The Sound of Silence

So, part one of my thoughts on the situation surrounding the Rosa Parks of our generation. You might have heard about this. For reasons unknown to me, Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson felt the need to expound on who would be accepted into heaven. He was quoting the Bible and then covered his ass with the “but it is not for me to judge.” So, A&E suspended him. Of course, he had some rather “poor thoughts” on race.

First, A&E has every right to suspend or cancel a show. It is their network. It is funny how the same people who feel a cake maker should be allowed to discriminate are outraged that A&E should suspend Robertson. But here is my concern about the situation. I am a bit uncomfortable with the attempts to silence people who say things we do not like.

Life is incredibly complex. There is a Tumblr called Your Fave is Problematic. Read through it. Sometimes it is informative. Sometimes it is more an excuse to rant hatefully about people someone doesn’t like. The truth is, everyone I follow in Twitter, Tumblr, etc are problematic. Sometimes? Social justice minded people are the worst. They go so over the top, they become the very same person as the people they are ranting against.

When someone says something we find offensive, we rightfully express our displeasure. But so often, we see major pushes to get celebrities fired. Let us be honest, in real life, nobody campaigns to get the bigots in day to day fired from the local grocery. Celebrities are in a unique place. Every public word they express can work for or against them. And hey, you have to accept you might lose your job.

The problem with the campaigns are…well, they really do not do anything. Phil Robertson is in a long line of teevee and radio stars who said something unkind that were met with demands to get rid of them. When they are fired, everyone declares success. They always seem to land on their feet and and the attitudes are still there. And no actual life changing discussions. And sometimes, the attempt to Silence works in reverse…how many attempts have there been to dump Daniel Tosh? Tosh is still around. And rumors are that Phil will, in fact, appear in January Duck Dynasty .

Silencing tends not to be about true justice or changing minds and attitudes. It is about convincing ourselves we won. Except, we don’t actually win. No, it is worse. Those folks we work to silence? They go on Fox News, the Church Circuit or wherever…they preach their message harder, they play the role of martyr and the people who believed them support them more aggressively than before. Their message is pressed on.

What the world does not need? More “martyrs” and “patriots” of the Phil Robertson and Sarah Palin vein.

The other thing? Silencing can very much be used against progressive voices. And that tide could turn unexpectedly. In the pat, progressive voices were silenced. Even recently, gays have been forced by family to go to rehabilitation to be “straight”. We should not pretend reversing against those that we disagree with is somehow good. Reeducation camps are not a neutral concept. Silencing is not a good thing in a free world. The message offered by progressives is better. The message offered by progressives is stronger, and silencing rarely has the desired effect.

Silencing allows the alternative messages to grow. They retreat for only a limited time, because silencing only addresses a single event…not an attitude. Standing up, speaking our piece is going to do more to make a better world than getting a redneck off TV could ever do.

Search and Destroy

This week, discussions I was a part of collided. Over in political land, it was a discussion about the Website Jezebel.  In case you were unaware, after Obama was re-elected, Twitter and Facebook lit up with dis-satisfied voters who thought the best response to the news was racism and hate.  Some of these people were teenagers doing that thing teens do so well…say stupid things.  Jezebel was understandably put off by these comments.  Their response was to compile a list of these folks…their names, their schools, their extra-curricular activities, what sports they play, etc.  The idea is, apparently, to really hit these kids by ruining their chances at college and so on.

In comic world, the other day, someone found a website post Director James Gunn did two years back (possibly closer to three).  It was a list of the 35 comic book characters folks want to have sex with.  So, it was a mature list.  I was actually familiar with the list…and the less controversial list (one with none of the commentary that bothered people) has comments by me.  I used to be pretty active at Gunn’s site.  He was very interactive, and in spite of random moments that made me cringe, seemed pretty open minded.  The list I commented on, Gunn and I had an exchange about our shock that the only Watchman character to make the list?  Comedian.  Seriously.  The rapist.  The list was compiled by a vote, and on one version of the list, Gunn made commentary that was a bit…uncomfortable.  Rachel Edidin addresses it nicely.

Some have stated it was satire of Misogyny.  Maybe.  But it failed because it did not lampoon the outdated attitudes…it seemed more to lampoon it’s subjects.  But the point is, people wanted to do something about it.  And this is where stuff collided.  People seemed to want to destroy Gunn.

I am not crazy at all over the idea that the right answer when someone offends us is to try and get them fired.  People have the right to express the most heinous of ideas.  I have every right to decide whether I want to give them my money.  I have every right to express how wrong I think they are.  I have every right to take to twitter and express that.  Or Facebook.  It is important to have that outlet of protest.  But when we take it the step ahead and force destruction to rain on their heads, we start to lose our righteous ground.  Especially, I am concerned because these are tactics that were used on the left for decades.  Threat to out gay people, petitions to get people with unpopular opinions fired, etc.  Look at the pro-life movement.  There were some within the movement that publicized the names and addresses of doctors who performed abortions.  As some doctors were shot and killed, they were crossed off the lists in blood.

Do we want to have a legacy like that?  Where we start keeping a list of people who “think correctly” and those who fail to meet our standards are not allowed to move on in life?  Do we really think it is different when we do it to them?  It’s somehow different to try and get someone fired because they are homophobic than to get someone fired because they are gay?  Should something you said years ago be held in higher regard than where you are now?  The person I was long ago held very different opinions on issues than the person writing this post.  There was a time in my life that I saw homosexuality as evil.  I was vehemently pro-life.  Do the views I evolved to mean less than the ones I held when I was decades younger?  I cannot comfortably agree that punishing kids as Jezebel seeks to do is wise or good.  It is not the right step forward.  Especially hurting their ability to get into schools.  Yes, lets try and keep them teens from going to the place that often results in a personal re-evaluation of one’s beliefs.

Gunn, btw, apologized. And hey, he avoids the “sorry you were offended”…he takes credit for the failure on his own.  Considering that other recent offenders took the “Stop being offended route? (including defenders of Gunn) it was kind of refreshing.