Tuesday, June 11, 2013

After Dark, June 11, 2013

A Fool Rushing In
Do we belong in all controversies?
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

Thoughts about this issue have been rolling around in my head - hard - for two weeks. But as they rolled it occurred to me that I have been battling with these ideas for a very long time: do all people get to participate in all discussions?

Here's a f'rinstance... When I was a very young man I was in a study group on pornography with a bunch of women. We all called ourselves feminists and porn got a very broad definition indeed among us. We crossed swords with men, yes, but also women and even women who called themselves feminists and who were concerned about censorship. As a Gay man (still in the closet, needless to say) I started to wonder if the issue of censorship v. porn had anything whatsoever to do with me. (Our group didn't even touch on Gay porn...) Moreover, one of those feminists won me over with her censorship arguments and I realized that censorship (mostly expressed as the will of the state and not of the people) will almost always be turned against the underclass and minorities (ethnic or sexual, for instance) to control both expression and dissent.

Is any of this any of my business?

That there are no clear solutions to some problems came back to me this month on the issue of blackface. I am one of those people who instinctively cringes when I see any white in dark makeup. Even during the gem, Tropic Thunder, I had a lot of trouble coping with the insanely funny arrogance of the Robert Downey character and his bone-headed exercise in "acting". Moreover, though I was mesmerized by Olivier in Othello, I now have trouble with just images from the performance.

In Quebec, during our comedy awards, the host presented a film where he imitated Quebec comedians, including black comic Boucar Diouf. Now here's the thing: anglophone blacks went ballistic, while Diouf himself defended the comic in an editorial (in French). Then Diouf himself got pilloried with a variety of expressions including, to put it politely, "house servant." (Read a pretty terrific article/op-ed by colleague Peter Wheeland here.)

Anglos, who clearly didn't know him, forgot two things about Diouf and his response: he's from Africa; he's one of the most decent men around (and almost wept as he spoke of how he was treated in the furor). 

Is any of this any of my business? 

Well, all of it is. However, when it comes to the more "specific" and tangential discussions about free speech which feed into the broad picture, the right-thinking should remove themselves. We must, however, enable those discussions, learn from them, and do what we can with the information. 

We must also, as people who care about art, understand the difference between ignorance and gaucheness (and call it out without hysteria), and political or societal comment. In that second light - the light which actually illuminates our darknesses - very little is taboo. Jokes will be made about rape. Blackface will be used. Muslims, Jews and Christians will be mocked. Gays will be called faggots. 

But here is the other thing - and even Diouf admits he learned this (though the comic he was standing up for did not) - one must be prepared to defend what one does and explain the journey to the "infuriating" act. 

And, also, the rest of us should really stop assuming the ones with whom we disagree are cretins. Breathe, ask, wait for the answer.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated. Please read our guidelines for posting comments.