“There’s been a lot of talk lately about the phenomenon of online shaming,” he said, EXACTLY LIKE Eric Idle, circa 1973. Really, the whole thing is easily as absurd as any Monty Python sketch. An invisible mob. [A PICTURE OF AN EMPTY CITY STREET] A virtual riot. [THE VERY SAME PICTURE] These are things that didn’t exist in 1973 (well, empty streets did but you get the idea) but they certainly exist now. Frankly, the whole thing is insane.
Endless thoughtless think pieces have been penned about this. We’ve heard stories of people losing their jobs for being a jackass in public. Jon Ronson wrote a book about it and was immediately attacked online. Every day, it seems, there’s a new outrage, a new call to the digital barricades, a new cause to figure out which side to be the right side of on, whether it’s GMOs or vaccination or trans-gender issues or just good old-fashioned bullying. (Which is kinda ironic.) It’s everywhere and it’s something that’s not going away.
And maybe that’s a good thing.
Because seriously? If you make a tasteless joke on Twitter about the prevalence of AIDS in Africa (HA HA) and you work in public relations? Maybe you shouldn’t work in public relations anymore.
And seriously? If you make crude sexual comments to a reporter on live tv, there is no other context in which to judge you, other than as the type of ‘person’ who makes crude sexual comments to a reporter on live tv. That says a lot about your character. None of it good.
And seriously? If you’re the Mayor of Toronto, you probably shouldn’t crack wise about ending up being eaten by cannibals if you go to Africa or assert your faithfulness as a husband by describing the frequency that you engage in cunnilingus with your wife. (Again, on live tv. Two separate Mayors. I know.)
And if you shout about raping people who disagree with you, and cutting off their heads, then maybe your mother should know, especially if the discussion centres around video games. She’d be so proud of her little boy. And speaking of little boys, maybe parents should know that they shouldn’t leave their kids alone with you. And maybe your boss should know about the way you present yourself to the world as a representative of your company. I’d say “Maybe your girlfriend should hear what a charmer you are” but we both know you don’t have a girlfriend, don’t we?
There’s a woman who’s been “pretending” to be black for years. She was “outed” when her parents told a reporter that she’s not actually black. Am I going to send her death threats? No, I’m certainly not. But I’ma judge the hell out of her, because “pretending to be black” is a really shitty thing to do. (I don’t have to explain why it’s such a shitty thing to do, do I?) I don’t know why she did it – is she crazy? Is she evil? Is she a Scooby Doo villain? I have no idea. But it’s like that old joke, about the guy who builds houses and roads and everything but do they call him a carpenter? Do they call him an engineer? No, they don’t. But you fuck ONE LITTLE GOAT and guess what everybody calls you?
She will forever be known as That Woman Who Pretended To Be Black.
So maybe, it’s a good idea, if we can shame people for what they say online, on Twitter or in real life. This is why it’s so delicious, every time some homophobic politician gets caught with a rent-boy or some plutocrat gets caught slagging the poor or some idiot maligns half the human race, ie. women. There’s a measure of justice in a crowd of people saying “This is Unacceptable Behaviour.” Yes, it indulges the worst of our atavistic animal instincts, to rip these people to shreds of ones and zeroes but I’d argue it also makes us better, as a society. Free Speech does not mean the right to be deliberately offensive. If you get the shit kicked out of you for insulting somebody, you don’t get to claim your rights for free speech were infringed. (Feel free to sue for assault but watch the judge throw the case out when she hears what you said to provoke the attack in the first place.)
You know who could get away with being deliberately offensive? People like Richard Pryor and George Carlin and Lenny Bruce and Bill Hicks. And you know what? You are not Bill Hicks. You are not ANY of those motherfuckers, because they are all dead now.
And even then, if that’s ALL you got out of their individual contributions to art, society and culture, then you’re dumber than ditch-water and you deserve everything you get and more. They used provocative and often very foul language to bring people together, not to drive them apart. They belittled Goliaths. They didn’t pick on David. They punched up and made everybody realize “We’re all in this together.”
There’s an old saying – “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.” If you’re a racist? Shout it out! Hate gay people? Testify! Think women are all bitches, good only for one thing? Call Now! Operators are standing by! That way, everybody else will know who to avoid in future. (Spoiler Alert – You, ya muthafucker. People will avoid YOU, you racist, sexist, homophobic piece of shit.)
I’ll be the first to register my displeasure with the entire Human Race (we’re all a bunch of scum, don’t bother to deny it, it’s true) but there are enough good people out there to out-weigh the bad (… I guess. Statistically, anyway). Mob justice often gets it wrong. But sometimes, a crappy, half-apology isn’t good enough. There’s another old saying “Sorry doesn’t feed the bull-dog.”