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Where do we draw the line between satirizing something and causing intentional offense?

1 min read

The subject of this article is very similar to the subject of my first essay, where I discussed the subtle differences between a satirical cartoon that may not be too offensive and a completely offensive image that no one in their right minds would like. The author of this article, Ishmael N. Daro, condemns many of Charlie Hebdo's cartoons as highly offensive to Muhammed, the primary deity in Islam, and claims that the shootings have made such cartoons even more prominent. Those that would have normally deemed such cartoons as in poor taste have begun to flaunt them and present them, no doubt in defiance of the shooters, but such an increase in presentation has a negative effect on Muslims everywhere. Images such as this: 

 

and this: 

are undoubtedly offensive to Muslims. As a result, we must remember that the shootings and most Islam-based terrorist attacks are perpetrated by an extremely small percentage of the Muslim population. In the same vein, such offensive cartoons are created and distributed by a very small percentage of news outlets, and we must therefore be careful not to adopt what were previously outliers into our normal distribution. 

Who is Paul McCartney?

2 min read

When Kanye West published his new song "Only One" on New Year's Day, apparently some people thought that the accompanying artist(who played the keyboard in the song) was a fresh new talent that would soon experience success for having been in a song with Kanye West. That "fresh new talent" was actually Paul McCartney, the (supposedly) world famous member of the Beatles. The author of this article argues that not knowing of the Beatles is okay. If you were raised in a family that listened to nothing but 17th century classical music, can you be blamed for never having heard of the Beatles? However, while the article was interesting, it was a comment in response to the article that really caught my attention: Steven Acker responded with: 

"Ask these young people if they know what the Civil War was or, for that matter, why America fought in World War II. Ask them to define socialism or communism. Ask them who their congressmen are. Ask them who wrote the Declaration of Independence and why. Ask them to describe the Bill of Rights. MOST OF THEM WON'T HAVE A CLUE. They won't know who Gershwin was, or Picasso, or even Mark Twain, let alone Paul McCartney. As very well-written as this article may be, its writer is missing the Big Picture entirely."

I thought that this comment was a bit unfair. While It is true that some young people may not know about all of these things, most of the aforementioned things are taught as part of a general education curriculum in middle and high school. I can distinctly remember learning about the Civil War, communism, socialism, and the birth of our country in my American History class, among other things. On the flip side of the coin, it is probably true that just as many adults cannot describe these things in the same way that some young people cannot. 

Cis-gender hecklers and "Generation Wuss"

2 min read

"I F*cking Hate @RuPaul" is an article that describes the actions of trans-gender "journalists", or, as the author describes them, hecklers. After reading this article and seeing this image:

which is a tweet by a trans-gender "journalist", I have to say, I can understand where the author is coming from. These online hecklers aptly described as "generation wuss" are easily offended, highly argumentative, and try far too hard to be politically correct all the time and become very offended when others do not. 

Nevertheless, transgender members of society do possess the same right to free speech as all other members of society do, it just so happens that certain groups may be more vocal than others. This article reminded me of a Key and Peele skit that I watched on homophobia in the office:Key and Peele: Office Homophobia

In the skit, a gay man continues to annoy his co-worker while he is attempting to work. When his co-worker asks him to stop, the gay man accuses his co-worker of homophobia. He continues to badger his co-worker about homophobia, but at the end, it turns out that his co-worker has a boyfriend, and he says "I'm not persecuted. I'm just an asshole." It reminded me of the fact that when people decide to take advantage of a history of persecution, they just become assholes.

Student who mocked white males out as president

2 min read

http://www.cnn.com/2014/07/03/living/maya-peterson-prep-school-instagram/

I was at first hesitant to talk about this, because this article is about an incident that took place in my own high school. Nonetheless, it is a topic that I feel rather strongly about and definitely an issue relating to taste.

This article discusses the stepping down of Maya Peterson from student body president last spring. Maya was in my grade, and I have known her since 2010. Here are the few opening paragraphs of the CNN article regarding this:

Money, prestige and race are front and center in an ongoing controversy surrounding one of the most expensive prep schools in the country and its former student-body president.

Maya Peterson was the first black female student president of The Lawrenceville School, an affluent academy for boarding and day students located in New Jersey.

This March, after Peterson mocked her white male classmates on Instagram, she claims she was asked to step down or face disciplinary action.

According to reports, Peterson took the first option and resigned under administrative pressure.

The obvious taste in question is Maya's instagram photo. Maya had posted an instagram photo of herself in stereotypical preppy (male) clothing and a hockey stick with hashtags such as which offended many students and caused a rather heated debate on campus. Some considered an act of reverse-racism and others stood by Maya.

In an interview, Maya expressed her view on the tastefulness of her post: "I understand why I hurt people's feelings, but I didn't become president to make sure rich white guys had more representation on campus," she said. "Let's be honest. They're not the ones that feel uncomfortable here."

My opinions of this event have less to do with the tastefulness of the post, but about the way online publications displayed the event. Most publications framed Maya's stepping down as a very tasteless decision on the school administration's part by providing only a part of the story. For me, seeing my school go through this showed me how large of an impact delivery can have on how others take in information. 

“I F*cking Hate @RuPaul”

2 min read

http://boingboing.net/2014/04/04/rupaul.html

This article is a rather dense and heavy article regarding the split between transgenders and drags. Trans-activist Andrea James talks about her viewpoint on drag culture and the use of taboo words in the trans culture. The article is really about hating slurs/behaviors that are offensive to transgender people rather than about RuPaul who is an American drag queen, actor, and author. In fact, the author explicitly claims, "For the record, I don't fucking hate @RuPaul. I've respected and admired Ru for a quarter century."

What I found more interesting, however, was the response of other transgender women to Jame's article: Open Letter: 350+ Trans Women and Transfeminine People Stand Against Calpernia Addams and Andrea James found here: http://freethoughtblogs.com/zinniajones/2014/04/open-letter-100-trans-women-stand-against-calpernia-addams-and-andrea-james/

Here, trans women stand up and express their discontent of being represented in a way they don't agree with. They state on the letter that they were "appalled at recent attacks on trans woman journalist Parker Marie Molloy published by Calpernia Addams and Andrea James on the Huffington Post and Boing Boing."The trans women who signed this letter have been offended by James' oversimplification of their sexualities and personalities. They conclude with their wishes that Calpernia Addams (who is also a transgender activist) and Andrea discontinue "publishing further columns exhibiting this variety of homophobia, transphobia, transmisogyny, misgendering, ageism, and unwarranted hostility toward other trans women" and that publications do not offer them opportunities/spaces to do so. They close with the powerful line: "We reject Calpernia Addams and Andrea James as voices of our community."

The Cost of Relativism - NYTimes.com

But it’s increasingly clear that sympathy is not enough. It’s not only money and better policy that are missing in these circles; it’s norms. The health of society is primarily determined by the habits and virtues of its citizens. In many parts of America there are no minimally agreed upon standards for what it means to be a father. There are no basic codes and rules woven into daily life, which people can absorb unconsciously and follow automatically.

Reintroducing norms will require, first, a moral vocabulary. These norms weren’t destroyed because of people with bad values. They were destroyed by a plague of nonjudgmentalism, which refused to assert that one way of behaving was better than another. People got out of the habit of setting standards or understanding how they were set.

Loitering for Change

2 min read

http://penguinrandomhouse.ca/hazlitt/feature/unlikely-brilliance-loiter-squad

This article discusses the perceived comedy brilliance contained within the total absurdity of the sketches on the Adult Swim show Loiter Squad. The author is very supportive of the show and even compares it to the comedy brilliance of Richard Pryor and Chappelle's Show. Loiter Squad is a 15-minute show that contains various sketches mashed up between random animations and cut scenes. It was created by the rap group Odd Future, who has a history of pushing the envelope with controversial topics and lyrics contained within their songs. At first glance, the show may look childish and completely pointless, but underlying the oddities presented is true commentary on race relations and racial stereotypes.

The article describes a sketch from the show where two of the main characters act as cops reporting to the scene of a domestic dispute. This dispute ends up being between two inflatable wind-dancers (as seen below). One of the cops then shoots one of the wind dancers and promptly plants a knife utensil on the "body," claiming that the dancer had it on him the whole time. The presence of wind dancers alone makes this scene funny, but you can easily see that there is something more at play, as the characters seem to be commenting on police relations as well as domestic violence.

Comedy here plays an important part in the show because it masks topics that could be very offensive to some viewers. At the same time, the author also talks about the fearlessness of the creators of the show because they create their sketches more for themselves than for an audience. Instead of having to pander to a white viewership like many shows on television right now, they don't care who watches their show.

In a way, I think this show may be avant-garde because the creators are not caught up in making something likeable more so than they are trying to make something that coincides with their sense of humor. While their show is ridiculous, they are breaking down barriers and really getting into the underlinings of race in our culture. Maybe it takes craziness to really talk about the real craziness that warps our own society. However, some of their sketches may be a little too crazy:

#BringOurGirlsBack--Adding to the Cause

3 min read

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2630264/Another-poster-said-Seriously-Do-know-means-This-isnt-just-photoshoot-These-girls-kidnapped-decided-half-t-How-mature-you.html

The campaign is the worldwide response to the abduction of 276 Nigerian School girls by Boko Haram, a militant Islamic extremist faction. Model and Sports Illustrated Cover model in 2007 and 2011, Irina Shayk joined the ranks of Anne Hathaway, Michelle Obama and Amy Poehler with her addition to the pictures, only she did it a little differently.

 

 

Posing topless with only the paper brandishing the hashtag covering up her breasts, Irina Shayk expressed her solidarity.

 

Her good intentions were met with scathing criticism.  

Some claimed she posted the picture to turn the attention on herself. One person commented “Seriously? Do you even know what that means?” Another poster said, “This isn't just another photoshoot. These girls were kidnapped and you decided to show half your t***? How mature of you...!”

Admittedly, her pictures did not seem to fit the nature of the cause. For me, it’s quite bizarre to see someone unclothed advocating such a serious cause.

This uneasiness felt by me and the quick accusations of others raise more important questions about the nature of our society. Why is it that we are made so uncomfortable by nudity? Is Shayk’s nudity representative of feminine power or is she succumbing to the patriarchal norms of our society in order to bring attention to or even herself?

Another person commented, “This is exactly the justification terrorists are probably using to prevent women from receiving "western education.” Perhaps, Shayk was attempting the opposite.  By demonstrating that it is “ok” to pose nude on public social media in Western society, Shayk brings the shortcomings of a society that is extremely misogynistic to light. This maybe going too far, but perhaps Shayk attempts to say that in society where men and women aren’t segregated by their sex that atrocities such as the abduction would occur less frequently or not at all.

Then again, Shayk may have been completely misguided in her decision to post semi-nude photos with the hashtag Bring Our Girls Back.

 

Regardless of the cause or the meaning behind it, over six months have passes and the Nigerian girls remain separated from their families and homes. Media attention has turned away from this atrocity rendering the scathing comments null and inconsequential. At the end of the day, the Nigerian girls need to get home and in the long run, no one should really care whether or not someone posted a risqué photo attempting to contribute to the cause. 

Islamic Extremism or Violent Extremism

2 min read

In the recent summit regarding the conflict in the Middle East, Obama refrained from using the term “Islamic Extremism.” A heated debate concerning the reasoning and efficacy of this choice ensued. Obama has stated that the Islam practiced by extremists is a “perversion” of true Islam and calling the extremists “Islamic extremists” grants them legitimacy. According to Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor, “They need for this to be a war between the United States and Islam, for people to believe that they are religious figures and not just terrorists.” If this is a war against the West and Islam as a religion, then Muslims in the west might feel attacked and may have trouble aligning with America. Additionally, assigning a religion to the terrorists begets Islamic prejudice in the West. Label making brings about dangerous broad generalizations as not all Muslims believe in the destruction of America and the West.

 

Those in disagreement with Obama state the importance of “calling a spade a spade.” Though it is possible, and not unheard of that government officials and the non-islamic population looks to discredit Islam by assigning labels that procure prejudice, the fact of the matter remains that Al-Quaida and now the Islamic State in the Middle East are Islamic organizations that derive their lifestyle, choices, and doctrine from Islamic texts. It is important for those fighting them to understand these nuances in order to deal with the threat most effectively. It is true that a history of Christian terrorists, Jewish terrorists, and other religious terrorists exist, but the threat in the Middle East today is Islamic terrorism—their interpretation of the Kuran, their life style. Obama's detractos feel that veiling this fact could prove dangerous.

Is there truly a danger in ignoring the religion of these terrorists? Are all of the terrorists truly Muslim? Would calling the threat "Violent extremists" really belie the fact that the terrorists are Muslim? Do the costs of labeling the terrorists as Muslim (such as the creation of anti-Muslim Western prejudices) outweigh the benefits of this label?
These are all important questions the administration must answer, but perhaps more importantly, the public must consider, before proceeding.

Who Spewed That Abuse? Anonymous Yik Yak App Isn’t Telling - NYTimes.com

Matt Ivester, who founded JuicyCampus in 2007 and shut it in 2009 after it became a hotbed of gossip and cruelty, is skeptical of the claim that Yik Yak does much more than allow college students to say whatever they want, publicly and with impunity. “You can pretend that it is serving an important role on college campuses, but you can’t pretend that it’s not upsetting a lot of people and doing a lot of damage,” he said. “When I started JuicyCampus, cyberbullying wasn’t even a word in our vernacular. But these guys should know better.”