Sunday evening, the great American game of football was played in Seattle, Washington. The San Francisco 49ers took the field against the Seattle Seahawks in what my husband called a much more interesting game than the one earlier that day between the Patriots and the Broncos. I learned a lot more about football during the Seahawks-49ers game, including that when a player’s leg bends out like a Barbie doll, I have flashbacks to Joe Theisman.
On Facebook, I learned that football fans can become more outraged during a game than they are when faced with statistics on starving children in Somalia. My mistake came when I pointed out some Seattle fans threw food at an injured 49ers player as he was carted off the field with a torn ACL. I pointed out this was classless, as it would have been if any fans of any team had done it. I was promptly “unfriended” by a Seahawks fan. Pointing out that fans throwing food at a young man whose career may be over is rude, caused this person so much outrage that they hovered their mouse over my name and clicked me out of their virtual life.
We have become a nation of rudeness. Remember Joe “You lie!” Wilson? When in the world did it become okay to scream out an insult to the President of the United States during his State of the Union address? Many people, including Nancy Pelosi, were shocked by Wilson’s behavior. In an interview with CNN, Wilson defended his outburst by saying it was “spontaneous.”
Humans have filters and self-control, and other tools we can use to combat our inherent, prehistoric nature. As adults, we have a part of our brain dedicated to impulse control. Some people have issues with this. Addicts, children diagnosed with ADD or ADHD and others often struggle to control impulses and make rational, safe choices. If you look around at society, it seems more people are having serious problems controlling their impulses than are succeeding.
It is now perfectly acceptable to bellow out an insult during the State of the Union. It is perfectly acceptable to threaten to kill someone with whom you do not agree. Name calling is encouraged, personal attacks are cheered, violent rhetoric is applauded. Football player in excruciating pain, being taken off the field on a cart? Throw food at him. Someone who votes differently than you or supports policies you do not? Threaten to shoot them in the head, or beat them, or pray for them to get cancer.
Who the hell are we? Have we become so immune to hate that we spread it like manure on a field? It’s not just conservatives, kids. Last night, under a thread about the Seahawks-49ers game, a person I know is about as far left as you can get wrote they hope the Seahawks “get cancer.” I’ve seen liberals write some pretty awful stuff about conservatives, and I’ve seen Atheists write some truly offensive things about religion. So, it’s not just “them,” it’s all of us.
I’m writing this on Martin Luther King Day, a day dedicated to a man who embraced love, equality and non-violent protest. Dr. King would have been shocked and saddened by the people we have become. But Dr. King never had to deal with the internet. If he had, he might understand how we got here, and why nothing is going to change.
If you were sitting in a cafe, and overheard someone say “Man, Obama is destroying this country,” would you leap up, shove your face right into theirs and call them stupid? Would you tell them to go eff themselves? Of course not. You do it online, though. A friend’s Facebook thread, a stranger’s Twitter post, someone’s Tumblr account are all fair game for behavior we would never engage in publicly. If you walked up to someone and said “I hate you, you’re stupid, and I want to kill you,” odds are, you’d at the very least receive a visit from the police. Online, there are no consequences to that behavior.
There are Facebook pages dedicated to promoting hate, racism and bigotry that post some of the most offensive photos I have ever seen. Photoshopped images of President Obama with a noose around his neck, memes about rape, domestic violence, violence against the LGBTQ community. And on the other side of the political fence, there are memes calling conservatives “retarded,” “inbred,” and wishing they would meet a violent death.
Blame the internet? Sure, that’s easy. If you are engaging in behavior online that you would never engage in publicly, you can’t blame the internet for everything. I have a public persona and a “real life” persona. I know using incendiary language in articles garners more views, and that makes me twitch a little. If I wrote the way I actually am, about five people would read my articles. I have to tap into the new American mindset of rage, vitriol, name calling and rudeness to appeal to the masses.
That says a lot about the masses, not much of it good.