Do you remember that time that GoDaddy upset a lot of people by making light of puppy mills? (I’ve posted the ad below for reference.) Well, the ad made its way to the internet before it was supposed to air (during the SuperBowl) and lots of people found the ad so offensive* that GoDaddy pulled the ad and issued an apology. This week’s post (a tad later due to the holiday weekend and the elusive spirit animal known as sleep) is about the fallacy of activism delivered from the comfort of your pajamas.
*“It’s now very common to hear people say, ‘I’m rather offended by that.’ As if that gives them certain rights. It’s actually nothing more… than a whine. ‘I find that offensive.’ It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. ‘I am offended by that.’ Well, so fucking what.” -Stephen Fry
Activism [ak-tuh-viz-uh m] noun – The doctrine or practice of vigorous action or involvement as a means of achieving political or other goals, sometimes by demonstrations, protests, etc.
Reactivism [ree-ak-tuh-viz-uh m] noun – A term that I created (at least I’ve never heard/read anyone else use this term) to describe those that react to a long-practiced injustice with words (hashtags, comments via social media, YouTube posts, etc.) and inefficient efforts that don’t actually do anything to generate change against the injustice in question. No vigorous action or involvement takes place with Reactivists. Hashtag activism is often in the category of reactivism. Creating a hashtag that goes viral will generate a lot of conversations and even some t-shirts. But, will there be change? (Hint: Conversations do not equal change.)
For at least the past decade, I’ve been saying, “If you’re doing nothing to make a change, you’ve lost all rights to complain.” I first started saying this in relationship to people that lament about their job or working conditions. My suggestion to resign was met with, “I can’t do that. It’s not that simple.” My immediate response was, “Then shut the fuck up about it, that’s pretty simple.” In other words, tell it to the wall. No one wants to read your comments, status updates, whining in the workplace, lament at lunch, or bitching over brunch if (and here’s the important part) you aren’t doing anything to make a change.
The concept of action over talk still applies to bigger problems that expand beyond workplace strife or relationship boredom. Sometimes, animal lovers are reminded that we live in a capitalist society wherein people have seized the opportunity to breed and sell puppies to make a living. When that happens, they can choose to become activists and do something about puppy mills or they can become reactivists and type angry words to let the world know how they feel. During the GoDaddy kerfuffle I wondered aloud, to anyone that would listen, what are all of these offended people doing to actually shut down puppy mills? People were offended, so fucking what. What did those offended reactivists do to elicit change? Did any of them contact the parent companies of pet stores that stock their cages via puppy mills? Did any of the offended reactivists start volunteering at the SPCA to get some mutts adopted? Probably not. Do I have the answer as to how puppy mills can be stopped? Sort of, but you wouldn’t like my answer. Stop dog shows for a start. Think about the conversations about breeds and temperament of dogs. Those conversations are often sparked based on the popularity of a certain breed, breed popularity is often associated with the winners/strong performers of dog shows. What if we all made efforts to stop caring about the breed of dogs? “Oh, but, Jet we have to talk about breed to make sure that the dog is the right dog for the family! I mean, you know about those crazy pit bulls!” That’s funny, every pit bull I’ve met has licked my face and let me rub their belly. They all had one thing in common, a sane owner. Stop blaming the breed’s temperament, especially if you don’t know anything about dog training. *tangent end* I don’t have the answers as to how we can eliminate puppy mills in a capitalist society. As long as people choose to use their money to buy specifically what they want, there will be an opportunity to provide the specific breed they seek. That’s the world we live in. Because I understand that, GoDaddy’s ad didn’t bother me.
It’s worth mentioning that I’m not an activist. I don’t go out in the world trying to make tangible changes. But, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t tried in the past. I started Meetup group in San Diego a few years back in an effort to change the world. The goal was to have like-minded people come together and share their ideas on how they could change the world on any scale (small or large). We would then discuss those ideas and agree on ways to fine tune them so that the ideas leaned more towards altruism than self-serving. Within that group we would assign random accountability partners that would make sure that the person to whom they’ve been assigned was actually following through on action items to implement their idea for change in the world. We had two successful meetings before a shrew infiltrated our group and criticized our plans and process. She kept insisting that “this isn’t how you change the world.” She went on to protest that everything we were suggesting was insufficient to effect global change. When asked how we could change the world, she had no specific answer, only more criticism of our attempts. I asked that she never return. It was after that that I moved away from San Diego and returned to school. I never re-started the group. I’m not an activist, I’ve never lobbied for anything in Washington, I’ve never called my local Congress woman. I want to make changes in the world, but much like personal training, I’m only willing to help those that are willing to help themselves (more about that later). While I’m not a reactivist, this blog post actually makes me a reactivist by the definition I laid out above. (Hello, self-awareness.)
Do you remember that time that everyone wore clown noses for poor kids? May 21st was Red Nose Day. I bought one of those noses from Walgreens. Basically, I paid a dollar for something (that doesn’t really fit on my big nose) so that 50 cents would go to “a campaign dedicated to raising money for children and young people living in poverty by simply having fun”. Based on a quick search it looks like over $100,000,000 was raised this year. I think that’s great. But, after the money is dispersed to help these kids, then what? (I want to be clear, I’m not criticizing Red Nose Day. I support Red Nose Day. I’m just suggesting that more can be done.) When I lived in San Diego I was a volunteer tutor for the Monarch School. “The mission of the Monarch School is to educate students impacted by homelessness and to help them develop hope for a future with the necessary skills and experiences for personal success.” In the spirit of doing more, we can give 50 cents to poor kids or teach them how to be successful. We can give them a fish or teach them how to fish. When I was there, six years ago, there were only two schools of its kind in the country. Why aren’t there more? With an estimated 1.6 million homeless children in the United States why isn’t there more action to elicit change?
Do you remember that time that people dumped buckets of icy water on their head in lieu of donating money for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)? When given the option of donating money for ALS research or dumping an ice bucket on their head, so many people chose the latter that the trend went viral. “Fuck you, Lou Gehrig! I’d rather get this ice shower than donate money for research!” I know, a lot of money was raised for ALS research. But, did you ever survey friends that were doing the “ice bucket challenge”? How many of them had even heard of Lou Gehrig? How many of them had seen examples of how the disease manifests? How many reactivists did it because they were following a trend? How many people actually got involved by volunteering to help those living with ALS when their bank accounts didn’t offer the convenience of a donation? “Jet, come on! These ice showers were creating awareness!” In a society that has an attention span as long as 140 characters and about six months of pop culture happenings, that awareness won’t last. Try talking about the ice bucket challenge in ten years. You’ll get the same looks I get when I quote Chappelle’s show. Some people in the room get it, others think I’m weird.
It’s worth mentioning that the attention span of some people has been referenced in regards to the length of my posts. “That post was soooo long, I couldn’t read it.” It’s been suggested that I break up the density of words with pictures and other visual distractions. It’s been suggested that I write less. Fuck that. Read more, read faster, or both. I’m not going to water down my content because of short attention spans.
Do you remember that time that social media actually fueled a tangible revolution in Egypt? There are some instances when we see the benefits of social media. When typewritten words actually evolve into action and that action is the catalyst for change, that’s activism (root word act).
Do you remember that time that people changed their Facebook profile pictures to cartoon characters in order to “create awareness” about child abuse? Yes, that happened and it was just as pointless (read: stupid) as it sounds. The concept of creating awareness should not be confused with eliciting change. I actually got into a comment thread dispute with this one dude because he couldn’t answer a simple question. How will changing my profile picture stop children from being abused? I doubt that any child stopped being abused because someone had Mickey Mouse as their profile picture. Expecting any real world events to change or stop due to your profile picture is reactivism defined (read: ineffective).
Some would argue that the concept of control is a fallacy. But, there are some things that you can control. We have control over more than we realize. Have you ever heard the story about the person that was afraid to workout in a gym setting because they were concerned about judgment (of their lack of strength) from their peers? You read that right, some people have a fear of lifting weights due to physical weakness. How do you overcome physical weakness? You guessed it, lifting weights. Activism can also apply to the work that we do in the mirror to dismantle body image issues. It’s hard to go out and tackle world changes if you’re not confident in your own skin.
Do you remember that time when internet reactivists were outraged by body shaming? Well, it happens every goddamned day. What are they doing to elicit change? Well, here’s one stellar example. A man was dancing at a concert and others made fun of him because of his weight. The internet caught wind of it and decided to throw a dance party in his honor. Another rare example of social media doing some good. That’s activism… for that one dude. What about a more significant effort to elicit change against societal body shaming? As I mentioned above, I want to make changes in the world, but I’m only willing to help those that are willing to help themselves. Frustrated with the repeat occurrences of body shaming, I made an effort to elicit change. I came up with an idea to help change the conversations (and hopefully confidence levels) surrounding our bodies. I’ve posted about it before. I wrote, “It’s time that we talk about what we love about our bodies and the gratitude we have for our abilities (which comes from our bodies). Let’s change the conversation from Body Shaming to Body Faming. I’ve started a community art project called BodyFaming.com The way it will work is that people will submit anonymous (faceless) selfies with words of love, gratitude, and beauty about their own bodies. Take pride in your body, no matter the size.” The site has been active for almost two years now. I’ve had exactly two submissions. Perhaps I need a celebrity on a megaphone to make the site popular. Where’s Oprah when you need her!? As I mentioned, every goddamned day internet reactivists are lamenting on body shaming. But, what’s being done to fight back and take action? When I tell people about BodyFaming.com the response is always a bright and cheery, “that’s a great idea” or “I’m totally going to submit a photo”. After 100 of those responses, I’ve had exactly two submissions. When expressing my frustration for the lack of response, my friend reminded me that “people would rather complain than be creatively proactive about subverting the norms they hate”. That’s unfortunately true.
Takeaways If you don’t remember shit else…
~A hashtag is only a start, it is not the change itself. If you truly believe that #BlackLivesMatter then why haven’t you protested black-on-black crime with the same vigor as the recent deaths at the hands of police?
~This blog post isn’t intended to provide an instruction manual for activism. There are times when I try to make changes in the world, that’s just because I get tired of hearing myself complain.
~Use your intelligence to determine the difference between writing letters to empowered decision makers (read: not your like-minded friends on Facebook that will click ‘Like’ and keystroke your ego), pragmatic protests with specific and clear goals (think Selma), and the potential dangers of ochlocracy (looting and burning your own neighborhood only happens in crowds, think for yourself).
~This post is not an attempt to make change in the world, only to challenge the way you think. Before you consider yourself an activist (of any sort) ask yourself how much vigorous action you’ve taken versus the amount of typing you’ve done. Get up, get out, and do something. Are you living and breathing your cause or just posting something when you’re offended?
~Figure out the difference between starting/perpetuating conversations and taking (nonviolent) action as a catalyst for change. What are you doing to proactively elicit change in the world? If you’re doing nothing, stop complaining.