In the year 2018, the catchphrase seems to be “Your MCM/WCE is problematic”. There appears to be no way to engage with social media/read a newspaper without finding someone who shaped your childhood, fed you intellectually or taught you life lessons caught up in some form of messed-up behaviour.
The exposure of greats as secretly awful people has been occurring for ages but in the digital age of #MeToo this has become more acute. Previous darlings of the realm are now exposed to be awful goblins who used their status to cause harm. Since R Kelly’s cult has been exposed, his 12-part song about being trapped in the closet now sounds like a horror story rather than just a strange ditty. Khalo Matabane has been directing his own personal crime dramas. Watching Bill Cosby now make him seem less suburban dad and more sinister puppet master. And the Junot Diaz saga reads more like a disturbing tele-novella than a well-constructed think piece.
The list goes on and on.
This is also the case in other realms. Few spaces have been able to escape the #MeToo movement, from the queer community exposing its own violators on social media to social justice spaces exposing the emotional and physical violence inflicted by its own warriors on the people they are meant to help.
In short, it is a dumpster fire.
In a hyper-visible world, where minorities and those previously side-lined are finally charting up some social and cultural wins, the pressure to keep the shiny veneer intact is strong. Do not let that smile slip because if you do those who were not rooting for us as queers/black people/social justice warriors will use it against us. This is an emotionally powerful argument – “Don’t let the straights/misogynists/white folk know our business.”
There is a need to present as “respectable” in a world that looks for any reason to strip away your hard work.
I read an article that expounded on this – it spoke about how the gut reflex has been to batten down the hatches and protect what is within. It echoed conversations about the need to look past the ills of our greats because the work they have done has put black people/feminists/the LGBTQI+ community on the map and an attack on them is an attack on us all. It is Ubuntu in a strange, disfigured way.
When we have a problem, we deal with it in-house. Letting the outside know our messy will take away from the little ground we have gained…
The question that arises is this: Do we want this ground if it essentially amounts to quick sand?
Sounding a different call
The call needs to be not that we should keep things quiet and let us sort matters out internally. The call needs to be for those who made the house dirty to clean up their act. It can no longer be about “standing by your faves” or letting your “MCM be trash” because they are “doing greatness for the culture”. The harm they are doing far outweighs the good. This is compounded by the fact that their access and reach is astronomical and, often, continues to grow.
What is more, a thought needs to be spared for the unknown writers who have been lost, the musical geniuses who have been scared away from the industry, the many actors who have exited stage right, the many social justice activists who no longer believe in the cause – all because some Big Name opted to be a little vortex of violence and destroyed them.
That loss does great harm to the culture.
Now, if you need to take a moment and think about whether your faves are problematic, that is fine. What we cannot – may not – do is have their problematic-ness erased because of what they have achieved. People cannot be protected from their actions because they have put a community on the map. In fact, quite the opposite should be the case: Their visibility should mean they must be held to a higher standard because they are a beacon of hope. There needs to be a framework of accountability, not of brushing things under the carpet.
What is the use of living in a grand Tudor mansion, with all the trimmings and the perfect lawn outside, if inside it is a cesspit riddled with asbestos, dirty dishes and month-old crusty laundry. We cannot continue to protect those close to us who cause us harm in the name of keeping up appearances, no matter how much we will have to fight to gain back the “credentials” that we may have lost in the eyes of others. It is not simply enough to say that we must “do it for the culture” because if a culture is steeped in violence and fear, then it is rotten and will not stand the test of time.