Justin Bieber must be thankful he didn't write a poem.
The Canadian pop star attracted the wrong kind of attention last week when he visited Amsterdam's Anne Frank House and wondered whether Frank, the world's most famous Holocaust victim, would have been a fan of his music. But that was early in the week—soon we all had much bigger things to worry about.
If Bieber's guestbook inscription was kindling for the Internet's mockery bonfire, Dresden-Doll-turned-Kickstarter-evangelist Amanda Palmer's "Poem for Dzhokhar" was the equivalent of a barrel full of petroleum. Implicitly inspired by alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the poem was quickly dubbed the worst poem ever written, and in this case, the first impression may very well be the right one. Read the whole thing here, or take a look at this passage:
you don’t know how to stop picking at your fingers.
you don’t know how little you’ve been paying attention until you look down at your legs again.
you don’t know how many times you can say you’re coming until they just stop believing you.
you don’t know how orgasmic the act of taking in a lungful of oxygen is until they hold your head under the water.
you don’t know how many vietnamese soft rolls to order.
Though both Bieber and Palmer's hearts were undoubtedly in the right place, the reactions each received illustrate the thin line between adulation and scorn for artists who approach tragedy head-on. Bieber and Palmer weren't the first musicians to interact with the world's horrors; Bob Geldof got a knighthood for doing exactly that. But what separates these two from the legions of adored Band Aid participants is how comfortable each seemed overshadowing the event they were ostensibly commenting on. The Holocaust, in Bieber's eyes, was horrible because it gave us one less lonely girl for Justin Bieber to serenade. To Palmer, Dzhokhar's experiences as an actual person are secondary to his role as a target for Amanda Palmer's empathy. The "Do They Know It's Christmas" gang was similarly self-obsessed, but they at least made a token effort at preserving the unique horribleness of the Ethiopian Famine; Bieber and Palmer shined the spotlight wholly on themselves, and we recoiled at the sight.
(Of course, it also didn't help that both incidents came at a time when people were least-inclined to be charitable towards either artist; Bieber visited the Anne Frank House at the end of a period where he seemed to have a PR disaster every other day, while Palmer's newfound role as a TED-talk intellectual for crowdfunding has rankled some critics.)
But it's hard to blame celebrities too much for making a tragedy about themselves when a section of our media ecosystem is busy making tragedies about them already. "Stars React to [Event X]" is as reliable a second-day story as any—here's the latest example—and were Bieber and Palmer's stunts really any different? All they did was cut out the middleman.
Justin Bieber, for his part, has largely been absolved of his sins at the Anne Frank House; after Frank's step-sister Eva Schloss was called in to assert that she "probably would have been a fan" of the pop star, it seemed childish to pick on him any more. It also helps that Bieber's statement was off-the-cuff, a spontaneous gaffe—the opposite of Palmer's calculated provocation. As Anne Hathaway could have told her, that's the one look we can't let you get away with.
The Trump-Twitter Industrial Complex continues to fester and mutate.
This week, President Donald J. Trump tweeted a false statement about mail-in ballots.
He wrote that secretaries of state were sending mail-in ballots to every person, when actually states are only sending out ballot applications. For the first time, Twitter jumped in to fact-check Trump's statement, adding a link to a webpage full of information about mail-in ballots.
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Was the Jimmy Fallon Blackface Skit Intentionally Released as a Distraction from the Murder of George Floyd?
Racist police violence is a modern epidemic. So why are we talking about an SNL skit from 2000?
At this point, celebrity apologies are incredibly common. In 2020, it seems like some formerly beloved actor or TV personality is being put through the wringer of public opinion a few times a week.
Most recently, Twitter canceled Jimmy Fallon after an unquestionably racist skit from the 2000 season of SNL resurfaced online. The skit features Fallon impersonating Chris Rock, complete with black face and an offensive imitation of Rock's speech patterns.
Jimmy Fallon Blackface youtu.be
This quickly led to the hashtag #jimmyfallonisoverparty trending on Twitter. While fans seemed split on whether Fallon should be forgiven for the 20-year-old misstep, most everyone agreed that Fallon should apologize regardless. This morning, he did just that in the form of a tweet.
As far as celebrity apologies go, Fallon's is a pretty good one. He doesn't try to sidestep the blame, he doesn't bring up the fact that there were undoubtedly many, many other individuals involved in the creation of the skit, and he doesn't even mention the fact that in 2000, many people still thought it was possible for black face to be done in the spirit of fun, because the deeply racist nature of the act was largely ignored in mainstream (white) media. Of course, we know better now, and it's easy to see that a white person doing an exaggerated imitation of a black person—darkened skin included—can only be a racist, belittling act with a long, dark history of racial oppression. With that in mind, Fallon's only option was to apologize without caveat or reservation. Indeed, it's refreshing to see a celebrity apology that doesn't try to justify or minimize their own misstep. While we can all agree Fallon made a terrible, racist choice 20 years ago, we have to believe that, like all of us, he's grown since then. If cancel culture is to have any efficacy in making the world a better place, it has to leave room for forgiveness and growth. Hopefully, the whole affair will leave Fallon (and those who witnessed it) more racially sensitive.
All of that being said, one has to ask why the clip was brought up now, given that it's been circulated around the Internet before, and the specific YouTube clip that was shared was posted on the site over a year ago. It's also worth noting that the version of the clip that was going around Twitter has a text overlay that reads: "NBC FIRED MEGAN KELLY FOR MENTIONING BLACKFACE. JIMMY FALLON PERFORMED ON NBC IN BLACKFACE."
Megan Kelly, an outspoken conservative, was indeed fired from her job at NBC because she defended the use of blackface in Halloween costumes, saying on her talk show, "Truly, you do get in trouble if you are a white person who puts on blackface for Halloween, or a black person who put on whiteface for Halloween," she said. "When I was a kid, that was OK as long as you were dressing up as a character." While Fallon's instance of racial insensitivity was in 2000, Kelly defended blackface in 2019, long after society at large had begun to acknowledge the hurt that blackface and other forms of racial impersonation could cause. This fundamental difference aside, Kelly also has a long history of racial insensitivity that Fallon does not, even once saying, "What is the evidence that what happened to Eric Garner and what happened to Michael Brown has anything to do with race?" in a conversation about the epidemic of racist police officers in America.
Given the text overlay, it's pretty clear that whoever began the #jimmyfallonisoverparty was not necessarily seeking justice for the black community, but was instead trying to imply hypocrisy in the cancellation of Megan Kelly, given that Fallon (who has been outspoken about the flaws of the Trump administration and political pundits like Kelly) is still on the air. One even has to wonder if, given that it's obvious that the #jimmyfallonisoverparty trend was begun by a conservative individual or group, if the trend was meant to be a distraction from the widespread racist police violence that has been emphasized in recent weeks by incidents like the death of George Floyd, a black man who was murdered in Minneapolis by a white police officer on Monday. It seems oddly coincidental that the clip of Fallon should flood the Internet with controversy the day after Floyd's murder, unfortunately serving to help steer conversation away from Floyd's unjust death.
Indeed, under the unquestionably racist Donald Trump administration, more and more black people are being harassed, attacked, and murdered at the hands of racist white civilians and police officers. But Trump and his supporters don't want you to focus on that–so much so that it doesn't feel impossible that the Fallon skit was intentionally weaponized as a distraction.
In the last few weeks alone we learned that Ahmaud Arbery was murdered senselessly by a white man while simply out for a jog, and we all witnessed the harassment of Christian Cooper, a black man who was threatened by a white woman in Central Park who didn't want to put her dog on a leash. It's clear that racism in America cannot be reduced to insensitive skits from 20 years ago but is instead a current and deadly problem. What Jimmy Fallon did in 2000 was racist, yes; but don't let that distract you from the deadly consequences of racism in 2020, don't let celebrity apologies make you take your eyes of our lawmakers, who aren't doing enough to protect people of color in this country. Don't let the latest "#_____isoverparty" trend distract you from the deadly consequences of racism in our laws, culture, and criminal justice system.
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