Your own size

Where Gorman slipped, in my opinion—completely aside from the basic vileness of what he said—was ignoring the foundational rule for spokespeople in positions of power: pick on people your own size or larger.

The blogging flap? Was stupid, and handled stupidly afterwards. But it wasn’t overly offensive, or indeed offensive at all. We bloggers can speak up for ourselves. We librarian bloggers are on a roughly even social field with Gorman; we’re certainly not socially disadvantaged in any way. So if he just had to pick a target, we were a good choice.

Google? Also a good choice. Outweighs the ALA by several financial orders of magnitude. Can definitely defend itself. And has absolutely made itself a fair target for scrutiny by its actions lately.

Hip-hop? Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, really bad choice.

Picking on a particular form or genre of entertainment is dicey enough to begin with; you’re automatically alienating its fans, so you’d better have darned good reason and a darned good argument. There are arguments to be made against some forms of entertainment, certainly. Hip-hop itself has a fair bit to answer for by way of misogyny, for instance. But Gorman wasn’t anywhere near there; he likened hip-hop to simple-mindedness. I honestly don’t see any other way to read that but as covert racism. The form itself doesn’t justify the label; good hip-hop has sophisticated wordplay going on that my sadly-overeducated self can’t even begin to match. Nor is there the least shred of actual evidence, I wish I didn’t need to say, correlating listening to (or performing) hip-hop with any sort of intellectual atrophy.

Picking on a form of entertainment that’s racially coded? Do I even need to say how ill-considered that is? (Apparently I do, ’cuz no one else has!) It’s the classic gesture of unconsidered privilege. Those Other People, I don’t have to respect their stuff; they just have to respect mine.

If Gorman wanted to pick on somebody for simple-mindedness, just as a strategic decision he ought to have chosen, say, science-fiction fans. (Fantasy is right out—female-coded, so invites accusations of sexism.) There’s certainly a long-standing tradition of misogyny in science-fiction, so if that was the basis for Gorman’s hip-hop remark (and I don’t think it was, nor do I think that justifies the remark even if true), the rhetorical gesture is more or less equivalent.

More importantly, though, science-fiction fans cross genders, races, sexualities, and most other sensitive demographic categories. They are also quite capable of hitting back.

Cheap shots aren’t overly honorable to begin with (and I say this as shouldn’t, I know). If the ALA is pondering an intervention with Gorman (and by now they’d better be), the quickest and most effective rule would be “cut out the cheap shots.” But if you’re in the mood, at least pick a halfway-honorable target. Otherwise, you come across like Gorman—a blindly privileged, insensitive bully.