Here’s kind of a weird tangent.
I don’t “do” politics. I believe a person’s political beliefs are like their religious beliefs: informed by their life experiences, which help shape their values, which give rise to their views on society, humanity, and the future. You can’t convince someone that your view is the “right” view unless they’re floating in a sea of uncertainty, which seems to be something remarkably uncommon in the age of 24 hours news cycles.
But I wanted to touch on one aspect of this year’s Presidential election because I’m finding it salient to a point that I’ve long held about how people argue on social media.
As you know, Clinton was widely projected to win this year’s election. Trump was being hailed as too outspoken, too racist, too misogynist, too orange — and I don’t make that one up. “The Media”, that amorphous yet ever-present beast that is apparently the bane of the alt-right, had a field day with Trump’s behavior. He was a self-writing headline, leaving journalists with nothing to do but come up with creative ways to put him — and his supporters — down. Secure in their predictions that Clinton would win, and even more secure in their own sense of self-satisfaction, The Media relied heavily on snark and sarcasm and insults to make their points.
Of course, Clinton lost. Trump had supporters in the right places — the places which had a whole lot of electoral votes. Those people didn’t vote for Trump to show up The Media. In the end, the sarcastic approach of the pundits served only to entertain those who were writing the thinkpieces, and had absolutely no effect on the subject or subjects of their self-important ridicule.
This is the way social media operates: someone angrily comes out of left-field swinging for the fences. Their opponents try to demean and diminish their behavior by leveraging snark and sarcasm as a way to show how juvenile their actions are. Meanwhile, these targets don’t really care at all; if they didn’t care enough to pull punches in the first round, what good will smug rejoinders do to marginalize them?
What we end up with is a dichotomy of raw and brutal thugs fighting self-important and smug pseudo-intellectuals, with both sides very obviously trying to prove that they are rubber and their opponents are glue.
This is something that I’ve seen a few media outlets cop to as they reflect on their role in this year’s election. Take this piece for example. As I was reading it, I came across this particular passage:
It’s similar to how media Twitter works, a system where people who dissent from the proper framing of a story are attacked by mobs of smugly incredulous pundits.
That resonated with my view of how these raging battles play out on social media — someone always believes they occupy the high ground because sarcasm is light-hearted and intellectual, so they don’t believe that they are swinging low, when in fact they are swinging low…just from a loftier vantage point. Responding with a nose in the air doesn’t make positions “more right”. Both sides end up looking like unhinged assholes, though in fact I am starting to believe those who see snark and sarcasm as “virtues” are the bigger assholes, because I don’t believe they see themselves as anything other than the victims beset by an oppressive force.
A wrong is still a wrong. Trying to make a reposte seem lighter and more carefree might play well in someone’s head as being the approach of a more civilized mind, but as this election has shown, it’s blinding. Smugness ignores the reality in favor of showmanship and prevents people from doing the digging to get to the truth. No one expected Trump’s base to be as vehement as they were, or if anyone did it was to paint them as radicals and zealots who would be intimidating people at polls and were totally unaware of the irony in being caught voting more than once for the candidate who claimed that the election was rigged. None of Joss Whedon’s celebrity-filled videos (as hilarious as they were) deterred Trump’s supporters. They made liberals feel that all was good in the world and that they had this in the bag. So much for that.