The polarization of American culture (such as it is) is complete. Everything you do is guaranteed to offend someone, and this is somehow a Bad Thing™.
The above strip is where I got the title for this post. For those who aren’t aware, it’s from Bloom County, by Berke Breathed- one of the better things to have come out of the 1980s.
For whatever reason, far too many Americans are taking personal offense at largely inoffensive bits of objective reality. Worse, these same people are demanding that the rest of the Universe be offended as well. When this invariably fails to occur, the original offendee becomes … well … offended. And so the cycle continues.
The perpetually offended seem to go out of their way to create situations at which they can take offense. Simply declaring oneself offended by something has be come an acceptable means of shutting down any potential opposition, so this cheap ploy has found a home in what passes for politics in the US these days. Occasionally, the media gets into the act, and we get to see what this country has become.
Case in point: some total psycho-bitch in Michigan sent a text message to her neighbor a couple of years ago, asking if Psycho-bitch’s kids could come over to play in the bouncy-castle the neighbors had rented for their daughter’s birthday party. When she didn’t get an immediate response, Psycho-bitch took it personally, and began harassing the neighbors. When the neighbor’s wife died of Huntington’s disease, Psycho-bitch decorated her pick-up to look like a coffin, and made a point of leaving it on the street in full view of the grieving household. When the neighbor’s seven-year-old daughter was also diagnosed with Huntington’s, Psycho-bitch photoshopped the dying girl’s face onto a skull and crossbones and put it on her Facebook page- along with a photoshop of the girl’s dead mother in the arms of the Grim Reaper. Not content with this display of over-the-top vindictiveness, Psycho-bitch told the little girl- to her face- that she couldn’t wait for the little girl to die.
This is what the polarization of public discourse in this country has wrought. Totally inappropriate over-reaction to even the slightest manufactured slight or insult is now the normal order of business. It has come to the point where Psycho-bitch felt it was acceptable to taunt and mock a dying little girl for an imagined slight from two years previous. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but this sort of behavior used to be unacceptable in a civilized society. Have we fallen so far?
It isn’t all bad, of course. The reaction of most people to the news story about the incident was instant outrage. Public anger at Psycho-bitch is growing, and getting steadily worse since she appeared in two TV interviews. In the first interview, Psycho-bitch smugly and defiantly confirmed that she had taunted and mocked a dying seven-year-old girl. Her demeanor suggested that she had absolutely no empathy for the dying little girl or her family. Some brave soul made sure the news got to the folks on 4Chan, who immediately decided to teach Psycho-bitch a lesson. Various forms of internet harassment have ensued, which have rapidly grown to include some actions with serious consequences. Psycho-bitch and her husband may lose their jobs, and will never be able to order a pizza delivery in Trenton again.
On the other side of the internet coin, a large number of people online have been pouring money into a charity set up with the help of a local toy store to give little Kathleen Edwards all the toys she could ever want for her remaining time on Earth. Any toys left over will be donated to local childrens’ hospitals, and the toy store owner has promised to give the Edwards family 10% of the total received.
Suddenly coming to the realization that there might be actual consequences from her actions, Psycho-bitch went back on TV to “apologize”. Actual content of said apology amounted to “I’m sorry the little girl’s feelings were hurt. Can I get my life back, please?” Her husband also apologized for his wife’s “brutal honesty”. Non-apologetic apologies won’t wash. There are apparently lines which people still should not cross, and taunting a dying little girl is one of them.
Speaking of Psycho-bitch, let us examine what she and her husband are up against. Not too long ago, the spokesman for a company in India boasted that his company had- at the behest of RIAA and MPAA- conducted a Distributed Denial of Service attack at Pirate Bay. The Anonymous folks at 4Chan decided that he needed to be taught a lesson, and made it so. Two days later, that same spokesman went online to beg Anonymous to call it off. Their own site had been completely shut down for those two days, and the company executives had been receiving harassing emails and phone calls. Before that, internet communities took part in hunting down a little girl in Serbia who had been filmed throwing puppies into a river. In a few days, these network ninja raised a $50,000 reward for information leading to her identification. She was arrested less than a week after the video went viral. These same stalwarts thought little of taking on the government of Iran during the turmoil over the corrupt elections two years ago.
Note that those examples took place outside the US. The US has many flaws, but information about almost everyone in the country is available online, and it’s generally more accessible than the same data in other countries. Hours after Psycho-bitch appeared in her first interview, her address, phone numbers, workplace, and just about every other public reference to her had been widely posted online, and the weight of internet opinion was beginning to be felt. The internet communities can be quite powerful if they let loose the civilized restrictions on their behavior. Psycho-bitch did not break any laws with her stupidly vindictive actions, so the Law could not punish her. So the internet is taking the role of public outrage and punishing her. Thus far, the punishment has been mild harassment, but this has been enough to put Psycho-bitch and her husband in peril of losing their jobs.
So why did Psycho-bitch and her husband think their behavior was acceptable? What could have convinced any nominally-intelligent person in this country that taking offense over such a trivial non-offense justified mocking and taunting a dying little girl? Let’s take a look at the opiate of the masses- television.
Journalism may not necessarily be extinct, but the remaining examples of actual journalistic integrity are few and far between. There may not be a viable population of actual journalists remaining. Roughly ninety percent of the “news” on TV is actually what Phil Foglio referred to as a “journalistic, infotainment-like art product”.
Bias in media is largely unavoidable, but is not necessarily a bad thing- so long as the consumers of media products are aware of the bias and take it into account. Pandering to the lowest common denominator may also be unavoidable in a profit-driven industry, but this is much more difficult to deal with. By pandering to the lowest common denominator in search of advertising revenue, the media organizations are creating a self-fulfilling downward spiral of idiocy. Stupid people are more likely to be swayed by commercial advertisements, so advertisers will demand media products to appeal to stupid people. Since media organizations want to make money, they will create products for the “blithering idiot” demographic. People with average intellect or those whose brain cells are not dying of loneliness begin avoiding most media products, thus giving the blithering idiots more proportional representation among consumers of media products (and the advertising therein), so we end up with drek like American Idol and Sarah Palin.
Politicians have been complicit in this drive to the bottom of the barrel. Smarter people tend to demand actual competence, while their intellectual distant cousins are content with sound bites and manufactured outrage. Witness the cheap theatrics employed by both major political parties during the last few weeks as we approach the mid-term elections. When politicians who stoop to cheap theatrics and dirty tricks get rewarded with votes, the other professional politicians in this country will clamber all over themselves to put forth cheap gimmicks, sound bites aimed at the mentally lazy, and similar garbage in order to gorge themselves at the public trough without having to actually work for a living. The media cheerfully gives these parasites airtime in order to get more stupid viewers to pimp out to the advertisers.
In the end, the result is a country becoming increasingly Balkanized and divided against itself. Not out of villainy, but rather through the incompetent pursuit of profit. Profit is not in itself bad, but the blind pursuit of short-term gain at the expense of long-term economic viability is nothing less than criminally stupid. It is possible to do well while doing good. It isn’t quite as easy as merely increasing this quarter’s net receipts.
Until and unless we stop pandering to the lowest of the lowest common denominator, this sort of behavior will become more and more common. Social pressure can put a stop to this trend, but that means demanding better from our government and media, and punishing them when they don’t comply. When civilized behavior breaks down without breaking the law, there is normally little recourse, so we get Psycho-bitch. If we can’t deal with the polarization of public discourse in this country- if we can’t disagree without being disagreeable- then we deserve her. All of us.
Current status: Disgusted
Current music: Sweet Disposition by Temper Trap