Dylan Marron made his name with a series of barbed, satirical videos tackling social justice issues on YouTube. These pieces attracted a big audience and, predictably, a bounty of fairly sulfurous hate mail. Around 2016, the New York–based performer and writer started to question his approach. “Is my goal to joke about these issues with people who already understand the nuances of these issues?” he wondered. “Or is my goal to bring more people to the table?”
He opted for the latter and ended up launching a podcast called Conversations with People Who Hate Me. In the hands of a less skilled conversationalist, these interactions could easily come across as cloying, patronizing, or pointlessly antagonistic. But guided by Marron, they’re always surprising and often moving looks into how anger and prejudice form and manifest themselves on the internet and in real life.
“Somehow, seeing their three-dimensionality actually made me feel better. It made me feel like I have an in.”
Now into a second season, in which Marron moderates conversations between people at loggerheads, the show has been an illuminating experience for the 30-year-old, leaving him with a slightly less apocalyptic view of human affairs than is usually found online. “It’s so easy to hate from afar,” Marron says. “But then, when you just see the humanity of someone up close, it’s just a totally different story.”
Medium: So you were making these videos and attracting both a big fan base and a lot of hate online. When did you have the epiphany that you wanted to start the podcast?
Dylan Marron: I think there was a string of things. The 2016 election really rocked me, and that’s the most unoriginal thing to say, right? I’m actually the only human who was rocked by that. Everyone else was like, “Yeah, we get it. We’re going to go on with our lives.”
Tell us more about this unprecedented phenomenon.
Yes. Yes. I know, I know. But I think the reason it rocked me was that, in the simplest sense, I was like, “I’m doing this wrong.” Which is not to say that it is wrong to speak truths within your community about oppression and what it means to be marginalized. It’s important to define that. But I was at the peak of popularity, and I was like, really, who is this for? And suddenly, as a country, we confronted each other at the polls, and I was seeing this really profound lack of ability to communicate.
What did friends and family say when you told them you were going to do the podcast?
A lot of friends were like, “Just don’t engage with those people.” But I was so curious about them. It all developed out of this weird coping mechanism I had to getting hate on the internet, which was that, when it was on social media, I would click on their profile and just try to learn everything about them. Not to humiliate them, but rather to just be like, “Oh my God, that’s a human.”
“I’m genuinely like: There’s a human who said that thing to me. I genuinely want to know how that happened, because that person was once a baby. Something happened.”
Like you needed to be reassured that they’re not completely irredeemable.
Yeah, that was exactly it. Somehow, seeing their three-dimensionality actually made me feel better. It made me feel like I have an in. People around me understood that and were really supportive. Some warned me against doing it. I have gotten messages that said, “I’m going to kill you.” I’m not speaking to those people at all. Even messages that are like, “I’m going to punch you out.” I always say you should only be speaking to people you feel safe talking to. Everyone gets to determine that level of comfort.
That goes both ways. How do you make your guests comfortable enough to talk?
First, I let them dictate their own level of anonymity, and then I’m very clear that they should only share things that they feel comfortable sharing. And I’m also clear with them, like, “Hey, this is edited down. And I want to be super clear that it’s not edited to mince your words, but rather to enhance them.” Right? It’s not like I will edit you together to be like, “I. Am. A. Hateful. Human. Being. And. I. Am. Awful.”
I am struck by how many of them seem genuinely surprised by how the conversation went.
Completely. Because I think it’s—I’ve said this a few times—I make it very clear that this is not a debate show. Debate surely has its place, but that’s really all we know for conversations across difference. You feel one way, I feel another way, and we pummel each other with our talking points. I just think there is a different way of connection. I don’t think my way is the only way, but it’s fascinating to me when you get a full sense of someone.
Right, the agenda is different than a debate. But that’s useful, too. It’s difficult to win an argument with someone without connecting with them on a human basis. You can’t just show people a sheet of facts and figures, and they’ll be like, “Oh, okay, you got me.” You have to connect first.
Yes. And that’s why there’s this funny distinction that I see happening a lot now between facts versus feelings. And I just want to be like, “You know that the facts we cling to are totally based on our feelings about those facts, right?” The two are not actually distinct. Facts exist, and they matter, but feelings also matter, because they govern how we navigate and perceive the world.
“A few guests have casually told me that they think twice now before they say anything online. But I don’t have any real data on that.”
You’re genuinely curious about people, and you operate in good faith. For instance, saying “tell me about you” at the beginning of each podcast makes for an immediate connection.
Absolutely. That is such a beautiful question to ask someone, right? We’ve all been in those conversations where someone just talks about themselves. You just don’t feel seen, and it is so crucial to feel seen. And also — this is not bullshitting — but I truly want to know about them. I’m genuinely like: There’s a human who said that thing to me. I genuinely want to know how that happened, because that person was once a baby. Something happened. And you don’t mean something happened to make them evil, but they were constantly shaped throughout their life by a whole bunch of things that led them to this moment.
Do you think these conversations have a lasting effect on people or on the way they act?
I don’t know. A few guests have casually told me that they think twice now before they say anything online. But I don’t have any real data on that.
This is a weird question for a show about hate, but has making it made you more optimistic?
Yes, which I think puts me at odds with what is hip and cool for internet culture. It’s almost a cardinal sin to feel too good and hopeful.
That actually brings me to why I have “hate” in the title of the show. Because for anyone who listens to the show, they can easily be like, “They don’t hate you. No one hates you.” And that’s actually the point because when you receive it… I’ll be honest, my first-episode guest is a guy named Chris. We’re in touch now. We message each other from time to time. He just messaged me to let me know he became a grandfather. We share life events like that with each other.
He called you a piece of shit.
Right. When you receive a message where you’re called a piece of shit, you’re not like, “They love me.” It feels like hate. When you then get to interrogate that and get to know the person who wrote it, it doesn’t feel like hate.
Source : Medium
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