On the Internet, the Action-Reaction Sequence Gets Way Out of Whack

Boston Marathon Costume

When you look at the Halloween costume above, which was a woman’s idea of a funny Boston Marathon victim’s costume, you will probably think – not funny, not appropriate, too soon, and so on. If you saw the Instagram picture you would probably have commented ‘not cool’, or something similar. And perhaps if you were more closely involved you might have gotten more emotional about it and lashed out at the young woman – maybe even saying something like ‘would you think it was so funny if something like that happened to someone YOU knew?’

But as noted at Buzzfeed, what ACTUALLY happened was very different …

Aside from getting loads of negative responses, things quickly escalated – people started looking for the young woman’s other social network accounts … and hackers sought her personal information. They took that, then located her family and friends and began a campaign of attacking all of them through a storm of harassing email, text messages and phone calls at home – including death threats. The young woman lost her job … over a poor choice of a Halloween costume.

Let me just say: the reaction compared to the actual event is WAY out of whack.

This Halloween seems to have been pretty good if you were looking for people to dress in ways that a large percentage of the population would find offensive. There was:
Julianne Hough in blackface for an ‘Orange is the New Black’ Crazy Eyes costume.
The Trayvon Martin / George Zimmerman costumes worn by some teenage kids
The mom who dressed her 7 year old up in full KKK regalia
An ‘Anna Rexia’ costume with the tagline ‘you can never be too rich or too thin’.

The response for all of these has varied:
– Julianne Hough quickly apologized – but since she is a celebrity with teams of lawyers, it is unlikely she will see any real backlash.
– The mother of the kids who dressed as Zimmerman/Martin has had her personal info hacked by online thugs who have threatened her and called her workplace and harassed her to the point where SHE lost her job. For posting a picture of her teen kids in stupid costumes that were racially insensitive, she had her life ruined.
– The mom KKK costume defends it as ‘a tradition’, and the KKK as a reflection of ‘the way things should be’.
– The ‘Anna Rexia’ costume was pulled over the outrage … but later reappeared.

It leads me to ask a couple of questions:
– Has our country lost any sort of sense of humor? Is our response to any possible offense now a baseball bat to the online face?
– Do we no longer believe in the freedom of speech?

Here is a fake ad that parody site The Onion was running just before 9/11 this year as their typical commentary on how many companies have no problem utilizing ANY special day as a way to sell product. The point is not about trivializing 9/11 or those who lost their lives – in fact it is the opposite: how all of our traditions seem to have become commercial marketing opportunities, shown in a very stark fashion by using 9/11.

Onion Fake Subway 9-11 Ad

For someone who has lost someone tragically, pain comes to the surface with every reminder. Are we getting to the point where we are so protective of these tragic events that we must hold all of them as ultra-solemn events where we cannot even engage in intellectual discourse? Are we afraid of getting to a ‘Holocaust denier’ point, or of losing sight of the individual nature of those impacted, or … ?

And going back to the costumes – let’s be honest, what do those four costumes have in common? Poor judgment. Blackface was unacceptable a century ago, white-supremacy is never going to go over well with the general populous, and dressing up as part of a specific and very tragic real-life event is misguided at best. They all deserved to get a solid dressing down from friends on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram.

But you know what else they have in common? They are individual forms of expression – something we are supposed to protect and celebrate. Remember the expression by Voltaire “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it”? Has it now become “say something online that I do not like, and I will call out a mob to destroy you and make you WISH you were dead”?

What does that say about us as a country and as people? When the reaction to a poor choice in Halloween costume is to destroy someone’s life and livelihood and make them a pariah in society?

I thought about posing this question on one of the discussions for the mom who lost her job, but honestly I was afraid that speaking out would invite that sort of destruction upon myself. And the saddest thing? I am offended by the costumes and would have chimed in with a negative comment … yet because I don’t want to ruin someone else’s life, I fear speaking out because it might end up with my OWN life being ruined?

Is this what we really want for our kids, for our future? Does this enforce the ultimate goals of peace and equality, or have we just established a new set of bullies and thugs who claim to operate under the guise of ‘righteousness’?

One thought on “On the Internet, the Action-Reaction Sequence Gets Way Out of Whack

  1. Yeah that seems to be the in thing doesn’t it? Ruining people’s lives for one expression that may have been misguided. That can be said about SO many things in America now. We need to get over ourselves and over the “we aren’t offended but other people may be” complex that we have these days. That doesn’t justify what these people did but the rest of the internet going off the deep end over this stuff should stop. We need to give people the space to be idiots….because there’s a point in the future we will be too. 😉

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