How Salon fought the urge to headline its new interview with Patton Oswalt with the kind of thing you see above will be pondered for years to come. I'd say that it's a sign of progress, but then in a couple of hours there will almost surely be an angry follow-up piece posted over there demanding to know why both Patton and Salon Editor-in-Chief David Daley -- who conducted the one-on-one -- "had to be white men" and we'll know that everything is back to normal for the internet's premiere destination for all your pointless outrage porn needs.
If you haven't yet read the interview, labeled a "peace summit," I'd definitely suggest you do. The background is that Patton and Salon have been publicly feuding for a couple of years now. Salon drew first blood when it published a piece in May of 2013 that raked Patton over the coals for the crime of not speaking out for rape victims, as if that's a personal responsibility of his as a comic. The site hit Patton again in July of 2013 after he mocked a San Francisco TV station that had been shockingly stupid enough to air what it called an exclusive on the Asiana Airlines Flight 214 crash but what turned out to be a prank story filled with ethnically insensitive language. Patton's crack on Twitter was that the station had announced that it was hiring a P.R. guy named "Wi So Solly." The response, directly from David Daley, was a rant which completely missed the point of who Patton was ridiculing and, as such, called the joke "poorly crafted" and accused Patton of having "tiptoed up to" the line of racism. That earned Salona scathing rebuke from Patton and from then on out the gloves were off. Saloncontinued to misguidedly take shots at Patton and he responded by rallying his troops and trolling the fuck out of them and those like them on a regular basis.
So now comes this three-hour-long person-to-person debate, what Salon says is an attempt to find common ground with its archenemy. The problem right off the bat is that Daley kind of goes into the thing under false pretenses, at least in the implications he makes about why Salon often runs the kind of nonsense it does. You can see that in his first noteworthy exchange with Patton.
(I've added initials only to avoid having Daley's comments appear in boldfaced, as they do in the actual interview.)
PO: It feels a little frustrating that a site like Salon that I used to always go to for great news, great commentary, did turn into a caricature of what a lot of really dumb conservatives used to say it was. That’s really disturbing to me because I don’t want it to be. And I’ve been saying this over and over again.
DD: It gets pointed out to me, yes. But I’d disagree with that completely. I know the kind of stories that bother you, and I’m happy to talk about them. I’d argue that so much of what gets dismissed as “political correctness” or shrill culture policing is actually not that at all — that it’s criticized by people who don’t like the way the Internet has broadened the debate and empowered people who perhaps didn’t have a voice before. There are people on both the left and the right who aren’t always happy with that. I think it does a lot of good to listen to people who are responding to the culture – that’s how we make progress and gain empathy and understanding.
PO: I hate to talk in terms of our side, this side, that side. But our side, the liberal progressives, the open-minded people – I don’t want us to be the scolds and the shushers. That was always the role of neoconservatives and the religious fundamentalists, to restrict and remove words. I don’t want our side to be the one that’s parsing language.
It just really, really bothers me, if the liberal progressives have now become the scolds. We were the Grouchos! We’re not the Margaret Dumonts — and we’re turning into the Margaret Dumonts on a lot of levels. That lets the misogynists and homophobes and racists seem like the rebels: “Well, we’re saying what people can’t say anymore.” We should be having way more fun with language and jokes and going too far. If our side starts doing that, then I think we’re fucked in terms of moving forward as a society.
Here's what Daley doesn't say: that "broadening the debate" really isn't all that important to Salon. At the very least it isn't why the site runs stories with headlines like "The Dangerous Transphobia of Roald Dahl’s ‘Matilda’,""‘The Legend of Zelda’ Is Classist, Sexist and Racist" and "Don’t Apologize To Me for Your Rape Joke." Why does it do it then? For the same reason it takes a relatively balanced piece questioning the amount of gay humor at the Comedy Central roast of James Franco and slaps it at the top of the front page with the headline "JAMES FRANCO'S HOMOPHOBIC ROAST." For the same reason it took an incredibly thoughtful column by Dustin Rowles at Pajiba called "Walter White, Jaime Lannister, and How We Morally Process Murder and Rape Differently" and cross-posted it with the new headline "Why the 'Game of Thrones' Rape Scene Caused Fans To Respond in the Worst Possible Way" (much to Rowles's own indignation). For the same reason it spent two years picking fights with Patton Oswalt in the first place. Because that kind of thing drives traffic. It's no more noble than that. Outrage gets clicks, even if those clicks are coming from people hate-reading, and that is what matters more than any horseshit sanctimony about "empowering people who didn't have a voice before."
The conversation continues, with Daley's poise coming up against Patton's passion and although the latter of the two is slightly "messier" in making his points, to use his own word, it should be noted that he's a comic, not a journalist who's practiced in conducting himself during interviews. They discuss the seven days of umbrage shiva Salon's columnists sat in the wake of The Onion's infamous "Quvenzhané Wallis" tweet during the 2013 Academy Awards, the one that used a 9-year-old Oscar nominee to make a brutal but potent point about how our culture and the media tear down our female celebrities. They talk about Salon's tendency to obsess over white male talk show hosts, even if they're progressive voices. They get into the great Daniel Tosh rape joke controversy of 2012, with Patton not defending what Tosh supposedly said to his heckler but defending a comedian's freedom to tell a joke about rape or any other controversial subject and suggesting that if someone is offended, they don't immediately turn it into an international incident. They talk at length about Suey Park's ferociously stupid #CancelColbert campaign. (Patton: "When she said, 'Context doesn’t matter,' I’m like, OK, that should be our line in the sand as satirists, comedians, all of us. Context absolutely matters.") And yes, they discuss their war over Patton's Asiana Airlines joke.
DD: I know you think we didn’t get the joke, and that we thought the joke didn’t work — but scrolling through all the Twitter responses and it was just a sea of obnoxiously nasty Asian name jokes and it’s like, oh man. No matter what you intended — maybe you’re making a completely deft, ironic comment. But if it is in an environment like that in which sometimes the intent can be unclear, and the response can then be that this nastiness...
PO: And in that case, you’re asking anyone doing comedy to constantly think of an out-of-context moment, which we can’t do. What if somebody walks by the room of a comedy club and just hears one line of mine out of context? Am I responsible for that? ... The responses were never like, “Haha, dumb Asians.” It was like, “Oh that stupid fucking station.” If you look at all the responses, they weren’t laughing because, “Oh this silly Asian name.” And literally two tweets before, I had said, “Holy shit, these are the dumbest people.” I can’t believe they literally fell for a joke that a morning zoo would immediately go, “Oh, come on, guys.”
They go on to discuss the Charlie Hebdo attacks and the question of where satire crosses the line. At one point Patton says he read Mein Kampf in high school and thought it was completely ridiculous. In response, Daley jokes,"There’s my headline! Patton Oswalt: I was a young Nazi." (It would be funnier if not for the fact that it sounds so plausible.) Patton eventually makes the point he keeps circling back to, which is the need for liberals to be willing to be more accepting of that which offends them, not less.
PO: We need people that will go all the way out on the edge and ask the most disturbing fucking questions that are out there. We need them. Otherwise, if you start having a society where people are policing their own thoughts, now we’re back in Salem, Massachusetts, where literally, they didn’t do anything for fun, and then that pressure built up and they all went nuts. Our society will go fucking crazy if everyone is even policing their thoughts. Are you enjoying this the right way? I’ll enjoy it any fucking way I want to. Sometimes I laugh out of disbelief and shock at horrible, racist, sexist, homophobic things because it’s so absurd to me that that still exists in the world. It’s like seeing a unicorn, like holy shit!
His other overall argument is that comedy and specifically satire are things that often disarm tyrants most effectively -- that laughing at what's meant to scare and threaten you is not only good for you, it infuriates those who demand you take their threats seriously.
PO: I always go for mocking and laughter before outrage. The reason that Ann Coulter gets away with the shit that she says is because the people responding spend half their energy going, “I can’t believe it! Why would you?” She should say shit, and then you should just go, “Aw, Ann. OK.” I never get outraged at shit. I just don’t. You come back with jokes, they don’t know what to do. There has to be way less outrage, more fun and mocking and irreverence.
It just feels like being outraged puts you in a position of not being powerful. You’re so much more powerful when you’re laughing and being forgiving and taking pity on someone...
My rule for comedy has always been the line from the song “Flower”: “Obnoxious, funny, true and mean.” It’s the Liz Phair edict. That is what the best comedy is. And again, the funniest people, the most outrageous, beautifully offensive people on Twitter are all women. They’re all women. Jenny Johnson, Charlene deGuzman, Shelby Fero, just boom, boom, boom, boom. It’s incredible.
The whole thing has its moments of mild confrontation but for the most part it's cordial, with both Patton and Daley at least trying to understand each other. None of this means that you'll wake up tomorrow and see Patton watching his language or Salon suddenly abandoning stories like "Another Portuguese Water Dog? The Obamas Should Have Made a Different Statement" and "I’m Trying Not To Hate Men" or ridding itself of the relentless intellectual violence regularly perpetrated by Brittney Cooper (whom Daley actually praises during the interview). Salon, as I said, simply has too much to lose by suddenly finding its brain and its soul; being a perpetual outrage machine brings in traffic, making David Daley's choice to produce sensationalistic content a largely financial one. But it would be nice to think that at the very least it will finally disabuse Salon of the notion that it's a good idea to concentrate its fire on a guy like Patton Oswalt rather than worrying about people whose job doesn't involve trying to make people laugh.
One final thing, though. It's interesting that at one point during their conversation Patton tells Daley that he'd rather hear people say "nigger and faggot," rather than euphemisms, so that he can more easily see where the real racists are, and yet in the transcription Salon only edits the first word, writing it as "n****r and faggot."
I don't know about you, but I smell a Salon piece coming on this.