yesterday was particularly frustrating. i sank into the black hole of oscar backlash, couldn’t get out, and found myself in a state of despondency about the state of humanity for the majority of the day.
why did this happen?
because i took exception to the scapegoating of seth macfarlane as a horrendous sexist/racist/homophobe by most media outlets, a lot of my friends, and a majority of strangers with whom i had interaction. after being barraged by endless threads of passion rather than intellect, vitriolic nonsense, and self-righteous “progressiveness” in the end i just felt like screaming “get over yourselves, please”. i didn’t, but perhaps retroactively via this post i am. but that’s the most impassioned thing i’ll say, so please keep reading.
to summarize my feelings about the oscars (and this is all i’ll say about it, because frankly to me it was a boring, misdirected, almost non-issue in the first place), firstly, seth macfarlane has always produced the brand of comedy he presented at the oscars, so to expect anything else is patently ridiculous (or please, take your anger a step further and go to lisa lampanelli and louis ck shows, and other comedians to accuse them of being racist). secondly, he was not the sole participant in what was presented at the oscars. numerous people wrote the comedy, approved the comedy, and then participated in the presentation (including many intelligent, confident, and fully capable women), so to lambast him alone is unproductive. thirdly, personally i reserve judgments of misogynist, racist, homophobe, for people who actually show prejudicial behavior, not someone who tells jokes that are clearly intended to be a send-up of the subject in question, i.e. someone tells a “sexist” joke, usually it is a commentary on sexism, rather than sexism in and of itself. fourthly, from my perspective the worst you can accuse seth macfarlane of is presenting bad comedy. perhaps his jokes were unfunny to you, but that doesn’t qualify them as any of the -isms. otherwise no one will ever be able to tell a joke about women, men, different races, religions, etc. for fear of being accused of prejudicial behavior, and that’s absurd. bad comedy is different than discriminatory comedy, and that’s an important distinction. and that’s all I’m going to say about Seth Macfarlane and the over-hyped awfulness of that event.
what i want to address more directly is the soapbox mentality of people and the treatment of human beings when that soapbox comes out. we like to believe we live in a country/world where anyone can believe whatever they want, free from harassment, free from judgment, but we don’t. ideally, you could look at an experience and evaluate it one way, i could look at an experience another way, wrong or right, we should both be entitled to our view. now, can one person be viewing the situation from a perspective of ignorance? absolutely. and hopefully what could and would ensue is a discussion between the individuals, allowing the person with perspective to enlighten the person who is lacking the necessary knowledge to evaluate the experience properly. think of a person who has only seen classical portrait paintings suddenly looking at a jackson pollock. the experience would most likely be confusing, but someone with art history perspective could guide that individual into understanding and perhaps appreciating the experience. However, that movement from ignorance to knowledge doesn’t negate the validity of the individual’s primary experience.
what does this have to do with yesterday? well, there were people who had different experiences and the widespread view seemed to be, from progressives, from people who spout tolerance, acceptance, encouraging human dignity, that unless you share the same view as me you are part of the problem. that unless you accept the view that this experience was all of the awful things that everyone says about it, then you are missing the point. i’m willing to admit that perhaps i lack perspective on any number of issues, and even in the case of yesterday, maybe i was missing the point. but did productive conversation ensue to guide me to understanding? no, absolutely not. for me personally it meant getting bombarded with article after article that said exactly the same thing, any number of people saying i was missing the point without any contextualization of why, endless repetition of the vitriol from the articles i’d already read, and even at one point being called stupid, brainless, and incapable of understanding sexism. Fantastic, what productive conversation!
and here’s why this personal experience is enormously problematic (please prepare yourself for the paragraph that’s going to sound like a pat on the back, my apologies). i am a theatre artist, i work in an industry concerned with the human experience, my profession involves daily evoking internal empathy for all people. i’ve played just about every kind of human being on stage from the innocent to the wholly cruel, and that wouldn’t be possible unless i found something human and honest about each of those individuals. i believe wholeheartedly in the potential of human kindness, i’m an idealist, and i believe there are grand injustices in the world that desperately need addressing. i’m a 1/2 gay (a description my wife and i use for my own brand of sexuality) european immigrant artist, married to a chilean immigrant, living in washington dc. this is all to say, whatever progressive ideal you’re aiming for, i’m more than likely on your side. so, if you can’t engage in a cordial conversation with me, that won’t leave me feeling accused, personally criticized, and undermined, how the fuck, yes how the FUCK do you hope to effect people who are truly locked into their ignorance and intolerance?
short but important tangent, please know, that just because lena dunham says something it doesn’t automatically make it true (i was sent and shown various comments from her regarding the oscars experience). after all, lena dunham writes and acts for a tv show set in new york city, one of the most diverse places in the world, in which the first episode had only three actors of color, a black taxi driver, a black homeless person, and an asian woman who was good at photoshop. i don’t currently see her as having the most insightful perspective on social experience, even if she’s your current messiah. from my admittedly limited exposure ‘girls’ reads as a show about sex-obsessed, privileged white girls, who have all the time and luxury in the world to think, complain about, and dwell on everything! it’s not to say the experiences portrayed aren’t valid, not part of the conversation, or lacking in entertainment value, but they’re by far not the only part of the conversation. so no, sorry, i’m not going to regard lena dunham as the voice to answer my questions about sex and gender, because in truth i’d rather listen to my wife for a compelling and truthful story on the experiences of american women. after all natalia came to the united states unable to speak a word of english, paid her own way through college, got a prestigious grant to work at the NIH, paid her own way through grad school, got a prestigious job at USAID, and now travels around the world to advise international leaders in public health on projects concerning the eradication of emerging infectious diseases. to me, that should be a tv show, instead of yet another show about the plight of young people and their sexual/dating travails, but that’s just me. moving on.
this is all to say, if you’re going to get on your soap box, invite other people to stand up there with you and actually hear what you’re trying to say instead of picking up the soap box and smashing it over a completely open person’s head. by doing so, you not only alienate the people who are actually potentially on your side, you essentially render it impossible to engage with people who really need to be shown you have anything worthwhile to say. correct me if i’m wrong, but i doubt anyone has the experience of having their mind changed by rampant aggression and name-calling. it doesn’t work, it’s unproductive. passion is good, but only insofar as it teaches us to operate in a way that allows for conversation. we will always be dealing with people who have to us, idiotic views, but meeting idiocy with idiocy creates an impenetrable cacophony that will only end in the stalemate of head-butting ignorance.
okay, i know i’m now clearly up here on my soapbox, but hopefully i think i’ve left enough room for two.