Gadsby, Gadfly

The backlash aimed at Hannah Gadsby’s Brooklyn Museum exhibit is proof that Gadsby makes people uncomfortable. But why?

Jude Ellison S. Doyle
11 min readJun 6

People looking at Picasso. Looking… plotting… planning their attack!!!
Just some people looking at Picasso. What could go wrong? Photo by Johnell Pannell on Unsplash

I wasn’t going to weigh in on the Hannah Gadsby backlash. I suspect a lot of people won’t like what I have to say; I suspect a lot of people won’t even hear what I have to say, and that they will look right past my argument toward the other, simpler, worse arguments they need me to be making. Under those circumstances, it’s usually safest to say nothing.

The controversy goes as follows: Gadsby, whose stand-up special Nanette criticized the misogyny of Pablo Picasso, has guest-curated an exhibit on the legacy of Pablo Picasso for the Brooklyn Museum. A lot of people on Twitter are angry at Gadsby for receiving funding from the Sacklers, a family of big pharma billionaires who played a major role in the opioid crisis. A lot of people are angry that Hannah Gadsby dared to call Pablo Picasso a misogynist. A lot of people who claim to be angry about the first thing are actually angry about the second one.

Like I say, it’s unlikely that I’ll fix anything by speaking up. I’m still doing it, and here’s why: Scrolling through social media, I saw a post by a friend (a smart person, a good person; a person who has no reserve of misogyny or transphobia motivating his reactions, as far as I can tell) LOLing at some highlighted text from the Gadsby exhibit. The text my friend was dunking on read, simply, “Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art.”

By the way my friend was responding, it was clear that he’d formulated an entire response to this controversy without knowing what the Sackler Center was. I realized, furthermore, that most people weighing in on the exhibit probably didn’t know what the Sackler Center was, and that I’d managed to go through an entire news cycle about “Hannah Gadsby taking Sackler money” — an arrangement that was heavily implied to be unique to Hannah Gadsby — without the words “Sackler Center” ever coming up.

Jude Ellison S. Doyle

Author of “Trainwreck” (Melville House, ‘16) and “Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers” (Melville House, ‘19). Columns published far and wide across the Internet.

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