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don't like and don't share

Once upon a time a photo appeared on my Facebook news feed.  The photo showed a young woman, a girl really, probably not out of her teens, standing on a street corner eating something out of a bag. She was very fat, black, and dressed in too-tight, unfashionable clothes.  (No, I'm not going to link it.)  The caption under the photo invited viewers to make a one word comment and then share the photo.  By the time it hit my feed there were hundreds of comments:  "Horrible."  "Fat".  "Ugly."  "Disgusting."  "Shameful."  "Pig."

Now, I am pretty picky about who I invite onto my friends list.  It is short and doesn't contain anyone I don't know personally and consider something more than an acquaintance.  A substantial number of people are friends I've known for decades, family members, and schoolmates.  Most of them share my general life philosophy and if they don't, well, we are good enough friends to look past that.  So I was more than a little dismayed when I realized that one of my friends had not only made a one-word comment but then shared that photo out and invited others to do the same.  Over the course of the next few weeks it showed up again and again, each time shared by someone else I know and each time with another cruel one-word comment.  Eventually the comment section expanded to include racial slurs and sexist commentary, along with the occasional attempt to defend the young woman and chastise the posters.  These latter comments were usually met with something along the lines of "you sound fat."  Because, you know, that explains everything.

I started wondering just how long it would be before the young woman in the photo, who literally was doing nothing more offensive than eating her lunch in public, saw that photo of herself and all the comments.  I wondered what it would do to her.   And I wondered about these friends of mine who felt entitled to make nasty comments about this stranger they know absolutely nothing about.   And it's not just fat girls.  It's beauty pageant contestants, atheists, goths, Tea Party members, trailer park denizens, liberals, religious conservatives, gay people, Wal*Mart shoppers. Many of these people constantly share their outrage over every other kind of cruelty; god forbid someone punch a dog, abuse a kitten, or shoot an elephant (all horrible things).  They are vocally opposed to oppression of the poor, the hegemony of fast food, corporate welfare, and bullying (oh the irony), but they have no problem with calling a young woman a pig on the internet.

Not terribly long after that someone else I know shared one of those "instant meme generator" things that have become so popular, the ones where you supply a picture and add a funny caption and a new meme is hopefully born.  The humor in this one depended on making fun of a famous woman's somewhat mannish appearance.  I see that a lot these days. Another young woman is made fun of for cosplaying as Lara Croft and having the temerity not to look like a videogame image.  An entire website exists to humiliate the customers of a certain big box store.  Bloggers waste pixels snarking about actresses' haircuts. There are tumblrs devoted to mocking unattractive people who sign up for online dating sites.  Kids bully each other on social networks and occasionally the victims kill themselves over it.  Reasonably well respected media sites collect images of overweight politicians. A group on twitter runs a "fat shaming week", not to highlight the issue, but to encourage the practice. And more often than I would like this stuff is shared to my wall by friends and family who apparently think it is funny. I don't know.  I do know that pointing out that making fun of people is kindergarden behavior got me me blocked from at least two FB accounts (/shrug).  Apparently I have no "sense of humor" and need to "lighten up".  But do you ever notice how George Takei and The Frogman and Allie Brosh manage to be hella funny without making fun of anyone, without shaming anyone, without being cruel?  It is possible.  A mean spirit is not a prerequisite for edgy satire or cynical bon mots.

I know I sound like a judgmental prig but really people, why?  What do you get from this?  How do you find humor in such cruelty?  Obesity is indeed a serious health concern but fat-shaming strangers on the internet isn't going to do anything about that.  How would you feel if an unflattering picture of you were pasted all over hell and back along with an invitation to humiliate you publicly?   This isn't about satire or having a sense of humor.  This about throwing stones none of us has any business throwing.  I'm far from perfect, I've been known to get a good snark on now and then, and I've certainly done and said things I wish I could take back.  But it has been a very long time since I gained any personal satisfaction or giggles from making fun of someone for the way they look.  You are behaving exactly like the people you despise. Help me to understand this because I really don't and I am beginning to lose respect for you and and it is making me increasingly unhappy.

I know, I know.  I sound fat.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Dec. 12th, 2013 08:52 pm (UTC)
Well said. There has always been cruelty in the world. It's magnified and amplified at the touch of a button or swipe of finger. Social media is becoming increasingly hostile and unforgiving. Couple that with a sharp decline in critical thinking skills and a prevalence of "reality" shows and it becomes a perfect storm for anonymous self hate projected onto others. There's still a lot of good in the world. Good people like you.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )