Sunday, November 27, 2011

Major Suckage, Y'Know? I Am Like So Sure

So, this Kansas high school senior named Emma Sullivan went to Topeka "as part of Kansas Youth in Government, a program for students interested in politics and government." She reported on her Twitter account that she'd (via):
Just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot.
Now, this was the girl's personal Twitter account, with about 60 followers, so that should have been the end of it, especially since she had not in fact "told" the governor anything.
Sullivan, 18, said she posted the comment because she doesn’t agree with Brownback’s policies, particularly recent cuts in state aid to schools. She is a registered Democrat.
“Some of my friends were joking about what they’d really like to say (to Brownback), so I just took out my phone” and tweeted, she said. “I guess it was kind of a heat-of-the-moment thing.”
But it turned out that Governor Brownback's staff "'monitor social media so we can see what Kansans are thinking and saying about the governor and his policies,' [Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene] Jones-Sontag said. 'We just felt it was appropriate for the organizers to be aware … because of what was said in the tweet.'" So they reported it to the girl's school, and the principal called her in to his office and ordered her to write an apology.

One commenter on Steve Benen's post wrote, "And how much do they get paid to camp out on Facebook and Twitter all day? Sounds like 'too much government' to me." Yeah, well, as they say, eternal vigilance is the price of freedom, especially elected officials' freedom not to be criticized by anyone for anything.

I don't want to make a big deal out of this incident. It's normal operating procedure in so many ways. Sullivan's principal scolded her for embarrassing the school, which is probably the major concern of any bureaucrat, whether in the private or the public sector. Sullivan also has received a lot of support for her freedom of expression, which is good.
“I’m really glad most people have been supportive of me, regardless of their political views,” she said. “They’re standing up for the fact that it’s my … right to express myself.”Not surprisingly, much of the support came via Twitter, where Sullivan’s original hashtag – #heblowsalot – was adopted and reposted hundreds of times by Brownback critics. Some pledged to create posters and T-shirts with the slogan.
“If I would have known this would happen, I might have worded it a bit differently,” Sullivan joked.
It's what's typical about the story that bothers me, though. For example, it's a reminder that despite what we hear about the wonders of the social media for political speech and organizing at the base of the social pyramid, from the top they are also useful for surveillance. There was no reason for Emma Sullivan to suppose that her tweet would be noticed by the Governor's office, but that also shows that our tech-savvy young people aren't always very savvy after all.

This story also sheds some light on the popular claim that calling things you dislike "gay" has nothing to do with real gay people. This sort of thing, you know: "Ladies and gentleman, electric cars...are gay. I mean, not homosexual gay, but, you know, my-parents-are-chaperoning-the-dance gay." As I've said before: even leaving electric cars out of it, what do parents chaperoning the dance have to do with sucking dick? Now Emma Sullivan seems to have inadvertently answered that question: Anything she doesn't like is equivalent to sucking dick. Why that is, I don't know. What do "recent cuts in state aid to schools" have to do with sucking dick?

Okay, so it was a tweet to sixty-one of her closest friends, and she's like eighteen, okay, and it wasn't her fault that her vacuous, nasty little opinion got shared with the world. I'm sure that if she were an adult, knowingly addressing a larger audience of politically sophisticated liberals, she'd have put more substance into her snark, and maybe wouldn't have bullshitted about having "told him he sucked, in person". Right?

Well, let's see. An article at Daily Dos supported Sullivan by declaring that she'd "correctly noted that he sucks." It linked to an article at Wonkette which agreed:
Yeah, but Sam Brownback really does “suck,” and really “blows a lot.” This is well known, nationally, and to expect smart young people in Kansas to be ignorant of this fact is to want children to be born without brains.
The Brownback administration basically tried to have this girl killed, for making a joke about a thin-skinned politician, on Twitter. And now her school has been forced to force her to “write an apology,” etc. Sullivan was already liberal (she’s intelligent), but Sam Brownback has probably forced her to become a liberal leader.
("Intelligent"? I haven't seen any evidence to indicate that.) Neither article had anything substantive to say about what is wrong with Brownback, nor any links to more information. His faults may be "well known, nationally," but not to me. I'm willing to believe he's worthless, but I don't see why I should have to do the legwork myself to find out why, especially since both writers were willing to use their bandwidth simply reiterating a homophobic slur. (And "basically tried to have this girl killed"? Get a brain.) I'm willing to cut a teenage Twilight fan some slack, but not adult political writers who should have outgrown that schoolyard mentality long ago. As I've also said before, the trouble isn't so much that such people use such language, as that they mistake it for reasoned political discussion. (Read the comments under the Wonkette article, for instance. Those people can't all be twelve years old.)

For all I know, Sam Brownback does literally blow a lot. He's a reactionary Republican, after all, and we know about them. But so do lots of liberal Democrats. What does a penchant for fellatio have to do with cutting state funding for public schools, or whatever other wicked political things he's done?

The final irony is that by diversity-manager standards, Sullivan's tweet was "hate speech." It could have caused Governor Brownback to commit suicide! Its wide dissemination now might cause countless gay teens to hang themselves! At the very least, instead of making this twit into a martyr, she should be made into a teachable moment. On Speakers Bureau we often say this in education classes to prospective teachers: Instead of throwing a hissyfit over words like "gay", "retard," and "that sucks," they should prod their students into broadening their vocabulary. If Brownback and his staff had any sense, they could have taken that line themselves. But I won't condemn them too harshly, because hardly any political operatives anywhere on the political spectrum do any better, and besides, when you're the victim of hate speech, you can't be expected to react rationally: you are supposed to go off and kill yourself.

Can Emma Sullivan express herself with more intelligence on political matters? I have no idea; maybe she'll grow into it. Meanwhile, I fully support her First Amendment right to be a total douche. But she will still be a total douche.