Friday, March 28, 2014

You really don't want to #CancelColbert.

Disclaimer: I'm speaking personally, certainly not for anyone else. I'm interested in hearing alternative critiques of comedy, satire, race, and identity, especially in the context of Stephen Colbert.

I have better things to do right now than shout into the echobox of criticism and defense of Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, DFA, First Lady of France. But as a longtime, avid fan of Colbert's satire and self-satire, I feel a bubbling of internet rage that I need to address.

This post by Jessica Wakeman summarizes the situation well, and has all the requisite video links. Colbert (in character) satirized Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins, who didn't bow to #ChangeTheName pressure, and instead "created the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation" in a somewhat pathetic attempt at appeasement through poorly-directed charity. The Colbert Report brought back a clip of the show from 2005 with Colbert's intentionally racist character Ching-Chong Ding-Dong, and modern-day Colbert, after "reporting" on Snyder's foundation, introduced the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever. As often happens, Colbert's line from the show was tweeted (and quickly deleted) by the @ColbertReport account out of context, and inspired a knee-jerk #CancelColbert campaign, arguing that progressive satire punches up (not down), and that Colbert's sketch was blatantly racist.

In addition to Wakeman's post (The Frisky) linked above, here are some other smart responses I've read to the controversy.

Alyssa Rosenberg, Washington Post
Erin Gloria Ryan, Jezebel
James Poniewozik, Time
John Aravosis, AmericaBlog

To synthesize these writers, Colbert's sketch does punch up, though on the surface, punches down. Viewed in context with the reporting on Snyder and the Redskins, Colbert is creating a (fake) charity to make up for his unabashed use of an offensive character (Ding-Dong), paralleling Snyder's refusal to alter the Redskins in name or mascot, and creation of a charity he hopes will be a hush fund. The point is that it's racist, especially when viewed out of context with the rest of the program, and Colbert's long-running character.

When you explain humor, it becomes unfunny. I know. But the reason the Colbert Report works (at least for me) is that Colbert's character makes himself look bad in order to expose hypocrisy. One of the better recent examples of Colbert doing good was in his interview with trans* activist Janet Mock, who had previously been misunderstood and misrepresented by CNN host Piers Morgan. For a < six-minute interview, Colbert does a heckuva lot to make himself look bad, elevate Mock, and show how easy re-education can be, while remaining seriously funny.

The last thing I want to do is argue that one good deed makes up for a lifetime of poor choices, but I do think that Colbert's pattern of satire shows generally good intentions, and a clawing at boundaries of acceptable behavior.

My larger feeling about this whole #CancelColbert "shitstorm" is that even if Colbert's sketch and statements were truly racist, offensive-to-all, and grounds for outrage, he still should not be canceled. Even if that were the case, The Colbert Report is a site of progress, exposure, and bullshit-calling. Humans make mistakes. When pushing boundaries, there are often occurrences of crossing them. Offer a sincere mea culpa, listen, and move on. For Colbert to be canceled would be for someone who is truly trying to leverage his privilege for good to be silenced. That truly wouldn't help anyone. He doesn't even need to explain himself; the critics have already done that work.

While I wholeheartedly support the right, privilege, and obligation for activists to speak up and explain how they are wronged by media culture, Colbert is the wrong target.

And finally, this should go without saying, but sending Suey Park death threats or other forms of abuse on twitter is not even remotely acceptable.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

My first errandonnée

I realize I need to change the name of this blog to something much more general, but I don't have the creative brainpower to do so. For now, bear with me.

I enjoyed coffeeneuring enough to get hooked on the accessible bike challenge genre. The errandonnée hosted by Chasing Mailboxes has a ton of rules, too, and lets several errands be completed in a single trip, as long as the total mileage is over 30 for the challenge. Here's how I completed it:

Day 1 3/7/14, total day's mileage=15.76

Errand #1
Category: work
Mileage: 4.84

  • Many vehicle operators of the car and motorcycle variety run red lights at the 6-way intersection just south of the Fremont bridge. I also get honked at if I refuse to run the red light, but I stand my ground, feeling vulnerable on my road bike.
  • I learned how to use this bizarre type of bike rack outside one of the libraries, under an overhang.

Errand #2
Category: bike shop (hoping the co-op counts)
Mileage: 10.9ish
  • Added cages & straps to my pedals, and learned how difficult it is to ride that way after only ever using flat pedals. Also learned how to change brake pads.
  • The Elliott Bay Trail is gorgeous at dusk on a mostly clear day
  • Bonus picture from the trip between UW and The Bikery. Seattle hills! 

Day 2, 3/8/14, 3.97 miles route 

Errand #3
Category: work (though a different work, so I'm comfortable using the work category twice so soon)
Mileage: 1.84
Observation/lesson: There's a lot of construction going on in my neighborhood, and it makes it harder to bike around.

Errand #4, QFC
Category: grocery store
Mileage: 1.47
Observation/lesson: QFC didn't have Cadbury creme eggs, which was a bummer, though good for my health/wallet. Also, I like to take pictures of my bike (even if they come out blurry). It's pretty.

Errand #5, the FedEx store
Category: store other than grocery store
Mileage: .66
Observation/lesson: If I can figure out how to get my left foot into the cage after pushing out, the cage/strap setup will work really well. The security of the cages is great, and helps for going uphill, even if it's just that my feet don't lift off the pedals all the time.

Day 3, 3/9/14

Errand #6, Pho Bac
Category: Breakfast or lunch
Mileage: 1.87
Observation/lesson: All veggie pho is magical.

Errand #7, Lake Union Park
Category: Personal Care & Health (because meditation counts!)
Mileage: 2.56
Observation/lesson: Sitting at the edge of a dock, leaning up against one's bike, and staring at a large body of water is quite wonderful.

Errand #8, Mighty-O Donuts
Category: Dessert or coffee (technically, this could have also been lunch, since donuts were my lunch--don't tell any real adults)
Mileage: from school/work, and I didn't count the to-campus mileage for this day since I had already used up the work category: 2.14
Observation/lesson: As soon as I change into pants appropriate for riding in the rain, the sun will come out. Also, it's better to ride in the sun with rain clothing than for it to constantly rain.

Errand #9, Seattle Public Library, University Branch
Category: Library!
Mileage: .91
Observation/lesson: The cherry blossoms are blooming! See how pretty they are outside the library?

Errand #10, Steelband rehearsal
Category: Community meeting
Mileage: 6.28
Observation/lesson: Playing pan, like riding a bike, is more fun when it becomes a fluid, physical motion, rather than a mental exercise.

Errand #11, the unnamed drive-thru espresso stand just south of the Fremont bridge that I pass all the time
Category: Breakfast or lunch
Mileage: 2.02
Lesson/observation: They have yummy breakfast burritos, and are very friendly.

(I actually put the burrito in my bag, and rode over to Gas Works park, and ate it there. Isn't spring the best?)

Errand #12, Lush
Category: Any store other than a grocery store
Mileage: 9.04
Lesson/observation: I learned a lot about hair and skin care and products. I could spend hundreds of dollars in that store.

Total errandonnée miles: 44.55

Woo! The funny thing about this challenge is that I would have done all of these things had there not been a challenge. It's an odd feeling logging and photographing "normal" life. Odd, in a cool way.