Archive - June, 2015

Brave New World

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 6.02.16 PMI read an article in the Washington Post last week about How Twitter upended the relationships between comedians and audiences. The story highlights Sick in the Head: Conversations about Life and Comedy by Judd Apatow which is a collection of interviews with comedians between 1983 and 2015. In part, the article states,

The earlier interviews are largely concerned with process: how a joke comes about, how a routine evolves. A frequent preoccupation in later interviews is social media, Twitter in particular. Given Apatow’s prominence on the medium (he has more than 1.2 million followers), that’s not terribly surprising. Nor is it shocking that many of his fellow comedians have embraced the opportunities provided by social media: These networks have given comedians new reach and exposed them to a wider range of opinions than ever before.

However, these new avenues have fundamentally changed the relationship between comics and their audiences. While the advantages for stand-ups who largely rely on self-promotion are obvious, the risks are equally great: Audiences’ newfound familiarity with the men on the stage and the intolerance the easily offended have for boundary-pushing work risk forever altering the workshopping process that Apatow and his subjects spend so much time discussing.

Social media has largely stifled a comedian’s ability to push the boundaries of social commentary. I shudder to think how the likes of

  • Mark Twain (“A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way”),
  • Will Rogers (“Diplomacy is the act of saying ‘Nice doggie’ until you can find a rock”),
  • Lenny Bruce (“A lot of people say to me, Why did you kill Christ? I dunno… it was one of those parties, got out of hand, you know. We killed him because he didn’t want to become a doctor, that’s why we killed him.”) and
  • Richard Pryor (“I’m for human lib, the liberation of all people, not just black people or female people or gay people.”)

would be received today.

Before the advent of social media, if you were offended by a particular comedian, you could complain to your friends about what a jerk he or she was and choose to turn off the TV when they appeared. Not so today. It’s not enough to be offended. It’s not enough to tell all your friends and followers how offended you are. No, today we live in the world of the “perpetually outraged”, and the perpetually outraged must placate their anger by publicly calling for the end of the offending party’s career.

Social media has become a minefield, and not just for comedians. Much like getting behind the wheel of a car, there’s something about the presumed anonymity the internet provides that brings out the absolute worst in people. Unlike being behind the wheel of a car, people can actually hear you when you called them stupid *&^%$+#@!% and they are inclined to call you something worse in response.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. The interwebs can be an educational, enlightening and enjoyable experience if you remember my secret of success to social media:

People don’t care what you think nearly as much as you think you do.

No really, they don’t.

You’re just going to have to trust me on this one. Unless you are a close friend of mine, I’m guessing you don’t definitively know where I stand on any number of controversial issues. That’s completely intentional on my part. Why? Because if I follow you on Twitter or have friended you on Facebook it’s because I like you and I don’t want to fight with you. I can pretty much guarantee that you and I don’t see eye to eye on everything. Furthermore, no one has ever sought me out on social media and asked me point blank where I stood on the controversial topic de’ jour.

Why? Because they don’t care. They really don’t.

“But katdish,” you say, “this is an issue that I am strongly for/against and I think it’s important that people take a stand for/against this issue!”

I get that. I respect that. As long as you don’t take a firm stand on some hot button issue and then get–as my friend Jake Lee would say–all butthurt when someone disagrees with you.

Because people WILL DISAGREE WITH YOU.

You don’t have to sell out.

You don’t have to compromise your principles.

Just be nice and don’t feed the trolls.

I’ll be right there by your virtual side

Quietly judging you…

Dwight and Jim

Doing right for the right reasons

confederate flagOn Monday, June 22, 2015, Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina called for the removal of a Confederate battle flag from the statehouse grounds. I’m sharing a portion of her speech here, but you can read the entire transcript here.

We know that bringing down the Confederate flag will not bring back the nine kind souls that were taken from us, nor rid us of the hate and bigotry that drove a monster through the doors of Mother Emmanuel that night. Some divisions are bigger than a flag. The evil we saw last Wednesday comes from a place much deeper, much darker. But we are not going to allow this symbol to divide us any longer. The fact that people are choosing to use it as a sign of hate is something we cannot stand. The fact that it causes pain to so many is enough to move it from the Capitol grounds. It is, after all, a Capitol that belongs to all of us.

There are many who will say that removing the confederate battle flag from the statehouse grounds should have been done long before now, that it should not take the racially motivated murder of nine people in a house of worship to move people to act. I would be among those people. But I don’t believe it’s too little, too late. I’d like to think it’s the first step on a very long journey.

There are others who will say that the confederate flag does not represent racism to them, but rather a sense of pride and the history of the south. I respect that. I believe that. And I’m beyond weary of the PC police decrying anything and everything remotely traditional or faith-based being offensive, sexist, racist or homophobic. I get it. I really do.

But this is different.

Much like the Swastika, which once represented good fortune and well being, it has come to represent something deeply painful for millions of people, and it’s time to move forward.

Benjamin Watson expresses the heart of the matter more eloquently than I ever could when he writes,

“Displaying the confederate flag is not inherently wrong. This is not NECESSARILY an issue on which we can take a moral stance. It is not a simple right or wrong dilemma. I understand that for some, the confederate battle flag does not evoke sentiments of racism or supremacy; it is simply a tribute to their heritage, ancestors, and homeland. For others, including the killer, it means much more and for others it is a hiding place for passive racism and group “identity.” It is without a doubt, however, a litmus test, exposing our willingness to deny our liberty, our freedom, to fly the flag of our choice, for the sake of offending our countrymen whose SHARED HERITAGE is conversely stained with death, injustice, rape, terror and inferiority.”

Mr. Watson also shares a story of being new to South Carolina and visiting a teammate’s home his sophomore year in high school. Frank, a white offensive guard on his football team had quickly befriended him, welcoming him as the new guy when others weren’t so quick to do so. Upon arriving in Frank’s bedroom, he was shocked to see a confederate flag hung above his bed. Watson explained what the flag represented to him–how painful it was. The next time he visited, the flag has been removed. Because Frank cared about their friendship, cared about Ben, he “…empathetically removed the offensive banner on my behalf and maybe for the first time heard how painful that symbol could be”.

That is a great example of an open and honest conversation with results that last a lifetime. Ben and Frank are still close friends to this day.

But what of people whose feelings, while you might not intentionally offend, offend all the same?

My parents divorced when I was 11 years old. My father quickly remarried and he and his new wife and stepdaughter moved to Southern California. This was at a time when divorce was not nearly as prevalent as it is today. Needless to say, we were all devastated. My mother was granted custody of the four of us–that was never at issue. My dad just wanted to start over. We did visit him out in California during the summer, though.

I remember enjoying the beautiful weather, ogling over all the surfer dudes and spending time with my dad. But it was also awkward. His new wife was nice to me, and his stepdaughter was pretty cool. Still, I missed my mom. I suppose I talked about her without realizing that my new stepmother didn’t want to hear all about how great my dad’s ex-wife was. In my defense, I was an 11 year old child without malicious intent. I won’t say I was happy that my dad left my mom and his four children to marry her, but I didn’t hate her. Apparently, she thought otherwise. One morning at breakfast, I was sharing a memory about some family trip we took with my dad when my stepmother began screaming at me, “Will you just SHUT UP about your mother? Do you think we flew you out here so that I could hear you go on and on about HER?” I was completely shocked. Not only did her words sting, but her accusations were, to my young mind, completely false. It never occurred to me that talking about my mom would be seen as an insult to her. I just missed my mom.

Many years later, I would come to realize that all that venom she spewed at me wasn’t just about me. She had her own doubts, insecurities and pain. Had I known then what I know now, I would not have talked about my mother when she was around.

Her and my father have been divorced for over 30 years. If I saw her today, I wouldn’t even recognize her. But if I did, I would apologize for what I did. Just because the hurt wasn’t intentional doesn’t mean I didn’t hurt her.

Now I know better.

And when we know better, we do better.

South Carolina now knows better, so they’re doing better. Not to prove or disprove a point. Not to choose winners or losers, but to come together as a community. That’s what I call doing the right thing for the right reasons.

*****

Editorial Note: I am not in any way suggesting that you don’t have the right to display a confederate flag, even if others find it offensive. Personally, I’m sick and tired of virtual strangers telling how I should feel and why. You might even display a confederate flag because it’s offensive. The First Amendment gives you that right. Others may argue that doing so equates to hate speech, but it’s not against the law to hate. As an American citizen, you have the right to free speech, even if it’s offensive. And contrary to popular belief on many college campuses these days, no where in the Constitution does it state that anyone has the inalienable right NOT to be offended. This post isn’t about politics, it’s about empathy.

Knowing how and what to feel

Charleston

I awoke Thursday morning to a news alert via email: Nine dead in Charleston, South Carolina. The shooter had not yet been apprehended, but unless you’ve been on a media sabbatical, I don’t need to elaborate any further as to who was murdered or who the murderer is.

I’ll be honest–I didn’t turn on the news. I avoided social media for much of the morning. Because I knew that this would become what it had become: a fight about what this was and what it was not. We can’t even mourn the loss of human life without it becoming a political debate. Instead I prayed for the families, the church and the city of Charleston. I just needed to wrap my head around such a senseless and despicable act.

When I did steel myself enough to venture onto Facebook, one of the first things I read was a post condemning those who had not posted anything about the events in Charleston, telling me that if I hadn’t made my opinion known via social media that clearly I “did not give a shit” about what happened to the members of Mother AME Emanuel Church. That’s just not true. Not everyone posts every thought and opinion on social media. I would argue that sometimes it’s best to think and pray (if you’re so inclined) before you share your thoughts with the rest of the world.

But then something amazing happened. Rather than granting the wishes of the evil, despicable person who perpetrated this act to “start a race war”, the people of South Carolina joined together in mourning and in prayer.

“Though they plot evil against you and devise wicked schemes, they cannot succeed.” Psalm 21:11

They acknowledged the scourge of racism while turning away those who would use this tragedy to advance their own political agendas. I have always been proud to be a Southerner, but today I’m just a little bit prouder.

Which is not to say racism isn’t still a problem in this country. It most certainly is. As a friend of mine pointed out last week, every time some racially motivated incident occurs, the first thing you hear is, “We need to have an open and honest conversation about race relations in this country”, and then we don’t. We just express our own opinions, or retweet and share those voices we agree with. That’s not a conversation. A conversation involves listening to each other.

So here I am attempting to begin an open and honest conversation about race. I read an excellent post by Deidra Riggs, who paraphrased Randy Alcorn’s book Deadline: “For black people, race is like a marinade. It is soaked into us, all of the time. We cannot escape it. It infuses everything we do. But, for white people, race is like a condiment, If you want to deal with, you can. But if you don’t want to, you don’t have to.”

I do not know now or will I ever know what it means to be black. Although I do know what it’s like to feel less than. I was born in 1965 to a white father and a Japanese mother in Virginia. My early elementary school years were spent at a public school in Charlotte, North Carolina, and while there were probably close to an equal number of black and white children at that school, the only faces that looked like mine were my siblings. I had friends. I didn’t identify them by their race, but I’m guessing my friends’ parents identified me as “the Chinese looking girl”. (As I said before, I’m half Japanese. But in the early 70’s, it was my experience that whites assumed Asian countries of origin were interchangeable for the purposes of describing physical attributes.) We did not talk about Japanese culture in our home nor did we eat Japanese food. We all just did our best to fit in with everyone else, with varying degrees of success.

But I’m not white. Legally speaking, I can choose to identify as either white or Asian/Pacific Islander, but I am not white. As so succinctly described in the above description of what it’s like to be a person of color, my heritage is soaked into me.

Here’s how I know that to be true: I cannot watch any war movies about Vietnam or World War II that depict the deaths of Asians. The famous black and white photo of the naked girl running in terror as her village is being bombed by Napalm? It rips my heart out just thinking about it. I have a knot in my stomach as I type these words. Not because I think Asian lives are somehow more valuable or sacred than other races–ALL lives are sacred.

No, it hurts because it’s personal. It hurts because she looks like me.

Am I correct to assume that even though the deaths of Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., Rev. Sharonda Singleton, and Myra Thompson are heartbreaking, that if your face looks like theirs, your heart breaks more?

I’m not saying any of this to be provocative. I’m trying to start an honest conversation. I need to acknowledge my own biases–not against anyone else, but for the people with whom I identify. I’ve shared this clip before, but I think it speaks to what we’re facing. I would like to face it together as a community acknowledging our differences while finding common ground.