The Whatever Digest, 9/4/18
Good morning! Let’s get to this thing.
Steve Bannon and the New Yorker — Well, this was predictable enough, to anyone who wasn’t David Remnick: The New Yorker announced that Bannon would be the headliner of its upcoming “festival,” in conversation with Remnick, who is the magazine’s editor-in-chief. That didn’t sit particularly well with much of the New Yorker’s staff, or, more importantly in this case, many other participants of the festival, who all started dropping out rather than share the program with Bannon. Between those drop outs, staff disapproval and a wholly predictable backlash on Twitter, Remnick bowed to the inevitable and dropped Bannon from the program with a somewhat defensive statement. Bannon, of course, was gleeful about this, calling Remnick “gutless,” which is what Remnick deserves for inviting that fascist piece of shit to his festival of ideas in the first place.
As a former journalist, I can understand Remnick’s thinking on this one: He’d been angling to interview Bannon for a while, and the idea of getting that festering lump of white “supremacy” on a public stage where he couldn’t equivocate or finesse his way out of his shitty racist ideas seemed like a good one. The problem was that Remnick was thinking with his journalist brain and not his event coordinator brain. The event coordinator brain should have realized that inviting Bannon to a New Yorker-branded “festival of ideas,” complete with travel expenses and honorarium, was in effect paying Bannon to take on the New Yorker imprimatur for his ideas. It’s not reportage; it’s the New Yorker saying “these ideas are important enough that we paid to get them on our stage.” And note well that Bannon was meant to be the headliner.
Which is of course the New Yorker’s, and Remnick’s, privilege — it’s perfectly within its rights to book a fascist piece of shit to its festival and hope people pay to see Remnick chat that fascist piece of shit up on a stage. But Remnick’s event coordinator brain should have probably realized there was going to be a backlash to that. It’s not just the New Yorker’s brand associating with shitty fascism up there on that stage; it’s the personal brand of everyone else on the program as well. Strangely enough, a fair number of other people didn’t want their brands smeared with shitty fascism, and they were perfectly within their rights not to participate for that reason. Remnick’s problem then, as an event coordinator, was realizing that soon his “festival of ideas” would be nothing but shitty fascism unless he dropped Bannon. Oh, and that his staff hated it. Oh, and that social media hated it too.
Remnick never saw the backlash coming, I suspect (and I fully admit that this is me being charitable to Remnick), because he never got out of his journalist brain. He saw someone he wanted to interview, saw the dynamic of the live stage as one where he was likely to get more truth out of Bannon than otherwise, and didn’t think of anything else about the situation until it was too late. And again as a former journalist, I can sympathize. Bannon’s a reasonable “get” for a story. But this wasn’t just an interview, or just journalism. It was a whole circus. Or a festival, which is close enough in this case.
Bringing things around to me, my commentary above brings up the question of whether I, had I been invited to the New Yorker Festival, would drop when Bannon was added to the program. I suspect yes, because I think he’s a fucking horrible person peddling fucking horrible ideas and I’d prefer not to be in the same state with him, much less in the same building, and also because I have the luxury of not needing a particular “festival of ideas” for publicity. I don’t need to tolerate the presence of an actual fascist white supremacist to sell books. I can nope right out of that. Bannon’s on my “don’t share the same air” list, along with Stephen Miller, Seb Gorka and indeed a fair share of the current administration, including of course Trump himself.
There are gradations to this philosophy. If, say, Ann Coulter was at the same book festival as I was, I wouldn’t share a stage or panel with her but I probably wouldn’t nope out of the festival entirely. I could probably be on a panel with Jonah Goldberg, although what panel that might be I have no idea. I’ve shared panels with people who were “sad puppy”-aligned in the past and probably would again, although I’d probably avoid any panels specifically about politics with them. There are people whose politics are emphatically not mine who I will gladly share a stage with on nearly any topic because they’re fun and interesting and give good panel. And so on.
(Other possible factors as examples of what else might go into the equation: Size of the festival — if someone I find objectionable is one of literally hundreds of guests, I can probably choose to avoid that one person without fuss — and also whether that person is a rank-and-file guest or a headliner/spotlight guest.)
On the flip side, I suspect my presence somewhere might earn a hard “nope” for some other people, which is of course fine as well. No one should be required to tolerate me, either. Science fiction conventions very often have a line in their programming surveys asking potential panelists who they don’t want to be on a panel with, and I think this is a very wise thing. Aside from politics, there are some people I don’t want to be on panels with because I dislike them, or I find them to be panel hogs, or because they can’t stop trying to make everything about their own work, or any other number of reasons. And again, vice versa; I’m sure there are people who don’t want to be on a panel with me for whatever reason. Good for them.
Does having a “don’t share the same air” list give me or anyone else a veto on an event’s other guests? I don’t think so. I’m not telling an event who they may invite, I’m simply saying who I choose not to associate with. I’m perfectly willing to remove myself rather than demand the event remove someone else. That seems the way to do things. And yes, certainly, if the presence of someone at an event causes too many other guest/performers to drop, then the event coordinators will have to do the calculus of whether that one person is worth keeping. But that’s a separate question from one’s own choice of whether to associate one’s person (or “brand”) with someone objectionable.
Speaking of choosing to associate or not, it appears that a proposed boycott of In-N-Out Burger (my favorite burger chain) has been called off, for reasons. People had proposed boycotting the chain because it recently donated $25,000 to the Californian Republican Party, and some folks had pinged me asking if I would support such a boycott due to the donation.
I was personally disinclined to support the boycott. One, I’ve known for a very long time that In-N-Out was owned by an evangelical family; I mean, come on, there are bible passages printed on their cups. That such a family or company might donate to the GOP is not exactly a surprise. Two, In-N-Out has also donated to the Democratic party in the past as well, so there’s that. Three, In-N-Out has always been good to its workers, paying substantially above the federal minimum wage and offering decent benefits. This is not a horrible company. Four, the California GOP is fairly hapless. I just couldn’t get worked up about it.
So, yes, I’ll be having a Double-Double the next time I’m in California. They are delicious.
And now, close out this first digest column of the month: Smudge.