Panegyric

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Evil in a kilt: Colin Mitchell hosts the 2015 Valley Theatre Awards.

Giving offense can get you knocked down. So can bad timing. So can not having enough friends. So can costing your friends money. There are lots of ways to find yourself on your ass in the middle of the street. My friend Colin Mitchell is out of a job because he said the wrong thing. That’s how it goes when your job is to sell people what you think. Sometimes they don’t buy it.

I come to bury Colin, not to praise him.

For years Colin Mitchell made a policy of pissing people off with this website. He hired me to help him do it, with no mandate but to say what I believed true. Colin Mitchell never did any editorial policing of my voice, nor any policing of his own. He reported news, well and badly; he called out evil where he saw it and defended what he thought good, in order to influence policy in an arena with which he was familiar. His masthead mission was to bring Los Angeles theater together whether it liked it or not. He succeeded a few times, usually by outraging it against him.

Last week Colin Mitchell voiced an unpopular opinion in exactly the language people didn’t want to hear right then. Wittingly or not, some say in a bid for fame, some say from the depths of a rotten soul, he aligned himself in people’s minds with evil. Disapproval cost him his forum and livelihood as of this weekend.

Colin Mitchell has made responsibility a lifelong tenet of his personal ethos, and whether he has embodied this standard better than the worst among us is a good question. The irony of his downfall has not been lost on the dullest minds. This time, Colin Mitchell hurt the feelings of some people who didn’t need or particularly deserve it. That he did so in an attempt to prevent more victims from being created by an inequitable system is an argument widely judged either false or immaterial. His rudeness in blaming those who have, accidentally and in good faith, at least infinitesimally contributed to their own suffering – his insensitivity to the complexities of a horrific circumstance – insulted those already traumatized. Nobody says that’s illegal, and few go so far as to say it should be, but in the most influential mind, that of the mob, the fact of his insult is more material than the philosophy that prompted it.

In reaction to his unkindness, his brutality, his attack on a prevalent orthodoxy that one must never blame a victim, Colin Mitchell’s ideas were called dangerous. His ideas were said to have no place in a fair society, and fair or no, a society has cast him out. Whether his ideas can have any weight in his culture’s move forward is a debate that cannot be held now, in a month that has seen a massive, likely temporary upsurge in social outrage. I hope the trend defies historical tendency; I hope it isn’t temporary. I hope that next year, that tomorrow, today, a woman doesn’t have to be traumatized again just to submit a rape or harassment report. I pray that her predator never will be punished before a jury trial, but I demand that punishment be commensurate with his crime. All this, though, is not to the point.

Overwhelmed by a world of violent hate it is powerless to stop, a mob has seized not on deed but gesture as the easiest thing to punish. Colin Mitchell hurt people’s feelings in just the right way. That’s what the minority report does. It tells you what you don’t want to hear just when you don’t want to hear it, because it doesn’t view things as you do and it thinks, crazily, that you should weigh its opinion. Maybe it is mad, that voice of dissent, that shout that everybody’s wrong; definitively insane: not normal. Scary. At a sensitive moment during a national dialogue on a topic of incendiary emotional resonance, Colin Mitchell thought an element was missing from the conversation and he jabbed the needle in, that monster.

Colin Mitchell can’t be said to have done good work with this article. He bungled the research, then the language. He didn’t see coming what came. Then he mishandled the voices against him by going silent. When they demanded an apology for hurting people’s feelings by voicing his opinion, he did not apologize. By not apologizing, which is what a politician would have done, he played into the hands of people who saw him as a rival and a threat. He was not slick. He was not careful. That fool!

He became so unpopular so quickly that people in business with him saw their finances threatened. No philosophy but capitalism brought Colin Mitchell down, in the end – the logic brought to bear against his folly did not do it, and the intemperate fury did not do it. They merely highlighted his status as a liability. His partners asked him to deny his opinion. His opinion had not changed, and he refused. His partners proclaimed that they would not stand with the evil of his dissent. Their interests, or their feelings, or their highest aspirations for human potential, were more important than his right to say what his conscience demanded. Out of step with the common trend, safely condemnable, for refusing the traditional program of public humiliation and reeducation and rehabilitation Colin Mitchell was fired. That loser.

Remember this. This day remember, when you who are capable of forming an unpopular idea find yourselves in its possession. Remember that in order to honor what it finds of momentary value in its fickle rage, a society will silence the odd voice in summary judgment.

Remember that a zero-tolerance policy for dissent was enforced by Americans: by American artists. Remember especially that these were artists, these who voted with outraged curses to shout down the minority report. The tyranny of no institution but the mob did this. Intolerance remember, when you who should – who by your calling’s covenant with society are obligated – would speak against the common thread of thought. Hide your dissent or divest yourself of it, but do not expose it to your closest allies.

You infidel.

Today, Colin Mitchell is no longer a threat to the common mind. And I, his apologist? What for me? I have defended him and his idea, if not his tone.

Tone! Tone, some artists say, was Colin Mitchell’s crime: that he offended with brash and ugly words. His unapologetic tone, some insist, got him fired and quite rightly – not his ideas but his choice of how to express them. Artists, they call themselves, they who say this. Some have said that I am a better writer, more nuanced, less offensive, and so my not being fired, though I share some of Colin Mitchell’s thoughts, is evidence that his sin was not coating the pill with sugar. Their position states unequivocally that the moral wrong of his style justifies the moral wrong of his being fired for using it.

They are Americans who say this. American artists say today that some ideas are too dangerous to be heard. In a nation whose Civil Liberties Union defends gratis the legal right of the worst to have their say alongside the most righteous, artists have said no. They say that if it is Colin Mitchell’s prerogative to speak his mind, it is their prerogative to pressure business interests to fire him for it. Surely this is so.

So is it censorship, or commerce, or the common good that is responsible for Colin Mitchell’s exit from the discourse? Some say the premise of his ouster is immaterial. Perhaps so. The actions taken in the past week definitively presume that a voice perceived as harmful must be silenced. 

But I ask you, what for his more careful, better-spoken, therefore more insidious defender? For now, I am not fired from my unpaid position as contributor at a salon of opinion. And for now, I still journal on art for other outlets than this one. What does this say about the institutional justice of the mob? The institution has spoken, and so: Should not every citizen do her utmost to get me barred from every place of employment, once she knows I have entertained and spread ideas she finds hurtful? If after silencing Colin Mitchell you’re not trying to silence me, have you no decency?

Are you not all honorable men?

Some are. Some voices do call today for my silence, for my public shame. American artists, with the benefit of American history, call by name for a blacklist, against Colin Mitchell and against me. So they should, if so they believe. And so a nation with a constitutional authority to uphold the minority opinion should reverse itself, strike that right, negate the outrageous liberal gesture of its own creation in the crucible of Enlightenment, and go toward a future in the dark, if its citizens believe their eyes are of no use.

Comments (15)

Default user

I understand this piece and I see why you are so angry. But I don’t think you get it. There is political correctness and there is sounding like an out-of-touch old white man. Women do not want to be told how to feel about experiences that men like Colin can offer no support to. That’s true. But more than that theater artists don’t want to be represented by someone that doesn’t seem to get them or get their values. Theater is a progressive safe-haven for many groups of oppressed people. He may have expressed what he (and you) thought was an important truth, but I guess if he’s the victim here- he’s at fault, too. Best of luck.

Default user

Meanwhile, Enci and people around the country are having serious discussions about abuse in the workplace, taking action and supporting victims.

But no, once again we’re reminded it’s all about you and Colin apparently. Complete with photo of you/someone/everyman, arms wide open like Saint Sebastian awaiting the arrows. Delivering a Marc Antony speech reiterating your generous interpretation of Mitchell’s macho argument – “take personal responsibility for your actions and don’t allow yourself to be a victim”.

Mind you, melodramatically casting yourself as a self-pitying victim is possibly not the best strategy to reinforce his point.

Default user

Good Lord, Jason, you do go on. In startlingly elevated language, as if evoking some Fierce Battle in the World of Free Speech and Great Ideas, none of which seems appropriate to this rather paltry event.

Thank you, though, Jason, for at least not misusing the term “witch hunt” as I have seen elsewhere on social media, although you did reference “mob rule” several times. Which “mob” would that be? And what weapons did they wield?

Colin farted and a number of folks wrote to complain about the smell. First in the Comments section of Bitter Lemons itself, which begs the question: where are those comments? They had been taken down when I looked before. Then others complained in other, mostly online sites. But very few of the fifty or so first smell-complainers called for Colin’s head. Nor did the others who followed. They just exercised their own “Free Speech” and clled him a cad. Their motives were transparent and fairly uniform: they wrote to tell Colin Mitchell that they thought he was full of shit.

I don’t know why Colin did what he did in the first place, but I can guess. And it had nothing to do with Great Ideas. Colin was doing what he always does – and will again after Fringe is over, I suspect – trying to piss people off in order to generate clicks for Bitter Lemons. That’s a business strategy that has more to do with Free Market dynamics in the internet age than with Free Speech.

Colin wanted to generate negative attention and he succeeded better than he’d planned. And no one except Colin stopped Colin from responding to the Comments in the Fierce Battle. He probably knew he’d really fucked up this time and ran off to hide.

I have no way of knowing, of course, but I feel certain Mitchell didn’t expect to encounter negative practical consequences for his actions, i.e., to have Fringe officials feel shamed and embarrassed by his behavior and decide to publicly sever business ties. That wasn’t something he’d planned on. He hadn’t thought past the clicks. And, for the record, I thought Fringe should have severed business ties with Bitter Lemons over the Pay for Review policy instituted right before the last Fringe and which brought Colin and Bitter Lemons even more “mob” complaints than this year’s boneheaded move.

I’m ascribing motives to Colin Mitchell and impugning his character in the spirit of his original piece. Where he questioned the character and impugned the motives of the men and mostly women who detailed abuses they had suffered at Profiles Theater. And I actually have more familiarity with Colin and his work than he had with theirs, so I’m on slightly firmer ground. If Colin is still wondering how this ploy for click bait went too far, that’s the line he crossed. Impugning motives. Questioning character. Of people he didn’t know at all and who had, presumably, suffered enough.

I will close by questioning the official explanation of Colin Mitchell’s departure. He is, after all, a one-third owner of the Bitter Lemons LLC. So did the other two owners ask him to step aside? Or did they all sit down and decide that the best course of action for their (not very profitable) business was for Colin to lay low for awhile? How long is awhile? No one’s saying.

Colin and his business partners at Bitter Lemon may not even know the answers to those questions. But Colin hasn’t been “fired” by his own fellow business owners. And I suspect that, for good or ill, we will see him in print again. And, this way, he won’t even have to apologize.

U 52071 t 4170222

Forget it, Jason. It’s Chinatown.

U 46928 t 1865969

I’m mildly concerned and not at all surprised we’ve got a glitch on the site – earlier today there were comments here from other malcontents, including someone named something like Rockets Redglare or Citrus Splash…Lemon Twizzler? Mine will likely delete Ezra’s, as the site is only letting me see four comments at a time under my opus here.

U 46928 t 1865969

Tiger Reel was the name, I think. Also Michael’s Mom, whom I’ve missed. Anyway if we’ve learned anything from this week, it’s that BL better get people’s comments etched in stone or the terrorists win.

Default user

Long before Jason Rohrer, a much smarter man named Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “For nonconformity, the world whips us with its displeasures.” Nonconformity has historically resulted in the punishment of greatness: Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, and the latest and greatest Muhammad Ali. Sometimes you lose your job, sometimes you go to jail, sometimes you die. The difference is, when the nonconformingly offensive idea is virtuous, none of these punishments have ever successfully censored the speaker. In these cases, the punishment rallies a movement of support, and the result can be increased liberty and justice for all.

But if the dissenting idea harms people, well… let’s see if Trump (the most prominent voice behind the anti-PC movement) gets elected.

U 46928 t 1865969

Marylin forgets the virtuous nonconformists who were fired, jailed, killed, and nobody made a Facebook meme or told Marylin about them, resulting in their successfully being censored. I have heard rumors of such cases.

She also forgets that while Emerson was, yes, a much smarter man, I took him in a foot race and held him down while Thoreau rubbed mud in his face. It was over a girl.

U 47273 t 6114607

Colin Mitchell is my friend.
Thank you Jason.

Default user

I hear you guys. A real critic might argue that you posted some crass anti-victim messages on a website and then compared yourselves to Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and Muhammad Ali. But what would they know?

You’re too modest – I’m thinking Jesus. On the cross.

Whilst your names are sort of unknown and kind of forgettable, and will almost certainly disappear into the the mists of time (because of, well, the obvious talent thing or lack thereof), know this. Whenever a vulnerable actress is harassed or abused in the workplace they will know that edgy, 1980s-style non-conformist white dudes at Bitter Lemons behaved as though they suffered more.

Right on.

Default user

“. . .middle-aged white men. I am embarrassed to share a demographic with you.”

“This is white male privilege douchebaggery at its ugliest.”

“. . .out-of-touch old white man”

“. . .1980s-style non-conformist white dudes. . .”

I noted the above in the various comments surrounding this matter, in each case directly ascribing to Mr. Mitchell’s race his unpopular stance. It is interesting, is it not, the overt racial bigotry certain people permit themselves in the midst of proclaiming their moral superiority to others.

U 63222 t 3993839

I am an older white man. Of late and more than once (since it has become something of a national sport) I have been accused of being “out-of-touch” and a beneficiary of “white male privilege”. As is frequently the case with all such dismissals I chalk it up to a misguided attempt to discredit the messenger for one (or more) of his currently unpopular messages. I have been fortunate…or privileged as it is now trendier to say. I’ve indeed had a long, comfortable run with OOT/WMP. Still, all good things come to an end. Fortunately—and as a result of having suffered my own share of victimhood in my long lifetime—I’ve grown a bit of thick skin to boot. Fire away. I’ll live.

But I can’t stand by here and not add my two cents.

I can’t honestly say if I believe Colin Mitchell was right or wrong in his views in the matter that resulted in his sacking. I personally know far too little about many important details regarding the individual and the theater in question to take quite the righteous and indignant positions many who criticized Mitchell’s essay did. I might be able to get that agitated but I’d need far more information to go there. Never mind that I know nothing about Mitchell’s employment history at Bitter Lemons. Did he also steal pencils from the office?

What I do know is that I came of age just after a dark time in this country. The House Un-American Activities Committee was charged with rooting out Communists during the early years of The Cold War. Many in the arts suffered medieval HUAC investigations and subsequent labeling. Many suffered immediate consequences. Many suffered for the rest of their lives and never worked profitably in the arts again. Look it up. (See also: Senator Joseph McCarthy)

HUAC suppressed speech.

Make no mistake. Colin Mitchell’s speech has been suppressed just as effectively as if HUAC still existed.

As one very non-white, very non-privileged member of my generation—Black Panther Party big wig Eldridge Cleaver—famously opined:
“You are either part of the problem or part of the solution.”

With Eldridge’s words of caution in mind I stand by the bulk of Jason’s argument here and challenge the outraged arts community regarding the matter of Colin MItchell:

Which will it be?

Default user
Default user

This comment: " But more than that theater artists don’t want to be represented by someone that doesn’t seem to get them or get their values. Theater is a progressive safe-haven for many groups of oppressed people," is the most non-progressive comment I’ve heard. Safe haven? There should be nothing safe about the theatre. It should be a challenging and dangerous. For some, believing in free speech is right except if they don’t agree with the speech.
I guess some people need a “safe place.”

U 46928 t 1865969

I keep meeting people who say things like “If you don’t feel _____ or believe _____ then you don’t belong in theater.”

This is one of the reasons “listen to me” tends to be bad advice when it comes from people who have designed their own curriculum: they haven’t heard often enough from people with whom they initially disagree; therefore they haven’t had to defend their ideas with logic and reason.

Thinking they’re indisputably right about things makes people act funny. At one end of the spectrum, they tend to fly airplanes into skyscrapers. At the other, they just act out like children, insulting those who can’t or won’t immediately beat them for it.

Speaking of which, this is funny: http://www.stageandcinema.com/2016/06/19/district-merchants/


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