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kbarber

Pennsylvania Ballet puts the ballet-haters in their place

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Helene, I've never heard that insult you say is prevalent. Drew, no apology necessary, and thanks for the laugh. That would have been such a great retort. Maybe the Facebook poster should have known how some people would interpret his words – I’ll give you that. But I think that unless we want our own words policed, we have to give the widest latitude to others. Intent, in other words, should count. You say your reading of his language is within norms, but whose norms? I don’t hang around with guys who put down women or gays, even obliquely. In my circle, people who did that would be shunned. How do you know it’s not the same in his? Not because he's a football fan. That would be an unfair stereotype right there. Some guys are sexist and homophobic, yes. If he’s not, why should that be his problem?

It’s not like he used a racial or sexual slur that’s always had one and only one meaning. Men and women derive humor from the differences between the sexes, and sometimes that humor is sharp. Most of us recognize that masculinity and femininity are equally good, but in some situations, like when someone’s wearing a tutu or a football helmet, one is called for rather than the other, and it’s no insult to the other to say so. So to insult a man for being stereotypically feminine where stereotypical masculinity is called for is not by definition to insult either women or un-stereotypically masculine men who don't play football. It’s just to say, be “a man” in the way masculinity is called for in that situation. That’s my opinion. Obviously you don’t agree, but I've enjoyed the discussion.

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Helene, I've never heard that insult you say is prevalent. Drew, no apology necessary, and thanks for the laugh. That would have been such a great retort. Maybe the Facebook poster should have known how some people would interpret his words – I’ll give you that. But I think that unless we want our own words policed, we have to give the widest latitude to others. Intent, in other words, should count. You say your reading of his language is within norms, but whose norms? I don’t hang around with guys who put down women or gays, even obliquely. In my circle, people who did that would be shunned. How do you know it’s not the same in his? Not because he's a football fan. That would be an unfair stereotype right there. Some guys are sexist and homophobic, yes. If he’s not, why should that be his problem?

It’s not like he used a racial or sexual slur that’s always had one and only one meaning. Men and women derive humor from the differences between the sexes, and sometimes that humor is sharp. Most of us recognize that masculinity and femininity are equally good, but in some situations, like when someone’s wearing a tutu or a football helmet, one is called for rather than the other, and it’s no insult to the other to say so. So to insult a man for being stereotypically feminine where stereotypical masculinity is called for is not by definition to insult either women or un-stereotypically masculine men who don't play football. It’s just to say, be “a man” in the way masculinity is called for in that situation. That’s my opinion. Obviously you don’t agree, but I've enjoyed the discussion.

Helene will no doubt get around to replying directly, but we know it’s not the same “in his circle” because of what s/he wrote. The original Facebook post is quite clear and it was an insult. As I said previously, I’m perfectly willing to believe that the poster was being more thoughtless than not. But it is important for people to look at the subtext of what they may think is just a passing remark or throwaway humor, particularly in regard to people who have been subordinated or marginalized. (Although in this case it isn’t really subtext.)

The point is to question stereotypes, not to accept them unquestioningly. The Pennsylvania Ballet riposte does that by pointing out that the stereotype implicit in the Facebook post is spectacularly off base. (And that same Eagles fan might want to think about the pressure football players are under to enact dangerous rituals of "stereotypical masculinity," like playing through pain or hitting too hard. Remarks like his/hers don't help.)

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I strongly disagree. I see no difference between a football team being criticized for playing like ballerinas or a ballet company being criticized for dancing like football players. Ballet dancers are generally known for their grace and delicacy and football players do not play touch football. They tackle and hit hard. They do not apologize if they hit too hard.

I continue to think that you're being a little too literal in your comparisons, alexaa1a, but in fact some players do apologize, and do so publicly, when they've committed an illegal hit.

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The original Facebook post is quite clear and it was an insult. As I said previously, I’m perfectly willing to believe that the poster was being more thoughtless than not. But it is important for people to look at the subtext of what they may think is just a passing remark or throwaway humor, particularly in regard to people who have been subordinated or marginalized. (Although in this case it isn’t really subtext.) The point is to question stereotypes, not to accept them unquestioningly. The Pennsylvania Ballet riposte does that by pointing out that the stereotype implicit in the Facebook post is spectacularly off base.

What’s clear is that it was an insult to the Eagles. That there was a sub- or not so sub-text is what you’re trying to prove. Just stating it exists, just stating that because a person is a football fan he or she (we don’t even know which) must have meant the worst instead of the best thing, doesn’t make it so. That’s applying a negative stereotype, and doing so not to criticize one’s own group, as the poster did, but to demonize, and to do in complete ignorance. In other words, as well-meaning as it is, it’s a textbook act of prejudice, which can’t be excused because the groups supposedly insulted (which weren’t even mentioned, you have to infer the insult) have historically been wronged – as if two wrongs make a right.
And standing up for historically subordinated and marginalized members of society is also no cause for humorlessness. Stereotypes are an age-old source of humor, and that humor isn’t necessarily malign, it’s a source of good fun when neither side takes itself too seriously. Invoking victim status and taking people to task for every just-plausibly, in-the-worst-case-scenario-prejudicial offhand remark they make is not the way to create “the Good Society.” At least PB, as has been pointed out, avoided scolding, and probably educated some people about dancers. I continue to doubt the poster’s comment reflected a poor opinion of dancers, but they went about changing minds the right (smart) way.

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And standing up for historically subordinated and marginalized members of society is also no cause for humorlessness. Stereotypes are an age-old source of humor, and that humor isn’t necessarily malign, it’s a source of good fun when neither side takes itself too seriously.

Like the stereotypes involving watermelon, hooked noses, and limp wrists? Yes, those are extreme examples, but where does one draw the line? I'd say that someone who relies on another person's race, creed, nationality, ethnicity, sexual preference, and gender to make jokes really doesn't evidence much of a sense of humor at all, but rather, genuine humorlessness.

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Like the stereotypes involving watermelon, hooked noses, and limp wrists? Yes, those are extreme examples, but where does one draw the line? I'd say that someone who relies on another person's race, creed, nationality, ethnicity, sexual preference, and gender to make jokes really doesn't evidence much of a sense of humor at all, but rather, genuine humorlessness.

Someone who only found humor in those things would have a stunted sense of humor, sure. Someone who’s never laughed at a difference between men and women (surely not you?) would be humorless for sure. Don’t men kid women and women kid men that way, as a way of laughing at themselves too?
How many football fans, in a moment of frustration, think of women in tutus anyhow? Philly.com says the poster follows Pennsylvania Ballet on Facebook, so there goes the theory that he’s a ballet hater, and if he likes ballet, how likely is it that he doesn’t respect women in tutus, or thinks what they do is easy, or is homophobic? Sure, it’s possible. Lots of things are possible. Those things are highly unlikely.

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I'm not sure there's a way they can tell when the poster started to follow Philadelphia Ballet, but even had he followed the company all along, people are a mass of contradictions, like the smothering Victorian gentlemen who believed that they knew best for the womenfolk.

It's remarkable what I hear about ballet and dancers during intermissions. It's remarkable what people write to me privately. Love and respect are two different things. Often they are combined in the same person. Too often, they are not.

I would rather be considered humorless than insulting.

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Someone who’s never laughed at a difference between men and women (surely not you?) would be humorless for sure.

What are the differences between men and women that are risible?

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Helene, have you considered that you've insulted the Facebook poster? Kathleen, the differences aren't risible.

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Kathleen, the differences aren't risible.

OK. I'll rephrase that. What is it that the humorless person who has never "laughed at a difference between men and women" should be laughing at?

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I have certainly criticized the actions of the Facebook poster that he made public, and I've argued why following PA Ballet on Facebook is hardly proof of his good intentions.

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OK. I'll rephrase that. What is it that the humorless person who has never "laughed at a difference between men and women" should be laughing at?

Really, I don't feel the need to answer that.

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In an earlier part of my life I spent time with professional comedians, and the biggest takeaway I got from that experience is that humor is an illusive thing, but it's often attached to discomfort. We laugh because we feel awkward, and the laughter helps us get our balance back. And in a time when cultural norms are shifting fairly briskly, that sense of discomfort will vary wildly between cohorts. Something that challenges an established norm from a previous generation, like conventional presentation of gender roles, just baffles someone who doesn't subscribe to those norms.

Or, in a nutshell, humor is personal. Just because someone doesn't share your particular taste in jokes doesn't mean they are humorless.

What is does mean, though, is that what you find funny identifies you in the same way that regional accents or vocabulary choice do. And it does mean that, as overall cultural norms shift, so do the standard tropes. The majority of white people used to laugh at blackface minstrelsy jokes without reservation. We don't now.

(one other thing I learned from hanging out with comedians was to read your grocery list out loud and make you laugh. but that skill doesn't really translate in print...)

If you haven't listened to the ESPN comments above, bookmark it for later. It's fascinating to hear two men who spend a great deal of time establishing that they don't know anything about ballet try to parse the relationship between a sports team and a dance company. (and when they say that the "ballet director" doesn't trade away dancers because he doesn't like them, and then hire other dancers who don't fit in with the ensemble, I winced a bit.)

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What’s clear is that it was an insult to the Eagles. That there was a sub- or not so sub-text is what you’re trying to prove. Just stating it exists, just stating that because a person is a football fan he or she (we don’t even know which) must have meant the worst instead of the best thing, doesn’t make it so. That’s applying a negative stereotype, and doing so not to criticize one’s own group, as the poster did, but to demonize, and to do in complete ignorance. In other words, as well-meaning as it is, it’s a textbook act of prejudice, which can’t be excused because the groups supposedly insulted (which weren’t even mentioned, you have to infer the insult) have historically been wronged – as if two wrongs make a right.

And standing up for historically subordinated and marginalized members of society is also no cause for humorlessness. Stereotypes are an age-old source of humor, and that humor isn’t necessarily malign, it’s a source of good fun when neither side takes itself too seriously. Invoking victim status and taking people to task for every just-plausibly, in-the-worst-case-scenario-prejudicial offhand remark they make is not the way to create “the Good Society.”

I don’t see a lot “demonizing” going on in this case, unless the bar for demonizing has been radically lowered. I also haven’t seen anyone here “invoking victim status.” References have been made in the thread to historic and current inequalities. Are those references by definition invocations of “victim status”?

I also don't think you need the New Critics or tea leaves to figure out the assumptions behind the Facebook post.......

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sandik, the humor in blackface, such as it was, derived from the belief that blacks were inferior, and was a way of expressing that belief. Now that we know the poster likes ballet, there is no parallel. You're right that not sharing someone's humor doesn't make you humorless. That's a good point. But insisting on misinterpretation, or just insisting on political correctness, is humorless.

Helene, no, following PA Ballet on Facebook doesn’t prove the guy’s intentions weren't malign – you can’t prove a negative anyhow. dirac, what “current inequalities” is he responsible for? You folks “figured out” the guy’s assumptions before you knew any thing about him, and now that the one thing we know is evidence against what you claimed to know, are you really doubling down on your speculative claims? An irrationally negative opinion about someone based on the group he belongs to (male football fans, or just males) is a prejudice, obviously. In this case it’s also reverse McCarthyism - witch-hunting.

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Helene, no, following PA Ballet on Facebook doesn’t prove the guy’s intentions weren't malign – you can’t prove a negative anyhow. dirac, what “current inequalities” is he responsible for? You folks “figured out” the guy’s assumptions before you knew any thing about him, and now that the one thing we know is evidence against what you claimed to know, are you really doubling down on your speculative claims? An irrationally negative opinion about someone based on the group he belongs to (male football fans, or just males) is a prejudice, obviously. In this case it’s also reverse McCarthyism - witch-hunting.

No one said the FB poster was responsible for inequities. In fact, no one said much about the FB poster at all before your post pushed the discussion in an entirely different direction from the initial fun-for-a-laugh "go PA ballet" responses. (If I were in the habit of accusing other people of being humorless, then I might reflect on your original intervention at greater length.)

And even as the discussion has morphed, addressing the issues you raised, no-one said anything about what's in the FB poster's heart or even in his head. Just responding to his words and what they denote and connote in our society. Okay--obviously they don't denote/connote those things in your judgment; Well, say so then--as indeed you have quite clearly and forcefully done. But impugning the motives of those who respond to you,"you folks" as you say above, and claiming people are demonizing (or think they have "figured out") the original FB poster? Even that they are prejudiced against football players or football fans or men? What is that but questioning the motives of people who disagree with you in their analysis and reaction to the original post? And indeed assuming the worst about what they are saying or are trying to say and the feelings/experiences that lie behind their words?

The very fact that the topic has now become "Mcarthyism" and "Witch-hunting" seems inexplicable to me. And, as accusations, these seem to me rather more unpleasant than anything that's been said about the FB poster on this thread. Let alone football fans, football players, or men.

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Drew, not to minimize your concerns, but they're in "discussing the discussion" territory. I have sent you a private response.

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The original Facebook poster must have felt that the Eagles were playing with low energy & chose a poor metaphor in ballet. Most people are clueless as to the energy that goes into performing ballet. Of course it came across as crude to those in the know.

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At this point the original poster must wish that he'd written something along the lines of "The Eagles played as though they weren't wearing their padding and helmets."

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A similar dynamic appears to be at work in the grief that girly-man Marco Rubio is getting for his choice of footwear. (This is not intended to introduce party politics into the discussion.)

Related.

The weakness in Rubio’s strategy is that it leaves him out of step with the mood among the base. That is what his rivals are attempting to exploit. Specifically, they are trying to make Rubio’s boots imply something deeper about his character: that he is a lightweight, unmanly, lacking the angry urgency needed at the moment. The boots are a synecdoche. Sunny and optimistic can be turned into callow, naïve, and even effeminate.

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A similar dynamic appears to be at work in the grief that girly-man Marco Rubio is getting for his choice of footwear. (This is not intended to introduce party politics into the discussion.)

Related.

Beatle Boots! I remember when they were fab.

Although I do seem to recall that they were "Cuban heels" when the Stones wore them ...

If they were manly enough for John and (ahem, especially) Mick, they ought to be manly enough for a U.S. Senator, freshman or not.

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