Social Media in the Age of Outrage and Public Shaming

Remember discussions? I think they were a thing once. A fad, like slap bracelets.  The idea, the definition, the hypothesis of a thing called a discussion exists in my brain like a ghost. A phantom memory maybe. Implanted by Obama and his Obamacare no doubt. Discourse. Ha! Who needs it? Get out your pitchforks, the mob is on the scene!

We are in an age, as South Park put it in its season premiere three weeks ago, of the return of PC. With the popularity of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and a myriad of other social media platforms, everyone is able to make their voices heard.  And that, inherently, is not a bad thing and can be used for good.  Take for example, the case of ego maniac greed monster Martin Shkreli who raised the cost per pill of a lifesaving AIDS drug from $13.50 to $750 overnight.  The internet came together to give Mr. Shkreli a piece of their collective mind and now, the cost will come back down.*  Instances like this, the way that technology has given the “little people” the ability to stand up to those in power and actually be heard, is fantastic.

But, there is a bit of  an ugly side to this which is that witch hunty (technical term), word police, no one is allowed to ever make a mistake again, side.  I have, at times, been called an easily offended person.  That’s actually patently untrue. I’m a passionate person and a strong believer in many social causes. I wear my heart on my sleeve, but I’m not easily offended. If you want to see easily offended check Twitter or the dark, shadowy place that is the comment section of Instagram posts.  Self-righteous outrage and public shaming abounds my friends.  We live in a time where whole books have been written about this phenomenon. (Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed) It’s like we’re a society of Heath Ledger’s Jokers, trolling social media for someone to attack, just wanting to watch their life burn.  It happens to celebrities quite a bit with their millions of followers dissecting every word they say but it also happens to non celebrities alike, people who Tweet racist jokes about not getting AIDS in Africa because they’re white or show up to work on Halloween dressed as a Boston Marathon bombing victim.

Incredibly stupid and offensive, yes. But, should 140 characters define a person's entire life? I don't know.

Incredibly stupid and offensive, yes. But, should 140 characters define a person’s entire life? I don’t know.

Let me stop here and say this before we go any further. I’m not defending people who make racist comments or think it’s ok to dress up like the victim of a tragedy.  I don’t think that people should do these things. But, I do think that one comment or incident is no way to judge the whole of a person.  I also think that people can be educated.  People can change.  People can do better. I don’t think that these people should lose their livelihoods or have to walk around with a scarlet letter of some kind forever marking them.  What if we talked about these things instead of flying off the handle?  What if we tried to figure out if this was a habitual thing or simply a misstep, a single moment of sheer stupidity?  Take for instance, this Brazilian woman who was recently publicly attacked on social media for a racist statement she made decades earlier when she was a teen. She came across the video filled with equally hateful comments directed at her and responded that she had grown up and thankfully no longer thought that way. She wrote that she couldn’t even be totally ashamed of the video because it was proof that people can change and be better.

Admittedly it can be hard to find the line when it comes to Tweets, jokes and the like.  What’s an edgy joke and what is just racism, sexism, or homophobia wrapped up and presented as an empty piece of comedy. Nicole Arbour, for example, YouTube comedian who recently found herself the center of controversy for her video Dear Fat People.  She’s claimed that her videos are satirical and it’s comedy so people shouldn’t be so sensitive about it.  The problem is, if it’s satire, she’s not doing a very good job of writing sharp and witty jokes that make a point. She’s really just making fun of fat people. It’s lazy writing.  And yet, comedians and normal people alike should not be stripped of everything for making a bad joke. Everyone deserves the chance to learn and grow. By all means, say something when you feel a joke crosses a line or has nothing behind it except empty provocation. But can we put a moratorium on demanding a pound or more of flesh?

We have weird standards where people can drive drunk, be arrested for domestic abuse, commit all kinds of actual criminal acts, and get a second chance from the public at large, while others who say something offensive, in poor taste, generally stupid, etc, can potentially lose EVERYTHING they ever worked for.  It seems rather backwards. Everyone can really only speak from their own experience and perspective. If you have a a relative who died of cancer and a comedian makes a cancer joke you may not find that funny. Or maybe, you would. Maybe it would give you a sense of catharsis.  Not to sound all hippy dippy but, we really need to first look within ourselves and think about why words have triggered us. There is no such thing as a joke that will make EVERYONE laugh or leave everyone un-offended. The intent, however, unless that comedian is just a shitty person, is not to make you feel bad, it’s to make you laugh.  Comedians only want us to laugh at the things that potentially hurt us the most.  Laughter takes away something’s power over us.

An instance where offence and outrage DIDN'T lead to someone losing their job. Whether you find the joke offensive or not, Colbert was trying to make a larger satirical point about racial sensitivity.

An instance where offence and outrage DIDN’T lead to someone losing their job. Whether you find the joke offensive or not, Colbert was trying to make a larger satirical point about racial sensitivity.

These types of things don’t apply just to jokes and comedians either. Most of the time, I truly believe, that unless someone is saying something directly racist, homophobic, sexist, or generally awful, their intention is not to hurt anyone. Maybe they’re being insensitive or trying to be provocotive but really, at their core, they’re not looking to attack anyone.  If you just talk to someone calmly (crazy, I know) and see where they’re coming from and what their thought process is you could actually alert them to something they were unaware or ignorant of. If we discussed these potentially offensive things instead of looking to burn someone at the stake we might actually all become better, more enlightened people.


Some Quick Thoughts About Life

I’m going to have a real honest to goodness post for you later today. But for now I just wanted to say something quick.

I have had a hell of a 2015 so far: some really great highs and some really terrible lows. I won’t go into details because really, does it matter? At any given moment we are all dealing with something unpleasant, frustrating, or unfortunately, sometimes something truly awful. We all have struggles. It’s not competition and as world shattering as things can seem at times, really, our troubles, worries, or struggles are no more or less important than anyone else’s. 

It can be comforting sometimes to remember that whatever you are dealing with at any particular time, you exist somewhere on a spectrum of struggle and there is always someone dealing with something way worse than you are. I say this not to invalidate your pain or pile on someone else’s but because when things feel like they are spiraling out of control, perspective can keep your feet on the ground and your head from exploding.

I truly believe that how we deal with adversity and the way that we find some strength or will to carry on putting one foot in front of the other, offering our support to others in their struggles even as we shoulder our own burdens, is the true measure of personal character.

I just want to say that guys, life is so damn short. Please be kind to one another. Life can be hard enough without adding more ugliness to it tearing each other down. I just want everyone to be happy. I just want us all to succeed. More empathy. Less selfishness. Just be cool guys and we can all get through this journey together.

Help! I’ve Avalanched Myself!

You know that saying about being your own worst enemy?  I’d like to submit a new version of that called avalanching yourself.  Why haven’t I been blogging in, I don’t know, forever?!  I got myself stuck in an avalanche and unfortunately they haven’t found a way to shrink those adorable St. Bernards with booze barrels and teleport them into brains yet.  I hear they’re close.

C'mon now.

C’mon now.

A little background. I have always been a person of many varied interests.  I majored in political science in college while minoring in theater arts. I almost double majored.  I like science and algebra, words, visual mediums, sports, you name it.  I’m organized and emotional. If you were to dive into my brain you would find lists on lists on lists of the things I want to see, do, and accomplish.  Imagine, if you will then, all of these things piling up in my brain forming a vast library of shit. to. get. done.  And then like magic some free time presents itself and I think… ok brain, here we go, it’s our time to shine…what shall we do?!

Disaster. I think about all the movies I want to see.  All the places I want to go. All the mindless chores and tasks I want to get done. All the books to read and all the blogs I want to write. And boom, I get completely overwhelmed and end up watching Friends on Netflix.  I’ve watched so much Friends at this point that I have taken all the obscure quizzes on Buzzfeed and aced them all.  One was just pictures of Ross and Rachel and based on the screen grab you had to guess why Rachel was mad at Ross. I got a perfect score. It’s bad guys.

It’s an extremely first world problem to be overwhelmed by your free time.  I am well aware, believe me.  But I think, that it may be a fairly common one.  Most people spend 8 hours a day, 5 days a week or more, doing something that doesn’t necessarily fulfill them or make them happy per say.  We all have to bring home the bacon one way or another.  On top of that we have certain social obligations – weddings, birthdays, I haven’t seen this person in forever and I can’t say no’s.  These are things that while fun, can often feel more like work when they begin to pile up and you see your free time virtually disappear.  And so, when that elusive you time does pop up it’s a free for all running through the card catalog of your brain in hopes of landing on that ONE thing you want to do.  It’s often way easier after work and social obligations to veg out with something predictable and comforting which for me, is chocolate chip cookies and Chandler’s snarky comments.

I literally never stop laughing at this. Ever.

I literally never stop laughing at this. Ever.

In high school I was a pretty typical overachiever I suppose and I look back at it now and cannot wrap my head around how I did it all – homework, theater, sports, clubs, hanging out in diners and friends’ basements til the sun came up listening to records and talking about our angst.  It was a grueling schedule and now, I work for 8 hours and come home and do nothing. It seems simple to say JUST PICK SOMETHING AND COMMIT.  At least it’s something! And hey, person yelling at their computer screen, you are absolutely right.   And while I’m terrible at that currently, this blog is a nice step. As a matter of fact, I actually watched The Aviator last night instead of mindlessly flipping through Netflix for 15 minutes before putting on, you guessed it, Friends.


You know what they say, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and make a decision once in a while you could gain a lot of weight sitting around yelling Chandler quotes at Netflix like a sad midnight showing of Rocky Horror for one person covered in cookie crumbs…”  That’s right, right?

Do you avalanche yourself? How do you get yourself unstuck?