Thursday, March 25, 2010

Jesus, Amanda Palmer.

Ok, I first saw this over at Sady's place:

Jesus fucking Christ, Amanda Palmer.

Sady does a beautiful analysis in the post before, actually, about a certain type of feminist with white, cis, het, and class privilege who uses feminism to try to fight back against only those issues that apply to HER, and everyone else, other women included, be damned. Shakesville also already commented on this (and mentions Amanda Palmer's Evelyn/Evelyn thing, which is a whole other issue that makes me upset) and sparkymonster jarringly compares Gaga's product placement (which was the subject of the tweet) with actual pictures of what the Klan has done (the link has some pictures that are difficult to see, be aware when clicking over).


After Sady's post last night, about feminists who can't seem to get past themselves to see their own privilege or the other ways in which people are marginalized, I spent some time really thinking about that, lying in bed before finally falling asleep. Especially because dealing with rape has made me so very egocentric - sometimes, it takes all my energy just to get my sorry raped self through the day, and maybe that makes me not the best feminist right now? Because I can't get past myself to see anything else? I cut myself some slack here, though, because I think that fighting against the kyriarchy takes all kinds of work, and even surviving can actually be a revolutionary, defiant act sometimes. But, I was really examining my privilege and in my head I listed all the ways in which I was LUCKY, after being raped: I had access to a therapist, and access to health care, had I needed it, and I could have probably paid for an abortion, had I required one, and I lived in NYC, so I could get emergency contraception, and because I am white, I am not socially constructed to already have a deviant sexuality, so if I filed a police report, it is more likely I would have been believed, and I do not live in a culture where I will be blamed, and on and on. Lots of privilege. Right?

And privilege works by making itself invisible, so I have to stop and remind myself of my privilege sometimes. And situate myself with it in the world, and see how it works to position me there, and how I can avoid becoming a monster on someone else's back even while I am trying to get the monster off my own back (thanks, June Jordan).

But no matter how fucking wrapped up I am in myself, no matter how insular and narrow my world has gotten, it would never, ever occur to me that it is ok to use the Klan as a punchline. EVER.

The Klan is not ironic. The Klan lynched and murdered and beat and terrorized. They are still a symbol of white racism and hatred and bigotry, and they have not gone away. So either Amanda Palmer is very confused about what "irony" is, or Amanda Palmer is acting like a giant fucking asshole. Or, actually, I am lying: there is only one option here, as I do not think Amanda Palmer is stupid. No, Amanda Palmer is just being an asshole.

Thing is . . . guys, I used to LOVE Amanda Palmer. I liked how spunky she was, how outspokenly feminist she was, how brazen she was about being herself, how different her music was, how daring it could be.

And Amanda Palmer truly is an awesome advocate of herself. But that's it. She has been dismissive of people with disabilities, and now people of color. She has erased their very experiences to co-opt them into a joke or a sideshow. It would NEVER occur to me, even as a pretty ego-maniacal feminist right now, to joke about the Klan. The Klan is not funny. The Klan cannot be my punchline.

Is there anything that is beyond the scope of joking? I think this question gets asked a lot, especially about why can't privileged groups joke about unprivileged groups, and I think appropriate joking means this: if you are maintaining the skewed societal power dynamics in your joke, meaning that you as a white person feel that you can make fun of black people or whatever, you are contributing to a very harmful dynamic, one that historically has led to things like, oh, lynchings, and contributes to continued inequality. And that's not acceptable. If you are a person of an unprivileged group who wants to poke fun at your own group, or push back and make fun of a group that historically has had privilege at your expense as a way to push back, then go to it, because you are not contributing to dangerous cultural narratives that hurt people.*

Here's how this works in my life. Basically, have I made Jewish jokes, as a Jew? Yes! Have I made Christian jokes? Yes! And when people pointed out I shouldn't make Christian jokes, because I am not Christian, have I told them to fuck off? Yes!** Jesus H. Christ on a popsicle stick, people, the next time I see Christians as a group becoming the victims of a bigoted society in which they are no longer the powerful majority, I will stop making fun, but as it is more likely that my cats will figure out how to rule the world even without opposable thumbs than Christians will start being institutionally oppressed, I am not really worried about this scenario. As a Christian, you can be ticked at me, and maybe you feel offended, but nobody got hurt. Whereas, a bunch of Christian people making fun of Jews? Well, I could be describing a Klan meeting! Or a Nazi propaganda movie! Meaning: that has never turned out very well. So, Jews being the butt of a joke, and Christians being the butt of a joke - just not equivalent.

Right? You with me? So. Anyway. Given this, as a white person, I don't make Klan jokes. Making light of the Klan only serves to reinforce my privilege; it means that the oppression of people of color is not important, not serious, not real. It's my punchline! Are there appropriate jokes that could be made about the Klan? Sure! But whose job is that to push back at that oppression? NOT MINE.

Because I really did love her, Amanda Palmer's fall from grace in my head has been an especially long descent. And it's a shame, because music that I used to love (and which specifically got me through first year law finals) is now un-enjoyable for me. In reparation, I may just have to donate ten bucks, the amount I paid to download her CD, to an organization that fights against oppression. The fact that I feel the need to give money to fight oppression because I bought the CD of a self-avowed feminist, well . . . let's just say I at least am a little more successful with the "irony" here. In the irony standings, Gayle: 1; Amanda Palmer: 0.

* I also think that those who fall outside the policed boundaries of a privileged group are in an excellent position to have perspective and constructively critique the dominant societal narrative that maintains those boundaries and the identity of that in-group. Which is not to say that people within privileged groups cannot criticize and have perspective; I am just pointing out that those who have been othered and are on the outside looking in have an important point of view to be considered.

** How to make this work? See: Lewis Black


  1. hmm, ok, how to frame a response to this ... first off, the amanda palmer joke? personally, straight up unfunny. however, i disagree that if you have the right background you can appropriately own humor that others cannot. or rather, i should say that you can own it but that won't necessarily make it funny or appropriate. personally, with the exception of the rare few, i usually find jewish jokes totally unfunny, and i don't think i've ever heard a jewish joke that didn't come from a jewish friend. same goes with christian jokes (i'm pretty sure most of those came from jewish friends too). i usually think the humor is stale and isn't being used for a good reason. now, hopefully this doesn't brand me an awful person, but i have definitely heard jokes mocking the kkk in recent years, coming from both white and black people, that, in the right context, have been hilarious. do i think there is anything funny about the kkk? abso-fucking-lutely not. but i think sometimes we can use humor (or art or music, whatever) to get past our initial shock and inability to cope with the f-d up nature of terrible situations, and then be more constructive human beings. that said, i definitely don't think i felt this way before living in louisiana for 5 years. before then, stuff like the kkk was pretty much off the table. and though i know this isn't an issue that is limited to the south, i do think there's a tendency of non-southerners to shove all of that stuff into this 'heart of darkness' type realm that is disgusting, yet totally disconnected from their own lives. when you live in the south, you realize how this type of ugliness is still thriving, and not just as a regional problem but as an american problem (and it could be viewed as broader than that). and you HAVE to live with it and work through it. i think where we draw the line for humor has more to do with where it starts to cause fear or anxiety or whatever. for example, i don't think wearing confederate flag attire is appropriate under any circumstances - i know it's freedom of expression, but that is a visual symbol that carries a lot of weight and could potentially be terrifying to a casual witness. i think the same goes with jokes. to be truly funny, you have to be a pretty keen judge of when sensitive humor is appropriate and when it is toxic. i totally get what you're saying about how coming from a position of privilege we can be oblivious to the fact that our actions are serving only our own needs and ignoring those of others (and this is definitely a huge problem in feminism). and i hope i don't come off as insensitive to the bigger issues at stake - i feel like there's a lot i can't fully express when it comes to things like this. maybe the bottom line, for me, is whether or not a joke is being used to your own advantage, or whether or not it's part of a dialogue that works to deconstruct oppression - and i do think there's a place for humor there, regardless of who it's coming from. and maybe that's why the a.p. joke wasn't funny to me, because it came off as selfish and oblivious.

  2. Chloe, see, I don't think we're in disagreement at all, and it is not only who you are that determines what jokes you can tell. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to humor. There's also (and yeah, there are a lot of shadings in this, which I didn't get into in the post) the way you can use the stereotypes to make fun of them, where the ridiculous of the stereotyping is actually the butt of the joke. And it's about your audience. Could, when he saw a penny on the ground, my former boyfriend say to me, oh my god, I'll just wait for you to pick that up, Jew? Yeah. Because I know him and I know how he means it, to make fun of the stereotype, and therefore is not perpetuating harmful narratives and it would make me burst out laughing. Everyone understanding how you are using it - audience really matters (so: Twitter? NOT A GOOD CALL). There's a lot of nuances, here. But I do think, when we come from privilege in some way, we need to be aware about how we are using language to mock or make fun, because we can make jokes and it's funny, but we are not in danger of being harmed.

    But . . . yeah. Amanda Palmer? No.

  3. Amanda Palmer is an awful, untalented crap peddler.