Here there be monsters (socratic) wrote,
Here there be monsters

  • Mood:
  • Music:

Oo the wakeup bomb

I went to my writing group yesterday, partially against my better judgment, and I stirred shit up. The assignment for the day was to write about a Thanksgiving gone awry, and to have at least one moment that would make others cringe. I took it seriously. As some of you may know I admire Andy Kaufman and consider him to be, in many ways, a role model. One of Kaufman's main contentions was that art and entertainment could be hard, unpleasant, and blow apart expectations that others had. I decided to write a Kaufmanesque piece for the group, a loathsome and poorly made story about a Thanksgiving between thoroughly reprehensible people. The main figure was an Irish father and the main storyline was his brutally racist reaction to his daughter bringing home a Dominican for Thanksgiving. This was meant to be offensive in many ways, from the terribly racist language he bellowed at her, to the stereotype of the angry Irish racist, to the fact that the actual dynamic at play was a dysfunctional and somewhat sexualized father-daughter relationship. He took far too much interest in her sexual experiences and she in turn used them as a way to get attention and draw reaction from him. I was ham handed about this too, at one point after he's threatened her with violence she says "You don't want anyone to touch me but you" and the narrator even adds "It just hung there in the air." The narrator also expounds upon a story she tells of losing her virginity while her father was out mowing the lawn by pointing out that it was an oft-told tale. This was supposed to be a piece to make people cringe. It used the N-word quite a bit, along with other racial epithets ranging from wop and guinea to wetback and a comment about Jews. It wasn't particularly interesting, although just competent enough to have impact. It was meant to make people uncomfortable.

And it did, boy howdy did it ever. Jill, the only black person in the room and in the group, said she couldn't believe that I was that racist, and after we discussed it for about 10 minutes she left the room and possibly the group, in tears. The guys who were there were mostly unfazed (just because all the guys in the group are the types who love pushing limits and buttons, love being out there on the edge) but the other women were upset both by the piece and by Jill's reaction. We spent about an hour talking over all of it and then tried to go on.

I'm not 100% sure what to feel about what transpired last night. On the one hand I'm sorry I hurt Jill, and I'll apologize to her. I like her a lot as a person and I don't like being the cause of her pain. On the other hand I think her reaction was disproportionate and unsophisticated. She made the claim that a white man can't write a really racist angry character if he's not a racist himself. I disagree, and I think this is a pernicious liberal rumor stifling debate. Am I racist? Sure. Everyone is, and those who say they aren't are just living in denial. You can't live in this society and NOT be racist to some degree. I'm racist on an emotional level though, not an intellectual one. If I see a black man who dresses a certain way walking towards me in the park late at night I WILL have a visceral reaction. On the other hand I recognize that this is a socially inspired fear and not necessarily rational or reasonable. Interracial dating can sometimes give me a little icky feeling, but that's completely irrational people should be able to date and screw whoever they want. It's just "Fear of a Black Planet" to rip off Public Enemy (A really racist group in its own right.) Jill said that I ought to use racism against Jews in my work if I want to be provocative and I think that's an incredibly shortsighted point of view. A Jew writing kike is no big deal. A Jew writing nigger makes people uncomfortable. A Jew reading that word over and over while sitting next to a black woman in a room full of mostly white people, well there's your 'cringeworthy' statement. The thing is it's important for white people to be able to include the word nigger in their artistic works because art EXPOSED and processes prejudice. We bury that word and we'll just be hiding all the history and emotions it brings up underneath the surface of our society. Black people can't be the only group to address racism in controversial ways, that's just one side of the equation, the easier side because as a group they have less power and it's always easier to watch the underdog be ugly because you can hide from Chris Rock's 'cracker honkey cracker' rants in the warm bosom of a white society. The other way around makes things raw and uncomfortable, and as Andy Kaufman said and showed it's SO IMPORTANT to feel raw and uncomfortable at times. I think that if the Republicans were able to own their shame and discomfort and to DEAL with those emotions then they wouldn't be waging pointless wars and expressing their base instincts in action rather than word. Besides, it's racist to claim that because someone's white they can't say certain things or bring certain issues up, and racist to claim that white people have no business trying to understand or write about the black experience. It's racist to claim, as many do, that the white male experience is the only one that's universally compehensible.

Ultimately I think that I did something of value, I turned what could be an easy friendly liberal writing group into an emotional flash point and I made people feel and react and think. That's what art's supposed to do, even if it wounds. In retrospect I could have made people uncomfortable by focusing inward and revealing my own humiliations and pain in grueling detail, and it would have been harder and more effective. On the other hand it wouldn't have made ME as uncomfortable and it could have been smoothed over. I wanted to be Kaufmanesque, I wanted to push the envelope BEYOND the safe space and leave everyone feeling dirty and grimy and sad. I forgot the biggest risk of the Kaufman model though. The fact that it can really hurt people and wound them in a way beyond what's intended. I hate doing that and I'm sorry I did.

I don't think I'll post the piece I wrote up here unless people really want to see it because it was offensive and it did make someone feel really really uncomfortable. I don't want to hurt anyone else.
  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.