For the last few weeks, I've had the tune of "Everything Is Awesome" stuck in my head. But the lyrics bouncing around my skull have been slightly altered. Because everything isn't awesome. Everything isn't great. Everything isn't cool. Instead, I've been hearing
Everything's a problem
Everything's not cool, even on your own team
Everything's a problem when you're killing the dream
Why the change in lyrics? Because of all the problematics, of course. You can't go a day without reading about the ways in which white privilege have blinded someone from some injustice, without hearing that someone else needs to check their privilege, without someone being viciously shamed on the Internet for choosing a wrong word here or a passive aggressive posture there. More often than not, this type of verbal violence is of the left-on-left variety: allies being ridiculed for failing to live up to the lofty ideals promulgated by the campus left. As with any reeducation campaign, the goal is to force the subject to admit his failings and beg forgiveness, preferably in the most self-abasing way possible:
Just going to say this & then keep listening & learning: I was wrong. I'm sorry. I was flip & presumptuous, & I offended someone I respect.
— ester bloom (@shorterstory) February 18, 2015
On the one hand, it's vaguely amusing in a voyeuristic sort of way to watch the left devour its own for failing to properly play the PC game. On the other, though, it's kind of depressing. It's just so remarkably silly, such a waste of time and breath and intellectual energy. Just look at the way Sean Penn and Patricia Arquette were treated last night at the Oscars. Penn, an actor well known for being somewhere to the left of Bernie Sanders, congratulated his friend and occasional colleague Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu by making a joke about Inarritu having a green card. The joke was in good humor; there was much laughing and hugging and jumping up and down on the stage as the Mexican director took home the best picture trophy for Birdman. Obviously, Salon‘s Erin Keane reminds us, this was all super-problematic:
Private jokes, especially when they toe or cross the line of good taste, have no place on the entertainment industry’s public stages. The fans watching at home don’t care how "brutal" Iñárritu and Penn are to each other in the privacy of their own parties — they hear those jokes through their own lenses of experience, and for many, Penn’s joke was minimizing, humiliating, a way to laughingly put a Mexican-born artist in his place by reminding him he would always be an "other," not one of us.
Keane's piece is a rather perfect entry into the White Writers Telling White People How to Joke About Nonwhite People genre. Imagine the " But then Patricia Arquette made a mistake. Oh, dear reader, did she misstep. She suggested that others—the LGBT community, racial minorities, you name it—should help out in this struggle for female equality. And in so doing, she ran afoul of the dread intersectionality. So, instead of celebrating a clear victory—a woman used her platform on national TV in front of tens of millions of people to call for progressive change—the left turned on her. It denounced her as a bad ally, ridiculed her for suggesting that the plight of woman trumped the plight of gays or the plight of racial minorities. This woman—this white woman, this cisgender woman, this wealthy woman—had run afoul of the language cops. She had mistaken her level on the pyramid of grievances. And she needed to be put back into her place:
Oy. The problem is that for "gay people" and "people of color" that whites have "fought for" to in turn fight for wage equality, they cannnot treat all women as a monolithic block. Wage equality still affects women of color disproportionately.
I don't know, I may have missed this part of the interview, but I don't remember Arquette saying that it didn't. Instead, she just said that women should be paid the same as men. Full stop. Now, there are any number of reasons why this is a totally stupid thing to say. But the idea that it is, somehow, a grievous insult that the left must destroy her for is … well, kinda dumb. And totally, obviously, counterproductive. Again, maybe I shouldn't say anything. Maybe I should just let the left eat its own. But as someone who, believe it or not, thinks that it's worth having constructive discussions about ideas with those on the other side of the aisle, I find the whole thing remarkably depressing. How can you debate the other side when the other side can't stop forcing its factions to apologize to each other for every piddling perceived problem? Especially when everything's a problem?
Update: This is the best response possible to the legions of idiots policing Arquette's language yesterday:
I have long been an advocate for the rights of the #LBGT community. The question is why aren't you an advocate for equality for ALL women?
— Patricia Arquette (@PattyArquette) February 23, 2015
Again, I think her speech was silly. But the idea that she should have to grovel for forgiveness for doing literally nothing wrong is moronic. It's time to reject the "Everything is Problematic" formulation. Patricia Arquette is a trailblazer, and I for one salute her.