Chez Pazienza of “The Daily Banter” wasn’t even able to make it past the title of his piece about Prachi Gupta’s Salon.com interview with Suey Park, auteur of the #CancelColbert Twitter campaign, without stepping in it. Yes, Pazienza thoughtfully titled his non-analysis of the interview “We Read Salon’s Interview with Suey Park So You Don’t Have To.” That is to say, when a controversy blew up in regard to the use of racist terms in humor, based heavily on the idea that white privilege is at play, Pazienza (a self described “white guy”) responded by telling his audience not to read what the originator of the conversation, a person of color, had to say. Instead, Pazienza filtered what he calls Park’s “hashtag outrage” down to a more appropriate white-guy outrage at Park’s ideas, all while failing to actually address the bulk of the ideas Park touches on in the interview.
Pazienza provides two full paragraphs of his own vitriol before actually beginning to speak directly to anything Park said, proclaiming that the #CancelColbert campaign was never really about addressing racism, and all about Park calling attention to herself. Sounding like a Fox News curmudgeon/commentator decrying the elitism of educated folk, Pazienza bashes Park for her “mindless repetition of buzzwords and narratives drilled into a willing mind by a modern humanities and critical race theory education.” Pazienza’s imposed narrative, then, is that Park is a narcissist whose education has made her an academe-bot who is completely out of touch with reality and so should be duly ignored.
Pazienza further reports that he would “be curious to approach some of the Twitterati I respect who have inexplicably defended her and ask” (following the publication of the Salon.com interview), “if they feel like they still can.” Sending off a few private messages, or e-mails, making a phone call, or even reading through tweets that those “Twitterati” have posted is apparently too time-consuming for Pazienza, since it is much easier to make the blanket statement that such support is “inexplicable,” thereby avoiding the risk of being confronted with more ideas that Pazienza would then have to either ignore or misrepresent.
You can read the whole piece here: Pazienza strikes a blow for…well…even he doesn’t know.
Pazienza goes on to state that he “is not going to fully and seriously analyze the interview” but will instead “post some of the best excerpts of it here” and “leave it to you to decipher in the comment section,” because, of course, website comments sections are where real critical thinking and reasoned debate shines. Abdicating the writer’s responsibility to actually provide any kind of coherent analysis of the interview or the points therein, Pazienza instead lifts portions of the interview and makes snide comments about them without even attempting to show any understanding of anything, aside from how annoyed he got at reading said portions. It’s anyone’s guess as to why Pazienza thought he had put together a winning strategy for proving that Park, not Pazienza, is the unreasonable one.
Following his first selection from the interview, wherein Park says that the particular context of her #CancelColbert campaign is irrelevant to the larger conversation, Pazienza slams Park for her “combative tone.” Pazienza’s roughly-400-word introduction, trashing Park and (Paziena’s interpretation of) her intentions, is, in Pazienza’s view, appropriate to “reasonable, sane” people, while Park steering the conversation away from questions of specific context somehow shows she’s out of control.
Pazienza then skips over the part where Park explains her view that the ‘default position’ in the whole debate over #CancelColbert has been to read everything Park has said as literal while reading everything Colbert said as satire, and to assume Park didn’t understand why Colbert made the joke that he did. Among other things, that default position has led to the much-repeated storyline that Colbert’s use of hyperbole is justified, while Park’s use of hyperbole is simply misplaced anger. But, since Pazienza is trying to make a case that Park is aiming her anger at the wrong target(s), it’s best not to explain that she might have intentions/targets other than the ones Pazienza assigns to her.
Pazienza then includes several lines from the interview which involve Park explaining follow-up issues to the paragraph he left out, such as the idea of people of color being made to “use the right tone…in order to be heard.” But Pazienza already belittled those ideas up front, by labeling them “the problem with the world, according to Suey.” Funny that Pazienza chastises Park for her combative tone, then suggests Park is being ridiculous for pointing out that people of color are told to keep their tone in check. Or maybe that’s some of Pazienza’s own “sheer madness—or willful bullshit” to use his own words.
At any rate, Pazienza’s only takeaway from the tone-related excerpt is that Park uses the phrase “whiteness at large,” a phrase that Pazienza apparently believes to be so ludicrous that all he needs to do is repeat it to make it clear that the phrase, and whatever Park said in relation to it, is worthy of derision. (Perhaps if Pazienza hadn’t skipped that paragraph about hyperbole, he might be able to process some of this a little better). Of course, Pazienza does not bother to try and explain or contextualize the phrase—again inadvertently proving Park’s points for her. That is to say, Park connects the idea of “whiteness” or “whiteness at large” (as opposed to the specific Colbert joke and Colbert’s response to Park’s criticism) to the overall idea that it is made incumbent on people of color to understand the intentions of white people, while it is not considered reciprocally necessary for white people to try to understand the position of people of color. For example, Park has been repeatedly asked if she understands the context of Colbert’s joke, while those asking the question assume they understand what Park meant by her criticism of the joke—that assumption being that Park did not understand the context of Colbert’s joke or she would not have criticized it.
Park also made the comment about “whiteness at large” while explaining that she did not want the discussion of “oppressiveness” narrowed down and confined to either “The Colbert Report” or the particular joke that led to the #CancelColbert campaign. In other words, Colbert’s joke was not an isolated incident, and certainly such use of language is not only confined to Colbert. One can only guess that Pazienza believes that it was reasonable for Gupta to ask the question of whether it was Colbert’s TV show as a whole, or just one joke by Colbert, that was “oppressive,” and that that Park could have answered in any way that Pazienza would have found acceptable.
The next excerpt involves Park responding to a question about what she wants out of her “revolution,” which ends with Park asking for the question to be repeated because she was “distracted” by “a bird outside my window.” Pazienza labels this “the best Millennial-ADD moment or affected impression of an ADD-moment…you could possibly imagine.” For the time being, I’ll leave off any detailed discussion of the politics of using a diagnosable mental illness as an insult, and just ask what the hell is a “Millennial-ADD moment” or an “ADD-moment” at all?
Perhaps the more interesting question, though, is why, in an interview allegedly “edited for clarity and length,” the Salon.com editors thought there was some legitimate reason to include Park’s comment about being distracted, especially given that the editors set the sentence on it’s own—which they did not do with any other sentence in the interview. So, it appears that the editors deliberately set the particular sentence apart in such a fashion in order to call attention to it so they could paint Park as a flake. Or does Salon.com routinely print such comments in interviews? It seems impossible that Park was the first person ever in the history of Salon.com to get distracted during a phone interview and to ask for a question to be repeated. Yet Pazienza mocks Park for losing her train of thought, as if it is evidence of mental illness or some deep character flaw.
Pazienza goes on to accuse Park of “staggering narcissism” and “putting her work writing Twitter hashtags on the same level as civil rights pioneers who truly put their lives and futures on the line to advance noble causes.” And maybe it would have been pretty narcissistic for Park to put her work on the same level as civil rights pioneers, if she had, in fact, done that. But what she actually said is that “white America” has repeatedly asked people of color to be “reasonable” if they want white America to support them, and that “big historical figures in racial justice were never reasonable” and were “painted as crazy.” Park may be positioning herself in a historical pattern (a positioning which Pazienza inadvertently validates by accusing Park of being unreaonable and unstable), but she didn’t say anything like ‘my #CancelColbert campaign is set to eclipse MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech in terms of civil rights milestones’—although Pazienza implies Park has committed some such blasphemy.
One might also note that, on the matter of placing one’s life and future on the line, Park has received numerous death threats, rape threats, and been hit with a barrage of exceedingly offensive sexist and racist insults because she criticized something that her detractors have repeatedly characterized as “just a joke.” The threats, as Park notes in the interview, led to the necessary cancellation of some of Park’s public appearances due to safety concerns. I hope Pazienza thinks trolls who threaten rape and murder are a real problem, and wish that the existence of such trolls and threats would have provoked a more powerful response from Pazienza than his statement that Park “doesn’t deserve to be threatened” and that nobody should mock her for her “background or gender.” He does say, though, that Park should be mocked for her “deeply absurd opinions” which are “deserving of every bit of ridicule and derision that’s been heaped on them”–an argument that would hold more water if Pazienza showed any ability to articulate what those opinions actually are. One can only guess that Pazienza’s failure to examine Park’s arguments slips over into a failure to really consider the damage done by trolls who think nothing of engaging in assaultive behavior via Internet, and his unfortunate choice of diction leaves open the question of who Pazienza believes is actually deserving of threats.
Pazienza goes on to get offended that Park answers in the affirmative in response to the question of whether “white men are sort of the enemy.” Oh, Lord, what atrocities will she commit next? Why, she might even say that she thinks white men should acknowledge that they have a privileged position in society!! ¡Qué horror!
Of course, Pazienza fixates on the “enemy” word, instead of on the idea that maybe white guys should acknowledge that they have privilege in society. He says “there’s nothing wrong with” acknowledging white privilege (although he uses a whole a lot of words to cushion the blow of this devastating concept), and only utters it after complaining about Park’s “youthful moral certitude” and “black and white” thinking. Apparently in Pazienza’s world, “sort of” and “acknowledging white privilege” are words and concepts associated with all-or-nothing thinking. Pazienza then lobs accusations that Park, by making statements acknowledging white privilege and labeling white men as “sort of” enemies, while at the same time failing to point to the accomplishments of white allies, is “unbelievably childish” and “shockingly stupid and counterproductive.”
So, once again, we are treated to the finger-pointing tantrum of somebody falling miserably short of understanding the perspective of someone other than himself, or even trying to understand it. Pazienza says Park’s perspective is about “incremental but important positive changes not being enough for those who believe it’s all or nothing.” And, not to draw the MLK-Park connection, but what was all that stuff in that Birmingham jail letter thingy about ‘how long are we supposed to wait for white people to achieve the ability to be comfortable enough for real equality with people of color?’
Yes, Pazienza thinks Park, who he summarily dismisses as ridiculous, is in the wrong for lacking the maturity to acknowledge all the amazing things white people have done for people of color in the context of an interview regarding the problem of using racist terminology in comedy.
So, Pazienza accuses Park of alienating allies and potential allies by using hyperbole, when Park’s initial point was that Colbert’s use of (particular forms) of hyperbole is (potentially) alienating to people of color. But, again, in Pazienza’s view, it is up to Park to be conciliatory and to have the right tone, not Colbert. Strangely enough, this pressure for people of color to “behave” so that (white) people understand their good intentions and may just decide to help them to become equals with whites, while white people can say what they want and expect/demand to be understood (by people of color AND white people), is exactly what Park spends much of the interview explaining.
Pazienza goes on to accuse Park of not caring about Native Americans because (in his view) she made herself the focus of Colbert’s joke about Dan Snyder’s ignorantly-named Redskins society, instead of just letting Colbert’s audience laugh at Colbert’s joke and return to doing nothing about the issue of racist team names/team mascots. Never mind that it was Pazienza and his ilk that turned the spotlight on Park and her personal flaws rather than having an actual discussion about Park’s criticism of racist jokes being used to criticize racism. Pazienza, like his pouty brethren, ignores the fact that Park has been involved in other “hashtag activism” campaigns in relation to the issue of racist mascots. After all, it’s much easier to say Park is all about herself than to acknowledge anything she has done that might go against the ludicrous narrative that Park ruined everything that Colbert was fighting for—y’know, because his original joke was aimed at making sure people pushed Snyder to change the name of the football team he owns.
Pazienza can’t resist tacking on the whiny white-guy complaint that Park would invalidate his opinion simply because he’s a white guy, and then asserts that just because he is white doesn’t give Park a pass from criticism. Okay, but if you’re going to say Park is deserving of criticism, how about addressing the ideas Park raises instead of just getting angry and defensive, and spouting a bunch of bullshit that doesn’t even touch on said ideas? I mean, really, what part of Pazienza’s argument is Park supposed to validate? The part where he accuses her of seeking attention, or the part where he explains that he has no cogent argument to make?
I’ll grant Pazienza that Park can ramble, and that she uses a lot of language that is common to social justice theory, but perhaps not so accessible to mainstream America. But to say that Park’s form of activism is so off-putting that it is going to turn away people who were otherwise right on the cusp of casting off their white privilege, is to give far too much credit to people who don’t already recognize the problem, and to place far too much blame on Park.
Then again, I’m guessing Pazienza recognizes that there is some underlying truth to a lot of what Park says. And if he were to actually attack her arguments, he would put himself in a bad position of having to side with the people who deny white privilege exists and who argue that racial slurs are okay so long as they are in the right context–as defined by white people. So, Pazienza attacks Park’s character, and the way Park presents her information, rather than actually taking on the challenge of meeting her arguments in a more direct fashion. Because, in the end, all he really says is ‘I don’t like her,’ and ‘She’s being too confrontational’—which are points that really don’t amount to anything except the same old white guy crap, where everybody needs to quit being so sensitive, until the “jokes” and criticism get aimed at the white guys, at which point excessive sensitivity is magically transformed into a concern with civility and the need for people to behave like reasonable adults instead of calling names and using angry language. It is the assertion that demanding that others “get over it” while insisting “you need to understand me” is the exclusive domain of white guys.
And while Pazienza bemoans all the terrible, exhausting work it took him to read Park’s interview, I can’t imagine the trauma he would have been put through if he had actually taken the time to try to understand it and respond to it in some way that wasn’t totally reactionary. After all, calling your adversary ‘immature’ while you stamp your feet, shake your fists, and hold your breath, is not exactly a good strategy for proving your point. Neither is trying to claim that a bunch of people of varying races and genders agree with you by linking to their posts—some of which don’t really show all that strong of an agreement with you, and most of which take the same, childish ignore-the-argument-attack-the-arguer stance—which Pazienza does at the end of the article, right before he suggests that Pazienza talking about Park was Park’s end goal. So, now, who’s the narcissist?