Wonderful fights between narcissism and worthlessness

Objective Truth and Other Derailing Tactics

[Trigger Warning: A LOT of misogynistic tropes and language on this post]

Spent today being bed-ridden and catching up on some http://manboobz.com/ while fighting the illness demons. There were plenty of great, depressing, holy-shit-I-think-a-human-believes-this posts Futrelle was bringing to light, but one was especially interesting. And by interesting, I mostly mean bizarre. It was a post regarding Susan Walsh (http://manboobz.com/2011/08/04/susan-walsh-chartbreaker-part-2/), a blogger I admittedly don’t know anything about, who had a really bizarmazing chart as part of an article entitled “The Economic Effects of Promiscuity” that manboobz already featured, described as “In an attempt to sketch out the economic costs of sluthood, Walsh cobbled together an extravagantly convoluted mess of a flow-chart based on little more than a few bad assumptions and what she insisted was common sense.” It’s worth checking out too, reading like a car crash of conservative and Men’s Rights views on what happens when a woman DARES to have sex that flies in the face of their value structure.

The chart in the above link, however, was a weird attempt to glossy up complete opinion as science by presenting it as a chart. It has a lot of gross assumptions behind it, first and foremost that women and men can be boiled down to a universal attractiveness number from 1 to 10, and THREES are sleeping with EIGHTS?!?!?! It’s presented as a handy visual guide to what we ALL KNOW is true, namely that the sexual revolution of the 70s weakened marriage (so many assumptions tied to this one; marriage is automatically preferrable to non-marriage, this wasn’t women freeing themselves from bad or abusive marriages but rather promiscuous women being freed to go get slutty all up in society [FEMINISTS!!!]), this lead to more promiscuity in general because, duh, out-of-wedlock sex is promiscuous, and returned us to a less equittable sexual power dynamic from caveman times that marriage had helped to equalize. Because all men are powerless when confronted with a cute girl and can’t be faithful if there’s more than one woman in existence near them. Unless she put a ring on it. In Walsh’s article the weakening of marriage and strengthening of promiscuity also means women can date “up,” which is tied entirely to the 1-10 ranking (a 4 now has a chance with a 7, which she didn’t when…. marriage?) and flies in the (so very assumed) natural tendency of 9s to date 9s, 7s to date 7s, and 2s to be happy they snagged a 2 and we don’t beat them for being so god damn ugly. UGH. It’s tied to an article also trying to argue opinions on sexual dynamics in terms of economics. SEXUAL economics. Which reads as though the birth rate dropped out and humans are dying off(this is a hypothetical, despite actual people in the world believing this is currently happening) and we fed a bunch of dating reality shows to a computer to figure out how to save the human race. Fun aside: in bullshit chart #1, Walsh ties delayed (or ELIMINATED! ! !) marriage to delayed (OR ELIIIIIIMINAAAAAATED ! ! ! ! ! ! !) having of children, which is then immediately tied to declining birth rate, which is an economic cost, that combined with men going to prison means EVENTUAL ECONOMIC STAGNATION!!!!!!!!!! (That last use of Caps Lock and ten exclamation points is actually hers, no shit)

Again, I’ll admit this has been my first, and so far only, exposure to most of these sexual economics ideas, and while there are a lot of echoes of misogynistic tropes (which I tried to bring up above), most of the arguments were so bogged down on economic talk as to be impenetrable. I’ve read a bunch on game theory (the feed women input until sex theory, not the mathematic one) and the general ideas around it, and the idea of the “sexual marketplace” strikes the same misogyny chords as (and seems to be a part of?) game theory. But it’s such a bizarre use of science, to the exclusion of the people being “studied” by it, and at a certain point reality. It assumes if we had all of the variables we could predict every person’s actions, which may very well be true , but when you’re debating the idea of women’s choice by trying to quantify the number of atoms in her hair fibers and what that says about her choice in men, you’re so far afield of the point. It reminds me of the debate around free will. Do we truly have it if a universe identical to ours had the exact same conditions down to the subatomic particles and electro-magnetic forces? That question fascinates me. But when we’re discussing whether people should be held accountable for their exercise of free will, I don’t care whether the concept is an illusion, and it’s derailing to discuss.

In a comment thread on http://glpiggy.net/2011/08/05/boobzmans-argument-without-an-argument/, a rebuttal from a Men’s Rights Activist to Futrelle’s piece on the chart, Futrelle comes on to debate a bit, mostly a point that is apparently popular to this idea that women dating up is leaving 80% of men out in the cold (the cold most likely being not getting a yes to every sexual advance, sometimes virginity). There’s further quantifying of the fact that people are literally seen as sex numbers from the writer of the rebuttal: “If marital rates were higher before the Sexual Revolution then that would imply that there was more equal pairing. I mean, why would 8’s mix with 4’s just for the hell of it?” This exchange and one following about whether all women are hypergamous see Men’s Rights Activists taking the ball of “We can state cold hard truths that apply to all members of X” and run to the fucking endzone with it. MRAs love to do it with feminists, who are all the same writhing, evil hydra of misandry of course, and it’s a central tenet of the numbering system. But it also helps this idea that there are biological “truths” (because the points being argued as biological truths can sometimes be citing statistics that only prove a percentage of people behave a certain way) that are true of all humans, or all women, or all people going through X or Y.

This sentiment of putting biology before people just becomes increasingly absurd as it is further contextualized, focusing on the minutest facets of biology, to the exclusion of other biological trends, mutations, and (HERE’S THE BIG ONE) society. So often talk of society only occurs in reference to a collection of humans all following and/or responding to the same biological trend, and rarely is society causing anything itself. It’s how you can have a discussion of primates being attracted to swollen, red asses and use it to explain men loving women in a red dress but not cover the fact that society decided pink was for boys before it decided that pink was for girls. It’s how you can have a discussion of American women, almost as undefinable as global women, as though they are a homogenous group.

I want to have a paragraph here that says, “No group is homogenous.” for a full page, but I’ll hold back. But that’s really important to understand. No, really. People can’t agree on an encompassing definition of feminism, or atheism, or theists really, which are mere labels, and people think they can state a truth or trait about an entire gender, 51% of the world population, that isn’t anthropocentric (or transphobic, when people say, “Well can’t we all agree that women have vaginas?”), that crosses all cultures, all races, all lived experiences and family histories, all socio-economic classes, and applies to EVERYONE. Okay, alright, MAYBE there’s one or two exceptions, but you know I’m right! *Assumed trait of all women* is just how it is!

Ah, but yes. All American Women are Not to be trusted! All Women are whores! All Women have control over All Men simply due to having a vagina! All Women have a vagina!

Technology further complicates this, of course. In an information age where most heavy-grade lifting is done by machines, the natural biological strength advantages of an average male over an average female are receding faster than the god of the gaps. But I think what makes this science talk around sex so bizarre to me is the fact that it obscures understanding. These are things that feel as though they should be quantifiable, and they are being quantified until you lose sight of an important fact: you’re trying to describe the actions a human being will take, a person, assumedly at least 18 to boot, and using SO. LITTLE. And while it echoes societal misogyny and social norms so often, it’s still legitimately shocking to read someone state, “That woman is a 4. That man is a 7. They do not belong together, and in fact there is no reason they are together other than the weakening of marriage by the sexual revolution.” Which is also for them to assert, “I am objectively correct. If you have different beauty standards, you are wrong *AND/or* I have completely correctly interpreted society’s standards of beauty, and they are worthwhile to apply.” And to assert, “Enjoying the same activities is nothing. What is a book, what reads a book, what is book. There is no love, only a biological numbers game. All elderly people, especially those past procreation age, do not have relationships for love, only economics, due to inaction, and/or for their spawn.”

And, because I don’t think I could intone robotic human talk while also integrating frat-boy misogyny any better, a commenter on Walsh’s chart : “The point is that most men can get sex from women who are 2-3 ranks below them fairly easily. That’s not to say that all female 7s are quick to put out for male 9s and 10s – only that the average male 9 will be able to easily find a slutty female 7 if he wants. And when a female 7 hooks up with a male 9, it means a male 7 will probably have to settle for a female 5 if he wants to get some.

The problem for average beta guys – say, guys in the 5-6 range – isn’t really that they can’t find girls below their level for sex; it’s that most of the girls who are that far below them don’t give them boners. They’d prefer girls at their own level, of course, but those girls are putting out (or holding out ) for male 7s and 8s.”

Leave a comment »

Are We Better

So I wonder if ANYBODY ELSE watched last night’s debate? Nah. Probably not.

I was pretty surprised that it was so enjoyable; live-tweeting these things has become my favorite adult activity, but I’m also increasingly aware of the scripted spectacle quality, and it’s becoming less comforting that Mitt Romney’s blatantly lying knowing he and the president are both able to accuse the other of flat-out bullshitting and Mitt will be supported by people not following up or checking in with Fox News to ALSO say ‘Obama was wrong’ with no fact backup. Ten minutes of fetishizing clean coal from both candidates was also touching (of my negative emotion core). Still, between an aggressive no-bullshit Obama and Sensata, it’s been a good week to think Mitt is such an abominable choice for president that you want to vote for Obama, even though he’s not being held accountable for drone strikes, what his “support” of gay marriage has actually been (mostly silence, no legislation), and his relationship to insurance companies, bankers, and corporations in general. Mostly because, while these things and others may not have hope of improving under a second Obama term, Mitt would take the ball and run so much further with them along with a solely Republican focus on women’s vaginas and what they do with them.

Of course, I’m most worried, more so than any potentials of a Ron Paul presidency, of what Mitt could mean for welfare, social security, Medicare, education and loan funding, infrastructure funding, progressive tax rates, and literally any other issue impacting the poor and elderly. Every time someone brings up Mitt’s business experience as though it’s either unequivocally good OR that, yeah, he WILL balance all of our debt forever in four years (on the backs of the majority of Americans leaving them to fend for themselves) I want to throw up my hands and say, “You’re wrong and that is morally wrong.” I try not to think I’m a better human being than conservatives or libertarians, but there’s a societal narrative that putting others above yourself is objectively good I conditionally agree with, and it’s jarring that the same people who’d probably agree that Billy Zane in Titanic taking a spot on the lifeboat over a woman or child is evil AND that the money you earn is indicative of your worth as a human being (you gross assholes) see nothing wrong with hoarding their own money and charging that people who want food who can’t afford it are the REAL villains and they are the REAL victims.

There’s a very real conversation that could occur around taxes and Mitt’s 47% comment, about government competence and the issues surrounding how we pay for social services in a faltering economy and aging population. It’s much like the conversation that needs to occur about the global population that is in no way occurring when the debate starts and stops at the question of whether baby souls are being crushed by Obama’s abortion camps. Contrary to the political debate’s reality, it doesn’t need to be derailing bullshit when someone wants to talk numbers, until they start spewing “NO NEW TAXES” and nothing else. I will gladly pay more in taxes personally to build up welfare, unemployment, and Medicare, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care if that money is spent efficiently and well.

At some point, it feels like the left’s argument can simply be, “You’re a monster and wrong and our ideals are better than yours.” And it feels like the only thing making that a bad argument to make isn’t the intricacies of the issues and the absoluteness of the statement but that it allows for a creeping sense of superiority that can make assholes of us all. If the right is going to claim they are the stewards of charity but only on their terms and also you don’t deserve food or shelter, it’s legit to claim they are not worthy of being the stewards of charity nor deserving of an opinion on the social safety net.

And while it’s also a symptom of the simplification of the news media, there’s something so disturbing about the conservative rallying cry being “Not MY tax dollars!”

Mostly, what keeps me from embracing that opinion is there’s nothing good about thinking yourself better than other human beings. It’s why I want to talk to my mom about her support for Mitt Romney (most likely. She’s getting Republican Party fliers in the mail), but I won’t. I’m worried about that attitude of being morally right manifesting in a horribly assholish way. I don’t think I can come off articulate or non-aggressive, and I know she doesn’t get news from reading or television so I have no idea what her sources are or, if it’s Fox News secondhand, how to bring up everything wrong with that. Politely anyway, if I can do it at all effectively. Because in my head, there just comes a point where I want to say in frustration and anger, not at her, but about Mitt Romney to her, this is the man who views your only human worth as your paycheck. This is the man happy to use you as rhetoric but will not support you in government, not knowing he’d have a chance at re-election and that the tea party’s not going anywhere and wants women subjugated to any embryo that forms. This is the man who wants you to slowly lose your home and starve to death if you get into a car accident driving the hour to and from work this winter (we have bad winters. My mom still tells me to be careful driving and she’s not really being patronizing), who thinks you should have just worked harder if you need assistance, which in this example would I guess mean waking up at 4a to drive to your 9a job in a car-less street. Or buying a Hummer or Semi to be unassailable on the road. This is the man who views your two children having to pay a cent for college as YOUR fault for not being able to send them full ride, not his fault for cutting Pell grants to make sure his tax cuts and military spending increases are “revenue neutral.” This is a man who doesn’t care about you until you head a corporation and barely tolerates you if you have a job.

And at some point there’s really no need to say anything other than, “You’re immoral. Fuck you.”

1 Comment »

Strawmen and Support

Strawmen are my favorite derailing tactic by a mile, although I’ve noticed I use them for sarcastic jabs way too often for how often I vilify straw feminist imagery. A strawmen can be any horrible lie you want it to be and can derail a debate from the main argument to so many subtopics by introducing and then fixating on a point of contention, contrived or not. And it’s hard to argue it as total bullshit because, as a 7 billion plus member species, it’s likely someone, somewhere has opinions more extreme than the strawman.

Of course, strawmen are total bullshit despite this. When people evoke a strawman to debate a point, they mean to slander a group or an ideology that just is not represented as a whole by a strawman (or stereotype when it goes down that road). One on my mind today is Mitt Romney’s attempt to dismiss reality with the idea that not having health insurance is fine and no one dies from non-access to medical care. It’s a hyper version of his $10,000 bet with Rick Perry to show us he doesn’t understand what money means to most people, with an odd use of strawmanning; in this case, the strawman is actually every American, with the bullshit qualities that we’ll go to the ER no matter what, always be prescient enough to know when a condition is life-threatening, not actually have that debate about whether symptoms are of something that can be slept off or not, and also no one gets bills. Someone will take care of that (insanely expensive for most Americans but not Mitt Romney) ER visit’s cost!

One of the many insidious ways this turns a debate is in it’s accusatory power. What? You support feminism? You mean you ACTUALLY support THE ENSLAVEMENT OF MEN? What? You support homosexuals? Why do you want our CHILDREN ABUSED? And etcetra. Feminism is a great big diverse flagpole, almost as much as theist really, and to think you can say anything definitive is ludicrous, as is every claim the Men’s Rights Movement makes. But if you’re debating what someone says and they accuse you of being an evil man-hating feminist, once you’re debating THAT point, you aren’t debating what the other persons aid anymore, and you’re probably not getting back to it.

The main issue is derailing debates, believing false realities, and caring more about how you are perceived or “winning” a debate than figuring out truths and being truthful prevents a lot of very necessary conversations. Global warming’s history is weird as fuck in the public sphere, really. And it seems to be becoming the normal process for public ideas and discussions: two sides are set up, sometimes deliberately, and both start spinning the truth, trying to win favor, be seen as “the good guys,” and turn any issue, no matter how impactful or important to work out (like whether global emissions will allow enough methane to escape from melting ice caps into the atmosphere to make life unsustainable on our planet long term due to runaway greenhouse effect) into another politicized, ideological, disconnected-from-reality debate.

Opposing the MRM is not opposing the idea of men having rights, no matter how much they scream it, just as opposing the FRC doesn’t oppose families no matter how much they insist people are by promoting “alternative” families. It is in fact opposing their opposition of families while hiding behind and busing the language of family support, just as the MRM lies about the reality women and men face and promote discrimination against women. That’s not to say men don’t have issues unique to them that absolutely need redress; male sexual assault victims need support and a voice and need for their rape (in prison, by family, anywhere and everywhere it occurs) to be viewed as serious and not a punchline and needs opposing. But you don’t need to interrupt efforts to end the victimization of women to do so. We can support more than one thing. And painting feminists as an opposing side, lying about the realities women face, and co-opting the issues men face to promote an ideology of bigotry towards women has the potential to harm men’s rights and their particular struggles while also just plainly discriminating against women and opposing their equal rights. No matter how hard they insist they have the best interests of men at heart, co-opting their issues to try and entrench your privileged position in society by turning men against women harms men too.

It also, of fucking course, harms women and equal rights, and remains completely reprehensible as yet another vomit-inducing and effort-derailing tactic and that’s enough to oppose the “Men’s Rights Movement.”

Leave a comment »

Words on Women, Minorities, and All Who Face Discrimination


The formatting on this one looks weird. Time to find out how fucked it is!

Lately I’ve been in a big funk, and I’m noticing my fall into old, bad habits. I picked up the new World of Warcraft expansion, as I knew I would at some point, and it’s been legitimately fun, even if the general chat in the first expansion area two nights in a row has been full of divisive, us-vs-them political debates. Honestly, this wouldn’t be that bad if in doing so I haven’t also been avoiding Twitter and only reading cherry-picked articles on Shakesville for the news. I’ve been slow to job-hunt as well, and, as always, I have one month’s worth of bill money. Tonight is the vice-presidential debate, and I will try my best to go to Twitter jail. I’m also writing this article after a nine-day lapse in writing. As much as I’m desperately trying to stay seperate from the world (by constructing a nice, cushy bubble), I can’t let that happen.

I guess it helps that my greatest moment of sadness came last night when I brought up Joseph Gordon Levitt’s comment that hot girls aren’t funny to a vent room and got agreement… with JGL. Which was punch-in-the-gut surprising, and very sad, but it was sadder still when one person went on to state plainly that no women are funny. And that’s still not why this is sticking with me and my saddest moment all week. It’s that I just failed to counter him in the moment. Afterwards I thought of plenty; that humor is subjective; that to write off every woman based on gender, 51% of the global population, is ludicrous; that it also posits that you are convinced not only that your culture produces no funny women but that every culture also can’t come up with anything; that we can say ANYTHING about all women, as we can’t say shit about ALL men; that there are female comedians who are able to work on the road (my two examples were Tig Notaro and Sarah Silverman, which was responded to with “Your example of a funny, attractive woman is Sarah Silverman?” dismissively). Ultimately anyone saying that no women are funny can at most say “I find no women funny and trust no other women to be funny,” which says nothing about the nature of women and humor and everything about the speaker. But absolutely none of this came during the actual discussion, or after, as it just didn’t come up again.

And while I sit with all of these afterthoughts, it depresses me to know I couldn’t bring any of them up at the time of debate. Nor is this surprising; I’m rubbish in the moment at formulating ideas, even if they are my own long-held ideas. The greatest quality of writing for me is the ability for writing to be meditation on a thought. That moment when you learn something new you believed but couldn’t put to words before working towards it, or make a discovery by laying premises bare, is one of the best feelings as a writer. There are a lot of great nuggets to writing, borne out of (and making worth it) the absolute self-defeating bullshit that is part and parcel with the process (sometimes, and I’m mainly yelling at writer’s block). And I’m happy for that, because I am not a good in-the-moment debater, so at least I can take all of that and work on it later, coming to grips with my failings, my incorrectnesses, and my ideas.

Where this is complicated, for me, is Twitter. Often, debates via tweets take on the mantle of conversational, real-time debates. People are thinking quickly, typing quickly, and having a back and forth only delayed from oral debate times by seconds. Sometimes this isn’t the case; sometimes a response comes minutes, even hours later because someone needed time to digest a tweet or conversation before responding. Sometimes people work different shifts too, and conversations happen like a game of online Risk, in hours-long turns punctuated by short flurries. I’ve had all sorts of Twitter conversations, but often when debating and discussing it’s a real-time debate held over Internet connections. Sometimes this means poor word choices, less powerful retorts, confusion, trouble expressing ideas, and anything else I typically struggle with in real-time debate.

So this (part of the) convo with the creator of the Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian game…

Ben Spurr@Bendilin

@SublimeBeeEssry Several people have beat up games of them, & it certainly wasn’t “privilege” that made them mature enough to shrug them off


Timothy Clouser@SublimeBeeEssry

It’s not maturity. Privilege helps insults hurt less. Because they carry no institutional weight. A woman threatened w/ physical @Bendilin

Timothy Clouser@SublimeBeeEssry

violence is also being threatened with the fact that violence can more easily happen to her than a man. Men still get assaulted. @Bendilin

Timothy Clouser@SublimeBeeEssry

Women get assaulted more, and more easily, and have less support. @Bendilin


…led to these comments:

6 Oct Jacob@heartytruths

@SublimeBeeEssry @Bendilin That is terribly sexist of you to say.


@SublimeBeeEssry Of course I mean you, the one that implies women are more frail than men.


I’ll actually agree that I didn’t do enough to not imply women are frailer than men. With easily, I meant that women are conditioned in society to be submissive, not fight back, and worry that crimes carried out on them can escalate into violent crimes if THEY, as victim, aggravate the situation, as well as the flip side of those assumptions for male attackers, but that isn’t really implied by the term “easily”. As well, when I said women are assaulted more, it was a nod to the statistics, not an implication of frailty. However, none of that is conveyed in one word with “easily.” “Easily” leaves just as much room to take my words to mean I think women are inherently weaker than men, and are victimized more because of it, and need the protection of men like me. Which are gross, sexist ideas, but, while @heartytruths has three tweets as of this reading (the two above and one attacking Ian Miles Chong) and could easily be a bad-faith debater, someone in good faith could easily assume what they claimed to of my intent, and, as always, my actual intent isn’t fucking magic. Word choice is vastly important, and I’ve shortened words and sentences into a confusing mess before; I’ve also chosen bad words that can mean the opposite of what I’m trying to say. I need to pay more attention to my word choice.

This specific idea, that women face institutionalized discrimination and quoting cases of it can be seen as saying women are inferior, is topical, as the Supreme Court is hearing a case on Affirmative Action. As with the simplification of women’s victimization (and people who use welfare, see also: most media narratives), affirmative action is often seen (erroneously) as a policy that lets minorities into institutions and affords opportunities over more-qualified white people. There’s a whole ball of awful made up of the assumptions in that mindset, including that minorities in general can’t get opportunities by their own merits, that racism is truly over and/or in no way affects people anymore, and occasionally that minorities need affirmative action to get an equal shot because white candidates are generally superior (usually couched in less racist terms, but that’s the thought behind it).

Affirmative action isn’t a statement that black people need help because they are inferior, mentally or otherwise; it is a reaction to the fact that any person without privilege is as capable as the privileged if you take that privilege off the table, and black people still face institutionalized discrimination from birth and thus get less opportunities throughout life than their white peers. It is a statement that there is institutional racism hindering black students and not white students that needs addressing, as well as a statement that that discrimination can kick in as early as pre-natal care and still afford minorities less chances at college admissions and job and housing opportunities even if the people deciding on these things have no racial biases. Someday affirmative action will need repealing; I want to say hopefully, but I have trust that society will continue to become increasingly progressive, and that we will address and solve institutionalized discrimination against race, gender, sexual orientation, belief, all of it. Eventually. But that day where someone faces no discrimination based on their race is a tremendously long day off. Just as racism didn’t end with the fourteenth amendment, nor with the Civil Rights Act, it did not end with and has not ended due to Affirmative Action. Affirmative action remains a powerful tool for combating institutional racism, and, if anything, we need more tools, not less.

Leave a comment »

True Freedom of Speech

[Trigger warning: Rape as an act is mentioned in my post; it becomes unavoidable in using the Tosh incident as a jumping-off point. I try straying from specifics to keep this as general reading, but there are mention of Tosh and links to more triggering material.]

I was keeping up a great pace of every 2-3 days for awhile there, but life’s been hectic and I’ve been in a very bad and sad mood that’s sapped my motivation and made my thoughts all negative, which is no headspace (for me) to write in. I have two ideas for blog posts that I need to develop, so hopefully this week will be better. One is the intersectionality of the assumed nature of people and the words they say (which I’ve written about before) and the other is about pop country music that I have to get around to researching. I have most of my thoughts, but I want to get all concrete with examples and shit, and that means reading a bunch of country song lyrics (spoilers it may not be the most flattering of pop country!). Soon, hopefully; I’d actually love to get back to having a few blog posts mostly written and waiting the next weekend I get free.

But I do have a topic to cover today. As always, fuck Daniel Tosh is a great way to start a blog post. Nothing new that I’ve heard about him; in fact, it’s back to the rape “joke”(I airquote because I have never seen a joke structure in what he said) incident. In the aftermath of the audience member’s story breaking, there was a lot of vocal support for Tosh, and while there were plenty of people happy to get vitriolic and agree with Tosh’s harassment and make further threats, most (that I saw) were making this the time to defend free speech by defending Tosh’s right to say what he had said. And I am about to write paragraphs on this and the complexities of it, but I feel that many people, who had differing comfort levels with jokes about rape, genuinely wanted to defend free speech primarily, and not just use that argument to fawn over Tosh or support his ideas on women and consent. If the argument is that comedians should be allowed to say what Tosh said and that Freedom of Speech is near-sacred, then, BASICALLY (again, about to get way into this), I agree.

No, really. I agree with that argument as it is often worded. I staunchly oppose censorship, and the first amendment is sacrosanct to me. The answer isn’t to start banning words or phrases, or topics, or limit what a comedian can say. So, I very much agree with that sentiment. But in the Tosh incident and others that have occurred lately where people being dissected and taken to task for saying reprehensible things are defended under the banner of free speech, I never see a speaker having their rights restricted or fought; most incidents prove they have intact freedom of speech. What I do see are supporters, either of freedom of all speech or the person who said some shit, coming together to bully and silence, to take away the freedom of speech from those on the other side raising objections and criticizing. Freedom of speech applies to points AND counterpoints.

When I use words like bully and accuse people of silencing tactics, I want to be very clear: I don’t assume malicious intent for most vocal critics. There are obviously hateful bullies telling someone who can’t take a joke to kill themselves or leave the Internet permanently, but that feels like a minority, and I trust most more than that. But the effect of treating criticism as a suppression tactic is to then suppress criticizing speech. I think many people view criticism itself, especially negative criticism, as inherently attacking someone’s freedom to speak, but I disagree completely. I’m defining criticism to exclude criticisms like, “Die.” or “This fucking sucked.” I’m defining it as critique of certain aspects or the whole of something. It can be insightful, it can miss the mark by a mile, but if there’s some actual critique, I love it.

I think there’s also confusion that being able to talk about anything and putting no topics off-limits (which I agree with and support) means supporting every instance of discussing race, sexism, QUILTBAG folk, etc. Which it doesn’t, and shouldn’t. In the discussion that followed Tosh’s harassing “joke,” there were plenty of examples brought up of triggering, violent and bad jokes on sexual assault, but also articles from people, including feminists, defending free speech, giving examples of jokes about rape they thought were good, and still lambasting Tosh as an enforcer of rape culture, as a prime example of how, in a rape culture, this can be brought up, and often, and made a joke, and still be bad and wrong and Tosh can just be a particularly aggressive, triggering example, not a lone case or still needing to work on the material.

True freedom of speech is a lie, and for very good reason; in the same way I am not allowed to do certain things, like stab people who make me angry, I am not allowed to say certain things, like fire in a crowded theater, because my freedoms don’t supersede theirs and there can be severe consequences to certain words. And this can get unbelievably grey, which is why we have a system of courts and not a bunch of separate judges to cover cases and make one judgment for each they handle, but it’s pretty easy to think up a few examples of something you could say that would offend someone. There’s a rise in people taking pride in being “off-color,” “Non-politically-correct,” even straight out saying they don’t care if they offend someone and will say anything, but I’m confident there’s certain things they wouldn’t say a certain way to certain people. I purposely used certain three times there; there’s a huge difference between discussing some perceived neglect of the grandkids with your mother-in-law gently but honestly, and opening up a dialogue with, “You’re a horrible grandma. Hey, I’ll say anything to anyone!”

Comedians also wield unique power on stage. Humans want to laugh, and agree with a crowd, and these are both powerful tools a comedian can leverage in making a social point. As importantly, in most comedy shows, the comedian is the only voice that”s heard; there’s no rebuttal from another comedian, and no one stands up to speak out if they disagree with a conclusion or conceit the comedian makes. Emphasis on MOST comedy shows. It’s why social comedians are a class; in this environment, a joke about discrimination in the work place and women being bad drivers can often end up with the same power as each other, especially depending on societal norms. Social comedians can use these unique circumstances of a comedy show to discuss topics that people would otherwise tune out for, or not want to think about, and the guards that drop when people are looking to be entertained make it easier for ideas to be seeded and take root and grow into great big idea trees that are pretty hard to change, no matter how incorrect or regressive they are.

And remember, Glenn Beck is as much a social comedian (I think? I hear shit, I’m not digging further than the recounting of A Christmas Sweater I heard) when making jokes as any comedian laying into Republicans. That power serves whoever wields it equally; victim and victimizer, privileged and oppressed.

This is further complicated by the fact that some people just don’t get a joke that’s otherwise not -ist (blanket term for -isms that are horrifying). Sometimes the idea is right but the words aren’t and who the joke is targeting gets confusing. Comedians can invent a character that says racist or sexist or Islamophobic shit straight, and hopefully it is setup in such a way that the crowd understands we’re making fun of the character holding such views. Because it’s not always self-evident; having someone say the earth is flat or using a redneck accent is going to be understood as mocking that belief by more people than having a fratboy say he would never rape a girl, but getting a girl drunk is just foreplay. Another tremendously important question to ask for any joke that is about a sensitive topic is: who’s the target? Comedy’s a powerful tool to attack the privileged in society, but it can just as easily be used to attack victims, and this is often at the heart of why rape jokes don’t work; a joke that treats someone getting sexually assaulted as a punchline or as such a zany thing to say that no one would expect (when in actuality it’s a go-to joke turn) is on par with pointing at an old man who says he fears hes becoming obsolete and laughing. No metaphor, no greater point or addressing of the situation, just “Ha ha, old!”

Society’s conventions are so important to this and how much care is needed in talking about a subject. What society treats as acceptable is tantamount to these discussions; the United States’ rape culture makes it easy for people to defend Tosh while the state of race relations and what society will deem as racist saw Michael Richards defended far less and turned into a punchline with no career. It would be harder to find people saying Michael Richards’ voice was censored, yet if Tosh’s show was taken off the air there would be a vocal backlash against Comedy Central. And while I don’t know that it’d be wrong, I don’t think I’d want to see Tosh’s show taken off the air for his “joke” (given the time that’s passed and his new season and brand new show on the network, I’m sure this is SUCH a possibility), although a few clips from Tosh.0 were posted in the aftermath that make me question how this is just now becoming an issue. I’d rather see society grow less accepting of Tosh’s othering brand of humor and being a shock comic by attacking victims and making jokes about sensitive subjects because they’re sensitive, dropping his ratings to the point Comedy Central lets him go.

I got to interact with Patton Oswalt over this incident, actually, who was tweeting and re-tweeting in support of Tosh initially, but as his Facebook page and Twitter feed was flooded with people’s thoughts from both sides, there was a great, nuanced discussion of freedom of speech, Tosh’s comments and rape culture. Patton took the viewpoints of people disagreeing with his defense into account (which is seemingly rare and also doesn’t mean agreeing with dissenters). One of the best points of that discussion was Patton’s insight that this incident, Tosh’s words, were a pretty bad motivator of the conversation about free speech and limits on comics that was occurring, and I could not agree more. There’s a larger discussion about taping of comedians and internet backlashes going on that political correctness and offended crowd members are unilaterally lumped in with, and it’s interconnected for sure, but I think privilege and stereotyping is coming into play as these discussions continue to occur, and where a case-by-case approach is needed, people are relying on their assumptions and generalities and being further supported by societal norms. People with valid criticisms are lumped in with trolls and haters, and a woman standing up to say rape isn’t funny is lumped in with drunk people wooing. Discussions about how rape is joked about become rape is always funny, or never funny, or you should be able to make any joke about it ever forever and no one gets to say anything back or its censorship.

So often I don’t think people truly take into account what being offended can mean in reality and conjure up the image of a Christian grandma getting offended that Daniel Tosh talks about sex and swears. They don’t think about victims, or friends and families of victims, or people with a particular amount of empathy, or people who don’t want to hear yet another joke where rape’s the punchline (or about how gay men do it IN THE BUTT. Isn’t that weird? Or about the myriad of stereotypes of black people, asian people, transsexuals, and on and on). Comedy can be a great way to deal with otherwise unassailable topics, and rape can be one of these topics to be dealt with through comedy. Some people don’t want to hear any rape jokes, at all. It’s why trigger warnings are amazing online; they allow people to deal with topics on their terms, when and if they’re ready, and avoid them if not. And some people still view this as a form of censorship; anyone should be able to say anything and it’s ALL up to YOU to deal with it! This works for the internet as well as changing the channel or leaving the theater works in real life. It’s far more difficult to work around with a live comedy show; maybe you came for one comedian and find yourself getting triggered by another. Maybe you do get up to leave and get booed anyway, and jeered, and told you’re being too sensitive. There are people who view booing or a crowd’s negative reaction as something wrong and stifling of freedom of speech, interrupting the comedian’s performance as much as a heckler. But I view them as criticism, albeit simple, unfocused criticism. And booing can certainly be used as a heckle. But criticism’s great. It’s not censorship as a class of response to art, and it challenges the art to stand and weather it if wrong, or change for the better if right. And it is just as valid an expression of free speech as the art it addresses.


With regards to empathy for the offended, this post-Toshbacle post is a great read and touches on a lot of what I have in this post, but there’s a particularly great sarcastic breakdown of a fictional thought process that covers censorship, doubts of victims in a rape culture, and much more: http://austin.culturemap.com/newsdetail/07-12-12-14-37-the-best-response-weve-heard-to-daniel-toshs-misquoted-rape-jokes/

Leave a comment »