In 'Conversations With People Who Hate Me' An Activist Calls Up His Worst Critics

May 4, 2018
Originally published on May 4, 2018 7:44 pm

Dylan Marron has a lot of haters. The actor and activist makes online videos about social justice — and the comments that appear on those videos can be harsh, to say the least.

Plenty of people would just ignore all that negativity, but not Marron. He decided to reach out to his harshest critics to ask about what set them off, and why. The first season of his podcast, Conversations with People Who Hate Me, featured Skype calls between Marron and his detractors.

In the second season, he moderates conversations between "trolls" and the people they've trolled — though as he explains below, using the word "troll" isn't a great way to start a dialogue.


Interview Highlights

On why he stopped using the word "troll"

I definitely used to use the word troll. I don't like it anymore, because ... that is starting the conversation at a deficit, you know what I mean? I want to make sure we are in as safe a place as possible — and I know that's a very zeitgeisty term right now. I also want to make a safe space for the person who wrote me or my guest something negative.

On how he reaches out to people who are angry with him

The simple line I give is: Do you want to move this online conversation offline? I think there's something about a phone [call] that is a happy medium. It's not in person so we're still apart, but it's that real time conversation, you hear someone's voice. You hear their "ums" and "uhs," you hear their hesitation — and that goes for all of us on the call, including me. And there's something so humanizing about that and disarming. Almost invariably my guests will say: Listen, I shouldn't have said that. I might agree with the core thing that was driving me to say that, but I was a little too intense about it.

On the conversations being framed from the vantage point of progressives being attacked by conservatives

I am not pretending to be some sort of bipartisan moderator ... of course I have a stake in this. I clearly agree more with one side, but that doesn't mean I can't foster a space for meaningful, nuanced, dialogue.

On whether these dialogues are exhausting

It's actually not. I love the calls. I love the calls so much. The calls make me feel like maybe the world is good after all. Because someone who thinks very differently from me, someone with whom I shared a very negative introduction, they are willing to talk. There are at least a handful of people who I've come across who are willing to own up to things they've written online and it gives me hope.

Melissa Gray and Jolie Myers produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Beth Novey adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Dylan Marron makes videos about social justice issues. And his videos get shared. They get comments. And he reads those comments. Some are supportive. But this being the Internet, others are pretty harsh with offensive language.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DYLAN MARRON: You are a piece of [expletive]. You're so dumb. You regularly say things that 100 percent makes the situation worse, and you do it to signal how virtuous you are.

CORNISH: So many of us would just ignore a message like that, right? Not Marron. He got an idea for a podcast. He invites his detractors to actually talk with him about what sets them off and why.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "CONVERSATIONS WITH PEOPLE WHO HATE ME")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Oh, like I said to you before, I had a couple cocktails in me. But look; let me tell you. I stand by most of what I said. I do stand by most of what I said not about you personally, but about social justice warriors.

CORNISH: Dylan Marron's podcast is now in its second season. And the title is "Conversations With People Who Hate Me." Note that's people, not trolls.

MARRON: I definitely used to use the word troll. I don't like it anymore because I also think that is starting the conversation at a deficit. You know what I mean? It's like I want to make sure we are in as safe a space as possible. And I know that's a very zeitgeisty term right now. But I want to also make a safe space for the person who wrote me or my guest something negative.

CORNISH: What is the pitch? I mean, I guess I can kind of understand someone agreeing to meet with a person who's been their Internet hater. But when you call up the person who's been the critic, what is that phone call like?

MARRON: The simple line I give is, do you want to move this online conversation offline? I think there's something about a phone that is a happy medium. It's not in person, so we're still apart. But it's that real time conversation. You hear someone's voice. You hear their um's (ph) and uh's (ph). You hear their hesitation. And that goes for all of us on the call, including me. And there's something so humanizing about that and disarming. Almost invariably my guests will say, listen; I shouldn't have said that. I might agree with the core thing that was driving me to say that, but I was a little too intense about it.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "CONVERSATIONS WITH PEOPLE WHO HATE ME")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: I'm not a very open-minded person. I'm the kind of person that sees someone who is different than me, and I immediately kind of feel uncomfortable.

CORNISH: The first season was all about your haters basically (laughter), your people/haters. This season you're pairing people who've received negative comments with the person who wrote the negative comment. And I want to talk about an episode called "Burned At The Stake." And in this episode, this writer named Jaya has done some, you know, critique of "The Office," the old NBC comedy.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "CONVERSATIONS WITH PEOPLE WHO HATE ME")

JAYA: I can't watch "The Office" as not a woman. I can't watch "The Office" as not a person of Indian heritage. When I watch Michael Scott, you know, make racist remarks to Kelly, I can't not be...

CORNISH: She's essentially saying, hey, there are some things in here that I find somewhat offensive. I don't know if the show really holds up today. And (laughter) her critic Tom took offense and essentially commented that anyone who felt that way should be burned at the stake.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "CONVERSATIONS WITH PEOPLE WHO HATE ME")

TOM: And I kind of personally blew your article off as, you know, like, come on. You know, I think you said - correct me if I'm wrong, please - that it, like, kind of more or less doesn't really belong on TV in our generation.

JAYA: Well, I think more...

CORNISH: I have noticed - and I haven't listened to all the episodes, but almost all the episodes I've listened to were from the point of a progressive person who is addressing or dealing with a comment from a person who is kind of politically opposed to their ideas. And having covered elections, there are lots (laughter) of progressives and left-leaning people who leave nasty comments.

MARRON: Oh, yeah.

CORNISH: Does it undermine the idea of open-mindedness if essentially the conversations are you and another progressive person telling a conservative person they may be wrong about something or that they need to open their eyes in some way?

MARRON: I am not pretending to be some sort of bipartisan moderator in the sense that of course I have a stake in this, right? I clearly agree more with one side. But that still doesn't mean I can't foster a space for meaningful, nuanced dialogue.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "CONVERSATIONS WITH PEOPLE WHO HATE ME")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: So feminism is just the equality between the genders to me.

MARRON: Andrew (ph), how would you define feminism?

ANDREW: Pretty much as far opposite as you can get. I'd define it as an anti-white, anti-male supremacy movement.

CORNISH: Sometimes when I listened to the episodes, I was like, I cannot. This is too stressful. This is too cringey. This is too awkward.

MARRON: Yeah.

CORNISH: How do you manage? I mean, do you - like, this sounds exhausting.

MARRON: You know, it's actually not. I love the calls. I love the calls so much. The calls make me feel like maybe the world is good after all because someone who thinks very differently from me, someone with whom I shared a very negative introduction, they are willing to talk. There are at least a handful of people who I've come across who are willing to own up to things they've written online. And it gives me hope.

CORNISH: Dylan Marron - he's the creator of the podcast "Conversations With People Who Hate Me." Thank you for speaking with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

MARRON: Thank you so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THESE DARK TIMES")

CAGED ANIMALS: (Singing) Ooh, we're erasing... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.