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When I was in high school way back in the 1990s, no one had a smartphone. What many of us did have, however, were bigoted views. On sports teams, students would call each other gay (as if that was a bad thing) and refer to each other as “f*ggots” and “q*eers.” Ironically racist jokes were bandied about, often in the style of the edgy comedy that ruled the day—the original unwoke Simpsons, South Park, SNL. I often think about how, if I had a secret, futuristic, smartphone back then, I could have recorded such moments of innocent, ironic, childhood frivolity, and then waited around 20 years and then got everyone from the class of 1998 fired.
One by one, I would earn their trust on social media, become friends and friends of friends, join their communities, and then when the time was right, say a big promotion, or an upcoming wedding, or something like that, I would unleash the footage of Jesse Singleton saying the N word while quoting some rap lyrics in gym class, or Bridget Miller calling Jill French a l*sbo at their shared locker while fighting over the last spritz of Final Net hairspray.
“Pack your desk, Singleton.”
“You’re outta here, Bridget!”
Sounds like a pretty evil, petty, and heartless plan, right? So why then are we doing basically this exact thing day after day, week after week? Why is it that we find ourselves mesmerized and lured into fake scandal after fake scandal.
This week it’s Tucker Carlson. Last week it was the late John Wayne. The week before? I can’t remember. Who the f*ck cares? It’s all becoming one big unpersoning blur.
I don’t care if it’s Sarah Jeong saying that white people suck, Debra Messing sharing problematic cupcakes, or Tucker Carlson saying that Iraqis are bad. I just don’t care. They shouldn’t lose their jobs. No one should lose their job for saying a stupid thing. And I truly believe we should all stop caring. There must be a more productive use of social media than ruining people’s lives.
All we really accomplish with this grotesque practice is ridding our culture of personality and creativity. Everything is becoming antiseptic. Perhaps we will arrive at a point where our culture is completely clean and safe, but who would want to live in such a world? Sure, we are completely ideologically and creatively indistinguishable from one another but at least we got rid of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” and Louis CK!
And besides, what happens to the human body when everything around it is hyper-sanitized? The immune system gets weak. It can’t handle the most basic germs. It gets sick and dies. This is why it’s so unhealthy to continue scrubbing our culture clean. We need dirt to survive.
I like what the British comedian Jimmy Carr says before he launches in to his “most offensive joke” portion of his standup routine: “I think offense is taken, not given. That’s not just an expression, that is how things tend to work.” He’s right. Or he was right just a few years ago. The problem we’re facing today is that we are being given offense after offense after offense, and our reaction to these “gifts” is utterly Pavlovian. We signal our virtue and demand the heads of the transgressors. It’s getting old. And I, for one, am getting tired.
We will snap out of it. The lukewarm reception to the Tucker Carlson shock jock scandal is promising. It seems like there is a slow, gradual awakening to the absurdity of it all. Yesterday, I tried to imagine a scenario where things kept going the way they were going: “The year is 2025. The Safety Hour with Michael Strahan has just been canceled because of a vicious microagression scandal. There are no shows left. The only song remaining on iTunes is “Feelin’ Groovy” by Simon and Garfunkel. The world needs a hero…”
Often I think back to my high school days, at the height of political incorrectness, and I feel thankful that I was able to experience my formative years at a time that was not censorious and incoherent. Sometimes I get frustrated when I think about how it’s impossible to find footage of my old class of 1998 to prove my point about how things used to be, but then I come to my senses and I think to myself, “Lordy, I’m glad there aren’t tapes.”