Thursday, March 24, 2011

Is There Such a Thing as an "Unforgivable Offense?"

courtesy of
Reading through the comments on this Tiger Beatdown post, I feel conflicted. (I won't comment on the article that was linked other than one of the things I hate most is when men explain me to me.) On one hand, I truly believe that most people, when confronted with their own problematic behavior, will want to learn and grow. On the other, when that behavior becomes a habit, and not limited to one or two isolated incidents, it's really hard for me to look past it, even if they've done consistently good work elsewhere.

I think this is why certain factions of the feminist blogosphere always gets dragged into these conversations. It's not just the behavior that's the problem, it's the denial that it even exists. It's the unwillingness to change that behavior; to not do the work.

What happens when a respected artist or writer, someone who's held in high regard by those same feminists, fails to own up to her mistakes? A good example of this, what I'm loosely calling an "unforgivable offense," is the controversy over Amanda Palmer's Evelyn/Evelyn project, and her refusal to acknowledge that she was contributing to the marginalization of people with disabilities. When the project was invariably criticized, she refused to listen, and dodged responsibility with the classic, "sorry you were offended." FWD explains it better:
Unfortunately, Evelyn Evelyn seems like a project that is far from actually being transgressive, even given the initial appearance of said transgression (because what’s more shocking and weird than conjoined twins, at least according to abled culture?). The project, as far as I can tell, makes no reference to the ways in which actual people with disabilities are treated in Western culture; this probably seems like a tall order for any musical project, but there is a chasm of difference between at least acknowledging that there are people like this (in this case, conjoined twins) who do exist and that they probably are affected by ableism, and outright appropriation of this uniqueness in the name of art. Certainly, Evelyn Evelyn is fictional, and while Palmer and Webley are not required to make any sort of political statement, the seeming lack of awareness that there are actual conjoined twins and that they do not only exist for abled artists’ dressing-up-and-performing purposes is rather troubling.
I don't bring up the Evelyn/Evelyn project to rehash old hurt. I do it because Palmer was given the perfect opportunity to acknowledge what she did wrong, and correct it without becoming defensive. I see this played out time and again within the progressive blogosphere, and the same questions come up: can we call out someone's failures without nullifying the rest of the work they've done? When does an offense become unforgivable?

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