Apologies if this was obvious to everyone else, but the Oscars Quvenzhané outrage is a class issue

28 Feb
I came to the realization that this Quvenzhané / Onion / Oscars situation is an issue of class after reading this article from the advocate.

The article itself isn’t innately enlightening to me, considering that I’ve seen about one hundred other articles exactly like it all written by white people with a comment section full of white people agreeing. (See here for an example that really pissed me off as I really respect the flickfilosopher).


And in my anger I asked myself the same question other people were asking, “Why in the hell are all white people explaining satire, and then defending it?”

It occurs to me now that literary satire, that is, the genre of it, is an art form that appeals to middle class white people.  It is comparable to the way hip-hop speaks to the experiences of urban black and latino people who live through poverty, and also comparable to the way video games speaks to nerds of middle to lower clases.

Identifying satire as a form that appeals to the white middle class is a difficult thing because our perceptions of what the white middle class likes are so washed over by all other tastes.  White middle class is neutral, it is “we,” it is almost omnipresent.  If I asked you to describe the taste of chocolate, the taste of cherry, you could do that much more easily than if I told you to describe the taste of air.  Air is the taste of the middle class, that which has been ground into our collective minds as “neutral.”
But if we inspect the literary genre of satire then it becomes obvious that it speaks to the experience of the middle class.  The genre is full of paradoxes, and so is the life of the middle class. Satire is full of sarcasm masking outrage, wit masking anger, and because of that it is the perfect vehicle for people of the middle class to identify with.
This is why we have so many articles defending satire after the Oscars as if it was being torn down from the cross, because there is so much identity and culture behind it.  If you love video games this is comparable to me saying “video games cause violence” and ripping the games from your hands, and if you love hip-hop this is like me telling you that “hip-hop denigrates women.”
Our hobbies are so intertwined with our identities that criticism of those hobbies becomes a personal attack. In this case, the Onion tweeting “satire” that even so much as mentions Quvenzhané near a sexualized slur is something to be defended if you are a middle class person.  This is why a video game company selling the severed stump of a woman is defensible if you’re a nerd. This is why you defend Hip-Hop even when it’s literally glorifying murder, because those art forms have spoken to your experiences before.

But criticism can be justifiable and it can only be centered around one or two incidents.  We as a society of black folks, brown folks, whatever, there is nothing in our experience that has prepared us to accept any instance of a little black girl being treated the way Quvenzhané was treated. I understand that your satire is satire because, in your world, a little girl being treated that way is an impossibility, but it isn’t in ours. 

We as a society are also not prepared to accept that a video game company should be selling the stump of a disfigured woman.  We as a society are not accepting of a rapper calling a gay man a fag. 

But no one in society can tell you your art form isn’t valid.

The key to understanding lies in tearing down the barriers of class and listening to the individual criticisms without becoming defensive of the entire art form. Only real sociopaths would come after your entire art form, your entire love of video games or hip hop, and sure, those people exist, but they’re easy to spot.

I can foresee people saying that those artforms and points of view aren’t just limited to people of a certain class, and well, of course I agree, I used those three forms of art because I’m a fan of all of them, but a lot of my perception comes from my lower class upbringings. I can see how you can see that the Onion brouhaha is a threat to satire, but I can also see how the other side is outraged.  One of you needs to listen to the other side, and, here’s a hint, the side that is on the defensive should listen.  Just because we thought a joke was bad doesn’t mean we think every joke is bad. 

So take a deep breath before going on the defensive and consider whether someone in your favorite art form pulled a major screw up, because it’s possible for all of our viewpoints to get along and make beautiful art together.

A video game satire about hip-hop for instance.  It happened, Google Grand Theft Auto San Andreas.


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