Sunday, January 31, 2016

When you're hating on General Hux...


Arthur Chu at Salon.com wrote this:

A lot has already been written about “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens” and its meteoric ascent into the pop-culture canon after the mixed reaction to the prequels. One of the takes I liked best was how the very idea of doing a sequel to “Return of the Jedi” and its splashy happy ending turns the Star Wars saga from fairy tale to something bleaker and more realistic, facing the hard truth that war never really ends and evil is never really defeated. “One Death Star is a horror; two Death Stars and one Starkiller Base… is something more like the inexorable logic of history, grinding us all to dust.”

There are many reasons Episode VII feels like a bleaker world than Episode IV–one of them being that the backstory to Episode VII consists of movies we’ve actually seen and characters we already love. It’s one thing to kill off an old man we met in Act I as the climax to Act II; it’s another thing entirely to kill off an old man we got to know and rooted for as a young wisecracking scoundrel over the course of three movies.

Similarly, it’s one thing to vaguely imply something about the “Clone Wars” as an old, settled conflict and vaguely posit that that peace somehow led to the war we’re in right now (and to somewhat unsatisfyingly try to fill in the details of that transition with an ill-conceived prequel trilogy). It’s another thing to give us the happy ending we were promised at the end of three movies–celebrating Ewoks, exploding fireworks, our protagonists hugging and laughing and smiling–and then show us that happy ending collapsing into wrack and ruin years later with a new movie and a new war.

But there’s one particular thing that I haven’t noticed people talking about that I’ve felt nagging at me ever since watching “The Force Awakens.” Something that seems off compared to the unspoken “rules” of the original trilogy and the prequels, something that deeply undermines its message of hope–and something that’s all too clearly reflected in the real world of 2016.

In the new Star Wars, the bad guys are young.
In the original Star Wars films, the struggle looked pretty much like an intergenerational struggle–fresh-faced Luke and Leia, barely out of their teen years, and Harrison Ford as Han Solo acting the world-weary cynic at the ripe old age of 35.

The good guys, the heroes, were the youth, the new generation who saw the corruption of the system and were moved to stand against it. Hell, the conflict between Luke Skywalker and Uncle Owen in the first movie is a stock theatrical trope, the fiery young man eager to go on a “damn fool crusade” against the wishes of a father figure who wants him to stay home and play it safe.

The bad guys, the Empire, are the Establishment, the Man. They’re a bevy of middle-aged white guys with British accents in uniforms who seem in love with bureaucracy and procedure. There’s precious little passion in them, compared to the Rebels; instead they’re driven mostly by an officious sense of duty and sneering contempt for their inferiors. Stormtroopers idly chitchat about nonsense while pulling tedious shifts of guard duty, with no particular emotions about the Rebels except as “scum” to be exterminated. Middle-aged Imperial officers bicker over status at staff meetings, and the only time we see young faces among them it’s as a sight gag–the field-promoted Admiral Piett nervously stepping into the place of his recently Force-choked predecessor, the put-upon, in-over-his-head Moff Jerjerrod–pathetic figures, sellouts, the 1960s stereotype of a gormless milquetoast Young Republican.
The figures who were the animating force behind the Empire? The ones with real menace? The gaunt-cheeked elder statesman Grand Moff Tarkin. The terrifyingly decrepit Emperor Palpatine. And, of course, Darth Vader, who is literally Luke and Leia’s domineering dad.

The story George Lucas was telling was the story he grew up with, as someone who came of age in the 1960s. It’s a story of youth revolution. Yes, there are wise old mentors among the good guys, too–but the key thing about Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda is that they failed, and now Luke, Leia, Han and the dashing Lando Calrissian have to complete the task they left unfinished. Obi-Wan and Yoda, we eventually learn, are wrong to think that Darth Vader can only be defeated by force; Luke succeeds where they failed through empathy and love.

It’s almost unnecessary to point to the cut scenes from “A New Hope” with Luke and his friends hanging out in a small town on Tatooine eerily similar to the Modesto, California in “American Graffiti,” or to the Vietnam parallels in “Return of the Jedi.”

Star Wars is about liberals like George Lucas putting their hope in youth and youth culture to do what the New Deal Democrats of the World War II generation could not, to finally defeat bigotry and inequality and redeem the American dream. Star Wars was far from the only franchise from that era with that theme. And even though the 1960s were a high-water mark for Youth Culture as a phenomenon in the 20th century, it’s a narrative that’s been around before and after George Lucas–witness the imagery surrounding the messianic “millennial voter” in 2008’s mass celebration of “Hope.”

The problem, of course, is that there’s no guarantee whatsoever that history will progress as progressives wish it would generation by generation, or that youth in and of itself implies virtue. Today’s “The Man” was yesterday’s Angry Young Man; the System started somewhere.

The Star Wars prequels famously squandered the opportunity to make that point, manipulating the story so that the bad guys are still malevolent elderly authority figures, the gray-haired Senator Palpatine and Count Dooku, the comically bumbling wizened plutocrats of the “Trade Federation” and the “Banking Clan,” while our good guys are a 14-year-old genius political leader and an adorable kid Jedi who only falls to darkness in the last movie.

But look at Episode VII. Yes, there’s the weirdly inhuman Andy-Serkis-portrayed CG character “Supreme Leader Snoke.” But look at the frighteningly intense General Hux, whose impassioned speech against “disorder” makes the First Order feel even more uncomfortably close to the Third Reich than the Empire of the old movies. Look at the Darth Vader wannabe Kylo Ren, who takes Luke’s struggle with the Dark Side and inverts it, with his religious devotion to “darkness” and his stubborn insistence on resisting the “light.”

They’re both played by young actors–Domhnall Gleeson and Adam Driver are both 32 but look younger, and are associated in the public consciousness with youth. (Gleeson is probably best known to American audiences for his role as Bill Weasley in the Harry Potter movies and for playing a callow 20-something computer nerd in “Ex Machina.” Driver, of course, is the ur-dudebro boyfriend from “Girls.”)

They’re not pawns of older authority figures. The only authority figure above them in the film is Snoke, who’s present only as a hologram; for the bulk of the film Hux and Kylo Ren are the duumvirate directing the First Order’s activities, and they do so with relish.

There is still hope, yes. Finn and Rey, our heroes, “awaken” to the war that our former heroes are still fighting 30 years down the line and throw in on the side of freedom and justice. But the story of “The Force Awakens” is a story about a war that’s still going on in the first place because hope in the next generation failed–because young men like Hux were willing to throw all their talent and energy into rebuilding the grinding war machine Luke, Han and Leia destroyed. Because Kylo Ren, nĂ© Ben Solo, presumably grew up with the story of Darth Vader’s redemption and return to the light–and somehow rejected it, decided the cause Luke devoted his life to was a mistake and sought to bring back the evil cult Luke’s empathy and love had destroyed.

On one level that’s just necessary storytelling in order to give Luke, Han and Leia something to do in this movie besides “live happily ever after.” But on another level, as Gerry Canavan mused on his blog, it’s a message about the world we live in today.

Remember all that crap about how the older, racist generation–those wrinkly Grand Moff Tarkins and Emperor Palpatines–would inevitably eventually die out and the “political realignment” brought on by new, PC millennials would change everything? Remember the in hindsight darkly comic handwringing in 2008 about the possibility of a permanent Democratic electoral majority and the possible end of the Republicans as anything more than a regional rump party?

Remember how happy the left was on Nov. 5, 2008? Fireworks and dancing Ewoks and playing drums on the desks of ousted Republican congressmen? Well, it turns out that there’s plenty of racism left to go around among the young and up-and-coming. It turns out that the younger generation, if frustrated enough or bored enough or simply contrarian enough, is more than willing to join up with old-fashioned reactionary mobs or create them anew from half-baked Internet philosophizing. It turns out that this generation of young men is just as willing as the past one to commit mass murder over fascist ideology as diseased as General Hux’s and petty projected grievances as disordered as Kylo Ren’s.

It’s unsurprising that Kylo Ren almost immediately got a parody Twitter account mocking him as a modern-day performatively angsty self-obsessed teenager. Kylo Ren is a perfect picture of what’s screwed up about too many young men–latching onto bizarre belief systems about racial or sexual superiority in an effort to feel big, to feel like they matter.
Look at Kylo Ren staring at Darth Vader’s mask–something he can’t possibly understand the historical context of, a relic of a conflict that ended long before he was born, something that its original owner needed to wear to survive–and deciding that he’s going to make it his symbol, that he, too, will wear a mask just because it’s cool. Much like young edgy American guys online deciding to take up the flag of Rhodesia and pre-apartheid South Africa–because it feels rebellious, transgressive, badass.

Comparisons have been made between the Kylo Ren character and the toxic masculinity of geek culture–and those comparisons are worth making. The community that calls themselves “nerds” online hasn’t shown its best face in the past couple of years, and we’ve received vivid demonstration after vivid demonstration that being young, tech-savvy and having all the information of the world at your fingertips does nothing to prevent a person from being a vicious bigot.


But it’s not just an “Internet thing” or a “geek culture thing” or a “gamer thing” or a “science fiction fandom thing.” It’s not something we can or should just laugh off. All over the world right now we have people recapitulating the sins of their fathers, signing up for ideological wars they have no direct connection to for petty, stupid reasons. We have the far-right theocrats of Daesh somehow convincing bored kids that religious fundamentalism is “punk rock.” We have young “alt-right” racist xenophobes mocking what was formerly the mainstream Republican platform as “cuckservative” and pining for the red-blooded, openly violent, openly white-supremacist conservatism of yesteryear.

We have the young people who run the booming tech industry entertaining thoughts of taking over the status of Gilded Age robber barons, defying or rewriting the law, establishing themselves at the top of society’s pyramid permanently thanks to the accidental confluence of wealth and political influence they find themselves in.
We have an abundance of bad ideas from the past that just won’t die, because the human impulses that spawn them haven’t died. As someone just turning 32–the age Domnhall Gleeson and Adam Driver were when they filmed “The Force Awakens”–I’m reminded, looking back over my own short life, how often people declared history to be over, the movie’s plot resolved, roll end credits. It was ridiculous to think that in 1992 and it was just as ridiculous to think so in 2008.

I keep hearing from people who want to know when the fight will be over and we can finally rest, when we can drop all this “Social Justice Warrior” nonsense and stop being on the alert for bigotry and hatred in the world. It’s frustrating and exhausting–you can see the weariness on Han and Leia’s faces in “The Force Awakens,” the toll it’s taken on them, living a life of running as hard as they can to stay in the same place.

The answer is that, to quote a much bleaker entry in the geek canon than Star Wars, “nothing ever ends.” There is hope, yes–no one has to keep fighting the war by themselves forever. For every Ben Solo who turns to the dark side despite all the hopes and dreams his forebears invested in him, there’s a Rey who seems to appear out of nowhere, bringing the awakening of hope with her.

But looking at the dismal statistics about racism and sexism among my own generation, the lesson I keep in mind is the lesson of the character of Finn–that no generation is imbued with virtue or insight simply because of being the ones who come next. Everyone has to ask, regardless of whether they’re following their parents’ values or their peers’, if they’re the stormtroopers and not the good guys, and doing the right thing will always require some measure of courage to fight against the crowd.

Our enemies, the ones that matter, aren’t our parents or grandparents–the real enemies will be our classmates, our colleagues, our brothers and sisters, our friends. The real test of our generation won’t be our ability to overthrow the last generation–every generation succeeds at that, in the end, if only through the passage of time. It will be our ability to overcome ourselves.


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Emporium (Patrick McEvoy-Halston)
1 day ago


Meandering of thoughts from this interesting article: 

From their (young racists') perspective, they're not interested in dominating weaklings but rather saving their weakened "people" from a callous establishment intent on obliterating them. Potentially, racists and leftists, both, can imagine themselves as the “rebels"... they can both work well with this "Jungian" archetype. Rey's way of living—scrounging for scraps to please an asshole food-dispensing boss—is more familiar to children who end up racist than children who become liberal and informed. The current child of affluent liberal parents is more likely to be groomed to fit the establishment, and will in life more closely resemble the assured position of the villains. When you're hating on General Hux, maybe you're more hating on the liberal child of affluents who is irritated by those calling for revolution—when, to them, the world clearly is becoming fairer, more provisioning, and increasingly orderly... and so why are you bothering them?—and less at "alt-right" young Hitlers? 


GManASG
14 hours ago


You made a very good point. I think you are correct in rearranging the back story of racist youths and liberal youth. That being said this article did a good job of pointing out how in the real world history repeats itself, something star wars seems to be doing as well if by accident and imperfectly as a exact representation of the real world, it is at the end of the day just a movie, one that I certainly love.


Emporium (Patrick McEvoy-Halston)
14 minutes ago


@GManASG The concept of history repeating itself is one beloved by conservatives, not progressives. It isn't progressives telling you that evil will always remain in the world, and that those who think it can be extinguished are foolhardy and ignorant, but rather Catholics... people like Tolkien. 

You read this article and you have no doubt that Chu is pleased with the atmosphere of this Force Awakens world—its bleakness. It's the "outside" to Chu's inner state of mind. If we had a world where you could finally rest, how would Chu show how virtuous he is as a sufferer, as someone who has been so worn in his own fight against the "evil" in himself and in his generation that the wear and tear shows on his face? This is the mask he wants to put on, even if he doesn't have to, and if too many people think like Chu I think it's going to cost us. 

For perhaps people like Steven Pinker and Mike Ripley are ultimately right—that, in fact, overall, we've made considerable progress: that facts prove we should remain calm, and be optimists. There are fewer wars, fewer people being killed; progressive attitudes are spreading—what we get upset over now would have been thought no big deal a generation or two before. And yes, some of the young are clamouring for some kind of race war and have clearly regressed rather than evolved, but perhaps the real progressive response is not so much what Chu offers—to be vigilant warriors ourselves, to militarize and scorn and hate ignorant people who think it okay to just relax and enjoy life—but rather to go through this upcoming time comported more like relaxed bourgeois... like comfortable, even-tempered children of loving parents and a de-stressed home life. 

That way we'll be persuasive when we say we wouldn't actually be disappointed if this perhaps now-fashionable idea that you-can-never-relax,-evil-will-always-sprout-out world view, proves actually to be incorrect, and that life could be—even now—most progressively lived, in not gearing for an apocalyptic fight but just being part of the everyday gearing of a liberal society. 

Even if we need revolutionary change, perhaps the best way to do it is more the Scandinavian way. Where we don't show progress in our fight through scars, stress and shortened lives, but in our better countenance. Less single rays of hope; more a landscape of them. 

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Recent comments at Salon

SATURDAY, JANUARY 30, 2016 12:46 AM
Meandering of thoughts from this interesting article: 

From their (young racists') perspective, they're not interested in dominating weaklings but rather saving their weakened "people" from a callous establishment intent on obliterating them. Potentially, racists and leftists, both, can imagine themselves as the "rebels"...they can both work well with this "Jungian" archetype. Rey's way of living--scrounging for scraps to please an asshole food-dispensing boss--is more familiar to children who end up racist than children who become liberal and informed. The current child of affluent liberal parents is more likely to be groomed to fit the establishment, and will in life more closely resemble the assured position of the villains. When you're hating on General Hux, maybe you're more hating on the liberal child of affluents who is irritated by those calling for revolution--when, to them, the world clearly is becoming fairer, more provisioning, and increasingly orderly... and so why are you bothering them?--and less at "alt-right" young Hitlers? 

SATURDAY, JANUARY 23, 2016 6:48 PM
I would argue that the Republican base knew from the start that they were supporting an establishment that would sell them down the river. They were looking for this kind of "governance," just as they were looking for a societal sequence which would leave them once again living withered, poor, alcohol-soaked lives, dying before the age of 65 (mission accomplished!). The way to understand this is to think of them as akin to those college kids who suddenly go Taliban; that is, as people who, owing to how they were built out of their nasty, denied childhoods, freak out so much after knowing the opportunities and possibilities of self-actualization they actually seek out such a reversal as the destitution of cave life. 

They were people who grew up with parents so abused and themselves denied, they emotionally abandoned their children when they showed signs of focusing on themselves (for them, children were born to give love to their parents, not the other way around). They were people who learned the inspiration, then, as children, that by showing they would actually work to create a society which would shortchange them, leave them appalling open to whatever menace, they demonstrate their active desire to deny themselves and thereby, their remaining pliancy--we're dependents; we haven't grown up and grown away from you; "we're" still yours to use as you will. And therefore, their worthiness of reclaiming their parents and finding love. The Gods, i.e. our parents, however conditionally, could still care... God coming for suffering-stuffed, wound-stricken Christ. 

Andrew suggested in his previous post that these Americans, full of self-hate, were keen to deposit, to project, their foul lives onto some Other. I think, rather, they're feeling rather self-righteous right now, empowered, entitled, and so not quite so foul, after earning their Oscars for suffering, and are now ready to shirk off the establishment that did their job of humiliating them in preference for those who'll empower their strut. 

Those about the National Review were used -- sadists at the bequest of masochists -- and now, casually abandoned (Those at the National Review have successfully empowered a repetition of their own early childhood predicament, "You abandoned us!": For them, too, mission accomplished.). They were never truly leaders but rather a concoction summoned to pierce a ready-bared hide so those stricken would know no one would doubt they've suffered Rome. 
SATURDAY, JANUARY 23, 2016 4:58 PM
There is something about Bernie which suggests an intrinsic faith in the American people. I think this is out of step with a lot of the professional class, who count themselves as cosmopolitan and the rest of the country as dullards/trolls who need to be shepherded and managed and overall told what to do. 

The rise of Bernie and Trump suggests a changed landscape that would upset how they've structured their psychic life. They won't as readily be able to dismiss the commons as full of trolls--hey look at this commenter jackass!--and count on their viewpoint being mirrored without contention. And so what are they if they aren't in fact overtly better, but actually in fact vested in a worldview which is unfair and cruel to many to support their narcissistic estimation of themselves? 

SATURDAY, JANUARY 23, 2016 2:35 PM
Slickship Gunner We only lurch sideways when we feel overtly threatened or unfairly oppressed.  Otherwise, this is a very stable, middle-of-the-road kind of country. And that's how we like our politics.
So in the 1960s America felt threatened and oppressed? I thought it just dared to dream. Also, why is this middle-of-the-road country beset with enough fire power to blow up the world one hundred times over? You'd think middle-of-the-road would settle for a modest moat and perhaps a couple low-key guardsmen. 

FRIDAY, JANUARY 22, 2016 11:00 PM

Dr. Zachary Smith Jack Burroughs The German media didn't immediately report about the Cologne attacks--despite their awesome number--because they were afraid of the majority becoming petrified of the Other. You don't think this is possible in the States? That the majority who are poor or who are not white wouldn't collectively decide, in some state of massive psychic regression, against some unfortunate Other?

FRIDAY, JANUARY 22, 2016 10:30 PM

Jack Burroughs This is a good, tough post. The Left cannot manage the response you're wishing for because of all the self-hate, the psychic oblivion, that would arise if they had to admit that all the peoples their regressive white peers project on and discriminate against where themselves easily as regressive and possibly way worse. To some extent this is why all the attention to the genuine barbarities of the regressive whites: the Left caught sign early on that if they look too close at some of those patriarchal societies that constitute the European-culture-ravaged, they see horror, horror that cannot be accommodated, so they whipped around and faced the European white bully while basically assuming (the nature of) the abused people now at their back whom they're defending. 

Still, the Left are the better people. And the Right would have erupted regardless of Cologne and endless foreigner' molestations. What's at stake to determine if a society progresses or regresses is the aggregate ability to tolerate change and growth. In the 1930s, there were many who were up to speed on Weimar cultural advancement, could handle it and then some (Jews, notably so), but were outnumbered by the Germans who saw in growth some kind of terrible sin. Our hope is that the current situation proves more complex. Perhaps the whites Andrew speak of gain redemption, become Christians worthy of being loved, by proving now to have lived so truly non-selfishly they're dying earlier and living worse lives. America in the 1930s was a lot like that, after all--we didn't quite go fascist. 


Sunday, January 3, 2016

Discussion in Salon' comment section on "trigger warnings"


Victim talk is back. According to two sociologists, Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning, our moral culture recently underwent a seismic shift. Rather than upholding appropriate standards of honor and dignity, we now inflate trifling slights into allegations of victimization. Minor grievances of all sorts are showcased in cyberspace in an effort to garner sympathy and support. This “new species of social control,” they maintain, threatens an America where weakness suddenly rules.
Their and similar allegations about this novel insidious “victimhood culture” are being applauded and proselytized in major newspapers, journals and talk shows – from the New York Times and the Washington Post to the Leonard Lopate Show and Time magazine. Even President Obama entered the fray by speaking out against the reported refusal of American students to grapple with controversial subjects under the pretext that it might distress them. He emphatically rejected the premise that students should be “coddled and protected from different points of views.”
[. . .]
To be sure, some of the postings on microaggression blogs may be overblown, and many professors, myself included, are reluctant to include content warnings on our syllabi. For their part, the “diversity managers” in university administration are sometimes too quick to jump into action, codifying and implementing cumbersome and overreaching protections. Nevertheless, these missteps, even in the aggregate, do not constitute evidence of a pervasive “victim mentality,” widespread moral decay, and an assault on free speech. Typically, Campbell and Manning’s evidence is anecdotal and relies on conflating substantively different forms of dissent. They lump together hunger strikes, hate crime hoaxes, protest suicides and microaggressions as comparable illustrations of this cultural turn. More importantly, microaggressions, trigger warnings and even the controversy over Woodrow Wilson’s legacy are not the ultimate target of this critique.
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(NOTE: I'm Emporium)
We've heard how some students at Columbia protested that most courses in the humanities should come with trigger warnings. We've heard them complain of how, for example, Ovid is replete with references to rape, and of the Greek culture's casual acceptance of it--it either does the woman no harm (in their literature, the raped eventually marry their rapists), or was her fault. 
What we haven't yet heard, though, is a core of students complaining that perhaps the like of Greek studies shouldn't be canon, shouldn't be studied at all, only that it can marginalize. That is, I think that it is actually possible that students haven't yet become radical enough. For it really seems logical that if you're at the point where you see triggering material everywhere--and Greek drama, for instance, is full of sexual assault--that you check and recheck the reasons why you're still sure it should be studied. Maybe its not "foundational" but unrelated to us. A bush fire, a "Nam," into which we still keep throwing students in?
Maybe what should be pointed out to students is that despite their keen protests they yet still cling? 
@Emporium There is a strong case to be made that stories of rape in mythology should not simply be glossed over as metaphors or as supernatural explanations for the births of founding heroes, but addressed for what they are, which was just as much a reality of life in antiquity as now. Ovid's Book 1 of the Metamorphoses is quite a literary tour de force: it's the same "origin story" told over and over but with variations, rather like a poetic version of Ravel's Bolero. The story is: god lusts for mortal or lesser deity, attempts to rape her, is thwarted when she transforms into something else (tree, river reeds, cow), god solves the problem by appropriating the newly created thing as his own: his sacred tree, his Pan-flutes, or in the case of Zeus and Io, he just turns himself into a bull. There are a dozen possible feminist readings of that text. Why not encourage students to pursue them instead of sweeping the obvious under the rug?
@agrippina minor @Emporium I think I'd disagree with the "just as much a reality of life in antiquity as now," part of your argument. Perhaps pederasts, rapists, were just more commonplace--and not even seen as all that bad. Maybe the student who doesn't find the culture all that entrancing, isn't so much "missing something," but just knows a pervert when they spot one, and finds their art just as besotted. The better feminist, not the one who applies a reading to the text, but the one who sustains a different one. 
@Emporium @agrippina minor Here's an idea: maybe don't take a course in ancient Greek literature if you're not interested in ancient Greek literature.  Why does it have to be excised from everyone ELSE'S curriculum?

It's not wall-to-wall rape and pederasty.  I need to be shielded from Priam's plea to Achilles because someone ELSE is made uncomfortable by the kidnapping of Helen?

@Emporium @agrippina minor I've got a surprise for you, my friend. Professors of literature don't consider even the great works of classical literature sacrosanct. I got perhaps the best grade of my college career for a paper trashing Euripides' "Trojan Women." I acknowledged what the author was trying to do and then enumerated my reasons for thinking it didn't work. My husband describes a similar experience with a paper he wrote for an English class. The paragraph his professor liked the best was the one that began "But in the fifth stanza, this all falls apart." If the student hates the work, let him, or her, write a paper explaining why! The one condition is, it must be a well-reasoned argument supported by facts, not a rant.
@Emporium It is impossible to take Greek mythology out of the Western canon, for the simple reason that too many later works reference the older Greek myths, and it is impossible to understand the allusions without it. How could you, for instance, begin to comprehend Joyce's Ulysses if you were unaware of Homer? 
Then what do you do, excise Joyce from the canon because to understand his work you need to read material written in a time when everyone wasn't as progressive on things like women's rights? That's okay, I guess. But if that's your standard (nothing written in a time when women were considered objects and nothing referencing such times), you aren't just getting rid of the Greeks, you are getting rid of pretty much the whole canon.
Either that, or this is just satire and you don't really believe that books from less progressive times need to be excised from today's reading lists. 
@Adelaide McGinnity @Emporium If ancient Greeks are bad company, some thought should be taken as to how much contact with them can worsen you, even as much as it might make it possible to get more from Ulysses. I say might, because the person who thereafter encountered Ulysses has got to bring what happened to him or her into the reading as well. It is possible that they'd have done better blanking on the references, but spared long company with the rape-apologist Greeks, while encountering Joyce.
The humanities should be about creating not just a broad-minded person but a more emotionally healthy one. Given that 21st-century progressives are vastly more progressive than, say, 18th-century ones, perhaps the focus should mostly be on minds within the last century. More Gloria Steinem, and no Aristotle at all. Those who advocate going back to enrich the experience, should be expected to be mature in balancing thoughts on what might be gained, with the fact of their advocating trips into Mordor. 
@Emporium @Adelaide McGinnity I must respectively disagree with you.
It is impossible to focus on the great minds of the present while blithely ignoring the great minds of the past, in large part because the works of today's thinkers are built on the ideas of thinkers from the past. You can't simply start with Derrida. You can't even really start with Marx; you need to go back to Greeks in order to understand the progression of western thought and western philosophy.
But beyond that, the case you are making is bothersome to me as a supporter of liberal education. No intelligent mind should be bothered by the revelation that ancient cultures had different values from today's culture and that, therefore, what is celebrated and considered normal in works from the past will not be what is valued and celebrated today. Certainly there are some who are bothered by this, but rather than bend the liberal arts to their whim, we should instead be thinking about how best to remedy the fact that they were clearly unprepared for the liberal arts in the first place. 
Being educated means reading works with which you disagree and which might offend today's standards of decency. If you disagree, well, then perhaps the liberal arts simply aren't your thing.
@Emporium @Adelaide McGinnity Part of being emotionally healthy is learning to deal with reality.  

Our cultural history is filled with good things and bad things and if we excise the bad things from education then we give the impression that the whole of Western history has been one long rights-respecting jamboree.

People stop acknowledging racism and sexism if they're never shown any examples of it. People start taking their own point of view for granted as the way things have always been if they're not exposed to the evolution of western thought.

And honestly, if you really can't take the depiction of sexual assault in Ovid without becoming emotionally unbalanced, then heaven help you if you ever wander into the Student Union while Game of Thrones is playing.

People go to college to grow, not to shrink.  Depicting something is not the same as condoning it.

Our Founders were slaveholders.  Slavery is, to say the least, an alarmingly unpleasant and emotionally stressful subject.  But we're not doing anyone any favors if we either exclude slavery from the history of our nation or stop teaching about the Founders altogether.

@Gonzago @Emporium @Adelaide McGinnityOur Founders were slaveholders.  Slavery is, to say the least, an alarmingly unpleasant and emotionally stressful subject.  But we're not doing anyone any favors if we either exclude slavery from the history of our nation or stop teaching about the Founders altogether.
I'm sure there are a lot of conservatives who know history up to their eyeballs; it hasn't prevented them from a disposition that finds any significant advance in  a populace's empowerment, somehow threatening. 
Maybe the foremost thing we can do to prevent racist attitudes has more to do with alleviating the inclination to project, with alleviating trauma, than it has to do with information. I know very literate, progressive people who simply don't read history--they smell the regressive personalities, therein. I personally find them less suspect than those who so easily found themselves entranced with these inadequate peoples of yesterday. 
@Emporium @Gonzago @Adelaide McGinnity If you're shielding yourself from reality because it's unpleasant, then maybe being a student isn't for you.

The foremost thing we can do to prevent racist attitudes is to confront the issue head on, not seek to filter what people are taught.  To teach people how to think, not what to think, and to allow them to engage in a meaningful, informed debate.
History is unpleasant.  The western canon reflects a good deal of that unpleasantness.  The modern world is unpleasant.  The best literature from the last century also reflects that unpleasantness.
You can't teach people about liberation without telling them what they're being liberated from.  It's like abstinence-only sex education.  Doesn't do a lot of good to tell kids to not do something if you can't describe what that something is.

@Emporium @Adelaide McGinnity No no no. The study of history through literature is not a psychotherapy class. The study of history, and of literature, demands the scholar be exposed to all manner of nastiness, of horror. The understanding of the depravity of which human nature is capable is essential to a meaningful education. 
An obvious example: the scourge of Nazism is horrifying for sure and in some sensitive and intelligent people that history will produce nightmares. 
Those nightmares are good to have. They are a marker of good character.
A true scholar will read Mein Kampf. And also Andrea Dworkin. And so on... 
@Buzz Wallard @Emporium @Adelaide McGinnity Does every scholar think of themselves as akin to Hemingway? What makes them potent is the fact they took in the horror as well?
Germans had the worst childrearing in all of Europe. They subjected their children to all sorts of frights that were ostensibly for their own good. All it did was make them hate the "spoiled" Jews who were rather more comfortably--in their less traumatized fashion--making something of Weimar opportunities. 
My hope is that some of these Columbia students applying warnings to subject matter some scholars see as necessary for good character, help nurture a sense of the scholar as someone who doesn't necessarily see themselves as deprived if they couldn't endure Mein Kampf for more than a page.  
@Adelaide McGinnity @Emporium And then there's this to consider: if 18 year olds are coming into college and are shocked...SHOCKED!...to discover that the Greek Myths are rife with kidnapping, torture, sexual assault and the inhumanity of war, well, maybe that's because they've been shielded too much in primary and secondary school.

I'm not saying we need to go over the Rape of the Sabine Women in fourth grade, but a college kid walking into a course on ancient Greek literature really ought to have some comprehension of what the basic material is.

Especially considering that you don't usually get to those classes in freshman year.  Deep readings of Ovid are typically upper division courses.

So if you've spent a year or two in college and still are surprised to read depictions of sexual assault in ancient texts, I'm not too sure we're doing you any favors by skirting the issue.

Because when will you be able to handle it?  In your 30s?

To be sure, some of the postings on microaggression blogs may be overblown, and many professors, myself included, are reluctant to include content warnings on our syllabi. 
Why doesn't Salon ever provide us with a post by a professor who doesn'tthink microaggression blogs are overblown, and who isn't reluctant to include content warnings on their syllabi? Why must the voice of sanity still be a sort of curmudgeon? still sound sort of old? 
Maybe the most strident students actually have it right. Maybe we just don't realize the damage that was done to us; have taken the insane as actually sane; and the most evolved of youth can't fool themselves as to how much of what we accept as normal is actually full of completely unnecessary pathos/sadism, and so their justified, complaint after complaint? Maybe before we end our lives they're the last chance for us to rethink how we've been shaped, and start uncovering a real self as opposed to one that was actually much more broken rather than tested by the world that bore down on it. 
@Emporium Voice of sanity?  You mean like calling out all those people throwing out the PC card because "other " people are "too sensitive" yet they see THEMSELVES as victims?