Those Guys Again?


Shouldn’t obscure people have a right to speak? If you’re going to put on a festival of ideas — an event that might actually educate and expand the minds of the masses — shouldn’t you offer stuff we don’t already know?

I bring this up in light of the mini-controversy last week over whether Steve Bannon — a guy I’m not going to describe because you all know who he is — should have been allowed to speak at The New Yorker Festival.

(Quick aside: I call this a mini-controversy but is it really? There are so many controversies almost every minute now that they’re hard to classify. It may be a micro-controversy. In fact, you may have forgotten all about it by the time you read this.)

Other famous people — e.g. Jim Carrey, Judd Apatow and Patton Oswalt (all famous philosophers) — threatened not to show up if Bannon was interviewed. It may be they thought he was contagious.

This, in turn, brought on debate over whether Bannon should have been invited in the first place and whether controversial types should be allowed to speak or kept out of forums. Malcolm Gladwell, a man who has spent more than 10,000 hours practicing having insights and opinions, tweeted that “I would have thought that the point of a festival of ideas was to expose the audience to ideas. If you only invite your friends over, it’s called a dinner party.”

I think he was telling us that The New Yorker should have been providing food. Be that as it may, the response from other famous people was that Bannon would have spoiled our appetites. You avoid drunk uncles if you can.

Both sides, of course, are wrong. We should listen to people who are clearly insane but we don’t need to listen to Steve Bannon. What new, surprising things are we supposed to learn from him or other Festival guests, like the hosts of “Morning Joe?” Is Bannon going to break down and turn liberal after a grilling from The New Yorker editor?

If you go over the calendar for The New Yorker Festival, it’s hard to find a speaker who isn’t someone you already know about. Nothing wrong with that — but this is a concert, not an educational experience. Malcolm Gladwell (or whoever dreamed up the title of his event), naturally, explains this best. The title of his session: “The Strange Allure of the Predictable Conversation.”

You don’t invite Philip Glass to perform at Coachella. (Well, maybe I would, but most people wouldn’t.) That’s the real reason for disinviting Bannon. Why spoil the concert?

But even if this were a real educational event, we don’t get educated listening to people we’ve already listened to over and over again. Give me a panel with a bus driver, a stripper, a college prof, an engineer, and a Klansman. There’s going to be some real learning there.

I’m available to moderate.

Specificity is the soul of narrative. There are few things I like better than a good First Amendment strip club judicial ruling and we got a good one last week from a federal judge in Ohio that got me pretty excited.

It wasn’t groundbreaking law that was exciting — it was the strangely detailed description of what happened. Here’s just a brief excerpt:

“She turned with her back against the agent and continued to move her hips and grind her bottom into the agent’s crotch area. Clarke started kissing the agent’s neck and ear and told him to touch her as she guided his left hand on her left breast. She stood up on the couch and guided the agent’s hands on her butt and began to put her crotch in his face and rubbed her crotch on his nose. Clarke pulled her G-string down so that he could observe her vagina. She continued grinding and massaging the agent’s inner thigh.”

After all of that action, the agents from the Ohio Department of Public Safety’s investigative unit left the strip club and reported the “violation.” I’m assuming they were smiling when they did that.

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