The ones judging, I mean.My first thought when I heard about the gorilla enclosure incident was—“Wow, that zoo has a real problem if 4 year olds can figure out how to breach a habitat”—NOT “where was the mom?” Because I know exactly where the Mom was and if there is any parent alive who has not looked away for a second and had a child vanish, I would like to meet them.
My first reaction when I heard about the alligator was to cry. Because that’s what you do when another human being is confronted with a horrific, tragic incident that costs them their beloved child. You cry. And you thank your lucky stars that no alligator emerged from the many lakes on the Disney property you had visited, because now you know it could happen. I admit, it never crossed my mind as possible before.All screens large and small have made us voyeurs into each other’s lives; whether on the limited stage of Facebook or the infinite stage of cable television and the internet, our increased access to the travails of our fellow man seems to be engendering more a haughty sense of self-righteousness than a compassionate sense of connection. Why is this so?
Is it the fact of the screen itself that makes others seem like fictional characters on a soap opera; or is it our own isolation from self-reflection and one-on-one engagement that causes us to disconnect from the raw emotion?Although the advent of social media has been a boon to judgers everywhere, I believe the real voyeuristic creep began way back when we made the transition from having three TV networks to the vast landscape of cable television. With so many channels there couldn’t possibly be enough scripted programming, so quasi-reality began with things like Divorce Court and talk shows like Jerry Springer; and with the popularity of those, the entertainment industry got the hint that we were becoming quite avidly interested not so much in other people, but in other people’s problems.
Once TV became no longer just a relative handful of sparkly celebrities we admired, but also a whole boatload of regular Joe’s, we became more critical. We were enjoying not their superiority, but smugly, our own. And with this inevitable self-comparison to the idiots on Judge Judy, we started thinking, “Why I could be on TV!”The weird shift from “people-who-are-on-TV-because-they-are-talented-performers-telling-an-interesting-story” to “people-who-are-on-TV-because-they are-imbeciles-who-make-freakishly-bad-decisions” commenced; reality TV became the craze, where actual human beings connived and backstabbed and behaved their very worst for fun and prizes!
And we watched and we thought, “I could do that”. For a million dollars, I can become my very foulest self on national television!!! I can leave an indelible impression on this world of my sneakiest, most morally bankrupt, most intimacy-impaired persona!!! Bring on Big Brother, For Love or Money, Survivor, The Apprentice et al!
And more and more people thought…gee, I can do that. And so someone invented a darling little thing called YouTube, where you can make videos of yourself and post them publically for the whole wide world to see. You might want to sing a song, or make a short film; but, if you’re troubled for time, a racist rant or the callous objectification of a suicide victim might get you a lot of attention, too.But let’s say you are just not even that motivated. You don’t want the hassle of filling out applications for reality TV, you can’t afford a phone with a decent camera…what is there for you, who dreams of being famous but just doesn’t want to put any gosh darn effort into it? For you, Mark Zuckerberg invented Facebook.
WAH-LA! Now everyone can be a “star”, everyone can have a page all about themselves and they can grant access to anyone and everyone they ever met and even people they haven’t met but who maybe got drunk once with their second cousin.This shift has happened gradually—your life as entertainment!—and the pressure to perform is tremendous. How many “likes” did you get? How does your life compare to the lives of your family and peers? And why wasn’t I invited to that party???
So now insecurities get triggered and we have to figure out a way to quell them—hence, the judgments begin. We talk a lot about cyber-bullying in relation to teens and the ease with which cruel messages can be relayed without having to look the other in the eye; this same principle is at play when so-called adults start theorizing about how much better they could have handled any given situation or openly attacking each other’s views from a safe cyber-distance.Let’s face it, even in real life we all armchair quarterback our friends and families because a) we actually know them and have a genuine sense of both the personalities and circumstances at play and b) we have perspective on and love for the people in question. I’m not saying this is right or wrong; I’m just saying we have a CONTEXT for what we are doing.
With strangers and acquaintances, however, we are getting a tiny soundbite of their lives and then making sweeping judgments and pronouncements based on it. Isn’t this the same principle at the very heart of prejudices? What is the difference between judging someone you don’t really know for one element of who they are—a women, a Muslim, a homosexual, a Mexican for a few examples—and judging someone you don’t know for one post, tweet, comment or otherwise out-of-context moment in time?So that brings us to present day, with the reality TV star we elected (yes, we did!) in the White House (who daily makes an indelible impression of his sneakiest, most morally bankrupt, most intimacy-impaired persona and who, not coincidentally, openly judges women, Muslims, homosexuals and Mexicans, for a few examples) living his whole life in soundbites. Here we are, with our nation’s disassociated citizens gunning each other down in record numbers, more and more often in cold blood. Here we sit in our armchairs, staring at our screens, judging and attacking each other in a voyeuristic frenzy of self-righteousness.
Here we sit, staring at our screens, while our children are murdering each other at school.My first reaction when I heard about the Parkland shooting was to cry. Because that’s what you do when other human beings are confronted with a horrific, tragic incident that costs them their beloved children. You cry. And thank your lucky stars that your own child has not been killed in his or her classroom, because this is something that happens now in the United States of America. It never crossed my mind as possible when I was a kid.
Columbine occurred before the Parkland kids were even born. They have grown up, every minute of their lives, knowing that such a thing is possible. They have grown up watching us sit in our “thoughts and prayers” armchairs and do nothing to prevent this from being so; they have grown up watching lawmakers connive and backstab and behave their very worst for fun and prizes (from the NRA)!And these kids, these actual survivors, have decided they have had enough with our armchair quarterbacking. They are taking to the streets AND screens, declaring their intention to succeed where we have failed in protecting them; they are calling out the reality-TV-star-in-chief on his feeble impotence, in spite of his insistence that they pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.
And, like many generations before them who have called adults out on their complacency and bs, they are leading the revolution. Just look at them go! You’ll be happy to know you can do this from the comfort of your armchair, where you are slowly dying to the idea of your own humanity.Those of us who grew up before the internet, before camera phones, before the 24-hour news cycle, still live with the delusion that there is someplace to hide; these kids, who have grown up on the world wide web, know the truth. They will not have their existence reduced to soundbites; they will not “get over” the experience of watching their classmates killed before their eyes; needlessly, violently. They will stand, they will speak out, and they will fight.
So why are you still sitting?