabulary. But now we're looking at the fact that Gillette has engendered a tremendous amount of controversy, and as Christians we need to stop for a moment and recognize that we would also condemn virtually everything that is explicitly condemned in this ad. We would condemn bullying. We would condemn bad behavior. We would condemn sexual immorality and certainly sexual assault. So what's wrong with the ad?
The ad is a symptom of the larger cultural problem, condemning toxic masculinity while appearing to have no idea of what healthy masculinity might be. That's going to be a problem for Gillette. Some of the responses on the internet to Gillette, some of the milder ones quotable on the briefing included men asking, "Does this mean we are now to start shaving our legs?" There's a hug confusion in the entire culture right now over what it means to be a man. As we saw on the briefing several days ago, the American Psychological Association has put out a new set of guidelines. Actually its first set of guidelines for the therapy or treatment of boys and men, and as the statement came out from the organization itself it made very clear that traditional masculinity, not just what might be called toxic masculinity, is right in the center of the bull’s eye of the psychologist's complaint.
We are looking at a transformation of just about everything in our society. Modernity is leaving nothing untransformed, no question unasked, no certainty left certain. And that comes down in our own generation to the question of gender. What it means to be male or female. We also have to honestly assess that in the wake of the LGBTQ revolution vast sectors of our society can't even use the terms male and female, boy and girl, man or woman, mother or father, brother or sister, with anything but a sense of nostalgia or irony. Some people actually see those words themselves as symptomatic of a binary when it comes to gender that must be overcome.
Now, Gillette can't possibly sell razorblades and other equipment to men. It can't sell its products to men who identify as masculine if it's going to deny masculinity. But here's where the cultural analysis, the worldview analysis of this ad might get really interesting. Is it, though inspired by the Me Too movement, a simple effort at virtue signaling identifying with the left? Well, at face value it certainly appears to be. But there is something Christians need to recognize here. Even in this very controversial almost two-minute video the amazing thing is that men actually show up as men. Not only as the problem but also as the solution. And furthermore, when you watch this video, Gillette appears to have no real problem understanding what a man is.
Let's pause for a moment and reflect on the fact that that itself is a far more conservative affirmation than Gillette may itself recognize. I don't believe for a moment they meant to make any conservative affirmation at all, any affirmation of traditional masculinity. The problem is they couldn't make the video without doing so. And that really is important. One of the factors of the Christian worldview that Christians often fail to recognize is that when we understand the storyline of Scripture, when we understand the truth claim of Scripture one of the most important affirmations is that God as the creator sets the terms. He actually establishes the categories.
Now, the most ironic example of that is the fact that the movement that denies God's existence is called atheism. What's the point here? They can't identify themselves without invoking theism. Those who hold to the worldview denying God can't even describe their own worldview or come up with a name for it without invoking the existence of God. Similarly, when Gillette or any other force in the culture tries even by virtue signaling to condemn toxic masculinity, if it's going to communicate anything at all it has to use the term masculinity. And it has to mean something if they're even going to define it by toxic masculinity.
The American Psychological Association study identifies the problem as traditional masculinity. Now, we know that those on the left want to attack every form of masculinity. But when you look at the Gillette video the interesting thing is it takes men to solve the problem that are identified acting as men. One of the more amazing segments of the video shows two boys fighting. Who's going to put an end to that? Well, it turns out to be a man who steps out, goes over to the boys and says, "Stop it." We do understand the political agenda, the virtue signaling behind the ad. Tovia Smith, reporting for National Public Radio, quoted a spokesperson for Gillette who said, "Successful brands today have to be relevant and engage consumers in topics that matter to them. This is essentially true," said the spokesperson, "when it comes to younger consumers, a key demographic for us."
And the Gillette spokesperson went on to say that, "Companies can no longer just advertise product benefits. These days the product must also be engaged in brand building," which appears to by a synonym for virtue signaling. Now, there have been some fascinating responses. One reporter who has sons ages 9 and 11 had them watch the video and the boys' response was simply this, "I thought they were going to talk about razor blades." James Freeman, in a corporate analysis for The Wall Street Journal, points out that Gillette's management evidently hasn't been doing such a good job selling those razor blades. It's been losing market share. And therefor it's turning to virtue signaling. And the spokesperson cited in the National Public Radio story was pretty explicitly saying that they are doing so, virtue signaling, in order to build the brand among younger consumers, a segment of the population with which Gillette has not been doing particularly well.
Another insightful analysis comes from columnist Mona Charen, a conservative at National Review. She points out that the feminists are claiming the video as a great victory, but she points out that if you actually look at the video it doesn't communicate what the feminists have been trying to communicate. Insofar as it condemns bad behavior, well, we should all condemn bad behavior. But it actually implicitly, you might even say in the video with the graphics explicitly affirms the role of men and the necessity of masculinity. One interesting experiment is to watch the video with the sound off. You would gain no impression whatsoever of the kind of virtue signaling that the company was intending here.
Even when his intention is distorted, the glory of God continues to shine through in men and women
While we are on the topic of confusion over something as basic as what it means to be a man, yesterday's edition of The Wall Street Journal also ran an insightful analysis by Erica Komisar. She is a psychoanalyst. The headline of her article, Masculinity Isn't a Sickness. She is responding to that American Psychological Association report, the set of guidelines released just a few days ago. She says this, "In my practice as a psychotherapist I've seen an increase of depression in young men who feel emasculated in a society that is hostile to masculinity." She continues, "New guidelines in the American Psychological Association defining traditional masculinity as a pathological state are likely only going to make matters worse."
She goes on in very clear language to describe the report which she says encourages clinicians to evaluate masculinity as an evil to be tamed rather than a force to be integrated. Now, she makes some very important observations. But the most important of them from a worldview analysis has to do with the fact that she accuses the American Psychological Association of utterly ignoring biology. She writes, and I quote, "The truth is that masculine traits such as aggression, competitiveness, and protective vigilance not only can be positive, but also have a biological basis. Boys and men produce far more testosterone, which is associated biologically and behaviorally with increased aggression and competitiveness. They also produce more vasopressin, a hormone originating in the brain that makes men aggressively protective of their loved ones."
She continues, "The same goes for feminine traits such as nurturing and emotional sensitivity. Women produce more oxytocin when they nurture their children than men, and the hormone affects men and women differently. Oxytocin makes women more sensitive and sympathetic while men become more playful, tactually stimulating with their children, encouraging resilience. These differences between men and women," she writes, "compliment each other, allowing a couple to nurture and challenge their offspring."
Now, you could read this particular article by a psychotherapist and see it as just more evidence of a biological reductionism. Reducing everything to a matter of physicality, in this case hormones and chemicals that are released in the bodies respectively of men and women. Also in their brains. But Christians look at the same argument and come to understand, well it's almost as if a creator intended it this way. It's an incredible affirmation of God's creative intention, of the glory of God in His creation, in creating human beings as male and female and creating us both made equally in His image in a different and complimentary way, so that men and women compliment each other as husband and wife, as mother and father, in the raising of children.
Now, this psychotherapist deserves credit for pointing out that the American Psychological Association is making being a man, or also by extension being a boy, a pathological state that is to be cured. Komisar comments, and I quote, "What's unhealthy isn't masculinity or femininity, but the demeaning of masculine men and feminine women. The first of the new APA guidelines," she says, "urges psychologists to recognize that masculinities are constructed based on social, cultural, and contextual norms, as if biology had nothing to do with it. Another guideline," she says, "explicitly scoffs at binary notions of gender identity as tied to biology."
But as Dr. Komisar rightly insists, it is biological. And as Christians understand, it is rooted in God's glory and in His good intention in creation. Men and women are different because God intended men and women to be different and made that difference a part of the glory of creation. Like everything in creation after the fall, that intention can be distorted. His glory can be hidden. But His glory still remains. And it continues to shine through such that human flourishing takes place if and only if human beings follow God's intention, His design, His commandments as revealed not only in Scripture, but furthermore in nature.
Why a feature story in the New York Times about gay penguins confuses something that is abundantly clear in nature
And speaking of nature, next we turn to Dateline to Sydney Australia. The New York Times in a massive cover story in the Thursday styles section of yesterday's paper runs a screaming headline, Male Penguins and Baby Makes Three. The subhead quote, Aquarium Visitors in Australia Ask to See the Couple and Their Adopted Chick. Well, you might think the story's going to be interesting. I assure you it is a lot more interesting than the New York Times understands. Nellie Bowles, reporting for the paper, tells us it was a young penguin colony, and all but one of the couples were pretty bad parents. They would get distracted from their nest, go for a swim or play, and so neglected eggs were getting cold, likely never to hatch. This was normal for inexperienced penguins and the aquarium managers didn't worry. Next mating season would be better.
One couple, though, was extraordinary. Not because they were the colony's only gay penguins, though they were. But because Sphen and Magic looked as though they would make great, diligent, careful egg-warming parents. They made the biggest nest and they sat on it constantly. Story continues. Curious, the aquarium managers gave the two males a dummy egg. They took to it and so then when a particularly negligent heterosexual penguin couple looked to be leaving an egg exposed, the aquarium workers figured they would give it to Sphen and Magic. In October the egg hatched. Now the chick of a gay penguin union is waddling around in ice enclosure by the tourist-filled docks in Sydney.
When Sphen and Magic, we are told, became a couple, Australia had just gone through a bitter battle about whether gay marriage should be legal. The human gay marriage debate, we are told, had brought out thorny personal and religious tensions. But now these two Gentoos, that is to say penguins, "unaware of the political heat around their courtship, because a larger symbol for the country. If a colony of penguins could figure this out a nation of humans certainly could."
Well, you just might suspect that this article is based upon a massive experience in nonsense, and you would be right. For one thing, we have to ask a basic question. It's so basic it's awkward to ask, even on a program like The Briefing. What exactly does it mean for two male penguins to be gay. Well, it turns out that the article makes clear that isn't clear. But it probably doesn't mean what it means for humans to be gay. What it does mean is that they have established some kind of bond, and that they are together nurturing an egg that turned into a young penguin. But we simply have to insist there is nothing really parallel here to being gay. Not in the sense of the LGBTQ revolution.
But you will notice two things here that Christians need to pay very close attention to. For one thing, Romans chapter one makes clear that God's intention is embedded in creation in such a way that no human being can actually not know what God's intention really is. Roman's chapter one tells us that human beings, given the revelation of God in nature, suppress the truth of God in a lie. And we also come to understand that in their grasping for some kind of answer to the obvious claim that nature is not homosexual the slightest example that the revolutionaries can come up with instantly becomes a tourist sensation.
Now, just ask yourself the question: Just how interesting does a story about a zoo in Australia have to be for the story to end up taking most of the front page of the styles section of The New York Times? It really can't be about penguins, and that's betrayed in the paragraph I just read from the story. The background to this isn't a disassociated interest in penguins. It's an interest in gay marriage.
Now, there is more nonsense per inch in this story than just about anything I have recently seen. For one thing, we are told that when the two male penguins were, according to the zookeepers, courting, one of them received a pebble from another leading one of zoo authorities to define that act as consent. Just think about how irrational and grasping that is. And we are told that they've chosen each other. They are bonded now. And the ideological intention behind this article becomes very clear when you hear these words, "We made the decision with the penguin team, and no one was against it. Any pairs that want to pair up, it's great."
Later another penguin keeper said, "We are not going to discourage any companionship for our penguins. Love is love." Well, just settle for a moment on reality. Let's just think for a moment and remember that this chick was not produced biologically by two male penguins. Furthermore, the two male penguins didn't even go and get the egg. Zoo managers in Australia took them the egg. And furthermore, all of nature, the survival of every single species, require heterosexual reproduction. Even now. Even on the other side of the reproductive technological revolution you still need a male and a female functioning as a male and a female. The article in The New York Times acknowledges that the word gay is being used here in a relatively loose way.
As one visitor to the zoo said observing the penguins, "Maybe they're just friends." But again, the ideological background, the intention in the article, is clear when another of authorities cited was explaining that penguins are born with the ability to raise chicks from start to finish whether they're male or female, "And that's quite an interesting thought to keep in mind. We're the same."
Except of course that's nonsense. We're not. Men and women, mothers and fathers, can both contribute, should both, must both contribute to the raising and nurture of children. But just to affirm biology once again, babies need something from mothers they're not going to get from fathers. Furthermore, the species depend upon mothers for the gestation and birth process, something fathers simply can't. There's another biological fact accomplished. But the bottom line here of course is that we have a news story that reflects the intention to confuse what in nature is actually abundantly clear. Some human being, in this case someone working for the zoo in Australia, had to take an egg from the mother that had laid the egg and give it to these two male penguins in order, supposedly to have come up with an example of two gay male penguins raising a penguin chick in Australia. What the story really tells us is that the entire effort is just a matter of the sexual revolutionaries once again laying an egg.
The breakdown of intersectionality: Why you can’t rescue yourself when immersed in this kind of confusion
Finally, we come back to the United States. On Saturday in many American cities including Washington DC and New York City, there will be another women's march. The first came in January of 2017 shortly after the inauguration of Donald Trump as president of the United States in what was described as a massive political backlash. Feminists established the march and the movements behind the march and of course this led to no amount of controversy since at least one of those marches in Washington DC turned out to be one of the biggest political protests in American history.
But all the major media about the events coming on Saturday telegraph a very different story. What was intended to be feminist solidarity has turned out to be anything but. The major national organization is following apart largely because of the fact that some of the organizers will not disassociate themselves from the anti-Semitism reflected by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. And this has led to charges of anti-Semitism rife throughout the entire movement. But frankly, that's just a fuse on an enormous bomb here that continues to go off. Headline in The New York Times back in December: Anti-Semitism Accusations Roil Women's March.
The story that ran yesterday in The New York Times, "How New York City Ended Up With Two Competing Women's Marches." Similar stories from across the country. And what we see here, and it must be noted, is the breakdown of intersectionality. Intersectionality is one of the new doctrines of the progressive left. The idea that where you find oppression you will look for the intersection of different forms of oppression. Being for instance a racial minority would be one issue. Being a woman rather than a man, given a patriarchal society, would be another issue. And you could continue through the line. But the logic of intersectionality says that there will always be someone more oppressed than you are, and eventually it becomes impossible, given this completely irrational ideology, to come up with any kind of true unity.
The movement that was supposed to represent feminist solidarity is breaking down over racial lines, ethnic lines, socioeconomic lines over the issue of anti-Semitism. Over which feminist is more feminist than the other. Who has the greater right to claim the mantle and authority of the movement? As that New York Times article said yesterday, "New York City is ending up with two different marches." But that's actually not even the truth because one of the marches can't march because the other march has the parade permit. So all they can do is protest in a park.
The Washington Post ran a story with the headline, "California Women's March Rally Canceled Over Concerns That It Would Be Overwhelmingly White." Michael Brice-Saddler reporting this story from California tells us that in Humboldt County, California, the march has been canceled, "over concerns that its participants would be overwhelmingly white." The Facebook statement said, "up to this point the participants had been overwhelmingly white, lacking representation from several perspectives in our community. Instead of pushing forward with crucial voices absent the organizing team will take time for more outreach."
Remember, their concern was that the march would be overwhelmingly white. Well, as it turns out, the United States census says that 74% of the population in this county is non-Hispanic white. So that means that almost any event held in this county is going to be overwhelmingly white. In this case the problem might not be any kind of under-representation at all. It might just be a problem of math. But then we go back to New York City with the two marches. No, the one march and the other almost march. And you consider the fact that intersectionality is breaking down even further there. We should have seen this coming. Because what about the charges that the movements themselves, even the organization of a march is able-ist. That is to say discriminatory against those who can't march. Maybe even the term women's march is revealed to be just another instrument of oppression.
This is where intersectionality inevitably leads. You start out with a march, but you end up with marches, and then you have a breakdown of the movement that even produced the march. And then you have the realization that maybe even the word march is itself, according to intersectionality, a part of the problem. Once you immerse yourself in this kind of confusion maybe the most important lesson is this: you can't rescue yourself.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at AlbertMohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.