Did the recent #CancelColbert hashtag incident actually help anti-racism? It started in response to this…
On Thursday night, the official Twitter account for “The Colbert Report” committed the comedic sin of delivering a punchline without its setup. The offending tweet, “I am willing to show #Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever,” was meant to be a satirical analog to the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation, whose creation was announced earlier this week by the team’s owner, Daniel Snyder.
The joke, which originally aired on Wednesday’s episode, is not particularly complicated: Daniel Snyder created a charitable organization for the benefit of a community and used a racial epithet for that same community in the organization’s name—so here’s an absurd fictional extrapolation of Snyder’s own logic. Everyone who hates both racism and Daniel Snyder laughs.
….and it asked people to call on the show to be canceled. Also from the above article:
I called Park on Friday to ask her about how #CancelColbert got started. She said she saw the offending tweet while eating dinner Thursday night and decided to respond to it. Despite her online profile—and the forceful, yet sometimes decidedly academic, tone of her advocacy—Park does not consider herself a “full-time” activist and claims that she does not particularly enjoy hustling along a hashtag. Her degree of involvement in a hashtagged cause, she said, depends on how much “free time” she has at the moment, and whether a particular issue piques her interest. “It’s not like I enjoy missing ‘Scandal’ to tweet about ‘The Colbert Report,’” she said.
So Park called for the cancellation of the entire satirical show based on one of its many, many satirical jokes. This seemed like a drastic overreaction, when in fact it might simply have been a ludicrous oversimplification necessitated by Twitter’s limitations. Unfortunately, it was difficult to argue against the interpretation that Park wanted the show destroyed for doing what it had done thousands of times before. Any point more nuanced than that got completely lost because it hadn’t been made in the initial 140-character-max message.
Worse, a lot of followers who clearly didn’t have a clue started claiming that Colbert’s joke was “jokey racism” later claimed as satire, a la Andrew Dice Clay when he got in trouble for telling bigoted jokes. Either they’d never seen Colbert at all or they didn’t comprehend how satire works. Because you see, Clay – like a lot of comedians who have claimed “satire!” after the fact – had a lot of bigots for followers: if he’d genuinely been aiming for satire, he’d failed miserably. Conversely, I’ve never heard of a conservative thinking Colbert is really on their side – they know he’s mocking them because the satire of his act is so well-established. And then a number of people identifying as “Asian” said they didn’t find the joke offensive at all, and that got hauled out as proof that this was all a total non-issue. And then people started harassing Park – which ironically is the most discussion-worthy part of the incident, and the one that got the least coverage.
There might have been legitimate issues to raise here, but they didn’t get raised to the level of the national conversation. For example, even when it’s clearly satire and we accept that the comedian’s intention is to mock bigots, some jokes and words may be too offensive even for satire. Some concepts are just too hurtful. And sometimes the satire goes wrong, often due to ignorance on the satirist’s part, and appears to be making fun of victims. If anyone felt this joke was wrong for any of these reasons, that was a conversation we might have had, and it might have taught someone something. And finally, as was the case here, when satire is taken out of context, misunderstandings follow. But all of these things take more than 140 characters to be turned into teachable moments.
And the loudest arguments raised in the whole event came from people who didn’t seem to know much about activism or awareness raising at all. They came from conservative hypocrites like Michelle Malkin and white liberals who actually didn’t actually understand the issues at all but just wanted to be part of this whole thing for reasons that had little or nothing to do with concerns about racism.
A hashtag is not the place for a nuanced conversation. Save the hashtags for pointing out the really obvious, beyond-debate incidents of bigotry. 140 characters isn’t enough for a useful discussion about something this complicated.Note that I’m not saying the joke isn’t problematic. Nor am I suggesting that Park’s intention was anything but good and worthwhile. These are both subjective debates I leave to others. I am simply pointing out that finding the right platform for your message is an important facet in broadcasting a concept to the level of national consciousness. Enough people work at twisting activists’ words when the message is clear.I said earlier that the people who harassed and threatened Park for her call to cancel their beloved show are, ironically, the most discussion-worthy aspect of this whole event. That’s because they were precisely what Park has said – when given more than 140 characters to work with – her complaint was about. These are people who see themselves as liberals, but are happy to resort to misogynistic and racist tactics the instant someone threatens something they enjoy or a chunk of their own privilege. This is the sort of person I ran into so much in the film industry that it caused me to realized change from within would never happen: once you get that institutionalized sense that you’re on the side of the angels, anyone who tells you you’re not has to be mistaken.And that can happen with activists too.