Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Monday, March 31, 2014


I got in a little Twitter conversation with Elisa about the recent #CancelColbert fracas.  I can't summon the energy to describe how #CancelColbert unfolded, but this New Yorker online piece, which Elisa linked to, has a pretty good summary.

Elisa tweeted:
I think she was referring to my outrage at Suey Park's "activism," but either way I want to explain why I find Park's approach so objectionable.  (Not that I'm really outraged.  There are far worse things in the world.  But as I tweeted, I think it's crazy not to hold Park accountable for the ridiculousness spawned by her campaign.)

So, to start:  Park says she likes Colbert's show and doesn't want it to be canceled.  So what was the point?  Apparently it was:
to argue that white liberals who routinely condemn what she called “worse racism” will often turn a blind eye to, or even defend, more tacit forms of prejudice, especially when they come from someone who shares their basic political beliefs
This comes as something of a relief to me, since I thought the idea of canceling the show was a significant overreaction.  But I wonder how clear these nuances of the #CancelColbert movement were to its participants, many of whom presumably defended the idea of canceling the show.

And therein lies my problem with this kind of "activism."  In any discussion worth having, there is going to be a layer of unsavory discourse churning beneath.  If you want to talk about rape jokes, you are going to have to deal with a lot of ridiculous invocations of the First Amendment.  This is the price we pay for letting everyone participate.

But Park's approach was to start with overheated rhetoric and then hope for the best.  She presumably knew that her more nuanced point wouldn't fit in a hashtag, and she knew that #CancelColbert would grab people's attention precisely because it is such a gross overreaction.  She was acting in bad faith when she encouraged her followers to adopt a more extreme position than the one she actually held.  She was using the methods of a rabble-rouser and inviting a torrent of overheated responses on both sides.

You can argue that the discussion needed to happen, and the ends justify the means.  But I don't think that's right.  Park mobilized resources with her campaign, she directed people's efforts.  And not just her immediate followers and her ideological allies:  all kinds of people were drawn in because there was a lot at stake, and they were forced to engage in a needlessly stupid fight.  There have been some thoughtful reactions, but this is despite Park's efforts to sensationalize and debase the discussion.  It is fortuitous.

It reminds me very much of the old "no enemies to the left" approach to politics, in which nothing is beyond the pale as long as it is nominally in support of your ideology.  The logic is that because Asians suffer real discrimination, any accusation of anti-Asian bias is almost by definition a good thing, regardless of whether it is reasonable or leveled in good faith.  Attention needs to be brought to the subject!  Any criticism of Park's methods is really a tactical move in the debate over whether Asians are discriminated against!

Anyway here I've written a long-ish blog post about it, and I don't even feel that strongly.  I just think it's important to maintain these distinctions.  Bad-faith provocateurs are bad-faith provocateurs and we shouldn't indulge their misbehavior just because we think an issue deserves more attention.


Blogger Elisa said...

Oh no, I didn't think you were outraged about anything. But certain whenever there is outrage on the Internet, there is meta-outrage is response.

8:01 AM  

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