By Ivana Porashka
After receiving hateful messages in response to his work online, award-winning writer and entertainer Dylan Marron chose to lean into the hate instead of blocking it out. With his podcast “Conversations with People Who Hate Me,” Marron found himself having tough conversations with his most strident critics.
Marron chose to engage in dialogue across difference because, according to Marron, it is a lot harder to hate someone up close. The anonymity inherent on the internet creates a platform for tearing down complete strangers. The criticism he receives varies widely, from his political views and physical features to his sexuality and race.
“This stuff takes a toll, so I began calling some of the people behind these hateful comments and turned it into a podcast,” Marron said. “At its core, it is a social experiment.”
His previous projects include a video series titled “Every Single Word,” which cuts classic and contemporary films down to just the lines spoken by people of color in popular films, demonstrating how little screen time actors of color are given in cinema. Other projects are ‘Unboxing,’ ‘Sitting in Bathrooms with Trans People,’ and ‘Shutting Down Bulls**t,’ all of which are meant to humanize the opposing side of an issue and start a conversation.
“Sewanee is a hard place to talk about our differences and disagreements; it’s a really small place, people have their designated social groups, but everyone knows everyone else as well,” Cassie Meyers, the University’s Director of Dialogue Across Difference remarked. “A lot people say it’s easier to be polite, to keep it at a surface level, than to try to have a difficult conversation. Dylan and I spoke about the idea of embracing the awkward. The question is this: Why should we push ourselves when it seems a lot easier not to?”
Chris Hornsby (C’19) reflected on the event, noticing that “Dylan Marron pressed me to think seriously about how certain professed virtues look when embodied. When I put myself in his shoes and thought about what people said to him, I’m not sure I could practice empathy as well as I’d like to think. Dylan’s talk forced me to reconsider the ways I avoid certain conversations and how I might be limiting my own growth as a person in doing so.”
Lala Hilizah’s (C’21) main takeaway from the event was that “although each of us have fundamentally different perspectives on life and certain issues, it is important to come to a mutual understanding with one another and the way to do that is to get to know them. In addition, the Internet acts as a veil for others to act in ways that they wouldn’t in real life.”
During the event, Marron made it clear that he does not believe that empathy is endorsement. His projects are not intended to be prescriptions for activism either. “Dylan Marron has sparked my eagerness to learn from the ‘other’ side,’” Hilizah added.
“It is up to the listener to determine what they want to do and how they want to take it, I want to put out an example of what these conversation can sound like; people can pick and choose the lessons they take from it,” Marron concluded by welcoming open interpretations of his work.
If any students missed this event and are interested in seeing his work, Dylan Marron has a Youtube channel with video series projects and two TED Talks available online.