I am not sure how many readers here know who Gene Weingarten is. He is a humorist who has authored a column for the last 21 years that has appeared each Sunday at the end of the Sunday Washington Post magazine. I am not sure where he was out letting before then, although I think he had some fame, but not huge amounts. Anyway, without warning in today’s column, he announced “The Short Goodbye,” his final column, mostly consisting of him quoting much older other humorists. He gave no reason for his exit, although he is about 70, so it would not be unreasonable for him to just be retiring. But I am concerned that there is more to this, that he was at least given a bit of a shove. As someone who has mostly enjoyed him and have read him out loud to my wife, Marina, we shall miss him whatever the circumstances.
His closing two sentences were: “I am grateful for it [writing the column], and the relationship I have had with all of you who read it – from the delightful dorks who thought everything I said was hilarious to those who looked in only to get riled over what the rude old coot was spouting this week. I will miss you all.”
So, I see more to this line about people getting riled “over what the rude old coot was spouting..” because something very close to that was specifically said just over a month ago by someone not only criticizing him but demanding, yes, demanding that he be fired for being an insensitive old coot who was out of date and worse, microaggresssingly out of touch, an old coot who must go. And now he has.
The column that triggered this demand was about food, in particular, foods he does not like. It went through various ones, including snails, with various snarky wisecracks typical of him. However, he got into trouble with one, where he definitely went over the top, not only exhibiting ignorance that WaPo corrected in a news article some days later, and for which Weingarten himself confessed he was wrong, as well as broadly condemning an entire ethnic cuisine, not just a particular dish.. This was Indian cuisine, with his main remark to declare it all to be just one “spice,” curry, which he declared he does not like.
So, the first problem is that curry is properly speaking not a spice. It is a combination of spices and comes in many varieties, although there is a sort of standard grocery store variety one can readily buy that does not reveal any of that. And, of course, lots of Indian cuisines, which have wide regional variations, do not use curry. Weingarten did go to a top Indian restaurant and ate dishes not using curry, admitting his goof on that, although in the end still saying he just does not like the cuisine.
But another sometime columnist/reporter at WaPo, the much younger Padma Lakshmi, took full offense at his column and not only did not let him off the hook, but demanded his removal and replacement by someone younger and more sensitive, blah blah blah. She did not accept his follow-up, and now he is gone without any real explanation or warning. I fear this matter played a role in his sudden exit, although possibly not. It may have simply pushed what he was thinking about doing anyway.
But I am going to whine that there is now a full-blown and intolerant cancel culture coming from both political ends (I note that Weingarten has been openly very left-liberal, despite this ethnic blunder). We have certainly been getting it for some time from the left with people demanding others be removed from public discourse for this or that microaggression. In some cases, these demands have probably been warranted, but without going beyond Weingarten, who may not be an example even as I suspect he is, many do not look like it to me.
But it is now also coming from the right. We are now getting it a bunch at my workplace, James Madison University, although I do not think anybody has actually been fired yet. It started about a month ago with the beginning of the school year. Our administration, led by our provost, has been for some time on a campaign to increase awareness and acceptance of diversity, broadly defined, something I support. But this fall training video for student ambassadors was put out, made by two students (both female), that unfortunately was a parody of the genre, with each of them identifying themselves by a longer list of possible things to worry about as a possible source of being discriminated against than I even knew about. They also then made it clear that there is an oppressor class, young to middle-aged (rules me out) white straight male Christians. Anyway, some right-winger got this video to Fox News, where it was publicized. The upshot was a local firestorm with various major donors retracting funding and people withdrawing children and grandchildren. Nobody got fired, but the training video was withdrawn
Now this week there has been another such incident, with the right-wingers clearly having their eyes on us. Some student photographed a slide an instructor had up in an ethics class that discussed an example from Jonathan Haidt questioning the morality or lack of ethics of a brother and sister having sex once in the woods without any consequences and deciding not to tell anybody This got posted by a right-wing politician here in VA, where we have a heated gubernatorial race going on I have not heard of any consequences of this, with the dean above this faculty member defending academic freedom, while also sending a message along the lines of “please do not put up slides that will drive away yet more donors.” Supposedly this faculty member was teaching that incest is virtuous.
I have myself become aware of the eyes watching on all this. A few weeks ago in my Regional Economics course in a discussion about path dependence and long-in-place roads I got into the two libraries of Alexandria, both of them burned, the first by Julius Caesar. The second, the Library of Cleopatra, was burned in 391 CE. So I asked the class who burned it. One student said “German barbarians,” so I laughed and said no, the Vandals only got as far east as Tunisia. It was the Christians. This student looked quite upset. So I actually spent time in the next class giving them the full historical background of ho it came to Emperor Theodosius ordering its burning as part of the Roman Empire finally ending tolerance of pagan religions and philosophy. I was glad to see that this student seemed to find my discussion both interesting and acceptable, no complaints going to Fox News about me.
Anyway, I am finding this drive to get rid of people for making unfortunate statements way overdone from all sides. And whether or not Gene Weingarten was driven out or not, we shall miss him.