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Jewish World Review May 1, 2001/ 8 Iyar 5761

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker
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Pay attention: The ability to ignore is a lost art

http://www.jewishworldreview.com --
WIFE beaters, gay proms and Timothy McVeigh are proving yet again the rule of passive resistance, which is: When people you find offensive demand attention, ignore them.

Wise parents have been practicing this rule with bratty children for millennia, but we seem to have forgotten it. Toss a little bait our way and we'll make the bull run of Pamplona look like a funeral march.

In the past week or so, wife-beater T-shirts, the newest spring fling called Gay Proms, and Timothy McVeigh's pending execution have everyone in paroxysms of punditry. You would think from the heat and ink that we didn't have a hidden dragon crouching in our back yard. China and Taiwan are about to implode, thanks to testosterone polluting the Potomac, and we're hissy-fitting over insensitive marketing gimmicks and boys in corsages.

Wife beaters, incidentally, aren't actual people. They're muscle-man T-shirts made attractive by the likes of Paul Newman, James Dean and Steve McQueen. Eminem wears them, too, but a boy who can't pull up his britches isn't in the same frame with the fantasy men of every woman over, um, a certain age.

Kids began calling the T-shirts "wife beaters" a while back because the guys hauled off in domestic-violence wagons always seemed to be wearing them. It was funny the first time I heard it. It's still funny -- not haha but hmmph-funny -- even as a Dallas-based Web site is promoting the T-shirts in a way that makes fun of something that's not funny -- domestic violence.

Aren't you exhausted already? Women's groups (talk about exhausting) have raised their voices to new, fevered pitches in protest of the site, which features an anti-woman song and a picture of a man pretending to spank a woman over his knee. In extremely poor taste, the site offers a discount to anyone with documented proof of a domestic-violence conviction. Of course, last time I checked, poor taste wasn't a crime in this country. It's a sacrament.

The upshot of this organized protest has been a sales boon for the T-shirts. Next thing you know, the undershirts will be featured on the cover of W, and the Web site creator -- of whom you'd never have heard without the attention of those who find him despicable -- will be on Larry King. So it goes in Brat Nation, where the road to success is paved with bad attentions.

Same with the Long Island gay and lesbian teen prom. So boys want to wear dresses, and girls want to wear tuxedoes, and transsexuals want to dance with bisexual transvestites. Who cares? The usual suspects, of course, are concerned that we're condoning deviant sexual behavior while glamorizing alternative lifestyles. What? You'd rather they date your daughter?

Kidding, kidding. An hour staring at wife-beaters and I've become an insensitive slob. Toss me a Bud and give me back my remote, will ya?

And finally we have Timothy Schmimothy, mass murderer ordinaire. Should people get to watch him die, or not? Should his execution be televised by closed circuit so victims' families can watch his last breath? The answer is, what does Timothy want? Whatever it is, don't give it to him. If he wants to die, make him live. Slam the door and close the book.

To ignore Timothy McVeigh -- or bad actors who celebrate crass taste, or marginalized kids who aren't hurting anyone -- is to deny that which is most wanted. Attention. It is also, by the way, to be a well-adjusted adult.


JWR contributor Kathleen Parker can be reached by clicking here.

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