It’s the Twitter campaign to end all Twitter campaigns, and when it’s all over, there may be nothing left to cancel.
Appearing on HuffPost Live Friday, the activist Suey Park sparred with Josh Zepps, the program’s host, during a segment in which he asked her about her latest viral hashtag, this one aimed at the Comedy Central satirist Stephen Colbert. In case you missed it, the hashtag #CancelColbert shot to the top of Twitter’s trending sidebar late Thursday after the @ColbertReport handle tweeted -- and then deleted -- a joke from one of Colbert’s skits:
“I am willing to show #Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.”
Speaking with Zepps about the campaign, Park said she was tired of seeing comedians hide behind satire as an excuse to joke about things that aren’t funny -- in this case, racially insensitive sports franchise names like the Washington Redskins. Soon into the segment, however, it became apparent that Zepps and Park weren’t seeing eye-to-eye on the subject. Zepps said it “strikes me as misguided” to become outraged over racist terminology in a satirical context, to which Park replied that Zepps was missing the point.
“I feel like it’s incredibly patronizing for you to paint these questions this way, especially as a white man,” Park said. “I don’t expect you to be able to understand what people of color are actually saying with regards to Cancel Colbert.”
“Being a white man doesn’t prevent me from being able to think,” Zepps shot back. “[It] doesn’t prevent me from being able to have reasoned perspective on things.”
“White men definitely feel like they’re entitled to talk over me,” Park responded. “They definitely feel like they’re entitled to minimalize my experiences, and they definitely feel like they are somehow exempt and so logical compared to women, who are painted as emotional, right?”
“No one’s minimalizing your right to have an opinion,” Zepps countered. “It’s just a stupid opinion.”
The interview ended abruptly and unamicably, but the argument continued on Twitter.
Ahh, the righteousness of professional umbrage-takers. @suey_park wasn't muted or silenced. I invited her to explain herself & she declined.
â€” Josh Zepps (@joshzepps) March 28, 2014
Park is already known for viral campaigns such as #NotYourAsianSidekick, which spurred a conversation in December about feminism and racial stereotypes in the Asian-American community. So popular was the hashtag that it spawned a partnership between Park and the Asian-American nonprofit group 18 Million Rising, which created a website around it. The project continues, but the group’s collaboration with Park was short-lived. Last month, it announced that the two were parting ways, citing “what has become an untenable relationship.”
The #CancelColbert hashtag is unfolding in much the same way. It began shortly after the joke tweet from the @ColbertReport account (which apparently isn’t managed by Colbert or his show). Shortly after the joke, Park displayed her knack for igniting Twitter virality by tweeting out the #CancelColbert hashtag and asking her 18,600-plus followers to “trend it.” They obliged, and more than 19 hours later, the hashtag is still generating dozens of tweets per second.
But, of course, those tweets are not all aimed at getting Colbert booted off the air. As with any wildfire twitch hunt, the hashtag has quickly spiraled into an intractable amalgam of support, snark and backlash. By Friday afternoon, the backlash seemed to drown out the support, while competing hashtags like #CancelSueyPark and #CancelHuffPostLive have emerged as a counterargument to Twitter activism in general. “Can we just put down the torches and pitchforks?” asked Salon. Others commentators, like Asian-American “Simpsons” writer Daniel Chun, just saw the whole thing an opportunity for more humor.
Asians, this is your leader speaking. Stand down. #CancelColbert
â€” Daniel Chun (@dannychun) March 28, 2014
Getting lost in the debate is the subtle nuance upon which good satire hinges, a nuance that was no doubt lost in translation when Colbert’s joke went from skit to tweet. The joke may very well have worked in context of the original segment -- a satirical bit about Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder -- but as a standalone, it just came off a clumsy and unfunny attempt at humor.
It’s still unclear who was responsible for the tweet and if there will be any repercussions. A spokesperson for Comedy Central has not responded to a request for comment. If the ax ultimately falls on an intern or third-party social media manager, it wouldn’t be the first time.
From his personal Twitter account, Colbert joked about the whole thing, and in doing so, he made it clear that it wasn’t he who pulled the trigger. “I share your rage,” he tweeted. He’s not alone. Backlash continued Friday against Park, Colbert, Zepps and pretty much everyone involved.
The full HuffPost Live segment is available here.