A “Cancel Culture” Cautionary Tale and the Dinner Party from Hell
Welcome friends to yet another Dr Frank Weakly Reader, the week’s worth of web plus some extra.
The titular “Cancel Culture Cautionary Tale” may be found below (in the IN THE NEWS section.) If you’re tired of my banging on and on about twitter vigilantism and internet mobbery and intolerance and so forth, I quite understand and feel free to skip it. I’m rather tired of it myself. But I found I had a few more things to say, and as this is the place where I get to say such things, here is where I said them.
If egotism and self-promotion is more your bag, well, you’ve come to the right place, so read on.
These are coming up:
— Friday December 6: MTX with the Queers and the Capitalist Kids, at Three Links, 2704 Elm St, Dallas, TX, 75226. Get tix here.
— Saturday December 7: MTX with the Queers and the Capitalist Kids, at the Barracuda, 611 East 7th Street, Austin, TX 78701. Tix here.
See you there?
— Odin: the Mr T Experience — “Time to Change” live at the Stortebeker Club in Hamburg, Germany, Summer of ’92.
This (sort of) Brady Bunch cover was not, assuredly, our finest hour, but at least it provided the springboard for some interesting “minor secrets” on the difficulties of working up cover songs and making phone calls in primitive ’90s Europe and of the hidden value of imperfections in art when you do it right and make the best of them rather than trying to hide them. Or so I like to think.
The full playlist of Songs for Odin thus far posted may be found here. (Stats: this is the 93rd song, 108th entry — significant, auspicious numbers if nothing else.)
— …and your Friday morning “…Hitler…”, a.k.a. a “drunk ass Mr T Experience cover” from 40 oz Riot on bandcamp.
As this is not on YouTube, I can’t add it to my YouTube covers playlist obviously, but if you’d like to hear other such covers found on the internet you can follow that link and find some.
DR FRANK CORNER
— The DF-00: that’s the model name given to the custom acoustic by the guy who made it, Jason Ingrodi, and it looks like I’ve had it five years now. The intended dimensions were that of the classic Martin “orchestral model,” but it wound up being considerably deeper than the standard. That was a bit of a headache since there were no commercially-available cases that would fit it, meaning I had to get a custom case as well. But that’s obviously a factor in its unique sound, and in how loud it is. I wouldn’t change a thing.
I believe he made at least one other DF-00, for a local Maryland guy, same dimensions, different woods.
The picture was taken on its “maiden voyage,” which was at the the recording session for the song “King Dork Approximately” in November, 2014. Good times.
— My punk rock tape, ca. 1978: it’s a post on Medium.
— Doctor Frank Hazy IPA: Todd on Instagram tries to work some magick with beer and Show Business… From all of us here at Dr Frank Weakly Reader, here’s hoping it worked, and that you got back safely in the end.
— The History of the Concept of the Soul: my old pal Will posted this video of me playing the song on KPFA in Berkeley a few years back. This is possibly the most preposterous song concept I ever had that wound up working, but people still seem to like it thirty years later so it’s doing something right I suppose.
OTHER PEOPLE’S MUSIC
— A Little Less Conversation: this song was written by Mac Davis (with Billy Strange) reputedly for Aretha Franklin, but Elvis colonized it and made it his own. There’s a pretty great re-mix by JXL, ca. 2002, that was a big UK hit, but you can’t beat this all-compassing party scene from its original context, the 1968 film Live a Little, Love a Little:
— …and here’s Tim Minchin with “15 Minutes”:
About which, sort of, see more below. His stuff is always great but he’s rather raised the bar here I’d say.
— …and finally:
IN THE NEWS
— A “Cancel Culture” Cautionary Tale: the young reporter who went “deep background” on the Iowa beer guy and dug up his teenage tweets, only to have his own unsavory tweets dug up and thrown right back at him in retaliation, offers a confused take on the affair in the Columbia Journalism Review. (Previously noted by me here and here, scroll down to “in the news”.)
His story is nothing if not a “cancel culture” cautionary tale, an exemplar of such in fact, yet he denies there is any such thing, doggedly determined to learn nothing from the experience.
“I was not ‘canceled,’ he writes. “Gannett chose to fire me. That’s an important distinction.”
Its importance as a distinction is lost on me. Getting people fired from their jobs and deplatformed from their platforms is the usual explicit aim of the campaigns in question. His litany of online abuse is standard-issue. Seems like a classic case, the system working as intended. The fact that this guy’s offensive tweets were dug up by the wrong sort of people (not by the virtuous “woke” working for the revolution, but rather by those angered by such tactics being used against an innocuous local hero, seeking turnabout as fair play) only underscores the dangers inherent in the unsavory practice itself, surely. The internet’s instant spigot of personal and professional chaos can be turned on anyone and everyone, indiscriminately, deserving or not, social-justicey or not; and being mobbed and threatened online is just as unpleasant and terrifying for the allegedly good and pure as it is for the allegedly demonic. You turn it on them, they’ll turn it right back on you. Everybody loses. It doesn’t seem like such a good idea.
There’s an underlying moral hierarchy of behavior, status, and motive here that’s hard to see unless you’re a committed believer, I suppose: the weaponization of teenage tweets is righteous, therapeutic, and “nuanced” against some targets, “disingenuous” and ill-willed against others. It depends on the purity of intention, ideological and subcultural affiliation, and irreproachability of “standpoint.”
But outside of the four corners of the “woke” passion play, it all seems much of a muchness. No one in this scenario should have been “cancelled,” or fired. This reporter objects to his own professional immolation but as an idealogue he cannot bring himself to draw the larger lesson, obvious to just about anyone, which goes: trying to wreck someone’s gig via offensive keyword searches and weaponized teenage tweets is a bad thing, whoever may be doing it. If it can happen to this beer guy and the reporter who reported on him, it can happen to anyone. Which ought to give people like the reporter pause, at least, concerning the wisdom of such tactics. Absurdly, it does not seem to have done so.
I suppose it’s a matter of a true believer falling on his sword, or a captain going down with his ship. The term “cognitive dissonance” is over- and mis-used these days, but this does seem to be a genuine case of it. To prove there is no such thing as an auto-da-fé, one must say a prayer and go resignedly into the flames.
Much of the rhetorical energy in defense of the tactics and behaviors under consideration devotes itself to criticizing the aptness of the term that describes it, leaving the substance of the matter barely touched (and, effectively, defending it by default in the same breath as the denial of its existence.) This is quite a strange way to go about things, though such argument via battling euphemisms is certainly nothing new in our Puritan-founded society. In a way it’s similar to another thing I’ve complained about, the “I’m for free speech, but…” / “speech has consequences” line: many nominal supporters of free speech still want to reserve for themselves the option of stamping out free expression if it starts to get really out of hand. (As to who is to decide when and upon what, and upon whom, to initiate the clampdown, they are in no doubt: it is they themselves, the good people, who, by definition, can never be wrong and who, quite mysteriously, are presumed destined to retain control of this power to silence others as a matter of permanent inevitability. It is an old, indeed an ancient, authoritarian conceit, and one that carries considerable personal risk to participants, as today’s orthodoxy can well become tomorrow’s heresy. The revolution eating its children and all that.)
I’ve described this as an “end run around tolerance.” And it is, quite clearly, not free speech, nor tolerance, but rather their opposite. Liberal pretensions and liberal-sounding rhetoric mask an underlying authoritarian illiberality. Similarly, we have twitter vigilantism, which isn’t, quite, a good look, but which can certainly come in handy. “Cancel culture” does not exist, oh no, it is a mere fallacy: but despite this non-existence, it can be useful, and one might as well tacitly reserve the right to use it— so goes the implicit line of topsy-turvy reasoning and plausible deniability.
But of course, it doesn’t matter what you call it, this now rather firmly established institution of online therapeutic vigilantism, this virtual nation of snitches, this Planet of Cops, this cycle of almost ritual denunciation and excommunication. Whatever you call it, it is a destructive dynamic that has made our world less tolerant, more dangerous, and still worse, dumber.
Kat Rosenfield, in a perceptive piece in Tablet a couple weeks back, paints an evocative picture:
To me, the current dynamic is … evocative of an Agatha Christie-style dinner party where all the guests are being blackmailed — or killed off one by one as punishment for their sins. Once the terrifying truth is acknowledged (“One of us in this very room is in fact the murderer!”) the only safe strategy is to trust no one, and the bodies keep piling up. It doesn’t matter that most people are willing to live and let live; it only takes one busy, tunneling mole to weaken our social structures to the point of collapse.
The reporter says he bore no ill-will for the beer-drinking philanthropist and I don’t doubt it for a moment. Nor do I believe that he meant him any harm in any deliberate way, naive though that might have been given the nature of the project in which he was engaged, which is inherently, essentially, harmful. (I mean, what did he think was going to happen, if not harm?) The problem here is in a sense somewhat deeper than personal feelings and the ethics of just being a decent enough guy, though at the same time it’s also rather superficial and banal. Simply put, stirring up this kind of controversy and agitation was explicitly what he was hired by his paper to do: in his words, he was engaged, as a “trending news reporter,” to “write about viral news… and to frame stories in ways that would increase their viral potential.”
Well, what could go wrong? Given the way social media functions, the exigencies of the click-bait economy, the stubborn pathologies of human nature, and, it seems, the degeneration of journalism itself into a great big outrage click farm, quite a lot.
But that’s the way news is done these days. That’s the way everything is done. Our information infrastructure is quite literally paid for by preying upon and monetizing our all our worst proclivities, fostering antipathy, contempt, distrust, and outrage towards one another as a business model. There’s apparently enough money in this to make the wonders of the internet “free.” And even when there’s no ill will anywhere and people are “just doing their jobs” meaning no harm, even when everyone is kind and polite and well-meaning and quite prepared to absolve one another graciously of their various sins — if ever — the dinner party from hell follows its own inescapable logic and continues its awful, inevitable, destructive course. That is its nature. And sadly, we seem to be stuck with it, as “guests.”
And I’ll repeat myself: We should stop doing this. It’s a terrible way to treat each other, and a terrible way to run a world. I’m not sure what can be done about it, though it seems clear that the Trending News Reporters of the world aren’t helping. But, of course, all that said, it is not solely a matter of media economics and marketing strategies.
The surest way to work up a crusade in favor of some good cause is to promise people they will have a chance of maltreating someone. To be able to destroy with good conscience, to be able to behave badly and call your bad behavior ‘righteous indignation’ — this is the height of psychological luxury, the most delicious of moral treats.
This gets to the heart of the matter. It’s very hard to dissuade people from abusing each other in a putative good cause, simply because: people enjoy it too much. Such behavior, when unchecked as it largely is in our virtual social order, is indeed almost mechanical. We are born to it. That is, we are constituted, evolved, and designed to pursue these dark pleasures, rationalized however we choose. The rationalizations are beside the point, which is why arguing against them tends to cut very little ice.
— Steffi Grant: Kenneth Grant’s wife passed away in late October. Her art was an important feature within her husband’s highly influential syncretic, complex, and discipline-bending occultism — the Typhonian trilogies wouldn’t have been the same without it. The influence of this work on the magick and occultism of the past century would be hard to overestimate, but its sheer originality left a confused landscape with no obvious successors or easy-to-parse “next step.” Perhaps that’s fitting for an Age of Chaos. In any case, Steffi Grant’s passing really does feel like the end of an era, the slipping away of the web’s last strand. I posted Austin Osman Spare’s famous “sidereal” portrait of her. RIP.
And that’ll wrap it up for this edition of the Weakly Reader. But for those who have made it this far down the page, here’s Karen Black:
See you next time.