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“Sex Robots Titillate and Childish Gambino Provokes with Ross Douthat and Doreen St. Felix”

New York Times op-ed columnist Ross Douthat (@DouthatNYT) joined Ana this week to continue the discussion they started in columns last week. Ross wrote an op-ed in the Times about the prospect of sex robots as the answer for people who can’t fulfill their sexual desires, to which Ana responded with a lengthy critique. To take that debate off the computer screen, they conducted a wide-ranging conversation that encompassed Ross’ argument, Ana’s problems with it, and what it’s like writing in the age of Trump.

 

After the conversation with Ross, the New Yorker’s Doreen St. Felix (@dstfelix) joined Ana to talk about Childish Gambino’s music video for “This is America.” Doreen analyzed the new video, and they tried to parse through who it was actually made for as well as what makes Glover so compelling.

 

You can find Ross’ sex robot piece here: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/02/opinion/incels-sex-robots-redistribution.html

 

Here’s Ana’s response to Ross’ piece: https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/features/robot-sex-w519788

 

You can find Ross’ Hefner piece mentioned in the episode here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/30/opinion/hugh-hefner.html

 

Here’s Doreen’s analysis of “This is America”: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-carnage-and-chaos-of-childish-gambinos-this-is-america

 

Get in touch with the show at withfriendslikepod@gmail.com and on Twitter at @crooked_friends.

 

Thank you to our sponsors!

 

Get your body moving in the workspace at fully.com/friends.

 

Get 25% off your design package at havenly.com/friends.

 

Receive free shipping on your first order at everlane.com/friends.

 

For $35 off your first order, visit sunbasket.com/friends.

 

Crooked site version

Title: “Sex Robots Titillate and Childish Gambino Provokes with Ross Douthat and Doreen St. Felix”

Last week, New York Times op-ed columnist Ross Douthat (@DouthatNYT) wrote a piece titled “The Redistribution of Sex,” in part responding to the terrorist attack in Toronto and the expanding reach of incel (involuntary celibate) subculture. He argued that the likeliest response to our cultural attitudes towards sex and the desires of people who are involuntarily celibate may lead to a world in which mostly male desires are fulfilled by sex robots. Ana wrote a response piece, critiquing Ross’ argument, and ended her piece by writing “in other words, Ross, call me! I’m not a robot.” He did, and decided to come on the show to turn those columns into a broader conversation.

 

The show began with a brief reprisal of their time on the same Real Time with Bill Maher panel, where they teamed up while disagreeing with Maher’s defense of Hugh Hefner, who Ross wrote a stinging obituary of. He and Ana found common ground in their critiques of Hefner, and then transitioned to a conversation about the dueling columns. They walked through Ross’ argument, and he was upfront about its flaws, most notably that it was easily misinterpreted.

 

“Somebody online said basically, I was talking about Blade Runner 2049, and the assumption of my readership, or a big segment of my readership, was that I was talking about The Handmaid’s Tale,” Ross said.

 

Ana acknowledged that one part of Ross’ argument — that a future including sex robots is possible because of the logical overlap between progressives and libertarians, who could conceive of a right to sex — is right insofar as she herself is not opposed to sex robots on principle. Her biggest problem with the column was that he “pegged it to the incels.”

 

Ross also acknowledged that he could have headed off much of the heat he received by inserting a “100-word paragraph” somewhere in the piece reiterating how terrible incel violence is. He also attributed the response to the broader social environment we live in, and the way polarization drives emotive reactions from people on social media.

 

“If you’re not getting dragged on Twitter every eight weeks or so for a column, you’re probably not doing your job right,” Ross said. After Ana prompted him, he elaborated to say his job “as a conservative writing for a readership that disagrees with me on a lot of issues is to push the readership to engage with ideas that are somewhat outside their comfort zone. Or, as I thought I was doing in this column, bring together ideas from a libertarian extreme and an academic feminist extreme and sort of show how they interact in weird ways.”

 

Ross went on to explain why he dislikes adding that kind of paragraph, because he feels it makes for worse writing. Ana acknowledged that is something she struggles with herself, but also pointed out that context matters. And, as far as incels are concerned, she said “incels are not unhappy because they don’t have sex. They’re unhappy because they hate women.”

 

Ana also pointed out that one of her primary issues with Ross’ piece was that he didn’t run it by someone who thinks like her, who could have pointed out the problems with it. That point led to a broader discussion about the process of column writing, and how it is changing in the age of Trump. Touching on Trump in particular sent the conversation off in another direction, analyzing attitudes on the left towards conservatism more broadly as the left tries to separate the Republican Party from a broader conservative ideology.

 

Ana and Ross realized they have had similar experiences with friends within the conservative movement, and the Never Trump cohort.

 

“Generally, the people I liked the most and respected the most within conservatism before this started, were not completely but almost completely anti-Trump to the end. And the people I liked the least, and the parts of conservatism I liked the least were the ones that ended up the most pro-Trump but in ways… that cut right across different ideological categories,” Ross said.

 

They went on to discuss ways that the left and Never Trumpers can continue to work together once the specter of Trump has passed.

 

Afterwards, Ana talked with the New Yorker’s Doreen St. Felix (@dstfelix) about Childish Gambino’s new music video for “This is America.” Doreen wrote a column analyzing the video in the New Yorker, and separated the song from the video itself. She first heard the song without the video, and did not initially conceive of it as a protest song. However, the more she saw the video, the more she questioned Donald Glover’s intentions.

 

“I ended up landing in a very ambiguous place, and I think that while Donald Glover is obviously making a few statements about how blackness is churned through the American machine, I think he’s also making a statement about himself, and his ambivalence,” Doreen explained.

 

Doreen proceeded to walk through Glover’s origin story as a rapper and his history as an entertainer, before she and Ana dove into how the video ties into Glover’s history as a creator of pop culture. Ana explained her discomfort with watching the video as a white person, which Doreen had not expected to hear.

 

“I’m part of a lot of communities with black people who consume media and are totally astute and critical in their consumption of it, and a lot of people that I’ve spoken to and in conversations that I’ve surveilled, have felt that Donald Glover was in fact creating something for white people,” she explained.

 

Although every person on the internet seemed to have a take about the point of the video, and who it was for, ultimately Doreen felt that he “was making it for himself.” They finished by exploring what makes Glover so compelling and so unpredictable at the same time.

 

You can find Ross’ Hefner piece here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/30/opinion/hugh-hefner.html

 

You can find Ross’ sex robot piece here: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/02/opinion/incels-sex-robots-redistribution.html

 

Here’s Ana’s response to Ross’ piece: https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/features/robot-sex-w519788

 

Here’s Doreen’s analysis of “This is America”: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-carnage-and-chaos-of-childish-gambinos-this-is-america

 

Get in touch with the show at withfriendslikepod@gmail.com and on Twitter at @crooked_friends.

 

Thank you to our sponsors!

 

Get your body moving in the workspace at fully.com/friends.

 

Get 25% off your design package at havenly.com/friends.

 

Receive free shipping on your first order at everlane.com/friends.

For $35 off your first order, visit sunbasket.com/friends.

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