a) I'm wrong to think that systemic oppression can go both ways?
b) I'm hurting too many people's feelings?
c) I'm afraid someone is going to start a witch hunt against me in an attempt to ruin me?
I've always been outspoken against the ultra-PC, and in the age of the Internet where any dipshit can write 40 paragraphs of yelling and consider themselves worth listening to (myself included), it's easy as pie for anyone to get their opinions out to the masses. It's a double edged sword, this Internet thing. It gives a voice to the powerless, and we're no longer only exposed to the ideas and agendas of mainstream media. On the other hand, it gives a voice to idiots (myself included). We've reached an age where if you offend somebody, there are multiple ways for them to attack you using Internet, whether or not you deserve it.
The Twitter dog-pile
The offended party tweets about something you said or did, and if their version of events is egregious enough, the outraged multitudes on Twitter will retweet or comment until it the catches the eye of a semi-popular blogger, who will retweet or write 2 paragraphs and include 5 embedded tweets from angry supporters, and then people will start sharing the blog post on various social media outlets and the "story" picks up steam to the point where a major blog like Huffington Post will write a story called "Jane said blerp to Joe and Joe's supporters are calling for Jane's retirement and a written apology" and then all of a sudden major blogs are picking up the story, digging around Jane's social media profile which, up until today was public because Jane had nothing to hide, and they pull up literally anything they can find that looks like it might even slightly paint Jane in a bad light, and now you've got major pieces on Gawker and Buzzfeed and CNN.com and hey look CNN is also a 24 hour TV news network and they need content because it's a slow news day and by 11pm there's a split screen interview on national television between an attractive news anchor and Joe, a graphic before the commercial break showing several tweets from outraged supporters, and then a special guest who is an expert on whatever the heck reason Joe is being oppressed in the first place, and at the end of the day, Jane is ruined.
News outlets of all forms need to run with any story that has a hint of controversy in order to stay competitive, and combine this with the ease with which someone can voice their "outrage" with the click of a button and then walk away, and you have a dangerous situation where outrage is perceived to be a lot bigger than it is, because usually all these news stories need is a small handful of examples of said outrage. Five tweets, two angry blog posts and boom, outrage.
If you've ever even considered calling someone out on Twitter or other social media, do us all a favour and watch this amazing Ted video called When Online Shaming Spirals Out of Control. It talks about how one woman's offhand, off-colour joke went viral and destroyed her, to the point of rape threats and AIDS wishes. The speaker's summary gave me chills:
"The great thing about social media was how it gave a voice to voiceless people. But we're now creating a surveillance society where the smartest way to survive is to go back to being voiceless"*edit*
Here's another great article that just came out, that perfectly reflects my feelings on the whole Cecil the Lion thing:
From Gamergate to Cecil the lion: internet mob justice is out of control
Online petitions don't make a damn difference and you know it
Online petitions: you have a shit ton of space to air your grievances and you can make some demands and you can see instant results, but it's less dramatic because it's not directly linked to social media, it can take a lot longer to pick up steam.
A great example of this is a petition against the band Black Pussy. Several people are outraged at the racist and sexist connotations the band's name can have if interpreted a certain way, and one person was outraged enough that they drew up a blanket petition addressed to any music venues hosting Black Pussy on their US/Canada tour. One day the petition showed up in my Facebook newsfeed, in a story by CBC. I recognized the band's name, as I knew they'd played Ottawa a week or two beforehand. A bunch of people talked about it from both sides of the debate, and then some of the PC crowd caught on to the fact that a local venue had hosted the band not too long beforehand, and after a lot of back and forths it became an official shitstorm with the bar doing everything it could to appease the PC crowd and make sure that everyone feels welcome and safe in their establishment, and the extra offended saying "that's not good enough, we want a straight up apology otherwise the rest of this is meaningless." Now the bar has to walk on eggshells for fear of getting called out on booking any band that could be remotely offensive, mine included (more on that later).
I'm mad right now. Tomorrow? Who knows
The problem is that this outrage is a heat of the moment knee-jerk reaction. Any conflict between two people goes through stages: the part where emotions run high and you're super pissed and you shouldn't say anything, and then the part where you cool your jets and are thinking rationally and maybe the two of you can actually resolve the problem. This applies to people's opinions on the issues as well. A great example is the death penalty. I've always been unsure about how I feel about it. For the most part, I'm against it for a bunch of great reasons, but mainly the rate of wrongful convictions is just too unsettling. Still, whenever a particularly bad case of human indecency comes along, my first thought is "Burn that fucker." Eventually I calm down and remember my logical, non-emotional reasons for opposing the death penalty.
Internet outrage is made up from people who read a story, say to themselves "Oh HELL no", and share the story while caught up in a shitstorm of anger and emotion, but a day or two later and most of them honestly couldn't give a hoot anymore. It's no longer an issue for them, they said their piece and moved on. The problem is that THAT PIECE IS STILL OUT THERE BECAUSE INTERNET. So all those posts calling for so-and-so's resignation or such-and-such's prosecution stay up and continue to add to a perceived level of outrage that comes nowhere near reflecting the actual level of outrage from people who are willing to book time off work and go down to their local whatever and protest/educate/etc.
This business about the bar booking Black Pussy: I guarantee you that 90% of the people who spoke out against the bar would go back if their favourite band was playing, even if the bar had ignored all the criticism, because of all the reasons I just outlined. Their outrage was fleeting, and gives the bar a false impression that a large part of their customer base is pissed off and must be appeased.
Me me me me me
Ok, we've gotten to the part where I make this all about me. That little quiz I posted at the top: I'm sure that if you know me, you already know the answer. I've decided to pull back on my anti-PC rhetoric because I'm afraid someone is going to start a witch hunt against me in an attempt to ruin me. Really, it's already begun. I recently got caught up in an online debate about the local burlesque scene. I won't get into the specifics, but suffice it to say I was standing up against what I perceived to be overly militant PC efforts. The debate included local performers, and it was a public post on Facebook.
I lost a DJ gig at an upcoming burlesque show over this debate. Some performers didn't like my attitude and complained to the promoter about not wanting to work with me, and the promoter had to regretfully let me go. I don't blame the promoter, they had to keep their performers happy. Still, the people that complained know me very well, as I'm deeply ingrained in the local burlesque scene due to my wife being the local fairy godmother of burlesque. These people know that I can be outspoken but that I'm harmless, that I can be an asshole but that I'm not even close to bigoted. They know that I respect people of all size, orientation, gender and colour. But at least one of them decided that "enough is enough, I'm sick of this guy's attitude so I'm going to take his work away from him." I don't care about the money from losing a gig, I care about the principle of the matter. I was fired because someone disagrees with me. I wronged no one, attacked no one, but was fired because of my anti-PC beliefs.
Then the next day, a very interesting/scary thing happened, completely unrelated. I was having what I thought to be a pretty smart conversation on Facebook with an acquaintance about the confederate flag, and we were musing on some of the reasons why the flag might be perceived as "not a big deal" by Canadians. I put out a thought about how this could even apply to a large number of black Canadians who are so historically removed from The South that to them it's just another symbol of ignorant rednecks, and then a black Canadian chimed in and basically shit all over everything I was trying to say. He was LIVID and I didn't understand why because I thought I was making a good point. He refused to acknowledge anything I had to say and just wanted me to apologize for my comment. I was dumbfounded and I walked away because I could see we were getting nowhere.
Later that day I mentioned it to my sister and she said "Oh YOU'RE the reason he was so mad today." She showed me a very angry post on his Facebook wall about the argument, and then it hit me: he completely misunderstood my point. He thought I was saying that Canadian blacks SHOULDN'T be offended by the Confederate flag because they're not probably not directly descended from slaves. That is so completely removed from what I was saying. Because he was so angry and wouldn't clarify why he was pissed, I had no way to explain what I actually meant. It was nice to finally understand why he was so pissed.
But here's the kicker/scary part: that Facebook post on his wall has 100 comments on it (I didn't read them) of people presumably siding with their friend and thinking that I'm a bigoted douchebag. And rightfully so. Presented in this context, how could they think otherwise? I shudder to think about what would have happened if this person had decided to call me out by name. I think I'm lucky that my Facebook profile has my real name and not my stage name. I'm semi-prominent in the local music scene, but for the most part these people only know my stage name.
I started thinking about what could have happened if this guy had decided to call me out. The outrage over my comments, the hundreds of people taking his side of the story, making up their minds about me and then glossing over whatever explanations I tried to put forward to explain that I'm the farthest thing from a bigot. People demanding an apology. People demanding that bars that purport to be "safe" stop booking my band because of my supposedly racist views. It didn't seem like much of a stretch, considering that I'd already lost a DJ gig for my views.
Ok, we're almost done
So now that I've put myself out there as "outspoken, anti-PC guy", I fear that I'm under scrutiny and that every word I say is being watched by the PC police so that they can bring me down. Paranoid thinking? Probably. Delusions of grandeur? Likely. Am I going to risk it? I don't know. I started writing this post almost a month ago, and since then things have died down because a lion was poached by an asshole and he seems to be everyone's latest outrage project. I'll let him take the heat.
I've got plenty of supporters that love my calling out of bullshit overly PC attitudes. Not coincidentally, my true "friends" on social media are also the ones that support me, the rest are merely acquaintances and I'm sure we're slowly losing patience with each other. Still, in the interest of self-preservation only, I'm being more careful about what I say now, much to the delight of the PC police. Chalk that up to a win for passive aggressive censorship! I'm repeating the quote from earlier, in case you skimmed over it but also because it means a lot to me:
"The great thing about social media was how it gave a voice to voiceless people. But we're now creating a surveillance society where the smartest way to survive is to go back to being voiceless"
Ok that was a lot of heavy reading. Enjoy this video poking fun at the PC police, I certainly did.