Friday, April 05, 2013
That's Not Funny!
Also subbing as today's Quotes of the Day, let's spin the ever-popular Wheel of Outrage and see what we come up with this time around:
"While Ms. Harris did not seem offended, others were on her behalf."
-- The New York Times
"No, I can’t take a fucking compliment."
-- Irin Carmon of Salon.com
What these happen to be are my two favorite quotes related to the "controversy" over President Obama's comment yesterday about California Attorney General Kamala Harris.
During a fundraiser just outside San Francisco, he effusively praised Harris's many abilities, then said that “she also happens to be by far the best-looking attorney general in the country." If you were curious what that mushroom cloud was on the horizon west of you yesterday, well, there you have it.
Even though Obama's comment was meant as both a compliment and a lighthearted joke about a friend, was it probably unnecessary? Sure. Is it worthy of being turned into yet another "teachable moment" where everything has to come to a complete stop until the fragile liberal sensibilities of the relentlessly aggrieved are satisfactorily salved (at least until the next thing comes along)? No, not a chance.
As you can see above, the Times inadvertently sums up in one quick sentence the very nature of our call-out culture and the indignation nation we now inhabit, where even if you're not insulted by something, there are always a million people happy to be insulted for you. Meanwhile, Irin Carmon, one of the most prolific offenders when it comes to being offended, manages to sum up perfectly the attitude that perpetuates, ad infinitum, this kind of exhausting nonsense. Her column in today's Salon (motto: "All the Self-Righteousness That's Fit To Print") is of course called, in appropriately scolding/lecturing fashion, "How To Talk About a Woman's Looks." That's a trick by the way, because if there's one thing Salon has taught me over the years, it's that the only proper response is, "you don't -- ever -- because, well, fuck you, you objectifying, sexist asshole."
So, there -- I hope you've all learned your lesson for the day.
That concludes this episode of "That's Not Funny!"
Let the usual accusations of "mansplaining" and "white privilege" commence.
Adding: This is interesting. A discussion via e-mail with a friend of mine about this little controversy led me to a three-year-old piece in Slate by Emily Gould that I'd somehow forgotten about and that really takes Irin Carmon apart. Gould takes aim at what she calls the "Outrage World" that sites like Jezebel and Salon thrive on, creating righteous indignation among their audiences in the name of page views. The column Gould's piece was pegged off of was written by Carmon; in it Carmon basically accused The Daily Show of being a sexist boys' club and dismissed the then-recent hiring of Olivia Munn as something that should offend women.
"Irin Carmon's argument is essentially this: 'Former videogame show host' Olivia Munn may soon become the show's first new female correspondent in seven years, but her potential hiring is nothing to celebrate, because, while she's a woman, she's not the right kind of woman. She has hosted G4's Attack of the Show for four years, and she has written a book. But, per Carmon, 'her previous career path has led some' -- meaning, I guess, Carmon and Jezebel commenters -- 'to criticize The Daily Show for hiring someone better known for suggestively putting things in her mouth on a video game show … and being on the covers of Playboy and Maxim than for her comedic chops.' Included as a link is a previous Jezebel post that featured video of Munn jumping into a giant pie while wearing a French maid costume...
As of this writing, Carmon's post has generated almost 1,000 comments and nearly 90,000 page views. It's a prime example of the feminist blogosphere's tendency to tap into the market force of what I've come to think of as 'outrage world' -- the regularly occurring firestorms stirred up on mainstream, for-profit, woman-targeted blogs like Jezebel and also, to a lesser degree, Slate's own XX Factor and Salon's Broadsheet. They're ignited by writers who are pushing readers to feel what the writers claim is righteously indignant rage but which is actually just petty jealousy, cleverly marketed as feminism. These firestorms are great for page-view-pimping bloggy business. But they promote the exact opposite of progressive thought and rational discourse, and the comment wars they elicit almost inevitably devolve into didactic one-upsmanship and faux-feminist cliché. The vibe is less sisterhood-is-powerful than middle-school clique in-fight, with anyone who dares to step outside of chalk-drawn lines delimiting what's 'empowering' and 'anti-feminist' inevitably getting flamed and shamed to bits. Paradoxically, in the midst of all the deeply felt concern about women's sexual and professional freedom to look and be however they want, it's considered de rigueur to criticize anyone, like Munn, who dares to seem to want to sexually attract men."
Gould's been the subject of quite a bit of controversy herself over the years, with seemingly anyone and everyone in the cliquey New York City new media world, including me, having an opinion of her and her work at one time or another. But irrespective of that, she's right on the money on this. Also, the whole Daily Show-Olivia Munn dust-up helps to put things in perspective: As it turns out, Irin Carmon has always been a self-satisfied hack whose opinions should rarely be taken seriously.