April 03, 2014

Debating #CancelColbert

#CancelColbert turns ugly: Why does it make white people so angry to talk about race?

People can disagree about #CancelColbert. But why's the response always so vile when people try to talk about race?

By Katie McDonough
Feel whatever you’d like about #CancelColbert (Brittney Cooper’s take is well worth your time), but those in the camp defending a television host’s (failed) attempt to satirize racism may want to ask themselves why they aren’t equally outraged by the racism and misogyny being hurled at the woman behind the conversation.

Suey Park is a writer and activist, but follow most of the conversation around #CancelColbert and you will read that she is a “hashtag activist” — a coded bit of language meant to communicate that she is not a person who should be taken seriously. (Follow what’s going on in Park’s Twitter mentions and you will see that a frightening number of people believe much worse.)

HuffPost Live invited Park to do a segment Friday morning, but rather than discuss what makes for good satire or mention the racist and misogynistic responses Park received (and tweeted about) while trending the hashtag, host Josh Zepps asked her if she understood comedy and called her opinions “stupid.” After a tense exchange with Zepps, Park said that she was done—that she wasn’t going to entertain inquiries about her intelligence or motives when the question of racism was not being taken seriously. Zepps seemed all too happy to oblige; he said a chipper goodbye and promptly cut her feed, prompting W. Kamau Bell to tweet that Zepps “reigns down the full weight of his #WhitePrivilege” during the segment.

Dave Weigel, who was critical of the hashtag from the start, weighed in at Slate to insinuate Park is somehow bullying Comedy Central—a television behemoth owned by a media behemoth—and question her activist bona fides:The network had made a powerful hashtag enemy, as Park reminded it. This was her work. She started hashtags like Comedy Central started six-episode sketch shows. The Guardian had placed her in a list of the “top 30 young people in digital media,” No. 12, right below “Kid President.” Her Facebook fan page and Twitter account provided information on how to book her, because she “speaks on race/gender and social media” and is a “board member of Activist Milennials.”He also seemed comfortable parroting a common right-wing cop-out, suggesting that when you bring the word “racist” into a conversation, it’s no longer a conversation—it’s a knife fight:As [hashtag activists] explained in 140-character bursts, when a white comedian like Colbert joked about racism by playing a racist, he was still telling his audience to laugh at a racist joke. Anyone who disputed this was trying to “whitesplain” satire—an argument that can never be debunked. You can laugh at being told to “check your privilege,” but hearing that plants an idea that you can’t shake. (This is not necessarily a bad thing, even though this particular hashtag was born midair above a shark.) And if it brings fame and clout to activists who have not really done anything to win your attention previously, that’s a sweet fringe benefit.Weigel is free to disagree with Park, but to question her legitimacy because she has different credentials than he does is plainly offensive. And it’s uncomfortable, put mildly, to see an established white male journalist suggest that an activist and writer of color hasn’t “done anything” to “win your attention.”
Why we fight about Colbert and Lena Dunham: Twitter politics are all we have left

Yes, social media's culture wars can get overheated and silly—because "real" politics is totally broken

By Andrew O'Hehir
First of all, I don’t get to tell people not to be offended by a joke or a tweet or some potentially revealing public gaffe, just because I think I understood it better than they did. Personally, I think Stephen Colbert’s biggest sin in the dubious “Sensitivity to Orientals” gag that sparked so much Internet navel-gazing on Friday is that it’s overworked and not very funny. It was a satirical jab directed at both Rush Limbaugh and Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder that was highly dependent on context; stripped of that context by the de-nuancing machine of Twitter, it came uncomfortably close to the kind of yahoo-flavored racist ugliness it was mocking. And, Stephen, that joke was never worth the risk in the first place. What we have here is a failure of comedy cost-benefit analysis.

But in this case, as in dozens of others of public discourse gone off the rails, I don’t have the right to instruct Asian-Americans or other commentators about whether or not they have been injured or insulted or attacked, or whether Colbert has something to apologize for. Let’s back up a year, to the 2013 Oscars: From the comfort of my sofa, I thought Seth MacFarlane’s “We Saw Your Boobs” musical number was pretty funny, and that its satirical intention, a takedown of Hollywood sexism and the “male gaze,” was clear enough. But the signal-to-noise ratio of MacFarlane’s shtick turned out to be way off, and millions of viewers received it in the opposite spirit, as a smug white dude making juvenile and offensive jokes about women’s bodies. So in that sense I was wrong. I’m still entitled to my private analysis, of course, but as a social event it wasn’t “funny” at all.

That might sound like I’m adopting a pose of excessive postmodern caution, or being the bearded dude in Birkenstocks who goes to the feminist bookstore to pick up chicks. But it’s more like an important lesson about life in a multivocal and diverse public culture, a lesson that, yes, white guys with media megaphones would do well to take seriously. Each of us needs to remember that our own subjectivity is not a universal condition, and that it was shaped by social and cultural forces we can’t necessarily see. Without any perception of your own possible or actual privilege and bias, you risk becoming the notorious Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, utterly convinced that you are an enlightened and reasonable person and deeply, hilariously wrong.
My white liberal frenemies: When Twitter exchanges reveal untrustworthy allies

Once again, the Colbert flap reminds us that it's not just white conservatives who traffic in supremacy online

By Brittney Cooper
Nothing made this point about the complicated nature of interaction with white liberals more apparent than last week’s Huffington Post Live interview with host Josh Zepps and Suey Park, the Twitter activist who trended #CancelColbert.

In the interview Park explains that the calls to cancel Stephen Colbert’s show were largely tactical. I suspected that, which is one reason I had no trouble supporting the campaign. But Suey also explained that one of the reasons the Colbert joke did not work is because it was a joke about race from a white liberal largely intended to pique the consciousness of other white liberals.

Unfortunately, Josh Zepps demonstrated just how dangerous unthoughtful liberalism can be in his interview with Park; he sneered at her and mocked her for the entire five minutes and even called her opinion stupid. Zepps felt threatened by Park’s analysis, he got emotional, and he verbally attacked her.

I think Suey’s call-out of white liberal complicity in this matter is exactly right. Though I am a big fan of Colbert’s show and though I know many people of color who are—one of my best homegirls from college is the person who turned me on to the show years ago—based on the passionate way in which Colbert’s defenders ran roughshod over many people of color to defend him, I wonder if I have been watching a show that ultimately does not have me in mind as it conceives its audience, even though I’m supposed to believe that satire has my best interest at heart.

I get the sense from at least a few of the Colbert apologists that I’m supposed to be happy with Colbert for the deftness with which he addresses most race issues. I’m supposed to be happy, and I’m supposed to shut up.

He’s one of the good guys.

Look. I suspect Stephen Colbert is one of the good guys. I just don’t know what that has to do with whether he messed up in this instance. Liberal political commitments do not make one’s race politics above reproach, because such arguments traffic in the fallacy that racism only happens if it is intentional.
On #CancelColbert and the Limits of 'Liberal Pass' Humor

By Arturo R. García[This] problem has plagued both The Colbert Report and its sister show, The Daily Show, for years: the notion that they constitute Liberal Passes for many of their fans and/or defenders. That, because the two shows mostly pick on conservative politicians or “The Media,” their viewers are progressive by default. No doubt some of these people are also quite happy to tell you these days that they Love Science because they watch Cosmos; after all, it even has a Black person in it!

As Mia McKenzie at Black Girl Dangerous puts it:

Where are these theoretical people who were racist until they watched “Colbert,” or “SNL,” or “Chelsea Lately,” or any other show that uses white racial satire, and had their racist minds changed? Do we really believe these people exist? Do we really believe there were hella people watching Colbert’s skit about Dan Snyder’s awful foundation who had their minds changed about it as soon as Asian slurs were thrown into the mix?

Thus, if Park is to be criticized for being supported in public by Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin, what does it say about Colbert that these are the types of sentiments expressed in his defense? ... [D]o these sound like people who are rushing to center Native American activism?
To reiterate García's points, who exactly would not get the mountains of criticism of the Redskins name, but would get it when Colbert compared the Redskins Foundation to the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation? Someone who's deaf and blind to Native criticism but completely sensitive to Asian criticism?

If this tiny group of people even exists, what are the odds that Colbert's "joke" would reach them? What are the much greater odds that the Asian "satire" would offend people who don't like racism in any form?

And if all of Colbert's fans "get it," why are they so vociferously attacking Suey Park and defending Colbert? Wouldn't a proper response be more like, "I disagree with your interpretation of Colbert's joke, but I agree that racism against Natives and Asians is an ongoing problem that we're not doing enough to combat."

The self-satisfied white privilege of Colbert's fans is glaring: "We get the joke, so we don't have to do anything else to fight racism. We get it so much that we can attack racial advocates who are doing the hard work of challenging the status quo while we pat ourselves on the back for our awareness."

Stewart, like Colbert

A related postings tells us more about "liberal racism":

Jon Stewart cursed me out: I dared question a “Daily Show” warm-up comic’s racist jokes

I asked why a "Daily Show" warm-up targeted African-Americans and a woman in a wheelchair. The host wasn't happy

By Alison Kinney
Jon Stewart came onstage to take a couple questions from the audience.

I believed in him. I believed in the subversive political humor of his show; I believed that he was delivering messages in a way the mainstream news media should take notice of. I believed that somebody had to speak for the scapegoats, and that a live-audience question to the boss would change things more effectively than a letter to the network. I believed that, if Stewart knew that his warm-up comic had been making invasive, racist gibes about a black couple’s sex life, he couldn’t possibly countenance it.

So I raised my hand and asked, “Why does your warm-up comedian use ethnic humor?”

In retrospect, I should have phrased it more accurately: Why does your show use a comedian whose politics and belief system are so clearly at odds with the show’s? Why is this kind of prejudice being associated with “The Daily Show”? But I was nervous; I didn’t rehearse my question beforehand; I felt I had no time to lose. My tone wasn’t combative, only curious. I didn’t see Stewart as a big media producer on a schedule: I saw him as a person who cared, who asked the same kind of questions I believed in asking.

Stewart’s face creased with annoyance. He said, shortly, loudly, glaring at me, “BECAUSE. IT’S. FUCKING. FUNNY.” The audience erupted into wild applause.
I'd guess Colbert and Stewart have an attitude similar to Seth MacFarlane of Family Guy and Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park. Namely, that they feel it's okay to use stereotypes to make fun of stereotypes. That the "satire" label turns whatever they do from straight-out racism to a spoof of straight-out racism in their own minds.

And I'd guess that comes from being privileged white men surrounded by like-minded people. The kind of people who wear Indian headdresses and cheer Indian mascots because "they don't have a racist bone in their bodies." In other words, because being hip gives them a pass to do the same things conservatives do, but claim it's "ironic."

For more on the subject, see Debating Colbert's "Ching-Chong" Joke and Colbert's Joke vs. Mascot Satires.

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