We talk a good game about bullying. Then the claws come out.
Maybe we can’t help ourselves.
Maybe we should try harder.
Last weekend a good portion of the globe enjoyed the annual late winter Sunday evening television marathon known as the Academy Awards. The Oscars and the Super Bowl are two of the remaining real-time TV tent poles broadcast from the U.S. to the rest of the world still commanding appointment viewing of some of the largest assembled audiences joined collectively. Whether they are culturally worthy of that significance is beyond the scope of this blogger, but they are what they are: massive, temporally significant, and dare I say, glamorous.
This year’s Academy Awards offered what many have called the best line-up of nominated commercial films in years. Among the strong critically acclaimed competition, an important film won Best Picture. We saw unusually significant advances in motion picture technology win accolades. An excellent line-up of creative contributors offered heartfelt belief in their projects. We also enjoyed a quite clever world record tweet stunt (“the retweet blasted round the world”) emerge from a reasonably relaxed show format that seemed to try hard not to focus on itself too seriously, but to put that focus on the work being honored.
I don’t know if it was one of the best Oscar shows ever, but it seemed to me a credible, enjoyable celebration of creativity, all the more poignant given the immense geopolitical events mounting on the world stage as it played. It was a good night for Pharell Williams to sing “Happy.” A lot of us felt that way.
Then came Monday morning. Or if you really wanted to get in on it, later Sunday night.
What was the most insulting joke told by the host?
Who had the bad taste to show up with the worst vanity surgery?
How awful was that mispronunciation of someone’s name?
Can you believe that awful gown? She has to be the worst dressed, no contest.
What kind of self-aggrandizing acceptance speech was that?
Did you see how drunk he was at the party?
What kind of backstage snub comment was that?
Did you see the look on his face when he lost?
Did you really think she deserved to win?
It’s astonishing. We can’t even have one night to send up fireworks and smile in the glow without the snark. Maybe it’s because I live in Los Angeles and dissing in social circles is as common as saying, “Let’s have lunch,” but it seemed for every word of praise I heard for a winner, I heard three times that many diatribes flicked at presumed losers. Were I able to isolate it to the Hollywood elite, I might feel better encasing it in a cone of irrelevant silence, but I saw and heard it everywhere–online, in the mainstream media, on the phone, wherever news travels.
Folks, this isn’t news. It’s babble. It’s unimportant. It’s not particularly clever. And it’s mean. Really, really mean.
Sure we are a society of tabloid media. Websites and TV shows and grocery checkout racks thrive on insults, humiliation, and Schadenfreude. Most of this is not satire, not irony, not well-crafted humor. It’s just junk. Bloated, bombastic garbage. And we absorb it until we become it, and then we spew it right back, as if somehow that makes us part of some intelligentsia, some wise-cracking inner circle that can distinguish meaningful critique from wasted breath. When we join in the rant, we are kidding ourselves. We become part of the problem.
And here’s the problem: the kids around us are listening. They hear every word we say, every word the media relays, every nasty remark that deflects from the celebration that should be going on of wonderful, creative work that helps define our shared culture, commercial or otherwise. Then they go to school and the clear message is that bullying is verboten–completely off-limits, not allowed, punishable by extreme… what? Any chance there is a slight conflict going on when what they hear in their heads are our voices institutionalizing the public act of professional cruelty? We wonder why bullying is everywhere, but we don’t hear it in our own everyday dialogue.
What the heck is wrong with us? Really, we can do better. All we need to do is talk more about stuff that matters, less about stuff that doesn’t, offer praise with enthusiasm where it’s earned, and try to be a tiny bit more polite when someone happens to make a boo-boo, or we perceive them as making a boo-boo.
Because you know what? We all make boo-boos. And I have yet to meet anyone who enjoys ridicule, especially when they just did something out of the ordinary, whether the words travel behind their back or in their face.
It hurts. So let’s stop.