Taylor Swift may not be a bad person. She’s giving outrage a bad name.
In case you were distracted by other things happening in the world and missed it, the very popular Swift tweeted on Monday that she was deeply offended by a joke in the final episode of the Netflix series Ginny & Georgia.
Georgia (Brianne Howey), mother of 15-year-old Ginny (Antonia Gentry), makes a crack about Ginny’s boyfriend breaking up with her.
“What do you care?” Ginny replies. “You go through men faster than Taylor Swift.”
It’s a pretty routine joke, the kind of wisecrack a teenage girl on TV or in real life would throw back at a parent who has annoyed her.
It references the reputation Swift built up over the past dozen years for going through boyfriends at a rapid clip and then writing songs that sounded like retrospectives on the breakups.
Like after her relationship with John Mayer ended and she wrote a song titled “Dear John” that included the line, “I should’ve known.” Or after her relationship with Jake Gyllenhaal ended and she wrote, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.”
Coincidence? Gee, maybe.
In any case, Swift denounced the Ginny & Georgia joke as “lazy” and “deeply sexist . . .. How about we stop degrading hard working women?”
Take that, misogynist pigs.
To be fair, Swift could make a case for “lazy,” because the joke is arguably dated. Swift has been going out with British actor Joe Alwyn since 2017, suggesting her roving days might be behind her.
In defense of the G & G writers, they just wanted a reference that would resonate, which Swift’s response confirms this one still does.
Still, “lazy” could be valid. It’s the other half, the “deeply sexist” and the “degrading hard-working women” accusation, that feels like a reach.
From what angle, exactly, is it criticizing Swift’s or any other woman’s work ethic? Or mocking her on the basis of gender?
“So, who are you seeing this week?” is as common and gender-neutral a joke as you’ll hear anywhere on television.
And that’s exactly what it is: a joke.
It’s an observation viewers will find amusing, or not, for the two seconds before they forget it and move on to line comes next.
It’s not a character assessment. It doesn’t tattoo a scarlet letter onto Taylor Swift’s cardigan. It just references the simple fact she had a well-publicized string of celebrity boyfriends.
Sadly, Swift’s response lends support to the depressing notion that sometimes we Americans forget that one of our most powerful and important assets is our sense of humor. In our quest to not injure the innocent, a quest we should pursue, we sometimes rise to protect those who 1) aren’t particularly innocent and 2) do not suffer any actual injury.
Taylor Swift may not have had more boyfriends than any other single woman her age. But because she is rich and famous, they have been better chronicled, often by Swift herself.
Ask any Swift fan.
“Picture to Burn”: Jordan Alford! “Starlight”: Conor Kennedy! “I Knew You Were Trouble”: Harry Styles! “Back to December”: Taylor Lautner! “Better Than Revenge”: Joe Jonas!
She even inspired an answer song. After Swift wrote “Dear John” about Mayer, Mayer wrote “Paper Doll” about her.
Now none of this, to be honest, would hold more than fleeting click-bait celebrity fluff interest, except that Swift has embraced and arguably profited from it.
She also understands the concept of a joke. If you turn on the TV these days, you’re much less likely to watch Ginny & Georgia than to see the Capital One commercial in which Swift looks into a closet full of cardigan sweaters, picks one out and winks at the camera.
She’s alluding to her song “Cardigan,” endearingly showing us she gets the self-referential gag.
She could do the same thing with the Ginny & Georgia line by simply shrugging it off as a small insignificant price of celebrity.
Instead she’s gone with outrage. That’s her prerogative. It just has two unintended consequences.
First, it cheapens outrage. Real sexism and real degradation of working women are out there, in financial compensation, ongoing treatment and professional respect. Bundling your pique at a passing joke with serious issues makes it too easy for outsiders to dismiss both.
Second, social media invites instant unfiltered reaction. Antonia Gentry, the actress, has received a torrent of vitriolic anger and sometimes racist personal attacks from Swift fans.
Gentry, unlike her attackers, has responded as a grownup — noting, for instance, that 317 Nigerian schoolgirls were abducted at gunpoint recently and there was scarcely a peep of media or social media outrage. A little perspective here, please.
Swift didn’t ask her fans to send racist taunts, and it’s 100% certain she deplores them. She just might have given a little more thought to social media incitement, with which she is familiar.
Now it also should be stressed that just as the line in Ginny & Georgia was a small passing moment, Swift’s overreaction doesn’t compromise the rest of what she does.
She still writes catchy pop songs that have drawn as close as we get these days to a wide audience.
It also doesn’t overshadow the tough and admirable battle she is fighting to maximize her control over her own songs and song catalog. Any number of other artists could benefit from that fight.
But in this one case, it would have been nice if she’d taken a step back and shrugged. Nothing to see here, folks. Move on.