Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The unspoken internet rule

I just got off one of those Facebook pages dedicated to kitschy fashions, decor, etc. from decades ago.The thing that has always bothered me about this and similar pages is the way a seemingly random photo of someone will be posted in an outlandish (by today's standards) outfit and hairdo, ranging anywhere from the '50s to the '90s. 

There will follow dozens and dozens of comments which just seem to get meaner and nastier and more personal. I am quite astonished at the bitchy, catty, high-schoolish tone of many of these. I was going to quote some of the more devastating remarks here, but I find I can't go back there. I'd rather step in quicksand.

I keep thinking: there's no way this person gave permission for having their photo visible to (potentially) the whole world. What if she were standing there, surrounded by all these nasty people she does not even know? Not one of them would have the nerve to say any of this. 

What if someone got hold of your high school yearbook and pulled out your dorky picture, and you suddenly became public property? It would be the equivalent of overhearing nasty remarks about yourself in the ladies' room, and being afraid to come out.

I don't know exactly where all these photos come from, though I have been told they somehow end up in flea markets and estate sales, perhaps when a family comes apart through death, estrangement or bankruptcy. And people say things like "well, if those photos were really important to them, they wouldn't have lost track of them". Therefore the implication is that the photos are public property and open to any sort of ridicule. 

But "losing track" is all too easy in the face of domestic catastrophe. The insularity and privilege inherent in these judgemental statements astonishes me. These people have obviously had pretty cushy lives. "Let them eat cake", indeed. 

People collect other people's stuff, no matter how irrelevant it may seem to them. They're casual about it. But photos meant far more back then than they do now. Every family album is so emotionally laden that, figuratively speaking, it weighs a few tons. But so far I am the only person I have ever found who seems to be bothered by any of this. So what's wrong with letting a Facebook group take a few harmless potshots at '80s shoulder pads and high hair? 

Well, I'll tell you, if someone, somehow got hold of a picture of my daughter from that era, I would cheerfully kill them. I mean it. I would do more than tear a strip off them. She looked beautiful and radiant with her spiral perm, braces and puffy shoulders, and felt that way too. She WAS beautiful, but the snipey, nasty, "Run for your life!"/"OMG, I am in fashion hell!"/"Put away your mirrors or they'll all break"/"lol, I can just smell the sweaty polyester!" comments these women spew out would seem to indicate otherwise. 

And these are some of the milder ones.

What safer way to sharpen your claws and get rid of excess venom than to rip into someone you will never meet? But if you call them on it, they claim to be just kidding and can't understand why I am too dried-up and joyless to join in the fun.

I am not buying that "oh, we looked just as bad back then, so it's OK" stuff. It isn't OK. Just isn't. The person you are ripping into might not even THINK they looked bad, and there's a good chance they didn't. It's a judgement on your part.

I wouldn't want to see myself up there. I just wouldn't, nor any of my kin.

If you ran into a photo of your Mom or grandma, particularly if they had just passed, it might be even worse. But if I say anything about this, the response I get is along the lines of "oh, I am sure if someone saw themselves they'd just join in the fun". The reasoning is that THEY wouldn't mind, so why would anyone else? In truth, they don't know any of this because the person in the photo might as well be an anonymous cartoon. They're not real. I've also been told that nobody ever protests, so it must be OK. Everybody else is fine with it! (Can't we say anything any more?)

Any sane person with a sense of humor knows that it's all just harmless fun.

This particular page also seems to like to run "drunk photos" which are viewed as screamingly funny, people passed out at parties or groping their neighbor. My Dad was an alcoholic who scared the hell out of me and showed up in lots of these kinds of photos, and not only would I NOT want to see one posted on Facebook, I would not want to read 30 comments about what a lush he was. Family photos of people suffering from alcoholism (who have perhaps just ruined yet another family gathering) aren't necessarily something you want to publicly display, although it apparently doesn't count because there are no names on them. Anonymity is a very liberating thing.

What amazes me most is how no one gets what I am talking about. Whenever I express these sentiments - and I've tried to before - I get blank or even offended looks, as if I am speaking some other language, or even broken an unspoken internet rule. I get the sense people are trying to correct my opinion to match theirs, or talk me out of my feelings because I am just being hypersensitive and obviously have no sense of fun. Hey, it's just on the internet, it's nothing personal - don't you KNOW that? And if you don't like it, OK then, you should just get off Facebook. (That's one you see all the time. Make a comment about something you don't like, and you will be told to get lost.)

Not such a bad idea. I've liked Facebook less and less over the years, and this is one of the least attractive features of it: the anonymous skewering of people who might be dead, or might be watching. Or, worse, might be a son or daughter or some other beloved figure that you don't want to see roasted. There is nothing more bewildering and infuriating than having an obnoxious, aggressive person rough you up emotionally and then say, "Hey, what's your problem? I was just kidding around!" The anonymity of the internet has fed and watered that particularly repulsive aspect of the human psyche. Nobody can get to me here behind the bluff, can't even see me or know who I am, while I rake this unknown person over the coals for the unforgiveable sin of having big hair. 

BLOGGER'S THOUGHTS. Yes, I have more to say on a related topic. I have seen many Facebook/YouTube videos of people in dire trouble, injured or in real peril. People watch them and say, "Ohhh, look at that. Wow, that's pretty extreme, eh?" But there is someone standing there taking the video and NOT HELPING! Yes. That person could be using their phone as a PHONE and not a way to "go viral" and get a million views and appear on the evening news. All they would have to do is speed-dial three digits. If you don't know what they are, then I give up.

But they don't do it. They have a video to take. It's just too good an opportunity to pass up.

Another thing - and this is the worst - are videos where a child is in obvious dire peril. He or she is being sacrificed for the sake of an "awwww, look at that" moment and a hundred thousand hits on YouTube. I saw a child of maybe eighteen months, surfing. Another was skateboarding. These kids could barely stand up, and I saw no helmets or safety equipment of any kind in the event of a spill. The comments all seemed to be "wow, what a great little guy!", not "Jesus, somebody HELP that kid!" I've seen two-year-olds ride horses (full-size horses, not those little miniatures) while not wearing helmets or any kind of saddle, and no one leading the horse around. What a good little rider, reads the caption. I saw, recently, a toddler climbing an eight-foot wire fence, up one side and down the other, with nothing soft to cushion a fall, no headgear, and no adult standing anywhere near. But someone WAS there, taking a video of the whole thing, and not anywhere close by. Everyone I talked to thought it was "cute" and said things like, "wow, that's just amazing. What a strong little guy!"

Whatever happened to Child Protection Services?

I know there are supposedly more pressing concerns on planet Earth, but why have we stopped caring? The internet keeps everything at a remove. These toddlers and drunken grandmas and people in funny hair styles aren't real. Thus they are fair game. It doesn't matter. The videos just sort of take themselves (and I am amazed when people say "what?" when I contradict that - someone takes these?) It's as if a random portal is opening up so that we can see a not-real figure enact hazardous or bizarre stunts, just for our own amusement. 

It doesn't matter if the child bursts into tears of terror or grief, because the next day the whole family will be on some TV talk show saying, "Oh, she's fine with it now. Aren't you, Suzy?" Two-year-old Suzy dutifully nods her head. Already she has been commodified, and all for the sake of a hundred thousand "likes".

P. S. I've used my own pictures for this. Perms, big glasses, raw turkeys, the works. And I was probably drunk in at least two of them.

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