"Anti-oppression has become a commodity"
March 3, 2014 2:20 PM   Subscribe

I believe that there’s a difference between producing evidence of oppression, explaining oppression, and fighting oppression. One can produce evidence of oppression without being able to explain why oppression happens. My problem with the Jezebels and Racialiciouses of the world...is that they glorify their own capacity to produce evidence about oppression without explaining it.
posted by Catchfire (132 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well, yes. Outragefilter is the foundation of such sites. They complain to no end about what $celebrity tweeted, but they seldom get around to explaining it or, god forbid, discussing what to do about it.
posted by anemone of the state at 2:23 PM on March 3, 2014




Sorry, that's like walking into a calculus class and complaining that they aren't teaching you basic algebra. There are feminism and racism 101 resources ALL OVER the web, and if you can't be bothered to educate yourself, well maybe Racialicious isn't the best place for you to be.
posted by jfwlucy at 2:36 PM on March 3, 2014 [43 favorites]


it's the height of entitled rudeness to waltz into a feminist space and demand that someone explain basic algebra to you

I actually thought this was more about fighting against oppression rather than educating people. This is the concluding paragraph:
But the fact that an entire industry has emerged to produce evidence about oppression without doing much at all to fight it should tell us something about where we’re at in terms of capitalism. Anti-oppression has become a commodity, too, and “we” are part of the machine by and through which that commodity is made and consumed. I’m not trying to trivialize or downplay the existence of oppression—oppression exists, and exists on a scale any in ways I am not even in a position to know or speak about. But I am trying to begin to understand how capitalism has enabled people—especially upwardly mobile, college educated people like me—to generate an anti-oppression discourse that allows many of us to feel as if we are doing much more to fight it than we actually are.
Education would be a part of that, and as such would be working more on "average readers" than those already equipped to understand the complex issues at hand.
posted by cell divide at 2:42 PM on March 3, 2014 [10 favorites]


It's Not In The Interests Of The Professionally Offended To Ever Become Less Upset

There are myriad reasons to be outraged. However, it needs to go beyond "HEY LOOK $entity is an asshole!" to "Let's discuss why this is going on?" and "What can we do about it, beyond just acting upset?".
posted by anemone of the state at 2:46 PM on March 3, 2014 [7 favorites]


working more on "average readers" than those already equipped to understand the complex issues at hand
Boom. Commodified anti-oppression culture takes a lot of positions and knowledge for granted. The entire "it's not my job to educate you" position--however necessary it may be for some people, or however philosophically justified it may be--is pretty much the opposite of activism. It's poisonous to democratic discourse and it's a step towards epistemic closure. I get that it's tiring going over the same material time after time, but if--if!--you're interested in spreading your message, then doing that work is part of being on the front lines. "RTFM" is satisfying to say but in many cases doesn't broaden the community.
posted by daveliepmann at 2:53 PM on March 3, 2014 [52 favorites]


well maybe [Racialicious, Jezebel, etc.] isn't the best place for you to be.

Isn't there a problem when the most significant anti-oppression sites out there aren't "the best place for you to be" unless you're already on board and ready to get sarcastic at how ignorant the people not-on-board are? I don't know the solution to the problem, but it's absolutely worth bringing up. This has become a commodity, an ossified set of cultural signifiers and an "in group" and along the way, lost a huge part of the spirit of change and transformation that it presumably started with.
posted by naju at 2:55 PM on March 3, 2014 [28 favorites]


daveliepmann: "It's poisonous to democratic discourse and it's a step towards epistemic closure"

Seriously?
posted by Corinth at 2:57 PM on March 3, 2014 [5 favorites]


I'm having a hard time getting to the nut of the critique, although I think it's somewhere in this:

Folks like (Racialicious founder) Carmen Van Kerckhove have found creative ways to make a living off of talking about race (and talking about talking about race) without explaining much at all save the fact that racism exists, a fact that we seem not to be able to be reminded of enough.

It seems like an extension of the "liking a progressive thing of FB doesn't really do anything" stance, or perhaps just that sites like Feministe or Racialicious have become too glib or shallow about their stances, feeding us jokes and sarcasm instead of insightful discussion about the roots of oppression (especially as it relates to capitalism).

But why is that bad? I mean, there are lots of places online where that deeper discussion takes place, at varying levels. Does every progressive discussion always have to be deep, or are jokes ok sometimes? Is it not ok to create memes and put up Tumblrs (which are by definition mostly images) about oppressive representations? Don't those media serve a useful purpose, if only to provide a place to point out the ridiculousness of something like Escher Girls?

When is a retweet a meaningful contribution to the online discussion about oppression, and when is it just a joke about your jackass racist grandpa? Do you have to choose?
posted by emjaybee at 2:57 PM on March 3, 2014 [6 favorites]


(And we can extend this to not only those websites, but a huge chunk of the discourse on tumblr, twitter and elsewhere. A mode of speaking has crept in that's not focused on change, it's focused on signaling and posing. I'm guilty of it too.)
posted by naju at 2:58 PM on March 3, 2014 [7 favorites]


I've heard Jezebel described as "clickbait feminism", and I really like the term. It gets across the major issue here, which is that Jezebel (like any Gawker blog, or most blogs period) exist to generate as many ad impressions as possible, and "You Won't Believe What This Republican Congressman Said About Women" draws exponentially more clicks than nuanced discussions of the sources oppression or how to fight it. Those discussions DO exist on the internet, but they rarely have the reach or impact of the kinds of things posted on Jezebel and it's ilk.
posted by Itaxpica at 2:59 PM on March 3, 2014 [21 favorites]


Corinth, I find it pretty self-evident that saying "I'm not going to talk to you" is poisonous to, well, any kind of discourse. It's counterproductive for democratic discourse in particular because in that, one must work with and convince people of dramatically different backgrounds and beliefs.
posted by daveliepmann at 3:00 PM on March 3, 2014 [8 favorites]


Producing evidence of oppression is important.

A couple weeks ago there was a gay bashing incident in my neighborhood. It happens fairly regularly. My neighborhood is unusual only in that it has enough of an activist critical mass that the neighborhood hears about it when it happens. This particular case made the citywide news because it took place in the office of my member of provincial parliament.

...still happening...
...still happening...
...still happening...

Publicly documenting each incident is important lest we imagine that homophobia has gone away. Being reminded is good. Each incident actually does merit outrage.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:00 PM on March 3, 2014 [12 favorites]


if you can't be bothered to educate yourself, well maybe Racialicious isn't the best place for you to be.

But there are some problems here.

Firstly, not all explanations are "101 level" explanations.

A lot of the "outragefilter" sites are facile, because the authors are very quick to be OFFENDED, and typically offer basically zero discourse, resources, or commentary on the issue at hand.

It's easy to say "AAAAAAAH THAT JOKE ELLEN TOLD AT THE OSCARS WAS TRANSPHOBIC!!!!!!"

It's a lot harder to talk about why the joke Ellen told at the Oscars was transphobic, what that means, how people like Ellen can be better allies, what a better world would look like, etc.

You really can't default to "well if I have to explain it you clearly aren't fit to look at my website" if you want to make any pretense to participating in any kind of dialogue at all.

I'm much more interested in "how does one approach comedy without being offensive but while also not being boring/unfunny" than I am interested in a 30 second quickie post to maximize pageclicks and virality.

Yes, virality is a word. I invented it, so I should know.
posted by Sara C. at 3:00 PM on March 3, 2014 [19 favorites]


The entire "it's not my job to educate you" position--however necessary it may be for some people, or however philosophically justified it may be--is pretty much the opposite of activism. It's poisonous to democratic discourse and it's a step towards epistemic closure.

Or possibly it's a valid reaction of an oppressed group of people who experience constant demands that they educate others personally (when that information is already freely available) as another form of harassment. Which it usually is.
posted by emjaybee at 3:00 PM on March 3, 2014 [51 favorites]


As someone who fights mission creep every day of his life I commend the Jezebels of the world for picking something to do, becoming excellent at it, and then resisting the pressure to expand into mediocrity.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:02 PM on March 3, 2014 [6 favorites]


emjaybee, that's sort of what I was trying to say by "however necessary it may be". I'd classify it as privilege rather than harassment, but I think we're on the same page.
posted by daveliepmann at 3:03 PM on March 3, 2014


Also, re "it's not my job to educate you".

If you think that's the case then don't start a blog.

Once you become a professional blogger, yes, it is explicitly your job to educate people on whatever your chosen topic is.
posted by Sara C. at 3:05 PM on March 3, 2014 [13 favorites]


I honestly think a number of my Facebook friends had never actually considered the implications of calling one person's behavior "thuggish" and another's "youthful indiscretions" until the Justin Beiber/Richard Sherman comparison photo made the rounds.

For the first time, I saw members of my family and high school friends who never really had to think about race (because they're white and in a small town with few people of color) thinking out loud on the internet about how we talk about race.

Yeah, it's clickbait. Yes, it doesn't really address the issues or offer solutions. But it does shine a light in a dark place.

And sometimes, all you can do is light a candle and hope that more people can then see to light their own.
posted by teleri025 at 3:07 PM on March 3, 2014 [12 favorites]


Actually, what I find notable about sites like Jezebel and to some extent Racialicious is that there often isn't anything that resembles or resonates as actual outrage at all. There is a lot of snark and hilarious jokes but real live felt anger? I don't see it. And anger in all its destabilizing force can be instructive.

The main thrust of this piece is that there is nothing -- nothing -- capitalism can't co-opt. And that includes the industry (because it is is is an industry) of anti-oppression analysis. I think it's a fair point that "checking one's privilege," even though it's something good at its root, has become so routine, practised and polished that its very invocation in some places and in some mouths has become the performance of privilege itself.
posted by Catchfire at 3:08 PM on March 3, 2014 [12 favorites]


Sara C.: " Once you become a professional blogger, yes, it is explicitly your job to educate people on whatever your chosen topic is."

Yes, but some outlets operate at the 100 level and others operate at the 400 level. You don't walk into an advanced calculus level demanding to be taught multiplication tables.
posted by tonycpsu at 3:08 PM on March 3, 2014 [23 favorites]


It's been a long-ass day, and maybe I'm misreading him, but I really didn't think this was about refusing to do feminism 101.
I'm having a hard time getting to the nut of the critique, although I think it's somewhere in this:
I read him to be saying that the heart of the problem is capitalism. He takes that for granted. So feminist and anti-racist blogs are bad unless they agree with him that the heart of the problem is capitalism, that capitalism benefits from the oppression of women and POC, and that analysis of racism and sexism has to link those things to an anti-capitalist critique. And the reason that that popular feminist and anti-racist blogs don't do those things is that the founders are benefiting from, or hope to benefit from, capitalism.

I think the problem with that is that not all feminists or anti-racist activists are going to agree that the capitalism is the underlying problem.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 3:08 PM on March 3, 2014 [12 favorites]


So I guess I haven't seen enough blogs where bloggers introduce X topic, then refuse to sincerely answer the commenters question about it, even with a link? Is this a big thing? Because I read a lot of what I'd consider feminist sites, but I am not seeing it.

I mean, I have seen the cases where the commenter is clearly trolling, bringing up "gotchas," tone arguments, demanding definitions of very basic terms that are easy to Google, demanding citations for every single statement of fact, etc. etc. I do not recall a blogger giving an overt brushoff; in fact, I have often been irritated when a blogger goes along with what looks like trolling to me.
posted by emjaybee at 3:09 PM on March 3, 2014 [9 favorites]


My problem with explaining that talking about oppression is not the same as coming up with an actual plan to fight oppression is that it seems like it stiffles discussions about oppression and STILL doesn't help create the actual fight.

The goal should be "Yeah, talking about it is great but let's fix it people. Let's talk action steps and collaborative strategies to effect real change"

But that conversation is uncomfortable so people would rather talk about how talking about things doesn't work that well (while STILL avoiding creating a real strategy).

All I'm saying is, let's do this people. What if there was a site that was only action steps or ranting that ALWAYS combined action steps and strategies that real people can do...?
That would be cool.

I tried to get some action going at a few sites and I wound up with people talking about how helping families is unrealistic and we just can't actually help people because...(libertarianism...bootstraps..unrealistic etc)

A lot of people who claim to be part of this "anti-oppression" stuff are really very pro-system and anti anyone struggling other people with exactly there issues or a couple of pet issues that don't happen to be theirs. I find it frustrating because I can't change things on my own, we all really need to work together, and this internet thing would make it possible for people with disabilities and parental obligations like myself to participate in real action if we could translate online stuff into real action.

I still think talking about it is good, by all means, talk about stopping oppression rather than what color shirt some celerity wore but yeah, there should be pressure to really take it further and really produce actual action to help those in need, and help those who need assistance and resources really getting the tools and support to make their lives flourish.

But really this is like the new religion. Remember the people at church (well I went to church school) that said Jesus the loudest and completely ignored you because you weren't wearing the latest brand name? This trait in human is as old humans-- pretend to really care because it makes people like you, then don't actually help the people in your life, or even trash them for not having it together or having faults or for struggling in ways that annoy you. Actually understanding and caring about the "difficult" people in your life and in your community is where the real work happens... help people who need help. That is HARD. And a lot of us could actually use help figuring out how to help or what we can realistically do without hurting ourselves or over-extending ourselves.

But from what I found out, some people aren't even in this for the idea of really helping people or being there for others, they just want to be treated the way they want and to complain if a dig is made about someone in their demographic (or a related demographic they feel they have ties to) and that's it. It's nothing more than that. It's just kids on the play ground teaming up to protect from the sting of bullies but has nothing to do with doing the work of ending systemic oppression or really extending care to people outside the demographics that are trendy or appealing to you.

Obviously I'm only referring to people to whom that applies to. And I think it's very important to consider that to me and likely other it may seem like it's all talk BUT people don't necessarily represent all the good things they do in life with their online presence making it APPEAR they are more talk and less walk when that isn't true.
posted by xarnop at 3:10 PM on March 3, 2014 [10 favorites]


Yes, but some outlets operate at the 100 level and others operate at the 400 level.

The problem I have with this is that, inasmuch as sites like this want mass appeal, they are operating at a 100 level.

If I want 400 level discourse on queer theory or African American studies or feminism, I'll turn to a more substantive site or possibly go to the library.

Nobody is on Jezebel for their women's studies homework.

Silly clickbait blogs aren't college. There is no bar to entry. As such, and inasmuch as they hope to reach the wider public, they absolutely are 100 level by default.

Now, the bloggers in question aren't required to meet their demographic where they're at. But you can't really fault their audience for that. Because at a certain point, yes, it is the job of professional bloggers to educate their audience about the topics they cover. That's what blogging is. There is really only so much room for "presented without comment" content.
posted by Sara C. at 3:14 PM on March 3, 2014 [15 favorites]


It's pretty silly to make a math analogy. No one disputes the truth of math (outside of particularly academic and niche philosophical texts). Math simply exists, and we use it as a tool. It is logically rigorous, and amoral.

Anti-opression/racial/sociology is inherently normative and focused on changing the world, based on a very heavy set of assumptions on how the world ought to be. It is not science, and it's not necessarily true.

I'm not going to go on to explain why I think you're wrong, because that's another comment. But I wanted to point out that your metaphor is fatally flawed, not just in the context of nit-picking failures in an analogy, but the premise of the metaphor assumes a parallel state between two subjects that does not exist.
posted by jjmoney at 3:15 PM on March 3, 2014 [8 favorites]


And yeah capitalism without a safety net or structural supports in place leaves a lot of people in suffering. I guess you can say "well that's just life's fault so those people's suffering doesn't matter because it's not REAL oppression if life itself causes suffering rather than a person."

And then you get people talking about how sweatshop labor is maybe nice, nicer than leaving people to what they WERE doing because you don't want to dare question the AGENCY ofpeople who are starving, that would be rude. Clearly they want to die of being over worked and their agency should be respected. And having watched those conversations it makes it really clear why those with higher education levels and job opportunities will always fight oppression in a way that sometimes involves doing really terrible things to others and not seeing it as a harm at all or how much power they COULD have if they really pooled together their resources and stopped seeing human suffering as an ok thing as long as they can prove they didn't directly cause it.

That kind of thing should be talked about.
posted by xarnop at 3:16 PM on March 3, 2014 [6 favorites]


There are some really wonderful relationships between multiplication tables, algebra, and calculus through axiomatic set theory. Maybe I should blog about it.
posted by poe at 3:20 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Sara C.: " Silly clickbait blogs aren't college. There is no bar to entry. As such, and inasmuch as they hope to reach the wider public, they absolutely are 100 level by default."

I guess I think of Jezebel as different in both degree and kind -- not the 100 level class of feminist blogs, but as the "late night infomercial correspondence school" level class of "clickbait-y blogs that cover feminism topics." In other words, I find it hard to believe that anyone expects to be educated there, even at the 100 level. It's more like a gateway blog that might link to coverage elsewhere that takes the topics more seriously. I just don't see them as pretending they're educating anyone.

Normatively, I'd love every online news source to think about educating their readers first and foremost, but it seems to me that's a big ask given that it's all being done for scraps of ad revenue.
posted by tonycpsu at 3:32 PM on March 3, 2014 [7 favorites]


People who think it is not enough just to produce evidence of racism obviously have not met the massive swath of humanity who don't think racism is a thing anymore.

Same goes for sexism.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:32 PM on March 3, 2014 [40 favorites]


It's doubtful that Jezebel was conceived as a site to fight oppression. Instead, it's a click bait site aimed at a specific market, much like i09.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:34 PM on March 3, 2014 [6 favorites]


jjmoney: "It's pretty silly to make a math analogy. No one disputes the truth of math (outside of particularly academic and niche philosophical texts). Math simply exists, and we use it as a tool. It is logically rigorous, and amoral."

My point with the math analogy wasn't that the topics themselves are analogous, but that both are built on top of fundamental principles such that you'll have a hard time understanding things at a higher level if you don't understand the basics. I could have just as easily chosen music, political science, or woodworking.
posted by tonycpsu at 3:34 PM on March 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


But tonycpsu, that's exactly what's so frustrating about outragefilter blogs. They're activist junkfood. They're not about real discourse, they're not about educating newcomers, they're not about providing people with resources, they're not really about anything other than getting pageviews.

So it's perfectly OK that people are frustrated with the state of this part of the blogosphere. Because it's useless garbage.
posted by Sara C. at 3:36 PM on March 3, 2014 [12 favorites]


Even worse than that, it's garbage that has infected the culture, so to speak. Everyone thinks this is how you talk about oppression now.
posted by naju at 3:36 PM on March 3, 2014 [13 favorites]


Because it's useless garbage.

I find them highly entertaining so they are not micro useless garbage. Maybe macro.
posted by josher71 at 3:37 PM on March 3, 2014


I really appreciated the author's ideas, actually; I feel like a lot of what is said really resonates with the pushback in my activist circles against the discourse of disposability that much of social justice style has developed into. We always approach these discussions from the hypothetical threat of a privileged beginner barging into and monopolizing safe spaces, and have developed a lot of tools to counter these threats - but at some point, we need to question what uncritical application of these tools bars us from learning. For instance, we often believe that "anti-oppressive" thinking comes from only one angle - but this isn't the case. Activists of different stripes - and even experiences - will bring different anti-oppressive mindsets and levels of critiques and counter-critiques, and sharing respective angles and allowing our own values to be placed out in the open for challenge without considering challenge as an automatic threat, typically ends up in a broadening of perspective for both sides. Not only that, but many of the tools that we use to shut down perceived threats are toxic to communities, and don't really work when you're operating on a marginalized-to-marginalized level (as most things actually are) as opposed to the oft-assumed marginalized-to-privileged level.

Short-in-short, a lot of the tools that the older generation has developed just don't work in an age of increasing intersectionality and transition to development of complex anti-oppressive community dynamics over pushback against external threats. Given the author's excellent critiques and mindfulness of intersectionality, I'm inclined to see this piece as a commentary on how we talk within communities - and within diverse communities in particular - as opposed to creating discourse for outsiders. This is definitely a trend that I've noted the younger generation of activists focusing on - I mean, concentrating and focusing on outside oppressors all the time just recenters them as default with our positions being reactionary - and to move away from that, we need to turn a greater eye on our own communities and practices to see how critiques can be used as a tool for growth.
posted by Conspire at 3:40 PM on March 3, 2014 [14 favorites]


Sorry, that's like walking into a calculus class and complaining that they aren't teaching you basic algebra.

no, it's more like walking into a calculus class and complaining that they aren't teaching you how it applies to the targeting of artillery

in fact, just calling something everyone should know xxxx-101 exposes a class bias - that of those who can pursue higher education

it's right to bring that up - and also the issues of capitalism and commodity, as they do apply in some cases

you don't get to convert society at your level, but at society's level - and that involves listening not lecturing - or snarking
posted by pyramid termite at 3:40 PM on March 3, 2014 [7 favorites]


Sara C.: "But tonycpsu, that's exactly what's so frustrating about outragefilter blogs. They're activist junkfood. They're not about real discourse, they're not about educating newcomers, they're not about providing people with resources, they're not really about anything other than getting pageviews."

But are activists really reading the junkfood sites in large numbers? I climbed up the latter of political and economics blogs starting at the clickbait-y HuffPo level places, but once I found more serious reading, I had no use for the junk food sites, and took them out of my RSS reader.

It seems to me someone who starts with the junkfood and never graduates to the level of sites that take the topic seriosuly probably wasn't going to get pulled in by a more healthy vegetable-oriented approach anyway. If what you're saying is that you want a site with Gawker Media's reach, but that takes feminism more seriously, then I'm all for that, but I don't know how to get there from here.
posted by tonycpsu at 3:48 PM on March 3, 2014 [6 favorites]


I find them highly entertaining so they are not micro useless garbage. Maybe macro.

Maybe I would be more into this if these sites were set up as explicitly comedy/entertainment sites?

For instance, one of my favorite things about the show Portlandia is the way that they do sketches about activist issues that poke fun at the Movement or the Scene or whatever, but which do so without invalidating it or cutting it down. It's good clean feminist friendly fun! I never expect Portlandia to be educating me about women's oppression. I don't get mad that there aren't show notes or bibliographies or a specific call to action. The same goes for a show like Key & Peele. It's funny entertainment, but it's also a little bit consciousness raising. And because these shows are made for a mass audience, they absolutely are "101 Level" and are welcoming and easy for movement outsiders to enjoy.

I would lovelovelove to find more light comedic entertainment about social justice issues! In fact, I feel like The Hairpin and The Toast are worth mentioning here, because not only are they funny and entertaining (and they make it explicit that they're not really political sites), they actually do a much better job of raising consciousness and fostering dialogue than Jezebel et al are doing. And yet, if they're clickbait, they're clickbait that works on a much higher level.
posted by Sara C. at 3:48 PM on March 3, 2014


But are activists really reading the junkfood sites in large numbers?

Wait, hold on.

You can't really have this both ways. You can't throw up your hands and say "It's not my responsibility to educate you!" and then also say that people who know their stuff aren't even the primary audience of these sites.

Either it's geared toward the general public and as such does have a responsibility toward educating on a 101 level, or it's geared toward the social justice scene and if people really want to know about transphobia they can go take a queer theory class.
posted by Sara C. at 3:51 PM on March 3, 2014 [6 favorites]


If the thesis is actually why-is-everything-not-The-Toast then I change my vote and want back on board.
posted by Corinth at 3:53 PM on March 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


I think it's also worth noting that TFA is very much within the context of Tumblr, which, as much as I love it, the culture there is soooooooooo outragefilter-ish. And especially conducive to facile emphasis on going viral over anything else.

(If I see that thing about the mummy with evidence of cocaine and nicotine proving that the ancient Egyptians traded with the Americas reblogged in my feed one more time I may scream.)
posted by Sara C. at 4:05 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Either it's geared toward the general public and as such does have a responsibility toward educating on a 101 level, or it's geared toward the social justice scene and if people really want to know about transphobia they can go take a queer theory class.

I think this is a false dichotomy. Jezebel's target audience are the people who aren't immersed in social justice, but who do fancy themselves more aware than the average person.
posted by hoyland at 4:06 PM on March 3, 2014 [8 favorites]


Which excuses them from any responsibility to provide useful quality content and to think about something besides how many pageviews they got yesterday?
posted by Sara C. at 4:07 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


I mean, if Jezebel wants to kick it up to a 201 level, I would be all in favor of that. But right now they could replace their entire website with this old gif. Which is pretty much the opposite of catering it to people who fancy themselves more politically aware.
posted by Sara C. at 4:10 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


This article makes a lot of sense for me. Outrage sells, and what has been created is a bubble space where outrage is packaged and sold rather than actually fighting to change the system. The "if you can't be bothered to educate yourself, well maybe [X] isn't the best place for you to be" attitude is particularly redolent of this. The attitudes I see in online social justice discourse – and as a revolutionary socialist, these are causes I am deeply sympathetic toward – are such that I can't imagine most people I know outside of politics being accepted even on a trivial level. And even some people I know through political activism. You have to be pretty damn involved in some extremely advanced discourse to even be able to take part in these conversations, much less have your attitudes considered acceptable.

That should be a problem for anyone who conceives of these social movements (anti-racism, feminism, anti-capitalism, LGBTQ liberation) winning over a majority of the population. The people who have a vested interest in the outrage bubble don't need a majority, they do better with a purist minority.
posted by graymouser at 4:10 PM on March 3, 2014 [14 favorites]


But are activists really reading the junkfood sites in large numbers?

I don't know what Jezebel's traffic numbers are, but I see links to them all the time on Facebook and here (though much less often than in the past) and posts there get mentioned in conversations in real life. And I'm not even surrounded by very activisty people. We can call it click bait, but it definitely is meeting a market demand.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:12 PM on March 3, 2014


Sara C.: "Which excuses them from any responsibility to provide useful quality content and to think about something besides how many pageviews they got yesterday?"

I didn't claim Jezebel was any good, just that there's room between 'man on the street' and 'reads a lot of queer theory'.

(I'm actually inclined to think reading Jezebel's a way for people to feel progressive without risking being challenged. I am, however, deeply cynical.)
posted by hoyland at 4:14 PM on March 3, 2014 [5 favorites]



Either it's geared toward the general public and as such does have a responsibility toward educating on a 101 level, or it's geared toward the social justice scene and if people really want to know about transphobia they can go take a queer theory class.
No, and no. Okay, who is MeFi geared toward? SAHMs? Programmers? Poli-sci types? Yuppies? and what is MeFi's responsibility toward educating on a 101 level? I have been a member here since 2000, and I can tell you I've seen literally thousands of discussions on here that make it clear that all of these groups are represented, and that likewise the level of information on various topics is likewise various.

What happens on Jezebel and Racialicious is various as well. Sometimes there are comments that reference critical theory, and the commenters get to share a laugh or get a good book recommendation. Guess what? Community is happening there.

And sometimes there are simpler stories detailing personal experiences of sexist or racist aggression, and the story teller is asking for validation that what s/he feels (anger, frustration) is a feeling shared and understood by other commenters. Often the conversation continues in the comments. Guess what? Education is happening there.

And sometimes there are trolls.

And SOMETIMES someone waltzes (innocently????) in with a very basic feminist issue like, "Men make better CEOs than women do because biology, amirite?" And the crowd, HAVING DEALT WITH THIS QUESTION 1000x BEFORE, goes, "Boooooo!" and shouts the person off the field.

If we dealt all the time with 101-type issues, none of the aforementioned community/learning stuff would have time to take place!!
posted by jfwlucy at 4:15 PM on March 3, 2014 [6 favorites]


The "if you can't be bothered to educate yourself, well maybe [X] isn't the best place for you to be" attitude is particularly redolent of this.

In fairness, a lot of this comes not from snootiness, but from a very reasonable reaction to the use of "wait, first define these terms again" as a silencing and harassing tactic. I'm not entirely sure that telling people to go read the 101 first is an effective response, but it at least short circuits the tiresome derailments caused by fake requests for clarification of basic knowledge.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:15 PM on March 3, 2014 [9 favorites]


The people who have a vested interest in the outrage bubble don't need a majority, they do better with a purist minority.

I don't think it's anywhere near that malicious. I think the current call-out culture and culture that focuses on identification of oppression rather than trying to break it down and understand it, is important for establishing space and identity that pushes back against the status quo in the first place. Beyond that, it's an accessible level of discourse, and as others have pointed out, an entry point to understanding of injustice.

But as Gloria Anzaldúa pointed out:
    "But it is not enough to stand on the opposite river bank, shouting questions, challenging patriarchal, white conventions. A counterstance locks one into a duel of oppressor and oppressed; locked in mortal combat, like the cop and the criminal, both are reduced to a common denominator of violence. The counterstance refutes the dominant culture's views and beliefs, and, for this, it is proudly defiant. All reaction is limited by, and dependent on, what it is reacting against. Because the counterstance stems from a problem with authority - outer as well as inner - it's a step towards liberation from cultural domination. But it is not a way of life. At some point, on our way to a new consciousness, we will have to leave the opposite bank, the split between the two mortal combatants somehow healed so that we are on both shores at once and, at once, see through serpent and eagle eyes. Or perhaps we will decide to disengage from the dominant culture, write it off altogether as a lost cause, and cross the border into a wholly new and separate territory. Or we might go another route. The possibilities are numerous once we decide to act and not react."
At some point, the reactionary space we develop needs to transform into a culture of its own. And to do that, we need to draw critical attention to the tools that we use, and how it may not be suited if we're looking to be constructive of theory and community that can still define itself in the absence of something to react against, rather than destructive.
posted by Conspire at 4:17 PM on March 3, 2014 [19 favorites]


And yeah capitalism without a safety net or structural supports in place leaves a lot of people in suffering.

Wait, wait, wait. I think we're getting ahead of ourselves here. Your terminology is confusing me a bit, so before we go any further, could you explain to me what Capitalism is? And then, if you could prove to me that Capitalism is oppressive, that would be good too.

See I've been hearing about this CapitalIsm and oppression thing, and it just sounded like something people on the internet made up to get mad over. But I pride myself on my open mind, so if you could explain it all to me, that would be a good place to start the discussion.
posted by happyroach at 4:27 PM on March 3, 2014 [24 favorites]


In fairness, a lot of this comes not from snootiness, but from a very reasonable reaction to the use of "wait, first define these terms again" as a silencing and harassing tactic.

In a lot of oppression discussions, refusing to define terms means excluding probably the majority of potential participants, and more importantly encourages the creation of ideological bubbles. I tend to see such bubbles as being harmful because they block the people who are the most ideologically progressive off from the majority of people who they need to be influencing.
posted by graymouser at 4:27 PM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


Amplification of a point I don't think I made clearly enough: LEARNING does happen at these sites, but I've seen it happen mostly with young people (fe/male, LGBTQ, of color) who have a sense that something is wrong, but they lack the vocabulary to articulate much about what has happened to them, and they lack (for whatever reason (family, religion, geography)) a community that will validate that their nascent feelings of outrage are in fact appropriate. Yes, what happened to you was wrong! No, there are people out there who will not try to gender police you. Yes, that person ought to be in prison! In a space like Jezebel or like Racialicious, the people who are getting sent away with fleas in their ears are not these people.

I will also add that in a huge number of supposedly progressive spaces, rape jokes and body shaming and female-specific slurs go on and on regularly and if you try to suggest that perhaps prison rape jokes are inappropriate (Geo. Zimmermann anyone?) because rape is never funny for women or for men, YOU will quickly become a target instead of whatever is the supposed topic of the thread. It gets OLD, and it is nice to have a space where that shit isn't tolerated.
posted by jfwlucy at 4:31 PM on March 3, 2014 [5 favorites]


happyroach, I heart you.
posted by jfwlucy at 4:31 PM on March 3, 2014


I don't think I need or want constant reiteration of 101 definitions. What I think would be an improvement is deeper analysis, original insight, connections being drawn between incidents, historical awareness, ALL KINDS of stuff beyond the basics. Right now we have a series of echo chambers of safe, community-approved sarcasm that passes for content. To the extent that there are insights or analysis present, they're actually ASSUMED and largely unspoken. We don't need to drag every post down to a "what is feminism" level, we actually need to elevate it to something larger. Right now we're at different ways of saying "I can't even with what just happened," where "I can't even" is shorthand for "I can't even be bothered to present some cogent insight into this event, why it matters, and what can be done about it."
posted by naju at 4:32 PM on March 3, 2014 [24 favorites]


I think it's also worth noting that TFA is very much within the context of Tumblr, which, as much as I love it, the culture there is soooooooooo outragefilter-ish. And especially conducive to facile emphasis on going viral over anything else.

I really wish the comments in here had focused more on that.

What this article is describing essentially started with tumblr. Jezelbel itself started a year before tumblr and used to be pretty different. It also used to be pretty effortlessly mocked for being a shitty clickbait gawker media blog until it gained enough critical mass of people going "Whatever, you're just mad that they XYZ" to defend them.

A lot of the lower quality sites saw the way the wind was blowing with stuff on tumblr getting thousands of reblogs within an hour or two, and untold bajillions of views and jumped on the wagon.

I actually object to what's being said in the image in this article, because i don't believe that most people are saying or thinking anything that critically about the stuff they reblog. It's pieces of flair, lemming-like "See i agree, i'm one of the good guyz, i'm part of the in group!" stuff like a grade school kid joining in on ridiculing someone whose name they don't really know just for group association and membership.

This kind of stuff ranges from what this article covers of outrage for it's own sake, to much darker witch hunting and character assassination kinda shit in the vein of ye olde "A lie goes around the world before the truth can get its pants on". Retractions of rebuttals only get any airtime if they're properly scathing or otherwise attention-bait and even then it's a coin toss.

I don't know what i think about this kind of "media". I think the internet has been a boon for activism movements and has been a tool that can seriously get shit done, but i think a lot of what goes on both on these blogs and on tumblr ranges the gamut from tiresome clickbait outragefilter shit to actually toxic. And a lot of the ad-hominem-y "Well if you aren't 100% against this thing you're a terrible fucking person! *4800 likes/2000 reblogs*" shit is part of the problem.

And yea, like you Sara i've seen several things go around(notably a "speciesism = racism" one) that just make me want to cancel my internet service.
posted by emptythought at 4:34 PM on March 3, 2014 [12 favorites]


Naju, I take your point, and I would like to see spaces like that as well, but I can't really envision how they would work without some serious gatekeeping. Right now most of the promising discussions like that get derailed by 101ers or trolls. I also wonder if some sort of critical mass of a particular mode of thinking needs to be achieved before such spaces are popular (ref. Kuhn, Scientific Revolutions).
posted by jfwlucy at 4:38 PM on March 3, 2014


happyroach if that was addressed to me I don't think either of my comments were about the 101 issue? Or maybe you just picked my comment to make a point randomly? I think it would be nice to refer people to a 101 page if needed, not necessarily write out the same 101 to everyone who comes along. Having some 101 links handy seems like a good idea. So with that in mind you can start with the capitalism Wikipedia page and it might help you.
posted by xarnop at 4:39 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


I took happyroach's comment as illustrating the patronizing "educate me" tone and (lack of content) that many derailers/trolls/101ers take when entering the type of sites under discussion. Like Dipflash said.
posted by jfwlucy at 4:45 PM on March 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


And sometimes there are simpler stories detailing personal experiences of sexist or racist aggression, and the story teller is asking for validation that what s/he feels (anger, frustration) is a feeling shared and understood by other commenters. Often the conversation continues in the comments. Guess what? Education is happening there

I guess I just hate the idea that these pro bloggers are leaving it up to their commentariat to actually produce useful content.
posted by Sara C. at 4:47 PM on March 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


Isn't that how MeFi works?
posted by jfwlucy at 4:51 PM on March 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


At some point, on our way to a new consciousness, we will have to leave the opposite bank, the split between the two mortal combatants somehow healed so that we are on both shores at once and, at once, see through serpent and eagle eyes. Or perhaps we will decide to disengage from the dominant culture, write it off altogether as a lost cause, and cross the border into a wholly new and separate territory. Or we might go another route. The possibilities are numerous once we decide to act and not react."

The problem with propping outragefilter blogs up with this lovely Gloria Anzaldua quote is that what Anzaldua is describing is creating, not destroying.

Making callouts the main focus of the social justice internet creates nothing.
posted by Sara C. at 4:52 PM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


Isn't that how MeFi works?

No, because Metafilter is a community blog, not a blog run by Matt Haughey wherein he invites comment on his own terms without actually contributing anything of value.

Everyone at Metafilter has equal power to create posts (be the blogger) and to comment. And we have the power to create posts that educate, entertain, provide resources, or do whatever it is we feel would be a good thing for Metafilter the community blog to do.

On a site like Jezebel, there are people who actually make their living churning out garbage outragefilter with no substance, and then there are people who are expected to provide that substance for free in the comments.
posted by Sara C. at 4:55 PM on March 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


Also, MetaFilter doesn't have a stated subject focus, unlike Jezebel and the other sites mentioned. So there's really not a parallel there.
posted by gadge emeritus at 5:04 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Or possibly it's a valid reaction of an oppressed group of people who experience constant demands that they educate others personally (when that information is already freely available) as another form of harassment.

I work in tax, and have to constantly explain basics to people that demand links for basic, basic stuff that they could easily find themselves.

Good to know they're not just being run of the mill internet morons, they're engaged in harassment.

I'll be sure to be outraged, rather than just annoyed, from now on.
posted by jpe at 5:13 PM on March 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


Well, I think there is substance in the posts, and I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree on that. I can read a post, get what point the poster is making and the references she is making and often the underlying theory of the post, and then I can find further sidelines/information in the comments.

I understand why it is a far from perfect parallel, but I think the structure of 1) real world event or words happen 2) a linkpost to that event or words with implicit or explicit commentary by the poster is created 3) discussion ensues in which further meaning can be hashed out.
posted by jfwlucy at 5:13 PM on March 3, 2014


jpe, you are PAID to do that. No one pays people at Racialicious to provide 101 information on racism. In fact, they explicitly say to would be commenters and writers:


we generally delete the comments that contain the following words without reading them: “get over it,” “you’re overreacting,” “whiners,” “nothing is ever going to change,” “why don’t you focus on real racism,” any variation on “playing the race card.” Be forewarned.

Don’t respond to critiques about racism by telling the person making the critique that they’re just too sensitive, or they need to “get a life,” or that they need to stop playing the “race card.” We welcome disagreements here on Racialicious, but make an intelligent case for your point of view. Don’t just dismiss others’ views.

Race studies do not exist in a vacuum. Therefore, submissions should also have a working understanding of other types of oppression, like homo/transphobia, heteronormativity, sexism, ableism or classism as well as racism. We aren’t saying that you must be an anti-oppression scholar, but you should be aware of your own privileges as you write.


I'm positive that if every other phone call you got was telling you "It's MY money, not theIRS!" and asking you to justify the entire tax system and complain about taxes being spent on lazy welfare cheats, instead of what you were actually there to talk with them about, you'd feel pretty harassed, too.
posted by jfwlucy at 5:20 PM on March 3, 2014 [18 favorites]


Are you just being intentionally thick, jpe, or do you honestly not know the difference between being asked questions as part of being paid to do a job and expecting marginalized groups to constantly "prove" that they are negatively impacted by white supremacy/patriarchy/cisnormativity/heteronormativity/etc?
posted by NoraReed at 5:20 PM on March 3, 2014 [12 favorites]


Oops. Should've previewed.
posted by NoraReed at 5:25 PM on March 3, 2014


Or possibly it's a valid reaction of an oppressed group of people who experience constant demands that they educate others personally (when that information is already freely available) as another form of harassment.

Here's the thing about this, though.

As a queer woman, one could say that I'm a member of an oppressed group of people who experiences constant demands that I educate others.

My solution to this?

I don't have a blog about queerness or feminism.

If someone demands that I explain something and I don't feel like explaining it, I am free to just ignore them. Because I haven't set myself up as a professional commentator on these issues.

Once you are positioning yourself as a mainstream voice on social justice commentary, you are going to have mainstream people asking you 101 level questions about social justice.

It is literally your job to engage in this discourse. It is what you set out to do when you pursued this career path. It was your end goal in hoping that X post went viral or Y media outlet approached you for an interview.

So to the extent that pro-bloggers aren't interested in doing this kind of work, well, sorry? I play the world's smallest violin for you.
posted by Sara C. at 5:26 PM on March 3, 2014 [7 favorites]


No one pays people at Racialicious to provide 101 information on racism

This is categorically not true if Racialicious is monetized in any way*, or if people who write for Racialicious are leveraging their work there in any kind of career capacity.

The Jezebel editorial staff absolutely IS paid.

*Though I did click over and it appears that there aren't ads on the main site.
posted by Sara C. at 5:30 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Sara C., no blog can be all things to all people. I pointed out above that Jez/Rac/etc., even if they don't provide 101 information, ARE providing a space for community building AND a space for people new to these issues to get some validation of their feelings regarding their experience with racism or sexism. I think those are fine and good goals.
posted by jfwlucy at 5:31 PM on March 3, 2014 [5 favorites]


But the editorial staff aren't being paid for "providing a space". Hell, in the case of Jezebel, they're not providing a space. They're being paid to write articles. The space is provided by Gawker Media.

So it's insulting when you have this elite who are paid to churn out garbage, and then when said elite is called on their tendency to do just that, the defense is that their commentariat provides the real content the elite pros can't be bothered with.

If that's the case, shouldn't the Jezebel staff be working for free and paying their commenters?
posted by Sara C. at 5:36 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Is it also the job of biology teachers and professors to give a 101 on why evolution is real to every creationist with an agenda? Or is it their job to teach biology to their students?
posted by NoraReed at 5:40 PM on March 3, 2014 [6 favorites]


in fact, just calling something everyone should know xxxx-101 exposes a class bias - that of those who can pursue higher education

This is important enough to be worth some more discussion, and I share the sense that the "101" talk (which I certainly acknowledge engaging in myself) may have some pretty serious unexamined cultural downsides. Not just because it's a symptom of unreflective educational/class privilege, either, though it is, but because of the combined sense of condescending superiority and firm, fixed, unchangeable belief imparted by the 'I already know this, just let me teach you' stance. If we want to follow the Low End blogger's excellent lead in reflecting on online slacktivism — things we do online that feel like politics while not actually accomplishing anything political — then the actual content of "101" is going to be an important subject.

This blog piece takes "commodified anti-oppression culture" to be a strain of self-congratulatory online "activist" performance of outrage, which is entrenched in Tumblr and Gawker culture; but there's at least one other strain, one which I'd contend is pretty native to MeFi culture, which is about the performance of earnest "educational" explanation, equally self-congratulatory. This latter strain, instead of raging, parses any and all disagreement as though it simply must be coming from the unenlightened, and assumes that anyone exposed to enough heartfelt personal anecdotes and "101" lectures will eventually be browbeaten into sharing its worldview. It's almost as politically impotent as the recreational-outrage form of political performance, but perhaps not quite, since it at least echoes the consciousness-raising form of local movement-building enough to give people a little practice that might come in handy elsewhere. But it definitely shares the hallmark of elevating an enlightened "activist" stance, a pose of politicality, a certain way of talking, to the point where they take over from actually doing things.
posted by RogerB at 5:40 PM on March 3, 2014 [15 favorites]


Your comment reminds me of the neonazi/extremists education attempts mentioned in a previous thread. How can we know the neonazis need to be educated more? I'm serious, at what point can we say a belief is so toxic and harmful we shouldn't have to subjected to it over and over because it hurts real people. A lot of 101 questions are really attacks on the existence of other people's stated suffering or whether they deserve needed rights. They are questions that reflect a lack of empathy sometimes and sometimes a desire to actually hurt or put people back in their place.
posted by xarnop at 6:02 PM on March 3, 2014 [7 favorites]


Look, I really hear the frustration with 101 questions as trolling.

I don't think trolls should be fed, which includes not needing bloggers -- even pro level paid editorial staff bloggers -- to engage with their 101 questions.

There is one problem, though.

A lot of outragefilter content provides nothing. Some of it actively makes people dumber.

Clickbait social justice sites absolutely should be called out on the carpet for this. There really should be some standard for actually worthwhile contributions from the people whose job it is to create the content.

Hiding behind "but troooolllllssssssss" is an embarrassingly shitty excuse for the level of content that is out there.
posted by Sara C. at 6:15 PM on March 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


FWIW, Jezebel traffic information can be found here.
posted by Joel Johnson at 6:18 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


And now I'm turning that into a hyperlink. Upgrade your text box, Haughey.
posted by Joel Johnson at 6:19 PM on March 3, 2014


If someone demands that I explain something and I don't feel like explaining it, I am free to just ignore them. Because I haven't set myself up as a professional commentator on these issues.

There's a certain level of privilege involved in having ignoring people be a viable strategy, though. It's not something everyone can just decide to do and have it work. I assume there are situations where it doesn't work for you, too, and people decide they are entitled to an explanation or to knowledge of your life and trying to put your foot down doesn't work.
posted by hoyland at 7:00 PM on March 3, 2014 [8 favorites]


Your comment reminds me of the neonazi/extremists education attempts mentioned in a previous thread. How can we know the neonazis need to be educated more? I'm serious, at what point can we say a belief is so toxic and harmful we shouldn't have to subjected to it over and over because it hurts real people.

This is a half-formed thought and tangential, but there was an interview on the SPLC website (I think it was from the magazine) this week about what leads people to join far right groups. One thing that was mentioned was that Europe has far more organisations aimed at getting people out of the far right scene than the US does (where there seems to be one). They're probably not going to destroy the far right by getting individuals out, but people do leave. I suppose one can debate to what extent people leave due to education,* but it surely matters that someone is around to help people on their way out. Which is maybe where this connects back to the 101 thing--we need people to do the 101 talks, but problem is that we as a society demand certain individuals do them, rather than the people with the stamina to do it filling that role.

*I guess being a member of a far right group is kind of tiresome and people tend to get fed up and leave, rather than deciding to renounce racism and leaving.
posted by hoyland at 7:14 PM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


Having to deal with this stuff all the time in radical-left politics, I've come to see the division we're talking about here - outrage v education - as coming down to whether one thinks of herself as an organizer or an activist.

An organizer seeks to educate, agitate, and organize (in that particular order) with the end result being the engagement and mobilization of previously un-mobilized peoples. The most important part of an organizer's job is to engage with people where they are - as opposed to where you think they should be - and help them figure out what they can do to get where they want to be.

An activist doesn't necessarily have to do this because her goal is to speak her mind and advocate for what she wants to have happen. It's not a dichotomy but in my experience, activism without organizing is usually nothing more than stating ones opinion.
posted by willie11 at 7:18 PM on March 3, 2014 [58 favorites]


"Don't be in a hurry to condemn because he doesn't do what you do or think as you think or as fast. There was a time when you didn't know what you know today."

Malcolm X
posted by willie11 at 7:22 PM on March 3, 2014 [18 favorites]


You don't do activism by preaching to the the choir.
posted by I-baLL at 7:29 PM on March 3, 2014 [8 favorites]


An organizer seeks to educate, agitate, and organize (in that particular order) with the end result being the engagement and mobilization of previously un-mobilized peoples. The most important part of an organizer's job is to engage with people where they are - as opposed to where you think they should be - and help them figure out what they can do to get where they want to be.

An activist doesn't necessarily have to do this because her goal is to speak her mind and advocate for what she wants to have happen. It's not a dichotomy but in my experience, activism without organizing is usually nothing more than stating ones opinion.


This is smarter and wiser and more valuable than anything in the linked post.
posted by clockzero at 7:31 PM on March 3, 2014 [8 favorites]


I want to favorite that 100 times.
posted by naju at 7:50 PM on March 3, 2014


There's a certain level of privilege involved in having ignoring people be a viable strategy, though. It's not something everyone can just decide to do and have it work. I assume there are situations where it doesn't work for you, too, and people decide they are entitled to an explanation or to knowledge of your life and trying to put your foot down doesn't work.

I guess, but again, I'm not a professional blogger, trying to angle myself as a commentator on social justice issues.

Have there been times I didn't want to school somebody, but I had to because of inescapable reasons? Sure.

But, again, the minute you literally make it your career to engage about this stuff in the public sphere, schooling people about social justice issues becomes your job. Because that's what being a blogger, a writer, a critic, a talking head, etc. is.

It's on par with the pharmacists who don't want to fill birth control prescriptions. Don't want to come up with interesting commentary on social justice issues? Don't become a social justice blogger.
posted by Sara C. at 8:15 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


her goal is to speak her mind and advocate for what she wants to have happen

The problem is that a lot of the media called out in TFA doesn't even meet that bar. It's people retweeting or reblogging some kneejerk joke or slogan "presented without comment" by someone who "can't even".

If you set yourself up as someone who wants to be paid to speak their mind and advocate for what you want to have happen, you'd better have something to say.
posted by Sara C. at 8:17 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


I guess, Sara C., that I don't have high expectations of Jezebel (I seldom read there, because yeah, they're trashy and often not actually feminist), but then I don't see this clear hierarchy of Blogs With Responsibilities that you seem to have very clear ideas about. Jezebel is a popular blog that has a shallow take on feminism; Echidne of the Snakes is another that has a much deeper (economics-flavored) take, and I read her much more often.

I am not at all surprised that Jezebel is much bigger than Echidne, because thinking is not something everyone wants to do, and also we live in a pretty sexist society that will only slowly edge towards feminist ideas, and definitely prefers them light and fluffy. Some readers will move past this, some won't. I don't blame Jezebel for that, or think that it is blocking anyone from finding Echidne. Is the argument here that, because of its size, Jezebel has an obligation to engage with deeper ideas? But would it be that large if it did? Is it doing damage by being so large/being thought of as "feminist" by conservatives and by naive/new progressives?

I agree, that we shouldn't be satisfied with shallow analyses of feminism or racism. I don't agree that the existence of shallow analyses prevents anyone from engaging in deeper analyses.

I think of it in terms of magazines. I used to buy Glamour, and then Bust, which is pretty light, fluffy, consumerist feminism. But I got bored with them, and buying Wonder Woman bracelets, while fun, didn't really make me feel like I was doing anything important. So I moved on to Bitch, which has some ads but a lot more analysis, reviews of pop culture, and stuff with some meat to it. But Bust was a good entry point for me, coming as I did from a really messed up view of feminism and women's roles in my upbringing. It made it Not Scary. I personally benefited quite a lot from it; it was part of my Feminism 101.
posted by emjaybee at 8:43 PM on March 3, 2014 [12 favorites]


I think the clickbait dynamic is incredibly toxic to progressive causes, in general, and I have been greatly dismayed by the directions it seems to have driven those causes. The linked article focuses on how it leads to a tendency to simply present evidence of oppression without deeper analysis, or any thought of what to do about it- which is true and definitely a problem in its own right, but I think what's potentially an even greater problem are the particular ideological distortions it leads to. The clickbait approach inevitably leads to the development of an "us vs. them" dynamic, which, in turn, leads to the ideologies of social justice being twisted as necessary in order to sustain that dynamic and attract (money-making, for the owners of sites like Jezebel) attention.

To give possibly the most egregious example of this I can think of, Jezebel posted this piece, which IMO should have forever discredited them from being seen as anything remotely progressive, feminist, or positive in any sense. (No matter the genders involved, committing domestic violence and then treating it as a subject of lighthearted humor should be regarded as absolutely and utterly beyond the pale as far as I'm concerned. I don't think it should be controversial to say that any form of feminism that is fine with domestic violence of any sort is not worthy of being called feminism.) That article was a while ago, granted, but I don't believe they ever apologized for running it. Also, and much more recently, I think the fact that they had Hugo Schwyzer writing for them, well after so much had already come out about him, is another thing that says a great deal about where their priorities really lie. That site is poison as far as I'm concerned, and all the more so because it presents itself as an advocate for something very positive. If a site that could run something like the above-linked article is seen as a major representation of what feminism is and represents for many (and I know it shouldn't be, for so many reasons, but I fear that it is), I think that can only lead to a highly distorted and negative picture of feminism- and that is why I feel that the influence of "clickbait feminism" on the culture is, ultimately, not a good one.
posted by a louis wain cat at 8:43 PM on March 3, 2014 [6 favorites]


You don't do activism by preaching to the the choir.

That's not activism, that's just making an exclusive club.

Just because people in a site agree, doesn't mean it's activism. Activism is actually engaging others to see the benefits of your view.

This is just stupid snark. Link bait? Maybe...some kind of 400 level course? Hell no.
posted by hal_c_on at 9:12 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Where is the Social Justice 101 Wiki that can solve if not all then most of these problems in a heartbeat?

I follow numerous writers / bloggers / activists who absolutely point-blank refuse to engage in any 101 education stuff. Privileged and ignorant though I am, I get why. It really is not their job. I'm too scared to ask them stuff about anything ever, but that's not their problem, it's mine. It's ok.

Similarly, if someone had a blog on the subject of complex musical harmony, it would not be their job to explain what a fourth was. If someone had a blog on the subject of Hilbert Spaces, it would not be their job to explain basic algebra. If someone had a blog on the subject of tuning BMW 5-series engines, it would not be their job to explain how the internal combustion engine worked.

Sure, they all could. But if they were asked to explain those things five times a day every day, mostly by people who weren't all that interested in the answer, you could see why they might stop and end up openly refusing to do so.

Suggesting that such people who refuse to engage in this basic education aren't activists is to misunderstand something key about activism: not all activists are or can be educators. Some can, which is great, and essential. Others are active in other, more internal ways. That too is essential.

Meanwhile, if someone could set up that Social Justice 101 Wiki, we could all save a lot of time.
posted by motty at 9:16 PM on March 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


Sites like Racialicious and Jezebel serve a purpose of informing people about oppression. To me that always comes off like undergrad/grad school type work, almost a phase that people grow out of. To do that for an entire career seems to me to be pretty sterile. But someone has to put that info out there.
posted by wuwei at 9:50 PM on March 3, 2014


To give possibly the most egregious example of this I can think of, Jezebel posted this piece, which IMO should have forever discredited them

I think the linked piece is actually a really interesting case study.

When I saw the headline, I though it would be fascinating to read an honest and heartfelt discussion about something that is really not ever talked about at all. What is it like to find yourself in the role of the bully, as a woman, even though it's against every cultural narrative about heterosexuality? I'm a survivor of abuse, and yet I know deep down that there are times I didn't respect a partner's physical boundaries. How many other women can say the same thing?

Instead it's just some boilerplate copy and a paragraph listing off Jezebel staff members who've engaged in this behavior, without any real comment or depth.

I'm not quite as offended by it as a louis wain cat is, but I feel like we could do so much better. It's like seeing the "You've Come A Long Way, Baby" cigarette ad and thinking that's all feminism has to offer.
posted by Sara C. at 9:51 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


It really is not their job.

Yeah, it really is.

Similarly, if someone had a blog on the subject of complex musical harmony, it would not be their job to explain what a fourth was. If someone had a blog on the subject of Hilbert Spaces, it would not be their job to explain basic algebra. If someone had a blog on the subject of tuning BMW 5-series engines, it would not be their job to explain how the internal combustion engine worked.

Yeah, it totally would be. It might not be the mission of their blog to deal with that stuff all the time, but it would definitely be one thing that the writers in question had to approach in some way. Probably most of them would make a few evergreen FAQ type posts like "So You Want To Learn Some Guitar Chords" or "Online Math Resources And You" or "Where To Find Basic BMW Maintenance Tips Online" and then stick them on a sidebar for new visitors.

Just about every blog that takes itself seriously and is about a niche subject area has a little sidebar with a few articles like this for newbies.

I worked for a pro blogger for a while. We definitely spent a shitload of time thinking about her niche, her brand, her audience, different levels of discourse, meeting her readers where they were at vs. wanting to cover more in depth "400 level" stuff, how to offer the various kinds of things that different types of readers would be looking for, etc. She wanted to be more visible in mainstream for-pay media, so we spent a lot of time writing dumb-as-a-box-of-rocks talking points aimed at CNN or Today Show viewers who would never have heard of her area of expertise.

If you think well-known bloggers don't think about this stuff, you're very naive.

Again, I think it's best practices not to feed trolls, but, yeah, on a certain level if you are a social justice writer, it is your job to answer people's dumb questions.
posted by Sara C. at 10:00 PM on March 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


This article gives too much credit to anti-oppression work from back in the day. Sure there were some awesome activies pushing for and winning change, but there has always been plenty of style and lingo no action folks around.

I remember watching the doc Berkeley in the sixties and laughing so hard when Susan Griffin (ecofeminist) said she started going to the anti-war demos because of the cute boys! We all start where we start (as per Malcolm x quotation above) and I also kind of admired she didn't give herself a radical feminist rewrite.
posted by chapps at 10:08 PM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


With all due respect, Sara C., if you don't think very many well-known social justice bloggers haven't also thought very deeply about this stuff and taken the total opposite view to you, for reasons which are totally ok to them, seem totally sound to the bulk of their readers, and which none of your arguments so far remotely begin to address, then I really don't know what to say to you.

These aren't people who are thinking about their niche or brand, necessarily, but these certainly are people who are thinking about what amount of time and energy they are prepared to give to what level of discourse with whom.

I get that it would be nice if all of them were prepared to do a bit of beginner-level stuff, but I also see why many of them really can't be arsed and just don't have the time. They have better and more important things to do.
posted by motty at 10:59 PM on March 3, 2014 [16 favorites]


I'm surprised that the whole discussion amounts to some blogs not being exactly what some people unconnected to them would want them to be, and women/POC/LGBT/disabled/etc activists not being allowed to vent on their *personal* blogs/tumblrs/twitter accounts because that's unproper or something.

Seriously? Do all internet spaces need to cater to the privileged?
posted by sukeban at 12:17 AM on March 4, 2014 [6 favorites]


Well, that is the shape of the problem. What is a personal blog, if it's in public? What happens when a whole mass of personal tumblrs churn the same sort of things? 15000 reblogs stops being strictly personal, really. These are media that by design blur private and public spaces, and these are problems that happen when masses of people use these media uncritically. I don't read these issues as being strictly problems with the way social justice activists, in particular, conduct themselves. It's the way people, in numbers, interact with the data structures they are working in.
posted by furiousthought at 1:08 AM on March 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


You really can't default to "well if I have to explain it you clearly aren't fit to look at my website" if you want to make any pretense to participating in any kind of dialogue at all.

I reckon an awful lot of the time it's more like "you're not really my target audience, this was written in the same way I might talk to my friends" - it's not a high-horse, sneering-down-my-nose-at-you purposeful exclusionism, so much as it's the conversations between people of a similar ideological bent that already exist in other spaces being brought online. These are not 'activist spaces' in that they are spaces for activism - they are activist spaces in that they are spaces for activists, and much like the conversations in the pub after a protest don't have a lot of 101 or nuance necessarily, so these conversations don't. It's preaching to the choir by design, and personally, I don't necessarily see anything wrong with that. Trying to evaluate the 'usefulness' of a website according to the metrics of what you want it to be (i.e. a tool for activism) rather than what it likely is (a tool for activists to blow off steam at each other) will of course lead you to a different conclusion.
posted by Dysk at 2:13 AM on March 4, 2014 [13 favorites]


But, again, the minute you literally make it your career to engage about this stuff in the public sphere, schooling people about social justice issues becomes your job. Because that's what being a blogger, a writer, a critic, a talking head, etc. is.

It's on par with the pharmacists who don't want to fill birth control prescriptions. Don't want to come up with interesting commentary on social justice issues? Don't become a social justice blogger.


This is a pretty weird argument - why would it be anyone's job to school people about social justice issues unless they're writing a social justice 101 blog? If I start a blog about the intricacies of baseball statistics, it's not my job to teach people the rules of baseball. If I start a blog about my hypothetical particle physics research, it's not my job to teach basic mathematics or physics to anyone. So why is it that starting a blog about social justice issues necessarily makes it your job to address that to the layman, to educate them? It seems incredibly inconsistent at best.
posted by Dysk at 2:20 AM on March 4, 2014 [12 favorites]


I just came across this passage in David Harvey's Social Justice and the City (p 144-5) that seemed to sum up why an academic would be so frustrated with clickbait outrage:
It is this task which a revolutionary approach to theory must first accomplish. What does this task entail?

Let me say first what it does not entail. It does not entail yet another empirical investigation of the social conditions in the ghettos. In fact, mapping even more evidence of man's patent inhumanity to man is counter-revolutionary in the sense that it allows the bleeding-heart liberal in us to pretend we are contributing to a solution when in fact we are not. This kind of empiricism is irrelevant. There is already enough information in congressional reports, newspapers, books, articles and so on to provide us with all the evidence we need. Our task does not lie here.

Nor does it lie in what can only be termed "moral masturbation" of the sort which accompanies the masochistic assemblage of some huge dossier on the daily injustices to the populace of the ghetto, over which we beat our breasts and commiserate with each other before retiring to our fireside comforts.

This, too, is counter-revolutionary for it merely serves to expiate guilt without our ever being forced to face the fundamental issues, let alone do anything about them.

Nor is it a solution to indulge in that emotional tourism which attracts US to live and work with the poor "for a while" in the hope that we can really help them improve their lot.

This, too, is counter­ revolutionary--so what if we help a community win a play­ ground in one summer of work to find that the school deterior­ates in the fall ? These are the paths we should not take. They merely serve to divert us from the essential task at hand.

This immediate task is nothing more nor less than the self­ conscious and aware construction of a new paradigm for social geographic thought through a deep and profound critique of our existing analytical constructs. This is what we are best equipped to do. We are academics, after all, working with the tools of the academic trade. As such, our task is to mobilize our powers of thought to formulate concepts and categories, theories and arguments, which we can apply to the task of bringing about a humanizing social change.
posted by spamandkimchi at 3:11 AM on March 4, 2014 [11 favorites]


So, in many respects I think Harvey is right -- that just collecting more evidence of oppression will not dismantle the structures of oppression and may be a distraction from the harder work of social change -- but I also think that his argument is not relevant to some of today's social justice bloggers in that they/we are also knee-deep in the project of self-construction (which includes venting and shared commiseration). But for the folks who took the 101 courses, figuring out what's next should be a priority... though maybe the construction of a new paradigm is a bit daunting.
posted by spamandkimchi at 3:24 AM on March 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


So, in many respects I think Harvey is right -- that just collecting more evidence of oppression will not dismantle the structures of oppression and may be a distraction from the harder work of social change

Thing is, do the bloggers or writers in question (or their readers) believe that they are engaging in meaningful social change? Because if not, I have a hard time seeing this as any more of a problem than people watching television or eating breakfast or doing anything at all with their time that isn't the hard work of social change - eating breakfast will not dismantle the structures of oppression, but it's also not really a problem that people do it.
posted by Dysk at 4:03 AM on March 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


Again, I think it's best practices not to feed trolls, but, yeah, on a certain level if you are a social justice writer, it is your job to answer people's dumb questions.

Or the job is at least to point people in the direction of specific places where they can answer their questions. Going all the way back up to the "400" vs. "101" analogy, if you walk into the advanced classroom and ask a beginners' question, it's more likely that you'll be taken aside and told where the 101 sections are and how to enroll in one of them.

We're on teh Interwebs, a thing designed to let people put up roadways and signposts. So where are the signposts for the beginners' pages? Racialicious is a good example here; in their submissions guidelines page, they have links to the AP Stylebook and the Elements of Style website, but where are the 101 links? I get that they're modeling themselves partly as an academic journal, but academic journals live behind university paywalls and inside university libraries. A publicly accessible website is not the same creature; the gatekeeping isn't *already done for you* on the web. The other side of this is that bloggers and website operators have less power; they can ban people for trolling or set up various sorts of closed registration systems, but you can't flunk them, and being banned is not the sort of structural impediment to privilege as being flunked or being generally ostracized.

I suspect that part of the problem may be that it's harder to agree on what constitutes a good "101" resource for social justice, especially when you're in the more advanced conversations where some things ostensibly pitched at that 101 level reveal deficiencies and problems. So perhaps the real issue is that there's a whole series of levels, a 101, then a 200-level, then a 300-level, and so forth, an implicit structure of levels to the discourse that is at once more complicated and less self-evident than the command "educate yourself" really acknowledges or addresses.

I don't think anyone here is arguing that awareness is a default state or a trivially easy achievement for many people. I do think that it is somewhat harder to find a "way in" to awareness than the command "go educate yourself" acknowledges. I also think it's infinitely easier to become aware than privilege pretends and that many people who are deeply entrenched in shitty opinions are dishonest, toxic, and unwilling to take in anything from anywhere. People who suffer oppression should not be burdened further or targeted for further injustice. But I also think that, historically, resistance has meant being exposed to some of the worst out there. As such, safe spaces, either physically or discursively, require real barriers if they are to remain safe and forestalling further injustice and suffering means drawing bright lines.
posted by kewb at 6:15 AM on March 4, 2014 [5 favorites]


Apologies for the derail, but:

in fact, just calling something everyone should know xxxx-101 exposes a class bias - that of those who can pursue higher education

Indeed, such people from the United States. I can work out broadly what it means from the context, but to be specific, is a 101 class just the first class of the first term, or is it a remedial class for the educationally suboptimal?

(I've always assumed the latter, I must confess, largely on account of the context. Not sure what to google: Room 101, yes; R101, yes; 101 class locomotives, yes. Otherwise it's just assumed that people know what it is.)
posted by Grangousier at 6:16 AM on March 4, 2014 [5 favorites]


The example of a blog about Hilbert spaces is a really apt one, actually. If you start blogging about Hilbert spaces, you're assuming that your readers at least have the background to understand the definition of Hilbert space. You perhaps did a post called "What is a Hilbert space?" back when you started and you might stick that in the sidebar. Because you're writing a math blog, sooner or later someone will come along and, after telling you how bad they are at math, demand you help them with their algebra homework. You're going to tell this person to go away--you're sick of random people assuming they are entitled to homework help from you and they're light years away from being the target audience of your blog. If someone comments on your "What is a Hilbert space?" post and asks what the difference between a Hilbert space and a Banach space is, you're probably going to answer because answering is going to pull someone who's maybe on the cusp of being your target audience (they've heard the words, but they don't fully understand what's going on) into your target audience.

That's the same dynamic that plays out on blogs about oppression, except that people tend to think they are always entitled to a response from an oppressed person and they're a bit more likely to accept the mathematician refusing to help with their homework. The blogger doesn't owe people 101 level explanations any more than the mathematician owes people homework hep, but the 101 link in the sidebar is an attempt to deflect the people who would at least be inclined to listen to an answer. It's probably not going to get them up to speed, either, but it's going to alleviate some of the burden. The analogy falls down in that it's a lot easier to catch up enough to meaningfully engage with a blog about oppression than it is to catch up to follow a blog about Hilbert spaces, but whatever.

(Also, on the subject of mathematicians and "this question is too basic for this forum", there's MathOverflow and math.SE. MathOverflow is quite discriminating in what questions it accepts, with everything else being shunted over to StackExchange.)
posted by hoyland at 6:18 AM on March 4, 2014 [4 favorites]


Indeed, such people from the United States. I can work out broadly what it means from the context, but to be specific, is a 101 class just the first class of the first term, or is it a remedial class for the educationally suboptimal?

It's meant to be the first class in the subject. However, I don't know how many universities actually use that numbering scheme. There's just this idea that classes are numbered 1XX, 2XX, 3XX, 4XX with the leading digit signalling difficulty or something. (I don't know if it's something you'd hear in a community where virtually no one goes to college, but you do hear it in spaces where it's not assumed people went to college.)
posted by hoyland at 6:26 AM on March 4, 2014


I think that Harvey quote is actually not very apropos here, because it assumes that the readers and writers are elite outsiders who are engaging in emotional tourism, obviating guilt, and who will soon return to their firesides where they won't be affected by the issues they're discussing. But that's not what's going on with blogs like Jezebel and Racialicious. They're not aimed at elite outside tourists who are slumming so they can assuage their guilt. They're written by and aimed at the targets of the microaggressions (and large-scale aggressions) that they document. I'm not defending Jezebel, because I think it's a shitty blog on several levels, but it's not about tourism. It's about validating readers' perceptions that their culture is sort of oppressive, and it's about commiserating and finding some humor in living in a culture that oppresses you.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:36 AM on March 4, 2014 [6 favorites]


but to be specific, is a 101 class just the first class of the first term, or is it a remedial class for the educationally suboptimal?

It's often (though less so now) the number of the starting or basic class at the uni (generally) level, like Biology 101 or Egyptian Archaeology 101, and then more advanced classes move up the numbering sequence by the hundreds so a more advanced class might be Xenomorphs 232 or Etruscan Archaeology: Divination 435. I don't think that many places even follow this system any longer but it's sort of ingrained as a cultural shorthand now.
posted by jetlagaddict at 8:40 AM on March 4, 2014


These aren't people who are thinking about their niche or brand, necessarily

Jezebel is a Gawker blog. They are absolutely people who are thinking about niche and brand.

The whole reason for the problem is that it's much easier to just write shit designed to go viral than it is to actually do the work.

One thing that I think is happening in this thread is that people are assuming the article is about trolls who deliberately ask stupid questions or argue in bad faith to prevent discourse from happening.

People who think this did not RTFA.

Because what it's actually about is outragefilter blogs that are happy to throw up a snarky graphic and 140 characters of outrage, but provide little of actual value to the social justice dialogue.

Unfortunately, when you decide to start a blog, you can't expect to get by just shitting out photos and glorified captions and never actually providing any interesting content. At some point, somebody is going to say, "Wow, this blog is a piece of shit that adds nothing to the conversation at all." And, welp, sorry?

Going viral is fun, but if that's your primary goal with your writing, people are going to start to see through it at some point.
posted by Sara C. at 9:12 AM on March 4, 2014 [4 favorites]


A great counterpoint to something like Jezebel and the point of view of TFA would be the brilliant MedievalPOC tumblr (previously).

The focus of MedievalPOC is to highlight the presence of people of color in European art of the middle ages (and sometimes beyond). It's a direct response to the idea that including people of color in modern day depictions of historical settings would be "an anachronism" or "political correctness gone mad".

For the most part, the blog presents images without comment, because the point of the site is to throw up evidence of all the things that have been erased. However, the author spends a lot of time explaining background, because most of her audience aren't art historians or social scientists. She's also amazingly open to people's dumb-ass racist trollery, probably more than I would ever be.

And yet medievalPOC isn't monetized. It's probably not its author's main job. It's clearly a labor of love created by someone who really cares about the issue in question. And yet medievalPOC manages to get it right.

If the author of medievalPOC can find the time and energy to create such an impressive resource (and still very much in the world of "providing evidence of oppression" rather than offering solutions), there's really no excuse for a lot of the clickbait that floats around under the guise of paid writing.
posted by Sara C. at 9:28 AM on March 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'm late to the derail, and recognize that it is a derail, if one that's related to the topic, but:

It's not my job to educate the many, many people who deny my existence or the existence of people like me, and it's exhausting to be expected to always be "on call" for setting aside whatever I've got going on and "get over" my anxiety and trauma long enough to explain to some doofus why their stupid assumptons are stupid, only to have hoardes more of the same dumb jerkasses doing the same damn thing five minutes later. It's not that I'm just personally unwilling to talk to people about issues that matter to me, it's that it becomes all consuming and leaves zero room for any progress to be made. Nevermind that I'm not in any way adequately prepared to be an educator, but I know I am the only person who's going to stand up for me. That's the frustrating thing: I don't have the luxury of choosing not to engage, because opting out means a chance for advocacy has been lost and the discrimination and ignorance I face daily will be just that much worse. Which means I'm always making trade-offs in accepting offensive, invasive questions because I know that that's the price for getting access to basic dignity and services. No one else--except for other people who have to deal with varying levels of the same hate--will speak up or speak out. Allies are badly needed. If you don't want to see the "it's not my job to educate you!" attitude, then start giving a shit, educate yourself*, help out when someone makes an ignorant comment, advocate for better conditions, etc. Stop pretending that oppression is the fault of the oppressed.

* General 'you;' not calling out individuals, but definitely calling out site culture in part and definitely just venting in part. Also coming at this from a more "on the ground" perspective; Tumblr can burn.
posted by byanyothername at 10:15 AM on March 4, 2014 [13 favorites]


I just want to make it super, super clear that I don't think that people, in general, have a responsibility to educate assholes. I frequently avail myself of the "you're not required to rise to every teachable moment" life mantra.

However, I think that career bloggers who take on the Social Justice beat have the responsibility to be able to speak intelligently about basic issues on a layperson's level.

People who are not comfortable doing that (which generally includes me!) should find something else to write about or consider a less communications-oriented line of work.
posted by Sara C. at 10:34 AM on March 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


And yet medievalPOC isn't monetized. It's probably not its author's main job. It's clearly a labor of love created by someone who really cares about the issue in question. And yet medievalPOC manages to get it right.

She states pretty often (and has been interviewed in the context of) what her real job is at a university, and she does also have a donation button, which she promotes for specific events like attending a sci-fi convention. She's working on building up her website and she's also working on an eventual Medieval POC book. And I applaud her for all of this, because history/archaeology/art history are so often promoted as things we should just do because we love them, regardless of the time it takes or the amount of education or joy they produce for other people.
posted by jetlagaddict at 10:36 AM on March 4, 2014 [4 favorites]


That's great to know, jetlagaddict! I will TOTALLY be getting her book when it comes out.

I love that more substantive bloggers are starting to get book deals, rather than just the latest "Stuff On My Cat" novelty thing.

Which also sort of gives the lie to the whole idea that there shouldn't be professional standards or that side-project just-for-fun bloggers aren't thinking about their brand, how their blog impacts future career opportunities, etc.
posted by Sara C. at 10:47 AM on March 4, 2014


I don't think that people, in general, have a responsibility to educate anyone, not just assholes. I also doubt that bloggers care what you think their responsibilities are and aren't, or what they should and shouldn't write about, and I'm finding the reiteration that they should to be really weird.

A lot of these places are marginalized people getting together to vent about how shitty they and people like them are being treated. If you don't want to read that, don't read it. But it seems pointless to bemoan the existence of sites facilitating this. The fact is that I don't need complete framing around every event I'm interested in being made aware of. I don't need every mention of Jared Leto's problematic character in "Dallas Buyers Club" to be an essay fit for uneducated cis person consumption. (Although they exist, as do more in depth investigations, and I'm glad they exist, and I read them and I hope other people do too.) I have the capacity to analyze these things myself because I'm very familiar with the subject. I can fill in a lot on my own, so simply being given a heads up that This Thing Happened is often, to me, a useful function. Snark in the summary can be a bonus as an alternative to despondency. I am then ready to choose to engage further with the topic, decide it would be healthier for me to avoid any subsequent stories about it, or just have time to think about it before I see it elsewhere and reevaluate.

I don't need an exposé every time a Republican legislator says something absurd about women's bodies. I just need the quote and the context, because I'm already acutely aware of the larger framework and pattern and implications. Some places will launch into a full accounting. Some won't. People who need the full accounting can read it. People who don't might or might not.

I was made aware of the awful Grantland article by this network. It (angrily and woundedly) pointed me to the essay, with useful trigger warnings, before much critical analysis was available. When the discussion began in earnest, I'd had time to reflect. That was one of the times when I immersed myself. I don't always.

There exist serious, powerful social justice outlets. There also exist shallow social justice outlets. This is not any different from everything else on the internet. I don't get mad at the AP's twitter feed because I have to delve deeper to read something other than headlines.
posted by Corinth at 11:27 AM on March 4, 2014 [12 favorites]


an essay fit for uneducated cis person consumption

I don't like the assumption that actually talking about stuff = dumbing it down for whitey.

I just think it's shitty when bloggers assume that you need to basically be a telepath in order to grok their writing. That's... not what being a writer is about.

Can that stuff exist on the internet? Sure, I guess.

Can I criticize it? Still yes.

If you don't like criticism of your bad writing, strive to be better.
posted by Sara C. at 11:34 AM on March 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


There are a few layers worth separating out. On an individual level, an oppressed person shouldn't have to shoulder the burden of educating the ignorant. That might not even be where their priorities lay, for good reason. You don't have to be the de facto spokesperson for the oppressed. Indeed, it's offensive to assume that anyone should be. Fully on board with byanyothername with this stuff.

It's not even each social justice blogger's job to educate all comers. I disagree with Sara C. that this is something inherent to being a blogger in this space. I get that at a certain level you have to move on and discuss things you want to discuss, not patiently explain the basics.

But then going past the individual level, there's a macro view of the anti-oppression effort and the culture that's been built up around it. And it's important to look at the way this content gets disseminated throughout social circles, the format for discussion, the groundwork that's been laid and assumptions that everyone brings (or fails to bring) to bear. I'm talking about the culture as a whole, and I think the article is too - the sites and their models for pageviews, the bloggers, the people like us who share and engage with the content. The larger "social justice sphere." This is presumably all a conversation intended for engagement, reflection, movement, and education. And it's incredibly useful for a sense that there are people on your side. But yes, the flipside is that it's also set up like a battlelines - there's the cloistered group of people who "get it" (along with signaling to each other that they get it in various ways), and then there's everyone else, who are the outsiders and constantly reminded that they're the outsiders. They're the ignorant jerks. Their attitudes are so awful that all we can do is make sarcastic swipes at them. And maybe we once were ignorant jerks like them, which triggers a shame response in our brains and makes us lash out harder at them. There's not a lot of opportunity for movement and education when you set things up this way. And this culture shouldn't have to be preoccupied with patiently explaining things to people over and over again, especially when the real intent is gaslighting and misdirection. But it should also seek to engage parties honestly, with a sense of empathy and civility. We're all in different places in life. Do we want to create a culture that shuts down conversations, or opens them up?

I don't think there's an easy solution, or any concrete steps any one blog or writer has to take. It just requires awareness on a mass level. Everyone needs to be slightly more conscious of the effect that they're having on the discussion, and what they seek to achieve by their contributions. Outrage and indignant posturing only gets things moving so far. Not only that, there's a definite sense of outrage fatigue that's setting in for lots of people. I honestly think we might be in the middle of a social justice crisis, both in how it's playing out and how it's perceived, and also in the way information moves across communities. I think it's more important than ever to come to terms with these questions.
posted by naju at 11:38 AM on March 4, 2014 [8 favorites]


Jezebel is a Gawker blog. They are absolutely people who are thinking about niche and brand.

What we kind of haven't gotten into - and what is suggested in beginning terms in the post - is the way that anti-oppression is recuperated by capitalism. In this instance, the issue isn't whether someone should or should not write 101 posts - it is that it is now possible to make varying degrees of a living by writing in the general "anti-oppression" register. That's a really funny thing, when you come right down to it. How can a discourse which is fundamentally anti-capitalist (because while undoing institutional racism, for example, may not inexorably require full communism or whatever, it certainly requires something other than capitalism as we know it).....how can a discourse which is fundamentally anti-capitalist end up as a source of dollars for Gawker, and what does that mean for the content, for the culture of the blog and for social justice more largely?*

Note here that I am not talking about "I put a lot of effort into writing this blog and I need to make money so I take donations/angle for a book deal/build my academic career - does that make me a bad person?" ; I'm talking about the systemic incorporation of the social justice internet into capitalism and what that means for the social justice internet. These conversations readily get derailed into "you're selling out!" "no, I'm making rent, you trustafarian" and that gets real old real fast.

I'm talking about the fact that an unsavory and amoral entity like Gawker owns Jezebel. That's really weird. They obviously don't think that Jezebel is any kind of threat to their ability to make money; they think Jezebel is an asset. What kind of feminism, then, is Jezebel promoting? How effective is it seen to be?

I'm talking about careers and brand-building and the fact that some folks are leveraging social justice in ways that are going inexorably to take them out of social justice - in another five years or so, a lot of the people who are major SJ bloggers now, or have the better-promoted kind of book deals...those people will have moved on higher up into more generic media - movies, advertising, consulting. This is just the same as what happened with a lot of sixties radicals and fellow travelers. Many of these people will, of course, be white and straight and middle class; not all of them will be.

The fact that capitalism is willing to recuperate social justice blogging....that means that "if I do a good enough job, network right, write right... I can maybe get into a fancy media job" is always on the table for everyone above a certain level of fame, and I suspect it's not a very high level of fame. How does that shape what people say and do?

I'm not talking about "oh, everyone [who is more privileged than me] is always trying to sell out because they are bad people who have too much privilege, unlike me". I'm trying to get at the way knowing that social justice can be a career ladder out of certain kinds of oppression changes things.

And I'm talking about the question of why social justice language and practices can be incorporated so smoothly into the very same capitalism that also incorporates, say, the school-to-prison pipeline and Amazon warehouses. Frankly it terrifies me. Doris Lessing talks somewhere (in the Martha Quest books, I think) about how all these new sixties arts and protest movements are basically career opportunities for people starved of careers, and their actual form/content is much less important...and that scares me.
posted by Frowner at 2:13 PM on March 4, 2014 [30 favorites]


One thing I find interesting about that, Frowner, is that it's kind of an amazingly double-edged sword.

On the one hand, I love watching people like Malisha Dewalt be able to make a living bringing really valuable discourse into the world, because suddenly there are tools to monetize that where there weren't before.

On the other hand, I think overlaying social justice writing with social media marketing/SEO/pageview/viral ideas, in order to turn it into "content" (what Jezebel does, and what tumblr makes its sausage with in a lot of cases) is probably not great for the movement at large.

That said, plenty of otherwise non-political women had their consciousness raised in the 70s by popular media. And I'm not sure how you make meaningful social change without getting mainstream hearts and minds. If it takes a million Upworthy posts about One Cool Trick To Get Rid Of Stand Your Ground Laws Forever, maybe it's worth it.

I would just like to see more MedievalPOC and less BuzzfeedWomensLib, I guess?
posted by Sara C. at 2:35 PM on March 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's on par with the pharmacists who don't want to fill birth control prescriptions.

Yo i feel where you're coming from, fundamentally agree with you, and am not concern trolling here...

But how is this a useful place to take the discourse? I just grabbed this pull quote because it poked me in the eye Sara, but it's not the only instance of this thread of you taking things to their illogical hyperbolic conclusion.

Shouldn't we, as a site, be trying harder not to make this thread a recreation of the kind of "ULTIMATE STAKES HEAVEN OR HELL LETS ROCK" comment sections on the sites that you and i are currently decrying where everyone is trying to score the sickest 27 hit combo and fatality! they possibly can?

Because this feels like this entire thread is getting a little bit meta in and of itself, seeing as how it's been bouncing off the rev limiter into the red zone of that sort of shit in quite a few places now.
posted by emptythought at 6:47 PM on March 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


On the one hand, I love watching people like Malisha Dewalt be able to make a living bringing really valuable discourse into the world, because suddenly there are tools to monetize that where there weren't before.

I find that incredibly problematic, myself. I don't want my discourse monetised, whether it's high-falutin academic analysis or outragefilter, and especially not if it's somehow a critique of capitalism or its features.
posted by Dysk at 1:30 AM on March 5, 2014


So then how do we maintain a structure for disseminating this type of commentary, in a capitalist society?

Should everyone fighting the good fight refuse to accept money for their work, and refuse to allow their work to be more widely and comprehensively spread to the public?

Meanwhile, nobody over at Gawker Media or Buzzfeed has any qualms about participating in capitalism.

I would love it if we lived in an anarcho-communist utopia full of philosopher-proletarians who could both have high-level academic discussions and also wait tables, scrub toilets, or pick lettuce.

But the world we actually live in pays knowledgable people to do this. And I think it's shortsighted for the good guys to refuse to play ball, leaving the whole mainstream discourse to the bad actors.
posted by Sara C. at 9:59 AM on March 5, 2014


You've mentioned yourself that there are good blogs run by people not being paid to write them. It's not like professional media has a monopoly on the ability to influence discourse any more, particularly not when you're comparing paid and unpaid bloggers.
posted by Dysk at 12:23 PM on March 5, 2014


Dysk, Malisha Dewalt is the author of MedievalPOC. It seems that, on the back of reams of free writing, she has recently gotten a book deal.

While, yes, there's plenty of great free content out there created as a labor of love, I don't think the people who make that content shouldn't be recognized and rewarded for it.

Otherwise, very quickly you have a mainstream dominated by the Jezebels and Buzzfeeds, while people like Malisha are basically being told by the system that their work is not worthwhile.
posted by Sara C. at 12:40 PM on March 5, 2014


A metatalk post has been created regarding this thread.
posted by zarq at 2:47 PM on March 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


As a woman, I often talk and read about feminism for myself. I don't do it to spread the message, or to make the world a better place. Blew ya god damn minds, I know.

Anyway, I agree with Frowner. A certain register of anti-oppression discourse has become commodified in a way that makes it basically fatuous and totally unthreatening, basically unreflective, and pretty much self-indulgent and encouring of a media-saturated consumerist aesthetic. It's a bad feeling to see that kind of thing happen and know it was just a hop, skip and a jump from feminism to sex positive feminism to "fun feminism" and now to full-blown consumerist/capitalist friendly "feminism"-brand feminism, but it was also kind of inevitable. It's true of every other kind of liberal discourse to greater or lesser degrees; as progress is made, ideas become incorporated into the preexisting economic structure. Hopefully (and I think so) we really are pushing the boundaries, instead of finding out it's all an illusory loop enabled by technology and money alone.
posted by stoneandstar at 7:19 PM on March 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


Is capitalism subverting liberal activism? Click on the Like button to show you agree!
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:21 PM on March 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


Otherwise, very quickly you have a mainstream dominated by the Jezebels and Buzzfeeds, while people like Malisha are basically being told by the system that their work is not worthwhile.

We already have this, and Malisha getting a book deal will do absolutely nothing to change that. Meanwhile there is still a substantial amount of amateur writing out there that is fantastic and no more difficult to disseminate than anything on Buzzfeed or wherever (one of the beauties of the internet) meaning you don't need the involvement of big business here. And hey, it's not like it's book deals that have made Buzzfeed or Jezebel.
posted by Dysk at 7:42 PM on March 5, 2014


Notably, the post started with hip hop. Hip hop is that thing, that activist talk, that anti-oppression conversation that has long been in bed with capitalism. From PE to KRS to Cube. And Cube is making movies now. Gawker owning Jezebel is weird? Major labels letting young men who look like me call white people devils, mass producing that and sending it out even to this day, is weird. And yep it's pretty clear that it isn't disturbing the power structure in America. But it's coming pretty close. I'm sure I'm not the only one with dozens and dozens of lines in my head from rap songs over the years that reinforce my will to fight oppression.

But anyway, this was an interesting discussion. I would love to write a pages long essay in response, but I think like tumblr itself and a lot of these blogs, the thing now is just to communicate a thought, and hopefully someone will take 60 seconds to enter your idea and sit in it. I don't read a lot of these blogs except when I browse across them, because it's too infuriating for me.

At any rate, I just wanted to note that yes, talking (hip hop) can do good, can inspire, can introduce you to new ideas and ultimately get you centered around the idea that anti-oppression is something to live by. And just to restate what someone said earlier, believe that there are worlds of people who need to see people constantly talking about oppression before they believe it is a real, living, current thing.
posted by cashman at 9:22 PM on March 5, 2014 [6 favorites]


« Older Science is beautiful...   |   In the shadows Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments