Thursday, October 30, 2014

Rant about fame, micro-aggressions, and responses to them

This afternoon a good friend of mine, with whom I often talk politics and rhetoric, posted this to FB
Liberals be like:
"We must discount everything this person has ever said or ever will say because this one time, out of context, s/he said something that may have offended one of our Saintly Groups! (i.e. gays, trans folk, disabled, and nonwhite people)"
All. The. Time.
The comments section ended up being a rigorous run down of the way tumblr activist have "gone after" celebrities like Dan Savage, Laci Green, and Bill Mahr for saying/doing offensive things.

Firstly I need to state that I personally I love pieces of art/media made by people who hold politics or have done things that I find gratingly reprehensible. I love the show Community but like many I find Dan Harmon's behavior deeply troubling. I love Wes Anderson films and basically every project Tilda Swinton is associated with but both signed a petition supporting the release of Roman Polanski.

I do this by reminding myself that these people aren't their creations. Dan Savage is not the Savage Love. Laci Green is not Sex Plus. X celeb is not (just) their words, behaviors, and projects. This mantra helps me ease the cognitive dissonance I have surrounding my affinity for things crated by people I don't like. Now this practice isn't for everyone. Not every wants to or should be able to ease their contradiction in politics like this. I think it's okay to not subscribe to this way of thinking.

I don't see the mistakes in speech or rhetorical missteps people like Dan Savage and Laci Green as harmless. Regardless of their intent to do no harm or whether or not it was done to promote another "good" cause. And especially as those who are in the public eye and known for specifically for their progressive or inclusive projects. I see these missteps as micro-aggressions. Micro-aggressions signal many minority individuals (even those not under the purview of the offensive word/comment/approach) that this person will mock and potentially ostracize those that divergence from the "norm" (where "norm" is what the celeb considers normal).

When I see an educator or artist make a casual and probably unintentional slur, it cues me to suspend my trust and I begin to worry that this person's work may not be safe to share with some of the people I care about. It makes my hackles go up and I am angry for either myself (if the slur is against me) or on behalf of my siblings who are systematically ostracized by the rhetoric echoing in the mouth of said famous people.

These echoed slurs take them off my recommended list. I can't say that this social impulse is an entirely logical one, but it is very real. I feel it viscerally giving me hesitation when I consider recommending a celeb's content to someone else. Even if the content does not contain anything I found offensive, witnessing the unintentional harm they can cause, I worry that my privilege blinds me to other harmful sentiments and implications that might be a part of their work.

As I have written before, it's important to allow those in the public eye to be fallible. They aren't gods. And people end up seeing much more of their lives than most anyone would be comfortable sharing. And we all say, think, and echo busted oppressive shit from time to time. It's easy to do because it's in the stage directions of the script society has set down for us. That said, their words and actions do have significant cultural impact. Much more significant than most self-described critics on tumblr will probably ever have. And with great power comes great responsibility. Ideally everyone famous out there would watch this video:

Sadly this template is rarely followed. For so many reasons. But mostly because our culture doesn't allow celebrities to make mistakes (especially is they aren't white, cis men) so they feel hesitant to show themselves as having made one. They fear losing the social power and status that their fame gives them.

And that brings me to my next point. I, and these other "tumblr activists" can't ostracize famous people (if the them you are speaking about is either Dan Savage and/or Laci Green). Famous people, by virtue of their celebrity have substantially more social powers and receive more social recognition than I or any other of those tumblr activists do. Yes they can bully and they can say hateful, hurtful things, but celebrity buys you distance from your critics. And I don't deny that when I critique a celebrity that my own personal frustration about this imbalance of cultural attention comes through and as consequence makes me extra acerbic.

To me, though,  saying the tumblr social justice police are ostracizing Dan Savage or Laci Green is tantamount to crying "reverse racism". The power and privilege imbalance at play make it impossible for well supported progressive celebs to be "ostracized" by a small minority of folks who have a comparatively small audience.

I'm not saying that the "burn-it-to-the-ground" approach is called for, because it's usually not. I am saying that whatever impact the "tumblr police" have is significantly less than the impacts of the celebrities they are critiquing. Think of them as trolls if you like. Progressive trolls. They are as effective as other kinds of trolls, only a vaguely annoying/menacing aggregate.

And perhaps the level of the ire with which these celebrity's and their projects are targeted aren't just about the person themselves, or even their body of work. It might just be an inarticulate strike against the frustratingly unfair and often oppressive mechanisms that push some people into fame and notoriety and others into obscurity.

Also I have a limited amount of fucks to give about issues. And tend to shy away from handing them over to folks who are already appear to have a decent supply of social support and recognition from their chosen communities. I'm not saying they don't deserve my empathy, just that they don't appear to be in dire need of it. I honestly don't care if Dan Savage', or Laci Green', or Bill Mahr's images are damaged. They have public attention to spare.

Let's stop making heroes, because they will fuck up. And probably they won't apologize for it. Because heroes don't usually do that.

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