It doesn’t help.
This is an age of accessible instant communication with people you don’t personally know, from politicians to celebrities to brand names. With such channels before you, it’s easy to fall into the trap of demanding what you want, the way you want it, right now from someone whose address you found on the internet. The problem with that behavior is that unless you’re tweeting at your actual employee, nobody has to concede to a single one of your demands, no matter how righteous you may think those are.
You might say that you pay taxes that pay politicians, or patronize companies that advertise with those TV shows, or even shop at the particular business that your rants are targeting. Any of those things might be true and yet still not matter in the slightest. The reason is that your mere demand that things be done differently is the wrong approach.
If you don’t like the way a particular politican behaves, then certainly put your concerns out there into the tubes so if anybody wonders about public response, your thoughts can be found. And then vote for someone else. And ask others to vote for someone else for your sound reasons.
Don’t like how a TV show is being written? Blog about it and comment about it, sure. But you’re not going to see anything written right now until several episodes, maybe an entire season, down the line. And yes, you could convince Neilsen families to stop watching (they’re the only numbers that matter still as of this writing, no matter who or what tells you otherwise), and yes, you could try to petition advertisers to demand changes or pull their money. But if you had that level of control over a show that you’ve already chosen to watch…wouldn’t it just be like something you’ve written? And if you only want to watch your own ideas on television, you’re an asshole. Go write some fan fiction.
But those are just scenarios where you are attempting to support some cause, and while you may be taking the wrong steps, I’d still applaud you for trying to effect change. Do you know who I don’t appreciate? The self-important ranting critics who wage war on people for having the audacity to try to effect change in almost the right way.
Consider some recent internet memes that went viral: It Gets Better, Coming Out Day/Week, and Ally Week. I’m not going to debate whether any of those flashes in the internet pan were or weren’t good ideas or to what degree. Instead, let me just say for the sake of argument that each of those movements were not wholly effective in either educating people about queer issues nor bringing about the best changes in the world. Even with that premise, I am angry at the people who claim to want to better things for any part of the queer community, yet who struck out at participants in those movements only to say they weren’t doing it right.
There were good critics to be found. #ItGetsBetter could lead you to find The Trevor Project and Make It Better and some other organizations that could actually improve the world more with your participation than might happen with an uploaded YouTube video. And there were certainly posers and assholes who blogged or uploaded videos of themselves joining the chants just to make themselves feel better or look better.
But there were also some well-meaning folk who just didn’t know how to do anything better than to say something about their own lives, how they survived long enough to make this video, wished the viewers good luck and that was it. There are some people who will actually be helped by videos like that. Misery loves company is a cliche because it often does apply. But there are many other people who want you to do something, or at least to offer some sort of solution, and a video all about you isn’t going to appeal to these suffering souls. So, you spot one of these minimally helpful videos, and what is your response? If you’re one of these people I don’t like, you just criticize it. Worse yet, you might say that this was an example of why this whole movement is doomed to failure.
When I was miserable and contemplated suicide, it took almost nothing to convince me that anything positive in the world was fake and I should just end it all. If I started feeling good about something, all it took was one jackass to say, “Oh, that’s lame because of this, this, and this,” and I’d spiral back down again. There are a great number of those jackasses out there. I don’t like them.
I understand their objective. Those critics think they can better see the obstacles to reaching that goal, or even a better related goal. I get that. So help the misguided ones, or the unfortunate folk listening to you talk about the misguided ones, get to the right goal. If you think a movement isn’t going to accomplish enough, don’t tear down what it is accomplishing; build on it!
Don’t merely say that Perez Hilton is just a publicity hound with his ItGetsBetter video, point out better videos. Suggest links to better movements. Help, don’t hurt. Making passive, no-call-to-action, critical statements are just egotistical ways for you to say, “I’m better than them!”
Consider these three types of people who will probably always be out there as the audience for whatever cause you champion: The Activist, The Oblivious, and The Problem.
The Activist is already on your side. Want to speak out against abuse? The Activist may already know all your facts and is just looking for a call to action. Sure, a passive critical statement might rile them up to take another action (they’ve probably already taken several) but generally when we hear things we already know, we just gloss over it and move on. In the above example, the activist would just roll her eyes and think, “Yeah, I know Perez is a blowhard. So?”
The Problem is who you’re fighting. Pissed off at people who think the asexual community aren’t human enough to deserve rights? The Problem is one of those people. Merely restating the problem at The Problem will, at best, not affect them at all. They’re already The Problem, after all. At worst, a critical statement about the ineffectiveness of a good cause will just make The Problem see you as associated with whatever wrongful thing they already believe and then they’ll either ignore you or attack everything you’re fighting for with renewed vigor. In the above example, critizing Perez’s video wouldn’t make him take a better action, he’d either just ignore you or attack you in return.
The Oblivious is someone who could be persuaded to be on your side, they just haven’t been convinced of it. Passive critical statements just make them feel bad without recourse. If you tell a child he’s been bad and then don’t tell him how to be good, he may or may not change his behavior but he will certainly experience lower morale. In the above example, this might be someone who started to feel better watching Perez’s video until he read your bilious comments and then stopped feeling better. And maybe stopped looking at all the related videos.
You might say, “What if somebody is neither activist, oblivious, nor the problem?” I would propose that anybody who is neither activist nor oblivious is definitely the problem.
In my arrogant opinion, the right thing to do is join the cause and fix its direction from within. Is a gay rights event failing to mention transgendered people or some other group you think deserves attention? Don’t call the event a failure, speak out about how to make it better by encompassing more. Does it seem like all the humanitarian efforts are going to Chile and you wish people were still paying attention to Haiti? Praise the people who are trying to help and remind them that there are other worthy folk in dire need of charity, too.
Regardless of whether you think my approach will be effective or not, I assert that a wholly critical approach (particularly when you’re attacking well-intentioned people who want to be on your side) hurts your cause.
And when you want to stop some form of attack against a select group of people, do you want to do it by attacking other people? What would that make you?