Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Wonderful World of Meta

Since this past summer, I've come to realize that any of a number of the A-list blogs can be potential grist for meta-rants, including Firedoglake and Mahablog. The reason I mention it is that there are a whole bunch of meta-rants spawned by some of the ignorant bile spewed by these shining examples of progressive "tolerance." Some examples to whet the appetite shall suffice:

From last summer, let's recall the pro-Lamont post by Jane Hamsher (of Firedoglake fame) at Huffington Post that in and of itself was fairly innocuous except for one glaring problem: a photoshopped image of Joe Lieberman in blackface. Needless to say the fallout was fast and furious, and the image was taken down at Huffington Post, though it remains available still over at Jane's place. That was followed by a somewhat bratty non-apology "apology." The artist who did the very crappy photoshop job on old Holy Joe was also characteristically dismissive. Slate's John Dickerson referred to Jane as "the blogger who isn't helping Ned Lamont." BAGnewsNotes had some commentary of its own:
Also, excuse me for being technical, but the phrase "choice of image" is not that forthcoming, either. As I understand it, Hamsher didn't just choose this illustration -- she conceived it.


On the visual alone, the use of "black face" is so culturally loaded, it's hard to believe Ms. Hamsher wouldn't see this coming back at her. But then, maybe she truly is missing the visual dynamics of the sphere. (As a further reflection of the mindset, FDL -- in spite of its prominence and heavy use of graphics -- has yet to adopt photo or illustration credits as standard practice.)

Finally, doctoring Lieberman side-by-side with Bill Clinton only heightens the blasphemy. But it's based on the controversial campaign flier, you say? Sure. But, because Hamsher's post made no mention of the flier, and had nothing to do with race, how were Huffington Post readers supposed to "appreciate" the context?
A pretty good graphic meta blog post can be found at ebogjonson, who creates a graphic titled should I use blackface on my blog? Liza at Culture Kitchen had a scathing meta rant titled "Jane Hamsher is an idiot" which not only takes Hamsher to task, but also Barb of Mahablog fame who chooses to play the role of enabler. Kai Chang has another thoughtful rant (yes, rants can be thoughtful!), Blackface Joe: Five Grievances. Just the tip of the old iceberg on that one, but you get the picture.

Let's move on to September of this year. Several A-list bloggers got to bask in the glory of Bill Clinton at a lunch in Harlem. That in and of itself is essentially par for the course. And yet, there seemed to be something missing from the lovely photo-ops. Notice it? Well, Liza (among numerous others) sure did. The A-listers in attendance were, as one might expect, quite oblivious and not too terribly keen on fielding those uncomfortable questions about the lack of, say, Black and Hispanic bloggers at the luncheon. Chris Rabb simply notes that blogtopia is largely reflective of society at large - the racial inequities we find in the world outside blogging show up here as well. Kai makes note of a chasm illuminated, and of a wide perceptual gulf that we ignore at our own peril. of course leave it to TRex (who strikes me from what I've read of him as the gay "liberal" equivalent of David Duke - Donna's quick capsule summary of his general anti-Asian vibe is a must) of FDL to say:
So, Liza, dear, before you go assailing your betters and making Jane stand in for every blond white woman who ever pissed you off, maybe you should head back to eighth grade English and, you know, learn to spell and to write in a linear fashion.
No matter how much the dude tries to nuance that later, it still smacks of white privilege as Feministe's Zuzu correctly notes in here excellent post know your place (by the way - the comments to TRex's post are quite educational in and of themselves as an exercise in groupthink). Is Jane the "left's" answer to Ann Coulter? One must wonder. Certainly there is tone over at FDL that is nothing short of bullying - not only Jane but the other front-pagers over there are indeed culpable. Barb of Mahablog falls into a secondary role of enabler of the other A-listers' defensiveness.

Now let's fast forward to the last week or so. It ain't only race, as numerous others point out. Often intolerance (whether of the overt variety or the more covert variety that is more typical of polite society) of one group co-occurs with intolerance for other groups. If you see a pattern of racism, you'll not have to do much digging to find at least one other "ism". Indeed, there is a pervasive pattern of sexist language over at FDL as well. Barb of Mahablog becomes conflicted, and seems to temporarily drop the enabler role. Blackface Joementum? Kewl. White elite bloggers schmoozing with Big Dog? Okay, though not as kewl as Blackface Joe. Use of the C-word or W-word? Muy malo. Huh. Other meta-blogging makes the connection over at FDL between the racism and sexism that seems to run rampant.

There seem to be some interesting discussions regarding the efforts by mainstream white liberal bloggers to obfuscate matters of racist or sexist behavior by playing the "good intentions" card (i.e., "Person X didn't intend to be racist, it just unfortunately looked that way") whereas people of color tend to look at the tangible behaviors themselves (an approach I generally advocate taking). This reminds me of what we see in North American society at large, as I've been reminded while reading Sherene Razack's book Dark Threats & White Knights. Other A-listers have preferred to play the "intellectual superiority" card by contending (usually in an obscenity laden manner) that their critics simply do not understand the abstract level in which they are supposedly operating. Still others have played the "hipness" card, such as when one of the FDL front-pagers claims that FDL posts are "punk rock" whereas their critics are more into "Guy Lombardo". Word to the wise: Jello Biafra wrote the post-mortem for punk in 1986 at the tail-end of the first wave of American hardcore. That little pop culture history lesson aside, let's note that punk itself was about shocking its audience into awareness (via profanities and obscenities) as a means of challenging social conventions - not about using such language and imagery as a means to maintain the status quo and silence dissent. A-listers would be wise to avoid referencing punk or the hip-hop notion of "keeping it real" as a mere debate tactic, while divorcing themselves from the social-historical context of those concepts & movements.

In the meantime, the necessary conversation about the extent that the liberal and progressive end of blogtopia (and indeed society at large) is harboring latent (and periodically overt) racism and sexism, how American liberalism and progressivism are themselves products of a historical and social context that itself is largely racist and sexist. That discussion itself is long overdue.


Janet said...

Food for thought: especially since you brought up Mr. Jello :)

But truly, I think the left, prgoressive, democrats.. blog... blog blog blog...

Okay, we've got some really great writers out there. Fantastic writers...

But I don't think a label of left, progressive, dem or even Right Wing Fanatic - will amount to much if they were face to face with the orphaned of Iraq, Beirut, or Afghanistan... Dafur..

Hell just spin the globe and pick anywhere. There's not much labeling when you have to look into they eyes of another.

I think many would be "shocked" if they got off their remote controls and actually woke up to reality of war, famine, death and disease. I think for the most part many aren't shocked anymore. They are dulled and lulled.

Maybe we should take a "poll" about it... just kidding :)

My label? Liberal. Human.

But labels are also toe tags... in the end.

blueneck said...

Thanks for this post, James.

Perhaps it is because I have lived in the State in the U.S. with the highest concentration of African-Americans that I have a particularly well-tuned racist radar for a white man. Or, perhaps it is because my "good intentions" have gone beyond merely playing at the game of Political Correctness and I have tried hard to grok the implications of bandying black-face images and "Uncle Tom" accusations and such around. They are not and can never be mere surface expressions of some type of common disdain. Such symbols are too deeply rooted in hate and dehumanization. Racist symbols and language can never be appropriated by anyone with truly "good intentions". They are always used in a negative context to mean negative things, and are always devoid of the original circumstances which gave rise to them.

For example, the term "Uncle Tom" is never used in the context of the real, hard, life altering (potentially death- and suffering-bringing) decisions faced by a black man in America during the times of slavery. Instead, it is used to describe someone who is merely sucking up to the power structure to get a sweeter deal for themselves, without the real fear of death and suffering if they don't do so. This omission/oversight damages the accurate historical view of slavery and is a disservice to all who seek the truth. It also gives way too much credit to someone who should be called a 'suck-up', not an 'Uncle Tom'. Most suck-ups who have this term applied to them are not faced with severest consequences if they don't cater to the needs of the 'boss', whoever or whatever that 'boss' is.

On a side note, what do you think about the recent TV ads with American white people reading the statements of African victims of the genocide in Sudan? I think it is an effective means of bringing the point home to white Americans. It is somewhat disturbing that this is a tactic which may need to be used, but if it works, it is OK by me. I am glad they have recently started following up with statements delivered by the real people who have suffered, though, and I'm not sure I would be quite as welcoming of the overall campaign if they had not done this also.