People are mean. And I don’t mean some people. I’m talking all people, the whole of humanity. Young/old, black/white, male/female. Across the board we are a jealous, petty, and hateful species. Of course for most of us being mean is nothing more than the act of thinking an awful thought. We all do it. Mean is a notion we entertain, a thought we consider briefly. Sure we may on occasion roll around naked in our meanness getting all dirty up in it, but in the end we simply feel it, process it and then let it go.
And for those people who can’t just let it go, who give action to thought? In ye olde days — before the internet — these people had no friends and as a result rarely left their house or burdened society. They might show their face at holiday meals to scream at some relative who “done wronged them” but for the most part their meanness rendered them impotent. They were not someone to be feared, they were someone to be avoided.
But then came the internet. Suddenly you could be as mean as you wanted with no consequence. It became de rigueur to threaten people, to call them stupid or fat, to virtually right all those perceived wrongs. Nasty chat rooms, vitriolic youtube comments, Facebook fisticuffs, hate-texting, and twitter. This new technology gave them — the socially backward, the mentally unwell, the most jealous and hateful among us — a new power; it gave these virtual bullies a voice. And the best part of this new voice was you didn’t even have to put on pants to use it.
Recently I was part of a Facebook conversation that devolved to a point where one woman called another woman ugly. When I read the comment all I could think was, “She would never say that to her face. Never. She wouldn’t have the balls to even form the words.” But from the safety of her smartphone thousands of miles away this woman found it acceptable to attack a stranger because, really, who was going to hold her accountable? (Well I did.)
Last week NBC aired a live production of Peter Pan. Many people hate-watched it, which is to say a bunch of people who could not do better passed judgment on a bunch of people who were doing better. In theater circles this critical watching is also known as being an unemployed actor. For me the worst part of hate-watching are the painfully unfunny comments it generates on social media. Not only are people nasty, but they can’t land a joke.
A former friend texted me out-of-the-blue six months ago. It was an epic, nonsensical, hate-filled, unprovoked rant that ended with her calling me “a coward”. Yes, I’m the coward. The person minding his own business at his house living his life is the coward. Not the grown woman hiding behind her phone saying whatever malformed thoughts pop into her head, thoughts she would never say to my face, thoughts she can say because, really, who is going to hold her accountable?
Which I suppose is the point to all this. If you want to be mean, then by all means be mean, but you have to be mean to my face. If you can’t look me in the eyes and then call me a coward, you don’t get to say it. If you don’t have the stones to walk up to Allison Williams on the street in public and then tell her she can’t sing, you don’t get to tweet it. If you don’t have the spine to take the President aside and then tell him that he’s a Muslim terrorist, you don’t get to generate a Facebook meme about it.
The Internet makes us ugly. But still, calling someone ugly? Thats just fucked up. Get some help.