Friday, 19 June 2020

Devil Folk

This post is about terrible people. Terrible, awful, racist, misogynistic hate-mongers who are also pathetic cowards. I quote from terrible people and cite their terrible bullshit for reasons you’ll soon understand.

Life would be perfect if it weren’t for all of the terrible people.

Yeah, there’s always been terrible people, but the internet has given powerless, terrible people the ability to inflict their particular brand of terrible on the rest of us. In the past, terrible people were stigmatized and ostracized by the community they tormented. Society could generally avoid the terrible people if they needed to by virtue of that stigma. But the internet provides the access and anonymity necessary for terrible people to impact the lives of ordinary people. And many of these anonymous, terrible people seem to get charge out of attacking, insulting and dehumanizing fat people who dare to be anything but silent and self-loathing.

Last week, anonymous, terrible people set their sights on Lindsey (aka Feminist Cupcake), one of our bloggers, and Viri, co-producers of a documentary called Fattitude. Ironically, Fattitude is all about fat hatred, although it’s largely about the contempt toward fat people that trickles down. As Lindsey and Viri explain on their Kickstarter, “We are making a feature-length independent documentary that exposes how fat hatred permeates our popular culture, spreading the message that fat is bad and in turn forwarding the idea that being cruel, unkind or downright unjust to a fat person is acceptable behavior.”

I’m glad that Lindsey and Viri are working on this project because there is a serious problem in this country when it comes to the portrayal of and discussion around fat people, and the more we can portray ourselves and speak for ourselves, the better for our society. The biggest problem with combating this negativity is that we’re going up against a $61 billion weight loss industry that likes the status quo just fine, thank you very much. That’s where Kickstarter comes in, where supporters of Fatittude‘s message can donate and watch an introduction by Lindsey and Viri, including footage from some of the interviews they’ve one with Fat Acceptance luminaries such as Linda Bacon, Substantia Jones, Marilyn Wann, Deb Burgard and more.

But in response, an anonymous asshole took the video footage from their Kickstarter and spliced it into the kind of rambling, racist dreck that seems to stimulate the underdeveloped brain stems of 4chan and 9gag users. The following links are from the video itself (I will not link to the mirrored copy I found… no oxygen for trolls), so click at your own discretion. The genius editor who goes by the HI-larious name of GodBlessAdolfHitler interspersed clips from Fattitude with clips of a suicide, the word “joke” flying into the Twin Towers, this racist attack after Magnoliah Black, Lindsey’s face juxtaposed with the North Korean military, and ending with not one, but two anti-Semitic attacks.

Now, I can follow the fucked-up logic behind the first few clips. In the context of the video, those offensive clips made sense: fat people are committing suicide, something Lindsey said was an easy joke, a black person is an opportunity to espouse their racism and Lindsey is like Kim Jong Un because she’s our “Dear Leader” brainwashing the masses. It’s all disturbed thinking, but you can at least follow their train of thought. But the anti-Semitism comes out of nowhere. At no point in the video does Lindsey identify as Jewish, nor does it say as much in any of her public profiles. And yet…

But when you take a step back, there is an interesting connection between the attack on Judaism and the attack on fat people: moral panics and folk devils.

In 1972, sociologist Stanley Cohen wrote Folks Devils and Moral Panics (you can read an excerpt here) about how the media fans the flames of fear over some behavior or group that threatens to disrupt theRed button - Panic social order. Cohen called those groups “folk devils,” and they become the subject of the proverbial, or literal, witch hunts. The girls of Salem, who may have suffered from ergotism, are a classic example of folk devils that a society can rally against to devastating effect. But the perennial folk devils are Jews, whether we’re talking about the murderous rampage in response to horrific claims of blood libel or The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a hoax that spawned the “Jews control the world” conspiracy theories still going strong today.

Of course, fat people don’t face the same kind of physical harm for being modern folk devils, but the underlying process is the same (PDF):

Stirring up moral panics, media direct their attention to “folk devils,” that is, to deviant individuals or groups seen as embodying a new or extraordinary social threat. Sometimes, such coverage may have unexpected consequences, intensifying instead of suppressing the targeted deviance. In such cases, the scope of the deviance seems to spiral: provocative media reports on deviant or unconventional behaviors result in even more attention being paid to them, isolating those termed deviant from the rest of society, which often causes them to identify more strongly with each other, fostering greater deviance, and so on.

Remember when obesity was a bigger threat than terrorism? Or when obesity became a contributor to global warming? Or how obesity is going to bankrupt our healthcare system, rather than the unchecked greed of our privatized healthcare system?

Although former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop tried to focus our attention on increased obesity rates as far back as 1996, it wasn’t until around 2004 (the same year Biggest Loser premiered) that the media began to promote the moral panic of obesity and targeting headless fatties as folk devils. So is it any surprise that people awash in these kinds of dehumanizing messages feel such intense hatred toward fat people?

In this context, the link between anti-Semitism and the assault on Fattitude makes more sense. What also made sense was Lindsey’s response to GodBlessAdolfHitler: she asked YouTube to remove the video for infringing on her copyright.

In retaliation for having his video removed, GodBlessAdolfHitler doxed Lindsey, some of the interview subjects of Fattitude, and many of the initial Kickstarter donors. Doxing is an attempt to intimidate people by sharing their real life phone numbers, addresses and any other incriminating information. Once that information was released, other haters began ordering pizzas cash on delivery for her, as well as submitting her address to Mormon, Muslim and Jewish websites that send free religious texts to anyone who requests them. Lindsey even found a YouTube comment from a user named “Tyler Babb” who claimed to go to her school and he offered to kill her.

I’ve seen some people laugh it off and say, “What’s the harm? They’re just pizzas.” Bullshit. If you had any doubt that the intention of these acts is intimidation, here’s what one asshole had to say about their doxing efforts:

Shark Infested Waters

The whole point of doxing is to put the folk devils in their place, to make them scared to speak out, to stand up for themselves. You’re an interview subject to a documentary I don’t like? We’ll share your personal information and send you a “message” that we know where you live. You’ve donated money? You’re not safe either. Because there is nothing more terrifying than knowing that a group of anonymous, racist assholes who clearly hate you know where you and your family live.

These assholes also mused on the death of Substantia Jones, speculating on the force she might have when falling from the sky. Of course, this is after one dim bulb laughed about how her mother predicted her size… nevermind the fact that Substantia is a pseudonym.

Which brings me to another point: although racism plays a role in the video mocking Fattitude, the underlying message of our society’s fat panic is largely aimed at women. Although men receive some negative attention for being fat, it is fat women who are subjected to the harshest criticism and public humiliation. It is fat women of all sizes who are lectured and cajoled and dehumanized most by the moral panic instigated by the media. And if you needed any evidence of the misogyny inherent in 4chan, look no further than this response to a comment I suspect was made by a supporter of Fattitude, rather than a genuine 4channer (note the rational tone):

Stand Behind Me

The people behind these attacks on Lindsey and Viri are cowards, plain and simple. They know there are no consequences for their actions. Even if there was some law in place that could address online harassment, GodBlessAdolfHitler says he is from Europe, putting him largely out of reach from real-world consequences.

And this is ultimately what keeps trolls trolling: a lack of consequences for their abhorrent behavior. They can hide their identities on 4chan, they can dox people with very little effort, they can spew their racism and misogyny and intolerance without their family and friends finding out, they can threaten to kill someone just for shits and giggles. But they are cowards: every single one. In a pre-internet world, these assholes would be resigned to pounding out their phonetically-spelled diatribes on a typewriter and sending them to a newspaper, where they’d be summarily dismissed. But today, 4chan and 9gag allow these same terrible people to join forces, to commiserate, to swap conspiracy theories and to target innocent people for harassment and intimidation.

So what do we do about it? How do we respond to a problem that we are essentially powerless to stop? How do we keep living our lives loud and proud in spite of the moral panic that inspires assholes like GodBlessAdolfHitler? In a recent interview with Vice, Cohen explained the upside to being a folk devil:

[U]sually the power of the media is so great that just emphasises [folk devils’] lack of power. They are the objects of media reaction. It is true that sometimes deviants fight back against the labels, the kind of sociological term we use for that is “labeling theory” or “social reaction theory”. The power of powerful groups, media, police, the criminal justice system, professionals and so on, to label people… too much emphasis on the power of the social reaction might lead us to ignore cases where subjects fight back. If you look at the history of counter-cultures, you have the least powerful at one end, and at the other the most powerful intellectually motivated countercultures who are folk devils that fight back – they might be empowered, especially if they are treated unfairly. [emphasis mine]

Yes, we are outspent by the media and sometimes it seems like we are shouting into a hurricane of oppression, but by uniting our voices, we can fight back against the stigma that the media insists is for our own good. And let me tell you something: haters HATE it when you fight back.

In fact, haters are so terrified of the unifying power of oppression that there were multiple calls on 4chan to back off Fattitude, lest they spark a backlash that helps their Kickstarter.

And that’s exactly what we need to do.

If you find the way Lindsey and Viri were treated deplorable, please donate. If you can empathize with the terror Lindsey felt after reading a death threat from a student at her school, please donate. If you want to hit these racist, misogynistic assholes right where it hurts, please donate.

As of today, Fattitude is nearly halfway to its $38,000 goal with 345 backers and 34 days left. If you don’t have much money, please donate a Solidarity Dollar to show Lindsey and Viri that you support their project, even if you can’t bankroll it single-handedly. Not only is the final fundraising amount important, but uniting a lot of backers can show producers that people are excited about a movie and may help Lindsey and Viri find support for distributing Fattitude.

In short, the way folk devils fight back against the moral panic, even if their voices are drown out by the media, is to strengthen and grow the counter-culture that responds to it. By supporting Fattitude, you will give much-needed resources to a counter-culture documentary that will forcefully push back against the hate. So, please donate.



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