Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Commentary: The limits of shame and outrage

By Doctor RJ

Last Friday, NPR’s Noel King gave “Unite the Right” rally organizer Jason Kessler a platform to spread white supremacy, leading to Kessler ranking races on the basis of intelligence. NPR then implied a comparison to Black Lives Matter protesters by juxtaposing an interview with the group after Kessler’s segment, and asking a representative of the group to respond to the racist assertions therein, arguably framing the sides as extremists of the same coin. This led to widespread criticism of NPR’s handling of the situation, and decision to allow a white supremacist airtime, in which Heather Heyer, who was killed one year ago, was never mentioned during the entire debacle. The interview of Kessler offered no new information or insight. It just regurgitated the usual talking points of ignorant assholes since there have been racist, ignorant assholes.
The incident brings forth the notion which posits some behaviors, viewpoints, and histories aren’t deserving of an audience. And to give certain people and perspectives an audience is tantamount to either an endorsement and/or a condoning. The counter is that by presenting repugnant viewpoints people recognize them as repugnant, with knowledge and daylight on darkness leading to a diminishing of the alt-right’s power. However, there’s a good case to be made this idealism is at best naive. We live under a president who called Mexicans rapists, wouldn’t distance himself from Ku Klux Klan, and may have been caught on tape using racial vulgarities, yet there are still some who think just one more piece of news might make unreasonable people start to be reasonable. 
When we’re talking about Nazis, it’s easy to get agreement from most people that giving them attention just for attention’s sake might not be the best idea. But, as with all things, the question becomes where the line might be. As the #MeToo movement has progressed, and other incidents of racially offensive comments or material which pushes the standards of good taste have made headlines, there have been arguments over whether certain celebrities should still have their jobs.
For those who are offended, the shaming of anyone who steps over the line is supposed to serve as a warning to others in the future of the consequences for acting like a racist/sexist asshole. Also, if the person or companies don’t go along with taking notice of the behavior, then the perceived outrage acts as a bloody shirt to wave in order to motivate an ideological side.
Not all of these things are equal. Context plays an important part, as well as the attitude and response of those involved. But where is the line, if there is one? With recent controversies over statements and tweets, including the firing of Roseanne Barr and the hiring of Sarah Jeong for The New York Times editorial board, it’s interesting to see the use of shame and outrage to achieve certain ends.
Last year, at the height of some of the #MeToo discussions after Weinstein and other facts about powerful men became public, there was a debate in some circles about what exactly it means to “believe women,” and in a larger context believing victims. The argument goes, we should as a default accept allegations as true in order to foster a climate where survivors are comfortable telling their stories and their claims are taken seriously is more important to the way we treat this issue as a culture. This is in part a reaction to how both law enforcement and society at large have been shitty in dealing with it, leaving many crimes unreported because of a fear of coming forward.
So, if one believes allegations and accepts the above assertion of believing everything as true as a default, then the next step is distancing and treating the offenders as they are actually guilty whether or not the charges are ever proven, which is what happens with many of those accused. Therein lies a place, especially when it comes to the crossing of the arts and social norms, it becomes a complicated question. And it extends beyond terrible behavior into terrible thoughts and ideologies which many think should be shunned.
If someone reading this sentence is a Beatles fan, then they’re listening to music written in part by a man who was an abusive prick towards his first wife and a terrible father. If one went down the aisle with their beloved to the “Bridal March,” it probably didn’t matter to many that it was written by an antisemitic asshole. The fact these things haven’t stopped their use as entertainment in culture might have something to do with the distance of time (although Chris Brown is still pretty popular even though he beat Rihanna black and blue). If we found out Roseanne Barr was an idiot in 2050 instead of the present, they probably wouldn’t pull her show from whatever iteration of television we’ll have by then. But here, in the freshness of now, the issue is ripe and these arguments over whether it say something about us as a society to either allow or not allow these things to continue have taken hold.
Many will argue the aftereffects on those who have behaved badly or don’t go far enough. There are victims who are being neglected. But, in some cases, this ideal of trying to find offensive language and thwart destructive behavior has been used by far right conspiracy theorists to go after left-leaning celebrities.
From Kaila Hale-Stern at The Mary Sue:
Nerdist released a statement after they reinstated Chris Hardwick’s name as founder on their site, and the replies on Twitter are … troubling, to say the least.
The statement that Nerdist put out on Twitter is thoughtfully done. From the carefully chosen language, it appears likely that they put Hardwick’s name back in place because they were legally obligated to do so, and the choice was not the current Nerdist team’s doing. Hardwick’s name had been removed from Nerdist following Chloe Dykstra’s Medium post that detailed alleged emotional and sexual abuse.
Nerdist mentions that it’s their parent company that “completed its investigations into the allegations against Chris Hardwick and issued a statement on our site that reinstated a mention of Hardwick as the founder of Nerdist, which is factually true.” Talk about damning with faint praise. Factually true.
  • Chris Hardwick has been at the center of “nerd culture” and pop culture events over the past decade through his association with NerdistThe Walking Dead (hosting The Talking Dead), and other stints with shows from G4 to MTV. About 2 months ago, Hardwick’s ex-girlfriend, actress Chloe Dykstra, accused him of both emotional and sexual abuse in their 3-year relationship. She alleges this included not being able to go out at night alone, have any photos of male friends in her home, and was forbidden from drinking alcohol (Hardwick is a recovering alcoholic, who has talked about his problems with drinking on the Nerdist podcast). She was also not allowed to speak in public, or take photos of herself or of Hardwick, despite being in a personal relationship with him. Hardwickresponded to the allegations with a denial, while also accusing Dykstra of infidelity and rejecting her attempts to reconcile with him after the breakup. AMC, NBC, San Diego Comic Con, and Nerdist distanced themselves from Hardwick. AMC suspended him from The Talking Dead, and Nerdist went as far as to do the somewhat Orwellian task of scrubbing any mention of Hardwick’s role as a founder of the company from their website. However, two-months later, the worm has turned. After an internal investigation, AMC decided to reinstate Hardwick, which in turn caused a co-executive producer of The Talking Dead and 26 female staffers to quit in protest. Also, Nerdist reversed their decision as well and has gone back to acknowledging Hardwick’s existence.
From Monica Hesse at The Washington Post:
After what the cable channel called a “careful review,” he was restored to the airwaves Sunday, where he tearfully thanked his public “for all your support.” The show, he declared, was “a vital part of my life.”
His reinstatement was controversial … But it was also a bellwether for how #MeToo is evolving — fumbling toward operating principles that might be messy but are hardly the bludgeon many critics had feared.
Take Ryan Lizza. The political journalist was fired from the New Yorker in December after an allegation of sexual misconduct that was never publicly detailed and which he denied. Six months later, though, Esquire hired him to do the same job. CNN, which had suspended him last winter while it investigated the New Yorker allegation, put Lizza back on air after six weeks.
Or take superstar television host Ryan Seacrest of “American Idol” and “Live With Kelly and Ryan” fame, accused in February of inappropriate behavior by a former stylist. He denied the allegations, which he called “gut-wrenching” in an essay that asked for “a way to ensure that everyone — the public, private and public institutions, accusers and alleged accused — is given the opportunity for a swift and fair review.” By the Oscars in March, Seacrest was again presiding over the red carpet for E! News. There’d been rumors that Hollywood publicists would steer A-list clients away, but he landed face time with Allison Janney, Tiffany Haddish, and Taraji P. Henson. If this was a shunning, it was the mildest possible version.
  • About a month ago, director James Gunn was fired from his position with Marvel Studios directing Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3 after alt-right internet trolls Jack Posobiec and Mike Cernovich went through his Twitter feed between 2009 and 2012, and found nearly-decade-old tweets where Gunn had joked about masturbation, the September 11 attacks, pedophilia, and uses an anti-transgender slur. Given ABC’s decision to fire Roseanne Barr over racist tweets, the thinking goes Disney felt the need to not to look biased in not responding to criticisms of Gunn. Because of Gunn’s outspoken criticism of Donald Trump, he had become a target of the far right. Posobiec and Cernovich were huge proponents of the Pizzagate fraud, and Cernovich popularized a conspiracy theory claiming Hillary Clinton was suffering from Parkinson’s Disease during the 2016 presidential campaign. Posobiec calls himself a “Republican political operative,” who in the past has voiced support for white supremacist Richard Spencer and spent most of the last three years making shit up. Gunn apologized for his past comments, and asserted it was shock humor that was “outrageous and taboo,” which he now realizes was wrong and hurtful. In response to Gunn’s firing, the cast of Guardians of the Galaxy pledged their support for Gunn and urged Disney to reconsider. At least one of the actors has threatened to leave the production. Dave Bautista, who plays Drax, has called the situation “nauseating” and the product of Disney giving in to fascists.
From Mike Fleming Jr. at Deadline Hollywood:
Might there be a glimmer of hope for change of heart in the quick banishment of Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn from the Magic Kingdom? Nobody is talking about it, but sources said that back channel conversations are taking place between Marvel Studios and Disney. Sources said the Marvel contingent is trying to persuade Disney to explore a compromise that might bring Gunn back into the fold for Guardians 3, something that clearly would be best for the franchise. There is no clash or strong arming here. I’m told it’s a discussion that comes in the wake of the whole cast declaring their loyalty to Gunn, whose abrupt exit has put a thriving film franchise in a rocky place. One would have to label this 11th hour approach to be a long shot, but the community is talking about it.
Gunn’s regrettable Tweets offered indefensible comments on spectacularly serious subjects like pedophilia and rape, written as long as a decade ago. They were collected and published by The Daily Caller, One America News Network correspondent Jack Posobiec and right wing commentator Mike Cernovich, apparently after Gunn mocked conservative pundit Ben Shapiro. Initial reports encouraged readers to complain to Disney, and the studio responded quickly and decisively to complete a stunning take down: “The offensive attitudes and statements discovered on James’ Twitter feed are indefensible and inconsistent with our studio’s values, and we have severed our business relationship with him,” said Alan Horn, Walt Disney Studios chairman.
It would not be surprising that Marvel Studios’ Kevin Feige would make one last try at rapprochement. Disney’s quick guillotine contrasted dramatically to CBS’s handling of the Les Moonves controversy. Though his problems are self-inflicted, Gunn was banished for an incredibly poor choice of words; Moonves continues to run CBS, pending an investigation into allegations of serious sexual harassment bordering on sexual assault. Anyone at Disney would be hard pressed to say the quick hook has benefited the Guardians mfranchise. The entire cast unanimously wants Gunn back, even as they acknowledge he was an idiot, at a time he was graduating from the Troma schlock horror factory and attempting to be some kind of satirical provocateur. Gunn remains eminently hire-able and a studio chief told me recently he’s eager to give him a picture once Gunn is free of Disney.
  • Dan Harmon, creator of Community and co-creator of Rick and Morty, has seen some times recently. At the beginning of the year, Harmon was confronted by a former Community writer, Megan Ganz, who confronted Harmon for sexually harassing her during her time on the series, and treating her poorly and affecting her work as a writer when she didn’t return his advances. Harmon responded to the situation with a lengthy apology in which he acknowledged his past behavior and discussed the mindset of the mistakes he made. After Harmon’s admissions, Ganz publicly forgave him. However, a new issue came to light about 3 weeks ago.  4chan, far-right bloggers and The_Donald subreddit, dredged up a skit Harmon did for the Channel 101 short film festival in 2009. Title Daryl, the two-part short is a parody of Showtime’s Dexter, and infamously involves a scene of Harmon’s character simulating sex with a baby-doll. The short made some news back in 2012, when it was removed in a move implied to help Community’s series renewal by NBC. The video resurfaced late last month on 4chan, where users pointed to it as evidence of Harmon being a pedophile, and proof of a “secret” Hollywood pedophile ring. This in turn was then picked up by the far-right who tied it into their Pizzagate ideas and victimization over Roseanne Barr being fired, leading to much ado at Breitbart, the Daily Caller, and right-wing Twitter. Harmon has went after Donald Trump in the past, and called him a “coward” who has tacitly admitted he’s a “Nazi” in his refusal to condemn Nazis. After the Daryl story blew up, Harmon left Twitter and there was some speculation as to whether Rick and Morty might be canceled. This became moot after Harmon issued an apology for the short, and Adult Swim used the apology as a reason to move on.
From Julia Alexander at Polygon:
A thread titled “Dan Harmon Pedo Exposed” was published on 4chan’s popular /pol/ forum on July 22, followed by a second thread called “Dan Harmon Pedo Exposed Prt 2.”The threads have disappeared, but a third thread called “Dan Harmon is a pedophile” ledto a discussion among users of 4chan’s /pol/ forum over the video. Other 4chan forums, like the popular TV hub, also started talking about the rediscovered Harmon video, which was hosted on the self-described anti-internet censorship platform BitChute. “If they get to take scalps for someone making racist jokes, we get to take scalps for them making pedophilia jokes,” one 4chan user wrote.
What happens on 4chan doesn’t stay on 4chan, however, and the thread on Harmon’s “Daryl” sketch quickly found its way to The_Donald. The_Donald is a popular subreddit with more than 630,000 members. A post appeared on the subreddit on July 22, called “Dan Harmon is a pedo scum,” which referenced 4chan’s findings. Subreddit members even went so far as to congratulate 4chan in the comments.
It’s clear why The_Donald would take particular joy out of catching Harmon in a terrible spot. The writer-director is an outspoken critic of President Trump. He famously said the following at one event last year:
The president has a difficult time, and he has no repercussions to fear really, except for some Nazis not voting for him…he couldn’t bring himself to do it, and that’s as close as you’re going to get from a coward to saying, ‘I’m a Nazi.’

Editor's note: This article was originally published at the Daily Kos, which stipulates that its "content may be used for any purpose without explicit permission unless otherwise specified."

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