Sunday, January 23, 2011

Macy Gray and the BDS Movement

What is it about twitter than makes celebrities and politicians more willing to engage with fans and detractors?

Matt Yglesias gets tens, sometimes hundreds, of comments on each of his posts. He rarely comments on his own comments' section (why should he? he can always follow up with another post). And yet he felt obliged to reply to a comment I'd made a couple of month ago on twitter about his disagreements with another liberal blogger, Glenn Greenwald. He and Glenn, it'd seemed to me, had substantial differences over the US health care debate, not just disagreements over Obama's approach. I got a reply from Matt himself telling me that I was wrong, he and Glenn agree in principle but........

I would have carried on with the conversation if I cared more. But fissures among American liberal bloggers are kind of yawn-ish. So that's that.

I got a note from a friend on twitter last Wednesday, telling me that a certain Macy Gray, an African American singer, is going to be performing in 'Israel' soon. She's been receiving a lot of messages from activists urging her not to go (i.e. to boycott). So she then opened up the discussion on her facebook page, invited fans to tell her whether she Should go or not. I followed the link from the friend and lo and behold, the question had already gathered a thousand replies by then (there are +8500 as of writing this post). I knew it was virtually useless, but I did leave a comment anyway, at least my cyber buddies would see it and it would probably spark a debate (which it did).

I then wondered whether she, Macy Gray, is on twitter or not. A quick search revealed that she is. I checked her timeline (the sequence of her tweets) and it looked like she'd decided to go ahead with the gigs in Israel, and broke the news to her fans on twitter. To tell you the truth, wriggling herself away from these gigs after singing would not have been easy even if she wanted to. There are bonds and financial obligations. And then there are the predatory pro-Israel media. At the slightest whiff of boycott rhetoric, you find them open-jawed and drooling for blood.

What followed was a brief exchange I had with Macy Gray (up to that point I still didn't who she was). Later, after the insomniac Macy went to sleep and our conversation (and plans for a date) died off, I looked her up. Oh man. I may not have known who she was but I certainly knew of this song of hers.

I'm not a star-stricken or a celebrity-worshiping dude. I pay attention to celebrities when they perform well, while they're performing well. Beyond that, my concern for them do not exceed my concern for the well being of the janitor (a bit demeaning to the janitor that he's always a reference point when people speak of something meager, but I digress). Nevertheless, I was told I need to blog about this - the exchange. So here we go:

Macy Gray (to a fellow boycott activist):
"See I'm willing to listen - really listen - but some of you so called boycotters are just assholes."

Dubai Jazz (to Macy Gray):
"Hey, I'm an asshole. A pro-justice asshole!"

Macy Gray to Dubai Jazz:
"That was directed at some really awful, unnecessary. Key word SOME. boycott: taking things out of context."

DJ to MG:
"Every cause has some overly enthusiastic peeps. And boycott worked on south africa, no reason it shouldn't work on israel :)"

MG to DJ:
"i agree."

DJ to MG:
"awww. You're coming to Dubai, right? how about we meet for coffee and talk about it? :)"

MG to DJ:
"I thought you didn't like me. ????"

DJ to MG:
"I still don't like your going to Israel. But that doesn't mean I should stop liking *you*. :)"

MG to DJ:
"hmmm. only thing is - i don't like coffee"

DJ to MG:
"what's your drink of choice? :) We should get you to try the hubbly bubbly (hooka) smoke. You'll love it!!"

MG to DJ:
"ice water with 2 lemon slices. Best drink on the planet. !!"

DJ to MG:
"Wow. That makes you kind of...... affordable (just kidding:))"

(Regarding that last line, I really wanted to tell her it makes her cheap. But that, I reckoned, would have been rude and bad for the cause.)

You see, my fellow BDS activists: You need to engage your subjects of interest and communicate with them as a person before lecturing them about the history of the conflict. You have to understand where they come from. You have to put yourself in the position of someone who had never heard about the conflict before. Imagine someone urging you to boycott the Sri Lankan government for its persecution of the Tamil community. The first reaction you'd have is one of bewilderment and uneasiness. People are by nature averse to controversies and disputes (unless their involvement is calculated to generate no losses). On the other hand, people are also, generally speaking, empathic and have a tendency to stand by the underdog. But the moral terrain has to be clear. Justice delineated. You ought to be empathetic with the person you're trying to win before you expect them to be empathetic with your cause. There's a great temptation to get angry and hurl insults and accuse people of being indifferent to the suffering of others. Offensive language, while it might help you defuse some of *your* anger, is never going to produce tangible results.

But hey, don't get me wrong. I do it too. If a hasbara cunt showed up here, I have no scruples about using the C word.


Maksym Nedria said...

Macy Gray is very cool :)) did you listen to her on dubai jazz fest? she was amazing :)

Anonymous said...

What exactly is a hasbara cunt? A Zionist PR vagina? Please elaborate. Using language like that makes you an asshole.