Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Malcolm Gladwell - You Were Not Wrong


I recently listened to a podcast episode of Black On the Air with Larry Wilmore speaking with Malcolm Gladwell. Although Larry Wilmore is on my top ten list of people I'd love to have at my dinner party, I did not think he was totally right in this discussion regarding satire. I understand the points being made on both sides but I don't think either side had a completely fleshed out argument to defend their stance. I want to give it a shot here and stand up for Malcolm without completely shooting Larry down.

Malcolm tried to make the point that satire has some responsibility that goes along with it, in that it could be used as a vehicle to provoke change. 

Larry's argument is that satire chooses no side and has no responsibility but merely is a flashlight that is pointed to put attention on the subject being satirized. 

Okay Larry, I see your point. Maybe we don't need Will Ferrell or Alec Baldwin showing us the way to heaven's frontgate but to say that satire ends when the curtain closes is a complete turn about from what you said on the previous episode to Al Franken

Larry, you said (this will not be a direct quote) that when Darrell Hammond satirized Al Gore and the lock box on SNL it changed the course of the election because it shined a light on things Gore did that people had not noticed before. So, you may say that it has no responsibility to evoke change and it may not but then you have no control over the way this is received by the viewer and that is where your original intent stops mattering. It is the point when the math starts to change. The intent my not be to bring about change but that does not mean that it is not the outcome for good or bad. Would Al Gore win the election if SNL left the whole thing alone? Would we have gone to war with Iraq if Gore had become president? Would thousands of service men die if Gore had become president? I think that is the point Malcolm was trying to make and I wish he had made that point clearer rather than just agree with you and then end this discussion. 

So, on the one hand, Larry, you are right but on the other you cannot control the outcome and on that hand you can't be right. It's like intentionally running over the cyclist and then blaming the air for blowing the wrong way when the person is injured as a result. 

You cannot innocently shine the light on something and then blame the thing for being seen. Dave Chappelle quit comedy for this reason. The wrong people were laughing and for the wrong reason. That makes the case for Malcolm's Archie Bunker analogy. You shine a light on Archie's racist ways and the racists laugh because they think the show is about people like them. They don't get the satire and they don't see the light shining. They are encouraged. 

Also, you do not shine the light without pointing it at the thing you want people to see and so by choosing where the light goes, you make a statement. The two can't be exclusive. If you shoot an arrow in the sky with no target and it lands in a place that causes harm you are still responsible for pulling back the bow even if you didn't mean anything by it. 

The other side of this is Fox News. They put out false info like it's real. Does that cause harm? Stephen Colbert was invited to host the George W's correspondence dinner in 2006. He dressed down the president and the GOP's was in shock because they could not tell the difference in his satire of Fox News and the real Fox News. They thought he was their Jon Stewart and they were taken by surprise when it turned out he wasn't.

If satire takes no side then why shine the light at all? Why not just leave the thing alone and let it play like it will? And if the author of satire truly takes no side when deciding where to point the light, from where does the light come?

If the wrong people laugh for the wrong reason does that not give rise to encouragement even though there was no intent and no side taken? I think that is what Malcolm tried to shine his light on and I believe he was correct. Satire is not without danger. 

If satire has the potential to cause harm then it could also be used for good and I think that is Larry's point though it sounds like Malcolm's. You shine the light, that is where your responsibility ends and then you walk away. You cannot decide for people if they will see the light. That is where their responsibility begins.

Here is the math on this:
Larry=no you are not responsible for how people use the info the light is shining on 
Malcolm=yes the light could bring change and the vehicle it rides in could take it somewhere positive
Both sides together=you cannot control others and that means that you might cause harm 

Thank you guys for this thoughtful dialogue and Malcolm you are on my dinner list too.
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