Monday, November 4, 2013

Satire That Causes Offense, or, Facebook as a Mirror Rather Than a Bulletin Board

I'm not a dedicated American football fan, really. I can't get away from it in autumn, and I certainly can't get away from the crimson and gold (or whatever the Official Colors are) of the Washington Professional Football Team. I can't call them by their moniker anymore. I agree with the naysayers: it's a racial slur.

Having said that, I'm not actively campaigning for the name change. (See "American football fan, not" reference above.) Plus, if I was to be a fan for any team, I would choose the one named after a poem. (Go ahead, search your mem— yeah, that one!). Plus, I like purple.

As I perused my Facebook news feed recently, I saw a friend had posted an Onion article about the issue. The author supposed that Washington team owner Dan Snyder was Jewish and used hair-raising racial slurs associated with Judaism to describe him while printing Snyder's defense of this team's name. It was rich, ironic and biting. I posted it.

A few minutes later, my phone rang. It was my brother-in-law. That article on my wall, he said, was offensive.

He was absolutely right. It was offensive. The Onion made the perfect argument that racial slurs are indefensible.

"Yeah, it is. You've heard of The Onion, right? The satirical newspaper?" I asked.

"It's offensive," he repeated.

"Yes, I can see why you say that."

That was pretty much our exchange. He didn't ask me why I posted it, or what I thought of it, or even to delete it. He just expressed his offense.

I understand the power of words. In the recent past, I found myself reminding people from whence the verbs "gyp" and "jew" came so they truly understand what they're saying. I've asked people to not "skin a cat" or "beat a dead horse" in conversation with me. I get it: language matters, words matter. (So does punctuation, but that's another issue altogether.)

However,  I try to not take Facebook personally any more than I take bumper stickers and t-shirts personally. It's not easy: I see one particular bumper sticker on my running route that makes my blood boil. (For the record, it shows disrespect to the office of the President of the United States of America.) Deep down, I know that no one puts on a t-shirt with the intent to "piss off Chris." (Trust me, I don't have that power or influence.) It has nothing to do with me.

It has everything to do with them. People want to see themselves reflected on Facebook. When they don't, they feel the need to fix that, and that never results in an exchange of differing opinions, just an announcement that the other person is wrong. We've personalized our computing devices to the point that we think they should only show us things that we want. I suppose that's next in the social media world; let's give Google a few more years.

In the meantime, it's back to cute, innocuous photos for me — until someone needs to express her or his offense because of their allergy to bees, or cats, or cooks, or Heaven knows what. Perhaps I should unplug before I cause more offense, but I truly believe the Internet needs more Ginger. I suppose only time will tell. Happy Facebook, y'all.

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