This morning John Nolte brought us the remarkable news that some significant number of people – significant enough to generate some Salon click-bait, at any rate – think Taylor Swift’s new music video is racially insensitive. It would make a fun party game to show the “Shake It Off” video to different people and ask them to guess which part of it was supposedly offensive:
The answer, I gather, is the part where she’s crawling through a tunnel of dancers’ legs and glances up to see a black dancer twerking above her. Even though her dancer lineup is thoroughly multi-racial, and the whole video is a lark, a spoof of other music videos. I don’t recall any great controversy when David Lee Roth did essentially the same thing in the Eighties, but I guess the Eighties were a more robust era, in which people were not constantly quivering with outrage and looking for something to set them off.
I put in a few good words for the depiction of anti-thought techniques in the otherwise bland new movie “The Giver” because I think it’s an important subject, and far more obviously part of the world around us than it was when the novel was first published in the early Nineties. Putting people constantly on guard lest they give offense, making them terrified to speak plainly, is a way to keep them from thinking plainly… or independently. If the expression of ideas can be made cumbersome or dangerous enough, people will stop expressing them.
That’s why the canard about how freelance censorship and Internet bullying swarms have nothing to do with the First Amendment, provided the government isn’t directly involved, is missing an important point: the principle of free expression needs to be honored and embraced by the people, voluntarily. Government power has a way of gobbling up everything free people are not willing to defend.
Manufactured outrage is not only politically useful, it’s fun. Being part of an Internet flash mob is easy as pie. You don’t even have to write a letter and put it in the mail any more; a few clicks and you’ve become part of a sharknado that could ruin the career of someone who said something you dislike. I doubt such destruction awaits Taylor Swift in this case, but man, it’s creepy to think of how little it takes to trigger a stampede in this insanely high-strung era. No society can remain wound this tight and hold on to its freedom.
Maybe this teapot tempest will slosh around enough to inspire Swift to issue some kind of brief formal statement, “sorry if I hurt anyone’s feelings but I had no intention of being insensitive,” that sort of thing. Wouldn’t that be eerily similar to the creepy I apologize / I accept your apology ritual from “The Giver?” All the more eerie because Taylor Swift was in “The Giver?”