Iain Lee, Tabloid Media, and What Racism Means

If you follow me on social media or on this blog,  you’ll know I’m a fan of talk radio. I found a new talk show network forming in the UK called TalkRadio, so I gave their shows a listen. One of the shows in particular caught my ear. Iain Lee hosts a show on the network that I’ve come to really enjoy listening to. I even sent him an email telling him (and have told his producer in tweets) on how much I like the show. Lee seems  to be a very honest host that really puts his heart and vulnerability into his show/art.

The last few days Lee has been under attack by British media for supposedly being racist. Lee was on a game show (for charity) and this happened:

Lee defended himself quite well on Monday’s show (May 2, 2016), saying that he thought the girls where in a corner-shop and it was nothing more than that.

On Tuesday night’s show, a caller phoned in to engage with Lee concerning what is referred to as casual racism. I found his treatment of this caller to be rude, and dismissive. He wouldn’t let the caller get his point across, and even used the dictionary argument.  Going on a radio show as a caller always puts the the caller at a disadvantage. The radio presenter always has control over the call and the conversation, and I felt Lee was harsh and refused to listen to what the caller was saying.

Casual racism isn’t always something the person engaging in it even knows they’re doing. Everyone has implicit biases, and sometimes those biases cause us to engage in behavior that we’re not even aware of. He posted after the show on Twitter that the earlier caller had made the observation that black people can’t be racist:

Actual tweets at Storify

FireShot Capture 46 - Editing 'Iain Lee Show _ - https___editor.storify.com_57294eca936b6de4593cf642

The natural response when being called out on pretty much anything in life is a reflexive denial. White people (cisgender heterosexual males) especially don’t like being called racist. Even overt racists don’t think or say they’re racist. But I wasn’t even SAYING Lee is a racist. I was critical of his treatment of someone that was trying to explain casual racism to him.  By criticizing him for his rude treatment of a caller, supporters of Lee have accused me of cyber-bullying.

FireShot Capture 47 - Editing 'Iain Lee Show _ - https___editor.storify.com_57294eca936b6de4593cf642

Even though as soon as Lee asked me to stop tweeting him, I did, I’m a bully. I do understand how difficult it is for white people to hear something they said or did might be racist. I learned this the hard way. I wrote a blog post  in which I typed out the “N” word fully. Soon after I was taken to task by people of colour. I had to listen, because as a white person myself, I’m not the arbiter of what is, or is not,  racist.

For many white people being called racist is something akin to being called a child abuser or a rapist in terms of the public shame. Casual racism isn’t using the N word or lynching someone, it’s a hell of a lot more subtle than that. My issue wasn’t with Lee’s game show performance, but his dismissal and rude treatment of someone that called him on his privilege or the possibility that he MIGHT have been casually racist. As a friend of mine said of Lee’s reaction, it’s as if someone stepped on your foot and the following conversation ensued:

Me: “Excuse me, I believe you just stepped on my foot.”
Me: “But you’re still standing on my foot.”

Regardless, I wish nothing but the best for Lee. Lee stated that he has blocked me because he’s struggling with depression. I hope he feels better soon.



WTF Comedy, Twitter Mobs, and the End to the Everlasting Podium

Tur, Maron, and Norton share one in common. They all have a well established media platforms to broadcast from. The democracy of Twitter is a threat to that podium. The only valid commentary seems to be one that has a lens that’s pointed out away from themselves.

Their outrage at the “outrage machine” would be comical if they weren’t trying to stifle criticism and debate. It shows an arrogance and lack of respect for their audience. After all, we’re “just idiots sitting at home.”

If you listened lately to people who have well established media outlets to speak from, pitchforks and torches are out of style. They would have you believe that the @ and # of Twitter are the new implements of mob justice.

Concerning the Twitter outrage over newly designated Daily Show Host, Trevor Noah, comedian Jim Norton said:

“[Noah] also neglected to take into account that Western culture as a whole has become an increasingly reactionary mob of self-centered narcissists who all have their own personal lines drawn in the sand. A comedian is fine unless he crosses their particular line, which, of course, in the mind of a self-centered narcissist, is the only line that matters.”


“I read the tweets he was ‘under fire’ for, and some were funny, some weren’t. The thread that connected them all for me is the embarrassment I feel for anyone claiming to be offended by them. They weren’t vicious or written to be harmful. And everyone reading them knows that. But knowing his tweets weren’t intended to be harmful isn’t important when people who list ‘victim’ as their occupation smell blood in the water. Because their outrage is a lie and their motives are transparent. They are simply using his tweets to get their dopamine drip.”

Comedians make a living off of outrage, mockery, and controversy. Oddly, It’s considered an outrage for comedians to be held to to account for their jokes or their words.

In an interview on WTF podcast Marc Maron said:

“That context of really following through with an earnest critique, or well founded intellectual critique, and following through with a reasonable discussion around the possibilities of the implications of what you’re saying is just fucking gone. So if you’re going to, you know, present it to the animals on Twitter, if you’re going to say “here’s some meat”, and expect anything different than a frenzy. And it’s a shame because the sort of time it takes to process and have a reasonable conversation about aesthetics or socio-political meaning, it’s very limited. It’s insulated. It’s not going to happen on Twitter, really. Twitter is all frenetic. And in those moments you don’t realize these are just idiots sitting at home. This is not some sort of structured debate on anything. And you’re dealing with a media platform that feeds on controversy.”

It’s not the comedians who say fat shaming, sexist, homophobic or transphobic jokes that are the problem. The problem, in their mind, is the common, stupid “animals” of Twitter who criticize. Never mind that it’s “just a joke” has been the justification bullies have used for centuries.

Additionally there’s an underlying suggestion that there are no boundaries to comedy. That just isn’t true. In the 1970’s it was acceptable to make ethnic or racial jokes:

Today it’s unheard of for someone to make jokes about someone outside of their own race or ethnic heritage. Ask Michael Richards what doing that in today’s comedic landscape will do to your standup career. Comedic boundaries change over time. The world isn’t humourless because of a lack of Polack jokes.

Zoe Tur, who’s recently taken the brunt of her own Twitter controversy, pointed Jamie Fox (via Twitter) to Damon Linker’s post, “The shameful shaming of Twitter’s digital mobs” at The Week:

Twitter is an ideal medium for mobs because it is so democratic. Countless thousands mulling about an agora of infinite expanse, each person given the same 140 characters with which to pronounce, denounce, show off, and shine in a glaring public spotlight. To begin with there are only one’s own followers. But there’s always the chance that a well-timed, sufficiently clever and cutting tweet will get retweeted by a follower with more and better-known followers, launching the comment into a wider circle of readers who might retweet it again, and again, and again.

According to Andy Warhol, everyone will get to enjoy 15 minutes of fame. On Twitter, everyone gets 15 seconds to ride a viral wave. It’s that promise of attention and approval that provokes so many to pounce the moment they see an easy target for humor, mockery, and abuse. It’s standard-issue one-upsmanship raised to the millionth power. If you run in left-wing circles, you’ll jump on something that offends the left. The same holds for the right, and for dozens of other political-ideological-cultural factions. It’s the world’s largest high school cafeteria, with every member of every clique vying to become the most popular kid in the group.

after Foxx made transphobic jokes at the expense of Bruce Jenner. Of course when Tur was criticised for her critical social commentary, Tur said of those who dared question her as:

“condemning any diversity of thought” and characterized their criticism as a “form of violence toward women.”

Tur, Maron, and Norton share one in common. They all have a well established media platforms to broadcast from. The democracy of Twitter is a threat to that podium. The only valid commentary seems to be one that has a lens that’s pointed out away from themselves.

Their outrage at the “outrage machine” would be comical if they weren’t trying to stifle criticism and debate. It shows an arrogance and lack of respect for their audience. After all, we’re “just idiots sitting at home.”

As ugly as Twitter can be at times, it’s still one of the best places for debate and critical analysis. Twitter’s 140 character limitation is only limiting discussion if your reading comprehension only goes one tweet deep.

If it’s true that Twitter can’t take a joke, social commentators like Tur, Maron, and Norton can’t take criticism pointed at them. Regardless of the cries from those of who swim in oceans of privilege and media access, Twitter and other social media commenters will continue to hold social commentators accountable for their commentary. We aren’t going to be silent and we aren’t going away.