David Rosen. DR.
Mohsen Abdelmoumen: In your book Sin, Sex & Subversion, you talk about the changes in American society. How do you explain this transformation?
David Rosen: Sin, Sex & Subversion is an unconventional analysis of post-WW-II New York – and, by extension, the U.S. — through the experiences of a dozen or so individuals who defined the 1950s. The individuals range from Christine Jorgensen to Paul Robeson, from Polly Adler to Wilhelm Reich and from Bill Gaines to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Their individual struggles illuminate the radical insurgency that would explode into what became the “’60s.”
The book reveals how social struggle defined the postwar recovery and how capitalism’s emerging “consumer revolution” helped destabilize the country. This was a period best conceived by two complementary culture wars – a “cold war” against communism and a “hot war” against unacceptable sex-related practices. It details the how the practices of social radicals – ranging from Liberace to Irving Klaw to Margaret Sanger – were attacked by local law-enforcement, HUAC and Sen. McCarthy, among others, and the prices they paid, including the loss of jobs, being sent to jail and even (as with the Rosenbergs) being executed by the government.
The book does not so much “explain” the transformation that occurred in the ‘50s, but describes how social insurgency, changes in the economy and political struggle fueled the transformation.
In Sex Scandal America, we note the predominant role of sex in politics. Can you explain why?
I would not use the word “predominant” role of sex, but rather that sex is one factor that can be used for political purposes.
The book’s subtitle is “Politics & the Ritual of Public Shaming” and this explains what the book is really about. The book was published in 2009 amidst a round of sex scandals (e.g., Eliot Spitzer, Mark Foley) and sought to reframe the discussion from merely media hype about a wayward politician to a more informed sense of how the meaning of sex scandal evolved since the nation’s founding four-centuries ago.
I defined the way scandals are dealt with as a “ritual of public shaming” and how sex scandals were used as part of political campaigns. For example, I discuss how during colonial times elderly women were accused of having sex with the devil and were hung so male town leaders could seize their property/wealth. It documents the innumerable scandals that have accompanied many presidents (and other politicians) and shows how this culminated in Bill Clinton’s impeachment.
A decade ago, I didn’t anticipate Donald Trump’s election and the way he would thumb his nose at efforts to shame him for the innumerable sex scandals that define his adult life, including extramarital affairs, hiring sex workers and abusing innumerable women. Perhaps Trump signifies the end of sex scandals and the accompanying ritual of shaming?
Has American puritanism disappeared?
The puritan streak runs deep in American life and is at the heart of today’s round of the culture wars. This round started in the early-1970s with conservative opposition to the Equal Right Amendment, the Roe v Wade decision and anti-gay campaigns. Before Trump’s election, the puritan streak had been contained, almost exclusively focusing on opposing a woman’s right to abortion, Planned Parenthood and anti-gay/anti-sexually nonconforming people. With his election, the puritan impulse represented by the most conservative of the religious right has been reinvigorated, having secured state power.
However, often overlook amidst this development is that, today, sex saturates personal and social life, mediated through the sexual marketplace. The media – including movies, TV/online programs, print publications and advertising – cultivate sexual identity. Fashion and cosmetics reinforce the media message, fostering a sexual culture in which nearly all people, but especially women, see themselves as sexualized objects. Americans have easy, unprecedented access to products and services that purport to fulfill their every sexual fantasy – and they are taking full advantage of these opportunities. Armed with the relative anonymity of a credit card, a PC or smartphone and the Internet, sex has been mainstreamed.
One consequence of this development is that, over the last half-century, sex has been transformed from a moral issue, “sin,” to a legal concern, “consent,” whether involving females or males, gays or straights. Today’s only true sex crimes involve the violation of consent or age appropriateness. Acts including sexual abuse, rape, pedophilia, child porn, sex trafficking, STD transmission or lust murder violate consent.
You wrote the article Facebook’s Follies. In your opinion, has not Facebook become a fascist tool?
Facebook “a fascist tool”? Come on, what is a “tool”? It’s merely the most convenient and unregulated new medium of communication being effectively exploited by the ultra-right, be they white nationalists, neo-Nazis, etc. Way back when, the real Nazis exploited the then “new” media of radio and movies.
Facebook is a huge high-tech conglomerate that – like Google, etc. — is effectively exploiting the capitalist market to maximize profit. Its management don’t care about ethics, politics or if neo-fascists are using their technology so long as they can generate advertising and sales. Its most-recently announced “oversight” board is a joke that will likely only censor the worst of the worst, especially those that do not threatened its profits.
The question to be asked is if the Democrats retake the White House and neutralize Republican control of the Senate, will the renewed FCC impose meaningful regulation of online media like Facebook?
In your writings, you describe Trump as unstable. Is not Donald Trump a danger to the world?
I’m not a psychologist nor have I ever met/spent time with Trump, so I use such terms like “unstable” in a very general sense. But from news reports and bios I’ve read, he seems truly unstable – and this is very much who he’s been his whole life.
As a “danger to the world,” I’m not sure. Trump seems to play his “instability” card as a foil to gain better leverage for himself, but it might be more show than an actual threat. My fear is about ultra-rightwing hawks who surround him – Bolton, Pence and Pompeo as well as the military leadership – and their warmongering. I worry that if there is a significant recession next year and Trump’s reelection campaign becomes increasingly insecure, Trump & company may instigate a war with Iran to strengthen his reelection chances.
How do you explain the fact that the American people elected a psychopath as president?
The U.S. is in crisis, the “American Dream” is over – the socio-economy is being restructured by globalizing capitalism that is reflected in the failure of wage increases comparable to productivity growth, the decline of unions, the increase in inequality and a growing social sense of despair. The suicide rate is at a 50-year high!
I’m not sure that those who support Trump see him as a “psychopath” but a flamboyant showman who rejects “politics as usual” represented by Clinton #2. Sadly, the Dems, symbolized by Clinton #1 and #2, long accommodated global capital, especially the banks, and are woefully out-of-step with working-class and lower-class people, be they whites, blacks or Hispanic. Trump manipulated this sentiment by exploiting the oldest American shibboleth, racism (and anti-immigrant) to effectively distorting the deepening economic and social crisis – and it’s working.
What is your analysis of recent events between the Trump administration and Iran?
Trump – or, better, Bolton — needs an enemy and Iran is the perfect fool’s foil. Bolton has sought to overthrow Iran’s post-Shah government for 25 years and finally has a president/administration that will play his game. They are pushing the “great squeeze” to punish ordinary Iranians and to see if this suffering can provoke a military incident. If that strategy doesn’t work, one can well expect that the CIA, Israel or Saudi operatives to instigate a “false flag” incident and claim that Iranian forces attacked U.S. interests. However, Trump seems resistant to starting a military initiative that can’t be contained or the outcome unpredictable. I don’t think he and some within his team want another Afghanistan-Iraq war that goes on and on.
Do not you think Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iranian nuclear deal was a serious mistake?
“Serious mistake” for whom? In terms of international nuclear arms control, it was a mistake, helping to further destabilize the Middle East. However, for Trump – and Israel and the Saudi (Sunni) monarchy – it was a smart move that furthers their campaign to overthrow the Iranian (Shi’a) government.
In your opinion, is not the influence of Bolton and the neocons on the Trump administration dangerous for world peace?
Bolton is an old-fashion, non-repentant anti-communist in a world where old-fashioned communism has all but disappeared, only holding on in Cuba. He would have fit in with the good-old McCarthy/HUAC ranters but those days are over. So, he picks new enemies — be they Iran, Cuba, Venezuela or N. Korea – and reinvents the cold war, claiming these suffering countries are actual threats to U.S. imperial hegemony. He serves Trump by forever screaming the worst-case scenario – tightening the screws before military action. His strategy is exemplified by his threats to overthrow the Venezuela government which have failed, but he’s made life there worse; this is the same scenario playing out toward Cuba and Iran. Bolton’s efforts against N. Korea have been hamstrung by Trump who likes to flirt with his fantasy role as a “stateman.” Nevertheless, N. Korea is suffering under enormous sanctions but remains safeguarded by China which Bolton & company will not dare to attack other than in terms of trade/tariffs.
How do you explain the political and media silence on the criminal war that Saudi Arabia, strategic ally of the United States, is leading against the people of Yemen?
Yemen? Where’s Yemen? That’s the corporate media’s attitude toward the Saudi – and U.S. and UK – campaign against this desolate country and people. The corporate media had a brief moment’s attention about the Saudi monarchy’s murder of Jamal Khashoggi, but the story quickly disappeared. No one was held to account; U.S. arms deals to Saudi Arabia continue; Trump’s son-in-law regularly indulge in a nice kosher meal with Saudi rulers; and the Yemen war goes on. Where’s Yemen?
Donald Trump intends to run for a second term. Do not you think it is crucial to have a real left-wing alternative today to counter Trump’s disastrous policy?
What is “a real left-wing alternative” to Trump? In a recent piece for CounterPunch, I took a rather pessimistic position regarding the current crop of Democratic candidates. Worst case, which I fear is the most likely, I fear the Democratic leadership will back what I call the “Biden band-aid” that well might defeat Trump – and then what? At best, a slew of well-meaning legislation will be passed but the core problems associated with globalizing capitalism will go unaddressed.
You are a knowledgeable observer of media issues. In your opinion, aren’t the media still hostages to the power of money? What is your opinion on the role played by alternative media?
America is a capitalist country and the established, corporate media offer a social agenda that seeks to manage structural crises. Trump detests the mainstream media – with the exception of Murdoch’s holdings (e.g., Fox TV, NY Post). So, the mainstream media are having a grand time following his every tweet or fart, giving legitimacy to everything he says and does – all the while adding a little carefully-orchestrated/edited criticism to their coverage for spice and “balance”.
I believe that the deepening social crisis is fostering a growing critical, “progressive” insurgency that is finding its voice in the sizeable alternative media that is now flourishing. More important, as social dissatisfaction deepens (and 2020 campaigns heat-up), more and more “ordinary” Americans are likely to turn to alternative media – online, print, radio, etc. – for helpful information and a better understanding of what’s going on. Stay tuned.
Interview realized by Mohsen Abdelmoumen
Who is David Rosen?
David Rosen is a writer and business-development consultant.
He is the author of three books: Sex, Sin & Subversion: The Transformation of 1950s New York’s Forbidden into America’s New Normal (Skyhorse/Carrel Books, 2016), it was nominated for the 2017 Bonnie and Vern Bullough Book Award by the Foundation for the Scientific Study of Sexuality (FSSS); Sex Scandal America: Politics & the Ritual of Public Shaming (Key Publishing, 2009); Off-Hollywood: The Making & Marketing of Independent Films (Grove, 1991), originally commissioned by the Sundance Institute and Independent Feature Project.
In addition, he has published numerous popular articles, book reviews and scholarly studies for a variety of print and online publications. These writings are available at www.DavidRosenWrites.com.
Professionally, he has worked on media-tech and independent media, including:
– Served on the management teams taking public two media-tech start-ups.
– Consultant to WNET/NY, KQED/SF, Weather Channel, Consumers Union and Fujitsu as well as Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-MO), Steve Wozniak (co-founder, Apple) and many indie media makers and tech start-ups.
– Served on boards of directors for Independent Television Service (ITVS/PBS; Treasurer), Film Arts Foundation, National Video Resources and MoMA Video Collection.
– Convener & executive producer of “Digital Independence: a forum on creativity, technology and democracy,” supported by the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
For more information, check out www.DavidRosenConsultants.com.
Published in American Herald Tribune, July 16, 2019: https://ahtribune.com/interview/3310-david-rosen.html
In French in Palestine Solidarité: http://www.palestine-solidarite.org/analyses.mohsen_abdelmoumen.170719.htm