There is a certain irony that I use social media to publicize my daily thoughts and yet I am a constant critic of that same wild and untamed source of information. I both love it and fear it. I understand its power and wonder how it manages to drive so much thinking, some of which is frightening. It is both a blessing and a curse of our modern existence. I love connecting with long lost friends but ask if jotting down a few pithy phrases now and again is truly akin to a real relationship. Mostly I worry about our tendency to instant message whatever pops into our minds without benefit of forethought or editing.
It is oh so easy to be brave when the people that we are addressing are not standing in the room with us. We tend to believe that we have the power to vent or preach without repercussions. The anger or disappointment that we feel in the heat of a moment finds its way into the words that we type in haste for all the world to see. Perhaps Twitter is the worst in this regard. With its limit on number of characters we have to digest our thoughts into phrases that allow no room for explanations. The words often come across as harsh and insulting. We react rather than think. The allure of seeming anonymity lulls us into believing that our words are harmless, clever jokes rather than cruel statements. In fact, our readers encourage us to be shocking. They consider those of us with an ability to slam in our posts and tweets and memes as being clever and entertaining. It is all too easy to disregard the feelings of those who become the brunt of verbal abuse. It, after all, appears to be simply a matter of good fun. It is just one more way that we entertain ourselves.
When I was growing up in the fifties and sixties most of the movies, television, books and other media that was widely available was almost puritanical. Our favorite television couples slept in separate beds. Lovers might kiss and embrace but we had to imagine what came next as the cameras faded the images. Violence onscreen was mild. There were X rated offerings but they were found in well hidden places far from the view of the general public. Language was carefully monitored.
Over time a more shocking level of indulgence and so called honesty slowly but surely made its way into our daily lives. Nudity is still somewhat verboten on network television but ever present on countless cable channels. There is a hold no bars attitude toward depictions of violence. Language is often crude. Even our beloved Muppets have become quite risqué. It is up to parents to monitor their children and protect them from seeing too much too soon. Unfortunately far too many of our kids are left to their own devices and they encounter questionable programming more often and earlier than they should. Those of us who are adults have become so accustomed to the bare bodies, foul language, and bloodbaths both on screen and in our reading material that we hardly notice or react to it. In a sense we live in a society in which anything goes and that includes saying whatever we wish to say.
The popularity of reality television plays into our belief that we ought to be able to express ourselves however we see fit. While we become ever more concerned with political correctness, parsing our words lest we be accused of being racists or misogynists, we often find no problem in attacking persons whom we believe are guilty of having beliefs that are unlike our own. The result is often an extreme level of meanness, supposedly in the name of taking down so called wrong thinking individuals. I, for one, am growing increasingly uncomfortable with this trend.
I see such examples far more often than I might wish. I’ve cringed at jokes about Sarah Palin’s Down Syndrome child. I’ve almost cried when someone has made ugly commentary about Michelle Obama’s face.This past weekend I saw a meme designed to denigrate Candy Carson, wife of Dr. Ben Carson, that was as low as these kinds of things go. The images showed a split screen with President and Mrs. Obama on one side and Dr. and Mrs. Carson on the other. The Obamas were decked out in their finest ensembles as they attended a state dinner. Mrs. Obama wore an elegant Vera Wang designer gown and the President was in a tuxcedo. By contrast Mrs. Carson wore the kind of skirt that might be found in a department store along with a plain white blouse and navy blue blazer. Dr. Carson’s suit was almost nondescript. The meme was specifically targeted at Mrs. Carson and intimated, not so subtly, that she was quite the low rent woman as compared to Mrs. Obama. The image that I saw was accompanied by a lengthy article penned by someone who feigned indignation over the meme but ultimately had to admit that Mrs. Carson was indeed a rather homely woman with a distinct lack of taste. The author noted that Mrs. Carson had brought the joke on herself by being so devoid of style and refinement.
Somehow we have reached a watershed moment in our society at large in which the lines between cruelty and humor are so blurred that such instances occur with regularity. Those of us who see and hear such things fear pronouncing our indignation lest we be judged as fuddy duddies or worse. We most often choose to ignore such behaviors thinking rightly or wrongly that they do little harm in the long run. Dr. Carson and his wife certainly have enough confidence in themselves to let such things go just as President and Mrs. Obama have done time and time again, but why can’t the rest of us begin to correct such lapses of kindness regardless of who the injured party may be? It matters little what my political persuasion is. Pejoratives are just wrong and its time that we all agreed to find them unacceptable when we encounter them.
I actually long for a less partisan and opinionated world. There was a time when individuals of differing belief systems managed to get along without attacking one another. There was an understood and defended level of dignity and respect in our public interactions. George H. W. Bush’s father was able to work with Franklin Roosevelt for the good of the country in spite of their differing philosophies. We tended to avoid obnoxious people rather than making them popular. It worries me that so many citizens adore Donald Trump because of his boastful and insulting remarks. He should be ostracized rather than encouraged. His brand of politics is ugly and will not serve the country well. Neither will individuals like Seth Rogan or Michael Moore.
It would be great if we learned how to apply a bit of manners to our commentaries, bearing in mind that words may in fact be more hurtful than sticks and stones. Liberty is a wonderful gift but we defame it whenever we devolve into personal attacks that ignore the real issues at hand. I’d love to reach a moment in time when we stuck to discussing facts and researching issues rather than taking the easier low road of hurling epithets and disparaging remarks. We all need to ask those who sink to ugliness, “Why you gotta be so mean?”