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By now, you've read about THE STORY everyone's talking about on the Internet. You know. THE SHOCKING STORY that sparked some kind of viral hashtag movement. And the celebrities? Those fuckers are weighing in, hand over fist! They fear, yet respect, THE GASP-INDUCING STORY (as it threatens to vampirically leech away their own fame).

And thanks to the cataclysmically short attention span of the Internet, THE GODDAMN STORY is inevitably locked in one of the following five stages before it dissipates into wistful nothingness, like a gentle fart in a raging typhoon.

Stage 1: Everyone Dogpiles A Single Narrative (And Immediately Ignores Anything Else)

Daughter #3

In late July, an apparently famous lion was shot in a protected area of Zimbabwe. His name was Cecil, and he was cherished like the God Of Candy And Beer, at least according to every goddamn word-maker on the Internet.

via dailymail.co.uk

via telegraph.co.uk
Many of whom couldn't even spell "Zimbabwe" until just now.

Everyone boarded the mad-wagon. "How dare they kill Cecil, a lion we've known and cherished for many years!" we screamed in disbelief.

via Reuters

Despite his sudden notoriety, most of Zimbabwe's population was far more concerned about being eaten by lions than mourning one that was ganked -- and that's if the ridiculous poverty didn't starve them to death first. And while I'm not denying that Cecil's death was needless and tragic, I'm also betting that 99 percent of the people reading this had no idea who he was. And we all played along -- because once we stuck to that first narrative, it seemed almost impossible to escape that tunnel vision. And this is the mark we miss every goddamn time.

Hey guys, remember Kony 2012? I'll give you a moment to dust that one off in your mind attic with this handy reminder:

Zazzle Apparel

That T-shirt superstar is Joseph Kony -- the leader of a group responsible for more than 100,000 deaths in Africa, as well as the kidnappings of 60,000 children. Back when America gave a shit about that, we took it upon ourselves to pilot a massive hashtag campaign that included an awareness day on April 20, which coincided with one of Kony's most horrific massacres. While that sounds reasonable on paper, the problem was that the entire Kony 2012 movement was so blindly centered on the perpetrator of the attacks, that they forgot to consider what plastering this guy's face everywhere would do to his victims. As one Ugandan citizen pointed out, this was the equivalent of the rest of the world using Osama Bin Laden on all their T-shirts, posters, and party accessories to honor 9/11.

See, making someone famous for their atrocities only works if we follow up and keep tabs on that person. And in Kony's case, no one in Uganda needed a reminder that this man existed -- and all us rubberneckers on the outside weren't doing shit to help catch him. But, of course, we would be shitting ourselves to think that any of this had to do with finding justice or helping victims, instead of satisfying our own need for a "good versus evil" brawl. It's the same reason why we're so quick to condemn secretly recorded racists such as Hulk Hogan and Donald Sterling, without addressing how shitty the act of recording someone against their knowledge is.

Los Angeles Clippers
Almost as shitty as forcing us to stick up for Donald Sterling.

Stage 2: We Spend All Our Time Attacking The Enemy, Instead Of Trying To Change Him Or Her

Adam Bettcher/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Everyone knows that all you have to do to solve racism is fire all the racist people from their jobs and call it a day of American progress. Never mind the fact that, every time we've tried to quantify our prejudice, America comes up more bigoted than my own prejudiced image of a rodeo locker room. Not to mention that, since Hollywood still overwhelmingly favors white people, statistically speaking, your favorite celebrity probably screamed the n-word at schoolchildren or attacked a Vietnamese man at some point in their life -- and possibly both of those things.

Barry King/WireImage/Getty Images
Also attacked: rap music, fashion.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't be mad at Hulk Hogan because racism is everywhere -- but rather that we need to a) assign appropriate doses of anger to fit each offense, and b) use that anger constructively if we are actually interested in solving the problem. Instead, we've decided to cut all ties from a 60-year-old pro wrestler whose understanding of cultural sensitivity is limited to grappling with a co-worker named Kamala The Ugandan Giant.

World Wrestling Entertainment
He didn't so much as headlock a respectable, non-stereotypical black character until ... actually, he's never done that.

Guys, pro-wrestling has always been occasionally racist ... and we've allowed it to be racist ... so, why are we suddenly so disheartened when the people we've made rich through this racist showmanship also turn out to be racists? It's fucking confusing. Similarly, everyone is more than happy to flood the Yelp page of the one dentist who shot Cecil The Lion ... while ignoring the other approximately 600 lions per year that are shot by trophy hunters. While it's hard to feel anything resembling sympathy for a rich jackass shooting statuesque wildlife from a cushy Jeep, it's equally hard to see why he should have known better when the Internet turns its back on this 99.99 percent of the time.

Adam Bettcher/Getty Images News/Getty Images
"In hindsight, I should've waited until another '80s cartoon movie remake was announced and then killed Cecil."

So, what we really ought to do is start a dialogue with and about these people instead of automatically turning them into Darth Vader. Because, as you might recall, stopping Darth Vader doesn't cure the Dark Side any more than firing a racist celebrity solves racism. When we equate mending a societal problem solely with punishing the most noteworthy offenders, we're not actually solving that problem at all. In fact, we're probably making it worse by dusting off our hands and walking away every time someone like Paula Deen loses her job. Even when it's an out-of-this-world monster such as Bill Cosby, seeking justice is only the first half of addressing the issue -- the second being a long look at the environment in which this unimaginable villain was allowed to thrive. Otherwise, it's like trying to stop global warming by running around and punching cars.

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Stage 3: Everyone Harnesses The Outrage For Their Own Purposes

Purple Angels Awareness

Now that we're all overly focused on retribution and meme-ifying the entire story to make it more digestible on social media, we can start harnessing this shorthanded emotion to fit our own grandiose and self-serving vision of the universe. This can be done in one of many creative ways -- from accusing another charity of "hijacking" the Ice Bucket Challenge ...

via independent.co.uk
Those monsters!

... to un-ironically turning the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag into #AllLivesMatter. Or, maybe, we'll start a dick-measuring contest about which news event deserves the bigger public outcry.

via theblaze.com

via independent.co.uk

No matter how we go about this, what's important is that we completely monetize each story. Instead of unpacking the dark and confusing fact that legal trophy hunting is actually helping fund animal conservation because mankind will only save the animals it can kill and/or eat, we're just going to stick a murdered lion on a fucking phone case instead.

It's gaaaaauuuuuuuche!

Sure, 10 percent of the profit from this almost $2,500, 24-karat phone case goes to Cecil's park, but couldn't you just donate that same amount directly to the park if you're that worked up about trophy hunting? It's not cynical to point out that this is more likely a PR move, the same way Apple, Sears, Amazon, Walmart, and eBay only stopped selling Confederate flags when it was popular to do. What is cynical to point out, however, is that this might be the only way we can pretend to give a fuck about anything, anymore.

Also not cynical: knowing Walmart was full of shit, and being proven right immediately.

The entire strategy behind the Kony 2012 movement was to buy a $30 "action kit" filled with bumper stickers and buttons. Instead of sitting down and researching the issue, we decided it was a lot easier to do our part by throwing money at something and moving on.

Invisible Children
"Yo, Tony, we finally found a use for all your misprinted bumper stickers."

The alternative is that we accept limited control or sway over a situation beyond our couches and that, if we want to enact actual change, we're going to have to do more than buying a "Kony Come At Me Bro" thong.

I legitimately can't tell if "come" is a typo.

I'm not saying that spreading awareness or briefly giving to a charity is a bad thing. It's a very, very good thing for us to all be doing. The problem is that the Internet has allowed us to skip the step where we understand why we're spreading the awareness ... causing times where our goodwill completely misses the mark.

Stage 4: We Land On Some Hollow Solution, Instead Of Fixing The Bigger Problem

Scott Barbour/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Here's a fun fact: The $100-plus million raised dumping ice water on our heads to fund ALS research was a drop in the bucket compared to the billions we could have come up with by using the same energy to simply rally for better government funding. Obviously, the money helped, but in the same way giving a homeless guy $1,000 helps compared to finding them a job. By boiling down the solution to this one charitable effort, we allowed people a quick way to feel like they made a difference despite ignoring the real solution.

We're all very busy people who want to feel useful, so change needs to come in obtainable, easy-to-comprehend, and bite-size goals. We could sit here all day and think about how trophy hunters are only a mosquito bite compared to the environmental changes threatening animals including lions and rhinos, or we can ruin one dentist's life and consider the problem solved -- because 100,000 poached African elephants is just way too many to fit on a commemorative coin collection.

Anup Shah/DigitalVision/Getty Images
Sorry, Dumbo, you and your mother simply should've been fuzzier.

Removing the Confederate Flag was a long-overdue necessity, but only if we also take time to explore what kind of fucked-up culture only now realized that -- or the fact that it's not the only archaic tribute to racism that needs to be addressed.

Florida Times-Union
Until 2013, this school was named after a KKK Grand Wizard.

Taking down a single symbol of hate, or creating a handy hashtag, or starting an awareness campaign is supposed to be Step One of many other steps. People such as Joseph Kony symbolize only a fraction of plight in a country riddled with child prostitution, disease, and HIV. Instead of focusing on the victims, we made this one dude the linchpin to how sustainable our giving-a-shit was going to be.

Mateusz Opasinski
"This guy should tide us over until the next The Hunger Games movie."

And so after one, tiny obtainable goal is achieved, we abandon the cause and move bravely to the next shallow mission. Hell, sometimes we do that before the first goal is even close to achieved ...

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Stage 5: No One Actually Follows Up On The Original Story

Aaron Davidson/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Hey America, remember #BringBackOurGirls? I assume you do and that you are still actively involved in the hashtag movement, just as much as you were back when it started. Because, as I'm sure you know, they still haven't brought back those kidnapped girls.

via CNN.com
If it was Arya Stark, you would still give a shit.

Hey, did you know that most of the Ice Bucket Challenge money didn't help fund the state in which it originated? Because while we gave a bunch to the National ALS Association, certain states such as Florida have to receive donations specific to their local chapters.

Hey. Hey! Who's excited to watch Paula Deen's new cooking show on Roku? Clearly, she learned her lesson about over-the-top racism when her book sales surged during her slavery-themed party fiasco.

Aaron Davidson/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
She's become way more open-minded, though. Now, she feeds them.

They haven't caught Joseph Kony, yet! Oh, and that organization behind the entire campaign is now going out of business after running out of money.

Oh! And that trophy hunting ban that Zimbabwe issued after Cecil The Lion was shot? They lifted it nine days later while Twitter got distracted by a hitchhiking robot.

Aslan wept.

You know, it's almost as if we're more interested in wearing the latest tragedy like an up-to-date fashion accessory, rather than actually helping to make a difference. And I know -- people have pretended to give a fuck long before the Internet came along. The difference today is that never before has a more perfect machine been designed for this purpose, to the point that we no longer even realize we're pretending. The Internet has enabled us to acquire just the right amount of knowledge to think we're informed about a subject without actually being informed, which actually makes our half-cocked and conceited knowledge way more treacherous than balls-out ignorance. After all, was it not Alexander Pope that said, "A little learning is a dangerous thing?"

Truly, no wiser words have been spoken by a man I just looked up on Wikipedia.

Dave tweets.

Also check out If The Internet Was a High School and 6 Hilariously Creative Ways People Are Trolling The Internet.

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