Elan Gale, producer of The Bachelor, recently took a flight home for Thanksgiving where he encountered a very irate passenger who apparently decided to take it out on the staff. This would have nothing to do with me, except for that Elan decided that this woman was proper fodder for internet mockery, and so decided to live tweet his encounters with her as he supposedly stood up for the rights of service workers not to be abused. Not surprisingly, particularly in the wake of other viral emotional live-tweeting incidents of late, the internet thought it was “hilarious” with thousands of people jumping in to mock this woman with her mom jeans and the “medical mask over her idiot face.”
The internet adored it. Elan tweeted her absurdity, her rudeness to the staff, and then his “war” with her. He sent her wine, vodka, and cute notes that said things like “eat my d*ck.” Yes, really.
There’s so much to unpack with what’s wrong with everything about this, but let’s start with where Elan’s head was at. Now, contrary to popular opinion right now, I have a hard time believing that Elan’s goal here was to stand up for hassled and abused airport employees who don’t deserve to be treated badly. Why? Because of the truly spectacular way in which he decided to turn this incident into a reality television show, instead of actually supporting workers.
So let’s start with what he could have done to show support for abused workers instead of live tweeting about his “heroic” stand.
1) Attended a Black Friday protest against Walmart. Maybe you missed it because you were busy internet-mocking a stressed out woman on a flight, but tens of thousands of people gathered on Friday to protest Walmarts across the country, calling for living wages, more secure full time jobs, and an end to retaliation against workers who speak out against their working conditions. Walmart is the largest employer in the nation, well-known for its abusive practices and its poor treatment of workers. Thousands of people blew off saving $20 on a television to raise their voices in protest. Because if you need to hold a food drive in your own store, asking employees to donate canned goods so that other employees can eat on Thanksgiving because you aren’t paying them a living wage, the people really will revolt. So perhaps all of these workers and their supporters could have used Elan’s witticisms yesterday in, you know, real support and solidarity.
2) Invited his Twitter followers to tweet messages of support to airline support staff. Instead of going for the literally lowest common denominator and asking everyone in America to get up on their moral high horse and put this woman in her place (a particularly enticing pasttime for certain men), he could have, instead, used his following for good. I can’t imagine he thought the airline employees who were being yelled at by this woman were checking twitter, seeing his activity, and feeling like he had their backs.
Instead, he could have asked people to share stories of positive encounters they were having with these hard-working employees on one of the most difficult days of the year. Probably most of them will encounter a “Diane” many times over, and many of them probably aren’t making it home in time for Thanksgiving either. Personally, I think seeing Twitter flood with messages of thanks to the hundreds of thousands of workers who were juggling flights, loading bags, and doing their best to provide good customer service would have been more uplifting and encouraging than reading a guy tweet about how he told a woman to eat his dick. In fact, Tumblr campaign anyone?
3) Politely confront the woman. There are plenty of ways to do this: stepping up and asking her not to speak that way to employees who are trying to help her, perhaps reminding her that everyone is in the same position and its hardly their fault, or maybe even asking her what’s wrong. Yes, that last one sounds strange. But the truth is that sometimes people become self-centered when they feel like no one is paying attention, or they aren’t being heard. Perhaps even just the opportunity to rant and rave and maybe even cry for a minute about something clearly upsetting her might have been enough to calm her down. Then again, maybe not. Obviously confronting her in front of the airline staff is the trickiest of the options here. But, well, that’s what standing up for someone looks like. You don’t know quite what the end will be, you don’t quite know what the other person’s response will be, and you don’t quite know if anything will change. But engaging with injustice up close and personal is, in fact, a more supportive way of handling it.
Compassion and Putting Women in “Their Place”
When it comes to sexually demeaning, aggressive, or threatening language from men directed at women, I’m always struck by how many people – men and women both – seem to think such behavior is excused because of a woman’s bad behavior. The idea that women are responsible for what happens to them – that victims are responsible for what happens to them – is deeply engrained in our culture and seems to get worse with every passing day. Victim-blaming, and a sense of “they deserved what they got,” is now rampant across our society as we seem to have completely thrown away the concept of a proportional response. Adria Richards was sent multiple rape and death threats after she reported two men at a tech conference making sexual jokes that she felt fostered a hostile professional environment. Even those who agreed she didn’t deserve death threats made the caveat that she shouldn’t have done what she did. And it’s not even just women who are subjected to these rigorous standards of behavior.
Nicholas Kristof has written quite a bit recently about the incredible lack of compassion our society has developed – a sense that anyone who has anything bad happen to them deserves it because of their own irresponsibility or bad behavior. He continually gets pushback from readers who believe that anyone who ever made a mistake in life deserves what happens to them. But as Kristof writes, compassion isn’t a sign of weakness – it’s a mark of civilization. Perhaps we should spend less time cutting food stamps and ranting against the laziness of the unemployed and more time making sure our children are fed and jobs pay a living wage.
Who is Diane?
Los Angelista has an excellent post up about the complete lack of context provided here – we do not have Diane’s side of the story, we do not really have any idea why she was self-centered and rude. Perhaps she, also, had been having a terrible day and just took it out on someone else. Perhaps she was wearing the medical mask because she’s sick. Perhaps someone close to her had just died. Perhaps perhaps. I’ll be the first to say that I don’t find there to be good excuses for treating people badly. But let’s be honest, there are almost always explanations. Maybe Diane is a terrible person. Then again, maybe she’s exactly like the rest of us, in that there are times when she gets stressed out and sick and upset and isn’t always the 100% best person in the world.
Melissa Stetton wrote a post about why she is questioning whether the incident even really happened. After all, the internet fame one can achieve nowadays by “live-tweeting” an emotional encounter in which we all get to either mock someone or put them in their place, is practically endless. Along with thousands of others, I tuned in to #RoofBreakup – in which a comedian live-tweeted his neighbor’s emotional breakup fight on a mostly-deserted rooftop in Brooklyn. And we all laughed at the absurdity of their complaints and demands of each other. Now, of course, revealing the absurdity and humor behind common human interactions is what makes comedy such gold – we can all relate to it.
But it’s one thing to go to a comedy show and know that you are potentially a target of humor. It’s quite another to – as Luke O’Neill wrote in the LA Times – to have an incredibly emotionally and personal experience broadcast for mockery across the internet. As O’Neill opines, “perhaps some self-editing here on the part of Ayers and the rest of us who do this sort of thing should at least be considered. After all, how many of us are at our best when we’re discussing something this personal and potentially volatile? Instead of a situation that should be read for its relatable pathos, we’ve turned it into one of absurd comedy.” I’ve been that girl in that breakup – we all have. I’ve also been Diane. I’ve absolutely done things I regret, I’ve treated people badly, and I’ve done so most often when I have failed to be compassionate to those around me. Is that not a lesson we can learn from when exposing others’ weaknesses and flaws for our own entertainment and amusement?
I don’t know Diane’s story. I don’t know if she has excuses, explanations, or if she’s even aware of how Elan Gale has turned her into an internet joke. What I do know is that, intrigued by the drama, I tuned in just like thousands of others to watch Elan stand up for courtesy and respect. But instead, within a few minutes, I found myself knee-deep in a truly disgusting amount privilege, evidenced by his command that she “eat his d*ck,” and in his not-quite-facetious declaration that he “hates her very much.” And I was repulsed. Not just by his lack of compassion for this woman, or by his inability to handle it in a reasonable way, or even by his self- congratulatory heroic narrative painted solely in order to bring him even more internet fame. But also by how quickly his feelings turned to hatred and how quickly that turned to his telling her to “eat his d*ck.”
For me and so many of my friends, that sentence was the splash of cold water to bring us out of our morbid fascination with what was happening in front of us. This wasn’t standing up for justice, or supporting abused workers. This was an entitled man exploiting a situation he knew virtually nothing about and escalating it to making sexually violent comments towards a strange woman who didn’t behave as he thought she should. This is a particular red flag for anyone like me who pays such close attention to issues of sexual harassment and street harassment. I can’t count how many times men have made unwanted advances to me in public places – on the street, at a club, in a restaurant – only to tell me to do that and much worse when I haven’t responded as they’d hoped. Reading that sentence was practically triggering.
But that’s what men like Elan Gale do. Identify a target, take someone’s misery and use their privilege to make mockery of it, then set themselves up as the hero coming in to put this person in their place and give them exactly what they deserved. He isn’t a hero, standing up for the working class. He’s a bully, preying on someone weaker than himself in order to gain popularity.
#DianeCanEatMyD isn’t a trending hashtag yet, and I can only hope it won’t become so. Elan’s gained thousands and thousands of new followers since he began his “war with Diane,” so maybe that’s good enough for him. Even if he did just make the whole thing up.