History was erased twice yesterday

By Cale Guthrie Weissman , written on December 30, 2013

From The News Desk

Female white indie feminist folk singer Ani Difranco announced that she would hold a song-writing retreat. Not much of a story, since many singers hold retreats to make a quick buck and teach devotees their poetic tools. That is, until an overlooked fact bubbled to the surface yesterday. The conference, it turns out, will be hosted at a Southern plantation. Its website describes the manor's founder as an "astute businessman" aided by a (poorly phrased) "willing workforce" (you and I might call them “slaves”).

For whatever reason, this inconvenient Difranco fact finally hit viral cruise control and criticisms came in to her Facebook events page. It started with fans asking why she would do such a thing, then proclaim their solidarity with those who were offended.

Inevitably, the trolls came. And came. People responded to the trolls. And they came some more. Ultimately, some arrived as feminist trolls.

Then it became unclear who were trolls and who were concerned feminists and who was just trying to participate in the conversation.

The rest is, I’m afraid, inevitable (in this post-Internet landscape).

Difranco ultimately retreated on her retreat but in canceling provided a long-winded yet insufficient apology. In more than 1,300 words, Difranco denies responsibility. A promoter chose the location and she just assumed a “dialog would emerge organically over the four days about the issue of where we were.”

She also believed that going back to such spaces could help provide “compassionate energy” so that those attending could “meditate on what has happened and absorb some of the reverberating pain with their attention and their awareness.” And, finally she asked if it was her job to check the political leanings of every venue at which she performs,

Not so much of an apology as an explanation. She was trying to say that while people have a right to be angry her intentions were pure and in line with the opposite of what people were accusing her of.

A simple “I fucked up” might have sufficed. Instead this lack of a formal apology generated more ire, and ultimately the Facebook event page was deleted.

This is the tragedy of the internet; it erases what could be historical (teachable?) moments, leaving future actors to perform them again and again. A deleted Ani Difranco Facebook event page is a moment of historical erasure. I mean this in the Thucydidean sense, in that people do stupid things, it gets recorded, and people remember. We're stuck in a virtuous circle of our own actions.

New Facebook groups were formed to 'dialogue about' and ‘unpack’ Ani Difranco and her problems with racism. The catalyst has thus been engulfed by its own flames.

The only way out: when another media circus comes to town and distracts our attention. Then that too will be erased.

Illustration by Brad Jonas