Ani and Michelle

The myth “It matters what people think of me” is one of the things I am out to shatter, primarily because it has kept me shut down and unable to do anything without The Interior Critic going nuts. So, here is my first mistaken commentary on public issues on the last day of the year.

What Ani DiFranco did was thoughtless and dumb. However, the explosion over it (which is largely on the Internet, and not in real life) was way out of proportion. In March, Michelle Shocked got on stage and told her audience, “God hates faggots.” She has come up with all kinds of intellectual didoes and explanations to brush this off, but it didn’t work. Her career is dead.

And rightly so. Because what she said, she said directly to offend people. She deliberately expressed a hateful opinion to a group of people in order to offend them, in the name of her God, because she honestly believes, at heart, that homosexuals are going to Hell. In spite of the fact that she built much of her career representing herself as queer, and deliberately built her audience by playing to that demographic. Basically, she went out on the stage of Yoshi’s in March and spat in everyone’s face in the name of her God. That’s pretty goddamn awful.

Ani DiFranco did not do that. She did something dumb. She booked a venue without checking it out first, or she let one of her people do it without checking it first. When she got the fiery feedback from the audience, she cancelled. If you don’t like her apology, or lack of apology, or whatever, then that’s your right, your absolute right. 

But she did not deliberately do it to offend people or alienate people. However, a lot of people – and again, most of these are on the Internet – took it as if she had deliberately set out to offend people and attempt to rewrite the history of the USA. That was not the case. 

And looking at it from outside, it seems to me that the people who are reacting against what Ani did are taking way too much pleasure in it. There is too much relish and too much glee in the outburst of politically correct self-righteousness on this issue.  I am not denying that Ani did something dumb, and that it shows that she needs to think about some things when it comes to privilege and history. But the aggressiveness and the viciousness of the reaction is a little frightening. 

“So you’re saying it’s OK because she didn’t mean it?”

Nope, not saying that. It’s not OK. But intent counts for a lot.

Michelle Shocked intended to alienate her audience, for her God’s sake. Ani DiFranco screwed up without meaning to. If we disregard intent, then we end up painting ourselves into a corner. Do we want to put all acts on the same level? Wouldn’t that be a bit like punishing every crime with.30-year jail sentences, no matter what? Jaywalking, homicide, theft…everything: 30 years flat. 

Ani DiFranco offended some people. But unintentionally offending someone is something that everyone reading this has done at one time in their lives. Actually, probably more than once, if we are going to be honest. It feels like shit when you know you’ve done it.

It also feels like shit when somebody says something offensive to us, whether they meant it or not. If they meant it, then I cut them out of my group of people that I pay attention to. If they didn’t mean it, I have a conversation with them and explain why what they did was offensive, and see if we can talk about it. If I say something that offended someone unintentionally, I listen and I apologize. 

That wasn’t happening in the discussions I saw online. I saw a lot of people venting a lot of anger and enjoying venting a little too much. Some of them were venting about how their heroine hadn’t made a good album in a long time. Some of the resentment came from people who are pissed off that she’s not angry at the world any more, that her dreadlocks are long gone and that she had the temerity to actually have kids and have a life instead of being their personal flag waver, heroine and leader of their revolution, and that was the real source of some people’s anger. You’re not who I want you to be any more, Ani. 

Never mind the fact that Ani has never turned her back on her ideals of equality and justice. (Unlike Michelle Shocked, who threw all of that in the trash can when she embraced Protestant fundamentalist Christianity.) From day one, she’s stayed consistent to the ideals of truth, justice and equality. She made a mistake, yeah. But do we want to use this to beat the crap out of her, or do we want to start talking about what the real issue is?

PS: Fuck me, man, I just spent an hour typing this and Kristen Becker already said everything I was trying to say, only better. Here’s the link:


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