I've got a right to be wrong!
Some of y’all may have read a post I wrote not too long ago in the Big Whoop blog about how when addressing the whole Rachel Dolezal situation, it was more important to acknowledge the toxic ubiquity and poisonous of racism in our society, in both institutional and personal forms, than to condemn a woman who had become a lightning rod for controversy as well as a national laughingstock after her insistence on identifying as Black despite two of the whitest parents ever to slather mayonnaise on Wonder bread.
Well, today I published my My World of Flops entry on Dolezal’s memoir, In Living Color, which I had not started when I wrote the earlier piece. In it I have a different, more critical take on Dolezal than I did in the earlier piece. This is not terribly surprising. When I wrote the earlier post I was responding to Dolezal as an abstraction, and as presented in the media. I assumed a level of good faith in her that In Full Color does not bear out.
I’d naively assumed the former Spokane NAACP President was genuinely interested in sparking an honest, painful and essential conversation about race and identity when her memoir suggests she’s really just interested in having the world endlessly validate her choices and identity, and isn’t interested in viewpoints or perspectives that challenge her own. To be able to deny your whiteness to fit your self-image as the soulful antithesis of white is, ironically, the ultimate act of white privilege.
So is the earlier piece wrong? I’m certainly not here trumpeting its rightness, and I think in hindsight I was overly generous to Dolezal but really these two pieces just reflect my different vantage points from different angles. And even if we want to stamp the earlier piece with a giant “WRONG”, I would argue that it is my God-given right as a writer, and American, and Juggalo, to be wrong. And I’m not just talking about wrong once a decade, I’m talking wrong a LOT of the time. I
Because I am wrong a fuck-ton. I left Avatar thinking I had just seen the biggest flop of all time. Walking out of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, I asked a fellow critic something along the lines of, “Who could possibly be the audience for that, a big-screen sitcom about people with no problems, with no movie stars in it?" Avatar went on to become the most successful (and best, and most beloved!) movie of all time. At one point My Big Fat Greek Wedding was the top-grossing (and, similarly best and most beloved) American independent film of all time. So I was perhaps wrong in my belief that no one could possibly want to see either one.
To cite some recent examples, I recently Googled Elmo In Grouchland after giving it a glowing write-up in My World of Flops and was surprised, if not necessarily shocked, to discover that not only had I seen it in the late 1990s when it came out, but I’d given it a lukewarm, so-so review betraying more or less complete indifference towards Elmo, a character I would go on to become a huge fan of. On a slightly more adult, highbrow and lowbrow level, I revisited Eyes Wide Shut, a movie I hailed as a towering masterpiece from one of the all-time masters when I similarly reviewed it at the time of its release (they had me on the “Elmo & Kubrick beat”, what can I say?), for my First and Last column at TCM Backlot, and found it actively terrible, a genuinely bad, embarrassing and bizarrely off bomb instead of the instant classic I’d dubbed it earlier.
I write about things differently because I see things differently as I get older. I don’t know whether that’s attributable to me accruing wisdom and experience or the brain damage suffered from listening to Insane Clown Posse, but it’s not something I feel guilty about because it’s so human and so inevitable.
I’m wrong about dumb things like My Big Fat Greek Wedding but also wrong about big stuff like Trump getting elected. You know who else was wrong about that? Pretty much everyone who wasn’t a right-wing loon. Obviously, we should try not to be wrong as writers and journalists and human beings, but I also believe in cutting people some slack. I think it’s idiotic to see a writer as illegitimate or fatally flawed for getting something like Trump’s election wrong when so many people did.
This brings us back to Dolezal. Is it possible that she too will see life differently as she gets older and write a book renouncing the controversial and overwhelmingly unpopular ideas offered here? I wouldn’t count on it. She seems too brittle in her thinking, too unyielding in her furious anger and self-conception, to mellow or soften with time. But you never know. After all, I’ve been wrong before.
Support Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place at https://www.patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace