The Gray Lady’s feeble attempt at sexual-assault “comedy” in a recent parody video is the latest media misfire that has us wondering what is going on at the “paper of record.”
This is the “Dating Blues,” a “video Op-Ed” from the Times featuring a writer and actress named Emily Lynne singing about “dating in the #MeToo era.” If “New York Times video Op-Ed” sounds weird to you, know that it is the least weird thing about this video, in which Lynne plays a ukulele and sings about being triggered by a man she is on a date with because he is talking to her.
The world wants to know whether #MeToo has “gone too far”…
America’s paper of record is now pushing amateurish, 4-chan-esque schlock positioning survivors of sexual violence as shrill, easily rattled baby-women—for laughs! After all, it’s been a good five or six months since the Harvey Weinstein story broke, and this has been a real learning experience and all, but really, why dwell?
The gist of the video is this: an able-bodied, apparently cisgender white woman plays a ukulele in a sunny flat, exchanging lines with an imagined, archetypal dude about how hard heterosexual dating is right now. It’s not revolutionary, but it’s not too bad—for a few seconds. Soon, Lynne name-drops journalist and Weinstein-exposer Ronan Farrow (there’s a deep cut for a journalism joke if ever one existed), begging for his help, and screeches at a man that is “triggering” her by asking her if she wants to see his band sometime.
I sent the video to the smartest comedy person I know, my friend and favorite anthropologist, Dr. Jenny Carlson, for a gut check: Did I really just watch the New York Times run a, uh, comedy (?) video poking fun (?) at #MeToo as a movement for whiny bitches who—I can’t believe I’m writing this—can’t take a joke? She confirmed: I did. We both did.
“It’s like a new kind of sheetcaking,” Carlson told me, referencing the 2017 Saturday Night Live skit featuring Tina Fey shoving supermarket cake into her mouth instead of standing up to Nazis at right-wing rallies. The bit drew all kinds of criticism for essentially promoting an uber-white, uber-hetero, uber-cis political praxis that basically amounts to: Maybe if we (“we,” whoever we are) ignore the bad things (that probably affect someone else, but not “we”) they will go away. Fey’s super-defenders countered (unconvincingly, in my view) that Fey was in fact mocking non-confrontational white liberalism. Whatever. If that was the intent, it didn’t work. The skit was bad.
But here we are again, said Carlson: “Women’s statistically justified concerns about assault become a kind of mental work so overwhelming that you just have to escape—into a giant cake or, here, into satire that apologizes to men for the fact that women often have cause to fear their actions.”
Of course, real satire punches up, not down. And in “Dating Blues,” the joke is on Lynne’s character, a proxy for the #MeToo movement (a movement started, please remember, by a Black woman, Tarana Burke) who is mocked as a “white feminist” but not because she, as many white feminists have done, appropriates, minimizes, or ignores the lived experiences of women of color. Instead, Lynne’s character is made ridiculous because she sings badly about being “triggered” by banal, even kind, statements made by men.
Deep, thoughtful satire about the ways in which white women have strong-armed social movements away from women of color and erased the legacies of other marginalized communities in a bid to maintain our own white supremacy by feigning weakness simply cannot come from within. And that’s not what “Dating Blues” is trying to be, anyway. You’ll never convince me that co-producer Tiege Jensen, whose comedy YouTube channel includes an awful, jokey sing-song video about statutory rape, is into meta-feminist critique. Another producer credited on the piece is Bari Weiss, the Times writer who defended Aziz Ansari, writing what is essentially the straight-faced version of “Dating Blues,” deriding women who dare speak out against similarly abusive men as foolish and deserving of blame and scorn, rather than support.
Furthermore: the movement to end gendered sexual violence is not actually about “dating.” Conflating the sometimes hilariously confusing, sometimes heartbreaking mixed signals bound to happen in a mutually consensual dating relationship with the intentionally harmful, abusive behavior that #MeToo is concerned with in the workplace and other public arenas—that’s just bullshit. Women know the difference between a clumsy guy and a creepy guy. Believing us when we say we can tell one from the other is a fundamental tenet of creating long-lasting social change. Suggesting that crazy bitches are too hysterical to be able to discern bad sex from sexual assault, as “Dating Blues” does, is practically on page one of the predator’s playbook.
This is Daniel Tosh territory—the stuff of Seth MacFarlane or perhaps the basement of your local frat house. And so I struggle with how utterly bizarre it is to see the New York Times trying on this kind of (for lack of a better term) humor. I don’t want to talk about it, I just want to post an endless stream of Blinking White Man gifs, because what even is this? Certainly the New York Times doesn’t need to be entirely humorless, but in terms of corporate identity, the Times is much more “wry dad” than “Reddit troll.”
Nobody gets it, and moreover, nobody likes it. On the right, the piece is being derided as liberal insanity, and on the left as appalling victim-blaming. The comments on the video are especially messy, with some folks whining that the video is too mean to men, and others agog at the way a national newspaper is belittling a women-of-color-led movement for gender equality. Some will say that when you’ve pissed everyone off, you’re doing something right—but satire shouldn’t piss everyone off. It should piss off the powerful and make oppressors squirm. This video just makes the whole world, it seems, want to crawl into an underwater cave, forever.
And what an insult to the excellent work of the Times reporters who have produced groundbreaking stories about men who abuse women and power. It’s one thing to publish a blathering Bari Weiss op-ed that takes up the flag of the patriarchy—it’s un-great and unoriginal, but it is at least a reflection of the way millions of people think the world works. It’s another to produce a music video (a music video!) pretending to be an “op-ed” that outright mocks the very people who trusted the Times with their stories.
With “Dating Blues,” the Times is not just snarking outwardly at sexual assault survivors, it’s looking at its own reporters and its own body of work with contempt and scorn. What would possess the Times to attack its own people in this way? Especially when, as Dean Baquet has said, it’s more important than ever for the Times to be transparent in order to build trust with readers amid cries of “fake news”? Unless someone inside pipes up—there’s no longer a public editor watchdogging the paper—we’ll probably never know.
Whatever it means to “date” in the era of #MeToo, it’s nothing like trying to fight sexual assault in the era of the “Dating Blues.”
It’s not just about the stories. Journalism is also about who is telling them.
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