My Fav is Problematic – Enna Alouette and Online Accountability

I regret to inform you that Enna Alouette – the foul mouthed songbird of Nijisanji EN – is problematic. During a stream with fellow Nijisanji member Kyo Kaneko, she referenced a series of hurtful stereotypes about black people in America. As a huge fan of hers, I felt hurt and disappointed. I also didn’t really know the best way to respond, or if I should be saying anything at all as a white person from suburban Australia. But the wide range of reactions said a lot of things about the online culture around accountability, and how we respond when people show their ignorance towards social justice issues. A lot of those responses were… not good.

To start off, I would like to state again that this isn’t a piece defending what Enna said. I don’t believe she was lying when she said that she was ignorant, given her long history of seeming quite sheltered and only tangentially aware of touchy subjects like these. Regardless, what she said was still awful and perpetuated highly offensive stereotypes. It’s not my place to forgive her, or to say what she did wasn’t all that bad. People have a right to be upset, and they don’t have to forgive her or want to support her going forward.

What I can say is that this produced a wide range of crappy responses. As always when you’re a creator without a diverse audience, there’s pushback. Many fans (and even people who aren’t fans) have chimed in about “cancel culture”. Some have said that she did nothing wrong and shouldn’t have to apologise, that it’s okay because her intentions weren’t bad, that she can move on without doing anything else because she apologised, etc. etc. There were even a few people celebrating her for saying something so offensive. Most online fandoms struggle to accept when the creators they love make mistakes. It continues to be deeply fucking frustrating.

If Enna wanted to give a half-assed apology and continue being ignorant, she probably could. Many creators have benefited from enabling fans and peers to tell them over and over again that they should never apologise for anything ever. Thankfully, that hasn’t been the case. Enna is lucky to have peers like Kyo who could pull her aside and explain why she fucked up. Moreover, she made a point to tell her audience directly not to defend her over this. I’m not gonna sit here and praise her for doing the bare minimum, but I’m glad she did it.

On the other side of the spectrum, we had a lot of outraged responses. Again, I don’t have the right to blame people for being upset over it. But having made the mistake of reading those quote tweets, I don’t think some of those people are approaching this in good faith. By the looks of things, a lot of angry responses weren’t from fans, let alone people who even knew who she was before this. It was largely teenagers with K-Pop profile pictures, looking to own and “ratio” a public figure who had appeared on their timeline saying something problematic. They weren’t looking for accountability, they were looking for punishment.

We’ve come to a strange place when people are spending hours of their day getting mad at semi-famous strangers for their transgressions. For many of them, I think it comes from the realisation (conscious or otherwise) that they may never be able to deliver consequences to the people actually responsible for the misery and destruction of our current moment. So they focus on smaller targets, and scolding individuals for their mistakes. Even if it makes them feel like garbage, they can at least get some kind of entertainment or catharsis out of fixating on these people.

For the last several years (and even more since the beginning of COVID) Twitter has been occupied by an endless cycle of characters of the day. A person who’s done something wrong who we can “dunk on” or scream at. These transgressions can range from innocent mistakes by regular people all the way up to people with real power causing direct harm to vulnerable people. But it doesn’t really matter where they fall on that spectrum, because at the end of the day they’ve done something wrong and therefore they’re The Bad People. It’s up to The Good People who only say The Correct Things to administer justice and faciliate employers and peers to deliver punishment.

The assumption that the target of their outrage is a bad person is crucial. An important ritual of this is the interrogation of apologies. There are… a lot of bad celebrity apologies out there. The apology video and the notes app apology in themselves have become a subject of endless parody. So when a public figure has to apologise for their actions, people are on the lookout for how they’re gonna mess it up and show that they only really care about their reputation.

I think it’s good that celebrities don’t get rewarded as often for bullshit apologies as they once were. On the flipside, I don’t think the hyper-vigilance around these apologies is helpful. I think it’s possible to give bad apologies with the best intentions, and it’s equally possible to know how to use the right words when you have the worst intentions. When you’re a person like Enna who struggles to articulate themselves, it’s easy to come off badly because you don’t know the correct words that show that you’re the right amount of sorry that you should be.

Moreover, it can often turn into a catch-22 where any action you take is evidence of insincerity or malice. People have been scorned because they apologised too quickly, because they didn’t apologise quickly enough, because they kept the offending material up, because they took the offending material down, because they said too much, because they didn’t say enough. Oftentimes if you want to believe that someone’s apology isn’t genuine, it’s easy to convince yourself of that.

A lot of people believed that she had malicious intent. But personally, I think it was such a weird awkward bit that it was more ignorance than malice. I don’t think Enna is stupid, but what she said certainly was. In recent years, we’ve become more aware of parasocial relationships and the risk of attaching our sense of selves and morality to public figures. That’s obviously a good thing. But I don’t believe that the only alternative is to treat all public figures like latent monsters who are desperate to deceive you. The world just isn’t that exciting.

We’re all capable of saying or doing problematic things. We can do our best to be empathetic and well-informed to lessen those chances. Even then, we have to be prepared for the possibility that we might make mistakes. For people who are hyper-vigilant about calling others out online, I always wonder how they would react if they were the problematic person. What would they do to make amends and be a better person going forward? These are difficult challenges. Challenges I don’t think many of them know how to respond to.

In the end, Enna is just one person with a fairly minimal level of influence. I don’t think her being punished further would have delivered any meaningful justice. That being said, I think Enna is fine. She may have a few hate followers stalking her in hopes she’ll screw up again, but many have just given up. Sad to say, but the information overload of the internet has made it difficult to keep our attention span on any one thing for long. Let alone a creator with a relatively niche audience.

I’ve seen some people argue that she shouldn’t have emphasised her ignorance to begin with. Which is a fair point. It’s easy to get wrapped up in talking about ourselves when addressing how we treat marginalised people. I feel that her apology on stream was much better. It was important for her to tell her audience that she wasn’t going to be coddled over this. As much as I’m critical of the outrage peddling, it’s not my place to deny the people affected by these words the right to be upset. They don’t have to forgive her, let alone praise or endorse her.

Personally, I’m trying to figure out the best way to respond. I don’t want to just be a defensive fan, and I hope I haven’t come off that way in this piece. None of us are immune to parasocial relationships, and I’m definitely at least a bit biased towards wanting to believe that she’s a good person. I’m putting my membership on hold for the time being, and may look at donating that money instead. I do trust that she’ll do her best to be accountable, but it’s up to her to actually do the work.

Going forward I hope that we can see more black VTubers in prominent places. I hope that black fans have more of a voice. I also want us to be better at holding ourselves accountable. We need more people like Kyo who are willing to pull their friends aside and tell them that what they said was wrong. Until then, we need to recognise that this problem runs a lot deeper than one person. If moments like these can bring us to treat vulnerable people better, I think that would be good. It may take a long time, but I still think it’s possible.

Did you like this? Is there something you want me to write about? You can find me on Twitter @BristleBris. TV shows, films, anime, western cartoons, whatever you want (within reason)! Prices start at $3 per 100 words. You can find more details here.

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