The Four Hundred: Time To Call-Out 'Call-Out' Culture?

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On Nov. 23, Jameela Jamil, a British TV presenter and one of the stars of the TV show The Good Place, posted a tweet. The posts were related to a string of celebrities endorsing products by Flat Tummy Co., a company that sells herbal detox teas and other related products. Jamil stated that she thought these products were nothing but laxatives and “give you diarrhea.” She went one step further on Nov. 26, when she included screenshots of posts by celebrities endorsing these products by FlatTummyCo. The celebrities Jamil mentioned were Iggy Azalea, Khloe Kardashian, Amber Rose and Cardi B. Jamil demanded that these celebrities give their secrets to maintaining trim figures, and accused them of being “bloody liars.

The next day, Jamil followed this up by tweeting about her page on Instagram promoting body positivity, called ‘I Weigh.’ The page encourages users to share their own experiences and their stories. It was largely applauded. Jamil also wrote a piece for the BBC News, calling for airbrushing to be made illegal. Jamil’s comments about products marketed as supplements intended to help customers maintain or lose weight received appreciation from different corners. Jamil has always championed body positivity, and she often reflects on her own public life in Britain as having been the victim of body shaming. However, questions were also raised about Jamil’s role as a leader in the body positivity movement, and she has recently been called out for her behavior in the past.      

Calling out someone for their positions and their behavior has been a movement of the social media age. On Dec. 5, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced Kevin Hart as the host of the Oscars award ceremony. Hart had expressed his wish to host the Oscars for quite some time, the last time being in 2015 in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. Hart’s wish had finally come true, and he took to Instagram to announce this happiness.

However, it didn’t take long for Hart’s critics to point out problems with Kevin Hart’s material. Benjamin Lee, the east coast arts editor for The Guardian US, wrote about the problems with Hart’s material in the past, particularly his history of homophobic jokes. Lee was particularly scathing in his criticism of Hart’s material, stating that Hart had “a rather vile history of documented homophobia, ranging from offensive standup clangers to dumb interview statements to puerile tweets to a whole embarrassing film filled with it.” Lee also tweeted a collection of Hart’s tweets which were all homophobic jokes.

Hart’s response was to initially post a video on Instagram in which he mentioned that he “passed on the apology,” and he termed this demand as “feeding the internet trolls.” By the time Hart tweeted an apology and stepped down from hosting the Oscars, it was already too late.

The series of events detailed about brings into question the whole nature of calling people out for their actions. While it serves its purpose, at times it calls into question the integrity of the people who are on the right side of the ‘call-out’ as it can be termed. Calling people out for their misdemeanors is by its very nature an act of accusing a person of a wrongdoing. And often, as it is seen in the case of Jamil’s call outs, it often begins by shaming a person for what is deemed to be wrong in the mind of the accuser.

In the case of Kevin Hart, he was given opportunities to apologize for his material in the past. When Rolling Stone magazine did a profile on Hart in 2015 and questioned him about his homophobic material, he said: “I’m not homophobic….  Be happy. Do what you want to do. But me, as a heterosexual male, if I can prevent my son from being gay, I will.” In 2014 too, when Hart was questioned about his homophobic jokes in an interview with journalist Ed Gordon, Hart had not offered an apology, and has instead said: “I don’t want any enemies.” Hart’s critics had to call him out for Hart to finally apologize.

Call-out culture depends upon shaming an individual in order to accept the accusations. In cases where the accusations can be corroborated with proof that is concrete and others can substantiate these proofs, it has a chance of working. In cases where it’s a question of two individuals accusing each other, it boils down to the integrity of the people involved.

Often, questions of integrity give issues a sense of morality. We often think that morality is universal, but that does not necessarily have to be true. People who are religious sometimes define morality differently from people who do not share the same faith, which can cause complexities in debates. Also, morality creates groups of people, and often these groups become homogenous groups that become opposites, which makes it seem like if you’re not on the side of the accuser, you are on the side of the accused.

There are major drawbacks to making morality an integral part of subjects that is played in the public eye. People are people, and they have their faults as well as their merits. Also, being accusatory in tone doesn’t open a line of communication with the person being accused. The accused become defensive sometimes, and if it is coupled with the public nature of call-outs, it only leads to more noise being added to an already loud channel of communication which is the public sphere.

Call-outs as a means of establishing movements seem to suit the idea that a movement needs to be loud and clear in order to launch itself, but the tone needs to be kept in check. If the accusatory tone of call-out culture can be curbed so as to include ways to improve the situations it tries to shed light onto, then it can be used as a tool to improve society.