I’m not really into comedy routines or watching comedians but I saw so many tweets about Nanette that I sat down on a quiet Sunday night and turned it on. Nanette, a special feature by Australian comic Hannah Gadsby, was recently released on Netflix Australia and I recommend the you all go and watch it. I would usually save my recommendations of a movie or TV show for a simple tweet but this show is something special and I want to tell you why.
Hannah announced her retirement from comedy in 2017, which is explained in the show, but not before touring this masterpiece for the stage. I am not going to refer to this as a comedy act or routine because it is far more than that. Are there jokes? Yes. Are there funny stories? Yes. Is there laughter? Yes. But there is also anger, tears and a big bloody call to action for all of us.
The Netflix description of this show is deliberately vague:
“Australian comic Hannah Gadsby reshapes standard stand-up by pairing punchlines with personal revelations on gender, sexuality and childhood turmoil.”
In reality, Hannah holds a mirror up to all of our faces and shows us just how screwed up our world is. She weaves her own stories of victimisation and violence throughout her show and highlights how her own brand of comedy diminishes and contributes to the misunderstanding of her truth. Hannah is a woman and a lesbian and her experiences as a minority in Australia has had some truly horrendous moments. I am not going to explain the whole show, you need to go and watch it and experience the power that this phenomenal woman has and feel her anger and pain for yourself. This show had me silenced and in tears but it also made me angry. Angry at how terrible our world can be, angry at how terrible people can be and angry at feeling powerless to make any meaningful change.
As a librarian, I often hear that libraries are safe and neutral spaces for communities and everyone is welcome. But is this really true? Is everyone really welcome? Does everyone feel safe in our spaces? As librarians we like to put ourselves on a pedestal and think we are the truth seekers and truth tellers of our communities. That we are the guardians of knowledge, the identifiers of fake news and the fighters against banned books. But are we defenders of minorities? Do we fight for equal representation? Do we embrace uncomfortable situations because we know they are right?
Think about your workplace. Is there diversity in your staff, your patrons, your program presenters, your guest authors, your collection, your book displays, your marketing material, your physical and virtual spaces? Are you actually a representation of your community?
How do minorities experience your library? Do you have collections for them? Do you have programs for them? Do they have positive interactions with staff and other patrons? Do they feel safe in your library?
What would you do if you witnessed a racist or homophobic interaction between patrons or staff in your library? Does your library have a policy on this? Do you have a personal expectation?
I have proposed a lot of questions and I bet they make you feel uncomfortable. Maybe they are bringing up memories of something you have seen or experienced yourself, an interaction you have had at your workplace or a past conversation. What did you do then? What would you do now?
Hannah Gadsby has challenged me to do better. I do not want to live in a world where people are abused for being themselves and where people watch on and do nothing. I will no longer accept, “I don’t think our community is ready for that”. I will speak up. I will acknowledge. I will fight. I will face uncomfortable conversations. I will question. I will push. It is everyone’s job to speak up. That includes me. That includes you. Don’t be that person who sees something but says nothing. I won’t be.