On racial slurs and double standards

Six Ways to Sunday: The six buzziest talking points from the weekend and beyond

New York Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen. (Jeff Roberson/AP)

New York Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen. (Jeff Roberson/AP)

Welcome to Six Ways to Sunday, your weekly digest of the things in pop culture and news that matter, from this weekend and for beyond.

1. THE METS’ PITCHING COACH AND THE ‘C-WORD’

In many ways, things are better in regards to racism. When someone is so backwards as to utter a slur, we hear about it, and we lambaste them. We live in a different society than we were fifty years ago; we are more respectful of the realities of a more diverse culture. But it’s hardly an already-won fight: for instance, when it was announced last week that a movie reboot of Annie was going to cast Oscar-nominated youth Quvenzhané Wallis–she is black–as the iconic redhead, many slammed the decision under the guise of “aesthetic tradition” (or sometimes, blatant racism.) Except we live in a world more than ever where “aesthetic tradition” holds basically no weight, where we rail against and innovate upon tradition, because yes, we live in a different society than we did fifty years ago, and our pop culture should reflect that.

But then, those moments of larger scale, more vicious racism have been replaced by quieter moments of cultural ignorance, the moments that hurt in different kinds of way: a helplessness you can do nothing about. They’re just as nefarious, and just as institutional, because to not hear about them implies that the mission has been accomplished, that there exists wide respect for all races, when my own experiences indicate that it must be happening far more.

That’s why it’s bad enough when Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen made a racial “joke” at the expense of Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka’s translator, calling him by a slur against the Chinese popularized during America’s gold-rush and railway-construction eras in western North America, and then offered a fumbling, flailing apology. To some degree, this can be dismissed as the ravings of a man out-of-touch with the mores of today, insulated by a sports community where the rules on conversation are different, employed by a major-league team expected to continue to do poorly. Having seen him sufficiently castigated on mainstream places like ESPN, makes that dismissal easier. What is far more infuriating, though, is that the coverage of his slur subsequently repeated the slur in full.

ESPN’s Adam Rubin, seconds after calling it “off-colour” and “inappropriate,” said the word in full for ESPN’s web video. The New York Daily News and Deadspin were among those who repeated the word outside of the initial quote.

Those publications should know better. It’s one thing to report what was happening–the instinct among readers, after all, would be to ask, “what was the slur?” That’s a frustrating instinct: the fact that there are so many slurs to choose from is a hilariously trivial reason to qualify a reader to ask which one was picked. When the n-word is uttered, that vile thing, you never hear it repeated in full. Why, then, the decision to report out this “C-word”? To know that Warthen said it was flummoxing enough; to hear it repeated by reporters without context, without even an explanation about why the word is offensive, brings about the kind of silent helpless feeling that is becoming all too familiar. Call it the symptom of a bleeding-heart liberal, call it oversensitivity. But the media plays a role in matters becoming institutionalized. It shouldn’t be okay to say the word at all.

2. WE ARE TO BLAME FOR OUR DISAPPOINTMENT IN STRANGERS KISSING

If you were on Facebook this week, your newsfeed likely consisted of friends sharing one of two videos (or both!): Zach Galifianakis’s Between Two Ferns episode with Barack Obama, and a beautifully shot, beautifully felt video of strangers kissing. There were clues that the latter video wasn’t what it claimed to be – the high production value, the attractiveness of the people involved, why the filmmaker who uploaded the video, Tatia Pilieva, had only that video to her name in her Youtube account. But, as is so often the case these days, critical faculties were turned off by how cute it was, these strangers fumbling around awkwardly but then becoming cinematic kissers as soon as they locked lips.

So when the video was revealed to be all part of a campaign to sell the clothes the models were wearing – it was a big advertisement, essentially, for L.A.-based fashion label WREN – the people who dared believe in the magic of connection and love felt duped.

Is that a fair feeling? Yes, and no. The reality is, we brought it on ourselves: the exultant, raving way we responded to (and were fed) the video in the first place is what made the fall so hard. (THIS VIDEO IS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL THING EVER, Upworthy and Buzzfeed and others crowed, and we believed them.) Was it a nice idea well-executed? Absolutely. Did it trigger our deep-seated beliefs that life can indeed be a rom-com? Totally. Should we have been a little bit suspicious and not give ourselves fully to it? Yes, that too. Pop/low culture is an opportunity to switch one’s brain off, and that’s totally fine, but we shouldn’t be mad, then, if advertisers do their job and try to get in  through that open door. But as this and Jimmy Kimmel’s hoax videos prove, the power of pop culture is that it also feeds into what we want to believe, and serves as confirmation of it, when it is in fact proven by falsehood. That’s a bigger deal. Let’s keep some walls up, in the future – and in the meantime, if you want to see what actual non-model strangers kissing is like, Vice has done it for you.

3. DUBSTEP AND DISNEY

Electronic dance music – or EDM, by its more popular shorthand – is all the rage, and it has infiltrated mainstream pop tastes, with more and more on the radio taking on EDM flavour. The biggest pop songs, too, earn remix albums, where singles are reworked, generally by EDM DJs. Even Lil’ Jon, former shouter-on-rap-songs, has made the full-time switch into EDM, most recently linking up with DJ Snake on “Turn Down For What,” which boasts this awesome, cartoonish (and not-safe-for-work) video inspired by Caribbean “daggering” dance.

But if you were asked which artist least needed a dubstep/EDM remix, you’d probably say Randy Newman, the stammering nasal piano singer perhaps best known for his Toy Story theme song, You’ve Got a Friend In Me. Well, WAIT NO LONGER, because thanks to Disney’s late-to-the-game new project, Dconstructed, that’s just the remix we’re getting (seriously.) Combining forces with top talent like Kaskade, Avicii and Armin Van Buuren, it’s actually a surprise this collaboration hasn’t happened yet–recognizable songs help house tracks thrive. Get ready for a house remix of a song from Dumbo, a remix of a song by the late Annette Funicello, and a track “inspired by the Toy Story short Partysaurus Rex.”

4. JOHN OLIVER’S NEW HBO SHOW

The Daily Show has graduated a lot of stars (Steve Carrell, Stephen Colbert, Rob Corddry, Ed Helms, Rob Riggle), and its latest, John Oliver – shooting to fame over the summer thanks to a much-loved stint hosting the show as Jon Stewart took a sabbatical – is ready to start a show of his own at HBO. The teaser for Last Week Tonight with John Oliver came out more than a week ago, making this not necessarily fit the rules of this weekly column, but that’s only appropriate, since he will lampoon news and the languor with which it sometimes moves. But I’m also adding this fun note: for those unaware, Oliver has been doing his wry take on the news for even longer than he was with The Daily Show, with the weekly podcast The Bugle. Odds are it will be very similar to what we’ll see on HBO on April 27 – check it out.

5. LONGFORM OF THE WEEK

Matthew Power was a prolific writer, traveller and friend when he passed away suddenly this week at the age of 39, dying of heatstroke while on assignment in Uganda. His death left many longform writers despairing, from Vanity Fair‘s Seth Mnookin to the New Yorker‘s David Grann. The best way to remember a writer – especially one who steeped himself in the stories he wrote – is through his work, and the most recent Power story I read is the one that resonated the most, exploring the humanity and sensitivities of the Americans who pilot murderous drones in foreign lands for GQ.

6. MCSWEENEY’S ANIMATED VIDEO

If you’re a lover of 16-bit video-game-inspired animation, and/or if you’re a fan of McSweeney’s Internet Tendency – a font of wry satire and dry wit for the literarily-inclined – you’ll love this video, which takes a McSweeney’s greatest hit and recasts it with the voice of Bob’s Burgers star H. Jon Benjamin. If you’re not, either way: just watch it. It’s hilarious.




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On racial slurs and double standards

  1. The “C-word”… not as clear cut as the N word. I’m going to assume it’s the one which, when used in a non-derogatory sense, means “a narrow opening or crack, typically one that admits light.” If a different word was used, then maybe it should be spelled out (in context).

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