I thought about not including any pre-emptive caveats, because that can come across as apologetic or defensive.
But if I’m being honest, I get apologetic and/or defensive when I’ve thought of something and chosen not to engage with it, and am then presented with the existence of that known information as though I haven’t already completely overthought everything, so it makes sense that I can come across as apologetic and/or defensive when that’s an accurate description of how I feel.
I’m working on managing my reactions to those feelings, but that’s beyond the scope of this blog. Here, I’m just admitting that this exists.
I realize that no one can read my mind, and so the fact that I’ve probably gone head-to-head with my Inner Critic for several rounds of condescension, second guessing, and devil’s advocacy isn’t going to be apparent to anyone unless I say so.
I generally like to clear up my process by over-explaining (or, as it may appear to my fellow anxious over-thinkers, “explaining”), but understandably, many people don’t have time for that.
So I often attempt to accommodate their predicted impatience by streamlining and under-specifying my process.
Which leads people, in turn, to explain to me the things I’ve decided I didn’t want to take the time to talk about.
And the cycle begins anew. (To be read in the voice of David Attenborough.)
My Inner Critic does not really Know All, of course. In fact, it knows exactly the same things that I know, but has a higher tolerance for unreasonable ideas about what I should have already known, what I’ve failed to address, why my opinion is irrelevant, and why terrible people have a right to undermine my perspective.
I’m trying to personify the Inner Critic to make it more distinct from my own thoughts. I’ve found that different guises work better for different contexts: the Academic Inner Critic feels out of place when I’m dealing with interpersonal conflict. The Disappointed Authority Figure is great for all things guilt, but under-equipped when it comes to social issues like race and sexuality.
For the sort of topics I generally cover for this blog, my Inner Critic is an All-Knowing Asshole named Zane.
He exists specifically to be a straw man.
He’s a master of performative wokeness. He loudly occupies too much space in a diverse range of communities dedicated to equity and inclusion. He chastises his friends who haven’t added their pronouns on social media, even though he just adopted the practice last week. He considers the land acknowledgement at the bottom of his work email signature to be sufficient to call his sage-burning “smudging.” He doesn’t believe that bisexuals really exist because they’re either pansexual or they are gross transphobes, and as a cis het man who frequently reminds people that he once dated a trans woman, he should know. He was into Joe Rogan when he was younger, and he’s grown past that now, but sometimes he does actually make some good points, you know? Not that he agrees with them but you just have to be open to considering all the perspectives sometimes. He just doesn’t think Nicole Byer is funny and that’s because her humor doesn’t work for him. It’s not a sexist thing because he’s beyond that – we’re all just humans in the end. And it’s definitely not a race thing because he was at that candlelight vigil for George Floyd, in the front row. The picture was on the main page his college’s website for like a week. He’s just not racist or sexist or homophobic or transphobic or ableist, because he knows better. In all the ways. He campaigned for Bernie but secretly voted for Biden in the primary. He doesn’t read Mandarin but the tattoo on the back of his neck is supposed to say “The wise warrior avoids the battle,” from The Art of War.
And so on.
So Zane rigorously questions everything I think.
And in this space, I will satisfy my urge to over-explain by sharing some of my responses to this All-Knowing Asshole in advance.
This is a work in progress.
I’m working my way through new ideas in most of these posts.
That’s hardly a bullet-proof defense against fair criticism, but it is a reminder that in spite of the confident tone, many of my conclusions are far from absolute.
This is an upgraded and more audience-aware version of an older blog, so any posts that are converted from that setting have been revisited (sometimes significantly). Even so, my awareness and opinions are constantly evolving.
Some posts are really short – more like pith quips, really – while others are surprisingly long. Some of the short posts could probably use more development and some of the long posts could probably use more judicious pruning.
If you read this as though it’s on the same level as cultural criticism by someone who does that for their paid or aspirational day job, my take is probably gonna feel underwhelming by comparison.
I am not a designer.
I use a lot of screenshots of potentially already low-quality image files.
I don’t always take extra time to get a higher-quality version or make the files I have be as pretty as they could be.
Tone is hard.
The tone here is often flippant. Sometimes my words mean the opposite of their denotative meaning, and there are not always symbols or obvious cues to mark that shift.
I can’t always just blame the fact that I don’t have an editor, but also, I’m my own editor. (I have gotten feedback from brilliant and awesome friends from time to time, but they do this out of the goodness of their hearts, and I’m still ultimately the one making decisions about what gets published.)
I try to offer reassurance when it seems important, but I don’t always notice because I always understand my own tone.
The whole premise requires walking a line between constructive criticism and snark, which can create some rhetorically challenging moments. It’s kind of a weird space to navigate both angrily and honestly, and I’m making it up as I go.
I’m committed to expressing anger because this is something that I have consistently denied myself. I am capable of writing in a voice and style that is more sincere and/or formal, but this is not where I’m developing that voice.
Also, although this is a casual blog where I’m developing a voice that doesn’t show up in a lot of my other writing, I do have an academic background and so sometimes I sound like an academic.
Sometimes I catch myself and correct course. Sometimes I don’t even notice that I’m doing it. Sometimes I notice and I don’t care.
YouTubers who are in the business of offering advice and education about topics like mental health consistently provide reminders that THEY ARE NOT DOCTORS. I think it’s fair for me to remind readers that THESE ARE BLOG POSTS. That hardly exempts me from a need to be ethical and responsible, but it is a unique context from one where I’m writing on behalf of a larger institution or adhering to the standards of a particular publication.
I will reference aspects of my identity as they seem relevant in some but not all posts.
Who I am and what my background is may influence your response to what I write, and that makes sense.
I’d like to think that at least some of the material holds up regardless of my identity, but I acknowledge that it’s also kind of inseparable.
My experience informs my perspective. I have privilege, I have limitations, and I have been raised within a lot of fundamentally oppressive systems.
Hypocrisy is a low-hanging fruit.
I’m not saying that hypocrisy isn’t a thing or that it can’t be a problem (see: Zane), but an awful lot of accusations of hypocrisy are just appeals to unrealistically pure and/or unobtainable sources of authority.
I will sometimes employ reductive logical fallacies of my own even in the midst of critiquing someone else’s logic.
I will sometimes be brief and pithy in my very complaints about brevity and pithiness.
I will never be able to address every potentially relevant facet of a given topic within a single post, even as as I write about the underrepresentation of complexity and nuance in the genre of Pithy Advice Macros.
Humor is relative and situational. I’m choosing to try my hand at humor here, which means I have to accept the consequences of the ways in which it’s not always going to land. I can’t constantly defend myself with the shield of “it was supposed to be a joke!” but frankly my anger would be pretty boring to read if I didn’t experiment with different kinds of punchlines. It’s only appropriate to call out deeply problematic jokes if they show up, but the possibility of writing something offensive isn’t making me avoid humor altogether. Inoffensive and edgy humor is totally possible and can be amazing, and the fact that I sometimes fall flat or make mistakes doesn’t negate the work of other humans who’ve chosen to use humor as a tool while still managing to not be horrible.
Rated PG-13 and sometimes R.
There are definitely swears.
If you are uncomfortable with swears, this blog is probably not a great fit for you.
I try to be mindful of the ways my swears are applied. Mostly, I use them as intensifiers. I do not use slurs, full stop.
I have over the course of my life used terms that I did not understand as slurs because of how I encountered them (I was a teenager in the ’90s), and I have since changed my usage as a result of education and awareness. Fortunately for me, a lot of those shifts happened before I was putting much writing on the internet. Still, I acknowledge that I’m capable of writing something now that I’ll understand as inappropriate later.
The concept of “trigger warnings” was targeted in The Culture Wars a few years ago, and this has led a lot of unaffected people to develop irrationally strong opinions about them.
The titles of my posts do not necessarily reflect their content, though. I sometimes use the label “content note” not just as a euphemistic substitution for “trigger warning,” but rather to designate posts where there is passing reference to something with the potential to be disturbing or unsettling to some people, so they can choose to engage at their own discretion, but I don’t perceive the topic as a common trauma trigger. I consider the label “trigger warning” to be a heftier rating, for situations where either a common trigger is explicitly invoked (even if it is a passing reference) or a broad subject that is adjacent to or directly about certain traumas is the focus of an entire post. People with trauma can experience panic attacks, flashbacks, or other interruptions to their executive function if they encounter content that triggers their trauma (hence, “trigger warning”). When articles are flagged with trigger warnings, readers have the option to accept the premise that they are going to read something with the potential to completely disrupt their day, and sometimes that knowledge alone is sufficient for them to proceed with protective strategies in place.
The alternation between the labels is purposeful, just like with movie ratings. You don’t expect to see nudity or blood when you watch a G-rated movie, but you accept that possibility when you watch an R-rated movie.
I don’t hate joy and I don’t hate you (probably).
There are some fundamentally okay and even good messages to be gleaned from many of the pithy image macros I deconstruct, but that’s not what I’m here for. Check the title.
My goal is to devalue the insidiousness of the ideologies that underlie seemingly simple pithy messages, not to devalue you as a person who grew up immersed in the kind of messy ideological slurry that many people don’t notice during their formative years.
If you happen to like a macro that I hate, my points stand regardless of your feelings, and your feelings stand regardless of my points. I hate reductive pithy bullshit and I love you, at least on the fundamental level on which I love (the overwhelming majority of) humans.
Language conventions are arbitrary and constantly evolving.
I try to notice when I use vocabulary that might be unfamiliar to some people so that I can include a link or explanation, but I don’t always notice.
This includes technical vocabulary as well as slang.
Sometimes I spell things in ways that not everyone likes and it’s on purpose.
For example, I have gotten in the habit of spelling the word “folks” as “folx.”
I encountered it spelled that way in a few places that I trusted, and I assumed it was just whimsical orthographic fuckery.
I recently encountered a quip about it: “do cis people not get that ‘folks’ is already gender neutral?”
I hadn’t perceived it as filling the same function as the letter “x” in gendered terms because “folx” and “folks” are pronounced the same, and neither conveys information about gender.
“Womxn” is a spelling I do not use and also do not recommend, and “Latinx” is a convention that continues to divide opinion, but may be an inclusivity marker that functions for the benefit of the speaker more than the spoken-of. In both cases, the motivation for the “x” is more about gender than about pronunciation or spelling.
With “folx,” I had inferred a sense of low-key subversiveness which, because it’s not the “standard,” had a certain queer sensibility, and I had noticed it being used in more-or-less progressive spaces.
I briefly looked up the history of “folx” after seeing the quip, and I’m frankly still fine using it as an inclusive gender neutral term that also mildly flips off convention by flouting the rules of Proper Spelling (as opposed to framing it as “a social signifier that is intrinsically more correct if you are a Real True Ally and is therefore superior to the standard spelling that only bigots use”).
Like most purposeful linguistic innovations, folx have used various kinds of reasoning to justify or revile the change. Ultimately the pronunciation isn’t affected and if the only nod it gives to queerness is that it annoys pedants, that’s enough reason for me.
If I come across a compelling argument why the superficial performativity of “folx” actually renders it non-inclusive or deeply tied to a harmful ideology, I’ll absolutely reconsider my usage.
Meaning isn’t fixed, spelling is arbitrary, language doesn’t always do what you’d personally like it to do, etc.
Also, sometimes typos happen. Although I proofread my posts, it’s still just me doing this because I feel like it and I am my own editor.
The existence of actual typographical mistakes does not negate the validity of anyone’s words, unless those words are pompous assertions about the Purity of Proper Grammar.
Ideologies are not people, and vice versa, but this distinction can get surprisingly weird.
I want to attribute things to their sources when possible, but I make judgement calls about how much source information is appropriate.
There are contexts where attribution matters a lot. For example, if a quote is attributed to a well-known motivation guru or falsely attributed to an A-list celebrity. There are also organizations that put out lots of inspirational content, like “Power of Positivity,” and it’s fair to highlight patterns in what they produce. Sometimes, there isn’t any obvious attribution provided, and so I treat the message without reference to authorship.
I do not share identifying information about individual people who are obviously just sharing someone else’s pithy macros because they like the message. Again, there are exceptions when the original “sharer” is either high-profile or sufficiently isolated from context (e.g., they have a screen name or profile picture that has clearly been traveling alongside an image macro across social media).
I try to use links in my posts to explain, clarify, or expand on specific points rather than to direct hate traffic towards anyone behind an image or idea. (Not that I have the clout or readership to have a significant impact in that respect, but I’ll just act as though I do.)
Sometimes, though, I have posts that dissect short articles. I thought about excluding them from this updated version of the blog, but I think there’s good shit in some of those posts.
I recognize that this enters into an unpleasantly awkward pragmatic space: “I just hate everything that you wrote about your beliefs – it’s not personal!”
There’s a lot to question about the expression “hate the sin but love the sinner,” and the way it’s often used, but the basic premise of distinguishing individuals from systems in order to examine them separately does have a place here.
When I bring an individual person into a critique, I’m using them as an example of the way that larger systems use that kind of individual to perpetuate oppression. This doesn’t always come through clearly if I’m using a person’s actual name as short-hand for a specific set of ideologies.
Sometimes that means I will avoid using people’s names directly, even if I know the name. Sometimes it will seem impractical to avoid the name when it’s so obviously available. I will use screenshots rather than links if I’m using someone’s work as a negative example.
In Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series (one of those reads that will probably leave me feeling disappointed if I revisit it now), there is a character named Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged, who is an immortal alien and miserable bastard who’s decided to use his infinite time to personally insult everyone in the universe in alphabetical order. He just shows up in people’s lives out of nowhere to deliver a uniquely rude epithet and then disappears.
I think it’s a funny conceit, but not aspirational. It’s not my goal to be an online Wowbagger, scattering scathing messages for people to find about themselves while they’re just going about their business.
That’s not my intent, but it could be an outcome. I am aware that it is a possible outcome I don’t love, but I also don’t think that the potential harm is sufficient reason to abandon this project.
Even though the tone is often angry, I consider my analyses to be distinct from general trolling. I don’t want to personally antagonize the subjects of my critiques just to get a rise out of them or make them feel bad, but I also don’t want my comments to be so gentle that they can easily be misconstrued. Sometimes it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission, and don’t think I have the kind of clout as a blogger to ask and wait for the blessings of everyone represented here.
I am mad and I want to sound mad.
Speaking of anger…
I follow a lot of media created by brilliant, insightful, critical, compassionate, loving people who don’t hold space for the kind of negative energy I generate here, and I get that.
I saw a post somewhere recently that said something along the lines of “no mean girl energy,” and that particularly resonated with me as a millennial white lady.
Context matters, and I am coming from a place of accepting that my anger (this particular kind of anger, anyway) is a response to injustice.
I have an immense capacity for the kind of useless white guilt that stifles action. Self-doubt and self-flagellation go with the territory, and they work to defuse anger before it can connect to anything outside of me.
“What if I sound mad and then I’m actually wrong?”
“What if someone I admire feels hurt or mad because of my tone?”
“What if I say something I didn’t realize was ableist because my entrenched ableism is so bad?”
Having a snarky blog isn’t exactly a heroic action that’s going to save the day, but then again, the expectation that my choice to externalize my anger will promptly and dramatically affect any oppressive systems is just the next step in the kind of self-defeating White Savior Complex that also stifles meaningful action.
I don’t need to preach to the choir of people who know better, and I don’t expect to convert everyone who doesn’t. What I personally need to do is get comfortable saying and standing by things that are not agreeable for powerful people to hear.
I want to punch up, not down.
If it seems like I’m being rude about someone in a position of relative power and influence, well, yes. That is what I’m trying to do. That includes me.
If you are worried about sheltering the feelings of white people at the expense of engaging meaningfully with anti-racist ideologies, I don’t have the patience for it. If you are worried about protecting cis people from aggressive challenges to binary and essentialist gender constructs, I’m not here for it. If you feel inclined to remind me that #notallmen, I ran out of time for you three years ago, and I am currently in the process of rising like a disheveled and irate phoenix from the ashes of the time that I did have for the first thirty-five years of my life. With the caveat that I don’t interpret the hashtag literally, and not to mean every single man ever always, but rather as shorthand to circumvent the ouroboros of entertaining idiosyncratic exceptions to broad general patterns.
I try to not ultimately perpetuate messages that are white supremacist, ableist, sexist, anti-fat, cisnormative, heteronormative, or generally supportive of widespread oppressive belief systems that actively maintain actual oppression. I try to make sure that my formatting is accessible and that trigger warnings are provided when appropriate. I do use animated gifs in some posts, and I am in the process of learning WordPress well enough to make them stop after five seconds and add my own alt text. For now, I’ve just added content notes to the top of those posts. I am still trying desperately to do things right, even after recognizing that my drive for external validation is more damaging than my actual ADHD.
Systems are flawed, and humans are flawed, and I am a flawed human trying to work within many flawed systems. My source material includes messages that are extremely grounded in white supremacy, ableism, sexism, anti-fatness, cisnormativity, heteronormativity, and more.
Sometimes when I’m focusing on one type of issue, I can’t engage with related issues that are equally important and equally relevant. I contend that “not having time, space, and/or expertise to address all the things all the time” is different from erasure, and I am open to actual substantive and thoughtful suggestions for improvement (although as you will notice, comments are generally off, because I do not have the time, energy, or inclination to moderate a comment section, even a small one).