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'Fashionable bigotry' creeps into Twin Cities theatre scene
June 28, 2014 9:57 AM   Subscribe

"Fashionable bigotry (also called "hipster racism" or "ironic racism") is this strange, newish phenomenon that's been popping up all over the arts and entertainment industry. You've got the Flaming Lips, Macklemore, Fallin, Ullman and Silverman to name a few. Count Tarantino in, too, as he's basically the modern godfather of the stuff." -- Minneapolis artist/performer/critic Rob Callahan.
posted by artof.mulata (94 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Is there a handy term for straining to tie a bunch of not-particularly strongly connected pop culture items into a trend piece you can sell to a magazine? Let me know and I'll work up a thousand words for Slate by supper.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:02 AM on June 28 [39 favorites]


Is there a handy term for straining to tie a bunch of not-particularly strongly connected pop culture items into a trend piece you can sell to a magazine?

I think the term is "trend piece."
posted by yoink at 10:08 AM on June 28 [3 favorites]


there's a lot of vagueness as to description and incident in this piece - in the scanty review of the play and the even more non-specific account of the protesters invited to take questions from the audience

what were the questions? - what were the answers? - what was the basis of the interruptions?
posted by pyramid termite at 10:09 AM on June 28 [4 favorites]


Our modern noble bigots - fellows like Peter Griffin, Archer, Homer Simpson or Cartman - discomfit their predecessor's work by virtue of failing to accomplish anything especially new. They're not daring, their bigotry is rarely actually meaningful and the consequences are infrequent.

These are cartoons that entertain people. That's their point. They succeed. Why should everything be social engineering?
posted by codswallop at 10:10 AM on June 28 [7 favorites]


I think the term is "trend piece."

No, for that you also have to quote three of your friends' kids that live in Brooklyn.
posted by leotrotsky at 10:11 AM on June 28 [10 favorites]


Not sure what Homer is doing in that lineup?
posted by MartinWisse at 10:11 AM on June 28 [20 favorites]


Thanks for posting this.
posted by threeants at 10:12 AM on June 28 [2 favorites]


I thought this was South Park.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:15 AM on June 28


Not having seen "Bloody bloody Andrew Jackson", it's difficult to discern from the author's description whether or not it was actually racist, using racism ironically, parodying historical racism, or what. The descriptions given by the author were not particularly convincing one way or another.

People in general seem to have difficulty distinguishing the existence of racist language and racist imagery from racist intent and racist practice. Not having racist intent is a common excuse or explanation, but it's not sufficient to avoid actually being racist. Racist practice is likewise not the same as employing racist language or imagery, though this seems to be a common confusion.
posted by beerbajay at 10:26 AM on June 28 [7 favorites]


From this week's Rolling Stone:

Heil Hipster: The Young Neo-Nazis Trying to Put a Stylish Face on Hate
posted by scrod at 10:26 AM on June 28


Hipster Hitler is not an instruction manual.
posted by Small Dollar at 10:30 AM on June 28 [1 favorite]


"It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia" anybody? Except that show doesn't count because it's hilarious.
posted by lagomorphius at 10:31 AM on June 28 [1 favorite]


These are cartoons that entertain people. That's their point. They succeed. Why should everything be social engineering?

It's not a question of social engineering. It's about the general background noise of a culture and what the messages are that are contained within that. Jokes that use bigotry for their humor, whether we consciously realize it or not, reinforce racist and bigoted views about marginalized non-majority groups, even if it is used "ironically".

The reason why Archie Bunker worked, why that exact form is acceptable when most others are not, is because Archie was continually argued against, by his wife, his daughter, his son-in-law. His bigotry was never the punchline of a joke, unless the point of the joke was that people were laughing AT Bunker because of his narrow views. His anger and vitriol was always present, he was never being an asshole with a wink and a nod.

(I actually did a full-series rewatch of All In The Family about a year ago, for the first time since it was originally aired. That series is one of the most amazing things ever on television. They truly don't make 'em like that anymore, at all.)
posted by hippybear at 10:35 AM on June 28 [48 favorites]


Not sure what Homer is doing in that lineup?

Maybe a couple episodes, but closer to the Archie Bunker type "I am struggling to evolve" way than the Peter Griffin/South Park "Let's run transphobia into the ground cause it's funny to! Aren't we naughty?" way.
posted by Drinky Die at 10:39 AM on June 28 [2 favorites]


People in general seem to have difficulty distinguishing the existence of racist language and racist imagery from racist intent and racist practice.

Yup. This is why Huckleberry Finn keeps winding up on banned-book lists on school libraries nation-wide.

Pretending issues surrounding race and the problematic relationship culture has with them do not exist is itself a form of racist marginalization.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:43 AM on June 28 [6 favorites]


His bigotry was never the punchline of a joke, unless the point of the joke was that people were laughing AT Bunker because of his narrow views. His anger and vitriol was always present, he was never being an asshole with a wink and a nod.

Except that contemporary audiences had exactly the same arguments about Archie Bunker as we're having now about its contemporary descendents. The bigots in the audience loved Archie (there's a reason the show was a huge ratings success, and it's not because America was a liberal paradise back then) and thought of the show as being about a lovable guy who was constantly being tormented by his dingbat wife and meathead son in law. (And, despite Lear's best intentions, Bunker did become more of the "lovable grouch" type as the show went on). Which is simply to say that it's really hard to control audience response to any work of art.
posted by yoink at 10:44 AM on June 28 [28 favorites]


Has anyone here seen the play in question?
posted by Area Man at 10:47 AM on June 28


Has anyone here seen the play in question?

I've seen a production, not this production. It's a pretty excoriating attack on Andrew Jackson (it's real target is populist politics of the Tea Party variety) and it's clearly absurd to claim that the fact that the show has "performers chanting for the death of Indians" and "a big song and dance number celebrating genocide" somehow proves it's racist: it's akin to arguing that Mel Brooks's The Producers is obviously a pro-Nazi film because it features a loving broadway tribute to the Fuhrer.
posted by yoink at 11:03 AM on June 28 [24 favorites]


(And, despite Lear's best intentions, Bunker did become more of the "lovable grouch" type as the show went on).

No, Archie's character development was, I think, an actual story arc that was intended. He evolves as a person across the run of the show, and as he evolves the show starts to take up other social issues, like social issues surrounding sexism and women, which weren't addressed as much early on when race and generational culture clash was the main focus.
posted by hippybear at 11:06 AM on June 28 [5 favorites]


This was an excellent article on a topic that's tricky to write about. Thank you for sharing it.

The talk-back environment was, as delicately as can be put, unfriendly. Early on, Meerdink cut his Native guest off mid-sentence. Not long after, while she was talking again, he leaned toward the front row and mouthed, "This is what I was afraid would happen." He rolled his eyes at her a lot, too, but don't ask just how much. I lost count.

When I read this I physically recoiled from my screen. What appalling behavior.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 11:09 AM on June 28 [5 favorites]


When I read this I physically recoiled from my screen. What appalling behavior.

That is certainly a description of appalling behavior. However, the description of the musical itself is so utterly tone-deaf and tendentious that I'm not able to trust this person's ability to provide an honest account of what happened at the talk-back.
posted by yoink at 11:12 AM on June 28 [2 favorites]


Even if the description of the talkback is exaggerated, a milder version would still be appalling.

You don't invite a Native woman up on stage to talk about the racism against Native Americans in your play -- all alone, without even an moderator as an ally to make sure she has a chance to be heard -- and then repeatedly interrupt her or belittle what she's saying in any way. There's no excuse for even an extremely mild version of that behavior. If the production itself was REMOTELY sincere in wanting to have a dialog -- if they ACTUALLY thought of their production as being a criticism of racism, rather than just perpetuating further racism itself -- they would have bent over backwards to make sure she had a chance to say her piece. They would have been glad of her help in figuring out how to better communicate their intent in future productions.

That does not appear to be what happened.

Also, I don't know, yoink -- does the play have a stage full of white people dressed up in cartoonish "Indian" costumes? I don't really see how any description of that could be tone-deaf -- who cares about tone, that shit just isn't okay.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 11:19 AM on June 28 [7 favorites]


[A few comments deleted. If you do not think this topic is worth discussing you are cordially invited not to discuss it.]
posted by restless_nomad at 11:19 AM on June 28 [6 favorites]


I'm old enough to remember the NYTimes' first review of All In The Family.

They hated it. Bad language, if I recall correctly.

Archie Bunker is, of course, a better mannered Alf Garnett of Til Death Do Us Part, a show I doubt could be made in today's Britain.
posted by BWA at 11:22 AM on June 28


Why should everything be social engineering?

I think the point is, intentionally or unintentionally, it's already effectively social engineering. The only question really is are we doing it consciously or unconsciously? Are we actually thinking through and considering the effects of our behavior or willfully denying that matters and leaving the questions unexamined because we don't really want to deal with them?
posted by saulgoodman at 11:29 AM on June 28 [5 favorites]


There was a nice retrospective piece about the history of All in the Family by Emily Nussbaum in the New Yorker, recently. Amongst other things she points out that the show divided critics from the beginning, with many deriding it as offensively racist:
The weightiest criticism came in another Times essay, by Laura Z. Hobson, the elderly author of “Gentleman’s Agreement,” the source for Elia Kazan’s earnest Oscar-winning 1947 film about anti-Semitism. In September, 1971, she published a five-thousand-word critique called “As I Listened to Archie Say ‘Hebe’ . . .” Hobson argued that Lear had attempted to “deodorize” bigotry, to make it safe and cute: among other things, Archie used words like “coon” and “yid,” but he didn’t say “nigger” or “kike.” Rather than puncturing hatred, she argued, Lear had made Archie into a flattering mirror for bigots. “I don’t think you can be a black-baiter and lovable, or an anti-Semite and lovable,” she wrote. “And I don’t think the millions who watch this show should be conned into thinking you can be.”
posted by yoink at 11:30 AM on June 28 [12 favorites]


Also, I don't know, yoink -- does the play have a stage full of white people dressed up in cartoonish "Indian" costumes? I don't really see how any description of that could be tone-deaf -- who cares about tone, that shit just isn't okay.

The thing is, I'm sure that the play is intended as a left-leaning satire - that's the only reading that makes sense of the sections I've read. But you can't use other people's oppression and suffering as a prop for a satire, especially when it's a satire about something other than the suffering. In my experience - and I've done this myself on a much smaller scale - it's very easy to think "I recognize this injustice which happens to others as very bad, so I will use it as a metaphor for other bad things, or I will talk about it in a sardonic, cynical tone to indicate that I recognize how pervasive it is. Because I recognize the badness of this thing which happened to other people, I can use it as an element in my art about something else". Nearly always, this stems from a not-deep-enough understanding of how bad and painful the oppressive thing really is, and that's the kicker. It's like when people use sexual assault in novels to show that the villain is a Very Bad Guy - the writers certainly do believe that sexual assault is bad and the people who commit it are villains, but they don't get that sexual assault isn't a plot prop, and that reading about it over and over again (even from someone who thinks that sexual assault is bad) isn't actually that fun for people who have experienced sexual assault.

It's a shallow understanding of why a thing is bad, and it's the inability to recognize that people who have lived that thing (or even people who deal with its fallout regularly) can't just turn the bad thing into an abstraction. If you're not afraid of sexual assault and you've never been sexually assaulted and you think that yes, it is bad and an indication of villainy, it's very easy to switch into "let's argue about this as if we're arguing about tax policy" mode and think that other people can distance themselves as well. If you see a play about killing native people as a sort of Metaphor For Political Badness, and you see killing native people as sort of an Abstract Bad Symbol, you just aren't going to grasp that for actual native people (and to a lesser degree their non-native friends, etc) can never see this as just an abstract talking point. It always brings terrible memories and stories as well as terrible present realities, with it. What's immoral is trying to tell people that they should be all chill and Abstract Metaphorical about things that are really immediate and bloody and real for them.
posted by Frowner at 11:31 AM on June 28 [32 favorites]


It's not a question of social engineering.

How dare you dodge a false dichotomy! Thinking is forbidden!

This piece is a terrible review and mediocre writing but he has a very good grip on a very big problem.
posted by Fuka at 11:34 AM on June 28 [1 favorite]


Also, I don't know, yoink -- does the play have a stage full of white people dressed up in cartoonish "Indian" costumes? I don't really see how any description of that could be tone-deaf -- who cares about tone, that shit just isn't okay.

So you're saying that, by the same logic, The Producers is pro-Nazi? That addressing real horrors satirically always implies a failure to actually grasp the moral seriousness of those horrors?
posted by yoink at 11:34 AM on June 28 [3 favorites]


Echoing what a few others have said, this article is very frustrating. For those of us who haven't seen the show itself, there's no way to contextualize the writer's critique.

The problems in entertainment of ironic racism are entirely real, as many people recognize, and so I know what kind of thing is being criticized; but that's a fairly serious charge, and while I wouldn't have any trouble identifying it if I saw it, it seems unfortunate to me that the author here couldn't help us identify the problematic aspects unambiguously. There's an interesting sort of ecosystem for public critique of bigotry and other handmaidens of oppression these days, and considering how logarithmic the growth of moral outrage can become once something like racism been plausibly alleged, it seems not quite irresponsible but distinctly unsatisfying to tell the world that ironic racism is alive and well in a specific work of art without actually showing it, even as quoted dialogue or recollection of a theatrical moment or performance.
posted by clockzero at 11:35 AM on June 28 [2 favorites]


Would The Producers work if we didn't all know Mel Brooks is Jewish?
posted by Area Man at 11:44 AM on June 28 [3 favorites]


One of the most important things people need to remember when attempting "edgy" humor is that the goal should be to have the audience laughing at the bigot. Otherwise, it's punching down, not up, and punching down isn't funny.
posted by kat518 at 11:49 AM on June 28


Would The Producers work if we didn't all know Mel Brooks is Jewish?

It would certainly still work just fine for this Jew. The satirical target could not be more obvious. Besides, part of the Nazis' punishment is being turned into a figure of mockery.

This kind of acceptability doesn't necessarily map onto other figures/events/etc. But hey, the world's a complicated place. There aren't always bright line rules about these kinds of things.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:51 AM on June 28 [5 favorites]


If you haven't seen the show, by the way, you really won't get any sense of its tone or even its genre from the piece linked in the FPP. There was a good review of the original Broadway production in the NYT that does a good job of describing the show. And there's a YouTube video which has clips from the show (though none, I think, of the fairly brief moments where you get actors playing Indians in what are transparently Disney-esque costumes). The NYT link, by the way, also has a brief video embedded in it which shows some still shots from the production.

It's worth pointing out that the production uses a very small cast in which everyone except the character playing Jackson plays multiple roles, with precisely none of the costumes striving for "historical accuracy." It's also worth pointing out that the Disney-esque costumes of the Indians is meant entirely ironically--it's part of the point of the show's argument that this is what Jackson reduced the Native Americans to in terms of cultural representations of Native Americans in white American culture.
posted by yoink at 11:52 AM on June 28 [1 favorite]


Mel Brooks is Jewish?!?

(Seriously now, how does that matter?)
posted by chavenet at 12:03 PM on June 28


I'm not sure it does, but sometimes the objection to the use of racist imagery or historic tragedies is that the artist is using someone else's tragedy and may not understand what he or she is doing. That it can result in a clumsiness in the way painful subjects are addressed that can be painful and harmful. See Frowner's comments.
posted by Area Man at 12:12 PM on June 28 [1 favorite]


The real question is: Can someone write an aggrieved, borderline-paranoid diatribe against racism (both real and imagined) ironically?
posted by belarius at 12:14 PM on June 28


The intention of a creator is just as subjective as response from an audience member; it seems odd, then to give one so much more weight than the other. If the structure and text of the work fail to, well, *do* the work of condemning bigotry explicitly and unambiguously -- if you have to point to intention in order to support claims about the work's satirical value -- then thew work seems deficient.

If the bigotry is there primarily as a source of audience enjoyment and presented as archaic or deeply unrealistic, then I'd argue the structure of the work is already failing that standard. If the bigotry portrayed is unreal and fantastical by contemporary standards, then what satirical value does it have for contemporary audiences? And if the bigotry portrayed is contemporary and accurate, doesn't that suggest treating it like hilarious frivolity is a bit off the mark?

Put another way, is this stuff funny if you don't already think Jackson was a horrible racist and a monster? And if you already think that, what is the point of presenting cartoon Native Americans? To tell you something you already knew through the medium of degrading stereotypes, relying entirely on your knowledgeable irony filter to do the work? Why is your subjective reaction of ironic laughter more important or "better" than someone else's subjective reaction of offense at the stereotype being reiterated?
posted by kewb at 12:17 PM on June 28


Area Man: "I'm not sure it does, but sometimes the objection to the use of racist imagery or historic tragedies is that the artist is using someone else's tragedy and may not understand what he or she is doing. That it can result in a clumsiness in the way painful subjects are addressed that can be painful and harmful. See Frowner's comments."

I understand the argument, but it couldn't be applied, say, to Mel Brooks' "Blazing Saddles".
posted by chavenet at 12:17 PM on June 28


So you take an off-off-off Broadway production, and want to drum up publicity:

"Tarantino was pretty much the Godfather of the type of stuff we're doing".

=Publicity which leads to people accidentally walking in and coming out going "apparently, there's another Tarantino who's famous".
posted by hal_c_on at 12:18 PM on June 28 [2 favorites]


You lost me at "hipster."
posted by iamck at 12:22 PM on June 28 [2 favorites]


Area Man: "I'm not sure it does, but sometimes the objection to the use of racist imagery or historic tragedies is that the artist is using someone else's tragedy and may not understand what he or she is doing. That it can result in a clumsiness in the way painful subjects are addressed that can be painful and harmful. See Frowner's comments."

Sure, but to make the leap from that to "Fashionable racism creeps into Twin Cities theater scene, OMG" is spurious at best.
posted by Sphinx at 12:24 PM on June 28


Mel Brooks is Jewish?!?

(Seriously now, how does that matter?)


People from oppressed groups are allowed to tackle that oppression however they see fit. It's their prerogative to do so.
posted by NoraReed at 12:30 PM on June 28 [2 favorites]


So you're saying that, by the same logic, The Producers is pro-Nazi? That addressing real horrors satirically always implies a failure to actually grasp the moral seriousness of those horrors?

I have mixed feelings about the Producers. And I think the play-within-a-play aspect of "Springtime for Hitler" means it's doing a different thing -- the awfulness is given context within the work itself, although again, I personally have mixed feelings about the endeavor.

But all of that aside -- it's been a while since I saw the film, but I don't recall there being much if anything in the way of cartoonish Jewish stereotypes in "Springtime for Hitler"? Are there bunches of white men and women dressed up in costumes to look like Jews? Or is the film only mocking the Nazis themselves?

Because that strikes me as a very big difference.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 12:30 PM on June 28 [3 favorites]


The article was pretty unreadable to me, but in this era's desperate need to "find" new concepts that do not actually exist while glossing over what's really going on, the bottom line gets lost in the sophistry.

Racism is racism, or, more accurately, bully-ism. But no one lives in a vacuum -- people do not want to change their core beliefs, but merely put a positive "spin" on it. A fresh coat of paint, a repackaging, or even re-imaging or re-inventing of a tired old concept. People have always done it in one sort of form or another -- framing things based on morals, logic, fashion, etc. It will done a hundred years from now, but it will be no different than what is happening now or hundred years before.

Even racists can stay current as they look for loopholes...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 12:32 PM on June 28


Read Gavin McInnes's column in Taki's Mag and check out his Twitter account with all its followers and tell me there's no such thing as hipster racism, fashionable bigotry, whatever you want to call it.
posted by ChuckRamone at 12:42 PM on June 28 [1 favorite]


I used to know a guy like this; he was prone to making statements like "Blacks sure can dance!" or calling Asian girls "sushi," but if you called him on any of it he'd claim it was "obvious" he wasn't racist because it's the 21st century, duuuude, and we're, like, past that, right?
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:43 PM on June 28 [2 favorites]


I don't recall there being much if anything in the way of cartoonish Jewish stereotypes in "Springtime for Hitler"?

Really? Nothing about Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel strikes you as drawing from any Jewish stereotypes?

I say this as a huge fan of Mel Brooks and The Producers.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:48 PM on June 28


I don't recall there being much if anything in the way of cartoonish Jewish stereotypes in the film? Are there bunches of white men and women dressed up in costumes to look like Jews?

Well, Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder were actually Jewish, but the Jewish Broadway producer and nebbish-y accountant are certainly broad, cartoonish stereotypes.

This Jew doesn't have a problem with The Producers. Or Hogan's Heros, while were on the subject.
posted by Room 641-A at 12:49 PM on June 28 [2 favorites]


Did somebody say Blazing Saddles?

Here's a recent interview where Mel Brooks touches on racism in the movie. And another one; he's been making the rounds for the 40th anniversary of the original release.
posted by gimonca at 12:50 PM on June 28


That was kind of weird.
posted by Room 641-A at 12:52 PM on June 28


As I said, I haven't seen the film in a long time. So thank you for refreshing my memory!
posted by Narrative Priorities at 12:56 PM on June 28


The bigots in the audience loved Archie ...

I can personally attest to this. My mother had many wonderful qualities, but she was also a terrible bigot, in later years spurred on by talk radio, including her favorite Rush Limbaugh.

She LOVED Archie Bunker. All in the Family was one of her favorite shows ever. In the beginning, we enjoyed it together. I liked it because I was in sync with its liberal creator's viewpoints that were expressed entertainingly. But the show's lessons sailed right over her head and I believe the heads of many others, who merely relished seeing their own views shared by the lovably narrow-minded Archie Bunker.

Norman Lear was certainly well-meaning, but he inadvertently created a monster.

I love Stephen Colbert, but I worry that the Colbert Report may have had some of the same problems.
posted by marsha56 at 12:59 PM on June 28 [1 favorite]


I love Stephen Colbert, but I worry that the Colbert Report may have had some of the same problems.

Meaning there are people who like Colbert and take his character's opinions at face value? I find that pretty hard to believe. Or maybe you mean that he trivializes said opinions and thus makes them seem less dangerous. Which you could probably find examples of, but it still doesn't feel quite right to me.
posted by roll truck roll at 1:03 PM on June 28


I find that pretty hard to believe.

Based on life experience, I sadly don't find it hard to believe.
posted by marsha56 at 1:05 PM on June 28 [4 favorites]


The problem people have with "ironic racism" seems to connect with the Facebook algorithmic emotional manipulation thing, in that because someone's mind can demonstrably be affected by the messages they're exposed to, if they're exposed to something that has racial stereotypes in it, that exposure might actually reinforce the stereotypes and attitudes instead of challenging them.

Theoretically, someone could do a study where they use the News Feed to increase or decrease the amount of racist content someone's exposed to and measure the effects, which would be a way to quantify some of this hand-wringing, but could also demonstrate the power and danger of the filter bubble: weaponized social engineering disguised as a semi-private multimedia message board.
posted by Small Dollar at 1:09 PM on June 28 [1 favorite]


I find that pretty hard to believe.

There are definitely people who don't know that the Colbert Report is satire.
posted by oinopaponton at 1:11 PM on June 28 [2 favorites]


Some people actually did some science on how liberals vs conservatives interpret the Colbert Report.
posted by foxfirefey at 1:13 PM on June 28 [5 favorites]


“There was no significant difference between the groups in thinking Colbert was funny,” the researchers wrote. “But conservatives were more likely to report that Colbert only pretends to be joking and genuinely meant what he said while liberals were more likely to report that Colbert used satire and was not serious when offering political statements.”
posted by marsha56 at 1:14 PM on June 28


"Our modern noble bigots - fellows like Peter Griffin, Archer, Homer Simpson or Cartman - discomfit their predecessor's work by virtue of failing to accomplish anything especially new. They're not daring, their bigotry is rarely actually meaningful and the consequences are infrequent."

These are cartoons that entertain people. That's their point. They succeed. Why should everything be social engineering?


This is formally analogous to saying "Burning fossil fuels produces energy. That's the point," or "War is good for the winners. That's the point," or, perhaps more substantively analogously, "Blackface is supposed to entertain people. That's the point. It succeeds."

It isn't "social engineering" to criticize a television show, or to engage in critique of anything else. That doesn't even make sense. The problem with bigotry embedded in entertainment isn't that it causes the show to fail at its intended mission of entertaining people, though that's a side-effect. The problem is in implying that any negative effects of an act or a representation are unimportant or cannot matter if those negative effects weren't the explicit goal. That's just a bizarre and irrational assumption.

If you humiliate someone in public to impress someone else, does it mean the first person is somehow disentitled to feel offended or contradict the humiliator if the act succeeds in impressing the second person?
posted by clockzero at 1:26 PM on June 28 [11 favorites]


> because someone's mind can demonstrably be affected by the messages they're exposed to, if they're exposed to something that has racial stereotypes in it, that exposure might actually reinforce the stereotypes and attitudes instead of challenging them

I've pretty much come around to the idea that the presentation of a negative stereotype helps cement that stereotype even if the presentation is ironic and everyone knows it's ironic.

If I tell a joke that hinges on "minority X all have negative trait Y" I'm still telling a particular story even if both I and my audience know to append that story with "(but of course we don't really believe that)." It's still adding another instance of that particular stereotype to my total experience, which helps to make sure the stereotype is more readily at hand in my daily life no matter how absurd, inaccurate, or outright contrary to my IRL experience it may be.

Those stories are a huge part of how we make sense of everyday life; no need to reiterate the ones which degrade other people. Not like we don't all know them already anyway.

Granted, I think Colbert is decently successful at referencing a given stereotype to tell a story which mocks the idea of said stereotype and (primarily) those who would reiterate it rather than doing the "it's cool, we know we shouldn't be saying this but check out this irony lens we got" winking that, say, Family Guy does. But hey, if people think that Colbert's sincere and that Archie Bunker is the beleaguered everyman, maybe I'm wrong there.

(I have not seen Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson)
posted by postcommunism at 2:05 PM on June 28 [7 favorites]


I feel like an ass for asking this, but I need some context for this. Is anti-Native bigotry a bigger issue in the Twin Cities than it is elsewhere? Boston has a reputation for being a very liberal city (as does NYC, where the show premiered), but the productions of BBAJ staged here haven't gotten protested.
posted by pxe2000 at 2:30 PM on June 28


Regarding The Producers there's no need to strain to recall what's in Springtime for Hitler. It's Nazis all the way down.

But compare The Inquisition.
posted by snuffleupagus at 2:41 PM on June 28


The piece reads like a crypto-apologist for the 1% trying to drive a wedge between white progressive/occupy types (whom he belittles as 'hipsters,') and their natural allies among people of color, but Callahan is so busy name-checking he neglects to make any actual points, and it's a bit hard to be sure.

There's a zone of irony beyond mere outrage-- no matter how impassioned-- which is far more effective against injustice and evil than that outrage can ever be; Swift's A Modest Proposal attained such withering white heat of irony in my opinion, as did Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove, and Andrew Jackson deserves that treatment if anyone in history ever has, but I don't know whether Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson gets there or not, though I bet that was the aim.
posted by jamjam at 2:53 PM on June 28


Is anti-Native bigotry a bigger issue in the Twin Cities than it is elsewhere? Boston has a reputation for being a very liberal city (as does NYC, where the show premiered), but the productions of BBAJ staged here haven't gotten protested.

Look at map of reservations and see how many with significant populations are close to Boston. Now, look at Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, and South Dakota. People from rural areas of those states sometimes move to Minneapolis and have for generations, and that includes Native peoples. I'm quite certain the Native population in Minneapolis is proportionately larger than that of Boston or New York. So, Native activists are more prominent in the cultural and political life of the City than I believe is the case in Boston and anti-Native bigotry has been a real problem here.

The piece reads like a crypto-apologist for the 1% trying to drive a wedge between white progressive/occupy types (whom he belittles as 'hipsters,') and their natural allies among people of color, but Callahan is so busy name-checking he neglects to make any actual points, and it's a bit hard to be sure.

You do understand that there were Native protesters opposed to this production before the piece was written, don't you? Or is that also something that the devious 1% stirred up? We certainly couldn't take Native activists at their word, could we? There must be some white people behind it all.
posted by Area Man at 3:22 PM on June 28 [11 favorites]


I feel like an ass for asking this, but I need some context for this. Is anti-Native bigotry a bigger issue in the Twin Cities than it is elsewhere? Boston has a reputation for being a very liberal city (as does NYC, where the show premiered), but the productions of BBAJ staged here haven't gotten protested.

There's a lot more native people here, right in Minneapolis, than in other cities. We have Little Earth here, mere blocks from my house. AIM was founded here and has its headquarters also mere blocks from my house. (Anyone who knows MPLS at all can make a series of guesses about where I live.) Not only are there far more native people in general here (and by extension, more non-native people with native friends, partners or relatives) but there's far more native activism here. I think I've actually met a couple of the people who organized the protest - they're friends of a friend of mine - and I wanted to go myself but life got in the way.

I'd say that racism against native people is very concrete here, more than it is in other places - people say stuff you would not believe. It's pretty hard to describe. There's a lot of other marginalized groups who take stuff out on native people. The cops are shitty. You can really see, should you care to look, the way colonization works itself out - people who are kicked around, or sick, or who appear mainly as the objects of charity (like, it's cool that we have clinics geared to native people, but they're charity clinics, the doctors and nurses are often white, I know from a friend that they do not always have cultural competency, and there's just this sense in white nonprofit circles of....patronizingness, I guess?). Living where I do, I often think about how this is absolutely stolen land - the theft and its consequences are literally right on the street around me, in the bodies of people I see every day.

But again, there's a lot of activist stuff here - Idle No More has been a big deal, there's a bunch of small skill-building, health and culture-reclamation projects, there's a lot of stuff that is largely invisible to me as a white person (I have a good friend who is Native, and I frequent a place where some of these groups meet - that's how I know a little bit about some stuff.) It's very different to see radical projects that don't skew young, white, childless and middle class - you really see what revolutionary potential is when you see truly broad-based and longer-lasting organizing.

In fact, if there's one thing that I personally can guarantee from vaguely-knowing-some-people-in-this-miieu, it's that this stuff is led by native activists and intellectuals.
(Also, I think sometimes people have this unconscious assumption that native people are off in a corner not experiencing contemporary culture, or just experiencing some special "native" version, so they're not up on all the "hipster"/ironic/satiric trends or whatever. I know native folks who are engaged with indie/artsy/hipster culture and who are perfectly up on the norms of satire, edginess and ironic fashion - if they feel that this play doesn't work, this isn't because they don't get hipster stuff.)
posted by Frowner at 4:22 PM on June 28 [18 favorites]


Eh, this happens every so often. Several years back it was Prussian Blue, not MeFi related. People get sick of extreme political correctness and have an averse reaction.

But now I am waiting for the chance to make and use a Prussian Blue/Metafilter joke..
posted by mediocre at 4:58 PM on June 28


"... now I am waiting for the chance to make and use a Prussian Blue/Metafilter joke.."

Think there're plenty in-thread already...
posted by artof.mulata at 5:55 PM on June 28


Hah, Frowner, you made the comment I was just going to try and make, only better. That we're talking about Minneapolis is definitely relevant here.
posted by hoyland at 5:59 PM on June 28 [1 favorite]


I know Rob Callahan somewhat, and so can say in absolute confidence that this piece was an earnest attempt to address the question of a privileged community using ironic racism as a storytelling device, and not some puffed up trend piece to sell to the local newspaper.

It's a worthwhile question, and he may not address it using precisely the language or analysis that would be ideal, but it's an honest attempt to do that. It's a good question, and the Andrew Jackson musical has been repeatedly criticized for its depiction of Native Americans, and the inclusion of historical fallacies that reflect badly on Native Americans. It's a tough tightrope, this punky retelling of the story of Andrew Jackson, starting off with him as a rock star and then peeling it away with a series of broadly comic scenes that reveal him to be a petty, genocidal maniac. I don't know that it is an impossible task, but I'm not sure the people who created this musical were the right ones to tackle it. Irony is not a shield against criticism, and brashness and a comic sensibility don't automatically innoculate the storytellers from the questions of privilege.

Rob is a member of the Twin Cities storytelling community, and so this question is one he wrestles with personally when he sits does the create his own stories. It isn't academic for him. I am not sure he is the most skilled arts critic in the world -- it's something he has only started doing relatively recently. But people should not have to express their concerns perfectly for those concerns to be taken seriously.
posted by maxsparber at 7:51 PM on June 28 [7 favorites]


Oh, and Minneapolis has the largest urban Native community in the world, and was the starting place for AIM, for context.

I'm a playwright, as some of you know, and when I am addressing a story that is outside my experiences, I try to have it vetted by somebody who does have those experiences. I am writing a play about Buffalo Bill just now for a children's theater in Omaha, and I have been extremely careful about the play's representation of Sitting Bull, and how it addresses the question of the Native experience. Especially given the atrocious way Native Americans, and the Native experience, has been represented in the last, I think part of our debt to history and to the still-living Native American community is to be conscientious about how we tell their story. I have read the script for Bloody Bloody, and I don't think it was especially careful in this regard.
posted by maxsparber at 7:59 PM on June 28 [1 favorite]


I have a full abstract on my house. Each owner of the house can be traced back on the various pieces of paper that are bound together in it. The earliest record of ownership is dated 1837. So, what happened in 1837?
posted by gimonca at 8:26 PM on June 28


I've seen this among my students. Early 20s, some don't see why certain terms are problematic. If I call them on it, they react: obviously I'm not a racist. I see no racism here; I live in multiethnic CA. Maybe there is racism far away. But I'm not a racist. So there is nothing wrong with describing my eyes swollen from crying as ch***y. I have tons of Asian friends, and we joke this way all the time. Etc.

I feel like I failed them.
posted by persona au gratin at 8:54 PM on June 28 [1 favorite]


> Minneapolis has the largest urban Native community in the world

I think Winnipeg might have a slightly larger community, with ~11% of a 650K population having Aboriginal identity.

The trouble with “ironic racism” is that you don't get to say what someone's response to your words will be. Try running up to someone in the street, scream ‘Fuck You!’ in their face, pause, then say ‘It's okay, I was being ironic’ … if you're still alive and able to say it. You can't expect someone to like you or trust you after an assault.

It's a little dated, but Lester's 1979 piece The White Noise Supremacists summarized why racism and bigotry can never be ironic. It's a good read.
posted by scruss at 8:58 PM on June 28 [1 favorite]


Springtime for Hitler is actually an excellent example of exactly how iffy the line can be between an author's intent and an audience's interpretation, and between earnestness and satire. Max & Leo, hoping to produce a box office bomb, think they're making bona fide Nazi propaganda, but their audience interprets it as satire and it becomes a hit.

It's really important to ask yourself, when you're watching (what you believe to be) satire, Is this really satire, or am I just interpreting earnestly bad shit in a way that it conforms to my own politics? And if you're making satire, ask yourself, Am I really making satire, or am I just imitating that bad shit that I interpreted as satire so it'd conform to my own politics, thereby actually producing bad shit myself?
posted by Sys Rq at 9:02 PM on June 28 [2 favorites]


You do understand that there were Native protesters opposed to this production before the piece was written, don't you? Or is that also something that the devious 1% stirred up? We certainly couldn't take Native activists at their word, could we? There must be some white people behind it all.
posted by Area Man


I think you'd better be checking your own prejudices, Area Man, unless you really do mean to imply here that there's something special about "Native activists" that keeps them from being as mixed up about where their own best interests lie as poor white people so often are in this age of ubiquitous corporate propaganda-- well, maybe you do, since you seem to be choosing to see this in terms of a racial divide rather than as a matter of class and inequalities of wealth and income.
posted by jamjam at 9:21 PM on June 28


Eh, this happens every so often. Several years back it was Prussian Blue, not MeFi related. People get sick of extreme political correctness and have an averse reaction.

Prussian Blue was not people being "sick of extreme political correctness". It was literally a neo-Nazi project.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:13 PM on June 28 [10 favorites]


Picking up a quote yoink provided above, from a contemporary criticism of Archie Bunker's character: “I don’t think you can be a black-baiter and lovable, or an anti-Semite and lovable."

...I don't think that's so, at all. In fact it's a common theme that younger generations often have to come to grips with when relating to beloved elders they idealized as children. It's painful: bad enough to learn that childhood's giants are mortals with weaknesses. Devastating to realize that they embrace views that are stupid, small-minded, ugly, and vicious.

These are our sweet grammies and poppas showing their inner Mr. Hyde. It's a different story altogether if the characters aren't lovable - it's hardly even a story at all. Lovable is what makes it realistic and worth telling - with multifaceted characters and complexity and anguished conflict about loyalty vs. morality. If our bigots are all one-dimensional villains, that's a flat unrealistic story that no one can relate to. It's good guy vs. bad guy. It's bad art, not that we have to get so ivory tower about it: it's even just bad TV.

The protestation that 'but bigots love that guy!' makes the suggestion that storytellers should accommodate the lowest common denominator audience, which is like storytelling decisions vetted by committee, but the committee includes the stupidest possible people you could anticipate. I think we have enough media like that already. Taking Archie Bunker as the example again - why would they see flaws in him if they identify with him? They don't see those things as flaws. But if they see lots of other people watching the show and those people are saying "Great show, but man that guy is such an ignorant troglodyte"...well, maybe that might give them pause for reflection... which is valuable and interesting, but ultimately? It's a good deed, and it may reflect the writer's moral compass, but the primary responsibility is not to teach a Sunday school lesson, it's to tell a story. Good stories can have amazing real-world impacts because of the truths they contain, but if you sacrifice story quality, you lose your delivery system altogether.

I can't speak for the play. But it sounds like the 'indians' (word chosen as in the cartoony stereotype, vs actual individuals of distinct cultural backgrounds) - were used as a symbolic shorthand, like a trope or a tool or prop. That portrayal goes along with team mascots, Calumet label, and the rest - being reduced to a conceptual symbol. Dehumanizing and offensive.

But if the play is specifically depicting that dehumanization in the historical context of having been a disgusting propaganda tactic: does that change the validity of the use of imagery? (Is that actually definitively answerable?)

I'm not sure that declaring entire swaths of human experience and history 'off limits' is in harmony with any sort of artistic expression. Artists, you know how they are. That sort of thing just encourages them.
posted by Lou Stuells at 12:07 AM on June 29 [3 favorites]


I know Rob Callahan somewhat, and so can say in absolute confidence that this piece was an earnest attempt to address the question of a privileged community using ironic racism as a storytelling device, and not some puffed up trend piece to sell to the local newspaper.

He has totally failed in using his own words to do this.

Fashionable bigotry (also called "hipster racism" or "ironic racism")

This is incredibly stupid. Words have meaning and these words don't mean the same thing. "Fashionable bigotry"? This isn't really a term, but if you just use the meaning of the words, it's racist practice which is also popular. "Ironic racism"? Using racism ironically; this is not inherently racist practice, you'll need to know a lot about the context in order to make a judgement.

"Hipster racism"? I know I said words have meaning, but the word "hipster" is almost content-free; it's just a derogatory term for those "cool" people over there which I can ostensibly identify by this particular marker. These markers shift constantly and the groups identified are seldom actual groups, so it's just as useful to define "hipster" as those "cool" people I don't like. "Hipster racism" is then just racism employed by those people over there. Pretty useless as a term, great as clickbait.

This is perhaps the largest issue with the article; the failure to define terms precisely, use them consistently, and to not misrepresent the context of the things it's criticizing. It muddies the waters by immediately characterizing the play as "pretty racist" while seemingly ignoring the structure of the work.

The actual intent of the article is good, and I personally agree with the point it's trying to make: that things might be both free of racist intent and racist.
posted by beerbajay at 1:30 AM on June 29


This Jew doesn't have a problem with The Producers. Or Hogan's Heros, while were on the subject.

I am also Jewish, and I don't know if I'm alone in this but my own belief is that the best way to take something/someone down a peg is to make them a joke, and if the legacy of the "Thousand Year Reich" is the butt of jokes, then I'm ok with that.
posted by mikelieman at 1:36 AM on June 29 [1 favorite]


"Ironic racism"? Using racism ironically; this is not inherently racist practice, you'll need to know a lot about the context in order to make a judgement.

The context is white people in a white supremacist society trying to pretend that the racist shit they're saying isn't racist.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:36 AM on June 29 [7 favorites]


The context is white people in a white supremacist society

Definitely part of the context, but not necessarily all of it.

trying to pretend that the racist shit they're saying isn't racist.

Sometimes.

You can use racism in an ironic way without engaging in racist practice, at least in my estimation. This isn't a pass for anybody to say "it's ironic" and get away with being racist. As an example, Family Guy's "asian woman driver" is probably supposed to be ironic racism, but ends up being just racist anyway.
posted by beerbajay at 3:35 AM on June 29


I think you'd better be checking your own prejudices, Area Man, unless you really do mean to imply here that there's something special about "Native activists" that keeps them from being as mixed up about where their own best interests lie as poor white people so often are in this age of ubiquitous corporate propaganda-- well, maybe you do, since you seem to be choosing to see this in terms of a racial divide rather than as a matter of class and inequalities of wealth and income.

Obviously, class and inequality are in play, but I don't believe it makes sense to consider American Indian issues using only those factors. There is a unique history of dispossession and oppression to consider. I also generally believe it is too easy to reflexively accuse others of false consciousness. In this case, it can lead to non-Indians ignoring and dismissing Indian concerns out of ignorance and prejudice.

Is there any evidence the 1% are actually behind this protest?
posted by Area Man at 5:09 AM on June 29


"Hipster racism"? I know I said words have meaning, but the word "hipster" is almost content-free; it's just a derogatory term for those "cool" people over there which I can ostensibly identify by this particular marker. These markers shift constantly and the groups identified are seldom actual groups, so it's just as useful to define "hipster" as those "cool" people I don't like. "Hipster racism" is then just racism employed by those people over there. Pretty useless as a term, great as clickbait.

I'm with you on "hipster" being meaningless, but, actually, "hipster racism" actually has a very specific meaning, as it's almost only ever used to describe Vice magazine to a t.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:55 AM on June 29 [2 favorites]


I'm also not crazy about the phrase hipster racism, but it was coined by Carmen Van Kerckhove on Racialicious all the way back in 2006, and I am not in the business of lecturing people of color about the language they choose to describe their own experiences. Besides, I think the concerns about people forwarding racist tropes under the mask of irony and satire is, in this context, more important than the question of whether hipsters actually exist or not.
posted by maxsparber at 8:28 AM on June 29 [5 favorites]


"Words have meaning" as a rhetorical tactic is good friends with "I'm just telling it like it is" and "Let's be honest with ourselves." "Words have meaning" gets used all of the time to tell people they can't identify themselves as X or Y or can't describe something in a way that makes sense from their context. Words have meaning to different people and we mutually agree to try to understand each other when we're at our most sincere.

These tropes are often enlisted by condescending libertarian angry white male stereotypes, which I'm sure wasn't the intent. I've worked with many of them and find them everywhere, spitting those out. "Let's be honest" or "be honest with yourself" is probably the worst, but "words have meaning" is usually more tone-deaf.
posted by aydeejones at 11:34 AM on June 29 [2 favorites]


Prussian Blue was not people being "sick of extreme political correctness".

I should have been more clear. I was referring to the spread of Prussian Blue as a meme/kids wearing Prussian Blue shirts, etc. Not the act itself.
posted by mediocre at 1:44 PM on June 29


"Words have meaning" as a rhetorical tactic...

I'm with you, but I don't think my comment is an instance of what you're pointing out.

The author of the article uses 3 different terms. "fashionable bigotry", which isn't really a term (top google results: this article, metafilter discussion), "ironic racism", which doesn't mean what the author says it means, and "hipster racism" which which is problematic in that the term "hipster" is content-free.

The wikipedia article asserts that "hipster racism" means "masking actual racism with a claim of irony", which I also agree is a thing that happens, but it has nothing to do with "hipsters" (who are these people again?). This is just racism and an excuse.

I acknowledge that "hipster racism" is used as a term. It does not, however, have a "very specific meaning".

As an example, the person who coined the term uses it to describe American Apparel advertizing which highlights the racial background of the models (no irony involved), Sandra Bernhard making a joke about Mariah Carey's blackness (is she a "hipster"?), John Mayer potentially using 'nigga' in a joke (is he a hipster??), and Gwen Stefani's "Harajuku Girls" (no irony; Stefani just seems oblivious to the racism involved). AA advertizing is everyday racism (exoticism), Stefani is is everyday racism (cultural appropriation), Mayer's situation is unclear (the incident is rather poorly documented/described; he might have been quoting someone), Bernhard is the only one who seems that they potentially might be using irony/satire as a cover, but I can't find that anywhere. (How can it be legitimate to describe these uber-famous people as "hipsters"?)

The point is that even the person who 'defined' the term uses it inconsistently. The wikipedia article also asserts that "hipster racism" can apply to cultural appropriation "by hipsters", but isn't this just normal racism at work? Is there irony involved or is it just white obliviousness/privilege? The things described by the term are (usually) clearly racist; they don't need the extra "hipster" bit.

My take on the term is that it was coined in the blogosphere during a time when the cultural discussion of "hipsters" (who are these people again?) was at its height. It was and is perfect clickbait.
posted by beerbajay at 1:35 AM on June 30 [1 favorite]


jessamyn's quote from 5 years ago pretty much defines Vice-style hipster racism. It wasn't funny 5 years ago, and it's not funny now.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:08 AM on June 30 [1 favorite]


She was quoting Jay Smooth.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:55 AM on June 30


Besides, part of the Nazis' punishment is being turned into a figure of mockery.

One person's target of mockery is another person's cuddly, harmless doofus.
posted by acb at 10:22 AM on June 30


I don't think the issue is that Andrew Jackson is made a figure of mockery in the musical, it's that the treatment of Native Americans in the book and lyrics doesn't make it clear that they aren't also figures of fun, and that the musical doesn't see the genocide of this country's indigenous population as a bit of a goof.
posted by maxsparber at 10:27 AM on June 30


"and that the musical doesn't see the genocide of this country's indigenous population as a bit of a goof."

You might want to rephrase this part, methinks.
posted by I-baLL at 10:56 AM on July 3


Run-on sentence. If it's not clear what I meant, I mean the musical needs to make it clear that it is not treating genocide as the subject of fun. I've read the musical (not seen it), and it has a sort of wildly anarchic sensibility that sort of encompasses everything, but the murder of an indigenous population is the sort of thing you want to be clear about, and you want to be clear that you don't find it funny.
posted by maxsparber at 11:28 AM on July 3


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