Sunday, June 16, 2013

Knee-Jerk Outrage

Here's a heart-warming viral video. Jonathan Allen was kicked out of his parents' lives on his 18th birthday for being gay, then went on America's Got Talent, knocked 'em dead, and was told by host Howie Mandel that he's a "good person" who is now part of a TV family.

It's really quite affecting. Have a look:

...or read the Huffington Post article.

Why do we respond so strongly? Because this is the sort of thing that drills straight down into our psyches, resonating with our inner symbology, our hopes and fears, much as fairy tales do. We don't need to hear more specifics, because we feel we know what this is about. We know who the white-hat good guy is and who the black-hat bad guys are.

But do we? America's swooning over Jonathan and seething over his parents. One typical diatribe reads, in part, "You [Allen's parents] are indeed the worst parents in the world who raised the best kid in the world." But check out this comment posted just below that same piece:
Too bad most everything he said is a lie. Too bad not one word was said about how he stole from his parents, stole his dad's truck and wallet and took a minor for three days until cops found him, or all the money his parents put into all singing classes, or the fact that he chose to leave, not forced to. But we fail to ever hear both sides of any story.
Yes, it's an anonymous comment, and it may well be untrue. But after spending the better part of a decade sussing out devious, dishonest online postings, my Spidey sense is second to none. And this comment rings true to me.

There are matters deserving our outrage. But so few Americans give a crap about bona-fide points of outrage (no bankers in jail, global warming, Panera's baked goods) that on those occasions when outrage arises, it's nearly always trumped-up and manipulated. And I recoil from manipulation, so I'm extremely leery about outraged crowds.

Same thing for the Trayvon Martin shooting - another case of deep symbology drilling down into our psyches. We immediately felt as though we understood that situation: obviously, an asshole white vigilante got trigger happy all over an innocent kid who just happened to be black. And that one, too, played out in an environment where bona-fide bad things do occur. Just as there's nasty homophobia in Jonathan Allen's native Tennessee, Florida's repugnant "Stand Your Ground" law is a perfect shield for perpetrating racist shootings. In both cases, the actual points of fact don't seem to matter, because we hearken to a larger, more overarching point (Tawana Brawley, anyone?). Even if it's not something that was done, it's something that would be done, and that's quite enough.

But Jonathan Allen's parents may be lovely people, and George Zimmerman might have been desperately defending himself. Why do we, time and time again, fall, emotionally, for fairy-tale simple media stories when we know that life's actually complicated?

If Zimmerman's a trigger-happy vigilante, he deserves jail time. If Jonathan Allen's parents disowned a nice kid just for being gay, they deserve our scorn. In any case, "Stand Your Ground" and homophobia must be reversed. But I've stopped drinking the Kool-Aid. I don't sign on to knee-jerk outrage anymore. I've been fooled too many times.

1 comment:

Sondra said...

Bra-vo. I felt the same way in viewing the AGT clip. It was too myopic, simple and tied up with a bow, it came straight from a meme. I'd like to know more.

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