What You Will

Another Burma Shave billboard on the information superhighway. Random thoughts about arts, faith, culture, music, language, literature, and the shortcomings of the Hegelian dialectic. (OK, just kidding about that last bit.)

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See you later, Ted Slater

“When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”
——Lewis Carroll,
Alice through the Looking Glass

I've held off on posting this particular item as long as I could prudently do so, in hopes that it wouldn't have to come to this. But it has come to this.

First, a wee bit o' background. (There is actually a ton of background, and if I posted it all up front, I might never get to my actual topic.)

You might've heard the name James Dobson, director of a Christian organization called Focus on the Family. These days, when Dobson makes national headlines, it's often as a conservative political pundit. In particular, he's antagonized both of the presumptive U.S. presidential nominees, with the most recent attack coming just a few days ago. I followed Dobson pretty closely from the early '80s through the early '90s, when he was the commencement speaker at my college graduation. As far as I can remember, he wasn't such a bulldog then, and stuck closer to his core competency of giving advice on marriage, family, and child-rearing. But times change, and people change with them, and Dobson has refocused his agenda because he believes it's the right thing to do. I have no problem with that, per se. It is not wrong to subject presidential candidates to rigorous public scrutiny. And anyway, this post isn't really about Dobson. Sorry if you were beginning to think it was.

However, if Dobson used to be less of a bulldog, I certainly used to be more of one. Between the ages of about 13 and 16, when I was still a big fan of Dobson, I also thought defending the faith meant lashing out at anyone and everyone I disagreed with ... flinging any conceivable piece of crap I could find, no matter if it was true or not. I did this mostly by writing angry letters; thank God there was no Internet back then. I have since, I hope, grown up a bit, and become a bit less angry, and above all, learned that it's best to argue fairly and truthfully. Which may sometimes mean arguing less, because you have to pick arguments where you know the truth and believe that it has a reasonable chance to prevail. Which means that somehow I must still have a little hope that truth will prevail in the argument I'm going to tell you about.

I mentioned in the previous post that I don't make a regular habit on this blog of calling out people I disagree with. In one sense that's true, since I blog so seldom that hardly anything I do here can be construed as a regular habit. But in another sense, there's a fair amount of calling-out sprinkled throughout the blog, and there seems to be more of it lately. So perhaps I'm slipping a little. Still, there are certain things I won't stoop to. Lying, for instance.

Unfortunately I can't say the same for the person who's the subject of this post: Ted Slater, an editor for a Webzine called Boundless, published by James Dobson's Focus on the Family organization. The point of mentioning Dobson and his bulldog tactics is so that I may suggest that such tactics appear to be setting the standard for how other individuals in that organization behave — at least judging from Ted's recent conduct.

That conduct consists of a blog post under the headline "Christianity Today Relishes Sexual Perversion." In that post, Ted "rips a new one," as the saying goes, for ChristianityTodayMovies.com because it dared to (a) publish a mixed review by Camerin Courtney of the film Sex and the City — a review which, despite expressing shock at the sexual content, actually found positive things to say about the film's other aspects; and (b) defend its right to do so.

Here cometh the obligatory Big Paragraph Full of Links.

As you can well imagine, Slater generated the controversy he seems to have been looking for. His own blog, BoundlessLine, has additional posts here and here, as well as a podcast here. Film critic Jeffrey Overstreet has blogged about it several times, most recently here, where you'll find links to his other posts on the topic. Christ and Pop Culture blogged it here and podcast it here. Patrol magazine responded to Slater here and rounded up some other bloggage here. FilmChat chatted away about it here. World on the Web took it for a spin here. And finally, critic Gene Veith has hosted two long and very interesting discussions at his own blog, first here and then here, in which both Ted and I have participated. If you don't have time to peruse all these links, then just check out the last two. And I hope you didn't read this paragraph out loud, because if you did, you probably have every dog in the neighborhood scratching on your door, wondering why you keep saying "Here."

The biggest gripe that people have with Ted seems to concern the headline I quoted, which Ted has described as "effectively tabloidesque." I and others have argued — correctly, I believe — that it's unfair, untrue, and defamatory to suggest that Christianity Today or anyone who works there actually "relishes sexual perversion," or to represent the review in question as endorsing pornography, which is what Ted says it does. Ted, using an argument that Lewis Carroll's Humpty Dumpty would be proud of, replies that by "Christianity Today" he means the "entity" of that publication and/or its "caretakers" (but he won't name names), and that by "sexual perversion" he means "the [Sex and the City] franchise."

Ted also says that the franchise trivializes sex, and he might be right about that, but in his haste to combat the trivialization of sex he is actively working to destroy the reputations of innocent people, while defending himself with a phony argument. I mean, really, if Sister Wendy praised Goya's Cronos Devouring His Children, would Ted be justified in saying the Roman Catholic Church relished cannibalism? Ted reminds me of myself as a teenager, only he's not a teenager; he is roughly my age and well educated (even if both his master's degrees are from Pat Robertson's Regent University). He knows exactly what he's doing.

So what to do? Reason with Ted? It's been tried. Point out the flaws in his logic? It's been tried. Demonstrate how he's misrepresenting and misquoting this film review? Tried. Use reductio ad absurdum to show how silly his arguments are? Tried. Give counterexamples to expose his double standards? Tried. Suggest that one problem with being "effectively tabloidesque" is that tabloid journalism lacks credibility? Tried. Call him on the phone and discuss the matter privately? Tried. Use sarcasm? Tried. Get angry and call him names? Tried. Point out that he's committing defamation, and he and his employer could be liable for civil penalties? Tried. Throw the question open to his colleagues to see whether he has their support, or is just a loose cannon? Tried. Give him a faceful of his own medicine by observing that he's bearing false witness, and calling him to repent?


What follows is what hasn't been tried — until now.

You see, in addition to working for Focus on the Family, Ted also is or has been a freelance Web developer, and at his own Web site he encourages his clients to purchase hosting services from GoDaddy.com. Here are his exact words:
I'm very familiar with the various features provided by GoDaddy, and heartily recommend we use them to purchase and configure your domain name.
GoDaddy.com. That's the company that, over the past four years, has spent millions on Super Bowl ads (this year's ad alone cost $2.7 million just for the time slot) featuring scantily clad women shaking their money makers to sell domain hosting and registration services. That's the company whose CEO hosts a video blog with entry after entry labeled "MATURE CONTENT." (No, I didn't watch any of the entries, and I won't provide any links. Find it yourself. If you want to read about this stuff without running the risk of having to look at it, try Wikipedia.) Several of GoDaddy's ads have been rejected because they were too sexually oriented for broadcast television. This year, GoDaddy simply ran a "teaser" ad during the Super Bowl — directing viewers to its Web site, where they could watch the ad that was too salacious to show on TV.

Talk about trivializing sex. And where does GoDaddy get millions to spend on T&A? From the customers that people like Ted Slater send its way. I have registered a few domains myself, and made a point of not using GoDaddy because of its prurient ads. Ted? He puts his money where his mouth is. GoDaddy is the registrar and host for both tedslater.com and ijot.com, where Ted has posted some of his writing (including a graduate paper on the "ethics of lying"). Ted's Focus on the Family e-mail address is listed as the administrative contact for one of those sites.

Friends and neighbors, I am certain that Ted didn't mean to "heartily recommend" GoDaddy's ads, only its services. But it becomes a bit difficult to extricate one from the other; the company deliberately makes this marketing approach part of its brand, because it knows that in this culture, sex sells. Even Sex and the City "cleaned up" its TV show for broadcast television, which is something GoDaddy wouldn't do with its ad. And as Ted himself has observed in the course of this controversy, bad company corrupts good morals. Affiliating oneself with GoDaddy, and heartily recommending that others do likewise, hardly leaves one in a position to point fingers over the trivialization of sex. Furthermore, I should hardly think it appropriate for an employee of Focus on the Family, which champions a traditional Christian perspective on sexuality, to be endorsing GoDaddy on the side, either verbally or financially. If you give money to an organization, you are in some measure responsible for what that organization does with your money. At least that's what Rev. Don Wildmon, founder of the American Family Association, used to say when he'd do guest shots on James Dobson's radio shows.

It comes down to this: Ted Slater is not only a liar but a hypocrite.

Please observe, gentle reader, that I have not attributed to Ted anything he did not do or say, and I have not violated his privacy. All the information I have used is publicly available. I merely noted his public endorsement of a particular corporation and connected it with publicly known facts about that corporation. I have no control or say over what happens next, and am in no position to make demands; let the chips (and Humpty Dumpty) fall where they may. But here is what I heartily recommend:
  1. Ted should immediately divest himself of any and all financial ties to GoDaddy.com, transfer his domains to another host/registrar, and strongly urge his past, present, and future clients to do the same. He should post sufficient proof that he has done this.
  2. He should recant his hearty recommendation of GoDaddy and instead post the reasons his clients should not use GoDaddy.
  3. Concerning Christianity Today and its film review, Ted should withdraw all of his remarks — none of which he was in any moral position to make — and post a public, prominent, and abject apology on his blog. He should also apologize to Christianity Today in a letter to the editor.
  4. He should call all the king's horses and all the king's men, and see whether they can ... well, you know.
  5. He should get a job shoveling manure, which is evidently the one thing he is really good at, at least in a figurative sense.
As I said earlier, there is a ton of background. There are questions I could answer, and things I could blather on about, should it become necessary to do so. But that's what the comment-thread is for. Comments deemed interesting and germane to the topic will be accepted and replied to; comments deemed off-topic or inflammatory, or retreads of points that have been made in other blogs, will be cast into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. In other words, the floor is yours, kids, but do try not to knock over the furniture. And don't step in the raw egg.