Tolerance is perhaps the most esteemed of all the modern virtues, to extent that any deviation from this sacred principle simply will not be tolerated. Examples of this seemingly self-contradictory state of affairs abound, but two recent new stories in particular seem to prove the point.
One is the controversy resulting from comments made about homosexuality by the singer Michelle Shocked
at a recent concert in San Francisco. We’re ordinarily loathe to comment on celebrity matters, but a friend tells us that he went to his Facebook page Thursday expecting to find much exulting about the Wichita State University Wheatshockers’ upset victory in the first round of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s championship basketball tournament and instead found nothing but talk about Shocked, and the flap does seem to illustrate a larger truth. Besides, we’ve long enjoyed much of Shocked’s music, and have a particular affinity for her song “Anchorage
,” a bittersweet tale of lost friendship that always leaves us slightly teary-eyed, and we also find the whole imbroglio slightly amusing.
For those unfamiliar with Shocked’s oeuvre, who probably constitute a large majority of the reading public, she sings and accompanies herself on guitar in an “alternative” folk-rock style that is wildly popular with a certain sort of progressive hipster. Like most performers of the genre, she has long been associated with the sorts of causes favored by her audience and is generally assumed by her fans to be correct on all things political. Her most popular album had a cover photograph of her being hauled off in a headlock by police during some rally or another, her androgynous good looks and impeccable hipness have led to speculation that she is a lesbian, and although most of her music is personal rather than political she always been the most bien of pensants. One can well imagine an audience’s surprise, then, when Shocked took to a stage in San Francisco, of all places, and began an extended monologue against same-sex marriage.
Accounts of the concert differ, but all seem to agree that Shocked expressed concern that priests would be forced to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, seemed quite disapproving of homosexuality in any instance, and quoted Bible verses on the matter in both English and Spanish. Some reports even had her saying “God hates fags,” a phrase notoriously associated with the widely reviled anti-homosexual activist Fred Phelps, although most accounts agree that she only used the expression in predicting how her remarks would be reported. In any case, Shocked’s opinions sent much of the audience scurrying for the exits and the resulting publicity has led to the cancellation of shows at the Telluride Blues Festival and other venues. Shocked has since attempted some public relations damage control
with a carefully worded apology, including a very clear denial of the notion that she believes God hates homosexuals, but she hasn’t yet recanted her opposition to same-sex marriage, and judging by the comments at our friend’s Facebook page and elsewhere nothing less than a full confession and conversion will suffice for most of her fans.
Although we can’t fully agree with Shocked’s remarks, mainly because we don’t know for sure what they were, we would have loved to have been at the concert. In addition to the opportunity to hear “Anchorage” live, the audience reaction would have been worth even the inflated ticket prices being charged these days. Anyone who has attended an “alternative” folk-rock concert knows that self-righteous political preachiness is an obligatory part of the performance, as the “artists” “bravely” “speak truth to power” with “controversial” opinions that they know everyone will agree with. It’s always the dreariest part of the show for right-wingers such as ourselves, and we remain hopeful that entertainers will once again demonstrate a respect for their entire audiences by sticking to whatever talent it is that drew an audience to their show, but it would have been great fun to see the look on the faces of the left-wingers who at last had to endure the same annoyance of having paid money to hear an opposing opinion.
Shocked should not be shocked, though, by the reaction. She’s been a member in good standing of the progressive community long enough to that it will not tolerate any dissent on this topic. A live-and-let-live attitude toward homosexuals will not suffice, as everyone must have the same up-to-date approving attitudes or be subjected to the most severe social stigma. Such uniformity of thought is imposed in the name of diversity, another of the most esteemed virtues of the modern age, and any number of publicly shamed dissenters can attest that it is imposed harshly.
We found it intriguing to read that Shocked’s views on same-sex marriage are informed by her Christian faith, which she reportedly acquired in the pews of a Los Angeles Church of God in Christ. That denominational detail seems most believable, given that the “COGIC” — as its adherents informally call it — stresses a deeply emotional and raucously exuberant form of worship that might appeal to someone of Shocked’s artistic temperament, and it also offers the best music in Christendom. The church’s predominately African-American membership holds reliably liberal views on most political matters but hews to a decidedly more conservative line on theology and sexuality, and one wonders if that might not create a dilemma for some of Shock’s newly outraged critics.
Race always complicates things, of course, and seems to evoke an especially intolerant streak in the progressives. A recent example comes courtesy of the Philadelphia Magazine, which has prompted by a controversy of its own by daring to publish a cover story about “Being White in Philly.
” The article’s authors interviewed small sampling of white Philadelphians about their experiences of living in a majority back city, and came up with anecdotes that will surely be familiar to any white people who have ever discussed racial matters with other white people. Except for one older resident of a once-white neighborhood who spoke fondly of some neighbors while referring to others by a vulgar racial slur, all of the interviewees seemed relatively enlightened sorts embarrassed to confess their annoyance at the restrictive rules of racial discourse in America. Even such mild fare provoked howls of outrage from many citizens of the City of Brotherly Love, however, with a packed room of offended readers shouting all manner of accusations
at the reporters during a hastily-arranged public forum.
Not satisfied with such public shaming, the city’s aptly-named Mayor Nutter then denounced the article and demanded that the city’s Human Rights Commission formally rube its publisher. One might think that freedom of the press is one of the human rights that a municipal commission would be most eager to protect, especially in a city such as Philadelphia, but the mayor helpfully explained that “the First Amendment, like other constitutional rights, is not an unfettered right
.” An enduring cliché of the contemporary civil rights establishment is the call for a “frank dialogue” on race relations, but it seems that too much candor might exceed the constitutional limits.
This intolerance for intolerance severely restricts conversation about race, sex, and any number of other important topics, and that is a shame. We have no patience for gay-bashing or racism, but neither do we believe that this moment’s consensus of enlightened opinion represents an ultimate truth that cannot be questioned. Those who do not want to buy Philadelphia Magazine’s latest issue or attend Michelle Shocked’s next show should be quite free to act according to their own consciences, but they should spare us self-righteous claims that their efforts at censorship are done in the name of tolerance.
— Bud Norman