I’m a comedian, which means that every so often—or, every day, depending on the thickness of your personal skin—I write, say, or post something that offends someone.
It’s never my intention. I say or do things that (a) I find amusing, and (b) I think would be amusing to others. I don’t go out of my way to offend, but neither do I walk on eggshells. I just do what I do, and await the outcome. If the end result is laughter, great. I continue to use that joke. If it’s not, I drop it and move on.
I’m not a shock comic, but in today’s day and age I don’t need to be one to get negative feedback. Today, people are lightning quick to point out what upsets them. It literally does not matter how benign a subject is, someone will be offended by it. Hell, I had one person go off on me because of a Simpsons reference.
(Seriously. People have that much time on their hands.)
When people respond negatively, they do so using all the wrath the internet has to offer.
I get called names, and receive horrible messages; ones usually filled with elementary-school grammar: “Your an asshole!”
What I’ve come to understand about instances like this is: when someone opens with insults and name calling, it says everything about them and nothing about you. Unfortunately, the things an angry mob can accomplish have had serious repercussions.
Consider the first person through the gate in the era of internet shaming, Justine Sacco. She Tweeted a joke to her friends, someone shared it, and it went viral. Sure, it was a politically incorrect joke, but the fury with which she was attacked in response was completely disproportionate. Her life was upended, and her story isn’t singular.
(More about that later.)
Because of my profession, pretty much everything rolls off my back; I read attacks and move on with my life. I don’t shy away from conflict, but I do ascribe to the axiom, “Pick your battles.” If someone isn’t interested in dialogue, then I don’t have time for them.
This wasn’t always my modus operandi; a few years ago, I responded to every single email I got. I replied to comments on posts and blogs, and let everyone have their say. What I found was: anyone that approached from a point of anger wasn’t interested in a conversation, they just wanted to shout down what they didn’t like. They weren’t open to the idea that what might be offending them, might be amusing to others. Because comedy is like music is like art is like food: everyone likes something different. Different strokes for different folks, after all.
(What’chu talking ‘bout, Willis?)
Every so often, however, someone approaches me on a level less Donald Drumpf, and more Barack Obama.
(That sentence, by the way, is sure to ruffle some feathers. Yes, I could have said “less dictator and more diplomat,” but that doesn’t have the same punch. Which is ironic, because Social Justice Warriors—generally Obama fans—have the least amount of tolerance and worst sense of humor on the planet. Drumpf supporters, however, can generally take a joke, as long as it’s not directed at the fact they voted for an incompetent jerk who is attempting to do irreparable harm to the country and planet. And now I’ve offended everyone with my digression. Moving on…)
My last round of, “Whoops, I guess some people didn’t like that one” came in the form of private messages. Of the handful I received, roughly 90% were filled with vitriol and spite.
(In an ironic twist, two messages were written by people who had religious icons as their Facebook profiles. I’m sure Jesus is proud of them, because calling me a shit-stain (or worse) and passing judgment is exactly how he would handle a situation, right?)
Only a couple shining stars among the scorn-filled responses did not spew hate. “Hi. I just wanted to say I found what you posted to be hurtful. Trust me, I’m the least PC person you’ll ever meet, but this one struck me the wrong way. Thanks for listening.”
Their messages were simple, direct, courteous, and achieved everything the fist-shakers were trying (and failing) to. Where I ignored the insults, I responded to the few who reached out with concern, not anger. From there, we had a nice back-and-forth, one that ended with, “You have just made a fan for life!”
While that made me happy, a 10% success rate isn’t wonderful.
I cannot lie, I find it incredibly depressing that the overwhelming majority of people express themselves venomously when they don’t like something. It doesn’t speak well of our society at all, especially if these people are parents. Children emulate what they see at home, and raising a generation of “attack first, empathy second (if ever),” does not bode well for our future.
An article in 2015 discussed the problem of mob mentality on the internet, and two years later nothing has changed. If anything, it’s gotten worse.
If this trend continues, imagine where we’ll be in 2019.