Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Final Words

I was prepared to leave things where they were yesterday had not a brief tour of the websites and my comments box revealed a concerted effort to misrepresent the nature of my undertaking. Disinformation is disinformation, and it must be countered. For the record, the experiment was not to "prove" that people who are attacked will react, which, as others have noted, would be a "duh" conclusion.

The point was to show that even the most self-described open, reflective, and insightful members of our society -- our artists -- will react in the same way we have seen other groups react, and that artists have condemned for their reaction.

The pattern, borne out in the past few days, is as follows:

1. Personal Attack -- insult the person with the unpopular ideas on a base, personal level.
2. Circle the Wagons -- gather together those who share the idea under attack and reinforce, through reiteration and mutual congratulation, the value of the original concept
3. Attack the Outsider's Motives -- question whether there is something other than the stated idea that the outsider really wants to do
4. Intimidate -- threaten real life retaliation
5. Blame the Victim-- assert that the person being attacked and intimidated brought it on themselves through their actions
6. Silence -- cut the discussion short before cooler heads can prevail
7. Spin -- reinterpret the attack in ways that make it sound foolish
8. Act Bored-- tell the questioner that they have belabored the question and they should "move on"

We can trace these tactics through many of the major social revolutions we have seen over the past several decades: the anti-Vietnam Movement, the Black Movement, the Feminist Movement, the Gay Rights Movement, and now we are watching it unfold with the Immigrant Movement.

The point is not that my minor incursion into blog controversy has anything approaching the scale or importance of these major social movements. The point is that the reaction we have seen is 1) not in the least surprising, and 2) occurs even at the smallest level.

To those who would say that sometimes people need to be "slapped around," I would not argue -- the only way that injustices are addressed and change is undertaken is through provocation. But I would assert that, for change to actually occur, a two-part process must be undertaken.

1) Provoke
2) Follow-up by a moderate voice offering a less-aggressive alternative

Martin Luther King Jr now has a national holiday and is seen as the leader of the Black Movement for equal rights. Very true. But without Malcolm X and the Black Panthers rioting in the background, MLK would have been shut down by the FBI and ignored by the media and general public; without MLK, Malcolm X and the Black Panthers would have alienated the media and the general public, and eventually been arrested and silenced. The relationship between the provocateur and the moderator is symbiotic.

If someone like YS at Mirror Up To Nature, or Joshua James, two members of the group who took a moderate stance throughout, had followed up behind me saying, "Wait a minute -- let's see what might be learned from the past few days," there valuable discussion might have ensued. The problem was that I, as provocateur, continued to provoke, which did not allow a moderate voice to be heard. There needs to be a cease fire before negotiations can occur.

So for those artists who feel that it is necessary for audiences to be "slapped around" occasionally, I say "Hear! Hear!" But I would also encourage you to find some way for a follow-up moderator to help create something of value from the first step you have taken. In my opinion, one of the reasons that the NEA Four was defeated is that there was nobody strong enough to manage the process I described above and provide an acceptable alternative. We almost had it when Joseph Papp declined his NEA grant in protest of the inserted clauses concerning offensiveness, but it was too late -- the spotlight had moved on, and he was not supported by enough additional respected insiders to raise the profile of his protest.


Joshua James said...

I have to disagree again, Scott, there was no concerted effort or conspiracy - it was only your audience reacting negatively - that's all. They didn't like what you wrote and how you communicated with them afterward and responded as such. We didn't put our heads together and decide we wanted to fuck over another blogger - it was just a general disgust and distrust of what you've done.

I'm telling you, for your own good, you made a mistake here and a misjudgment not only about your fellow bloggers but on what you've done with your experiment here. You should really, seriously think it over and talk it over with someone, hopefully a cooler head and an objective eye.

devore said...

Why do you insist on painting yourself as an outsider?

Of all the bloggers, the only one I know personally, in a flesh-and-blood sense, is Matt.

You're one of the main voices of this theater blogosphere. It's why we read you. It's why I read you.


You weren't an outsider, Scott. And you can write thousand word rationalizations and draw asinine conclusions about some great, grand social experiment. The fact of the matter is you were a trusted arts blogger who smugly betrayed that trust. Hell, I believed you when you came back to blogging with this new "positive" attitude. I had been one of the people to have flamed you in the past. I reformed. I read you; indeed, I was often one of your precious hits.

Art is life, and vice versa. How could people NOT take your sweeping generalizations personally? You might not have initially taken direct personal shots at individuals, but you did unload a lot of buckshot.

Any point you wanted to make is utterly lost because of your high-handed tactics, and your self-pitying defense.

I shouldn't be posting this. I should participate in validating this whole fiasco. I'm just flummoxed.

You're kind of scary.

Laura said...


Regarding your notion about Malcolm X, MLK and the Black Panthers. MLK was already on the cover of Time magazine in 1964, which was when the Lowndes County Freedom Organization was founded. That organization gave rise to the BPP in 1966. MLK was already making an impact by then. Some historians would no doubt make a case that the BPP was a mini sub-generation of the movement.

As well, the BPP was actually feeding children in the early days.

While all belonged to the Civil Rights Movement, they didn't have the same philosophy. Certainly not the same tactics. And, in fact, Hoover did all he could to shut down and marginalize MLK - even with the BPP and Malcolm X.

In short, MLK was regarded as a major pain in the ass in his day. Hardly the hero that he would later be proclaimed.

I understand your point about moderates and provocation. But since I just spent a year at the LBJ Presidential Library studying the history of what you just described, I had to clarify that.

Alison Croggon said...

Scott, the self pity in this post (and your previous posts and comments) fits badly with the aggression of what you've been writing. I still don't know what your agenda is, but it's hard to see past the self-aggrandandising. (And I'm talking, as always, about what you wrote, not you personally. I don't know you from a bar of soap.)

Why this pious insistence that you are a victim? You are not a victim. You said some provocative things and people were provoked. How the hell were you addressing "injustice" by this so-called "experiment"?

I've been a critic of theatre and poetry for many years. The frankness of my opinions has often got me into trouble. Over the years, I've been abused - by letter and telephone - and was profiled in newspapers and on tv as the "bitch critic". I was sued. There was a very public campaign to get me sacked from my job as theatre critic, and when I got sick of all the shit, I decided I would rather just write poetry and resigned. After that, I couldn't get a paying job as a critic (why do you think I started a blog?)

Now, that's just what happens. I don't feel sorry for me - I say things in public and, right or wrong, I wear the consequences of that. If I dish it out, I should be able to take it. I could, after all, just shut up and live a quiet life. I stand by what I say, and I'll defend it; I say what I say because I believe certain things are worth fighting for. If I'm mistaken, I'll admit it - what have I got to lose? I'd rather be fair than "right". I'm as flawed as the next person, but I try my best to operate by my principles. But maybe that history makes me particularly impatient with the disingenuous and, it has to be said, narcissistic self-justifications I've read here over the past three days.

Scott Walters said...

Allison -- I'm not certain where you are seeing self-pity. I am trying to analyze the process as it occurred. The list of tactics used is not a "Woe is me" list, but a documentation: these were used in the discussion. It's a fact -- I could provide the links. I don't feel battered and abused (although I do think some of the comments are abusive and unethical, and that reflects badly on the commenter).

By the way, I admire your courage during your time as a reviewer, and while I understand why you resigned as a critic, I think that the theatre suffered when you did. Thank God for blogging.

Disingenuous and narcissistic? Well, maybe I am. There are other adjectives that could be ascribed to others who have participated in this discussion, and who continue to justify, as do I my own, their tactics.

I think if you read my comments you will see that my tone throughout has attempted to be calm, objective, and impersonal. It didn't help, but that is an attitude I tried to maintain.

I'd rather be fair than right, too, believe it or not. And like you, I try to operate by my principles. I felt, with this post, that I needed to summarize my perceptions for those who have been following the discussion but perhaps not contributing their insights. I suspect that there might be some who understood the point I was trying to make.

I am not going to post anymore on this subject. As you'll note, I've offered up a comment on "Buried Child." I'm truly sorry that I have overdrawn my good will bank account with you and many others. I was surprised that the balance started out so low in the first place.

parabasis said...


What I find objectionable about this whole thing is that the experiment was on some level rigged, and then you cherry-picked responses to continue to prove your point.

I wrote you a private e-mail stating that I felt you misrepresented what I was saying, and your response was to never mention my accusations on my blog that your "Experiment" was designed simply to prove yourself right.

Saying that George p'wnd on this one was an effort to encourage a member of the conversation who had managed to be both witty and constructive. He engaged your online flame (let's call it what it was) and respoded to it constructively by providing his ten examples. he was sharply critical of you and your (now we know, "performed") worldview. But that was about it.

I didn't praise James Comtois or Ian Hill, two friends of mine who I felt had gone a bit too far. I was planning on saying so, but you yanked the cord on your perpetual-bullshit machine before I had the opportunity.

Nor did you address my criticism that you degraded people solely for the purpose of proving yourself right, and that that was, in a word, wrong. Morally, ethically, wrong. You took advantage of people's trust, people whom you had recently counted on for favors.

Instead, you have consistently clamed that the online flamewar you started is akin to any kind of theater that challenges your audience. What George, Alison and I have consistently, ever since you started this blog, disagreed with you about is this charactarization. We aren't saying "its' good that theater does this" we're saying-- "Scott, we don't really think theater does this and that the problem is as pervasive as you say it is". Your consistent unwillingness to site examples only gives more fuel to the fire.

This is the last comment I'll write on this subject (or on this blog, for that matter). Your intellectual dishonesty and insistence in proving yourself right at all costs in a debate we were no longer really engaged in is truly startling.

And I wouldn't comfort yourself by saying that what you said was neither personal nor abusive. It was both. And you knew it. You knew that by insulting the work of your blogopeers, by calling our work nothing more than shouting fuck in an empty theater, that you would ensure a reaction.

You need to stop the preening and offer a sincere and genuine apology. You took advantage of people, and that is reprehensible. I'm not justifying the flame war that rained down on you, I don't think it was a good thing, and I think there are some people who owe you an apology as well. I don't think I'm one of them. Your rant was illinformed grandstanding, you admitted as much in your explanation for the attack you waged in the Great War To Prove Scott Walters Right.

In choosing to be Right instead of choosing to build and sustain your relationships with the online community here, you have only hurt yourself. And that should make you at least pause and reflect a little.