Cognitive Dissonance is the name for the discomfort a person feels when a person holds two or more contradictory beliefs at the same time.
It seems like every day some famous or powerful man somewhere is being fired for some form of sexual misconduct that the media is happily lumping into the #metoo movement. I say lumping into the movement because it is not clear that these men would have been fired but for a tweet by a former Who’s the Boss child actress turned adult actress in such films as Embrace of the Vampire, Alyssa Milano. She did not create the movement, but she made it very famous.
This is a post about cognitive dissonance and the dissonance I reference is the state of sexuality in the U.S. that is clearly visible in the career arc of Alyssa Milano. One side of the arc is Who’s the Boss. A family friendly sitcom that ran from 1984 to 1992 that addressed both gender roles and blended families. The housekeeper was a man and the breadwinner was a woman. And two single parents shared a home and raised their children together with the occasional help of a grandmother. There was no sex between the two grownups who put their own needs on hold to support their family. In fact the sitcom was so family friendly that in the first season episode where Milano’s father, Tony Danza, had to buy her a bra because she was “growing up” the t.v. sensors would only allow them to say “bra” once. The opposite arc of Alyssa Milano’s career was the 1995 film Embrace of the Vampire, one of her first adult roles after leaving Who’s the Boss (other’s include a made for t.v. movie about Amy Fisher the Long Island Lolita, Confessions of a Sorority Girl,etc.) that is unique because it was her first role that required her to be nude in a number of explicitly sexual scenes (sex with a vampire).
If Milano’s two works referenced above are the opposite arcs of her career what are the two arcs of U.S. sexuality exhibited in the #metoo movement that we hear about each day. One end of the arc is symbolized by a person like Richard Lebow. He is a college professor who recently made a stink online after being accused by a female colleague for making a sexually offensive joke on an elevator. When he was asked “What floor?” he responded by saying “The lingerie department.” His male colleagues all laughed at his joke where as his female colleagues on the elevator found it offensive. One woman who was on the elevator with him filed a complaint with organizers of the academic conference the two were attending. Lebow was asked to make an apology. He responded by writing his accuser a lengthy e-mail where he made light of the situation and said that he was merely repeating an old 1950’s joke. The other end of the arc is symbolized by Harvey Weinstein who currently faces rape charges and accusations from dozens of women that range from groping to rape itself. His response has been one of categorical denial, and I read that he has even gone so far as to hire ex-Mossad agents to intimidate his accusers.
Media pundits are happy to present us with these two arcs as points of discussion. This then becomes a catalyst where everyone gets to unload a set of grievances that have little or nothing to do with the real problem. The media LOVES to draw lines and create false dichotomies. On one side we are painted a picture where feminists are ruining America and creating an environment where if a man repeats an old Jackie Gleeson style joke to make his nerdy friends laugh he is treated the same as a rapist. On the other side we are painted a picture where women are afraid and unable to live productive lives because they are constantly being harassed at work and in social situations.
So what is the cognitive dissonance about which I write. It is quite simply that we are told that the world we experience is different from the world we experience. We are told that we are at war with one another and as with any war there must be a just combatant and an unjust combatant or else we will see the frivolity of the action. The arcs I described in Milano’s career above were devised by me as a point of discussion. I said on the one hand we have the innocent Who’s the Boss but on the other hand we have the gratuitous Embrace of the Vampire. The dichotomy is false, and it is a fallacy. Yet we do this constantly whether consciously or subconsciously and we are sold it part and parcel on not a daily basis but a minute by minute basis these days.
The #metoo movement is just one example of something the media is using to lie to us, to create false dichotomies, and tell us that we are at war with one another. But what do I mean when I say that the world we experience is not the world we are told that we experience. What is it that we want, really want? The world is nothing but limitless possibility and we create this world yet we are told that we live in a world that is beyond our control and that we must rebel against it. A good example of this is the use of pronouns that I will discuss in my next post.