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The "Michelle Shocked Thing": How SF Weekly Got Swept Up Into a Media Maelstrom 

Wednesday, Jun 26 2013
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It wasn't the first of Shocked's confusing statements on homosexuality. And it certainly wouldn't be the last.


Vogt came back to us at SF Weekly a few days after initially floating the idea. Shocked had agreed to the S.F. concert over Pride weekend for free — and she'd agreed to my terms for the interview, Vogt said. The plan was for the two of us to meet in L.A., so I booked a flight to Burbank for June 18.

Soon, though, it became clear that Shocked hadn't agreed to my terms for the interview at all. I'd tried being firm with her. Next I tried to be conciliatory, and explained why recording this was important. Nothing worked. "Homes, if I'm gonna be recorded I'm gonna be scripted," she wrote at one point. "If I'm gonna be scripted I'm gonna need the plot. Send the Qs and you'll have The Record. My head. My plate."

Shocked was terrified of being exposed in any position besides a defensive crouch. I could get her in 140-character bursts, or I could get her in rehearsed answers. Either way, she insisted on keeping as much control over the story as she could. If the Yoshi's experience had taught her one thing, it was to fear the way that the media could take any part of her that had been exposed, any revelation she offered, strip it of nuance, and send it out to the world to be digested and regurgitated even further. Essentially, she wanted to do to our pending interview what she thought the media had done to her.

A day later, on June 14, Shocked tried to take control in another way: She started Tweeting about her deal for the show, the SF Weekly story, and an Examiner op-ed she was supposedly writing. The woman has a strange obsession with Twitter: She claims that social media are distorting our image of the world and each other, obscuring "Truth" into "Reality," yet she holds a three-hour conference on Twitter every weekday. Mostly it's a handful of sycophants and trolls exchanging barbs or back-pats, to which Shocked responds in typically loopy fashion. After Shocked mentioned the SF Weekly interview on Twitter, Vogt tagged me explicitly in his Tweets, ensuring a stream of flames and nonsense in my usually quiet column of mentions and replies. Meanwhile, the day of our interview was coming close, and Shocked and I still hadn't agreed on conditions. I decided to just ignore it and see what happened. What would Shocked do — not show up? I gave her my cell number and said I'd be at our designated meeting place at 2 p.m.

One of her conditions I did meet, by speaking in advance with Roger Trilling, a former magazine editor, music producer, and old friend of Shocked's. While he defended Shocked's explanation for the March 17 comments, and tried to get me to empathize with her fear of being recorded, he agreed that she'd said awful-sounding things. In an email to myself and Trilling, Shocked had said that "I interview like a poet, not a politician." Trilling agreed: "She often talks that way, and she is often confounding — like, 'Michelle, what does that mean?'"

I asked Trilling if it was unfair to question Shocked's mental health, which, given her history, many have. "Of course it is," he said. "It is almost impossible for some people, many people, to embrace simultaneous contradiction. How can you be a born-again Christian and a progressive activist?... It's a contradiction, but does that make her crazy? I think it only makes her crazy if the person who's calling her crazy thinks that to be a Christian and to be a progressive activist is impossible."

On the morning of our interview, Shocked went public about our dispute. "I hate to take this to Twitter, but Ian is attempting to strong-arm me over a matter of principle and I have no reason to acquiesce," she wrote. Now her fans and haters were weighing in on whether it was reasonable to require a recorded interview or not. And just before my plane to Burbank took off, the news stories started to appear.

"Michelle Shocked To Promote Herself With Free Concert During Pride, S.F. Examiner Op-Ed," went the SFist headline. The bottom of the site's first story included this bit: "It sounds like Shocked has already figured out she could get played by the media. Now she's claiming that 'ProJo' writer/SFWeekly music editor Ian Port's request to record their interview is an attempt to strong arm her. (Into what, exactly?)"

In trying to get a story, I had become a part of the story. The same thing happened to Vogt. The previous week, he'd written, "June 30 is the last day of SF Pride Celebration. Watch @SFWeekly @sfexaminer & @sfbg for full details on @MShocked free concert." But news of the concert had been greeted with outrage, and soon Vogt was defending himself, trying to shape the narrative other media were using to report on him. "Maybe we challenged Michelle Shocked to come to SF, answer for what was said/reported, face her fans & foes alike and perform for free?" he Tweeted on June 17. "Nah. couldn't be just that."

As the story grew, his stream of Tweets became harder to parse. When he said that "People need to take responsibility and be held accountable for what they say and what they do," Vogt was presumably talking about Shocked, but others would hold him to the same standard, another illustration of the conventional limits of Twitter in conveying a complex situation. This controversy spawned from the original one, like a fractal. You could imagine it replicating endlessly from itself, each part the pattern for the whole.

About The Author

Ian S. Port

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