In response to the controversy that’s been continuing to flare, 2 released a video response last weekend. You can see the video here if you wish. If you don’t, here’s a summary from what I get from it.
2 doesn’t believe that anyone has approached him with legitimate criticism; most people are haters who are simply looking to be offended. He insinuates that the screenshot of his YouTube response that kicked off this firestorm is manipulated, and that his stance on suicide has been misrepresented by people who don’t know him because they’ve never been to his shows. All he’s saying is that people shouldn’t be encouraged to seek attention by committing suicide, and that when there is an outpouring of grief and loss in response to suicide depressed people are encouraged by all of the posthumous attention the suicide has received. He wants suicidal people to know that it’s stupid to kill yourself, suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, and that anyone who disagrees with him is looking to be offended. Finally, he tells people who agree with him that his critics are lonely people who are frightened of life and that they’re really only trying to get attention through hate. He encourages his fans not to spread hate, but love, and that his haters should be pitied and not hated in turn.
I have a lot of criticisms with this. I’ll try to take them point by point.
“There has not been a single person who has come after me with a criticism.”
2 lays his groundwork by characterizing the argument as a misrepresentation of his beliefs by people who don’t know him, what he’s really about and have never interacted with him in any meaningful way. He starts with the flawed assumption that the people who have criticized him have no legitimate basis with which to do so.
That’s simply not the case. A number of people have laid out their criticisms to him time and time again in a variety of ways. The people who have done so have ranged from close associates of his (Dragoneer, Aubrin and myself to name a few), to folks who have long since had problems with his statements and attitude, to people who have just seen that single screenshot (which was edited to eliminate a number of unrelated comments between the original reply and 2’s response) and thought it was wildly inappropriate.
Characterizing legitimate criticism as “nothing” glosses over the substance of what many, many people have been saying about this issue up until now. He has blocked several people on Twitter for bringing up their disagreements and ignored people honestly stating their issues with his statements.
“People haven’t been to my shows; they don’t know me and they don’t know my views.”
I can’t speak for everyone criticizing 2, but I’ve been to his shows before — I’ve been a part of them before. We haven’t spoken in many years, but his views are fairly plain to see in the many interactions he has with the public. Saying that someone must go to his shows to truly know him when he also has videos, DVDs, Twitter and Facebook interactions that provide a fairly clear and consistent picture of his viewpoint is not a fair point to make. People who don’t personally know a public figure can reasonably infer things about who they are by what they say. And he’s said plenty on the subject for people to come to the conclusions they have.
Even if 2 is saying that there is a difference between his act and his personal beliefs, that’s a problem as well. If he really does believe that the “tough love” approach to suicidal people is a worthwhile one, then there would be a stronger indication that he understood how to use tough love in a context that was helpful. There have been several comments from him that repeat this idea: if you’re going to commit suicide because someone was mean to you, go ahead and do it so the rest of us can live better. How many times does this sentiment need to pop up before people can believe that he really thinks this way?
“You are subjecting yourself to my opinion. You don’t have to listen to me. I would prefer that people who are offended by me don’t listen to me.”
2 is a public figure with a following large enough to exert significant influence within the furry fandom. His opinions are taken up and repeated by many of those fans, and they use his viewpoints to shape their own ideas about the world and the way it works. I know he would prefer his fans to “question everything,” but there it goes. That’s the reality. In order to understand why a large segment of the population in our community believes and behaves a certain way, we have to understand the source of it — and for a lot of cases, it’s 2.
He also criticizes the people who have never seen his show or his material, saying that they don’t know him. So under that framework, there are only two options: listen to what I say and agree with me, or don’t listen to what I say and lose the right to criticize me.
2’s critics subject themselves to his opinion because it is a harmful one that has a strong platform. They want to understand what he says and why, why it’s incorrect and exactly what their criticisms are. It’s what you need to do in order to be informed, and to criticize from a place of knowledge.
The dichotomy he’s set up makes it easier for him to deflect criticism; if people don’t like him, then it’s clearly because they haven’t actually listened to him.
“Transphobic means that I hate every single transgendered person in the world.” “I hung out with transgendered people and didn’t have a problem.”
It’s 2015 and we’re still hearing this old chestnut — “I hung out with (minority group) and we had a great time! That means I can’t be against them.” Yes, yes it absolutely can.
His attempt to define transphobia as “hating every single transgendered person in the world” is a straw man fallacy. That is an impossible definition to justify, and often the reason that so many people against minority groups break out the “I have a black/gay/trans friend, so I can’t be racist/homophobic/transphobic”.
Here is what transphobia is, according to Wikipedia: “a range of antagonistic attitudes and feelings against transsexuality and transsexual or transgender people, based on the expression of their internal gender identity.” It’s entirely possible to have black friends and still be racist. Or gay friends and still be homophobic. Or trans friends and be transphobic. If you have made statements in the past that indicate a transphobic attitude, those statements don’t magically go away because you went drinking with transgendered people one time. That’s not the way prejudice works.
Here’s an excellent article on how it’s possible not to hate a single member of a group and still be bigoted against that group. That’s what makes prejudice such an insidious and difficult-to-remove part of our society. People often think that prejudice is active hate, when it really can be something as simple as believing “I think the concept of transgenderism is ridiculous.” It takes very careful consideration and honest introspection to uncover and remove prejudicial thinking. It’s a life-long process. But it’s worth it because it increases your understanding and empathy for other people, spreads that understanding, and makes our community more connected and open.
“I do not believe that people should kill themselves. I’ve never believed that.”
2 has been quoted several times stating that people who want to commit suicide should stop using our air. Those screenshots are out there. If he’s never believed that, then he has been very careless with his previous statements and has done nothing to clarify or rescind them. Once or twice may be exaggeration for comedic effect, but the way the statements were phrased indicate a genuine belief in what he’s saying. This video is the first time I’ve seen him say anything definitive to the contrary.
“My video rant encouraging people to keep fighting, and continue to live…”
Encouraging people to keep fighting and brow-beating them for considering a stop to the fight are two different things with two very different effects. One gives people a little more ability to find ways to end their depression, while the other can be alienating and discouraging. If your intent was encouragement, then it’s important to take that into consideration.
“My view is that people should not feel they are going to be rewarded for killing themselves.”
This is… a mind-blowing statement. It indicates a complete lack of understanding about the thought process of people who are suicidal. It’s just so, SO wrong and actions resulting from this flawed foundational assumption are going to be harmful.
People who are seriously contemplating suicide are in a warped perspective, for sure; I was when I was in the worst of my depression and I know how difficult it was to see the world as it really was. But the assertion that people who react with shock and grief over a suicide are posthumously rewarding them? That he would characterize an emotional display and an outpouring of empathy as “giving someone a posthumous cookie”? And that he would say other people thinking about suicide are actually encouraged by those displays to do the same thing?
It’s been my experience that people who are seriously contemplating suicide are not thinking about all of the attention they’ll get when they’re dead and how that will totally make the permanent end of their life worthwhile. And saying that being sad when someone takes their own life is actually harmful because it encourages other people in bad places is such a twisted view of the situation I’m not sure where to begin. So I’ll just say this.
If 2 really thinks that people commit suicide to get attention, and that the legitimate emotion of people in the community who have been affected by that suicide is somehow exacerbating the problem worse than saying “you’re stupid for thinking about it,” then he needs to have a seat, stop talking about things he knows nothing about and educate himself on the subject.
“If you don’t agree with my message about suicide and you think people should kill themselves…”
This is a false dichotomy, isn’t it? Again, it’s pushing people into a camp that is impossible to defend, and the only way out of it is by agreeing with him. This is not the frame of the argument, and pushing people into that box is one of the ways he does a disservice to the entire conversation.
No one should kill themselves. AND no one should encourage others to kill themselves. AND he is speaking out about a sensitive subject from a position of ignorance (at best) or gross misrepresentation (probably) or malicious mischaracterization (at worst). It’s possible to disagree with him and not be pro-suicide. I shouldn’t even have to say this.
“People who want to be offended and hate other people are generally lonely…they’re probably scared, frightened of life…”
“They just want attention, give them a little bit of attention…”
2 opens and ends his response by characterizing his critics as people who don’t understand him, just want to be offended or hate him, and as lonely people who are frightened of life. More straw men for him to knock down easily, and for his fan-base to pity. The appeal to emotion at the very end, to encourage love and not spread “more hate”, makes him seem that his concerns are wholly positive and gives his fan-base a way they can dismiss disagreement without consideration while feeling good about themselves.
The video response does nothing to address the criticism directed his way. Instead, it pretends that the criticism isn’t there, that this discussion isn’t about anything other than “hating the popular, straight-shooting guy” and frames oppositional arguments as much weaker and less legitimate than they are. There is no sense of responsibility for the effect his words have on people, for the anger and hurt they cause, no understanding of the world that he says he wants to leave better than the way he found it.
2 released another, longer video in response to the many emails he’s received about this whole situation. You can see that video here. This blog post is long enough, so I won’t refute every point he’s making — I’ll take a high-level view here.
In the second, 40-minute video, 2 basically states that his comments were taken out of context (another very common defense when someone says something that gets them into trouble) and that those comments were meant for this one specific situation in which a girl killed herself because of cyber-bullying specifically for the purpose of making the people she leaves behind feel sorry for her. He also says that “social justice warriors” (another shibboleth used to characterize people offended by statements as not worth paying attention to) are basically entertained by their own offense, jump in to demand apologies for things that don’t concern them and are an implacable mob who will only be satisfied if he weeps from the heavens and atones. He won’t do it, of course, because that would be a lie, and he’s merely treating people the way he would want to be treated — he doesn’t get offended by words or opinions, so why should they? Finally, he asserts that this whole situation was caused by someone who hates AnthroCon and wants people to boycott it — and that anyone who involves themselves in this situation is playing right into it. He does not provide any evidence for this.
Basically, he doesn’t care if you’re offended. He doesn’t think he should take responsibility for your emotions or what his words cause in them. And the best that you’ll ever get from him for an offensive statement is an acknowledgement that he’s offended you. 2 will never apologize for the things he says and the hurt or anger his words cause.
Here’s the thing: words are the way we transmit ideas to one another. They’re the best tool we have to communicate abstract thoughts and opinions. Words are not just “words”. They are tools used for a specific purpose; to influence one another’s thinking, to communicate how we see the world, to change someone’s mind. Those words lead to perspectives, and those perspectives lead to action. It’s all connected. To say that words are unimportant, or shouldn’t cause people to be upset is to seriously misjudge their power.
2 has the right to say whatever he wants, of course. But we also have the right to call him out on the things he says if we feel they’re damaging the community. And I feel they are. At best, he has been careless with his statements — extrapolating one case of suicide and misrepresenting an entire issue that way. He has built a tremendous platform over the years to spread these ideas, and there are a great many people who will agree with him because they, too, have no idea what suicide and depression are really like. He is contributing to a culture of carelessness and ignorance within my fandom, which changes the nature of my fandom, which *does* affect me. And I have to stand up and fight against that.
This is the way 2 operates, and it’s how he’s operated for a very long time. I don’t see any reason to believe he will change. I think we’re wasting our time with direct engagement.
The best thing we can do is to discount his ideas about suicide and depression, engage with the people who have absorbed and repeat those ideas, and encourage more responsible conversation about mental health issues. It’s time we move forward with our understanding of those of us who struggle with depression and stop sinking our energy into things that will not bear fruit.
It’s time to let 2 go. His views have no place in my community, and I would rather spend my time doing things that ease the suffering of the people who need it. So how do we do that? How do we combat harmful ideas within our community, and what do we do with the people who hold them and refuse to change? I’ll run through a list of suggestions tomorrow.