See Something / Say Something

Posted: April 27, 2014 in Uncategorized

It is 4am and I really should be sleeping.

Instead I am stewing, as often happens when there is something bothering me.

Remember a few weeks ago when I was angry about some sexist stuff at CapSlam? What I said was that I was planning to keep following the adage “if you see something, say something”. If someone is going to do or say something that is sexist, racist, homophobic, etc., I will call them out on it.

Tonight that happened again.

I do want to say something else first, though. If, by reading this blog, you get the idea that the CapSlam shows are just full of offensive material, I hope to disabuse you of that notion. That is not the case, in my opinion. We are regularly regaled with poems which are uplifting, angry, inspiring, funny, moving, emotional and more. The thing is, with open sign ups and a no censorship policy, sometimes people will have something to say which is ugly.

The thing is, while I endorse the idea of no censorship, some people confuse no censorship with no repercussions. That is not the case. When you say something on stage you are judged in a lot of ways and by a lot more than the five people with the white boards.

Tonight I heard a grand total of 20 poems, including our guest poets, sac and slammers.

18 of them didn’t bother me in the least. They ranged from moving to funny to inspiring and more.

2 of them, however, caused my ‘ears to prick up’ for different reasons.

Let me talk about Shaun Sullivan and Artemysia.

There are distorted parallels in what they tried to accomplish tonight with wildly different results.

In the first round, they were two of the top scoring poets. They were both entertaining and witty with very strong showings.

In the second round, things came off the rails.

Shaun Sullivan did a poem that I would label as misogynistic from end to end. The best benefit of the doubt I could give it was that he was trying to convert to a different message but failed to get it across. I am not sure even that benefit of the doubt is warranted, however. He spoke about how women were stupid and he used them for his own amusement.

At one point, I thought he was trying to make a comment on the shallow nature of existence. There was one line where he said that he wondered if the women thought the same of him. It seemed like the whole thing was going to turn on its head and give us a very different message that the awful one he had started with.

It didn’t. He didn’t. He ended with the same callow, unfeeling, misogynistic message that he started with. The opportunity for something deeper was gone and what was left was just ugly and hateful.

A few poets later, Artemysia came up to the stage. She was visibly angry. Her poem started in a similar way (conceptually only… the poems were not similar in any other way). It was ugly and violent. The fact that people were laughing only made it worse.

But then, everything changed. Unlike Sullivan’s poem, she WAS doing it for a purpose. She turned on a dime and pointed out what happens when violence becomes normalized. She was NOT advocating for violence and hatred – she was instead showing it for what it was. Every laugh was a condemnation. She really hit (pardon the usage of the term) home when she turned putting our fists in the air to using those fists to punch women, children, men or anyone. She also commented (though it was easier to miss, I think) on the spaces for performing and what happens when people are driven out.

And the whole thing was done freestyle, or close to it, in response to the Sullivan piece.

Very well done. I am not sure I agreed with every line in the poem, but it definitely made its point (and the crowd definitely picked up on it).

So, now what?

Well, I will say one thing… the judges did their job. One of the biggest concerns when hateful speech is shared on the slam stage is whether it is rewarded. It this case, it was not. Sullivan’s first poem… the comedy poem… was the highest scoring poem of the night. The misogynistic poem was the lowest scoring poem of the night.

On Facebook, after the recap was posted, Sullivan commented on the mistake he had made… but it was the wrong mistake. He didn’t realize (or care, possibly), WHY so many people were unhappy with his diatribe against the women he sleeps with. Instead he thinks his mistake was in his poem choice for the semi-finals. Opportunity lost.

I am going to go on a tangent here…. but it is an important tangent.

After the show, once I got home, I saw a friend had a very negative experience earlier in the evening. That friend was someone I saw that evening, but she never mentioned what had happened. (I am not going to say WHO, because just because she talked about it to her friends on Facebook, doesn’t mean she wants it talked about to people she doesn’t know who read this blog.)

She was informed by some creepy guy that she ‘deserved’ his sexual advances because of the way she was dressed. (I actually just typed in a description of what she was wearing but I deleted it because fuck that… how she dressed doesn’t matter at all).

This is all the same thing. Saying misogynistic things about women on stage IS harassing an innocent woman in the street. It IS telling women that their worth is defined by how you can use them and throw them away. It IS telling them that their entire existence is defined by how YOU react to them.

If everyone lived by one rule and one rule only, it could be ‘try to make the world a better place’. It is a lot easier than imagining a world without war, John Lennon style. Just try to understand what your words and actions mean and how they can hurt. Forget what you were told about sticks and stones, because words CAN hurt… a great deal, in fact.

To quote a line from one of my own poems, “sometimes the world just fucking sucks.” Can’t we at least try to aim a little higher than that?

  1. Tammy MacKenzie says:

    Thank you Rusty, for once again leading the way on a sparsely populated path, pointing out what should be, but seems not to be, obvious.
    Why can’t people grasp the concept of respect?

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