John Seven: On Twitter, protestation rings hollow
It's a time-honored tactic in the arts, entertainment and other public forms -- politics, of course -- that you can make a name for yourself by challenging someone on a higher level of success than you. Lots of people in varying disciplines do it. I admit that I have done it, and it's been done to me, even recently.
Last week it took the form of "Twitter activism," which is as lazy as a protest movement can get, requiring the least amount physical effort and brain activity for the maximum reach in a micro-blogging version of Morbid Anatomy.
If you know about the #cancelcolbert Twitter protest, maybe you've heard of Suey Park, who started it. Or maybe not. Among those of you who have, I bet there's a portion who didn't know it a month ago. But more of you know it now than before. In this way, Park's campaign to protest a joke containing a racial slur has been successful -- it's made her higher profile than she was.
Park's previous claim to fame was the #notyourasiansidekick hashtag, which seemed huge on Twitter but less so in the real world. To build her cred after that Park needed something outrageous to inspire bluster in the mainstream. She decided to protest a fictional bigoted character -- this era's Archie Bunker -- for making a joke as a fictional bigoted character. The joke was made for the purpose of calling attention to actual bigotry, Dan Snyder's Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation, which, at its best, enacts a form of racial extortion -- Native Americans agree to take charity from this organization with a racial slur in its name, forcing the minority to be complicit in the racism against them.
Lots of sincere people retweeted with the hashtag and Park found herself at the center of the attention, as much as Colbert did, and much less than Snyder did. If the campaign did one thing, it disarmed Colbert's joke, for better or worse.
In some flaky interviews, a self-important Park has proclaimed that "whiteness will always be the enemy" and said that she doesn't want white people on her side. She assured one Salon interviewer that her Twitter campaign didn't shift focus away from Dan Snyder, but, "Colbert did when he chose to ruin an opportunity to make a point about racism in America by using more racism."
She also backtracked, claiming she didn't actually want to cancel Colbert, just "improve" him, but she knew "#improvecolbert" would never get passed around.
"I write a lot of comedy myself, I write scripts, I write jokes about race all the time, but I think they're supposed to make a social commentary," Park told the Salon interviewer. That statement puts her in context. She's another twentysomething trying to grab some attention in this cluttered world by piggybacking a real concern.
I certainly get the wider point of the protest and can get behind it. Colbert's schtick invokes racist terms to make white liberals feel very self-satisfied, while Park's schtick makes them squirm and questions their liberalism. But the protest was not a well-handled one. Twitter is a horrible platform for real dialogue about issues and Suey Park is the wrong messenger, coming off like a cynical opportunist.
My generation looks at Mickey Rooney in "Breakfast At Tiffany's" and half the movies Peter Sellers starred in and marvels at how far we've come. That there's an organization using the word "redskin" in its name in 2014 is completely appalling.
Go ahead, criticize or boycott Colbert for whatever reason you want. He's a famous millionaire, he can take care of himself. But so can Park. In fact, I think it's the thing she does best.