Tag Archives: social media

How Jar Jar Binks Exposed The Flaws (And Dangers) Of Social Media

maxresdefault-1

Every now and then, something extraordinary happens that reveals how flawed our current system is and how far behind we are in terms of fixing it. Sometimes, it’s tragic. Sometimes, it’s frustrating. In rare cases, it’s hilarious, albeit in a distressing way. Personally, I find those cases most revealing.

Recently, there was one notable instance that included one of the most reviled fictional characters of the past 20 years. No, I’m not talking about King Joffrey or Ramsay Bolton. I’m talking about Jar Jar Binks. If you’re a “Star Wars” fan, then that name likely inspires all sorts of anger, dread, and distress.

Jar Jar is both a joke and a cautionary tale. Aside from proving that George Lucas has no business directing another “Star Wars,” he demonstrates just how wrong an attempt at comedic relief can go. While he wasn’t the only problem with the prequels, he augmented the flaws. On top of being annoying, incoherent, and incompetent most of the time, he was a major symptom of a much larger disease.

Once again, everything that makes Jar Jar such a pariah in the cultural landscape has exposed another disease in a place that’s not far, far away. For reasons that many found confusing and confounding, Jar Jar started trending on Twitter. While there was a someone legitimate reason for this, it was indirect and unintentional. There was no concerted effort to get him trending. It wasn’t even part of any elaborate trolling.

The fact that it took a while to explain why this infamous character was trending says more about social media than it does about Jar Jar. There’s no question that social media has changed the media landscape in ways that cannot be overstated. We current live in a world where companies invest a great deal of time and resources into making their presence on social media unique. Some definitely do it better than others.

At the same time, social media has not always had a positive effect on the world and its users. There have been plenty of cases where social media has been used to brutally harass people and spread blatant lies. There are even some cases in which social media played a role in directing real harm to innocent people. The dangers are there and well-documented.

Most people with an internet connection know those dangers are there. Many see it as the cost of doing business for a technology that has an uncanny ability to connect people. I certainly pay that cost, given my own presence on social media. However, what just happened with Jar Jar on Twitter demonstrated that the cost might have hidden fees in the fine print.

Remember, there was no concerted effort to get Jar Jar trending. Even after he did, nobody could figure out why he was trending. On top of that, the fact that nobody could figure it out only got people more curious, which made him trend even more. It was a self-reinforcing cycle that was funny in some respects, but distressing in many others.

It’s somewhat similar to what happens with people who are famous just for being famous and little more. This unfortunate, but inescapable aspect of celebrity culture rarely creates people who garner respect or admiration. If anything, they foster cynicism and disconnection from the culture. That kind of fame just feels so random, unearned, and empty. Thanks to Jar Jar, we now know social media trends can do the same.

Things can trend for no discernible reason. Matters that nobody even wants to get trending can garner unexpected and often unwanted attention. Thanks to the mechanisms of social media, the mystery behind why something trends can make it trend even more. While that’s going on, legitimate issues that warrant attention can slip under the radar.

Human beings only have so much attention to give. When something like Jar Jar trends for no discernible reason, a non-significant chunk of our collective attention is redirected. It would be one thing if it were just some masterfully act of trolling, but this is something we do to ourselves collective. That means we have no one to blame but ourselves when something like Jar Jar trends.

We’re the ones who make and share these hashtags. The social media companies are just tools and businesses. Like many companies, they’ll engage in plenty of shady activities. They’ll do whatever they think will make them more money. At the end of the day, though, we’re still the consumers who shape social media.

That should be cause for concern because this isn’t vapid celebrity culture we’re dealing with. The things that trend on social media have real-world consequences. Companies have suffered significant harm. Lives of non-celebrity people have been ruined. A random person who becomes famous for no reason rarely causes actual harm to anyone. Social media trends can do so much more.

In some cases, it can cause a great deal of good. If the right thing gets trending, it can rally people to a worthy cause. It can also inform the public of a serious issue. It can even turn real-world tragedies into a powerful force for good. Personally, I think this good overshadows the bad, but when I see Jar Jar trending, I can’t deny that there’s a flaw in this system.

Is there a fix? I believe there is, but I don’t believe it’s as simple as companies tweaking their rules or insulting people who share hash tags. Jar Jar may have been a source of frustration in the early 2000s, but he’s only relevant in 2019 because we make him relevant. It’s not him. It’s not George Lucas. This is all us.

I believe we’re better than that. Despite all the awful things I’ve seen trending on Twitter and Facebook, I see far more positives that warrant far greater attention. Jar Jar might be a symptom, but I take comfort in the fact that he’s a symptom that often burns out quickly. When something is empty, people get bored of it much easier and nobody should ever underestimate the power of boredom.

In the grand scheme of things, Jar Jar trending for no reason isn’t necessarily a setback. It’s just a sign that we, as a tech-savvy society, have a long way to go with respect to managing social media. In an imperfect world, dumb things will trend for dumb reasons. However, when something like Jar Jar starts trending, that’s a sign that we have plenty of room for improvement.

Leave a comment

Filed under human nature, media issues, outrage culture, political correctness, psychology, Star Wars, technology, War on Boredom

Six New Years Resolutions For 2019 (That Will Help Everybody)

new-years-resolutions

It’s that time of year again. By that, I mean it’s the time when people either bemoan how few of their New Years resolutions they accomplished this past year and try to convince themselves they’ll do better next year. I’m not knocking the concept. I’m as guilty of that as the next person who dares to set goals at the end of every year.

I like to think I’ve accomplished a thing or two, but 2018 was rough for me. It’s not just that I was unable to find a new publisher for my outstanding manuscripts. When 2018 began, “Passion Relapse” and “Rescued Hearts” were my only published novels. I’d hoped to add at least one, but that didn’t pan out. I tried to make up for it by writing over two dozen sexy short stories, but I’m still determined to further publishing efforts.

Beyond my publishing endeavors, though, I underwent some pretty major upheavals. A very close family member of mine passed away, which was incredibly difficult. There were a few other major life events that I’d prefer not to share just yet. While 2018 had plenty of high points, the low points were especially painful.

Be that as it may, I’m more ready than most to close the book on 2018 and work on making 2019 much better. While I have my share of resolutions that I’d like to achieve, I would also like to contemplate resolutions that society, as a whole, can strive to achieve in 2019.

Let’s face it, we had some pretty bad moments in 2018. There’s a lot of room for improvement in 2019. I’m not saying humanity can fix all its problems in one year, but striving to do better is always worth doing. What follows are six New Years resolutions for humanity in 2019. Some are more ambitious than others, but I think these are minor steps we can take to making 2019 the best year it can be.


Resolution #1: Learn To Channel Selective Outrage For More Productive Purposes

This could’ve easily been a resolution for 2018, as well. It’ll likely be a resolution for years to come because, as I’ve noted before, getting exceedingly outraged over trivial matters has become a pastime, of sorts, for people these days. The internet and social media is just the platform. People are the ones who stoke the fires.

Whether it’s controversy over Jennifer Lawrence’s dress or getting all up in arms about old jokes from famous comedians, people seem to get outraged over exceedingly petty things. Now, I’m not saying that people shouldn’t get riled up, but there are some things that just aren’t worth the emotional energy.

Who hosts the Oscars or old tweets from a decade ago do not warrant this kind of attention in the marketplace of ideas. Scandals about big companies illegally harvesting user data or children being forcibly separated from their parents are more deserving of such outrage. There are things worth getting upset about and celebrity attire isn’t one of them.

For 2019, I think we’ll do everyone a favor by channeling our outrage into something that actually warrants it. It can’t just be about what celebrities do or whether certain video game characters are too sexy. There’s plenty of room to channel our outrage into something more productive.


Resolution #2: Stop Taking Certain Celebrities Seriously

This is closely tied to the first resolution, but I thought it deserved a resolution of its own. Let’s face it. Our culture is obsessed with celebrities. We have been since long before the rise of mass media. It’s not going to stop in 2019, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be more diligent with how we obsess over celebrities.

Specifically, we can go out of our way to ignore certain individuals whose rhetoric is barely discernible from typical trolls. I’m talking about the Lena Dunhams and Ted Nugents of the world. These are not serious people with serious ideas. They’re celebrities who pretend to know what they’re talking about and not very well.

There are plenty of respectable celebrities worth following and admiring. While the assholes may make the news, there are celebrities out there who do genuinely good things and they deserve true admiration. We can do both them and the world a favor by not giving so much attention to those who don’t deserve it.

When in doubt, just follow someone like Ryan Reynolds.


Resolution #3: Focus On Future Possibilities Rather Than Past Transgressions

There are a lot of factors that fuel outrage, controversy, and what not. One that often comes up involves past transgressions and for good reason. Historically, people have been committing horrific atrocities on one another due to differences in race, religion, sexual orientation, and gender. These actions are objectively awful. Nobody can deny that.

That said, focusing on them and bemoaning them constantly does nothing to honor the victims or reduce the potential for similar atrocities. We can’t change the past. We can only learn from it. The crimes, be they the horrific treatment of a particular race or the actions of a particular individual, cannot be undone. We can prosecute them and, if possible, we should.

However, there comes a point where focusing so much on past crimes becomes less about learning from them and more about whining. I see it a lot in debates surrounding race and gender. One race or gender bemoans how horrible they had been treated in the past and use that to justify their sentiments in the present. That’s not a productive use of history.

That’s because whining is never productive. It’s true. Things in the past weren’t very pleasant for a lot of people, especially if they were a minority. There’s no way to change that. Many of the victims and perpetrators are long dead and can never be held accountable. While that clashes with our innate sense of injustice, it’s not something we can change.

That’s why it’s important to focus on the future rather than whining about the past. We can’t change the past, but we can shape the future. We can do things that’ll make the world better for everybody, regardless of their minority status. Whining, however, is not one of those things.


Resolution #4: Celebrate Good More Than Emphasizing Bad

You don’t have to look far to see some pretty awful things happening in the world. Those awful things are usually the first thing to make the news. The whole “if it bleeds, it leads” mantra has a lot of distressing truth to it.

Even though 2018 had plenty of horrific news, there were genuine bright spots. Did you know that charitable giving reached record highs this past year? Did you know crime rates are tending downward in almost every major city? Did you know science developed a drought-resistant rice that could potentially feed millions? Did you know that Jean Grey finally came back from the dead in the X-men comics after a 15-year absence?

That last one was for me, as a life-long X-men fan. However, the point is still valid. There was a lot of good news that happened in 2018, in terms of society and civilization. Even in genuinely awful stories, you can find bits of hope here and there. You don’t even have to look too hard. The news is there, if you’re willing to find it.

That’s a resolution I think is worth pursuing, even if horrific news still gets our attention. The good will never shock us as much, but it will evoke all the right emotions. I strongly believe in having faith in humanity. I’ve explained why on a few occasions. I think we would do ourselves and our futures a favor by celebrating that good rather than agonizing over the bad.


Resolution #5: Laugh At Absurdities Instead Of Making Them Controversies

Beyond the good news and the bad news, 2018 had plenty of weird news as well. Granted, a lot of them came from Florida, but the principle is the same. Regardless of whether you think people are inherently good or bad, most can agree they do weird things. You can either lament for the future of our species or just laugh at it.

As it turns out, laughing is a lot healthier. It helps make difficult or strange situations easier to process. Let’s face it, we’re always going to have plenty of those, even if you don’t live in Florida. The best thing we can do is laugh, even if it’s not that funny. It’s something we should do plenty of in 2019 because 2018 showed a marked decline in peoples’ sense of humor.

There were controversies about jokes in the past and jokes that were in poor taste. Granted, not all of these jokes were funny, but making them into these big controversies about race, gender, and what not didn’t help. All it did was fuel contrived outrage over issues that didn’t need any extra fodder.

People are going to tell bad jokes. We can’t be as funny or as smart as George Carlin or Richard Pryor. People are going to get offended too, but that can’t be the sole basis for a controversy. Being offended is not a serious injury and offending someone is not a crime. If faced with the option of laughing it off or making a big deal out of something comes up in 2019, let’s just err on the side of laughter.


Resolution #6: Focus On What We Can Control Instead Of Agonizing Over What We Can’t Control

This is something that become a major talking point in 2018 and, at times, for the right reason. There was a lot of whining, especially in the world of outrage culture and politics. However, there was a bit more emphasis on what to actually do about it. Specifically, there was a huge push to urge people to vote in the mid-term elections. That effort, as frustrating as it was at times, paid off.

Voter turnout in the 2018 Midterm Elections was the highest it had been since the mid-1960s. The results paid off. People wanted change, there was a process for implementing that change, and they did it. That’s how we progress in a functioning society. It’s not always as extensive as we prefer, but it’s still progress.

This was in stark contrast to those who whine constantly about what one particular gender or race has done in the past. Like I said in the previous resolution, we can’t change the past. Whining about it won’t magically conjure a time machine or rewrite history. It’ll just incur pity, which is even less productive.

There are things we can do to help people. Do you want to help women who have been sexually abused? Contribute to legal funds that help them prosecute their abusers. Do you want to help save the environment? Consider donating to the World Wildlife Fund or invest in green energy. Do you want to help victims of atrocities? Consider donating or volunteering for the Red Cross or Amnesty International.

These actions constitute meaningful change in a world that still needs it. Your money and your time are tangible assets that can do real help. Whining doesn’t help and neither does contrived outrage. We live in a complicated world where a lot of things are out of our control. By focusing on what we can control, we can make 2019 the best year it can possibly be and I’m ready to do my part.

Leave a comment

Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, Current Events, gender issues, human nature, media issues, outrage culture, political correctness, psychology, sex in society

Why “Adulting” Is Getting Harder

adulting-1

I’ve stated before that there are certain words I believe should be purged from the English lexicon. Contrived, agenda-driven terms like “toxic masculinity” or “mansplaining” are at the top of my list. I strongly believe that terminology like that is doing everything to further hostility and hinder understanding.

That being said, there are a few words that I have mixed feelings about. I think they also do plenty to divide people for all the wrong reasons, but I also understand why they exist. One term that I feel is increasingly relevant, albeit for negative reasons, is the concept of “adulting.”

I put that term in quotes for a reason, but it’s not out of sarcasm or scorn. This is one of those words that exists because there’s a need for it. Even if you think “adulting” sounds silly, chances are a word every bit as silly, if not more so, would’ve been coined. That’s because what it means to be a functioning adult is changing and not in a way that makes things easier.

This sentiment is implied in the popular definition. Even though it’s a fairly new term, it has become relevant enough to warrant a listing in the Oxford Dictionary, which defines it as follows:

The practice of behaving in a way characteristic of a responsible adult, especially the accomplishment of mundane but necessary tasks.

It may seem too simple to warrant scrutiny and maybe that was right several decades ago. However, a lot has changed in the past 30 years. A lot has changed in the past 10 years. The world isn’t as simple as it used to be. It’s become incredibly complex, full of fake news, alternative facts, and contrived outrage. That has changed what it means to be an adult.

I know this will elicit plenty of groans from certain crowds, but I’ll say it anyways. Being an adult is hard these days. Yes, I’m aware that it’s supposed to be hard to some extent. It always has been, going back to the hunter/gatherer days. Being an adult means functioning on your own and contributing to your society. You can no longer rely on parents or elders to provide for you. You must now do the providing.

It’s a challenge for many, some more so than others. However, there are some unique challenges facing adults today, especially among the younger crowds. I know this because I’m one of them. I’ve discussed the distressing issues surrounding Millennials and the potential issues that Generation Z will face in the coming years. Many of those issues, though, will affect everyone of any generation.

I’m not just referring to the crippling student loan debts that are burdening Millennials or the rising cost of housing in urban areas. There are deeper, more fundamental struggles that hinder or even discourage our ability to embrace adulthood. You want to know why nostalgia is so popular or why escapism is so prominent in media? Well, the complications and frequent frustrations that come with “adulting” are huge factors.

To understand, here’s a list of a few reasons why “adulting” is a thing and why just being an adult is getting harder. Hopefully, it’ll help make sense of this annoying, but relevant term. You’ll still probably roll your eyes whenever someone claims they cannot “adult” anymore for the day. If nothing else, this will help you understand where they’re coming from.


Too Much Information Is Overwhelming Us (And Making Us Mentally Ill)

This isn’t just a Millennial thing. It’s not even a byproduct of social media. The trend of people just getting more and more information has been happening for decades as people moved further and further away from rural, agrarian communities. Today, more people are educated now than at any point in human history. That has many benefits, but it comes at a cost.

Now, we can’t just see what’s going on in our world through pictures and streaming media. We can read about things, learn about them, and scrutinize them. That’s helpful in some instances, but in a world that’s increasingly connected and full of conflicting information, it can be overwhelming.

On top of that, we tend to find out about bad news and horrific atrocities as they’re unfolding. Many people alive today actually saw the horrors of the September 11th attacks occur on live TV. More recently, people were able to follow the horrors of the Parkland shooting as it unfolded on social media.

Being informed is part of being an adult, but when you’re informed of every horrific thing that happens in the world, it can wear on you. Some research has shown that this sort of system is impacting peoples’ mental health. In that context, it makes sense for someone to want to step back from that part of adulting.

For most of human history, we didn’t know or care about the horrors going on outside our tiny community. In the past 30 years, we know everything that’s going on everywhere. The human mind is good at a lot of things. Making sense of that much information isn’t one of them.


Our Options Feel Increasingly Limited (And We Don’t Know Which To Follow)

Growing up, every adult told me the path to success was simple. If you just stayed in school, got good grades, went to a decent college, and got a bachelor’s degree, then you were set. You could expect to find a good job with decent pay that would allow you to build a comfortable living for yourself and your future family. I believed in that path. I followed it. I can safely say it was half-true at best.

While there is plenty of merit to a college education, it’s no longer the clear-cut path it once was. I personally know people who graduated from good schools with quality degrees in subjects like engineering and they’re struggling. It’s not that people are getting useless degrees in underwater basket weaving. It’s that just getting a degree is no longer sufficient.

After graduating from college, I was in this daze for a while and many of my fellow graduates were the same. We were all told that getting this degree would set us on the right path, but nobody told us how to navigate that path or what it even looked like. As a result, most people ended up in jobs that had nothing to do with their college major.

On top of that, the job market is becoming increasingly unstable. The rise of the gig economy is making it so people don’t just live paycheck to paycheck. They live job to job, never knowing if they’ll even have one when they wake up the next day. These are not the same well-paying, blue collar factory jobs of the past. This is work that will not help pay a mortgage or a student loan debt.

However, we’re still told that this is the path. This is how we’ll prosper in the future. Even as we look for other options, most adults today don’t know how viable they are. We’re left in a state of uncertainty that past adults never had to deal with. We still need to choose, though, because our bills aren’t going to pay themselves.


There’s No Margin For Error And Every Mistake Will Follow You Forever

Remember when it was possible to make a dirty, offensive joke among friends and not worry about it haunting you for the rest of your life? I’m not being old or cantankerous. I’m serious because I do remember when that was possible. In my youth, I heard plenty of jokes that would’ve ruined someone’s life today if they’d been captured on video or posted on social media.

This isn’t just about political correctness or identity politics corrupting discourse. Adults today live in a world where any mistake they make, be it a bad joke or an off-hand comment, can come back to haunt them. It doesn’t matter if it’s from a celebrity or even if it occurs in private. It can still cost you dearly.

Now, I wish I didn’t have to say this, but I have to since I’m posting this on the internet. None of what I’m saying is implying that certain behavior, language, or comments are justified. I think it’s a good thing, for the most part, that certain people are paying a price for their bigoted attitudes. However, that good does come at a cost and it’s felt by adults at every level.

To some extent, we envy kids now because kids can say dumb things and get away with it. They’re kids. They have an excuse and it’s one of the few excuses most people accept these days. If you’re an adult, though, you’ve got nothing of the sort. You can blame liberals, conservatives, or Ambien all you want. You’re still going to pay a price.

As adults, we’re responsible for what we say and do. That’s part of what it means to be an adult. The problem is that in a world where every mistake is documented and preserved forever, our margin for error is exceedingly small. How many people don’t get the job they want because of an embarrassing photo or tweet they made a decade ago? How many people get fired because of it?

Regardless of how justified it may or may not be, it adds further stress to the inherently-stressful responsibilities that come with being an adult. The adults of today have many complications to deal with and if you mess even one up, then it could haunt you to the day you die. Now, do you understand why so many adults seem so uptight about adulting?


We Feel Like We Cannot Escape (And Badly Need To)

Life has always carried harsh burdens. Whether it was escaping wars or fighting disease, people of every generation in every period have sought out some reprieve from the endless struggle. Sometimes, it takes the form of games, drugs, books, or sports. After a long day of working the fields or gathering food, we needed some form of reprieve.

It’s as important today as it was in previous centuries. The big difference today is that we feel like we have fewer and fewer opportunities to do so. Life on farms and fields was rough, but at least the challenges were clear and laid out. We worked to survive. If we survived, we celebrated. It was simple.

Today, surviving just isn’t enough. We have bills to pay, debts to service, jobs to find, and connections to make. On top of that, we have to keep up with the news and popular trends. We have to fit into an increasingly diverse world where people of different communities and cultures are connected. It’s a lot of work, taking time and energy that go beyond plowing a field.

It doesn’t help that the abundance of information and the prominence of bad news makes the future seem so bleak. Even if society is progressing on almost every measurable level, our perceptions imply that the world outside our windows is dangerous, hostile, and hopeless. We can’t do anything about it, our politicians are inept, and our votes don’t even count.

In those frustrating circumstances, it makes sense for people to lose themselves in video games, movies, and TV shows. The whole concept of binge-watching allows adults to lose themselves in hours of content, which subsequently allows them to detach from a harsh reality that they have no hope of effecting.

Say what you want about adults who still love comic books and video games. The fact that they’re both multi-billion dollar industries is a sign that many are desperate for an escape from the frustrations of their adult lives. The things we loved as kids are just the easiest and most familiar paths.


There are plenty of other reasons I could list about “adulting” and why it’s getting increasingly difficult. I have a feeling that many adults reading this have their own sets of reasons and there will probably be more within the coming years. There will also be others who complain about anyone who tries to talk about those reasons. It’s sure to evoke more frustration and whining.

In the end, we all have to be adults at some point. There’s a time and a place to just step back from it all and take a breath. That shouldn’t be controversial, but the fact that “adulting” is now a thing means there are a lot of complications to adult life and we’re not doing a good enough job handling them.

Leave a comment

Filed under human nature, outrage culture, philosophy, psychology

The Hard Consequences Of Soft Censorship

internet-censorship

If you walked up to any random person on the street and asked them how they feel about censorship, chances are they would say they’re against it. Absent any context, most people equate censorship with tyranny and rightly so. Historically speaking, tyrannical societies are not beacons of free speech.

When you add context to that same question, though, then people are a bit more diverse in their response. They may say they’re against censorship, but they’ll also oppose hate speech and even support efforts to remove it from certain venues or platforms. It’s not the same as government-suppressed speech, but it’s still censorship on some levels.

A government’s effort to prohibit or punish speech is more daunting. That’s exactly why we have things like the First Amendment. Governments are big, powerful entities with armies and tax collectors. Their brand of censorship is a lot more concrete than others. That’s why such extensive legal protections are necessary.

When it comes less overt forms of censorship, though, the line isn’t as clear and neither are the legal protections. It can take the form of de-platforming a controversial speaker, which has happened on college campuses. It can also take the form of banning certain websites or certain subgroups within a website. These efforts aren’t usually called censorship. They’re usually referred to as preventing the spread of hate.

Personally, I don’t buy that excuse. As much as I abhor some of the things people say, both online and in person, any attempt to indirectly silence them is still censorship in my book. I call it “soft censorship” because it doesn’t involve government force. In many cases, it’s a grass roots effort to combat certain ideas that many find offensive.

That seems to be the most notable standard these days, the offensiveness of certain speech. That’s understandable, given how the world is more connected than it has ever been in human history. It’s now easier than ever for hateful, offensive speech to spread. Conversely, it’s also easy for the outrage to that speech to spread as well.

As a result, the forces behind that outrage are often the most powerful forces behind soft censorship. That outrage takes many forms too. It can be driven by political correctness, religious dogma, and general trolling. Censorship or suppression of speech is not always the stated goal, but it is often a desired result.

Given the ongoing changes to the media landscape, this brand of censorship seems to be getting more prominent than anything government effort. In fact, the reason I chose to bring this issue up is because of a few notable incidents that highlight the growing disconnect between free speech and movements to combat hate speech.

The first incident happened earlier this year and came from the gaming world, a domain that is no stranger to censorship and targeted outrage. The outrage in this case, though, had nothing to do with how beautiful women are depicted and everything to do with the policy of the popular Steam platform by Valve.

The particulars of the issue are simple. Valve was getting criticism for allowing too many violent, adult-oriented games on their platform, including those with overtly erotic themes. For a while, it looked like they would follow the same policy as Nintendo and Apple, who don’t allow anything that can’t be shown in a Disney movie.

Surprisingly, and refreshingly for some, Valve opted for a more libertarian policy. The standards are simple. As long as the content isn’t illegal or outright trolling, then it’s permitted. In the context of freedom of speech and creative freedom, this should count as a victory. However, that’s not how some saw it.

Almost immediately, Valve was heavily criticized for this freedom-centric policy and for all the wrong reasons. Some went so far as to call it irresponsible and cowardly, daring to permit games on their platform that might be overly graphic, crude, or sexy. Being a private company and not a government, that’s certainly their right.

Even so, it generated outrage. People didn’t see it as an act to promote free expression. They see it as a means of spreading hateful, offensive, sexist content and profiting from it. At at time when the video game industry sparks outrage every time it depicts a female character, Valve really took a chance by taking this approach and it’s sure to generate plenty more controversy, albeit for the wrong reasons.

Those same reasons showed up in another incident involving Reddit, a site on which I’m very active. Specifically, it involved a subreddit called KotakuInAction, which emerged in wake of the infamous GamerGate controversy in 2014. As a result, it has a reputation for being pretty brutal in its criticisms of regressive, far-left attitudes.

It’s oftent cited as one of the most “toxic” places on Reddit. There have been more than a few efforts to ban it. At one point, for reasons that I’d rather not get into, it was actually removed by its original creator. However, it was saved and put back up within less than a day, much to the relief of the nearly 100,000 subscribers.

Few will call that a victory for free speech. Those who criticize Valve and Reddit for permitting it don’t see their actions as suppressing speech. They see it as combating harassment and hate. Therein lies the problem with that effort, though. Harassment and hate are serious issues, but attacking only the speech is like attacking a single symptom of a much larger disease.

Even if Reddit had permanently banned KotakuInAction and Valve had opted to censor offensive games, it wouldn’t have made the ideas behind them disappear. Like putting a censor bar in front of female breasts, it doesn’t change the fact that they’re there and that they have an impact.

You could turn off the internet, burn every book, and shut down every newspaper tomorrow. That still wouldn’t stop people from thinking and feeling the things that lead them to want to say something offensive or create an offensive game. Speech is just a byproduct of ideas. Attacking the speech is not the same as confronting the source.

In fact, doing so can be counterproductive. There’s a real phenomenon called the Streisand Effect wherein efforts to hide, remove, or cenors something ends drawing more attention to it. The fact that Area 51 is a super-secret government facility that everyone knows about shows how powerful that effect can be.

In the context of combating hate, efforts to censor those behind it can end up elevating their message. When someone is censored, there’s an application of force implied. Whether it’s from a government or a moderator on a message board, censorship requires some level of force. Applying it to anyone is going to put them in a position to feel oppressed and that oppression tends to fuel hatred.

Harassment is different because when it comes to free speech, the line between discourse and threats is a bit less ambiguous. The Supreme Court has established a criteria for what constitutes “fighting words,” but it’s when things happen on a computer screen where it gets tricky.

Like hate, though, there’s a right and wrong way to deal with harassment. The right way to deal with a direct threat is to contact local law enforcement. The wrong way is to make it into a spectacle that requires that both the harasser and the platform they used to be condemned.

It’s an inescapable fact of life in any functioning society. The same platforms we use to interact will be used by others for disgusting, hateful, and offensive activities. We may feel disgust and revulsion for these things, but trying to silence both the people and the platform doesn’t make the sentiment behind it go away.

That’s the ultimate danger of soft censorship. It’s not like a censorship-loving government that can be overthrown or reformed. It’s a mentality that seeks to remove content from certain mediums in hopes that it will subsequently discourage the mentality behind it. Unfortunately, human beings aren’t wired that way.

That’s the ultimate danger of soft censorship. It’s not like a censorship-loving government that can be overthrown or reformed. It’s a mentality that seeks to remove content from certain mediums in hopes that it will subsequently discourage the mentality behind it. Considering the impact of the the Streisand Effect, it’s utterly backwards.

I’m all for confronting hate and combating harassment, but not through censorship, hard or soft. It’s hard enough trying to change someone’s mind in an era where they can customize their news feeds. At the end of the day, we can only truly affect someone’s heart and mind by focusing on the person and not what’s on their computer screens.

Leave a comment

Filed under censorship, Current Events, human nature, media issues, political correctness

Why We Should Accept James Gunn’s Apology And Support His Re-Hiring

screen-shot-2018-07-05-at-1-31-06-pm

In the spirit of honesty and transparency, I’m going to admit something that should surprise no one.

I, Jack Fisher, have said horrible, offensive things in the past. For that, I sincerely apologize.

I’ll give everyone a moment to recoil in shock. Now, I’ll turn off the sarcasm and get serious because this is an issue I’ve already done plenty to belabor. People say offensive things. People write offensive things. I know I have, given some of the sensitive topics I’ve covered.

I’m certainly not alone. These days, it’s hard to go more than a day without reading something horribly offensive on social media. Not all of the offense warrants the same outrage, though. Some comments are just trolling. Some trigger reactions that lead to actual crimes. Not all offensive speech warrants immense outrage is what I’m saying.

That brings me to James Gunn, the man who made movies about a talking raccoon, a talking tree, and the goofy guy from “Parks and Recreation” that went onto make over $1.6 billion at the box office. His star really rose fast after the unexpected success of “Guardians of the Galaxy.” He’s credited with taking the Marvel Cinematic Universe to cosmic heights. He has accomplished a lot in the past four years.

Now, he’s been fired. He’ll have no part in “Guardians of the Galaxy 3.” The circumstances, context, and fallout from this huge turn of events is astonishing, but for all the wrong reasons.

The particulars here are striking. Mr. Gunn was not fired because he committed a serious crime or got embroiled in a disturbing scandal. He got fired because someone who didn’t agree with his political views dug up some old social media posts from 10 years ago that were lewd, offensive, and downright disgusting.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Gunn apologized for it immediately. He didn’t make excuses. He didn’t whine about fake news. He didn’t claim his account was hacked. He took ownership of the things he said and apologized.

Many people who have followed my career know when I started, I viewed myself as a provocateur, making movies and telling jokes that were outrageous and taboo. As I have discussed publicly many times, as I’ve developed as a person, so has my work and my humor.

It’s not to say I’m better, but I am very, very different than I was a few years ago; today I try to root my work in love and connection and less in anger. My days saying something just because it’s shocking and trying to get a reaction are over.

In the past, I have apologized for humor of mine that hurt people. I truly felt sorry and meant every word of my apologies.

For the record, when I made these shocking jokes, I wasn’t living them out. I know this is a weird statement to make, and seems obvious, but, still, here I am, saying it.

Anyway, that’s the completely honest truth: I used to make a lot of offensive jokes. I don’t anymore. I don’t blame my past self for this, but I like myself more and feel like a more full human being and creator today. Love you to you all.

It still wasn’t enough, though. He still got fired and there’s a very good chance that the career he worked so hard for has been damaged beyond repair. It’s all because of horrible things he said 10 years ago. That’s worth emphasizing because the person someone is now and the person they were 10 years ago can be very different.

People grow, develop, and change over the course of their lives. I certainly have. In that time, people will say and do things that they don’t realize will have major consequences 10 years down the line. We can’t even know what kind of person we’ll be a week from now, let alone 10 years.

We’re going to do and say dumb things. That’s just a part of being human. However, now that the internet and social media document these things, our worst moments and most ill-advised decisions are there for all to see. We can no longer trust people to just forget. In Mr. Gunn’s case, someone went out of their way to dig up these horrible comments and that continues a dangerous precedent.

That precedent was already set with Rosanne Barr and this effectively raises the stakes. Now, even when you don’t blame sleep medications and give a sincere apology, you can still lose everything you’ve worked for. All it takes is someone with enough free time, resources, and hatred to do it. For celebrities, these are dangerous and unforgiving times, indeed.

Now, I know it’s hard to feel sympathy for celebrities, who live in big mansions, get preferential treatment wherever they go, and never have to worry about their next mortgage payment. Mr. Gunn is probably going to be okay thanks to the millions he’s already made. At the same time, though, what does undermining his career accomplish?

It doesn’t undo the things he said. It doesn’t undo any of the offense people felt. If anything, it sends a message to aspiring celebrities that anything they say and do will be used against them in the future. Even if that makes some people more careful about what they say online, it doesn’t change the fact that people will say and do dumb things every now and then.

It’s a no-win situation. If you can’t make excuses or offer a sincere apology, then what is the recourse? What was Mr. Gunn’s alternative? Short of going back in time and punching himself in the throat, there was nothing he could’ve done. How is that fair? How is that even logical?

On some levels, I don’t blame Marvel Studios and Disney for cutting ties with Mr. Gunn. They’re a multi-billion dollar media conglomerate that is very sensitive to the value of their brand. They’re also a private entity and not a government so the first amendment does not necessarily apply to them. They can fire whoever they want for whatever reason they want.

Even so, there doesn’t appear to be much effort to accept Mr. Gunn’s apology. While some have expressed understanding, there isn’t much effort in terms of undoing the damage. It’s as though this is the new normal. This is what happens to anyone who dares to let their stupidity end up on the internet. There’s no forgiveness. There are no second chances, either. If you mess up once, you’re finished and your career is over.

Think about the larger implications of that situation. If that’s how we’re going to deal with people who say offensive things, then where’s the real incentive for people to learn from their mistakes? Why would anyone even try to apologize or show regret if the end result is the same?

That’s not to say the situation is hopeless. There is already a Change.org petition to urge Marvel and Disney to rehire Mr. Gunn. As of this writing, it has over 150,000 signatures. Whether that’s enough remains to be seen and the fact that something like that is necessary to accept someone’s apology is still saying a lot.

I already worry that the next time a well-known celebrity says or does something offensive, they won’t even bother with apologizing. Why would they if it’s just going to sink their career or require a petition to keep it going? What kind of excuses will they resort to and how much more damaging will they be?

Accepting apologies aren’t just good values to live by. They’re critical to helping people grow as human beings. I believe Mr. Gunn meant it when he apologized, but I worry that he and other celebrities like him will come to see it as an empty gesture that won’t save their careers.

There are plenty of cases where accepting someone’s apology just isn’t warranted, especially if they have a history of saying and doing terrible things. Mr. Gunn is not such a case. If ever there was a time to set a precedent for accepting someone’s sincere apology, this is it. Even if it’s too late for Mr. Gunn, it’s still a precedent worth setting.

Leave a comment

Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, censorship, Current Events, human nature, media issues, psychology, superhero movies

Why Henry Cavill Shouldn’t Apologize For His Comments On The Anti-Harassment Movement (But Still Had To)

gettyimages-873854634-1200x800

What does it say about the state of a society when people have to apologize for voicing honest, legitimate concerns? Pragmatically speaking, it implies that the value of truth and just has been subsumed by other influences. Whether it’s politics or ideology, it’s not hard for society to get to a point where unreasonable forces subvert reasonable issues.

In that sense, it’s ironic that the latest person to experience those influences once played Superman, the personification of truth, justice, and the American way. Henry Cavill, whose star has risen significantly since he broke out in “Man of Steel,” got into some hot water recently after an interview with GQ.

In that interview, he essentially made the same mistake Matt Damon made when he tried to comment on the anti-harassment movement. He said something that was reasonable, honest, and understandable from a purely logistical standpoint. He’s worried that something as simile as flirting with a woman could somehow be construed as harassment, which could lead to a full-blown scandal.

For reference, these were his exact words from the interview and the ones that subsequently led him down the same path as Matt Damon.

It’s very difficult to do that if there are certain rules in place. Because then it’s like: ‘Well, I don’t want to go up and talk to her, because I’m going to be called a rapist or something’. So you’re like, ‘Forget it, I’m going to call an ex-girlfriend instead, and then just go back to a relationship, which never really worked’. But it’s way safer than casting myself into the fires of hell, because I’m someone in the public eye, and if I go and flirt with someone, then who knows what’s going to happen?

Now? Now you really can’t pursue someone further than, ‘No’. It’s like, ‘OK, cool’. But then there’s the, ‘Oh why’d you give up?’ And it’s like, ‘Well, because I didn’t want to go to jail?’

Think about what he’s saying here and take a step back to see how he got to that point. He’s talking about being called a rapist just for going up to a woman and talking to her. How is that reasonable? It’s not. It sounds paranoid, but it’s perfectly understandable in the current social climate.

It’s easy to picture a scenario where someone like Cavill walks up to a woman, starts flirting, and ends up saying something inappropriate. That’s not just something men do. Women do that too. Being vulgar knows no gender. However, if the woman in this scenario takes particular offense, it could be construed as harassment or even assault.

If a woman was especially vindictive or just prone to exaggeration, she could accuse him of assaulting her. Even if those accusations aren’t even close to warranting an actual crime, it would still be devastating. The accusation alone would be enough to derail a promising career.

You don’t have to look far for evidence of this. Aziz Ansari was not charged with any crimes for the infamous incident that came out earlier this year and even if he had been, there’s no way he would’ve been convicted. An incident built entirely around a he said/she-said situation doesn’t come close to meeting the burden of proof for a criminal conviction.

That doesn’t matter, though. Ansari’s career has already taken a major down turn. His hit show, “Masters of None,” has not been renewed by Netflix since the allegations came out. Men like Henry Cavill, whose careers are ascending, certainly take notice of that. They don’t even have to commit a crime and suddenly, everything they worked for is in ashes.

For powerful men in Hollywood, it’s a reasonable concern, but one they probably won’t get much sympathy for expressing. Men like Henry Cavill are rich, successful, and handsome enough to comfortably wear Superman’s skin-tight costume. He’s a man who can attract women just by breathing. However, that may end up making him even more vulnerable.

Most people aren’t going to be inclined to make a big deal about someone who flirts inappropriately. When that person is a celebrity, though, the incentives are much stronger. You need only have an overreaction or a burning desire for attention to twist it into something much worse.

It’s for that reason that Cavill shouldn’t have apologized for his comments. His concerns are legitimate and after all the work he’s put in, he’s right to worry about the forces that might destroy it. That still didn’t matter. His comments still triggered a major backlash on social media. He also had to apologize for it. These were his exact words.

“Having seen the reaction to an article in particular about my feelings on dating and the #metoo movement, I just wanted to apologize for any confusion and misunderstanding that this may have created. Insensitivity was absolutely not my intention. In light of this I would just like to clarify and confirm to all that I have always and will continue to hold women in the highest of regard, no matter the type of relationship whether it be friendship, professional, or a significant other. Never would I intend to disrespect in any way, shape or form. This experience has taught me a valuable lesson as to the context and the nuance of editorial liberties. I look forward to clarifying my position in the future towards a subject that it so vitally important and in which I wholeheartedly support.”

Notice that there’s nothing in that apology that expands on his concerns. Cavill doesn’t attempt to re-frame his point or address some of the complaints levied against him. He just throws his hands up and apologizes about everything, as though every word he said was factually wrong.

Now, to be fair to Cavill, it’s very likely that the statement he gave was written by a publicist or agent. Chances are he was pressured to read that as quickly as possible in order to prevent him from getting labeled a misogynist or someone who did not wholly support the anti-harassment movement. Even if he didn’t feel inclined to apologize, he still had to do it in order to preserve his career and reputation.

Regardless of his reasons for doing so, he still apologized for telling the honest truth. The backlash he received didn’t even argue that truth. Most of it amounted to scoffing at the concerns of a rich, handsome celebrity who is undeserving of any sympathy. One commenter even went so far as to call him a wannabe victim.

Such criticism is every bit as absurd as the kind Matt Damon got when he dared to point out that there’s a difference between patting a woman on the butt and full-blown rape. They also fail to acknowledge that it’s entirely possible for a woman to be vindictive enough to falsely accuse someone of a heinous crime for the sole purpose of ruining their career, despite documented cases that this has happened.

It’s one thing to expose the serious crimes of predators like Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein. Those cases did have evidence and are being processed through appropriate legal means. The behaviors Henry Cavill described don’t even come close to that kind of conduct.

The fact that Cavill had to apologize sets a dangerous precedent for the anti-harassment movement. History has shown that any movement that throws off honest truth and basic justice is built on a poor foundation. In time, that foundation eventually crumbles and the merits of the movement get lost.

There are plenty of behaviors among celebrities and non-celebrities that warrant outrage. What Henry Cavill said wasn’t one of them. The fact he still had to apologize for his words does not bode well for anyone concerned with the values that heroes like Superman embody.

8 Comments

Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, Current Events, gender issues, media issues, political correctness, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality

Why Social Media Is NOT The New Tobacco

social-media-addict-needles-e1515160737606

It’s a full-blown crisis. Kids are spending hours upon hours using it. They’re becoming mindless, unmotivated zombies. Every day, it’s getting worse. It’s all around them. There’s no escaping it and if something drastic isn’t done, it’ll corrupt an entire generation beyond repair.

No, that’s not some hysterical rant from Jessica Lovejoy on “The Simpsons.” It’s not referring to smartphones or social media, either. That urgent message was referring to television. This isn’t another one of my thought experiments. This is one of my memories. It’s true. Televisions was a real concern when I was a kid. Some called it a full blown health hazard.

If that sounds strange, then chances are you aren’t old enough to remember a time before the internet was the ultimate addiction. It really existed. It makes me and many others in my cohort feel old, but it happened. When I was a kid still in grade school, especially between first and sixth grade, the internet wasn’t the thing destroying kids. It was television.

That memory I mentioned wasn’t unique. It came courtesy of an assembly my school held. I don’t entirely remember the purpose of the assembly. I was just a kid and it was an excuse to get out of class. What I do remember, though, was the common refrain about the dangers of television.

Adults of all kinds would find creative ways to tell us to stop watching television and do something “productive,” which I took to mean more homework, more chores, and anything else my teachers made me do. It didn’t really appeal to me and I don’t think it changed the TV habits of my peers, either.

That panic, while nowhere nearly as extreme as the Satanic Panic of the 80s, came and went like many moral crusades tend to do. Some are just forgotten, but others just evolve into a whole new panic. That seems to be happening with the internet and social media now. Watching TV is actually in decline among younger cohorts while their usage of the internet and social media is increasing.

I imagine those same teachers who bemoaned the impact of TV when I was a kid would be giving similar lectures on social media now. They would have competition too because parents today worry about their kids’ internet usage more than their drug usage. Some go so far as to call it the new tobacco to belabor its damaging and addictive nature.

While that kind of comparison strikes all the right emotional chords with concerned parents, I think it’s an unfit comparison to say the least. At most, I would call it absurd. The memories of all those warnings about the dangers of TV leave me inherently skeptical of anything that’s allegedly poisoning children. Unless it’s actual poison, I think the tobacco comparisons are premature.

Now, there’s no question that the internet and social media are having an impact on young people, old people, and everyone in between. There are documented cases where people have exhibited addictive behaviors surrounding their internet usage. Before you make any nicotine comparisons, though, keep in mind that people can be addicted to all sorts of weird things. The human mind is just that strange, powerful, and flawed.

Tobacco, and the nicotine it delivers, is an outside chemical that enters the brain and has real, measurable effects. Using the internet, whether you’re checking FaceBook or browsing Instagram, is not like that. That’s why internet addiction is not in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders that legitimate doctors use to diagnose addiction, but substance abuse is.

It’s also why porn addiction is not considered a true addiction, which I’ve talked about before. However, porn is more specific in its purpose and its effects. There’s also still a stigma, albeit a damaging one, surrounding it that sets it apart from the rest of the internet. A kid browsing the internet, for the most part, is no less damaging than watching cartoons on TV all day.

That doesn’t stop a growing number of people from expressing sincere concern about the effects it’s having on their minds and their health. Some may even prefer that their kids watch old Hanna Barbara cartoons rather than tweet, text, and live-stream all day. There’s a growing sentiment that the internet, social media in particular, hacks our brain’s rewards system.

On paper, it makes sense. You pick up your smart phone, you turn it on not knowing what to expect, and if you find something you like, you get a quick release of pleasure chemicals like dopamine and endorphins. It’s basically a form of gambling. A slot machine works the same way, but you don’t need to be a high roller to enjoy the gambling-like thrill.

Like so many other ideas on paper that go onto fail, though, it’s nowhere near that simple. The human brain can’t be that crude with its chemistry. As a good rule of thumb, if you ever hear someone other than a legitimate neurologist talks about the effects of dopamine on pleasure or addiction, chances are they have a very limited understanding of it at best.

While dopamine does play a role in how we experience pleasure, that’s just one part of a wide range of functions it has within our brains. Trying to understand addiction through dopamine alone is like trying to bake a cake with only a teaspoon of flour. There are many more chemicals, processes, and interactions at play.

Using social media may offer its users a rush whenever they get exciting news on their feed or see something that intrigues and/or offends them, but our brain processes that in a way fairly similar to anything else that catches our attention. The primary difference with the internet and social media is that it happens solely through a digital screen and that does somewhat limit those reactions.

I know that undercuts the concerns of parents who think the internet permanently damaging the collective psyche of their children, but I think they’re overestimating the influence of things that are experienced solely through a screen. Much like TV, the internet and social media can only effect so many senses and that is a major mitigating factor in its impact.

To understand that, go find a picture or video of an exotic location. If you’re a heavy user of Instagram, chances are that won’t be too hard. Look at those pictures. Watch that video. Take in the sights and sounds of that location. To your brain, it’s an appealing bit of visual and auditory sensations. However, those are the only two senses it stimulates.

What about the smell of the air, the feeling of the wind, and the sense of place that being in those locations evokes in our brains? Even if you experience it through hyper-realistic virtual reality, it’s still just sights and sounds at most. Thinking that alone is enough to damage a kid’s brain is like thinking someone can win a sword fight with a sewing needle.

That’s not to say the internet and social media can’t have a powerful psychological impact on certain people. That’s the key, though. It impacts certain people the same way TV impacts certain people. Sure, there are documented cases where social media played a role in a major tragedy, but those are the exceptions and not the norms.

In the same way not everyone gets addicted to a drug after they try it, not everyone is going to be irreparably damaged by the internet, social media, or TV. There’s a reason why extreme cases of people being heavily influenced by these things makes the news in the first place. It’s exceedingly rare.

I would still make the case that the internet and social media are more influential on people, society, and our culture than TV ever was. By being so hyper-connected to such a wide audience, the professional trolls of the world have a way to effect others in a way that just wasn’t possible, even with TV.

As bad as some of those trolls are and as tragic as it is when some suffer because of them, blaming the internet for those ills is like blaming umbrellas for hurricanes. Lumping it in with cancer-causing drugs only further obscures the real issues associated with the ever-evolving internet.

There are, indeed, serious issues with how people use the internet and how it manifests. However, treating it like a dangerous drug did nothing to address the issues surrounding TV. It’ll do just as little in addressing the various controversies of the internet. Until the next “new tobacco” comes along, those same people who lectured me on too much TV will bemoan the dangers of the internet while ignoring all the good it does.

Leave a comment

Filed under Current Events, human nature, media issues, psychology