Actor/writer/storyteller Amy Salloway wrote a blog post telling the story of how a photo of her went viral and how she (or her in the glimpse of a moment captured by the candid photograph) was laughed at, fat shamed, and dehumanized in the process. She also explains the story behind the snap, and how it connects to a - not just personal - context of (fat) shaming and body negativity. I can highly recommend it: I Was Fat-Shamed When An Embarrassing Photo Of Me Went Viral.
Memes/trends like this rub me the wrong way, make me feel uneasy, precisely because we as spectators don’t know the story behind the snap. While others bawl over laughing, I oscillate between non-laughter and depression. Yes, some viral images are wonderfully hilarious (they more times than not involve cats) but sometimes the entertaining part comes from pointing and laughing at strangers, perfectly ordinary, innocent, unsuspecting - and therefore not consenting - civilians. So many people jump at the opportunity to pick on others to make themselves feel better. This is neither new nor limited to memes, but an aspect of some of the the primary structural problems of our societies.
By the way: Salloway mentions that Ellen Degeneres, new empress of daytime television and of being “kind to each other”, spread this image via her newsletter to all her fans. The most popular, powerful girl pointing out the loser on the Internet, the massive, global, relentless schoolyard. Eternal digital middle school. No matter how many cars you gift to veterans, JC Penney gift cards you hand out to poor moms, or animal videos you show: If you utilize humor based on vicarious embarrassment, finger pointing, like this, your entertainment is not kind at its core. You’re doing kind humor wrong.
In her book Feminism and Linguistic Theory Deborah Cameron makes a strong argument in the debate about eliminating sexist language:
“I do think, however, that it would be better if feminists operated with a more hard-headed, political notion of what we are trying to do. In my opinion we should be tampering with language not to tell the truth, but quite openly to shame the devil. It is disingenuous to claim that the conventions we propose are simply “better” than the traditional ones (more accurate, more precise), because really it is a question of political and ideological preferences - the traditional usage embodies one view of the world, the feminist alternative a different one, and we need to make clear that both these views are politically non-neutral. We should therefore be honest enough to defend our tampering not in terms of its purported linguistic merits, but in terms of its political utility for raising consciousness, denouncing sexism and empowering women.”
Cameron, Deborah. Feminism and Linguistic Theory. Palgrave Macmillan, 1992. p. 125
"August rain; the best of summer gone,
and the new fall not yet born.
The odd uneven time.”
- Sylvia Plath
Critics generally don’t associate Black people with ideas. They see marginal people; they see just another story about Black folks. They regard the whole thing as sociologically interesting perhaps, but very parochial. There’s a notion out in the land that there are human beings one writes about, and then there are Black people or Indians or some other marginal group. If you write about the world from that point of view, somehow it is considered lesser. We are people, not aliens. We live, we love, and we die.
Toni Morrison (via blackcontemporaryart)
Apart from being an on-point observation by the great Toni Morrison, this quote struck me as topical in two ways.
It reminded me of an interview with Saul Williams on the entertainment and pop culture podcast Studio 360. He talked with host Kurt Anderson about the early cancellation of Holler If Ya Hear Me, the musical based on the music of Tupac Shakur, axed on Broadway after just one month. He made a similar point to the quote above: A lot of the bad reviews came from critics going into the performance with preconceived notions about what a “Tupac musical” will be like, expecting some kind of 90s gangsta reenactment. Critics who focused on what was actually happening on stage gave much more favorable reviews. The culture clash that led to the early closing of the musical wasn’t on stage - Saul Williams convincingly made the argument that rap, especially narrative, story-telling rap, is a good basis for a musical play - but in the audience. Broadway audiences aren’t quite ready.
Saul Williams also argued that the theme of the musical, young Black struggle and violence, is still a current problem. That’s my second point, representation of poor, young Black life in middle-American pop culture is still rare, problematic, and desperately needed. Literally: The current events in Ferguson and their mainstream media coverage are insult and second injury to the local community, revealing deep, racist wounds in American everyday life.