Tuesday, August 13, 2019

A Warning

I have long wanted to write about toxic comedians. In my life experience, it started with Sam Kinison and Andrew Dice Clay back in the 1980s, then as I recall, continued with South Park and Daniel Tosh of Tosh.0 (I'm sure I'm forgetting someone, probably multiple someones). But all I ever managed was to turn them off the television whenever I was nearby; I never managed a coherent critique of why I can't stand them and why I think they are dangerous, how they have poisoned the minds of young people, particularly young white men for the past 30+ years.

This Twitter thread by media literacy educator Joanna Schroeder is not about comedians per se, but I think it fits into the same context:

Do you have white teenage sons? Listen up.

I've been watching my boys' online behavior and noticed that social media and vloggers are actively laying groundwork in white teens to turn them into alt-right/white supremacists. Here's how:

It's a system I believe is purposefully created to disillusion white boys away from progressive/liberal perspectives.

First, the boys are inundated by memes featuring subtly racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic jokes. Being kids, they don't see the nuance and repeat/share.

Then they're called out for these jokes/phrases/memes by parents, teachers, kids (mostly girls) at school and online. The boys then feel shame and embarrassment - and shame is the force that, I believe, leads people to their worst decisions.

The second step is the boys consuming media with the "people are too sensitive" and "you can't say anything anymore!" themes. For these boys, this will ring true - they're getting in trouble for "nothing". This narrative allows boys to shed the shame - replacing it w/anger.

And who is their anger with? Women, feminists, liberals, people of color, gay folks, etc etc. So-called snowflakes. And nobody is there to dismantle the "snowflake" fallacy.

These boys are being set up - they're placed like baseballs on a tee and hit right out of the park.

And NOBODY seems to notice this happening - except, it seems, moms of teenage girls who see the bizarre harassment their daughters endure. And, of course, moms like me who stalk our sons' social media.

These are often boys from progressive or moderate families - but their online behavior and viewing habits are often ignored.

Here's an early red flag: if your kid says "triggered" as a joke referring to people being sensitive, he's already being exposed and on his way.


Look through his Instagram Explore screen with him. Explain what's underlying those memes. Explain why "triggered" isn't a joke, what a PTSD trigger is actually like. Evoke empathy without shaming him.
Remind him you know he's a good person, but explain how propaganda works. Propaganda makes extreme points of view seem normal by small amounts of exposure over time - all for the purpose of converting people to more extremist points of view.

Use my baseball analogy, if you want. Tell your son that he doesn't have to be anybody's fool. Teenagers have an innate drive toward independence, and once this system is exposed, they're likely to start questioning the memes and vloggers' intentions.

Tell them you are always there, not judging, to look at content and try to spot the lie - no judgment. Then don't judge!

You can also watch political comedy shows with him, like Trevor Noah, John Oliver, Hasan Minhaj. Talk about what makes their jokes funny - who are the butt of the jokes? Do they "punch up" or down? Our boys want funny guys to relate to. Give them John Mulaney, Hannibal Burress, Hasan Minhaj, Neal Brennan, Dave Chappelle ... then TALK TO YOUR SONS about that funny shit. Break it down. (Also give them women comics, obviously, but that's beside the point here).

Show them that progressive comedy isn't about being "politically correct" or safe. It's often about exposing oppressive systems - which is the furthest thing from "safe" or delicate as you can get.

Disprove this "snowflake" garbage once and for all. Ask your son: Who is more of a delicate "snowflake" - the person who gets offended by racism/sexism and actively wants to help end bigotry? Or the person who is offended by people saying happy holidays instead of merry Christmas?

Above all, we need to stay engaged and challenge our kids without shaming them.

I'm lucky, my kids are smart and have a smart, critical, progressive dad who isn't afraid to call bullshit when he sees it.

But I've seen SO MANY white boys falling prey to this system. So beware.
That desensitizing bit, that repeating of propaganda, the constant "lighten up" admonishments we've heard for decades about rape jokes and racist jokes... Sound familiar?

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