A New Shania Twain Interview Raises Questions About Nuance Online
Twain told The Guardian about both her experience of childhood sexual abuse and her views on Trump – though only one of those topics made the headlines.
Image by Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott via PR
For a while, we've seen a talking point surface online. In its own meta way, it's been a conversation bubbling up on the internet about just how little space for nuance that very internet allows. It's pretty universally accepted that text-based forms of communication (especially ones with character counts) often make it hard to acknowledge grey areas that are much easier to discuss person-to-person. And so the internet can frequently be a place of absolutes: Someone is either trash or an icon; an event is either abhorrent or a rightful celebration. Very little is left in the space in between. Over the weekend, this was exemplified quite well by a new interview.
In a new conversation with the Guardian, Shania Twain spoke for what appears to be the first time about her experiences of sexual abuse as a child. She previously recounted the physical abuse she suffered in childhood, in her 2011 memoir From This Moment On, but in this particular interview spoke briefly about the sexual aspect of that abuse, noting "I'm not going to go into details about it. I don't mind saying it, because I do think it’s important that people understand you can survive these things."
During the same interview, Twain also discussed the American president Donald Trump. When asked who she – a Canadian – would have voted for in the US election, she said:
I would have voted for [Trump] because, even though he was offensive, he seemed honest. Do you want straight or polite? Not that you shouldn’t be able to have both. If I were voting, I just don’t want bullshit. I would have voted for a feeling that it was transparent. And politics has a reputation of not being that, right?
These things are talking points for different reasons: in the light of #MeToo, Twain's decision to publicly share her experience as a survivor of abuse experienced at the hands of her stepfather was brave. Her apparent endorsement of Trump, meanwhile, was very disappointing for those fans of her music who also identify as members of the minority groups that the Trump administration has systematically victimised. Twain has since apologised, and clarified her comments about Trump in a number of tweets:
Of the two main points that Twain's interview raised, it was her political comments, rather than her admission of abuse, that got the internet talking. In some ways, this makes sense: politics suggest a specific worldview and therefore indicate how we relate to and think of other people, while personal experiences are just that: personal. In a climate that works against minority groups, it's no wonder fans are upset when people they admire appear to agree with views that keep them at a disadvantage.
However, it's also true that in highlighting her comments about Trump, we ignore lots of other information that the interview gives us about Twain as a person. Thus the reaction to those words is a pretty cut-and-dry example of the way in which the internet – rightly or wrongly – can lack nuance: while most of us would agree that we can disagree with her political ideas, as well as also feeling great empathy for her experiences of childhood abuse, the internet response hasn't really reflected that.
And though it's obviously good news that the response to the interview pushed Twain to reconsider her comments – any endorsement of Trump feels totally indefensible at this point – it's also a shame that this has meant that her discussion of abuse, which is also valuable, has gone mostly unmentioned. It would be interesting to have seen how those two things could have sat together, albeit uncomfortably, in public discourse. People, by nature, are complicated, and this situation exemplifies that if we are going to continue to use the internet as a major mode of communication, then it might be time to consider how we can make it a more nuanced place.
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This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.