Irritable Gestures

I have been a little loath to write this because Freddie deBoer already has a huge beef with our blog for some reason (I’m mean to Jonathan Chait?), but…

Freddie deBoer recently wrote a post denouncing the less-hinged supporters of the proposed TPP, one of whom saw fit to compare Obama’s critics on this issue to the lynchers of Emmet Till. This was obviously an awful thing for Dem politico Allen Brauer to say, and most readers here probably regard both this and the TPP with unified disgust, putting us in agreement with deBoer. Allen Brauer fired back at his critics by high-mindedly calling them “dude-bros and manarchists” and saying he was wrecked after a “tsunami of white tears.” DeBoer correctly calls this bullshit:

Allan Brauer, I would argue, is today’s progressive internet in its purest form. He’s someone who’s learned all of the lessons of how we do things too well…. Do we still have the capacity, as a political and intellectual movement, to argue in a way that’s not entirely based on associating with race or gender in a totally vague, unaccountable, and reductive way?

Solid enough. But—

The stakes are much lower in our cultural writing, but the problem is largely the same: tired, rote arguments and magic words, treated as cutting rebuttals no matter how lazy and uninspired. You use magic words in your work, and no matter how good or bad it is, you’ll get credit for it. And if people criticize you, you just use the magic words against them, too.

DeBoer goes on to complain this listicle on The Toast is terrible. It is indeed not hilarious, but I think it’s indicative of mediocre humour rather than emblematic of internet progressives’ inability to think seriously about politics. And it’s not by Mallory Ortberg, so I have trouble seeing why deBoer immediately went here, of all places [he doesn’t mis-ascribe authorship; he’s just linking the two ideas]:

Mallory Ortberg has carved out a really unique voice and place online, but she seems like a victim of her own success. She’s in a “Radiohead recording themselves farting into a paper bag” rut: her fans will call anything she does a work of genius no matter what, in part because they think doing so is somehow a meaningful political act, so there’s little incentive to branch out. I want her to do new, challenging things, just as a fan of her good work. It would be really amazing if The Toast would try to get its own readership to confront themselves politically rather than to see all political engagement as a way to identify who they’re better than. I’d like to see her get out of the very comfortable comfort zone that she has (to her credit) built for herself. But simply identifying work of Ortberg’s that I find better or worse feels like violating some sacred internet compact about Those Who Are Not to be Criticized.

Wringing your hands over Mallory Ortberg because you’re concerned she’s not growing as a writer is…bizarre. Like most authors she has her better and worse pieces, but she is hands down one of the smartest and funniest authors we have around at the moment. And unfortunately I couldn’t help but think of the last time Freddie de Boer was worried about whether women being funny on the internet is destroying progressive politics. Because five years ago the problem was that Sady Doyle was unserious. You should read Doyle’s post in its entirety.

You guys, Tiger Beatdown is a blog. And, on this blog, we have a comment section! Sometimes the comment section is pretty interesting. And sometimes, the comment section gives us some shit like this! From “Freddie”

“I would ordinarily never, ever do this self-linking deal, but this post kind of compels it.


Look, I have to tell you: your whole enterprise here, the whole long and short of it, appears to be an edifice designed to give you a platform that paws at discourse while denying the possibility of you ever getting called on anything. I mean the whole apparatus of the place. It’s like this constant recursion of LOLspeak/serious speak/LOLspeak, this Russian dolls style thing you’re so enamored with. It’s just a mechanism to introduce a self-limiting aspect on what you want to say; you want to be heard and to be taken seriously, but you want the out to be able to say that you were just goofing. Well, goof away, it’s the Internet, and it’s your dime, but understand that you are denying intellectual rigor when you do so.

This is your space, your place of power, and you can define it any particular way you choose. I am not particularly impressed with this post or the assumptions that undergird it, but mostly I am unimpressed with your defense mechanisms. Say what you have to say. I do, I have, and I will.”


It didn’t miss my attention, Freddie, that the jokes you specifically took exception to were about creepy dudes pretending to be feminist to get laid. Or, that you took exception to them because they made you think that the two feminists who made the jokes, Amanda Hess and I, might not sleep with you even though you are totes feminist and stuff:

“I guess what I’m saying is that I am thinking about that date that Amanda and Sady are talking about. If I went on that date, with either or them, they would indeed find themselves on a date with a feminist. But as I am a feminist whose feminism is not a product of feeling obliged to any particular women or to some vague category called “women,” but rather to the principles of equality and human liberation which inform and support feminism, they are unlikely to find me the kind of feminist whose feminism is guaranteed or even likely to please or flatter them. What I wonder is, what if their questions reveal a man who is a feminist that has ideas about feminism that differs from theirs? And what if that feminist man isn’t inclined to back down from his position in an attempt to please them?”

There are a few answers to this question, Freddie. The first is that I am never, ever, EVER going to fuck you, and Amanda has had a boyfriend for approximately forever as I understand it, and I have a boyfriend TOO but would STILL avoid fucking you were that not the case, so you REALLY don’t need to worry about how this theoretical feminist date of ours might go. It would always end with you not getting fucked, is the answer.

Oh FFS with the imaginary date. I am transitively embarrassed on his behalf. Now, in continuing here I am quoting a comment from deBoer, and as I have said a ton of dumb stuff on the internet in comments before (really, so much dumb stuff), I appreciate that this could be unfair, but I don’t think it’s out of line or that he would disavow it.

So, in other words, you aren’t capable of defending your ideas, and so you freak out when someone calls you out on some of them. That’s cool– like I said, your dime. But make no mistake, the fact that you are so incapable of actually engaging rationally– that you post with such obvious insecurity, emotionalism, and spite, rather than anything resembling a coherent argument– that, ultimately, undermines what you will accomplish for feminism.

Now– from my angle, what you could do is actually engage your self-critical process and become a better advocate for your ideas. Or you can censor, and flip out, and continue to police your space against any kind of constructive criticism. Meanwhile, I will engage in the ethical project of my life, which is the project of liberation, a project which I do not and will not ever ask for anyone’s permission to undertake.

Let this comment stand as is, please, if you value free expression.


All of deBoer’s other comments were redacted to [BONERS], which was possibly unfair but assuredly hilarious, and an appropriate response to the drama of “if you value free expression.” Let’s think about this a little. What did Freddie deBoer have to say to feminists who make jokes on the internet? That they are not intellectually rigorous, that they are insecure, emotional and spiteful, that they are incapable of defending feminism with rational arguments, that they “flip out” when confronted with logic, that they “censor” people when they don’t want to deal with anything other than the false flattery of servile male feminists, etc. etc. etc. These are the most tedious sexist criticisms ever. I’m sorry, but they are—insultingly so.

DeBoer is making a larger point which, if it were not so hideously sexist, would have some merit. Recursive LOLspeak and self-critical whiteness can be an idle diversion for minds that would be more profitably engaged in political activism. Frothing oneself to a lather about the latest outrage is counterproductive if it only redirects energy away from real issues. OK! These are, in principle, valid criticisms of the internet progressive milieu. HOWEVER: a) this goes awry when the complaint is a sexist one that codes the lamentable unseriousness as female b) the criticism itself can and has become an irritable gesture, quite entirely another matryoshka doll inside the online feminist one! The pose of the Orwell-like contrarian who calls people to action with high-minded seriousness is…also a pose! If you are mcmanus-sensei, you call for burning shit down at every opportunity and lament the trifling concerns of others. Then you accuse people of harbouring a desire for fascist conformity because they like monumental architecture. You didn’t see that coming, did you? No? That’s because mcmanus-sensei is a better troll than deBoer, who has a limited range. Every day Freddie deBoer turns his face to serious issues, and every day the paltry concerns of feminists online blast him like an ill-wind of dick-jokes, a Boreas enjoining him to drink a tall, cold glass of STFU, which batters his doughty vessel but cannot prevent him from steering on, tacking back and forth in the direction of personal liberation, which project he needs no woman’s approval to undertake [swelling strings and snapping pennants].

What I guess I’m saying is, if your complaints about online unseriousness have lead you to criticize Sady Doyle and Mallory Ortberg in particular, something has gone wrong. The most accomplished, hilarious feminists don’t need condescension on how they are Doing It Wrong from their purported allies. (Needless to say it’s perfectly fine to criticize either writer, but not in a sexist way.) I had been inclined to let the [BONERS] episode go on the grounds that it was five years ago, and Freddie deBoer is a genuinely smart guy who sometimes writes interesting things, but this concern-trollery about how Ortberg’s not getting challenged enough has raised my ire. Casting the unserious aspects of modern leftism as uniquely and pathologically feminine is bullshit.


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