“And remember, there is a human on the other side of the screen.”
Fans of Welcome To Night Vale may be familiar with Dylan Marron as the voice of the Carlos, the enthusiastic scientist with the perfect hair. Many other folks probably know Dylan from his popular videos, including the Unboxing series (“Unboxing Rape Culture”, “Unboxing Police Brutality”, etc) and the Shutting Down Bullsh*t series.
These videos have spawned a lot of hate mail and – in the way of the internet practically since the first e-mail was sent – a few people have felt free to say some truly nasty things when no one can see the face of the person typing. Dylan Marron has decided to use these responses as the basis for a new podcast, “Conversations With People Who Hate Me”. The podcast is an attempt to start an actual dialog with some of Dylan’s detractors. I listened to the first episode today, “You’re a Piece of Sh*t”, and the results were surprisingly not as uncomfortable as I thought they’d be.
First of all, I should make clear that these are not cold calls being recorded. Dylan isn’t just dialing up some random keyboard warrior and demanding to know why they would say such mean things. The people being recorded have already been contacted privately and asked if they’d be interested in appearing on the podcast, so I don’t think there’s going to be any how-dare-you’s or stop-harassing-me’s or anything like that.
Chris, the person who sent the message that included the title of the episode, is intelligent, well-spoken, down-to-earth and friendly. He explains at one point that he has a very liberal wife (who’s apparently a big fan of Dylan’s) and was a liberal himself up until age 35, so he’s actually arguing against the liberal point of view from a basis of at least some knowledge. He also starts his appearance on the show by apologizing for the personal attacks in his message (the video that set him off apparently caught him on a bad day), and he never once says anything cruel or directly insulting to Dylan during their conversation.
He does not, however, back down from any of the viewpoints in his original letter.
The conversation is frustrating for some of the reasons that all political disagreements can be frustrating. There’s the stereotypes (ex: social justice warriors are all whiney college students with rich parents who pay for everything), the made-up motivations (ex: people fighting climate change think we’re all supposed to go back to living in caves), and dismissing the concerns of a movement because of the existence of people in the same race who don’t support it (ex: BLM shouldn’t exist, because there are plenty of black people who voted for Trump). What annoyed me the most was his willingness to dismiss the demands of the LGBTQIA+ community because in his mind things used to be bad, but now they’re better, and people shouldn’t ask for “extra” rights. Basically the “It’s not actually a problem because it isn’t a problem for me,” argument.
To be fair, he’s willing to admit when stereotypes don’t represent all of the people he’s arguing about. He supports gay marriage, and he doesn’t think people who are gay deserve to be treated badly (just that they should stop “dividing” the country by being mad all the time). And there were a couple of his comments that made me think. He doesn’t believe the government should have anything to do with hate crime legislation; all crimes should be treated as crimes, and you can’t legislate away the fact that many gay couple don’t feel safe holding hands in public because, “The government can’t dictate how that happens, society has to change.” Personally I think hate crime laws are needed because an assault targets one person, but a hate crime is telling an entire segment of the population “You’re next.” Many others disagree with me, and that’s more than fair, but it’s always interesting when you do get a moment of “Huh, okay, it makes sense that you believe that.”
I felt like Dylan jumped around from topic to topic; I would have liked for him to go a little more into why each of them believes what they believe. And in the end I don’t think they convinced each other of anything. But that wasn’t really the point; the point was to get past the stereotypes, the name calling, the instant dismissal of another person’s argument because you’ve already decided that they’re racist, immature, uncaring, virtue-signaling, whatever, pick your insult. We have to listen to the people we disagree with, because the “I’m right and they’re wrong” attitude is getting us nowhere in this country.
I’ll be interested to see if I feel the same way though, if the next episode features someone angrier than this one.