The Ethics of Looking, Part 3

A shorter post than usual — Wednesday is choir night, after all.

I’m following up on previous musings regarding the topic-cluster of domestic violence, NFL culture, media news vultures and Ray and Janay Rice. Here are parts 1 (soapbox mode) and 2 (my own complicity).

Let’s call Part 3, “When ethics cause inconvenience; or: walking the walk.

Apparently, John Stewart had some very insightful, incisive and funny things to say on The Daily Show last week about how the NFL handled Ray Rice’s February assault on his wife (then fiancee) — or, one could say, how they didn’t handle the incident.

I wouldn’t know. Or at least, I wouldn’t know past the 30-second mark, ‘cos that’s when the first frame from TMZ showed up.*

It’s been interesting, having this desire to draw an ethical line in the sand around respecting some small piece of Janay Rice’s privacy by not watching these videos that were released without her permission, and yet for that desired boundary to be so vastly out of step with what feels like the entire rest of the world.

At least with CIPHA, my desire to respect these women’s privacy was affirmed and supported by  mainstream news outlets. With the Rices, not so much.

So it has very much felt like a weird devil’s bargain — watching the morning news, because I still have an intellectual and emotional investment in the idea of being a “well-informed citizen,” but looking away (and/or muting, and/or fast-forwarding) during coverage of this particular story. And yes, I was sort of standing by my ethics in charting that balance between staying well-informed and disengaging from this particularly shitty thing the news media is doing. But was I really acting ethically? Does looking away from the screen but supporting the show overall make any difference at all? Or is it just a way to assuage my guilty conscience around being even more deeply complicit in this cultural poison than I want to admit?

If nothing else, however much I hate being “out of the loop” in regards to Stewart’s own brand of cultural critique, I appreciated the clarity of this choice. However smart the humor, The Daily Show still exists for me as an entertainment experience. And I was not going to support use of those TMZ videos in anything I was watching as entertainment.

So out of the loop I will remain. It’s the smallest of sacrifices, giving up on my daily John Stewart fix. An essentially insignificant choice, and I’m not sharing any of this because I expect a medal, or even a cookie — or any sort of acknowledgment, really — in reward for “taking a moral stand.”

I’m bringing this small moment of choosing into the light because it resonated with something I read in Feministing when researching for my post about Emma Sulkowicz:

This isn’t about easy allyship, fun and glamorous symbolic solidarity. Carrying her weight requires sacrifice, as all real change does. (Advocate for change that will undermine your privilege. Live your politics even when it’s inconvenient.)

we_can_code_itGiving up one day’s worth of John Stewart wasn’t much of a sacrifice, but it was, if nothing else, a teensy-weensy piece of inconvenience for me. And it’s been a valuable reminder to me of the ways that sometimes the big moral stands come rooted in lots of smaller decision-points that unfold and add up over the longer arc of lived experience. Sometimes, maybe — just maybe — the effects of all those smaller decisions add up to something, or sometimes they may simply be a way to “build the muscle” in order to be prepared for that moment when the big stand is required.

* If you’re interested, you can find the clip yourself: I won’t be linking it here.


Image credit: “We can code it! (for Mother Jones)” by Charis Tsevis. Unaltered. Used under a Creative Commons license. (Retrieved from: )

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