How being on the wrong side of an issue can help heal broken systems
If they gave out Oscars for the most discomforting performance by an actor, Ryan Gosling would beat Leonard DiCaprio hands down.
In Martin Scorsese’s new film, Killers of the Flower Moon, DiCaprio plays real-life boogeyman Ernest Burkhart who, in 1920s Oklahoma, conspired with his uncle to murder his wife Molly and six members of her family to steal the wealth that was their birthright as members of the Osage Nation.
In comparison, Gosling is just Ken in Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, a comic uber-bro discovering the wonders of being the patriarchial centre of attention.
Both films have prompted conversation and debate, but only one has sparked a groundswell of rage and pushback – and it wasn’t the film about real-life serial killers.
It was the one about an imaginary boy toy.
Fiction, yes, but one that felt far too real for men unaccustomed to hearing a familiar story reframed with them as the bad guy.
We can watch with horror as Ernest and his uncle Bill ‘King’ Hale, played with cold-hearted precision by Robert DeNiro, openly discuss the murder of Indigenous women and the knowing, complicit silence of white townsfolk, but we watch in judgment, not recognition.
How horrible, we think. How evil they were. Them, not us.
Unlike Killers of the Flower Moon, Barbie doesn’t keep its distance.
We see parts of ourselves in the residents of Barbieland, and, based on the volume of commentary and Internet outrage, for a lot of guys it wasn’t comfortable viewing.
They aren’t alone in discovering they’re not as well-liked by certain parts of the culture as they thought they were.
Digital networks have shifted power to more people because networks value access, exchange, speed and mobility, which lowers the barriers to entry, enabling greater diversity and volume of perspectives.
The end result is more of us will likely find ourselves on the wrong side of an issue at some point, we just don’t know when or what that issue will be.
For instance, prior to October 7th, you needn’t fear online vilification if you advocated for some form of two-state peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Today, that’s a lonely and maligned position.
Voters who approve of corporate Canada, vaccines and gay marriage used to support Conservative candidates comfortably; now they’re ridiculed and cast out.
I remember the first time I realized I was the bad guy. It was the mid-90s, and I was a just-graduated journalist working at the Kenora Daily Miner and News in northwestern Ontario. I had been sent to cover a speech by then-Assembly of First Nations Grand Chief Ovide Mercredi in a First Nations community about an hour’s drive away.
Arriving at the community hall, I walked in, notebook in hand. I was excited to interview Mercredi, a man whose advocacy on behalf of the James Bay Cree I had studied whilst writing university essays about the importance of recognizing Indigenous rights during the Meech Lake/Charlottetown Accord debates. A self-styled liberal-minded Canadian girl who thought she understood Indigenous issues because I wrote a few essays and watched the news.
With a smile, I introduced myself to the people near the door and happily declared I was there to cover Mercredi’s speech. They stared back at me stonily, pointed at a chair along the back wall and told me to wait there.
Which I did for close to two hours, during which time no one came anywhere near me. They barely looked my way.
When Mercredi finally arrived, he spoke and then departed. I can’t remember what he said, nor if I actually got to interview him. I just remember this heavy, uncomfortable feeling that I wasn’t simply unwelcome; I wasn’t liked.
A few months later, I moved to Cornwall, in southeastern Ontario, which meant getting to know the people of Akwesasne, a large Mohawk community deeply connected to Kanesatake and Kahnawake. Here, amidst warriors who had stood behind the Oka barricades, I was told in very precise terms what they thought of me and my notebook.
Those difficult and unnerving exchanges taught me something that now sits at the core of how I approach complex issues and contentious conversations.
In our networked world, no one and no organization stands alone. We are our networks, which means we all judge and are being judged by our perceived values based on others’ interpretations of our present and past actions, as well as the company we keep.
That can be unnerving, particularly for people unaccustomed to having their path blocked by the judgement of others.
However, in our networked reality, we must resist our natural inclination to defend our self-interest in favour of seeking ways that help heal our broken relationships and systems – which means accepting that you and your perspective might not be as popular as you originally thought.
But that’s okay because finding out you’re the bad guy or gal in someone else’s story is a great way to learn how to turn the page and start anew.