With there being only twenty days left in this unbearably long and shitty year, I’ve been in quite the reflective mood. Particularly when it comes to aggressively public missteps that could have been entirely avoided. Some I had VIP seats to and others I merely watched from the mountains.
All of these missteps, however, tend to hold a recurring theme. Which is that none of you motherfuckers, including you celebrities, know how to put on your big kid pants and apologize. Now, I wrote about this before when Rebel Wilson decided to double-down on an L, but this time around, especially this past week, I noticed another element to this apology aversion that takes the conversation from a less tragically humorous direction to a more serious one:
Britannica defines it as: “an elaborate and insidious technique of deception and psychological manipulation, usually practiced by a single deceiver, or “gaslighter,’ on a single victim over an extended period of time. Its effect is to gradually undermine the victim’s confidence in [their] own ability to distinguish truth from falsehood…thereby rendering [the victim] dependent on the gaslighter in his thinking or feelings.”
What do I mean by that? And why do I bring it up? Well, consider this:
Last week, Cardi B took to Instagram to announce what we all knew was an inevitability…her breakup with Offset. This of course, was a shock to no one. But the “shock” (and irony) came when not even after five minutes of the video being uploaded, Offset posted a comment under the post stating: “Y’all won.” As funny as that was, his message was clear.
We, the general public, and the proverbial “Y’all”, had somehow ruined his marriage to Cardi. And as a result, we “won.”
Now what did we win? That was not yet clear. Nor was it clear four days later when he yelled at us again, stating that he missed Cardi.
FUCK YALL I MISS CARDI
— OFFSET (@OffsetYRN) December 9, 2018
But wait, there’s more! Later in the week, after it was announced that Kevin Hart would host the Oscars, PinkNews engaged in the hotly-debated trend of unearthing Hart’s old tweets, many of which were rife with homophobia. In a whirlwind of events, The Academy reached out to Hart asking him to apologize and rather than do that (initially), Hart also went to IG and recorded a video that could be boiled down to “it is what it is, positive vibes only!!!!” But what really stood out was his statement saying: “I love everybody if you choose not to believe me then that’s on you.”
View this post on Instagram
Stop looking for reasons to be negative…Stop searching for reasons to be angry….I swear I wish you guys could see/feel/understand the mental place that I am in. I am truly happy people….there is nothing that you can do to change that…NOTHING. I work hard on a daily basis to spread positivity to all….with that being said. If u want to search my history or past and anger yourselves with what u find that is fine with me. I’m almost 40 years old and I’m in love with the man that I am becoming. You LIVE and YOU LEARN & YOU GROW & YOU MATURE. I live to Love….Please take your negative energy and put it into something constructive. Please….What’s understood should never have to be said. I LOVE EVERYBODY…..ONCE AGAIN EVERYBODY. If you choose to not believe me then that’s on you….Have a beautiful day
Part of me was expecting Chad Johnson, ex-fiance of Michelle Williams, to complete the trifecta by publicly stating that he and Williams only broke up because of “The Devil” (since this all, yes, happened in one singular week) and I was genuinely shocked when he didn’t.
Offset: “Y’all won”
Kevin: “I love everybody if you choose not to believe me then that’s on you”
Chad, probably: “The devil broke up our engagement”
— Clarkisha Kent (@IWriteAllDay_) December 7, 2018
My listing these events might seem random to you, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The events are listed here because the men involved in them would rather make it seem like everyone is blowing their actions out of proportion and are “crazy,” “buggin,” or “negative” for attempting to hold them accountable. There’s also an element of paranoia to it, making it seem like we are clearly out to “get” these men and don’t want them to “win” or thrive. This is reinforced by Hart’s “positive vibes” comment and Offset’s “Y’all won” quip. And they’d rather direct this type of energy at the people (or persons) who were the targets of their transgressions than publicly take ownership of them and apologize.
This is what we call gaslighting in the digital age.
Gaslighting is interesting. And it has always interested me because I’ve noticed that gaslighting is deployed heavily along gendered and marginalized lines. Which isn’t incidental. The phenomenon takes its name from the 1944 film, Gaslight, where pianist Gregory murders a famous opera singer and rather than get caught for it, marries the singer’s niece, Paula, and does everything in his power including dimming the gas lights of the house (hence the name) to convince Paula that she is “crazy” for her suspicions, in an attempt to cover up his transgression and institutionalize her. In short, the more privileged party, a cishet man, opts to convince the less privileged party, a cishet woman, that she’s unstable for her suspicions (and what would be warranted anger if they were confirmed). All to evade culpability, warp her sense of reality, and ensure that she never trusts her instincts again.
Now, the nailing down of the definition of gaslighting (and the influx of discussions on it) is fairly recent, but the concept itself is not. Gaslighting has been around. Every time The Orange and his goonies open his mouth (especially on Twitter or at one of those fuck ass press conferences), he gaslights us to make it seem like the horrendous things he’s done in office are not terrible. Indigenous folx are routinely gaslighted in public discussions on their claim to America, mostly by people who just immigrated here five generations ago. Black folx are routinely gaslighted about the frequency with which police violence occurs in this country every time a new story breaks. And, on a smaller scale, if you have ever been in a relationship with a cishet man (and you are not a cishet man), chances are he has either gaslighted you or attempted to gaslight you out of pressing him on something fucked up he did.
Of course, while I’m curious as to what a study on the latter example might yield if it were ever to be conducted, I don’t think it’s far-fetched to state that occurrences of cishet men engaging in gaslighting (across races and ethnic groups) are probably astronomically high. And are probably even higher if you look at their involvement in intimate or interpersonal relationships. Of course, the “why” in that hypothetical study is a conversation for another day and particularly one that would have to engage things like toxic masculinity, machismo, egoism, martyrdom, lack of emotional intelligence, and lack of empathy among cishet men. But the bit about intimate and interpersonal relationships is worth talking about now, especially as it pertains to Offset.
On Offset and Narcissism
Offset is a fascinating case, because what he is doing borders on textbook narcissism and public harassment—via social media. My reading on the narcissism (obviously because I’m not a certified psychologist) comes from Offset’s dismissiveness when it comes to boundaries; his tendency to deflect from his own actions and swerve around responsibility; his lack of empathy as to the embarrassment and ridicule he has subjected his partner, Cardi, to due to his alleged infidelity; and his presumed entitlement to and exaggerated need for her attention. He demonstrates this by his lightning-fast comment under Cardi’s video—for which he was allegedly blocked by Cardi on IG. This is also demonstrated by the decision to go to Twitter and publicly curse us while declaring that he “misses her.” His decision to do this is also interesting because one of the hallmarks of a narcissist (from personal experience) is that they use public acts to change the narrative. This is the spin. And this is done in several ways.
The traditional way is said toxic person badmouthing you to friends, family, and other mutual contacts and hoping that these same people swerve out of their lane, cave to half-truths, and pressure you into a reconciliation that you do not want. The modern way is done via things like social media. Said toxic person goes on platforms like Twitter or IG, blasts the incredibly intimate details of your relationship or publicly declares their love for you in a manipulative exercise in self-pity and “remembering the good times.” All with the hope that you, the target, circle back and talk to them if only to put a stop to the mortifying display. And the goal is always to either make it seem like they are not the bad guy to begin with or to make it seem like the person who distanced themselves is irrational or “bad” for doing so. Which is to say that public shaming in particular is usually the final element to the spin and is used to control the person who is trying to escape.
Offset isn’t the first “man in love” to do any of this, of course. He’s not even the first person to do this, nor will he be the last, as this is done in toxic familial, romantic, and interpersonal relationships at alarming rates. Hell, a fairly recent example before this was Robin Thicke and his disgustingly-named Paula album, which he used to attempt to absolve himself of his infidelity and to publicly stalk and harass our good sis Paula Patton into getting back with him.
But still, where does that leave Hart? To put it simply, he’s a good example of the privileged aspect of gaslighting.
On Gaslighting, [dis]Respect, and Privilege
While Hart isn’t doing any of the unstable things that Offset is doing, his example of gaslighting by way of “positivity” is still very relevant, mainly because it zeroes in on how privileged folx like Hart cannot be bothered to relate or empathize with queer Black folx.
In short, gaslighting here is the highest form of “non-violent” disrespect shown by the privileged towards the underprivileged.
Non-violent is in quotations because while this isn’t as aggressively harmful as public shaming or stalking, this does not subtract from its impact. Just like with my earlier examples of how the privileged used gaslighting to avoid responsibility because they do not care to answer to the marginalized, in this example Hart attempts to use the general public’s extremely short memory to get out of actually answering for his past (and let’s be real, current) homophobia. I mean, think about it. Before that measly tweet apology was extracted out of him like a tooth because of understandable backlash, Hart tried to skate by on saying he had addressed it before. His stans interpreted that as saying he “apologized” many times before…which is categorically false. The extent of his past “apology” was him stating that he wouldn’t make the same homophobic statements again, because the people offended—queer Black folx—were “sensitive.”
To be clear, his only attempt at addressing this prior to his IG post that largely minimized the severity of the offense (i.e beating up your spawn for being gay…which actually does happen in real life) was to dismiss queer Black folx. Which is not different from his response last week. This is to say that he, a cishet Black man, does not value the anger (or hurt) displayed by queer Black folx and continuously sought to circumvent it by framing it as if it were out of proportion (hence the gaslighting) and it was worse than the original offense. This is particularly disgusting to me because it was done with the aid of his stans (other cishet Black folx) as well as the aid of his more famous compatriots (like the massively annoying Michael Che and dustmite D.L. Hughley—other cishet Black men). This also resulted in a gargantuan gaslighting fest where cishet Black folx spent most of the weekend not only trying to “humanize” Hart and add “nuance” to the discussion, but also showed they are largely comfortable with using gaslighting and other violent and non-violent means to maintain their false sense of superiority over queer and trans Black folx.
Where does this leave us? I’d say definitely nowhere good, folx. Primarily because while gaslighting is already such a fraught phenomenon, it has only gotten more insidious and sophisticated with time and the development of social media. One would hope that discussions on gaslighting like this will continue, if only to ceaselessly call out horrendous public and private behavior. I will not hold my breath, however, because doing so would require us to hold a lot of our faves and ourselves accountable, and if 2018 has proved anything to the point of nausea, it is that many of us, if not all of us, are virulently allergic to accountability.