Jeremy Feist insists that progress comes not from screaming into the Internet echo chamber, but rather through open and vulnerable dialogue.
Yesterday, I made a fat-joke on Twitter and a good follow of mine, @IAmUhura (whom you should follow, because that bitch is funny and hell and whipsmart) called me out on it, saying that the joke was offensive and crossed a line. So I apologized for it, and then we had a discussion about our intentions, thoughts and opinions until we came to a mutually agreeable conclusion: She agreed that I probably didn’t mean to be intentionally offensive, and I agreed that a line was passed and that I should think more carefully about certain things. In short, we had an actual debate on something and we both ended up on common ground. We both walked away feeling good about ourselves.
This is not the rule of the Internet; this is once-in-a-lifetime exception. The Internet is not a place where you go to exchange ideas with people of differing opinions until you both better understand each other. It’s where you go to scream into an endless pit filled with other people’s screaming.
A couple days ago, The Good Men Project read a little personal blog I wrote a year ago and liked it enough that they asked me if they could reprint. After I gave them the go-ahead, xoJane saw it and liked it enough to republish it on their site too, so I gave them the okay as well. It was an article I had written about my boyfriend’s cat after I had lived with it for two months, and I had called it “Cats are Bitchy and Fartish and I Hate Them.” Yes, I used the word “fartish” in a title. That right there should have clued you in that it was a jokey cats vs. dogs article. Believe me, I know it’s nothing new or profound, but you have to remember, I wrote it for myself, and when it was reprinted on GMP and xoJane, I gave it to them for free. That’s right: They found it and wanted to run it, and I got paid $0.00 for it because, once again, it’s just fucking cat jokes. Why would anyone get paid money for cat jokes?
So that was that, right? The Internet would welcome in more cat-based humour and someone would hopefully chuckle about it over coffee and nothing else would happen. Yeah, about that… Remember my description of the Internet as a bottomless pit of screaming? People got pissed and accused me of promoting animal cruelty, because I made jokes about owning a cat. Sort of like how parents who make jokes about parenting are promoting child abuse. Why no one has ever called the cops on the producers of Married … With Children is a mystery.
The smartest thing I did in all of this was to completely avoid reading the comments. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about writing for the internet after four years, it’s that an article can get 1,000 views, and the one comment left for it will be from someone who hated everything about it. Unfortunately, that didn’t block out Twitter, where an animal rights advocate decided to tell me how my cat jokes are the reason why everything bad ever happens to cats.
Say hello to someone I will call… Adrian. Adrian works, right? I’m by no means a fan of this person, but I also don’t want to publicly shame someone in a public forum wherein they can’t defend themselves, so I’m going to hide her name. Although if I may interject: You may notice her picture is her riding a horse. How many horses do you think die every year from equestrianism as opposed to how many cats die every year from Internet jokes?
“Adrian’s” problem with me was that I was making jokes about my two months of owning a cat, and since some cats are abused, I shouldn’t make jokes about them. Granted, if you refused to make jokes about anyone because something bad once happened to them, you’d be left with no one. Well, that’s the gist of it anyway. I had to read between the lines extra hard, since the lines were about how making cat jokes were on par with making homophobic or HIV/AIDS jokes.
But regardless, I decided the best course of action was to lay my cards on the table, try and clarify my intentions, and start off fresh. This is her response:
So that was eloquent and fair. I tried to reach a middle ground and her reaction was “WATCH ME ACT LIKE A SARCASTIC ASSHOLE!” But reflecting that back at her wasn’t going to solve nothing. So I tried again to apologize for a cat joke and try to make amends. And then I ran into a wall of stupid:
Gee, the LGBT community has been treated poorly? Thanks for informing me, heterosexual rich white lady! I never would have known that! I tried, I really did, but it’s hard to debate someone when they’re actively refusing to say not ridiculous things.
Look, regardless of what you think, if you’re offended by something and you want to talk about it, most writers and comedians are fully willing to sit down and discuss things rationally. That being said, we care about your feelings only to a reasonable degree; If you’re going to try and angrily shame someone until they adopt your viewpoint, instead of honestly and rationally discussing your opinion while taking into consideration their side, you’re going to get tuned out. It’s the difference between saying please and thank you, and falling to the floor and screaming until you get your way. No one is going to validate or enable your petulant, illogical rage just because you want them too. We’re not your parents, okay? We’re not the reason you are socially ruined as a person.
It’s great that you want to prevent animal abuse, it really is. Animals should be treated humanely and encouraging that is great. WhatI disagree with is how she expressed these points. Fact is, 99.99 times out of 100, screaming, irrational, directionless outrage is a front for having absolutely no idea what you’re talking about. If you honestly think that civil rights for cats is the same as gay civil rights, or that joking about something on the Internet is the same thing as advocating its abuse, I’m kinda wont to believe you have no idea what you’re talking about and that you’re getting outraged for the sake of being outraged.
The honest to God truth is that many of the people we vilify aren’t bad people. Yes, there are plenty of actual terrible people out there: people who oppress others for political gain, people who think women get raped because “they deserve it,” Chris Brown… The list is endless. I don’t think Adrian is a bad person, so much as hopelessly misguided and in desperate need of some sense of validation of her opinion. The average person is a good person, but we also want to feel the need that we’re doing good, that we’re always right, and that we’re actively fighting bad people. But there are, in actuality, far fewer bad people out there then there are good people. The internet is full of warriors and crusaders in desperate need of demonized opponents.
So we project villains, monsters and nebulous motives onto average people and go after them. We gather into echo chambers and separate ourselves from anyone of dissenting opinion because we can never allow ourselves to be wrong. And if anyone doesn’t have the same opinions at us, it’s socially acceptable to publicly shame them because fuck that guy, you’re right and they’re wrong. You are always right, so no one else is allowed to be right too.
But that’s not all bad, right? Being personally invested in an issue makes you passionate, and even if you don’t actually do anything, you’re still raising awareness and making other people passionate, right?
Being aware of something and actually doing something are not the same thing. It’s like saying you ran a marathon because you made it to the starting line. Passion without action is basically just an unearned sense of self-satisfaction. And like it or not, you’re not always right and you don’t always know best. Raising awareness for things that don’t matter — like cat jokes on the internet. — raises zero actual awareness. In fact, it raises less than zero awareness. If anything, it pulls focus from things that actually matter so that you can redirect it your own personal vendetta. You’re actively pulling focus away from real issues because it’s easier for you to be offended and angered by everything than it is for you to think about one thing. I know the common saying is “if you’re not offended, you’re not paying attention,” but believe me, it’s entirely possible to do both.
Once again, I don’t think Adrian is a bad person, and I don’t necessarily disagree with her: Animal abuse is bad. I just think that blaming cat jokes for cat abuse is fucking stupid, and her total refusal to take into consideration anyone else’s opinion other than her own doesn’t help her cause. Offense without open-mindedness or an intent to find a common resolution isn’t social change: it’s misplaced, impotent rage. Like screaming into a bottomless pit filled with screams.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering how the cat feels about all this: Well, since I wrote the article a year ago, she’s still evil, but we have reached a mutual respect and affection for each other.
Yeah, look how much we hate each other.
Originally appeared at Jeremy Feist Writes Stuff
Photo: Flickr/JD Hancock