Guest Blogger

Perfect Is the Enemy of Good

Filed By Guest Blogger | March 02, 2015 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Living
Tags: Academy Awards, Graham Moore, internet outrage machine, Oscars, Patricia Arquette, social justice warriors

Editor's Note: Guest blogger Micah Escobedo is a writer and aspiring politico.

internet-outrage-machine.jpgThe 2015 Academy Awards has become one of the most talked about award shows in recent history. I couldn't scroll through social media feeds or news reports without reading about it. Coverage of the Oscars crept into every nook and cranny of our digital lives like a zombie virus. I expected Alice from Resident Evil to storm the stage at one point.

Content wise, it was also a success. Neil Patrick Harris brought his signature biting-yet-Hollywood-approved shtick to the stage. Lady GaGa reminded everyone that she's a classically trained, eclectic artist in a moving tribute to Julie Andrews. Oprah threw some shade. John Legend made an uncomfortable but vital point about race relations in America. Patricia Arquette made a powerful statement on gender wage inequality. Graham Moore delivered what was probably the best speech of the night by encouraging those who are seen by others as "weird" and "different" to embrace and love themselves just as they are.

All in all, it was a good night for Oscar. The Web seemed to say, "Good show. Next."

But this is 2015, the Age of Perpetual Outrage. Deep within the bowels of the Internet outrage machine, self-appointed social justice warriors told us that the Oscars were actually "problematic" outside of the meaningful and much-needed discussion about the Academy's lack of diversity.

Cue the Indignation!

Some people will find anything to be outraged and offended over. In the age of Buzzfeed, attention getting headlines and provocative pseudo-think pieces are quickly becoming the way to build traffic.

The Oscars were no exception. The biggest offense: Patricia Arquette's feminist statements. Here's what she said, both on stage and when she was asked about her comments backstage:

"To every woman who gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else's equal rights. It's our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America."

"It's inexcusable we go around the world talking about equal rights for women in other countries...and we don't have equal rights for women in America. The truth is even though we sort of feel like we have equal rights in America, there are huge issues that are at play that really do affect women. It's time for all...the gay people and people of color that we've all fought for to fight for us now."

To nearly everyone who heard both the original and later comments, Arquette's passionate defense of womens' rights and equality came across as intended - empowering and thought provoking.

Welcome to Modern Identity Politics 101

Some activists, however, claimed Arquette committed an ergregious sin: Arquette, a white woman, told lesbian and transgender women of color that their concerns aren't equal to those of white women according to them. Even worse, she didn't point out that some people of color are, of course, women or transgender!

Salon's Katie McDonough called her speech "well intentioned" but "[ignorant of] the fact that the wage gap for women of color and LGBTQ women is much, much worse than it is for straight, white cis women."

Andrea Grimes of RH Reality Check went so far as to claim that she "thoroughly [erased] gay women and women of color and all intersecting iterations of those identities by creating these independent identity groups as if they do not overlap."

Grimes continued, "Arquet goes on to do even worse, which is to demand that 'gay people' and 'people of color' fight for 'us,' a group that Arquette has specifically identified as non-gay and not of color - as very specifically straight and white and 'woman.'"

The Oscar for Most Divisive, Shrill and Nitpicky Ranting, however, goes to The Grio's Blue Telusma. The title says it all: "Dear Patricia Arquette: Blacks and gays owe white women nothing."

Um, okay. Sure.

Be warned, you now have to mention every single variety of woman and their accompanying struggles when you're asked about gender inequality even if you're trying to give a short answer in a stressful situation. If not, you're a horrible person.

Since she's a straight, white, cisgender woman of enormous Hollywood privilege, she couldn't possibly have been calling for unity of three different social justice movements (even though she explicitly said so). Battles for equality are not won in solidarity, right? Divided we achieve, or something!

Could she have said it a little better? Sure, but she made the comments off the cuff with cameras in her face. More importantly, it was automatically implied that she was talking about all women, from white and black to lesbian and transgender. By mentioning the LGBT and African-American civil rights movements, she was making the point that both of these movements should openly embrace and champion feminism.

The fact that her empowering statements were mangled to reflect some kind of internalized bigotry goes to show you how pathetic Internet activism frequently is. Keyboards seem to have the magic ability to make everyone smarter and angrier.

But, of course, Arquette's lip slip wasn't the only one at The Academy Awards.

Don't Get Weird About Graham Moore

During his beautifully simplistic acceptance speech for Best Adapted Screenplay for "The Imitation Game," Graham Moore revealed that he had attempted suicide at 16 because he was bullied and made to feel like an outcast.

"I would like this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she's weird or different or she doesn't fit in anywhere. Yes, you do. I promise you do." He continued, "Stay weird. Stay different, and then when it's your turn and you are standing on this stage, please pass this same message to the next person who comes along."

Moore later clarified that, despite everyone's assumptions, he was not, in fact, gay. But since he came across as a gay man who had also written an incredible screenplay for a film about Alan Turing, it was assumed that he was primarily talking about LGBT youth. Some, like Slate's Bryan Lowder, had a bone to pick with Moore's choice of words.

In a piece titled "Is It 'Weird' to Be Gay? What Graham Moore's Speech Really Means," Lowder argues that by labeling gay kids as "weird," Moore is making a false equivalency between the universal teen feelings of angst and being an outcast with those of a gay teen facing bullying.

"Homosexuality is a fundamental identity that... deeply determines how one sees and is seen by the world. On the other hand, being 'weird' or 'different' presumably involves a set of interests or chosen behaviors (however deeply beloved) that distance one from the cultural mainstream in a more limited way." He clarified, "Put differently: Being a straight weirdo is, on balance, just not as totalizing or stressful a situation as being a gay person."

Moore's speech was one of universality. He wasn't specifically saying, "Gay kids and other kids that can be seen as social outcasts experience the same kinds of bullying." He didn't even mention LGBT youth. He was talking to all kids who felt like societal rejects, regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

I partially agree with Lowder - gay teens face hardships, bullying and self-loathing at higher rates than their heterosexual peers. (I'm speaking from experience here, too). The nerdy kid who built models of the starship "Enterprise" isn't going to feel like the gay kid being shoved into lockers and harassed by jocks.

To be fair, Lowder did make a reasoned and well-written point in his article. But his piece on Moore came across like most of the other outrage pieces in response to the Oscars: nitpicking words and adding some that weren't there to begin with - all to show how problematic and out of touch these privileged celebrities are.

Picking Our Battles

Fighting for equality is about breaking down barriers, making diverse allies and boldly charging onward - changing hearts and minds in your wake. It's not about nitpicking every word that comes out of a celebrity's mouth to find hidden nuggets of bigotry or ignorance to struggles.

The 2015 Oscars, while full of memorable moments, were almost overshadowed by hit pieces from the Internet outrage machine. Patricia Arquette wasn't inclusive enough and was essentially accused of being a racist, privileged faux feminist. Graham Moore was accused of glossing over the plight of LGBT youth who are bullied even though he never mentioned LGBT youth. Is this what commentary looks like now?

What happened to the take-no-prisoner, no holds barred approach that pioneers and activists of the past channeled into a powerful art? What happened to the idea of building broad coalitions of different groups of people into one common cause? The moment the fight for justice breaks down is the moment when we can't see who the real enemies of equality are.

When we start to cannibalize our own and disavow important allies for perceived mistakes, we become the enemies of equality and justice. Bigoted politicians and religious leaders can easily win against those who destroy those within their own ranks.

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