Thursday, November 24, 2011


In my last post, I made a brief reference to something that has come to be called Gelatogate. For those that haven't heard the story, I'll summarize briefly.

A few doors down from the theater at which Skepticon was being held, was a little Gelato place that, for awhile Saturday evening, put up the sign above. Nothing was really known about it until after Skepticon when the owner posted an apology on the company's main website. It was vague and he later posted a fuller explanation and apology on reddit.

What it came down to is he dropped in on Skepticon and caught Sam Singleton's mock revival Saturday evening. This talk was designed to lampoon religion by rather direct parody. This wasn't what the owner had been expecting, and he overreacted, running back to post the sign.

After about 10 minutes, he realized it was wrong, and took it down.

The bigger story has been how the skeptical community has responded to these apologies. Jen McCreight and Hemant Mehta accepted it unconditionally.

PZ and JT basically told him to shove it where the Sun don't shine.

The former both say he apologized, so all's good. The latter two say it was a meaningless apology and he only did it because his urbanspoon and yelp ratings plummeted, and he was called out loudly on his facebook page so it's hollow and he's trying to save face.

What I want to contribute is that we don't really know which case it is.

I'm absolutely against Jen and Hemant's position that a few words make it all better. But I'm also not going to declare that his response was hollow. We don't have enough information to judge so far and the owner isn't forthcoming with what we would need to make that call.

One of the things that's important when receiving an apology is that the person offering it truly feels bad about what they've done. I think the owner does. This is shown by him having removed the sign, after cooling off a bit, in short order (he claims it was ~10 minutes, others say it was a few hours). From this, I think it's entirely plausible that he actually felt bad for his actions, even before the possible financial implications of discrimination because apparent.

However, there's a difference between knowing something is wrong in your gut, and understanding why it's wrong. Children often feel shame and proffer apologies that are meaningful, but not deep. I think that's where the store owner is standing right now.

While he may understand that discrimination was wrong, he doesn't get the deeper reasoning behind the event that initially set him off. In short, he doesn't understand the reason talks like Sam Singleton's and David Fitzgerald's exist in the first place: Nothing should be above question and parody.

The event has haunting similarities to PZ's Crackergate; PZ didn't show "due respect" to a cracker and people flipped out. Here, Sam and the audience didn't show "due respect" to holy-rollers and the owner flipped out.

It takes me back to Julia's talk's first point about being a straw Vulcan and willfully ignoring that people have emotions and then blaming them for having them. I think that's what PZ and JT may well be doing here. It should be pretty obvious that someone might react that way. That's not laying the blame on them, nor is it laying the blame at the feet of Sam. It's simply a statement on the reality of the situation. But PZ and JT seem quick to blame him.

Which is foolish. Yes he overreacted. Yes he did something stupid. He's offered a thin apology, but instead of casting him off, what we should really be doing here is using this as a teaching moment.

We should be showing others the reason that their reactions are overblown, how we're exercising the same rights and freedoms theists do every day, just how accurate such parodies actually are, and how, when we do these things, we're vilified for it. The store owner may get that we were vilified, but I don't think he's gotten the big picture.

And that's what I want him, and others that may be tempted to follow in his footsteps, to take away.

But that's the exact opposite of what PZ seems to be doing. He seems to want to dub him a lost cause and pass up this opportunity. JT at the very least tried to engage him in further dialogue, but was apparently rejected (which makes me wonder if I'm being too charitable).

So the conclusion I stand on is that the owner's apology was at best thin, and at worst, a capitulation to the tarnishing of his reputation. Either way, not a worthwhile apology.

I'll quote Hemant briefly:
No one’s letting Andy off the hook for being a bigot. He still disapproves of atheism. Who cares. The point is that he (now) knows that his act of discrimination was wrong.
This is what I take exception to. He may know the discrimination is wrong, but big f'ing deal. This is something that elementary school kids should know.

But simply putting a lid on and hiding the discrimination doesn't actually fix the problem. The key driver "he still disapproves of atheism" is still there. We've just hidden the extrinsic display but the root is still there and will continue to be a problem until we have acceptance from the general community. This is what PZ, JT, and I want. We don't your bigoted feelings hidden. We want them gone.

Delving deep enough to root them out takes a lot more, and that might actually mean something to us.

1 comment:

Emily said...

Very well written & thoughtful assessment, Jon! Until JT shared your SK4 review on twitter today, I was unfamiliar with your work. [subscribed now!]