Saturday, December 21, 2013

Getting Our Hate On

Of the myriad reasons not fleshed out the other day when I wrote that I would be writing less (and here I am writing three days in a row, because nothing makes more sense than that), one of them is a kind of helplessness in the face of millions of people spewing whatever sits in their brainpans out on the Internet.  Whether one peruses the comment threads on news stories or blog posts; the various and sundry left-wing, right-wing, moderate and fringe political sections of the internet; or even Facebook and Twitter; as far as the eye can see every sort of opinion is aired, without any sense that things on the internet are not private, and the whole world can see your words.

The past three days have brought us, first Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty saying some pretty horrible things.  I've said what I want about that.  This morning, this LGM post and this Edroso post "discuss" Jonah Goldberg's latest, in which he gay baits a character in a commercial.  The depth of disgust, projection, and seething hatred on display - and the comment section is a festering stew of foulness - is enough to put you off your waffles first thing on a Christmas season morning.

Yesterday, however, there was a display of worldwide, day long hate that was quite disturbing.  If you hadn't heard, Twitter exploded in a ragegasm of epic proportions over an insensitive, bigoted tweet from a young woman named Justine Sacco.  You can see the on-going phenomenon here.  She has deleted her account.  The Tweet Heard 'Round The World, quite literally, has been captured for all time:
Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm white!  
A PR executive at an internet holding company that owns OKCupid and other popular sites, Sacco was on a long international flight to Cape Town, South Africa and, for reasons that will probably never be completely explained, sent out three tweets.  The first concerned being seated next to someone who was deodorant-impaired; the second was a dig at the British; then the last tweet before boarding her 12-hour, wifi-free flight.  That her life would never be the same after landing became apparent early yesterday.  Her tweet went viral, and her followers exploded from a couple hundred to almost 8,000 by last evening/early morning in Cape Town.  She lost her job, discovered hundreds of thousands of people calling her all sorts of horrible things, and even had Buzzfeed digging through her Twitter account to find "The 16 Tweets Justine Sacco Regrets".

Far from defending the content of her Tweet, I think it displays a kind of ignorance and low-level bigotry that far too many Americans carry around with them.  The difference between all of us and Ms. Sacco is her Tweet got picked up and spread around the Internet, then to major news outlets like The New York Times, her company was forced to act, and she went from a successful business woman to international pariah in the amount of time it takes to fly from one great city to another.  I think losing her job was the correct action; a PR executive who tweets the things Ms. Sacco did displays a lack of judgment that is truly astounding; her former employers, IAC, do have to protect their image, after all.

On the other hand, I cannot endorse the deafening rage that continues to pile upon her.  Compared, say, to Phil Robertson, a figure in a television program, or Jonah Goldberg, a political columnist, Ms. Sacco is a private individual of whom no one had heard before yesterday.  The hours-long spewing of name-calling, conjectures about how intoxicated she might be, the sexist comments calling her a "bitch" and "cunt" was not only ugly beyond imagining; it was out of all proportion to the offense contained in her Tweet.  The pile-on was like Orwell's "Two Minute Hate".  I have to admit more than little compassion for Ms. Sacco, not least because her life became something upon which the whole world could create whatever it wanted without any knowledge the furor existed.

There seems to be some deep well of rage and hate within us.  We direct it at all sorts of targets only marginally related to anything of importance.  I think this is so not least because our political system is completely unresponsive to the demands for action the people express, regardless of party or ideology.  Precisely because ours is a nation of inaction, this seething, roiling cauldron of frustration needs to escape; Ms. Sacco, alas for her, was just in the way.  I have no idea how she will manage now; any future in her chosen profession, Public Relations, is certainly out of the question.  That thousands of people have called her every sort of foul name certainly can't help.  That she has become a stand in for very real and foar more entrenched structural racism is so sad; as at least one person Tweeted last night, "You know what's racist? The education system in Mississippi."  We have real, serious structurally racist matters in this country; the insensitivity of one mid-level corporate executive is, in the scheme of things, meaningless.

The outpouring of rage directed at her, however, is meaningful, if only in a disturbing way, for what it tells us about who we are.

Virtual Tin Cup

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