Sunday, November 25, 2012

Dear Justin Timberlake

This post contains discussion of classism, transphobia, mockery of homeless people, mockery of people who appear to be mentally ill and/or intoxicated and/or addicted, and gross amounts of thoughtless privilege on display.  It also contains references to rape culture.

Dear Justin Timberlake,

Congratulations on your marriage.  I hope for your happiness.

I'm about a month late on this topic, because I've been debating with myself over whether or not to speak up.  Back in October, Liss pointed readers to an article about this:
The blind was all about the “wedding gift” some friends made for a recently married couple. The “gift” was a “funny” video in which homeless people talked on camera about how they were super-sad to miss the celebrity couple’s big, fancy wedding. Because the “joke” is that homeless people are SO funny, what with their homelessness and not knowing where their next meal will come from, and the joke is that of course the celebrity couple would invite some homeless people to their wedding.
Terrible.  That is cruel and mean-spirited and absolutely disgusting.

As word of the video spread, you responded in an open letter on your website.

Let's take a read.
As it pertains to this silly, unsavory video that was made as a joke and not in any way in mockery:
Not a mockery?  I don't understand what it was, then.  How does the video work as a joke if it isn't mocking the people onscreen?  What's the joke?
My friends are good people.
Good people make fun of those in need?

Your friends may be more complex than you realize.  Perhaps this gets to the nature of what "goodness" is and how we exhibit it.  If you only ever see Bob act like a decent guy, you think of Bob as a decent guy.  Then you find out that Bob has done some shitty, cruel things.  You can either go with the response of, "Wow, there are aspects of Bob's personality and character that I never knew!  Let me reevaluate how well I know this guy!"  Or you can go with the response of, "But the Bob I know donates money to AIDS research!  He's a wonderful person!  Donating money is a good thing, so Bob is a good person, and I allow for no complexities in my fellow human beings!"

You'll see this sort of response a lot when someone's being accused of being a rapist or murderer.  "Not Bob!  Impossible!  Bob pets dogs!"  "Bob?!  No way!  Bob's always nice to me!"  This is how a lot of sexual predators get by in life.  They do good things in public and horrible things in private, and when the horrible stuff comes to light, everyone says, "But he's always been so great to my kids!" or "But he volunteers for the church!" and he continues on his merry, awful way and his victims are called liars.  That's why the blanket statement of "he's a good person" really, really needs to be discarded as a defense.

Your friends may be funny, helpful, dog-petters around you.  That does not make them good people.  That makes them friendly around Justin Timberlake.  They're also (at least one of them) completely shitty and cruel around homeless people.  In my book, that's incompatible with the label "good people."
This was clearly a lapse in judgment which I'm sure no one who is reading this is exempt from.
Yes, we're all given to lapses in judgment from time to time.  I often regret doing or saying (or not doing, not saying) something.  We fuck up, we make mistakes, we're human.  But coming up with the video idea, getting a camera and going out to interview the people featured, conducting the interviews, editing the video and adding a soundtrack, and then sharing the video, involves a lot of time and effort.  It involves a certain amount of time in consideration of the video and its various aspects.  Deciding that I can speed up and get through a traffic light in time, only to cause an accident, is a lapse in judgment.  What's under discussion here is much more serious.
I don't believe it was made to be insensitive.
No?  How so?  What do you think that it was, then?  The point was to mock homeless people in need of help.  It's a joke, but not mockery and not insensitive?  Was it sensitive, then?  Sensitive to their needs?  Sensitive to their plight?  Sensitive to their need to be treated with dignity and respect?
More so, I think it was made as a joke on me not having that many friends attending my own wedding (which IS kind of funny if you think about it).
Up until this point, I find it difficult to understand precisely what you think is going on.  Here is where communication breaks down entirely and I wonder if you think that we don't know who you are.

Hi.  You're Justin Timberlake.

People love you wherever you go.  People collaborate with you on a song or work with you on a set and immediately cannot get over how awesome you are.  You seem to have some ridiculous amount of personal charm which turns other Hollywood professionals into starry-eyed fans.  It happens in every corner of the entertainment industry you brush up against.  It has happened throughout your career.

You have no trouble making friends.

With that said, maybe you don't consider those people to be "friends."  Maybe you appreciate the interest and intentions of all of those other people, but when you think of true friendship, you think of someone who's been there for you, someone you can open up to, someone you've really been through something with.

The other members of *NSYNC, perhaps?  No, not them; you didn't invite any of them to your wedding.

All right, maybe your definition of friendship is something more intense, something more personal.  Your true friends are the people you've really connected with, really bonded with, people who know you inside and out.  The only people you'd consider inviting to your wedding are members of an elite inner circle, people who know you as no one else ever can.

Those people know you very, very well, then, I'd imagine.

They'd know what you like.  They'd know your sense of humor.  They'd know what makes you laugh and what crosses the line.

And they made this video for your special day.
I think we can all agree that it was distasteful, even though that was not its intention.
Its intention was to make you laugh.  Its intention was to be funny.  Its intention was to entertain with some good-times humor.  The intention was to mock poor people, homeless people, people who need help.  Because homeless people, people with addictions, people with mental illnesses, and trans people are funny.  At least, it's hilarious to think of them being so deluded as to consider themselves welcome in your sphere.  Hilarious to think of them being welcome at your wedding or associated with you.  Hilarious to think of them even knowing you!  So, so funny.  As if you would ever know someone like that!  As if, wait.  As I recall, Chris Kirkpatrick lived out of his car for a while.  Wait, that can't be right!  That would make it seem as if homeless people are actual people, like anyone else.  Almost like you!  With things in common with you!  Aw, now the joke's ruined.
Once again, in the world that we live in where everyone thinks that they know everything, I want to be very clear... I am NOT defending the video. I agree with the overall consensus.
For someone who's being "very clear," you're not being entirely clear.  You agree with the overall consensus?  Would you care to explain what you believe the overall consensus to be?  So far, you've described the video as:
something that has even shed any kind of dark light on what was and will always be one of the most special weeks of my life.
this silly, unsavory video that was made as a joke and not in any way in mockery 
a lapse in judgment 
I don't believe it was made to be insensitive. More so, I think it was made as a joke on me 
I think we can all agree that it was distasteful, even though that was not its intention.
It's a silly, unsavory joke.  In poor taste, accidentally.  Unintentionally insensitive.  Not a mockery.

A well-intentioned joke that accidentally turned out to be in poor taste.  If it mocks anyone, it mocks you, really.  Poor, friendless Justin Timberlake, the real victim in all of this.  How cruel of us to misunderstand.
I want to say that, on behalf of my friends, family, and associative knuckleheads
Aw, those knuckleheads.  Always goofing around, mocking homeless trans people!
I am deeply sorry to anyone who was offended by the video.
There we go!  "I am deeply sorry."  It only took you 12 paragraphs to get there!

Sorry to anyone who was offended, you say?  What about an apology to the people in the video?  To the specific people taken advantage of for your crowds' amusement?  To the general kinds of people mocked?  Any apologies for them?  Anything to say to the trans community?  To people in poverty, people in need, people on the streets?
Again, it was something that I was not made aware of.
You seem to be aware of it now.  When were you made aware of it?  I guess that you were too busy to join in the wedding festivities, so when it was shown to everyone else, you weren't around?  I mean, according to the linked article, "Mr. Huchel made [the] video to be used and exhibited privately at Justin Timberlake’s wedding as a private joke without Mr. Timberlake’s knowledge," but I can't tell if the "without Mr. Timberlake's knowledge" pertains to the "made" or the "used and exhibited."  Either way, it seems odd that he'd go to that much work to make the video without ever showing it to you.  It's like a wedding gift for everyone at the wedding but the actual couple.  It makes me wonder what sort of dynamic is at play here, that a friend of yours would make a video for your wedding that he thought your wedding party would find hilarious but wasn't worth showing to you.  Odd.
But, I do understand the reaction and, by association, I am holding myself accountable.
How?  In what way?  What does this mean?  What's happening here?  You're going to give yourself a stern talking-to?  You're going to take time out for somber reflection on your choice of friends?  You're going to donate to homeless shelters?  You're going to educate yourself on poverty and addiction?  You're going to say to yourself, "Justin Timberlake, I hold you responsible for this silly, well-intentioned joke which accidentally turned out to be in poor taste!" and then go golfing?
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts.
It's your website.  You have the opportunity to post anything you want to post on it.
It really is a blessing to be able to speak directly to my true fans so that you can know exactly where I stand.
True fans?  You and I have a long, long talk coming about how you treat your fans, and I probably shouldn't get into that here, but calling on your "true fans" only serves as a "prove it to me" statement.  You're seeking to differentiate "true fans" from the other fans, as if your true fans will be loyal and stand by your side and accept whatever you say without question, while anyone who dares to read your "apology" and call bullshit can't possibly be a true fan.  That is a lousy thing to do to your fans.  They're allowed to love and support you and still think that this is a shitty moment and a terrible apology.
You can bet your ass that I'm having my friend do at least 100 hours of community service... Boom.
Wait, I thought that you were holding yourself accountable.  Should I expect to see you out there doing 100 hours of community service, too?

With love,
Frank Lee

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