Was it that the cover story appeared during Black History Month? Would it have garnered less outrage a month later? Or is that just an excuse to rationalize outrage that would have happened regardless, because Esquire Magazine did something that is unacceptable in the current climate. It put a profile story of a white male teenager on its cover.
What’s wrong with this? Robyn Kanner explains.
Still, his presence in Esquire sparked rage online. Zara Rahim, a spokeswoman for Clinton’s 2016 campaign, called out Esquire for running the story during Black History Month. “Imagine this same ‘American Boy’ headline with someone who looks like Trayvon talking about what it’s like to have your mother sit you down to tell you how to stay alive,” she wrote on Twitter. Others echoed the complaint.
I can imagine it. It sounds like a great story idea, and given that Esquire says this is the first in a series about growing up in America, may well be a profile that will follow. In fact, it sounds like the sort of thing I’ve written about many times in the past, before it was fashionable to give a damn about such matters. I also can’t imagine why it would be offensive to any normal person. But that’s not an argument against this story about Ryan Morgan.
One can debate whether the article should have run a month earlier or later, or whether Esquire runs enough stories about teenage boys of color. But few if any of those criticisms actually engaged with the story itself: Was the portrait wrong? Did it add value to our understanding of America in this moment?
While many in the press attacked Esquire, others went for Ryan Morgan. Some suggested he needed to be punched. Some suggested sending him hate mail. Others just swore.
Morgan is a pretty regular teenager. Is that the new punchable kid? He’s no Nazi. He wasn’t wearing a MAGA hat or smirking at anyone. But still, he’s punchable?
The one on my mind this week is Ryan Morgan, a 17-year-old from West Bend, Wis. He’s the cover boy of the latest issue of Esquire — the subject of a story called “An American Boy” by Jennifer Percy. Morgan is a white, middle-class teenager growing up in a conservative home with parents who support President Trump. He’s a sneakerhead who loves video games and the Green Bay Packers. He hates how politics are dividing his friendships. “Last year was really bad.” he tells Esquire. “I couldn’t say anything without pissing someone off.”
Kanner uses the outrage Morgan faces as a vehicle to discuss the problems with internet shaming. Or more specifically, Kanner’s apologia for both her shame, having once supported George Bush to be part of the crowd, and her shaming of Katie Herzog for writing about transgender heresy, retransitioning.
Kanner is a transgender person, so this is allowed. Had Kanner not been a transgender person, would she have been allowed to defend a white middle class teenager whose parents voted for Trump? Does her identity at least smooth over the natural reaction that she must be a Nazi for not hating him as she’s supposed to if she were a right-thinking person?
The comments to Zara Rahim’s twit are quite harsh. That Rahim is head of communications for Hillary Clinton makes her view significant. Clinton made no bones about proclaiming herself as the Women’s Candidate. She wasn’t shy about calling anyone who failed to agree with her social views deplorable.
A lot of people were told their interests and concerns would not only be neglected, but subjugated to social justice. The left believed this was not only correct, but due, as reparations for a history of racism and sexism. Not everyone was prepared to sacrifice their life, their family, for the sake of social justice so they wouldn’t be called bad names.
The irony here is that Ryan Morgan’s family might have been fairly mainstream Democrats in past years, where the plight of working people of all races was a focus of the party platform. His story wouldn’t have been dragged on social media. Indeed, his story would have been so ordinary that it wouldn’t have been worthy of a profile. Today, being ordinary subjects one to social media outrage. If Kanner is right, Morgan will suffer from this attack for years to come, if not in perpetuity, as his name will be perpetually tied to this outrage. For being ordinary.
The argument posited by progressives is that the ordinary perpetuates all the bad things about America, its racism, sexism, bougie values and hateful capitalism, where the majority of Americans exist.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and contend that the vast majority of Americans, of all races and ethnicities, of all genders, are ordinary. They want to be happy. They want their children to be happy. They do not want to punch anyone. They aren’t Nazis. They aren’t social justice warriors. They don’t introduce themselves by offering their personal pronouns. They don’t suffer from self-diagnosed PTSD. They don’t rape anyone, physically or otherwise. They want to live and let live.
Kanner is concerned that this teenager will suffer the shaming this Esquire profile has brought him for the rest of his life.
Digital shaming is arguably the only punishment that does not have a statute of limitations. Do we really want to live in a culture like this? Where no one has the room to grow or change or become a new version of him or herself? I’d like to think that the differences between me in 2019 and me in 2004 is a sign that we all can. The question is whether we can give one another the generosity to do so.
That’s certainly a concern, and her point about there being no statute of limitations in our culture for being wrong, even awful, about something is well taken. But there is another, more fundamental question here. What does Ryan Morgan have to be ashamed of? For being a white male middle class teenager whose parents voted for Trump? There is nothing shameful about being ordinary. It’s what most of us are.
Update: From Alexandra Tempus at “The Progressive, A voice for peace, social justice and the common good,” a curious take:
But stories like Morgan’s must be told.
“The idea that we’ve heard ‘too much’ already from boys like Morgan is absurd,” wrote Jessa Crispin in The Guardian. “The only way a teenage boy from a small town in the Midwest otherwise gets on the cover of a New York City magazine is if he becomes a football phenom or commits a mass shooting. While the Midwest has a disproportionately strong political representation, it also has a disproportionately weak cultural representation.”
But this isn’t because his story informs us of anything, but for progressives to better understand why so many people are so wrong and how to fix them.