Don’t Drink The Snake Oil: A Fluffy Rant

Peace-Signs-Gradient-Preview-FullFluffy is having a bit of an issue this afternoon.  Maybe I just didn’t get enough sleep, or perhaps I’ve had too much coffee, but at any rate the Internet and its denizens have rubbed me in the absolute wrong way today.  More precisely, it and they have punched me right in the soapbox bone, and Whatever-Deity-You-Hold-Dear help you when that happens.  Anyway, it’s Whatever;  I have to vent, and this blog, despite being ostensibly a fluffy entertainment cyber-rag, occasionally veers into that which I consider serious, as relates to modern media generally and the medium of social and cultural expression specifically.

I do not consider myself a political beast, but I attempt to make informed and intelligent decisions based upon my own findings.  I research issues from all standpoints and arrive at my own conclusions.  I was raised to be both a devout Christian and a knee-jerk liberal, so, needless to say, these odd opposing viewpoints caused what I like to call my “snake-oil detector” to develop rather early and it was manifesting itself even when I was in elementary school.  (“We get prizes for selling the most overpriced fund-raising junk to the most total strangers?  Oh GREAT, they’re BRIBING us!”)  As I grew older, and the snake-oil detector fine-tuned, I rejected both religion and politics as soured sources of some of the greatest evils the world has ever known.  I’ve since reconciled with the concept of faith– and, believe me, the term is NOT interchangeable with religion, in the manner certain interests apply it–  but political extremes, whether leftist or rightist, and their strange intermarriage with religion and social perception, have continued to puzzle me.  I vote, but I have never voted a straight ticket in my life;  some candidates just don’t have enough qualification or, sad to say, intelligence to effectively represent me.  That others have not honed enough strength of mind to see propaganda for what it is– to instead digest rhetoric whole and spew it forth in the gaseous guise of “speaking truth”– is an observation that by turns amuses and pains me.  (“Truth” is a slippery fish to catch, apparently.)   I have actively trolled forums on both sides of the coin and laughed until my fluffy tummy hurt.  Today, however, I’m just disappointed in humanity, because… people are the worst.  I’m speaking in very broad generalizations– obviously, people aren’t the worst intentionally or even at any given time, but if the cross-section of humanity that manages the gumption to sit behind a keyboard and vomit what amounts to hate speech at anyone unlucky enough to click on a harmless or interesting-looking link is any example… well, yeah, people pretty much suck.

I readily admit that I have trolled, but my snake-oil detector doesn’t go off when I read about 99 percent of forum posts or comment sections.  I trust that inner sixth sense– it has served me better than trust of any other entity– and what that means, unfortunately, is that 99 percent of the vile, crass or otherwise benighted opinion that I read on the web is 100 percent believed and endorsed by the individuals or sources posting it.  Somehow the concept of “yellow journalism” has sailed right over a great many heads, and the public can no longer distinguish editorializing, no matter how blatant, from fact.  What’s patently disturbing about this phenomenon is not even the ignorance that is placed on display, though it is at times gross.  The astonishment for me is that the offending parties appear unconcerned about spreading ugliness with their names on it.  One aphorism I learned in my dichotomous childhood that still resonates with me to the present is the easily understood, if somewhat colloquially worded, “NEVER show your ass in public”.  I’m worried not about opinions dissenting from my own– everyone is entitled to their own viewpoints– but about the cavalier attitude that presents uninformed, poorly framed or obviously inflammatory opinion as either responsible reporting or unwavering belief.  Is it hypocritical of me to expound on the subject when I’m in full favor of keeping one’s mouth shut and looking a fool rather than opening it and removing all doubt?  Maybe, and I won’t even try to rationalize it, but so much random utter obtuseness is being bandied about with so little regard for the idea of intelligent discourse or the ability of others to discern its very yellow roots that I really do not care about accusations of hypocrisy.  In other words, feel free to hate me;  I don’t hate you.  You may not agree with me, but you’re free to do that.  Just don’t insult my intelligence by claiming your belief is the only belief, or cite a piece from some spurious “news source” (a term I use very loosely) as a replacement for the activity of your own neurons.

So, what possible trigger could have set up a monumental 800 words of verbal facepalming from the usually buoyant Fluffy?  While I have tended to ignore the existence of biased “news sources”, I was forcibly reminded of their existence when I knowingly clicked on a poorly constructed headline that showed up as a shared link in my Facebook news feed this morning.  I say “poorly constructed” not in the sense that it is either confusing or grammatically incorrect, but that it breaks all style rules for responsible journalism.  There among the recipes, LOLcats, and eCards sat this steaming pile of… stuff:  “Black Thug Punches Female Store Clerk In Face Over 41 Cents”.   Okay.  Let’s dissect this, shall we?  “Black” is irrelevant, and “Thug” is an epithet carefully chosen to elicit a visceral response in a certain subset of readers and does not belong in a headline from any reputable journalistic outlet.  To start off, I shall confess I should NEVER have clicked on the link.  The very action was akin to Hello Kitty getting willingly stuck in an elevator with Ann Coulter.  However, despite my trepidation over the wording, I clicked through, because in my regular life I happen to BE a female store clerk who has dealt with her share of customer abuse over more years in the business than I care to number, and I was curious to see how the young clerk handled the situation.  I was dutifully shuttled to a website that purported to be a “news site” with the innocuous-looking name of The Western Center for Journalism.  Google Chrome should have posted a Brain Bleach warning, as the site was NOT a proper journalistic agency but a facade for right-wing propaganda clearly designed to inflame the passions of a particular type of audience.  I shall not resort to using epithets of my own, as that is merely sinking to the level of muckraking that would be right at home on a similar site, but the audience being courted by this particular media source is obvious, and judging by the comments sections, is just as obviously being played like a Steinway.  The fished-for responses showed up in spades– racist hate speech, liberal-bashing, unrelated tangents blaming this-and-that liberal politician for the actions of an adult capable of his own decisions (however stupid), flagrant chewing on the dead buried bones of Trayvon Martin, and violent tendencies no less reprehensible than the action the article and accompanying video deplored, most posted under real names via Facebook commenting as if the entire world couldn’t see.  Let’s ponder this for a moment.  Does the average Joe really want future employers, potential significant others, or even their likely more-internet-savvy offspring to observe the level of casual douchebaggery of which he is capable?  Does the average Joe want to deal with the inevitable fallout in the form of missed job opportunities, cut-off connections, and looking like a sociopathic ax-murderer in front of the kids?  I needed that Brain Bleach, and I didn’t even know these blustering people.  The n-word got a major workout, the flower of Caucasian womanhood was defended in the most condescending and sexist manner possible, and there were even pro-lynch-mob posts.  Lynching?  Seriously?  What year is this?  And apparently amid all the race hate stirred up here, no one bothered to notice that the victim herself did NOT appear to be Caucasian, and their disgusting words apply equally to HER if that’s the way they really feel.  Ironic, paradoxical, or just plain unobservant– I’m not sure, and frankly am too appalled to differentiate.

In all honesty, I would have felt equally uncomfortable having wandered inadvertently onto an ultra-liberal Republican-bashing site as well, because hating other people and calling them stupid based on how they vote is just not a thing I do.  My issue here is not with the party line– my issue is with propaganda that wears a mask, the rampant growth of irresponsible and sensationalistic reporting in the media, and the impressionable mindset that blindly accepts said propaganda as truth and breeds hatred and contempt.  This sort of thing probably isn’t going away anytime soon;  it’s been around for far longer than that one time some Romans nailed a guy to a great big pair of cross-timbers for daring to suggest that people ought to be nice to each other for a change.

He was right, y'know?

He was right, y’know?

I am not at all advocating that people should give up whatever beliefs get them through the night.  I’m not even suggesting that everybody should just join hands and sing Kumbayah already.  What I AM plugging shamelessly is the need for people to educate themselves.  Not just in the serenity to accept the things they cannot change and in the courage to change the things they can, but in that all-too-crucial wisdom to know the difference– the difference between the truth, which is concrete, and its perception, which is infinitely more mutable and dangerous.  Be smart.  KNOW when you’re being underestimated as a thinking person, and KNOW when you’re being fed a loaded line.  Don’t be another face in a mob.  Have the decency to respect others and their opinions without being swayed by them.  My personal mantra is “Love all, trust few;  always paddle your own canoe.”  It is not my place, nor anyone’s, to tell you HOW to think on hot-button topics, but I WILL tell you to THINK on them and make your own decisions– and try to make those decisions based on what is true for you.  (Unless you ARE a sociopathic ax-murderer, in which case that’s probably not such a good idea.)  Don’t just accept what you are being told to think.  Figure out what is snake-oil and what isn’t, and quit foaming at the mouth, as it makes you look ridiculous, destroys your credibility, and is flatly repugnant behavior unworthy of a sentient being.

The “news” blurb I clicked on was quite the learning experience, but ultimately a disappointment on a variety of levels.  On the topmost level was disappointment in the state of a world in which bashing people in the face for doing the job they’re paid to perform has become a thing.  I would have come away from this story with the same feeling regardless of how it was worded, or the reactions it elicited.  On a more personal level, I was sad for the clerk, who was not blessed with my expectation of the unexpected and quick reflexes (I once snatched from midair a wet-floor sign flung at my head by a nightmare customer of my own and tucked it under my arm all in the same movement, and asked said violent customer, somewhat redundantly, “NOW what?”).  At a base and far more despairing and disgusted level, I was disappointed that partisanship, racism, sexism, and just-plain-uglyism are all alive and well and still aren’t learning anything new.  I really thought most people who are not smoking crack rocks were better and smarter than that.  So I guess the point I am attempting to make here is that society as a whole needs to grow up and stop literally and figuratively squabbling about whose dad can beat up whose, or worse yet, doing the beating themselves.  It’s an attitude that has become ever more invasive in the media-saturated culture in which we live, a culture that has devolved to a point that clearly radical views that small-minded people would in the past have at least had the courtesy to keep to themselves are aired publicly on a regular basis and presented not as the snake-oil they are but as fact.  Is it maybe asking too much of people to try to see the difference?  I don’t think so.  At least, I hope not.  At any rate, someone else once said it all, in far fewer, far lovelier and far more precise words than I ever could, before being senselessly gunned down himself.  I’ll just close this off with his words, because they are so much more effective than my own.





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