Monday, March 5, 2012

The Orders Came To Cut Them Down.

Alright, today I'm going to do something a little unusual. I'm going to weigh in on the Yumi Stynes affair. Not because I give a flying fuck about The Circle, the guy who she was talking about, or Yumi herself. But because I do give a fuck about our ability as a society to criticize each other.

A long time ago, when this blog was still about music, I said some nasty things about a terrible band I'd seen. It caused a little bit of localized outrage, with a number of folks jumping to the band's defence. The overarching theme of this defence, however, seemed to be that the band was made up of good dudes. This was a very confusing point to bring up, as I hadn't mentioned the quality of the dudes at all. Just the fact that they were making terrible music. Somehow, folks had assumed that because I thought the band were terrible, the people were terrible too. The idea that I had only criticized the music - and that a person could be both a good person and a terrible musician - was anathema.

As someone who is a staunch adherent to Marx's idea of the dialectic - where opposing ideas clash, debate, then figure out which one is best - I find this an appalling proposition (which, incidentally, is how I find most of Marx's other theories, especially when he starts talking about the dictatorship of the proletariat, in which most serious Marxists seem to include themselves). Criticism of ideas is how we move forward as a society. But if criticism of an idea is equal to criticism of a person, well, we're a society in trouble. We might be moving forward, but ain't none of us going to get along.

What folks don't seem to be able to comprehend is that there is an important difference between the two. I guess this is in part due to the internet, because it always is. On the internet we only know each other through the opinions that we present, so what should only ever represent the part ends up representing the whole. So if I present ideas that folks disagree with, I'm a bona fide dickhead, rather than just a guy with an idea you disagree with. It's much easier to define me that way, you know?

Yumi Stynes obviously hadn't received the memo that the internet (and the media in general) had defined Ben Roberts-Smith as a hero, and that it was impossible that he could be anything else. And that's how the responses have come: That Roberts-Smith has done so much for this country, and Stynes hasn't done anything; That Roberts-Smith is saving lives and Stynes is a brainless moron. Sure, she didn't have any evidence. Sure, she was just trying to be funny. But the thing is, Stynes never suggested that Roberts-Smith wasn't a hero. She never suggested that he hadn't saved lives, or that he shouldn't be commended for doing so. Nor did she ever dare suggest that the guy didn't have a banging body. All she suggested was that he wasn't that bright. In this discussion, everything else is irrelevant.

The outrage regarding Stynes suggests two disturbing things. The first is that if heroic people can't be dumb, then dumb people can't be heroic, which must be devastating for them. The second is that once you do something heroic, you are forever beyond reproach. Which must be fucking fantastic for them.

It is, of course, possible for heroic people to be stupid, because people can be more than one thing, despite what internet messageboards and newspaper comments sections may project. I don't know how smart Ben Roberts-Smith is, but if some TV personality suggests he might be stupid, then perhaps we should be engaging her on the idea, rather than talking about things that have no relevance to the debate whatsoever.

This has bearing on the blog, of course. I spend a lot of time criticizing people for being sexist, racist and homophobic, as well as suggesting that folks are lazy, ignorant and naive. But I also believe this about pretty much everyone in the whole entire world: That people are good, and that they are prepared to work on their shit. If I suggest something you're doing is racist, it's easy for you to call me a fucking idiot blogger and brush it off, then refuse to have anything to do with me thereafter. But if you have a think about it, discuss it with me - email address above - and then try to figure something out, well, then we'll all be better off. Or even if you just think about it, figure out why you're happy with your own shit, then brush it off, then we'll all be better off.


Dave said...

Well said Brendan.

One of the problems today is that, with the advent of the 24-hour news cycle; the introduction of readers' comments on news articles; and the focus on increasing web page hits to sustain advertising dollars, actual journalism is becoming increasingly hard to find. In its place what we have is talk-back radio in print form. And we're much the poorer for it.

Jimmy said...

I like this argument Brendan.

It's amazing how momentum created by the media and online sniping has turned the debate into an attack on Yumi.

Not George mind, I mean he should know better because he's a "journalist"...but that Yumi....string her up, abuse her...I just don't get where all the hatred comes from.

Keir said...

I think it was summed up best by Ben who was surprised by the comments but not particularly concerned. I suppose if you have the fortitude to win a VC then you probably aren't going to be concerned about comments from someone that hosts some lightweight show interspersed with infomercials.

nat said...

fuck this issue is dumb. i think you're kinda wrong on the equivalency of your situation though.
1. Stynes wasn't presenting a criticism of him as a person based on his character or anything that he had said. She was making some lame, meant-to-be-funny, generalised observations about his intellect based on some photos (which is fine - we all say lame shit in an attempt to get a laugh every now and then - unfortunately for her, she just happened to do it on tv). That's not really an "idea" or an "opinion" is it.

In your situation, it would have been equivalent to you saying you hated the band or thought their music was 'dumb" because of a photo of the band on their album. And this is all cool. We make stupid comments like this all the time - and really people don't really take OFFENCE (the soldier guy said he wasn't offended even). However, if you do say dumb superficial shit like this you have to be prepared for people to call you out and say, "hey, what you said was dumb shit and based on nothing and maybe you shouldn't say it on tv, or do say it, just wear the consequences."

As for the hero stuff - i don't think the majority of people are so stupid to think a hero can't also be a dick - but in this case there was just no evidence of him actually being a dick. He hadn't said or done anything other than have a pic taken of him looking fucking buff. I think people were just saying, "hey that was a bit of a dumb generalisation to make about a PERSON, none of us know the guy but based on some superficial shit, he seems like a pretty stand up dude." The hero/war stuff was just a shortcut for people to be able to personify the dude.

but yeah, lots of hatred towards Stynes (which i think is the more interesting aspect of this) and OFFENCE, which as you know, I think is BULLSHIT.
man i hate commenting on blogs.

CM said...

I think you give Negus and Stynes too much credit. Crude, unfounded and derogatory comments about someone's sexual performance have no place in public discourse (fn1). You don't get to slander someone's intelligence or status as sexual beings based on how they look. That is just bullshit. It's not an idea that you engage with. It's filthy despicable.

I don't support vilifying Stynes and I think she has got much more blowback than Negus because she is a non-white woman. Which also sucks.

But I think we can say the criticism of Stynes is overblown and inappropriate without defending the comments she and Negus made.

Cam McKenzie said...

I forgot my footnote. After (fn1) I had meant to create an exception for Rush Limbaugh. Sexually derogate that guy all you like.