Thursday, September 17, 2015

the first-person industrial complex, the victimhood culture, and a theory about Mark Driscoll's career in social and mass media


from Laura Bennett's The First Person Industrial Complex, published September 14, 2015

... As long as there have been bloggers, there have been young people scraping their interior lives in order to convert the rawest bits into copy. But we are currently in the midst of an unprecedented moment in the online first-person boom. The rise of the unreported hot take, that much-maligned instant spin on the news of the day, has meant that editors are constantly searching for writers with any claim to expertise on a topic to elevate their pieces above the swarm. First-person essays have become the easiest way for editors to stake out some small corner of a news story and assert an on-the-ground primacy without paying for reporting. And first-person essays have also become the easiest way to jolt an increasingly jaded Internet to attention, as the bar for provocation has risen higher and higher. For writers looking to break in, offering up grim, personal dispatches may be the surest ways to get your pitches read.

... despite the wide-ranging hardship these pieces catalog, they also share a tendency to reach for the universal even as they dig into the acutely personal. [emphasis added] A Vox essay titled “How I Came to Forgive My Rapist” starts out as a powerfully specific story and ends with this: “All that endures now is my wish for an end to rape for everyone else.” XoJane’s “Cheating on My Boyfriend When He Died” ultimately declares, “I hope someone can learn from my mistakes.” A PostEverything essay about one man’s descent into, and emergence from, white supremacy is framed as a kind of how-to manual: “This Is How You Become a White Supremacist.”

As for Chenier, the original ending of her essay was: “What I want to say about all the women out there who have ever been victimized is you are beautiful and it’s not your fault.” Tolentino tweaked it in the edit to read, “To the victims of their abuse, I want to say what I have finally been able to understand myself: that my attraction, and what it led to, was not my fault.” As Tolentino explains, she “tried to cut everything that would trigger a ‘YEA girl!’ response”—hoping to strike a balance between reaching a broad audience and positing one extreme individual experience as a global truth. [emphasis added]
This is a key problem with the new first-person economy: the way it incentivizes knee-jerk, ideally topical self-exposure, the hot take’s more intimate sibling. The mandate at xoJane, according to Carroll, was: the more “shameless” an essay, the better. Carroll describes how “internally crushing” it became to watch her inbox get flooded every day with the darkest moments in strangers’ lives: “eating disorders, sexual assault, harassment, ‘My boyfriend’s a racist and I just realized it.’ ” After a while, Carroll said, the pitches began to sound as if they were all written in the same voice: “immature, sort of boastful.” Tolentino, who worked as an editor at the Hairpin before Jezebel, characterizes the typical Jezebel pitch as the “microaggression personal essay” [emphasis added] or “My bikini waxer looked at me funny and here’s what it says about women’s shame,” and the typical Hairpin pitch as “I just moved to the big city and had a beautiful coffee shop encounter, and here’s what it says about urban life.”

This observation that a typical Jezebel pitch is the "microaggression personal essay" will get us to our next point quickly but there's an important idea within Bennett's piece, this explosion of first-person narration in which the personal is presented as pointing to universals is all over the net.  To frame the potential risk here as expressed by people on the progressive/liberal side, there's a real and substantial danger that in a traffic-grabbing rush to get the juiciest and raciest content on the net editors may be publishing material that is, let's be blunt here, sloppily written and hazily conceived but full of zing; the price paid for this by the editors will be controversy about traffic, maybe, but the price that could be paid by writers is that they could be given a one-off publication experience and try to write more only to discover nobody wants their other writing.  The way progressives might put this that seems worth writing is that you have a situation here where people could be revictimized or if not that literally exploited for web traffic when what they may need far more is therapy, emotional and social support, and to not have their story exploited by those aiming to make a cultural polemical point.

Although not progressive myself I think that's an absolutely vital concern.  When people began to share stories about things they went through at Mars Hill in a number of blogs there were at least one or two cases where people who posted began to have second thoughts about what they contributed to the public sphere and deleted comments. You need to keep in mind that if you put it on the net you absolutely must consider the possibility that even with a pseudonym someone "could" figure out it's you. The case of Chenier, mentioned in Bennett's article, may be a sad example of someone who had one hot story to sell based on scandal and salacious content alone who may or may not be able to pitch any other published work.

While Chenier's case recounted at the Slate piece is extreme, we can move along to a more typical case, that "microaggression personal essay" because it doesn't just so happen that's been getting some discussion in the media here and there.


from Conor Friedersdorf's Readers Defend the Rise of the `Microaggressions' Framework, published eh ... today.
I also want to make clear—and I’ll return to this in a later installment—that in my view “victimhood culture” isn’t something black, Asian, and Hispanic people do on college campuses. It’s something all categories of Americans engage in, on and off campus.
The reader wrote, “What irks me about this label is that it treats victimhood as a performance, as a costume we can put on to make ourselves a spectacle and garner sympathy.” Neither I nor the sociologists believe that all victimhood is a performance. Rather, part of the culture they are describing is characterized by instances when victimhood is performed. Because look, victimhood just is a costume that people can put on to garner sympathy—such performances are everywhere.
At the college I attended, a white professor on a neighboring campus faked a hate crime against herself. Sarah Palin’s entire 2008 campaign was an extended exercise in gaining status by exaggerating “microaggressions” directed against her and her tribe. [emphasis added] Pro soccer and basketball are full of grown men committing obvious fouls and pantomiming outrage as if they’ve been wronged when carded or whistled. Ferris Bueller is a stand-in for every kid who has performed victimhood to avoid school or homework. I don’t mean to suggest there are no real victims. Quite the contrary. The argument is that huge percentages of the population will, if given the opportunity, exaggerate their victimhood in order to get the gains that come with it. Many people will even fall for their own act to a degree. None of us are immune. I’m often tempted to view myself as an aggrieved party in some dispute.
This aspect of the culture isn’t a race thing, it’s a human nature thing. You can’t set up a system where status accrues to victims and then let people determine their own victim status. [emphasis added] Insofar as this is true of black and brown people on college campuses, it’s only because they’re no different from white people on college campuses, who participate just as much in victim culture, and many people off campus. Every human is vulnerable to the perverse incentives of “victimhood culture.” [emphasis added]

There may be a temptation among evangelicals who tend to vote Republican to imagine that the things described in articles at The Atlantic or at Slate would be typically liberal/progressive traits. 
But ... Friedersdorf has explicitly written that the victimhood culture dynamic is a temptation every single one of us is vulnerable to.  A Christian might suggest that it is a characteristic of the Fall that we can each be tempted to see ourselves as victims when we have privilege.

The culture of victimhood as a phrase does not diminish actual harm or the liberty of those harmed to discuss what has happened to them.  The culture of victimhood  concept may be understood as a mode of public discourse; which is most typically observed in social media more than traditional mass media but which may synergistically interact with it; and which has come to be characterized as making use of reports of what are now called "microaggressions."

Let's play with the idea that the victimhood culture be understood as a rhetorical stance mediated by the narrative tropes of the first-person industrial complex microaggression narratives.  The message has its medium.

While those who have written to Friedersdorf, and his responses to them, have tended to suggest there's dissent from the term "victimhood culture", this dissent seems to circle around a defense of

1) the legitimacy of the shaming techniques and narrative approach inherent in the microaggression narrative when deployed against those with privilege and

2) a suspicion that the label "victimhood culture" must indicate a dismissal of power differentials. 

Friedersdorf has been repetitively clear in stating that the reservations he has about the microaggression framework is that it isn't necessarily the best way to approach the things it has been used to address. He has also noted that for people in academic settings there's a good deal of privilege, as opposed to high school dropouts.


Lest evangelicals scoff at tales of microaggressions and of victimhood culture let's ask ourselves, do we do that stuff, too?  We just might.  No, we absolutely do that stuff, too. If the first-person industrial complex Laura Bennett described can be seen as the preferred narrative approach the victimhood culture can describe the sociopolitical stance the narrative approach is intended to cement. 

What I think evangelicals are too sorely tempted to say and think the culture of victimhood is something for Oberlin college, and that microaggression stuff, that's for Jezebel and the people who read it.  The victimhood culture, that's for people who read Slate or Salon

But presenting yourself as the hapless victim of the frenzied wrath of spluttering hypercaffeinated furies on the internet is a move that has been played by evangelicals, too.  Before he changed his mind, a couple of posts by Samuel D James over at Inklingations went this route.  Unfortunately since he deleted the evidence you had to have seen it to know what stuff he wrote.

But ...

You can go read the whole thing if you're a completist but what James wrote next is what's illustrative for this gigantic post.

Thursday, Somewhere in Cyberspace
Scene 1: A humble, 20something blogger writes a short, probably simplistic post about how (not) to talk about the church.

Scene 2: Our youthful hero writes disparagingly about a certain genre of online blogging that he finds distasteful and generally unhelpful. He is careful, however, to mention no names and no real scenarios.

Scene 3: He publishes the post, expecting little feedback. After all, it is a brief post, and makes only one real point: That Christians should not be bitter towards the church.

With a cold open like that it's not hard to see the self-pitying direction things went from there, is it?
This gambit of saying something polemical and then coming back after the dust clouds erupt and presenting yourself as the sensible centrist who didn't say anything THAT inflammatory, after all ... that's still able to be read within the first-person story of a microaggression.  The paradox in a tale of a microaggression is that that the story is presented to INCITE microaggressions, if you will, by having Twitter or some social platform explode with moral support for the victim. 

Samuel D. James' post "For Whom the Blog Trolls: a drama in 10 acts" didn't come across as though he thought that what he wrote might be trolling in itself. Now if you want to go read a big piece on the social value of trolls Alastair Roberts has one but we'll just allude to that.  James, at least, seemed to get the idea that maybe what he wrote shouldn't have gone up.  He deleted his posts, after all. But while they were up there they managed to playfully cast himself as a victim of internet rage and he also cast doubt on the value of watchblogging. Ironically Samuel D. James exemplified the victimhood via 1st person narrative trope. 

But Samuel D. James' long deleted posts are far from being a magnum opus of an online victimhood trope in the way of first-person stories.  In fact I'm going to suggest that the first-person narrative is the mode of communication the stance of the victimhood culture and that if we put these together we get a surprisingly plausible account of the public ministry of Mark Driscoll.

Here's the belated introduced theory now that the foundations are set, if there is a victimhood culture in American internet discourse, and if there's a media web-publishing empire of trading first-person tales of unique incidents extrapolated out to universal concerns, we're pretty much looking at the whole public career of Mark Driscoll since the start of the century.


When Friedersdorf wrote that the microaggression framework can be used by anyone this is a compelling reason to doubt its utility.  After all, if it can be employed by a megachurch pastor over ten years of public trolling and flame-baiting how useful is the framework of microaggressions for addressing the powers of privilege, exactly?  Very useful!  In fact Friedersdorf's concern with the framework is that ANYONE can convince themselves they get to use it. "You can’t set up a system where status accrues to victims and then let people determine their own victim status." Working the internet culture in which status accrues to victims by defining himself as the victim in a decade-long string of personal narratives seems like a large part of how Mark Driscoll even became a celebrity in the first place.

If anything one of the great failures of progressives over a decade of observing Mark Driscoll could be that he played the victimhood card better than they could and was far more adept at the first-person style of what Laura Bennett has called the first-personal industrial complex in web-publishing. If anything Mark Driscoll may have genuninely NEEDED progressives to react aversely to him in order to cement his reputation.  What if in this internet game of victimhood tropes and first-person tales to get sympathy the left made no progress against Mark Driscoll because he was better at playing the game?  After all ... well ... we'll get to Mark Driscoll bragging about the media savvy of himself and his wife later.

There's a lot that's been published here about Driscoll's use of social and mass media to share tales of his woe

Throckmorton quotes Driscoll "I made the mistake of trying to be under the authority of my elders" two types of revision in the history of MH

Houston interviews Driscoll, Driscoll's claim "The first three years we didn't collect a salary" seems to skim over Driscoll's own public testimony to the contrary

Mark Driscoll's eye twitch, naturopath and reverse-engineering life since 2005

There's also a lengthy series tagged "Mark Driscoll and the power of the sob story" that goes through about seven years worth of stories in which Driscoll first shared how rough he had it and then began to shift to stories about how rough things were for his wife but particularly his children.

and ...

Evangelicals need to consider that as the "victimhood culture" gets talked through we have to keep in mind it's not just about who claims to be a victim.  The cultural dynamic also includes those who INVOKE the victimhood of others as a rationale for words and actions.  Longtime readers may recall the Andrew Lamb disciplinary controversy and in 2012 Mars Hill stated that they did not want to disclose things to the public to protect the privacy of people who had been hurt, mainly women.  The prospect that Mars Hill as a culture might hurt women wasn't going to come up, but women could be invoked as cyberspace reputational meatshields to stonewall inquiry into what was going on in a specific disciplinary situation. 

But that's a case Driscoll skipped past.  Having written so much already this is probably too long and there's a point to that, the internet age we live in is full of people who TL:DR their way past observing the kinds of patterns that would be easy to spot with a focused reading pattern.  A figure like Mark Driscoll could most effectively use the dynamics of victimhood culture and tales of microaggressions in his own way precisely because the failure of his critics to closely attend to what he did and didn't say FED THE VICTIMHOOD NARRATIVE. 

As writing teachers insist, show, don't tell.  So we can observe just from 2011-2012 highlights how Driscoll presented himself as a victim in his use of mass and social media. Ironically he'd be blogging about how bad bloggers are.  We can hit just the more infamous examples of Mark Driscoll taking to social media to present himself as the victim of misunderstanding or misrepresentation and using a cozy first-person story to make his case. 


This week the Christian blogosphere worked itself into a frenzy over a Facebook status posted by Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. The status, which was later removed, read, "So, what story do you have about the most effeminate anatomically male worship leader you've ever personally witnessed?"
Mark Driscoll 7-13-2011
I then put a flippant comment on Facebook, and a raging debate on gender and related issues ensued. As a man under authority, my executive elders sat me down and said I need to do better by hitting real issues with real content in a real context. And, they’re right. Praise God I have elders who keep me accountable and that I am under authority. 

Real Issues in a Fuller Context

So, we are working on a new website where I can speak to these real issues in a fuller context. Lord willing, sometime in September, after my trip to Europe with my family and a lot of other people, and then some recovery time, we will launch a new website. 
In the past, I’ve not had a regular place to work out personal commentary on social issues, and so I’ve erred in sometimes doing so in places like Facebook, Twitter, and the media, where you can have a good fight but don’t have the room to make a good case.
The first content on the new website will be about gender, and much of it will be around a book my wife, Grace, and I have completed together called Real Marriage: The Truth about Sex, Friendship, and Life Together, to be published by our friends at Thomas Nelson in January. 
Both Grace and I will be blogging at the new site on issues related to gender and marriage, including mistakes we’ve made, sins we’ve committed, and convictions we agree on. And, we’ll have lots of other content on other issues as well. Until then, have a great summer, and a sincere thanks to all my critics who sometimes have good wisdom that helps me out.

So if we were going to take Driscoll literally, he was saying he had not previously had a regular place to work out personal commentary on social issues.  Ah ... so there was never a Midrash where Mark Driscoll once wrote as William Wallace II about how America had become a "Pussified Nation" or about "Using Your Penis"? He'd never preached any sermons about masculinity in the 2001 Proverbs series warning that some guys like to take shortcuts to the pleasures of adulthood while avoiding responsibility? He wasn't addressing social issues about gender or sexuality when commenting about the Ted Haggard scandal in 2006 because he didn't have a platform like Resurgence? Mark Driscoll never had an opportunity to work out personal commentary on social issues in any of his books?

What about the Midrash 2.0? Where Driscoll, in 2004, vented spleen about James Dobson and Ken Hutcherson?

Or did Driscoll simply mean he didn't have a PUBLIC platform from which to make personal commentary on social issues?  You know, besides books and the pulpit and the first version of Midrash where he posted as William Wallace II. Driscoll's story presents him as not having a platform for social commentary yet over the course of fifteen years social commentary about men, sexuality, and his working definition of adulthood was essentially Mark Driscoll's hallmark.

Mark Driscoll didn't just incite controversy through social media in 2011, he also skipped past even the possibility of an apology to promote Pastor Mark TV and the forthcoming book Real Marriage.

Yet I think a case can be made this embodied the victimhood culture as a rhetorical stance and used the first-person anecdote as a way to frame Driscoll as the target of social media dogpiling.

In 2012 he'd take a couple of further steps.  By 2012 he wouldn't even wait for the "other side" to get the "first shot".  It's here we get to the interview Mark Driscoll had with Justin Brierley.

Mark Driscoll 1-12-2012

There is reportedly an article coming out in a British Christian publication that features an interview with me. As is often the case, to stoke the fires of controversy, thereby increasing readership, which generates advertising revenue, a few quotes of mine have been taken completely out of context and sent into the Twittersphere. So, I thought I would put a bit of water on the fire by providing context.
 I have a degree in communications from one of the top programs in the United States. So does my wife, Grace. We are used to reporters with agendas and selective editing of long interviews. Running into reporters with agendas and being selectively edited so that you are presented as someone that is perhaps not entirely accurate is the risk one takes when trying to get their message out through the media. [emphasis added]

 With the release of our book, Real Marriage, we have now done literally dozens of interviews with Christians and non-Christians. But the one that culminated in the forthcoming article was, in my opinion, the most disrespectful, adversarial, and subjective. [emphasis added] As a result, we’ve since changed how we receive, process, and moderate media interviews.

 The interview in question had nearly nothing to do with the book or its subject matter, which in my understanding was supposed to be the point of the interview. My wife, Grace, was almost entirely ignored in the interview, and I felt she was overall treated disrespectfully. The only questions asked were about any controversial thing I’ve ever said in the past 15 years with a host of questions that were adversarial and antagonistic. It felt like a personally offended critic had finally gotten his chance to exercise some authority over me. [emphasis added]

 Things got particularly strange near the end of the interview. I was asked a question about, if a woman was the pastor of a church which that pastor’s husband attended, would that be emasculating to him. The question was asked in such a pointed way that it was odd.

 At the end of the interview, I started asking questions of the interviewer. He admitted that his last questions were really about himself and his wife. Apparently his wife is the pastor of their church, he’s strongly committed to women as pastors, disagrees strongly with our complementarian position, and takes it to some degree personally.

 He then admitted that he very much struggles to believe in penal substitutionary atonement—that Jesus Christ died in our place a substitute for our sins—and that he does not believe in a literal hell. In short, the reporter is a very liberal Christian, and on these issues I am not.

 Subsequently, I am not surprised that after a very long interview, which took the better part of an hour, that I may be selectively edited and presented in a way that is not entirely accurate. In particular, the quote about cowardice may not fit all British men, but for men who misuse their authority to advance their agenda, it seems applicable.
It's All about Jesus

In the providence of God, I trust everything will sort itself out in time. The best thing is to not waste time blogging, twittering, and talking about me. I was not born of a virgin, have not lived without sin, and am not going to judge the living and the dead. Jesus is all that matters.

For sake of ending this sooner rather than later we'll skip the T. D. Jakes stuff because the next case in which Mark Driscoll paradoxically blogged about being the victim of a misunderstanding it dealt with Liberty University. Here he went back to waiting for stuff to be said about him.


Mark Driscoll April 16, 2012
Lately, I’ve been busy with something you may have heard of called Easter. So, I’ve not been on the Internet much but instead busy with church and family. However, rumor has it there is a bit of mushroom cloud of controversy over my planned trip. So, I asked our community relations manager, who gets to enjoy reading blogs about me while eating breakfast every day (it’s amazing he holds anything down), to give me a summary of this kerfuffle. (Henceforth, we will officially refer to this situation as “The Kerfuffle.”)

The trouble started with a Southern Baptist blogger . . . yes, you should have seen that one coming. Now, to be fair, the blogger quoted an anonymous “source.” And, we all know that almost everything bloggers say is true. But, when they have something as solid as an anonymous “source,” then you can rest assured that when Jesus talked about the truth over and over in John, this is precisely what he was referring to. I have a degree from Washington State’s Edward R. Murrow College of Communication and worked professionally as a journalist, and I can assure you that The Kerfuffle is a very serious matter to be taken with the utmost sobriety and propriety. In fact, one anonymous “source” I spoke to said that Watergate pales in comparison. [emphasis added]

This particular blogger’s anonymous "source" says that the Liberty University Board of Trustees met and voted unanimously to not to allow the harmless, ruddy, pleasant, and often gregariously enjoyable Pastor Mark to speak at the university. The source said that two motions were presented and voted on. The first was to unequivocally express that Liberty University Board disapproves of the invitation for me to speak in chapel and the invitation to host the Real Marriage Tour. The second motion was to create a vetting council for future speakers at Liberty. He also states that he believes the reason why they haven't actually disinvited yours truly is that they have a contractual obligation and thus can't disinvite me. As we all know, every kerfuffle has to have a villain, and when all else fails the best thing is to pick an attorney as that villain. In fact, one anonymous “source” I contacted for this blog said that in the Greek text of the New Testament the name Judas actually literally translates as “contractual obligations.”

Driscoll's blogging here is at a peak.  He's locked in his NYT best-selling author status.  He's managed to shake hands with T. D. Jakes at Elephant Room II.  Whatever that scuffle was over the discipline at some campus was of no concern.  Multiple campuses had opened up.  Sure, behind the scenes there was some memo where some guy fretted about Mars Hill being on the brink of financial ruin, but so what?  In April 2012 Mark was confident and also condescending.  He trusts the reader, with him, will reflexively assume a blogger isn't credible, even when named.  He also presumes that a blogger with a source is still not to be taken seriously because anonymous sources don't have credible information. 

Actually, I totally agree with the need to be skeptical about anonymous sources as a general rule.  Driscoll contended Peter Lumpkins was totally wrong.

Notice how Driscoll really leans on his school cred and the prestige of his credentials here.  He doesn't say he went to Wazoo.  He went to the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication.  We're told how Mark Driscoll worked as a professional journalist.  To date Mark Driscoll has not produced a byline or an article to show that he worked as a journalist covering a beat. He'd already talked about how savvy and trained his wife was in media.  Here was Driscoll not just dismissing the credibility of the character and the information a blogger disclosed (Peter Lumpkins in 2012), Driscoll was also bragging again about his media credentials.  Driscoll wanted to assure us all that he was a master of things media.  He also played up the idea that concerns about him as reported by bloggers were a "mushroom cloud", nuclear detonations in the mind of a critic and his sympathizers.  Meanwhile Driscoll described himself as:

This particular blogger’s anonymous "source" says that the Liberty University Board of Trustees met and voted unanimously to not to allow the harmless, ruddy, pleasant, and often gregariously enjoyable Pastor Mark to speak at the university.

Oh!  Who would say anything bad about the sweet lil' teddy bear Pastor Mark!?  Some dumb ol' Baptist blogger?  With an anonymous source.

This kind of rebuttal depended on the first person character of blogging in general.  It also depended on what could be described as an evangelical skepticism about blogs as a way to express concern about celebrities in the Christian media complex. 

But there's something interesting about Driscoll explicitly saying the problem started with a Southern Baptist blogger.
Admittedly, sometimes when speaking, a teacher presents a belief in a way that is inaccurate and unclear. So called “discernment” bloggers who are usually not connected to any noteworthy or respected evangelical Christian theologians, schools, denominations, ministries, churches, or pastors make their living taking what people said wrongly, transcribing it, and then falsely—or at least wrongly—accusing them of heresy when it is untrue. 
The ear is more forgiving than the eye, and when we say something wrong, people tend to give the benefit of the doubt. But, when what is said is then written down, there is far more scrutiny as a statement is parsed like a Bible verse, which is unfair.
Yes, you should have seen that one coming, right?  So even when a blogger with an identifiable theological/denominational association could be identified by name it didn't matter. But back in 2011 in the run-up to shaking hands with Jakes as if he were a Trinitarian and not still a word-faith wingnut of the sort Driscoll denounced in 2007, Mark Driscoll's concern was that online discernment bloggers were usually not connected to any noteworthy or respected evangelical Christian theologians, schools, denominations, ministries, churches, or pastors and made their ... living?  Talking about people? 

See this could be a whole different topic, this myth on the internet promulgated by Christian celebrities like Driscoll that bloggers monetize their blogging in a way that they somehow make their living just doing that.  Last I checked Warren Throckmorton DOES actually have a day job at Grove City College, for instance.  In other settings Driscoll seems to have quipped bloggers were jobless people.  The point was never so much what they did or didn't do for a living as a blanket dismissal of their credibility based on who they were presumed to be.

I've already written plenty about how the most persistently critical voices online addressing Mark Driscoll's doctrinal and character issues have not only been Reformed but of the PCA/OPC variety.

It would eventually turn out that bloggers dealing with problems in Driscoll's handling of biblical texts and Mars Hill handling of real estate acquisition and leadership appointments would have specific denominational affiliations and even be part of the same Reformed "tribe" Mark Driscoll kept saying he was part of. But by not naming names Driscoll could stick with the story that he was a victim of willful misunderstanding on the part of ignorant bloggers. He didn't have any platform to sound off on gender and society issues before Pastor Mark TV.  Then he had that book about marriage and some nasty British journalist with a wife who is a pastor was adversarial in an interview, supposedly.  Then there's the kerfuffle.  Meanwhile, thanks to Result Source Inc., Real Marriage secured a short stint at the top of the NYT bestseller list, a book that had a part to play in the 2013 plagiarism controversy before the news broke in 2014 that Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill had gamed the system in favor of Real Marriage. But even in late 2013 Driscoll was still playing with victim stories, he'd just switched from stories about himself to stories about his children.

I think Friedersdorf is right, one of the key problems of the microaggression framework and the culture of victimhood is anybody can appropriate it. If someone like Mark Driscoll can spend a decade sharing tales about how rough he's got it because people just don't get him, and how he has somehow lacked a platform through which to address social concerns (in spite of twitter and Facebook and Instagram and a dozen books and blogs and countless hours of sermons) then we have to step back and ask ourselves, does this culture in which stories of microaggressions and victimization "work"?  Sure, it's possible some people are able to help other people stop saying unknowingly hurtful things ... but I'm floating this idea here that Mark Driscoll's public persona depended in part on leveraging stories of victimhood and the power of the first-person narrative as universalizing vehicle for bromides about classes of people for him to get where he was in 2012-2013.  He needed this culture of victimhood and the emotionally dominating tone of the first-person tale of woe as symbol of what's-wrong-with-America-today to get where he was before scandal brought him down.

For those who doubt the concerns some of us have about this victimhood culture, consider that it's broader than a university setting.  The combination of the theory of victimhood culture as an internet dynamic combined with the first-person industrial complex proposal that says we have a web publishing culture that exploits novelty to share stories from emotionally and physically harmed people in a way that may just re-exploit and re-victimize them isn't just something people on the left have to think about.  It's something evangelicals and people on the right have to think about because playing the victim to leverage sympathy, as all Christians should know by now, does go all the way back to Genesis 3.


chris e said...

There is a fairly cogent argument that the evangelical world is actually likely to be far more at risk from these trends than the world at large. After all, 'we' have long had our own first-person industrial complexes in terms of the various hagiographies that Christian publishers have put out over the decades, where inconvenient details that were likely to 'confuse' the reader were cleaned up (you could read 'Born Again' without ever realising that Colson had converted to Catholicism), and struggles recast as ultimate victories.

Similarly, the victimhood culture is in many ways similar to the vicarious love of the stories of persecution, and the tendency to view all opposition as something along the same scale as the martyrdom of Christians in centuries past.

Eric said...

The Patheos link is a 404.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

Eric, Samuel D. James deleted the two posts he did about how not to react on social media to Christians embarrassing the rest of us. Best guess, he deleted those after realizing he'd ironically embodied those things he'd been writing about.

which segues into chris e's suggestion that evangelicals are actually even more at risk to fitting into the victimhood culture than progressives, which premillennial and postmillennial narratives may encourage a little, too.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

belatedly ... there is/was at least one capture of "For Whom the Blog Trolls" at The Wayback Machine.