Not an Excuse, But…

So, I have a friend, or, I guess, you can work with a dude for a year and drink with him regularly and now he’s not a friend, but just some guy you used to know in the course of a “full disclosure.” Saying he’s only someone I used to work with seems, to me, in my case, disingenuous. I liked the shit out of him and have cheered for him at various stages in his career. On the other hand, when he came through town last and saw his “friends from the Scene,” I wasn’t among the people he tried to get together with, though he apologized later, which is how I found out he’d been in town at all. So, that’s, I guess, the accurate assessment of our friendship. We kind of keep track of each other and I’ve been excited to see where his career might go.

So, here’s also the thing. He fucked up. Badly. And now a person is dead.

But, here is also the thing. As much as I read his story and imagined with growing horror what he was doing and what that would mean if he were writing about someone I knew–what if this were my friend V. instead of just some stranger?–I read his story and imagined with growing horror whether I would have written that story that way. And the thing that I keep coming back to is this: I’m not sure. Maybe not in this particular case. Maybe, if the circumstances were that I found out that a person I was investigating for a story about golf clubs was transgender and really, really didn’t want that to come out, I might back off. Maybe I might be smart enough to ask around about how best to handle the situation. Especially if I knew she’d tried to commit suicide before.

But I write about Scott DesJarlais regularly, about what a fucking tool he is. And I know he was suicidal at one point (I mean, say what you want and claim you knew the gun was empty, but sitting around with the barrel in your mouth does not make you non-suicidal) and I know he didn’t want the fact that he’d pressured his girlfriend into having an abortion to come out and I jumped right on the dog pile.

It’s supposed to be better because he chose to be a public person and he’s a vile jackass, but is it? I’m not sure.

I’m also not sure because I think a lot of writing–in my case, a lot of blogging–is pretty formulaic. I think, in fact, people’s own narratives about themselves are pretty formulaic (hence why Tarot cards work). And the whole “scrappy reporter sticks it to the rich and powerful” is a pretty strong narrative. It’s at the heart of the phrase I’ve seen bandied about against my friend–Afflict the comfortable, comfort the afflicted. I feel fairly certain that this was the strong, simply narrative at the heart of the urge to uncover this woman’s fraud (let me be clear: about her education and credentials). How dare you, rich and powerful person, try to pull one over on the public?

But it’s at the point that the simple narrative falls short that I feel uncertain. If you discover that your framework for the story is the wrong one–that this isn’t a powerful person fucking over the unwitting–how certain are you that the other simple shorthand ways you have for explaining the situation are workable, not outdated, not so bloody fucking violent? I’ve known my friend a long time and we’ve had a lot of discussions about writing and justice and sticking it to The Man. And it would have never occurred to me that, sitting in his writerly toolkit, unused but waiting in case he needed it, was “trans women are unstable frauds.”

So, I kind of don’t know how to process that. And, frankly, obviously, that’s not just a narrative he had on hand, ready to snap it into place when the story he was telling became strange to him, but one his editors also saw and thought seemed plausible and fine.

I feel kind of disjointed and incoherent about this. But I’ll just say this. A lot of the discussion of this story is about how my friend is some obvious villain. But I am certain that, if anyone reading this had sat down and had a beer with him before this happened, you’d find a guy you liked, a guy you thought was on your side.

And I get why everyone is all “Oh, not me! I would never…” But I just don’t believe it. And, in part, I don’t believe it because I would have believed my friend when he said something similar (and, in fact, as people have pointed out, he pretty much did when talking about the Kellers).

I feel like saying “Oh, not me! I would never…” is a lie. For me, anyway. I feel pretty certain I’d never write about a trans woman this way or go around outing her to her acquaintances. But I’m not certain I’d never fuck someone over in my writing as badly as my friend fucked over this woman. I’m especially not certain because I know I think there are a lot of people who deserve to be raked over the coals. I mean, who cares if fucking DesJarlais has some nights of discomfort?

I don’t know. I don’t really have a point. A woman is dead. And my friend seems to obviously have contributed to that death. And everyone else seems so angry and certain that this is beyond what a decent person would do. And yet, I know my friend and I’d call him a decent person. So, that certainty scares me.

Diversity Has to Mean More than Just “and Minorities”

Yesterday, over at Southern Alpha, they put up a post titled “5 Nashvillians Who Changed The Course of History For Entrepreneurs.” On the one hand, it’s heartening to see people like R.H. Boyd on the list. On the other hand, they also put Ray Danner on there. Ray Danner, as you may recall, is infamous for using his company, Shoney’s, to oppress black people. He wasn’t just a racist. He was a racist who went out of his way to ruin black people’s lives.

From the Baltimore Sun.

Shoney’s said Mr. Danner would not comment on the settlement, but according to his own deposition in the suit, he was not shy about sharing his theories about hiring blacks.

“I have on occasion given my opinion that a possible problem area was that the specific store in question had too many black employees working in it as compared to the racial mix of the geographical area served by the store,” Mr. Danner said in the deposition.

According to a deposition by Mike Vinson, a manager of Shoney’s restaurants in the Prattville, Ala., area, managers with what were considered too many black employees were often told with a wink that it was “too cloudy” in the restaurant and were directed to “lighten it up some.” At other times, a white manager, Daniel Gibson, said in his deposition, Mr. Danner was more blunt, saying, “I don’t like niggers, and I don’t want to see them in my stores.”

Lawyers for the plaintiffs said blacks accounted for 38.6 percent of Shoney’s kitchen workers in 1989, 8.4 percent of servers, 3.7 percent of midlevel managers and trainees, and 1.8 percent of managers.

I’m not sure how Southern Alpha missed this part of Danner’s career history. Books have been written about it. And yes, Danner was an important entrepreneur but, holy Jesus, it’s not like he was racist a million years ago. The Shoney’s settlement was in my adult lifetime. What lessons, exactly, are entrepreneurs supposed to learn from Danner’s example? That, if you hate a group of people, you can use your power to deny them decent jobs and fire anybody who works for you who objects? And what kind of message are black entrepreneurs supposed to take from this? That white guys, no matter how racist, will be celebrated by your peers as long as they’re successful? I mean, maybe that’s true, but you’d think it wouldn’t be so blatant.

A commitment to diversity can’t just mean “and now we include minorities.” It has to mean, “and we make some value judgements about the guys who actively thwarted minorities.” I mean, think of it this way. If you were a young African-American entrepreneur who one day wanted to open your own restaurant chain, so you thought you’d go work at Shoney’s for a few years and move up the ranks and see how Danner did things, you could not. You could work in the kitchen, but look at those statistics. Were you going to ever be a manager? No.

The most obvious path to learning the skills you need–model yourself after a success like Danner–was closed to you because Danner didn’t want to see people like you in his stores.

Fuck this dude.

Was he successful? Obviously. Did he pave the way? For a lot of people in his communities, not only didn’t he pave the way, if he found a paved way, he tore it up so that the black people in his communities couldn’t benefit from him. We don’t have to make Danner an eternal villain, but come on! Why is anyone praising him like he’s a hero? And why would anyone who wanted to show the South as a diverse, inclusive place where anyone can be a successful entrepreneur celebrating a dude who actively worked to make sure that wasn’t true?

I Was Hacked

Well, let me apologize if I have your email in my Yahoo account because you probably spent part of the afternoon getting spammed by me.

I’m not exactly sure how it happened. I mean, yes, my email password was Password1234, but I thought the capital P would be tricky. Ha ha ha. No, just kidding. My password wasn’t something simple to guess or associated with me in any obvious way.  Yahoo lets you track where log-ins happen and from where (kind of), so I was able to ascertain that some dude from Poland got in using a Yahoo affiliated application. I’m not sure what applications Yahoo has other than Flickr, so that’s my guess for how he got in–through Flickr somehow.

I already had in place all the things Yahoo says to have in place to keep from getting hacked–strong password, fancy picture on the login page, etc. So, other than changing my password, I’m not sure what more I can do, but I’m hoping it’s over.

Unless it’s retaliation for my snarky attitude toward government snooping in our data. In which case, yes, you got a few emails from me, but the NSA just had to sift through hundreds. So, that’s kind of fair, right?

Again, I am sorry.

Here is My Bellybutton

Ugh, people. Sorry it’s been so crappy around here. The truth is that I’m lately feeling like it’s more interesting to listen than it is to talk, which makes for difficult blogging. It’s like, I wish I could read comment threads full of you guys without having to start them by saying something worth commenting on. I’m not down about it or anything. I also like listening. I’m just saying, being in a listening and reading mood is hard on a person’s writing. You can’t breathe in and out at the same time.

I’ve also not worked out a good system for writing when the Butcher is here, which means I’m feeling a little constipated in that regard. And, you know, it’s kind of weird. I went so long with having Project X to sweat over and then the Think Progress stuff and The Hooded Utilitarian that to have everything just be basically over all at once… well, it means I have to find a way to pick back up the work I most want to be focused on.

On the other hand, I got some good feedback on one of my stories, so, if I had some time to work on it, I totally could. And I think I’ve figured out the problem with another story. So, if I had some time to work on it, I totally could.

I’m hoping I can do this summer what I did last summer and take Fridays off. That would give me a good stretch of alone time I could count on. And I would love to go spend some more time in the garden at Traveller’s Rest.

I’m also secretly dreaming of a way to get into Glen Leven.

So, that’s me. Mostly listening and dreaming. The writing will come around again.

And Then about Black Blackface Minstrelsy

You thought I was just reading all that stuff for fun! Okay, I was, but also because I was invited to do a guest post at The Hooded Utilitarian and I wanted to write about Darkest America: Black Minstrelsy from Slavery to Hip-Hop by Yuval Taylor and Jake Austen, a book I really liked, but had one serious issue with. My post over at The Hooded Utilitarian is an attempt to answer the one question I thought Taylor and Austen left oddly unanswered.

I just want to thank Barry for his help with the song stuff in the middle of the post (though he didn’t know at the time that his help would be going to this end and neither did I). And to Elias for turning me on to The Hooded Utilitarian those many years ago.

Just Some Stuff I Want to Say

This has been the roughest couple of days I’ve had blogging in a long, long time. I can’t sleep. I’m having trouble making sure I’m eating enough at the right times so that I don’t get sick. I feel like shit. Every time I see there’s another comment here, I hide from it for as long as I can before I come to look at it.

I don’t say any of this because I want your sympathy. What I want is just to give you some context for the apology I’m about to offer. In the old days, I used to love these long discussions, because I was an idiot and I thought you really could just hash this shit out in public and some good would come of it. Some minds would be changed.

But the truth is that I don’t believe that’s true and I haven’t for a while. I don’t believe big messes like the one we had here actually change minds. I think they’re just cathartic and terrible in equal measure. Often just terrible and hurtful.

In part, in order to be effective, the person moderating the comments has to have a generosity of spirit and a level of kindness and understanding that is completely outside of my ability. From where I’m sitting, it seems like you’d have to have an inhuman generosity of spirit. So, if you got in that comment thread and it sucked, yes, I knew and I am sorry. It’s just not something I can do–guide a conversation like that in ways that keep everyone on track and everyone, including myself, from feeling like they’re being attacked. I also don’t have the ability to not take shit personally. If it hurts me, it hurts me and I’m going to react.

So, that fucking sucks.

But I also want to say this–tempers were running very high, mine especially. And I know there were a lot of people just watching the shit storm from the sidelines and then forming opinions of the people involved. Or feeling like this incident solidified feeling they already had. That it “proved” something about someone, whoever the someone was to you.

One fight one time in one place is not the whole of who a person is. It doesn’t settle or prove anything about a person. We change. (Though, as I said, I doubt because of shitstorms like this). Or we hold one opinion that seems stupid or out of character but otherwise we’re fine and wonderful people. Or whatever.

God, this post is making me just want to burn this blog to the ground.

But I guess what I’m saying is that, if you want to use the internet to decide who the bad guys or good guys here in town are, don’t solely use moments like these to decide. People aren’t just their fuck-ups.

On Chris Wage’s Cunt

Chris thinks it’s stupid that people are upset about The Onion’s joke calling Quvenzhane Wallis a cunt. More bafflingly, he “thought the onion’s joke was hilarious.” Ha ha ha. No. Even setting aside for a moment–which we will come back to–what the joke calls Quvenzhane, it’s still a joke that takes a nine-year-old girl hostage in order to point out how horribly women are treated by Oscar commentary and then shoots the hostage! Ooops, guess what, The Onion and Chris? Once the hostage is dead, you’ve lost your leverage.

Wage acts like Quvenzhane’s appearance in the joke is incidental–that the joke can somehow be about her and yet have nothing to do with her. In that regard, I think Wage is being an idiot. A joke about a person that the person the joke’s about can’t honestly and spontaneously laugh at is probably a joke a lot of people are going to find, unsurprisingly, doesn’t work. A joke about a woman that the woman who is the center of it can’t laugh at and probably shouldn’t even hear unless she’s got a team of people around her to put it in context for her (as Wage seems to acknowledge this joke would take–“So yes, she probably has heard about it. What horrible things exactly are we imagining have happened as a result? A brief explanation by her parents that it was a joke poking fun at institutional sexism and the vacuity of celebrity viciousness in general? A more in-depth conversation about the power of the word “cunt” and how its colloquial usage is pernicious and should be avoided, and how the Onion turned that on its head to make a rather biting point?”) isn’t a joke with a woman as the subject of it. It’s a joke in which the woman is an object. It’s not a joke for her. It’s a joke about her.

And one, if she hears it, she’s just supposed to learn to think is funny. It’s cruel to make jokes about people they can’t willingly laugh at (I keep saying things like “willingly” and “spontaneously” because we are taught from an early age to laugh at things we don’t find funny, things that often hurt us, because people tell us to. I’m trying to differentiate between what people laugh at because they feel pressured to and what they would laugh at if no one was judging them.), but often cruel jokes are hilarious. So, I’m not opposed to cruel jokes.

But when you’re making a joke about someone and you don’t care if that person is in a position to laugh at it at all, then that’s not just comedy–that’s comedy that uses, in this case, a little girl as an object. Again, I say, it’s not surprising that people would find that not funny.

But I want to make another point as well. It is very, very difficult to make a true statement funny. It’s not that it can’t be done, but, if you’re going to attempt it, you need to be prepared to fail miserably. Which, in this case, The Onion did. Wage makes the same mistake when he says, “Because calling a 9 year old girl a cunt is a horrible, horrible thing to do.” Chris, no one thinks that.

Okay, not no one. A very small pool of people in this world genuinely think that calling any girl a cunt is actually horrible. Women get called cunts our whole lives and when we get confused or put off or upset or angry, and we look to the very same people who I’m sure would tell Wage that they think calling a nine year old girl a cunt is horrible, they tell us the people who call us cunts don’t mean it, or we just need to understand where they’re coming from. Or that they’re just joking. (We’re coming back to this in a second.). We get the message over and over again, loud and clear, that there’s nothing wrong, not really, with calling us cunts. Because we are.

You’re incredibly fortunate if you live in a situation where it’s obviously funny to call a nine year old a cunt because of how horrible it is. Because most of us don’t live in situations where people think it’s that horrible at all. They just think it’s true.

For them, The Onion joke was funny for that reason–because The Onion just went ahead and said what everyone else is thinking. But again, then the joke only works if we’re saying that that it’s not important that the person at the center of it be able to laugh at it. It’s funny because it’s true, in this case, works because the people who think it’s funny think so little of women. Could you make a joke in which the punchline is “so-and-so is kind of a cunt” and have it be funny to the very people who regularly get called cunts? I think so. This was, as evidenced by its reception, not that joke.

Why not? I’ve actually been giving this a lot of thought since I read Chris’s post last night. Why doesn’t this joke work for me? And I think that it goes beyond that I find calling a nine year old girl a cunt distasteful (which I do, but I laugh at distasteful shit all the time) or that I find it gross that a little black girl who’s going to spend her whole life being hypersexualized by popular culture gets labeled a cunt, even as a joke, straight out of the gate (which I do and you can find good and useful commentary about that all over the internet). It even goes beyond the fact that I live in a culture where women are cunts so how is a statement of fact really a joke?

And it’s this: Every time I’ve been called a cunt, when the dude who called me a cunt got called on it by someone he respected, his excuse was that he was joking. Every damn time. Can’t she take a joke? And yet, obviously, he wasn’t joking at all. He meant it.

So, The Onion is trying to land a joke that is more complicated than Wage gives it credit for. There’s already a non-joke joke in wide circulation that is “Ha ha, I called you a cunt, but I say I was joking, even though I meant it, so that makes it okay.” Most women are going to hear it in their lifetimes. The Onion wants to make a joke that is “Ha ha, I called this little girl a cunt, but I’m joking in a style that looks like I mean it, so that makes it okay.” In order to land the joke The Onion was attempting to land and not have it veer into the non-joke joke which is the more culturally familiar one, The Onion would have to be the fucking Mike Tyson of comedians (See? In a paragraph about landing punches, I stick in a notorious rapist and it stings and is funny, because I’ve just spent all this time building it up and because we’re talking about how women can’t get away from this idea that we’re just objects for men to use however they want, so hello Mike Tyson. But I didn’t attempt that in 140 characters and I accept that it might not be funny to you.).

They failed.

I’m not saying it can’t be done. I’m not even saying that it can’t be done in 140 characters. But The Onion didn’t do it. They threw “I called this little girl a cunt, but I’m joking a a style that looks like I mean it so that makes it okay” and they landed “I called you a cunt, but I say I was joking, even though I meant it, so that makes it okay.”

I have a theory as to why, too. And that theory is because they had no idea that “I called you a cunt, but I say I was joking, even though I meant it, so that makes it okay” is as prevalent as it is. I don’t think they had the first idea that they were playing right up against an incredibly common trope. Much like Wage, I’m pretty sure that they thought the joke was “I’m saying something so horrible about a little girl that we’ll all laugh because it is so horrible.”

So, what backfired on them, I think, is that they thought they were making a funny original joke about things that are too horrible to say, when really, they were just making a more sophisticated version of the non-joke joke. Probably a wider variety of women on The Onion’s staff would have helped this.

Which brings me to my last point–if you’re going to make jokes ostensibly in defense of women, I’d prefer it if they not disparage any woman to try to get their laugh. But, fine, whatever. If, however, the point of your joke requires that the woman at the center of it probably not hear it, because it would upset her and she wouldn’t understand, and it requires the use of a word as a joke that most of us get called “as a joke” all the time, don’t pretend like it’s a joke about how terrible women have it. There isn’t actually any concern for how women have it in the joke. If you think it’s a problem that we’re objectified and that slurs are routinely tossed at us, you don’t objectify and toss slurs at us in order to protest our treatment.

Don’t pretend like, when a joke relies on objectifying a woman and calling her a cunt, and women are grossed out by it, it’s because women just can’t see what’s so funny about it. Maybe there’s a whole painful context to the joke you’re not aware of. Maybe Quvenzhane’s parents can come by and explain it to you.

My Last Think Progress Thing

I didn’t intend for them all to end up fantasy and horror, but they did. Here’s an interview with Jason Sizemore.

In case you’re counting, that means that, on Monday, I did whatever crap I tried to pass off as worthwhile here, my actual job, two posts for Think Progress even after I said to the Butcher, “I should take some time this weekend and write ahead some on Think Progress so that I don’t break my brain,” but did not follow my own advice, a post for Pith, and a post for Flyover Feminism that runs tomorrow.

I now can’t function I should make some squares, but I’m going to play video games and fret about my car and go to bed instead.