Friday, January 17, 2014

Let's Talk Narratives, Part 2

Getting back to the point I was on Wednesday, narratives are important. Remember in 2012 when the footage leaked of Romney saying that 47% of America didn't matter to him?

He said that 47 percent of America wouldn't vote for him ever and he had to focus on the percentage points in the middle. That's not objectionable; that's political fact. Before the first vote is cast on Election Day, the big two each have more than 40 percent of the vote locked up. That's why the phrase "battleground state" exists. The objectionable thing he did say is that that 47 percent of all Americans are lazy, entitled, and don't contribute. That became the narrative that came from the leaked footage: that Mitt Romney thinks half of Americans are lazy and entitled and he doesn't care about them.

That's objectionable and poorly delivered. It's a prime example of why narratives are important. Politicians and corporations are powerful because they draw support from regular folks. Narratives have the ability to move masses of regular folks. In December of 2013, Justine Sacco shot off a racist tweet before getting on a plane to Africa. An internet firestorm ensued. She was fired by the time her plane landed. It wasn't because her employer, InterActive Corp, found her tweet objectionable, but because it became the topic of a public discussion and they wanted to cave as quickly as possible to public outrage.

The silent majority is a big, scary, stupid beast that's essentially good folks at its core. Narratives help keep that big, scary, stupid beast acting as a single society, but they can also endorse fucked-up shit too. The protests, monologues, reblogging, posting, etc. are valuable not because they directly solve problems on their own. They aim to change the narrative in order to mobilize that big, scary, stupid, etc. community to address problems.

People can do a lot on their own, but they can also prompt those in power to take steps. How quick was the government shutdown resolved because people didn't like it? Surprisingly quickly. How much cachet has the president lost because of the rough healthcare rollout? Lots. These are things that become part of the narrative. You can watch the late night monologues and see how the public message is shaped in shiny studios by guys in suits. You can see how they prod the powerful to take action.

Image from all

It doesn't always work. You can look at all-out's attempts to petition Coca-Cola to pull out of the Russian 2014 Olympics over their treatment of homosexuals. That's one reason lots of folks don't get involved. Why try to change things that don't affect them when it might fail after all of their effort? It's much easier to just declare the causes futile, assume the world will get just a little better each year, and ridicule those who actively care about others. Unknowingly, reflexively, those people create another narrative: the slacktivist.

The slacktivist is a real person, but it's not the guy reminding you that bad things are happening in the real world. It's not the lady who doesn't let you forget that getting "a little better" each year means that millions of people still suffer every year that happens. It's certainly not people who sign petitions to spur powerful organizations to action. It's not the folks who call out racism and sexism on Tumblr.

The slacktivist is the person who reflexively says, "it's not that bad," when they hear about kids getting beheaded in The Central African Republic. They're the folks who say they'll pray for victims of a tragedy like Hurricane Sandy but don't donate their time, effort, voice, or money to help out the victims. They're the fatalists who are smart enough to realize what's going on, but sigh with resignation as they state "they've always been fighting over there and they always will." They're the complacent optimists who wait for someone else to solve the problem. They're the folks who get angry about every tragedy thrust into their field of view, but blithely walk blindly past news reports of the world just beyond their face and become spirits of ignorance in a golden age of information, or worse, petition Facebook to take it down.

<Not pictured: A youtube video of a beheading.>

So yeah, slacktivists are real and if you're so fucking invested in outing folks for being a slacktivists, you're probably one of them.

No comments: