“I Give Up”: Battle Cry of the Privileged

We Give Up
We Give Up

You guys.

Yesterday, February 23, 2014, was the greatest day ever. It was the greatest day of all time because both Piers Morgan and Alec Baldwin, the Lords of white male privilege, took a major step back from public life.

Kind of.

CNN announced it plans to end Morgan’s prime-time show, and Alec Baldwin penned a column for New York Magazine hilariously titled “I Give Up.”

And while Morgan and Baldwin are taking a hiatus from their prominent pedestals for different reasons, the paths that led them to this moment are remarkably similar.

Morgan supposedly lost his prime-time spot because the ratings for his show suck, but he never had a consistently large audience, so pinning the blame on low audience numbers is an incomplete picture of what happened.  The New York TimesDavid Carr has a weird nationalistic take on what he thinks went down, blaming the show’s cancellation on Morgan’s infatuation with soccer and gun regulation. And while I don’t doubt Morgan received tons of backlash for his stance on gun control, the show wasn’t cancelled in the midst of his post-Sandy Hook rants, but rather after his run in with organized activists on Twitter following his abysmal interview with transgender activist Janet Mock.

Without question, Morgan prefers to hang on the cross and blame the cancellation on his heroic stance on gun regulation.

“Look, I am a British guy debating American cultural issues, including guns, which has been very polarizing, and there is no doubt that there are many in the audience who are tired of me banging on about it,” he said.

But does anyone really hold Morgan’s Britishness against him? I certainly don’t care if he’s British, or loves soccer. My problem with Morgan is that he’s an egotistical hack, who was embroiled in the phone hacking at the Daily Mirror (Morgan was recently questioned by police regarding his involvement in the scandal), and who misgendered Janet Mock and then went to war with activists.

Right-wing zealots going after television personalities is nothing new, but the reason Morgan didn’t receive the same amount of love as, say, a Melissa Harris-Perry, is because he’s a highly unlikeable, hyper-sensitive creep who oozes privilege. Like Martin Bashir, Morgan didn’t have a base to run to his defense because, frankly, no one likes him very much. Have you ever met a diehard Piers Morgan fan? If you have, I bet you lasted two minutes talking to them because they were probably a giant weirdo.

And again, this has nothing to do with the fact that Morgan and Bashir are British, but rather that they’re hacky, uninspiring, and boring. I’d rather watch Olympic Curling than hear how Bashir thinks Sarah Palin is dumb or witness Morgan exercise his male privilege for the trillionth time. Fart. No thanks.

Morgan says he wants to step back and focus on “fewer appearances to greater effect — big, major interviews that would be events in themselves.” Similarly, Alec Baldwin announced to the world (ironically using a major public platform in New York Magazine) that he’s giving up because activists have been mean to him following a report on his verbally abusive behavior towards his daughter, and a run in with a reporter in which Baldwin called him a “toxic little queen.” Baldwin later called a photographer a “cocksucking fag.”

And even though we all love Baldwin because he was very good on that show where Tina Fey and her writing staff wrote all his funny lines, it quickly became clear that Alec Baldwin is a giant fucking asshole, the very worst example of a limousine liberal.

Baldwin demonstrated how much he’s grown and matured by dropping the derogatory term “tranny” in the midst of his explanation:

I met with Nick and others from two LGBT organizations. We talked for a while about the torment of the LGBT life many of them have lived while growing up in traditional Hawaiian families. Macho fathers. Religious mothers. We talked a lot about words and their power, especially in the lives of young people.

One young man, an F-to-M tranny, said, “Are you here to get dry-cleaned, like Brett Ratner?” Meaning I could do some mea culpa, write them a six-figure check, go to a dinner, sob at the table, give a heartfelt speech, beg for forgiveness. I thought to myself: Beg for forgiveness for something I didn’t do?

I mean, has there ever been a more beautiful demonstration of privilege than this column?

Baldwin is supposed to be apologizing here, but can’t resist throwing in that he didn’t even do anything, you guys! He’s a victim, akin to Matthew Shepard. He’s getting dry-cleaned by the pink mafia!

I said, “No. I don’t want to get dry-cleaned. I don’t want to be decontaminated by you, Karen Silkwood–wise, scrubbed down. I want to learn about what is hurtful speech in your community. I want to participate in some programs about that. Or underwrite one. And then, like you, I just want to be left alone.”

In other words: I want to sit with some queer activists for fifteen minutes and then go back to my mansion so everyone will STFU.

Baldwin’s main grievance appears to be that technology permits individuals to capture his terrible behavior. He writes, “I haven’t changed, but public life has,” “Everyone has a camera in their pocket,” and “You’re out there in a world where if you do make a mistake, it echoes in a digital canyon forever.”

I remember the good ol’ days when you could call a cocksucking fag a cocksucking fag in the privacy of your own home, right fellas?

Now, here’s the thing: I believe everyone has the right to take a mental vacation. I’ve seen some of my friends (primarily women journos and activists) be relentlessly hounded by anonymous internet trolls, bullied and threatened with rape, until they left their online lives just to preserve their sanity. But let’s be very clear that what Morgan and Baldwin are describing is entirely separate from the noble existences of persecuted activists. Men like Morgan and Baldwin are accustomed to holding all the power, which is why they’re mystified and peeved by the public backlash they’ve received for, in most cases, being privileged little dicks.

Morgan never really understood the backlash he got for the Janet Mock interview. When Stephen Colbert, a comedian (and no stranger to trans-misogynistic jokes himself), did a better job of interviewing Mock, Morgan’s first response was to take to Twitter and accuse Mock of “whining” and to call Colbert an “enabler,” which is a funny way to say superior interviewer.

But Morgan, like Baldwin, never really wanted to learn from his mistakes. He wanted the bad ol’ Twitter people to leave him alone, to rant without consequence to his not-very-large audience, and to never be held accountable. Because he’s a white dude, and that’s what he expects.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Morgan and Baldwin are announcing a reduction in their public appearances around the same time. Twitter and the rise of alternative media have allowed the audience to talk back to media figures who previously never heard feedback from the unwashed serfs. And white dudes, historically the most privileged and most unchallenged in our society, are really unhappy about the turn in events.

Put another way: they give up.

This is a luxury only afforded to the privileged, who can supplement their previous jobs with new offers or savings. It’s not so easy for an activist, blogger, or non-televised journalist to make the same decision, even if they’re receiving much more serious, scary threats than the ones directed at Morgan. I have an acquaintance who had her home address publicly published by a harasser, which resulted in her and her entire family being rushed from their home by police. That woman still blogs publicly because she has to in order to pay her bills. She can’t give up.

It’s a cruel twist of fate that those among us who are most victimized and abused, the transgender activists Morgan mocks, and the LGBTQ individuals Baldwin considers his punchlines, cannot use the emergency exit as easily as their abusers.

13 Comments

  1. Crommunist

    The most infuriating aspect of this synchro-derp is the legions of sideline “allies” who are going to insist that this is more evidence of a “toxic environment”, and that marginalized people who object to being abused are themselves at fault for not objecting politely enough. People who have no real knowledge of the situation know Morgan and Baldwin; they don’t know anyone on the ‘other side’ of the issue. Morgan and Baldwin aren’t just giving up, they’re kicking people on their way out.

  2. Hey there Allison! First want to say I really like the work you’re doing here and on Citizen Radio, and was a big fan of your Steven Dale Green piece.

    It’s maybe stupid for me to spend my time defending Alec Baldwin and his narcissistic pity party, but I do think you slightly misrepresent his case here in a way that I personally find significant.

    You write: “Baldwin’s main grievance appears to be that technology permits individuals to capture his terrible behavior.”

    I agree that that’s the case with that awful voicemail to his daughter. But with the other incidents, its the technology, and the economy of celebrity worship that it so effectively serves that actually instigates that behavior. It is not merely capturing an already existing phenomenon.

    I guess what I mean is, if Alec Baldwin were on a television show or podcast or stage, in some electively public place and offered a homophobic epithet, I would find it indefensible for a “liberal” cable network to continue his employment.

    However, if his account is true, and his wife and child are getting accosted in the street on a near daily basis, and in a spontaneous moment of rage, his brain, searching for some degrading moniker to throw at this individual, selects something from the reservoir of homophobic rhetoric that any man of Baldwin’s age was no doubt immersed in as an adolescent…I don’t know that that should be of our concern.

    I don’t doubt that on a primal level Baldwin is imprinted with homophobia. But I do think that his deliberate public actions and statements with regard to the homosexual community are of several magnitudes greater importance than whatever vestigial hate is still kicking in him.

    I believe that there are a great many people who are highly useful to the cause of expanding our culture’s empathy and tolerance, who nonetheless, in a moment of provocation, when operating under ingrained instinct and not conscious thought, might lash out in a sexist/racist/classist/homophobic way.

    To grow up with the privilege of being a straight white dude is to be inundated with terminology and cognitive schemas that are informed by narratives of the inferiority of the other.

    I think such a privileged person should be judged by what he actively chooses to do to override that garbage, to expand his own empathy, and empower the less advantaged.

    To be clear, I’m not defending Baldwin’s article which is unbearably narcissistic, and fails to take the empathetic leap of imagining how a gay person might find the phrase “toxic little queen” disconcerting .

    I just personally felt what the photographer was doing during that incident was more disgusting than Baldwin’s reaction. And I think we as a culture put too much weight on spontaneous epithets and superficial cultural signifiers, rather than on deliberate concrete actions. I feel like this disproportionate emphasis is part of what allows Michael Bloomberg to spy on muslims and stop and frisk black men, but not be made to answer to the same charges of racism in the mainstream media, that beset say…a bumbling, condescending Rand Paul at Howard University or something.

    Basically, I think the idea of being provoked by paparazzi until you lash out in a way that reveals some unseemly instinctual wiring, would probably be a super shitty experience. And so…if he hadn’t said all that crazy shit to his daughter, and his show didn’t suck…then I would think it was unfair that MSNBC fired him.

    That was worth 20 minutes! Right?

  3. Allison Kilkenny

    Hey Eric— Let me be clear that I don’t defend paparazzi. They’re terrible people and there should probably be more laws stopping them from harassing people, particularly the children of celebrities. But by no means do I think their presence is to blame for Baldwin’s outrageous behavior. Lots of celebs get harassed every day (much more so than Baldwin) and manage not to call the photographers cocksucking faggots.

    I also think his response since the scandal has been very telling. There’s no true self-reflection and endless non-apologies. I truly don’t think Baldwin believes he did anything wrong (in fact he writes that explicitly—he didn’t do anything wrong!), and he sees himself as the victim. That’s the definition of privilege.

  4. Yeah, that makes sense to me. I guess I just kinda felt for Baldwin in that specific altercation for whatever reason, even though I myself have never shouted faggot at anybody ever.

    But yeah, I agree he’s handled it in a totally unself-reflective way that’s indicative of privilege.

  5. K. Parker

    Both of you have made really, really important points, and thank you both for voicing them thoughtfully.

    To me, Alec Baldwin’s lapse in speech is something he should be publicly accountable for, but wasn’t itself a completely damning revelation, because as Eric points out a temper-based slip back to the unfortunate pejorative familiarities of youth isn’t necessarily reflective of his values or the sum of his contributions. But I think Allison’s right that his subsequent reaction in general has demonstrated the height of privilege and refusal to accept any culpability for wrongdoing. His GLAAD-published apology basically just said “I didn’t call him that because I hate gay people. Just look at my history of supporting them, how could I?” At no point did it actually acknowledge that it was something he *shouldn’t* have said at all.

    Instead of rationalizing himself and condescendingly making a show of “trying” to apologize, he could have just said, “Sorry, that was incredibly thoughtless. The guy was an a-hole, and in my desire to emotionally hurt him, I regressed back to my high school-locker room-self and said things I know now are absolutely unacceptable. Hopefully this will serve as a reminder to me, and everyone else who grew up in a time when using discriminatory terms in anger or mockery was considered ‘normal,’ that our word choices help create the world we live in, and with just a little empathy and self-discipline, we can all improve it.” But instead he just keeps playing the “Come on, guys, I’m not a homophobe” card, getting exasperated when people aren’t satisfied with it, and–as Allison points out–literally doesn’t seem to see or comprehend what the *actual* problem was.

    I think that this problem with his reaction is very important to discuss publicly, because Baldwin is sort of an over-the-top caricature of the role-of-privilege debate going on in activism right now. On a fractal scale, I’m watching ostensibly feminist males interjecting to defend their sex against women’s real grievances with interjections of “Yes, but not ALL men do such-and-such, so you’re the ones being discriminatory by complaining,” while exasperated feminists try to explain that that doesn’t erase the problem, or that their input and validation is maybe just not needed at all in those discussions; then I watch white, middle-class feminists turn around and do the exact same thing, almost word for word, on message boards seeking to discuss the intersection of race and feminism, without a hint of self-awareness or irony. And so it repeats, on down the line of privilege. I think Baldwin is such a cartoonish example of obliviousness toward privilege that discussing it might be helpful in illustrating to virtually all of us the importance of trying to stop and see things from other people’s shoes before penning yet another self-righteous open letter about how unfair the world is. We may (and probably often will) screw up, but learning to self-reflect might make us both less likely to be afraid to honestly say “I’m sorry,” and to learn to accept people’s mistakes and help them improve.

  6. Totes agree with that K.

    Also, re: subtweet: Though I realize what I said could be glibly summarized that way, I want to clarify that I don’t think he had a “right” to say it, or that it wasn’t an incredibly ugly moment and ugly thing to say, and that he shouldn’t have apologized for doing so more forthrightly. I apologize if I gave off the impression that I thought otherwise.

    Whether it’s fair that it was disseminated or not, once it was, it obviously could have and probably did do some small amount of emotional violence to his fans, particularly those of the LGBT community.

    I just think premeditated public statements and actions with regard to advocacy for out-groups should be given WAY more weight than statements captured by invasive press. Which isn’t in contradiction to anything in your piece Allison. My one critique was that you maybe glossed over the context of Baldwin’s third (fourth? fifth?) strike. Which wasn’t central to your thesis and so maybe irrelevant. But it just seemed like an interesting thought to me, so…brought it up.

    But I agree with both of you (Allison and K) that Baldwin had a chance to handle this in a thoughtful and empathetic way and didn’t.

    Thanks for engaging with me!

  7. Marc

    Haha – “because he was very good on that show where Tina Fey and her writing staff wrote all his funny lines” so true. the timing on that show was so hilarious too. but yes. AB can take a hike. i hope they stop his capital one commercials too. bleh.

  8. minecritter

    Another outstanding article from Allison Kilkenny!

    typo: “never be help accountable”

    Yours in helpfulness,

    minecritter

  9. Carrie

    Hey Allison – This is a great article. The thing that bugs me most about the behavior of these two is that their reactions to criticism is to blame the people they offend for being overly sensitive. I think you are right to link this attitude to privilege. The refusal to ever admit fault and allow the people that they wronged to educate them is the essence of privilege.

    Baldwin complaining about being expected to “write a six-figure check” is especially illuminating. Does he think that the gay mafia (the mythical Hollywood boogeyman) is trying to blackmail him? Of course an honorable man doesn’t respond to blackmail, so well done Baldwin! Now that’s integrity. Way to teach us all where our place is. We are either overly-sensitive little bitches or evil opportunists out to make a buck for our good causes. Well spotted gentlemen.