Status Updates in the Wake of Tragedy: Healing Force or Myopic Back-Patting?
I found myself disgusted last week. It was “Sibling Day” on Facebook. A completely made-up holiday; invented and perpetuated by people who want the world to know that they LOVE their siblings. As if the rest of us are entangled in blood feuds with ours. As if the only thing keeping me from plunging a rusted knife into my brother’s trachea is my parents’ inevitable disappointment or society’s overbearing rules on fratricide. It’s insane. To explain: I used to have a professor in college that, as a joke, would preface statements with “I’m sorry, guys, but…” and then close it with something that would never beg your forgiveness. For example: “I’m sorry, guys, but… I LOVE chocolate chip cookies.” And we’d all laugh; of course you love chocolate chip cookies. They are, quite simply, the fucking best. The comedy came from the obviousness of the statement. “Sibling Day” was like a bunch of people saying, “I’m sorry, but I LOVE my siblings.” Except these people weren’t making a joke; and therein lies the insanity. They are attempting to make an obvious statement less obvious, and in so doing, creating an imaginary subclass that maybe doesn’t love their brothers and sisters so much. It’s a Straw Man; like trying to win an argument on gun control (on either side) by saying, “I’m sorry, but I love my country.”
This happens on Facebook and Twitter a lot, and it’s one of the drawbacks of this open and free society that I’m JUST NOT WILLING TO GIVE UP AND WOULD DIE FOR (see what I did there?). Especially when tragedy strikes, as it did on Monday, we see an outpouring of “my thoughts and prayers are with the families,” on social feeds everywhere. On the surface, it’s a nice enough sentiment. But when you dig a bit, and look at the rhetoric of it, there’s a suggestion of singularity. As if the rest of us couldn’t be bothered, as if the rest of us DON’T think about the families. You would never make a declarative statement like that to someone you were talking to face to face. It’s an obvious statement made to seem less obvious. It shrinks the significance of the tragedy to one's own experience, and I can’t imagine a more disingenuous way of recognizing a horrific event. And yet…eh…I’m OK with it.
It would be easy to be cynical now. As FourSquare lights up with people “bravely” checking in as a response to tragedy, we could comment on the lip-service it gives to the victims, or the way social media can turn 170 real victims of a bombing into ten million half-assed martyrs. But the simple mundanity of that action, the self-serving nature of it all, feels so HUMAN. It’s so normal. For better or worse, Facebook, Twitter and their ilk have become a part of that equation for me. No one’s actively trying to be an asshole. Selfish, yes, but we’re all just trying to be heard. And what we need to see after a hard day like Monday is someone arguing with a cashier, or bitching about their boss, or, yes, even posting something stupid on Facebook. It’s comforting because it’s small. It’s the business of life, which continues pushing on, in spite of terror. You don't complain about paper cuts at your friend’s wake; you just try to endure. So I’m lucky to complain. We’re lucky to have the energy to be self-serving. It means despair has not yet gripped us.
So grab Facebook with both hands today, friends. I want to know about how you love your baby niece SO MUCH. After all, I hate mine…the little bitch. But my love of chocolate chip cookies? Well, that’s something I just won’t apologize for. And life pushes on.
Jared Freid is a New York City-based comedian who you can see on MTV’s Failosophy on Thursdays at 10:30pm. Follow him on Twitter @jtrain56 for videos, columns, and more reasons chocolate chip cookies rule. You can also subscribe to his Facebook page here.