Clickbait & Rage Culture: Why Your Outrage Only Makes Me Stronger
Sometimes it seems that the biggest threat to modern civilization is not a world-altering-life-threatening-virus but rather the opinions of strangers on the internet. Whilst I always had my suspicions that this might be the case, it wasn’t until recently that the highest standard of empirical evidence (Instagram, obviously) validated my speculations. A couple of days ago I shared an excerpt from a piece of satire which featured a line where the author beseeched higher powers to drone strike Lahore (though lightning would’ve also sufficed but I guess that’s no fun in the digital age boo) in an effort to rid the city of emotionally crippled men. The comment, meant in clear jest (and one I’m sure anyone with prolonged exposure to this particular subsect of men could empathize with) somehow managed to successfully rustle a couple of jimmies. I don’t even know any jimmies and yet, they managed to get rustled.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that any person in possession of a dark sense of humor in the age of the internet must be in want, no, need of a moral compass (I hear those now come built-in with the new iPhone 12).
It was in this vein, that one of my followers felt the need to slide into my DMs and pull a “that’s a bit elitist and insensitive isn’t it? Drone strike victims in Pak are disproportionately male” 🙁 🙁 🙁 Huh. At this point I’m not sure what the point of contention is but it’s beginning to sound a little bit like “Kim, there are people dying” except the “don’t be mean to men” version. Don’t worry though, this person will soon turn the tables and instead make it about how this comment regarding a made-up satirical doomsday scenario, where drone strikes curiously render only Lahori daddy’s boys extinct, is insensitive to the people in North Waziristan. Because obviously the people in Lahore, the capital city of the most prosperous province in Pakistan with a GDP that exceeds 5 times that of Peshawar, the capital city of KPK are a comparable demographic. In fact, a truly class-conscious individual might’ve even argued “actually yeah! get those Lahori bastards, leave the folks in North Waziristan alone!” But I digress.
I’ll save you all the details of the painful back and forth that ensued. I, refusing to take his attempts at genuine engagement over a shit post seriously, imparted gems like “single women are historically the most oppressed group” with him in all seriousness telling me “um we shouldn’t try to compare oppressed groups to one another” (wait, do you actually consider single women to be oppressed…?). Towards the end when they figured their attempts at mansplaining politics, political correctness, internet etiquette and what I should or shouldn’t consider funny were not at all fruitful, they tried to backtrack saying “I don’t know what I said to offend you but I’m exiting this conversation”. This is where I felt that things should end with a finishing blow. I asked one thing: “what did you hope to achieve out of this?” And that is my question to all my keyboard warriors.
Knowing that something was posted by a private individual on their own personal social media account, something that was clearly written as satire, shared by that individual, not quite reflective of their opinion on something that is a serious issue in the world today (and in all real world contexts should not be taken lightly) – what do you hope to achieve by engaging with them on this topic (or any other topic for that matter) through a tactic of moral posturing? When asked “isn’t this insensitive and elitist”, if I had simply answered “no”, would this person have been satisfied? Would it have been enough? We all know the answer to those questions is also “no.” (And no means no. That’s still a thing, right? right??) But also, what if I had said “yes”? Yes. It is insensitive. Yes, it is elitist. Will that sole admission by a random person on the internet magically stop drone strikes from happening? Will it bring back the countless lives lost to this devastating feature of modern warfare? Will the powers-that-be get a notification from Zuckerberg and call the Pentagon saying “Guys, project drone strike is a no-go, its insensitive and elitist. Noor Waheed has admitted this on Instagram”. Yeah, I don’t think so. And if you do, well then, I want whatever it is that you’re smoking.
In my eyes, this little encounter stands out as a drop in the vast ocean of many such encounters representative of a broader (dare I say it, …more problematic, gasp) trend in internet culture. A trend, where keyboard warriors wielding the moral big stick perform what they imagine to be the social media equivalent of “It’s over, Anakin! I have the high ground!”. Except it’s not Anakin. It’s some possibly well-intentioned idiot making bad jokes on the internet. And Obi-Wan is tumblr. All of it. The kind of trend that may end up doing more harm than good in the limitations it imposes on the breadth of acceptable or more accurately palatable human expression. I’m not pressed (okay, I’m a little pressed) about someone disagreeing with my opinion. I’m only pressed about them being wrooooong. (I’m kidding…mostly.)
People making bad jokes on the internet are not the enemy (enemy of humor perhaps but not the enemy). They are not the obstacles in the path of social progress and the eradication of societal ills. What they are though are easy targets of a community that fetishizes outrage, mere receptacles for misplaced frustrations regarding a broken system that is not changing and is causing a lot of people needless suffering.
To the credit of the person who started this whole debacle, they admitted that maybe the desire to correct someone comes from a place of misplaced moral superiority. They couldn’t really explain why they chose to message me knowing that what was shared was in jest and not reflective of the true opinions of the author or the shit-poster. So next time, as great as it feels to cancel someone for being a little turd on the internet and sharing something that was “totes not funny” (to you), maybe something to think about while you’re stewing in your own self-satisfaction is how your weapon of choice, your keyboard, your phone (possibly even your tiktok addled brain) was probably manufactured in a sweatshop in China. Oops.
So much for the high ground.
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