Info Gluttony

Nitasha Tiku’s Apology

Posted in Uncategorized by echan on March 6, 2014

I can only speak for myself, and not for others on Twitter, but I told Nitasha that if she apologized, I’d accept it. AND I’VE ACCEPTED IT, FROM HER. I’m publishing our email exchange regarding the apology below, so that we can separate out the issues on the Valley Wag / Gawker “comfort women” topic.

Here are the issues as I see them:

1. There is a Valleywag post with an unfortunate and offensive headline, penned by Nitasha. She apologized, and it’s up to you to accept or not accept the apology. As I wrote above and on Twitter, I’ve accepted her apology.

2. The editorial position at Gawker, per Deputy Editor, Max Read is making jokes about comfort women or Germany’s Joy Division is okay. To quote Max, “We have spent a long time at Gawker making hyperbolic comparisons between the stories we cover and horrible world-historical events; I don’t imagine we’ll stop soon.”

I don’t agree with this editorial position, but I’m not going to waste any more of my time converting Max or Sam Biddle to my point of view. I can only hope that they mature a little bit and see that this kind of rhetoric is offensive and has actual real world damage. I don’t think that this change will happen at Gawker soon, since their policy is to guarantee writers exposure, in exchange for little pay and long hours, and a little piece of their soul each time a headline like the “comfort women” headline is penned.

In the past, I think that Valleywag was done a great job at times exposing the hypocrisy of Sillicon Valley. But I don’t think that they should alienate their readers (and people working at the companies they cover) through mocking the experience / trauma of historical suffering.

3. Is the Gawker comments section the proper place to have a discussion about Gawker’s mistakes?

I think that Twitter, other blogs, and media publications are the right place to have a discussion about this editorial stance. But that’s part of a larger debate.


Email from Nitasha:

Here’s the email I sent Anna earlier, I should have CC’d you as well. I have apologized for the analogy by responding to the commenter you asked me to respond to. Then I apologized again (I had a meeting in between, was offline for a couple hours and just got back.) It was a regrettable decision, which is also why I’ve also promoted the critical comments on the post. You initially said “we’re the nice people on twitter. if you offer an honest apology, we’ll let this go.” It’s your prerogative to not accept my apology, but it was sincere.

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Nitasha
To: Anna J [Suitable Girl]
Thanks for reaching out. I see you already got Max’s response. I apologized and I meant it sincerely. EC asked me to respond to this comment, so that’s where I put the apology.
I have personally promoted every critical comment about the analogy in the post, which helps them show up higher. I’m assuming your handle is “suitable girl” your test post just showed up in my notifications, I followed you and promoted that as well.

My Response:

Hi Nitasha,
I accept what I believe to be your sincere response and apology. I even retweeted your apology to Kiriko earlier. I am not happy with Max or Sam’s responses, but I have separated them from you. And by way of exhaustion, I have reached a détente with Max in my email exchange with Max.
Even though Max’s defense is to say, “we publish jokes in poor taste” at Gawker all the time, I do hope in the future that you can influence the editorial decisions at Gawker. Snark is one thing, but there seems to be a hypocrisy in your reporting. For instance, Valleywag legitimately jumps all over Tom Perkins and Sean Parker for making Nazi references, yet you guys employ the same insensitive rhetoric yourselves. Gawker loves to report when major news organizations retract stories (I’d like to repeat, that I didn’t ask for a retraction), yet the Gawker party line is that “we do not retract stories.” In short, I just hope that you guys can import a little more sensitivity into your newsroom in the future. You can poke fun at startups without resorting to horrible, insensitive jokes about systemic mass rape. So, I hope this is your takeaway from our exchange both via email and via Twitter today.
Best Regards,
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8 Responses

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  1. Greg said, on March 6, 2014 at 7:46 pm

    Can’t a joke just be a joke? So what if the joke is about some horrible event in the past? If something is funny, it’s funny, and even if you don’t personally find it funny, shouldn’t others be allowed to do so? Why must the joke-teller apologize?

    Making a joke comparison like the one in the article doesn’t mean anyone telling or laughing at the joke in any way believes the joked-about event itself was funny or justified or good. It’s simply acknowledging that while we can’t un-do the past, it’s okay to laugh about it in the present. Caren, whose family comes from Korea, thought the joke was funny and inoffensive, as did another Korean friend of mine.

    • Kiriko said, on March 11, 2014 at 4:40 am

      Greg, I agree with EC.

      The reason I find jokes in this vein (containing rape; racism; other types of abuse) problematic enough to speak out against is because it creates fear in the subject of the jokes while perpetuating a cultural atmosphere that ranges from dismissive to silently tolerant to openly appreciative of rapey, racist, abusive culture. While I can imagine why a mere “joke” could appear innocuous to someone who has the privilege of not being subject to constant threat of rape, racism, and abuse due to their gender, race, political beliefs, etc, those of us who are perceived as “lesser” by dominant (ie male, white, elite, protected, etc) society do not have the same privilege of casually brushing these jokes aside.

      In my experience, a carefree/dismissive/jovial/accepting attitude toward abuse (“What’s the big deal? Can’t a joke just be a joke?”) is frequently used either as an anesthetic or a stimulant: either the person considers themselves liberal/progressive and uses humor to numb themselves to the trauma that they are trying to pretend isn’t happening/that they are possibly complicit in, or they are conservative/openly racist/sexist/abusive and use humor to stimulate themselves to aggressive action. A good example is in American Hustle, when the leading men snort coke as preparation for violence. Another good example can be seen in the documentary The Act of Killing, which portrays the men who were responsible for slaughtering thousands of Communists in Indonesia in 1965. In one scene, [TW: rape] a man laughs about how much he enjoyed raping 14 year old girls during massacres. [end TW]. This is a prime demonstration of how humor can be used as a social/psychological lubricant en route to/in the aftermath of overt physical violence.

      So while I agree that a joke is *relatively* harmless compared to the physical violence it evokes, please keep in mind that the people who protest the use of such humor tend to be those who either have experienced trauma or can empathize with the trauma of those victimized. “Jokes” are not harmless; they cause blood pressure to rise, they trigger painful, overwhelming memories and emotions, they create very real fear in the “subjects” of the joke as they are reminded of the broader sociopolitical context of violence in which they live. Even if the joke does not cause a negative emotional response in the listener, the very act of “downplaying” a horrifying historical event into an easily-digested (for some) “joke” is violent because it minimizes the suffering of those who were actually affected, effectively erasing their history from broader consciousness – paving the way for such horrors to be re-created again in the future.

    • dreadsci said, on April 8, 2014 at 7:09 pm

      If something is awful, it’s awful, even if you don’t personally find it destructive, shouldn’t you listen when other people tell you that it is? You don’t have to apologize: it just makes you a terrible person and your company suspect because you don’t see value in that.

      Really you’re just prioritizing people who find it funny far above those who are actually immediately harmed by it, and that’s what puts you in the wrong. Not making the mistake in the first place, but digging in and defending your right to not care about those people.

      • Greg said, on April 10, 2014 at 1:00 am

        We can have an entirely different discussion about what tiny percentage of people are in any way harmed by a joke about comfort women, or any topic, and in what way they are harmed, but even if we assume that some actual harm CAN come from a joke– who decides which jokes are awful enough to be censored? Nearly any joke is likely to offend someone, so any decision about what is off-limits is going to be completely arbitrary.

        • dreadsci said, on April 10, 2014 at 5:57 am

          1) It’s the same discussion. Who is harmed and how is always the discussion about self-censorship.
          2) You have been alerted to a percentage of people (granted, the percentage may be below your personal threshold) that are harmed and people have tried to explain in what way.
          3) Words cause harm. I could inundate you with studies, but I don’t want to insult your intelligence. Comedy is a great force for social change, too—it’s not all bad.
          4) Who decides? Like any moral dilemma not covered by law: People decide for themselves. People will disagree. Society decides what it will tolerate. Publications decide what they will allow.
          5) Yes, there’s a good chance someone can be offended by anything I say, therefore I like knowing who will be offended and weighing the effects. For example: I called you a terrible person in my previous comment, knowing full well it could hurt your feelings. I know it will in no way damage your person, your job, and am quite confident it won’t be seriously triggering. So I’m okay with that. If it does cause anything stronger than annoyance or personal offense, please let me know and I will apologize. But, for example, I would never “jokingly” threaten violence, no matter how much harm I think you’re causing. That’s my line. Clearly many denizens of the internet have different ideas.

          Conclusion: you are arguing that the percentage of people hurt by this specific joke is either too small to matter or of no consequence because they’re being too easily hurt. So have the guts to stand by your position:

          “I have heard that some people are offended and hurt by the casual reference to comfort women, and have decided that those people’s opinions do not matter to me or my magazine.”

          You can explain it however you want, in whatever detail you want, but the bottom line is there. Stand by it.

  2. echan said, on March 6, 2014 at 9:47 pm


    seeing that you’ve made similar insensitive jokes on our mutual friend’s facebook page after she wrote about a man who creeped her out on MUNI, I don’t expect you to see anything wrong in this situation.

    you’re entitled to your views on jokes and humor, but it does make me question our friendship at times.

  3. Greg said, on March 6, 2014 at 11:23 pm

    Yikes! I only wanted to spark a li’l chit chat. :/

    If I find a site offensive I stop visiting. I may even tell my friends to consider stopping. However, I don’t think others have any responsibility to curb or apologize if their speech offends me. Meanwhile, I’m careful to keep my humor inoffensive unless I know a person well enough to know what their comfort level is.

    As for the one time I did what you done said I did– I commented on a status thinking someone else (a person I know well, and who shares my sense of humor) had posted it, deleted the comment as soon as I realized my error, and then wrote a message apologizing to the poster.

    Mostly I just wanted to get some chatter going here, and didn’t mean to upset you or jeopardize our friendship.

  4. […] Last week, Gawker’s tech-focused gossip blog “Valleywag” posted an article comparing a dating startup to Korean “comfort women” who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during WWII. In response, I wrote Letter to Valleywag and Gawker Compares Startup to Korean Rape Victims, @SaySoju created a Storify called Gawker: Sexual Slavery is Funny, and @EC wrote Nitasha Tiku’s Apology. […]

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