Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Klickstein, Phil Robertson, and the PC Police

So, last week Nickelodeon alum Mathew Klickstein had an interview with Flavorwire. In it, he talks about how Pete & Pete was the best show in Nickelodeon because it was a white, male cast, how Clarissa Explains it All was only successful in hindsight because of Melissa Joan Hart and "feminist bloggers," and how Sanjay and Craig's Indian lead is unnecessary and equivalent to blackface.

I don't know much about Pete & Pete, but Clarissa Explains it All was an objective success, and there's no need to justify a non-white character created by a multicultural staff in a multicultural country. Reasonably, folks have been angry at him. The result is that the event he was promoting, "Nite of Nickelodeon Nostalgic Nonsense!" was scuttled. The rest of the attendees scheduled a new event without Klickstein. He cited "PC Police" in his cancellation notice. But is there such a thing as the PC Police?

Some have labeled his words as "offensive." Phrases like, "offensive" are a facile distraction; whether a statement is a personal affront to you or not isn't the issue. Saying you're offended makes the narrative about your discomfort and it's a perfect setup for the faux apology of "I'm sorry you were upset."

The question is whether something is acceptable in a civilized society or not. Take, for example, shitting on a bus. Sure, you shit. Everyone shits. No one denies that anyone else is a person who shits, but if you decide to shit on the back of a crowded bus one day there will be repercussions. People have to hear it, they have to smell it, and someone had to pick it up (unless you brought a baggie with you in an unanticipated burst of courtesy).

Worse than all of that is that other people will think it's acceptable to shit on a bus. Why would they wait until they got home when your asshole is free to let fly in public? Okay, lots of good reasons social sanction--even before the law gets involved--is a big one.

Folks should be legally defended when they say hateful, ignorant things which contribute to the stereotyping and dehumanization of others. For example, take A&E's suspension (albeit temporary) of Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson over his comments on homosexuality:

Showing those assholes for what they are is the best way to combat them. However, no one is required to lend those folks their platform for that speech, under both the reasonable expectation that others will assume the platform owners support that speech and the knowledge that they would be abetting the harm those messages do. However, some folks have adamantly clamored about the suppression of Christianity and the cowardice of others in not supporting them.

Is a conscientious decision to consider the feelings of women and minority groups, a refusal to be associated with folks who denigrate and disrespect others; the suppression of someone's rights? Is it cowardly?

The answer to the first question assumes a compulsory moral component to obviously commercial platforms. After all, it is outrageous that most of the media streams in the US are at best amoral for-profit organizations and at worst an economic model based on peddling simplistic emotional ideologies to a nation founded on reason & education.

That's fucked up, but if you're not lowering your javelin and charging right at Fox News, maybe--maybe--your crusade for objective, responsible media representation is just a moralized candy shell wrapped around a whiny, self-serving milk chocolate center.

Is it cowardly to not host or work with controversial people on your TV channel? Portraying homosexual or other LGBT relationships is still considered controversial and watching networks dance around it is a pet peeve of mine, but I'm still not going in on "cowardice." 

Instead I'd ask if it's courageous to lie about the quality of womens' work and the work of minorities whenever white dudes still have both disproportionate representation and disproportionate power across a number of industries. Is it courageous for the strong to diminish the weak?

Hey, here's a video of a gay dude getting assaulted for coming out. Not having a home or family is just one of those things that lots of LGBT folks have to deal with. Happens to straight teens too, but it's a hurdle that's more common amongst LGBT teens. Some baggage always comes with being outside of the norm. It would be nice if some of those kids could spend that time learning to animate stuff for Nickelodeon instead of finding secure, reliable shelter and whatnot.

So again, is it courageous to glorify all that you are at the expense of those below you? To judge others for being different, knowing the rest of society has no personal stake in defending them? Is it courageous for a millionaire to risk thousands of dollars to claim all gays are damned? Is it courageous to claim men are at a disadvantage in a female dominated industry and then shrug at the corrupt system you've implicitly claimed to be a part of when the tables are turned?

Oh. Right. The PC Police. Are they waiting to get you for saying damaging things about women, persons of color, and LGBT (and queer and intersex and asexual) folks? 

No. Don't be stupid. Society has a set of values which condemn overtly bigoted behavior. Violate those and you face the consequences collectively administered punishment. Is it mob justice? In a way. Is it a media trial? 100%. Does it occasionally crush someone who's not wealthy enough to weather the storm? Yeah, and that's bad.

It's not a technical, legal police action, but it's still a social sanction against those who violate social norms. It is the exact sort of thing that results in the deaths of Matthew Shepard, graphic rape threats against Anita Sarkeesian, and this:

The difference between the two is the direction that the mob moves. When it moves with the less-powerful groups at its back, the powerful are inconvenienced. When it moves with the powerful at it's back, the less-powerful suffer and die.

No comments: