I grew a mustache for Movember once. I didn’t donate money towards cancer research nor did I get my prostate examined. I grew a mustache. That was my bit for help the cause against cancer. By growing a mustache, I was informing people about the need for cancer research and preventative measures… except I didn’t really personally donated money nor make any precautions. Deservedly, I got criticized for it, but isn’t it any different than many of the causes we see on the media these days?
The problem with Internet media is that it’s quite easy to produce, easy to consume, and that many news outlets rely on sensationalistic click-baiting, or what I think is more appropriate, guilt-baiting.
Now, I don’t mind a good cause. But recently, there’s been a lot of energy put on causes that in my opinion don’t really amount to anything in the most practical sense. An issue is manufactured out of a bigger and more real problem and slacktivism is encouraged. They come in all degrees of seriousness, but sometimes they’re so insignificant that it’s no longer amusing. As an example, let’s look at Eli Keel’s article on Salon, It’s time for Marvel to make Magneto black. Yes, this was on a news site.
In the article, he writes that what makes the comic book villain Magneto great is that he is based in a real-world historic tragedy. And now that Marvel is rebooting all of their characters, it’s time to make the character black in order to reference the Civil Rights Movement (ignoring the fact that the whole humans vs. mutants theme in the X-Men books is an allegory to the Civil Rights Movement). Since the election of their first black president, the US has been undergoing quite the surge in racial tensions, especially recently with the way police officers have been policing black communities. But is this really a battle one has to fight in the comic books? Should the tragedy of the Holocaust be replaced by the Civil Rights fight? I don’t think so. I don’t think great black leaders would waste time campaigning to change the motivations of comic book super villains (make Magneto a civil rights bad guy?!). There has got to be a better way to address civil rights issues, and it’s not in changing comic book characters. Sure, comic books have championed many social issues before, and in many ways they have influenced young minds and made them better people, but if you’re going to fight for civil rights, don’t campaign a company to change their characters. It is probably the least you can do for the cause. In fact, you might even alienate people who A)love the character and would not want it changed and B) are annoyed that you are fighting the civil rights fight by barking at comic book creators instead of doing something yourself. Instead of asking people to create a solution, how about making a solution?
And this is what annoys me about many of the Internet causes. It gives people the illusion of actually doing something positive without actually doing something to help the cause. For one, I see too many articles talking about rape culture, perpetuating the belief that we are living in an environment where rape is encouraged/celebrated. Really? But aren’t rapists jailed? When and where do we exactly celebrate the brutalization of women? Not in the United States. But from the way the articles are written, you would be forgiven to think that a third of all women are victims, and that society is high-fiving itself for making it so. And what do the articles ask in return for such dire message? Share the article. Click like. Spread the message and you’ve done your part.
If rape is such a trend in society, then shouldn’t we be more proactive about it? Why are we sharing links? Why aren’t we writing to our congressmen or campaigning at their doorsteps? Why aren’t we locking up all men? Why are we making Youtube videos debating whether video games are training young men to become rapists? Why are we marching half-naked? Whose minds are we actually changing? Either we don’t understand the meaning of “culture” in “rape culture” or our modern day approach to sweeping social problems is the most lackadaisical.
I guess the biggest example of the flash of the pan, guilt clicking, share this or you’re an asshole story is KONY 2012. The campaign to get rid of Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, was so viral that I kept seeing it shared on Facebook for weeks. Now while Jason Russell, the campaign’s creator suffered a bit of a meltdown, but the cause itself was worthwhile, after all, Joseph Kony is a horrible guerilla leader. But after all the Facebook shares, television media coverage and street campaigns, Joseph Kony still walks the planet. It made us all feel good liking the stories and sharing it to our friends. It made us all feel worldly, well-rounded, and conscientious. But it didn’t really do a damned thing. Jason Russell was criticized for being a bit narcissistic, appointing himself a savior of Ugandan children. Truly, the whole thing was an exercise in narcissism. We all felt good for “doing” something good, and now we’ve forgotten about those poor children. And I don’t want to be a pessimist, but I believe that even if Magneto became black and everyone on the Internet agreed that there is indeed rape culture aimed against women, ten years from now, we’ll still be having issues regarding race and sexual violence.
Of course, there are many examples of stories that guilt the public, become viral, and actually do something significant. The water bucket challenge was a huge success which allowed the MDA to raise a significant amount of money without that horrible Jerry Lewis. Good for MDA! But with every video of people actually donating money after getting water dumped on their heads, there are others which didn’t really amount to anything, except maybe a few views, a couple of likes, and some comments.