Culture

Berkeley Survives Ben Shapiro’s Speech

Might as well call this Culture Wars Friday: Berkeley’s campus survives a visit from Ben Shapiro, Harvard University suddenly has second thoughts about Chelsea Manning, and a complicating new wrinkle in the ESPN-Jamele Hill controversy. Also, Showtime’s reboot of Twin Peaks gets what it deserves.

Berkeley Didn’t Burn from Ben!

A pleasant surprise: Ben Shapiro is pleased with his experience in Berkeley! “Well done, @UCPD_Cal and @berkeleypolice! Thank you for restoring order and ensuring the exercise of free speech!”

All in all, considering the expectations for chaos and past problems at Berkeley, the night went pretty smoothly:

Though the campus had prepared extensively for potential violence, Ben Shapiro’s speaking event at UC Berkeley on Thursday went on largely uninterrupted, drawing a peaceful protest that ended in a short march through Berkeley’s streets.

Shapiro, who was invited to speak by campus group Berkeley College Republicans and was co-sponsored by Young America’s Foundation, spoke at Zellerbach Hall to a crowd of about 700 people. Nearly 50 people gathered near Bancroft Way and Telegraph Avenue [at] about 5 p.m. to protest Shapiro’s appearance, but the crowd soon grew to about 1,000 people by 7 p.m.

“I’m here because I can’t condone people who think that some problems in my culture represent the entire culture,” said campus freshman Simone Muhammad. “I’m here because they’re infringing on my rights as a bisexual and a black woman.”

Ma’am . . .  how? Someone giving a speech you don’t like is not an infringement of your rights. Then again, she’s a freshman, so maybe she hasn’t taken the Constitutional law class yet.

Both the campus and the city prepared for violent retaliation to Shapiro’s event in various ways, including setting up barricades around and inside campus Thursday morning. AC Transit buses with routes running south of campus via Telegraph Avenue or Bancroft Way were also diverted, and BART trains skipped over the Downtown Berkeley station.

The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office made nine arrests in conjunction with Berkeley Police Department, as of 10:42 p.m.

BPD also received reports of one individual who was injured as a result of a fall, according to Officer Byron White. In a Nixle alert released early Friday morning, BPD confirmed that there were no reported injuries due to violence and no reports of property damage.

Ah Yes, Harvard, that Conservative Traditionalist Citadel!

Quite a few folks scoffed and objected when Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government made Chelsea Manning — convicted of 19 charges, including six counts of espionage — a visiting fellow. Former Acting CIA Director Michael Morell resigned from Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs in protest, declaring, “I have an obligation to my conscience — and I believe to the country — to stand up against any efforts to justify leaks of sensitive national security information.”

(Near the end of his term, President Obama commuted Manning’s sentence to a total of 7 years confinement.)

Douglas W. Elmendorf, dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School, announced he was rescinding the title Thursday night.

We invited Chelsea Manning to spend a day at the Kennedy School. Specifically, we invited her to meet with students and others who are interested in talking with her, and then to give remarks in the Forum where the audience would have ample opportunity — as with all of our speakers — to ask hard questions and challenge what she has said and done. On that basis, we also named Chelsea Manning a Visiting Fellow. We did not intend to honor her in any way or to endorse any of her words or deeds, as we do not honor or endorse any Fellow.

However, I now think that designating Chelsea Manning as a Visiting Fellow was a mistake, for which I accept responsibility . . .  We are withdrawing the invitation to her to serve as a Visiting Fellow — and the perceived honor that it implies to some people — while maintaining the invitation for her to spend a day at the Kennedy School and speak in the Forum. I apologize to her and to the many concerned people from whom I have heard today for not recognizing upfront the full implications of our original invitation.

On Twitter, Manning responded with all of the even-tempered understanding, graciousness and gratitude that we have come to expect:

If this account is true, this smudges the emerging portrait of ESPN as a company gripped by paranoid politically-correct groupthink, where Curt Schilling gets dismissed for a meme, Linda Cohn is given a harsh warning, and Robert Lee is reassigned out of a fear of social media memes, but Hill is given free reign. The Disney subsidiary may be afraid of controversy and ire from either political direction — but still deal with offenders on the right differently from ones on the left.

There’s a fairly easy way to keep your existing audience and well-established band identity, avoid unnecessary controversies, and keep advertisers happy: cover sports.

ESPN is not alone among media companies in a strange habit of seeking out those who are known for certain types of controversy, and then recoiling when those figures behave as they always had. This arguably goes back to Rush Limbaugh’s short-lived work on the NFL Sunday show in 2003.

This morning, President Trump tweeted, “ESPN is paying a really big price for its politics (and bad programming). People are dumping it in RECORD numbers. Apologize for untruth!”

ADDENDA: You may have noticed I stopped writing about the Showtime revival of Twin Peaks a couple months ago, and several readers asked what I thought of the finale. Today, I let it all out.

Unfortunately, I can only conclude that the revival was a deep disappointment, driven mostly by the decision by co-creators David Lynch and Mark Frost to abandon most of the tenets of traditional narrative — an active protagonist, a clear motivation for the villain, a clear sense of what’s at stake, storytelling set-ups and pay-offs — and instead explore more abstract concepts and moods and vignettes, sometimes resembling a sketch show or dream journal. Professional critics who raved about the series may insist that I set some sort of unfair expectation because I wanted the episodes and series to tell a more complete story. What they’re neglecting is that the show was built on a traditional narrative in the 1990-1991 run, and that the Showtime series was explicitly marketed upon the image and style of the original series. The original ABC series was about both the protagonists and audience investigating; the Showtime series was about both the protagonists and audience waiting.