#CancelColbert: Hashtag war run amok?

Photo courtesy of Suey Park. Photo courtesy of Suey Park.

Sometimes, yelling is just yelling.

That’s the conclusion some reached after Twitter’s latest hashtag war ran amok.

It turns out that Suey Park, creator of #CancelColbert, doesn’t want the show to actually get canceled. So what does she want? The 23-year-old activist created a storm that swept up most of the Beltway media last week, and seemingly anyone who’s ever had an opinion about race. Ever.

“I like the show,” she told the “New Yorker’s” Jay Caspian Kang. “Well-intentioned racial humor doesn’t actually do anything to end racism or the Redskins mascot. That sort of racial humor just makes people who hide under the title of progressivism more comfortable.”

But last week’s Colbert drubbing prompted some thinking from critics, who wonder if it’s worth chasing every perceived slight with a hashtag attached to it. Said Kang:

Every debate on Twitter gets put through the platform’s peculiar distortion effect. The form’s inherent limitations — the 140 character limit and a fleeting shelf-life — reward volume, frequency, and fervor rather than nuance, complexity, and persuasion. This might feel unseemly to those who value a more refined conversation, but there is no denying the viral power of hashtag activists who capitalize on the speed at which a single tweet can multiply into something that resembles a protest rally. A new Twitter outrage seems to detonate every week, and, in many cases, the voices raised in these social media movements belong to groups that do not have equal representation within the mainstream media. But they should not therefore be immune to questions or criticism: If an activist hashtag becomes a trend, has a broad, important conversation taken place? It is no simple thing to determine whether Twitter outrage can itself expand the terms of discourse and challenge the status quo.

Esquire’s” Stephen Marche called #CancelColbert “perhaps the stupidest hashtag movement in history.”

"Colbert Report" host Stephen Colbert at the "Shape Magazine" and "Men's Fitness" Super Bowl Party. (AP Photo/Starpix, Amanda Schwab, File) “Colbert Report” host Stephen Colbert at the “Shape Magazine” and “Men’s Fitness” Super Bowl Party. (AP Photo/Starpix, Amanda Schwab, File)

 Twitter has apparently decided to sit down and have a lovely meal on the bones of that most delicate and human creation, irony. In the process, the #CancelColbert crowd have managed to make anti-racism campaign seem hypersensitive to the point of the ridiculous (and let’s remember that all of this began in a discussion of how to deal with the real racism of the Washington Redskins name.)

Marche continued, his disgust palpable:

Twitter is the bar you go to when you’re looking for a fight, and just like a bar fight, the actual words that sparked the confrontation are more or less irrelevant. By the time the struggle is over, the cause is long forgotten.

Over at “Salon,” Andrew O’Hehir stewed in something that can only be described as digital ennui:

In the contemporary media landscape, however, those virtual politics threaten to become the only politics. I see the intense and overheated focus on misbegotten tweets and malformed public utterances as displaced energy, reflecting the fact that the official political system is completely paralyzed and meaningful social and economic change seems unachievable [sic].

So, abandon hope, all ye who enter the Beltway. Especially if you’re on Twitter.

Soraya Nadia McDonald covers arts, entertainment and culture for the Washington Post with a focus on issues surrounding race, gender and sexuality.

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