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)
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.
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.
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:
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.
Stage 3: Everyone Harnesses The Outrage For Their Own Purposes
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 ...
... 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.
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.
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.
"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.