The Uses of the Left

Over the weekend “America’s media has been in the grips of some sort of Suey Park-derangement syndrome,” notes Julia Carrie Wong in The Nation. Both internet and television news media picked the story up and devoted significant attention to it. For Wong, this indicates the rising power of brown women.

“Even if all these arguments against Suey Park were convincing, however, none of them explains why so many members of the mainstream media felt so irresistibly compelled to make them. That’s the question that I find most striking about this entire brouhaha. I’ve spent this past weekend considering the relative comfort and power of columnists at mainstream publications as compared to the 23-year-old activist and asking (in my best Veronica Sawyer from Heathers voice), “What is your damage?” You may not agree with her campaigns or her tactics (I have frequently disagreed with her myself) but do you really need her to shut up so badly?

I think that the real problem most people have with Park is that she has power. Over the past few days, writers with larger platforms than Park have suggested #CancelSnyder and other variations on the theme to much lesser effect. And yet when Suey Park told her followers to trend #CancelColbert, they complied, and kept the hashtag trending for hours.

The power to direct thousands of people on social media and drive a narrative without permission from any editor, publication or other form of traditional media gatekeeper is one that many in journalism wish they had and (I suspect) believe they deserve more than Park. Who the hell is she, after all? Who gave her permission? We are not used to women of color, and especially supposedly submissive Asian women, acting with such brash disregard of their elders and “betters.”

I hope that all the writers who took to their platforms to condemn #CancelColbert and Suey Park ask themselves what they had to lose by supporting her, or at least by remaining silent. From where I stand, the distinction between the internet trolls who want Park to be quiet and the media commenters who want Park to be quiet is narrower than the media commenters would want to admit. Park’s influence challenges the traditional power structure of a mainstream media born of and endlessly reinforcing a system of white supremacy. The sheer volume of her detractors says more about their fear of losing influence than it does about anything else.”

Far more likely alternative explanations seem not to occur to Wong: that an insular, graduate school cultured left serving up inanities provides wonderful fodder for mockery and denunciation of the left for the corporate presses and, perhaps most importantly, that in the 21st century, media thrive on empty content that requires zero reportorial investigative work (which can be expensive). The media, driven by social media in particular, swarm to content that is emotionally charged (click-bait!) empty drama.

The Suey Park story has far more utility for the corporate media within this profit model than, say, exploring the Economic Policy Institute’s latest recommendation to the federal government that “there is great promise to increase employment of Native Americans with policy interventions including increasing technical education and investing in infrastructure.” The dark side of the internet has seldom been more evident.

4/8/2014 Update: <humor> More silliness from Salon, this time by someone named Brittney Cooper.


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