Making Child Abuse Facebook Famous

by on December 4th, 2010 19 comments

Screenshot from Know Your Meme.

You see…I am what they call a “fantasy-prone personality.”

While dodging “suggestions” from people who, on most days, wisely refrain from attempting to be the boss of me, that I change my Facebook profile pic to a cartoon for a day, I made up a reason they must be so excited about it. I manufactured it wholesale in my brain. I says to myself, I says:

“These people must be putting up cartoons and comics on their Facebook profiles to promote the wonderful arts of animation and comic book illustration.”

Reasonable logic, yeah? Reasonable! So reasonable that now, in retrospect, it almost seems not totally hallucinatory! Almost.

I thought: “Illustrators and animators in the U.S. are having a heck of a hard time of it lately, you know, with the economics of book and magazine and comic publishing being in violent upheaval, and the U.S. animation industry increasingly relying on offshoring, and the whole movie industry doing less and less original work, and the creative arts in general finding themselves beleaguered. Comic books and animation are two of the primary art forms of the modern era! Celebrate! Promote! Show your support! Rah! Rah! Rah!!!”

Great! Unfortunately, it turns out that while the meme started (apparently) as a good-natured celebration of cartoons and comic books, and continues on many users’ parts (apparently) in exactly such a fashion, certain factions have convinced the news media that people are putting cartoons on their Facebook profiles to end violence against children. This was apparently a meme that started as a celebrations of cartoons and comic books — apparently, and details are slim, on a Greek or Cypriot website.

The meme then somehow inexplicably either morphed en route or got misconstrued in the news media — classic thought piracy, complete with the Jolly Roger! And now the mainstream media couldn’t care one way or the other; all they know is it’s “newsworthy.”  The New York Daily News, West Texas’s News 9, Starpulse.com, CBS News and others all reported the meme as something that existed for the “charitable purpose” of raising awareness of child abuse or of ending violence against children, though they were all vague on details.

The only places I could find headlining the “Hijacked Meme” facts were GMANews in the Philippines and Know Your Meme, though ABC News at least acknowledged the fact that the original meme had been hijacked.

Such epic asshattery is a the confluence of good-natured light-hearted celebration and rampant, infectious shallowness. It cheapens the cause of child abuse prevention and, just as importantly, it draws a connection between comic books/cartoons and childhood, where none should exist.

Tracking this textbook example of a crowdsourced cultural cancer, Know Your Meme establishes all that is known about how the anonymous commandos from the One Click Activism patrol hitched a ride on an existing meme — which ain’t much! It’s the internet, y’know? It just sorta happens! Filipino site GMANews does more or less the same. One stupendously non-official-looking Facebook event profile even makes the claim, snuggled up against a Cartoon Network logo, that it “happens every year, the fourth week of November.” (Which seems pretty odd, since 90% of the people I know who use Facebook started doing so in the last six months. Does “every year” mean “every year since September 6, 2006?”).

Wow! It looks like we have a genuine Who Gives A Damn sort of mystery on our hands! As ABC News reports:

“The origin of this latest message is murky, but, as with most Facebook memes, that isn’t stopping Facebook users from joining the online movement. “

Yes! That’s the key! “As with most Facebook memes!” “End The Violence Against Children” is the new black? People actually took “Let’s Celebrate An Art Form” and mixed it with “End Violence Against Children” and birthed a bastard hybrid of the Hamster Dance and Cat on a Roomba Smacking a Pit Bull while managing to cheapen both playful Facebook culture-sharing and the opposition to child-directed violence?

Gawker’s on-the-spot interview sums it up:

GAWKER: So, abuse any kids today?
CHILD ABUSER: Nope.
GAWKER: Why not?
CHILD ABUSER: It’s this cartoon thing. I guess I never realized people cared so much about child abuse that they would go to the trouble of changing their Facebook avatar for a day.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I recognize that making child abuse Facebook Famous seemed like a good idea at the time. After all, I’m assuming that the kind of people who come up with such ideas have spent their entire lives doing absolutely nothing to end child abuse; doing absolutely nothing plus an infinitesimal amount seemed at the time like an awesome way to spend the next 40-60 years doing absolutely nothing and yet feeling totally awesome about it. Right? A warm fuzzy feeling of accomplishment without all the hassle of having to accomplish something!

But Facebook Activism isn’t just stupid; it’s dangerous. It convinces people that doing next to nothing is actually better than doing nothing at all. And you know what? It’s not. If it’s better to light one candle than curse the darkness, is it the same, but less of a hassle, to just call up a photo of a candle on your iPhone? Seriously. Ask yourself. Is that the kind of person you want to be? Someone who can’t even be bothered to strike a match?

Here’s where the cautious and reasoned rhetoric comes out.

Illustrators and animators in the U.S. are having a heck of a hard time of it lately– wait, I said that already. Okay: Comic books and animation are two of the primary art forms of the modern era–oh, I said that, too.

All right, then. Take this!: Promoting cartoons, comic books, illustration, fine art, popular art, guerrilla art, home crafts, cooking, dance, theater — any form of creativity — is laudable.

And that!: Facebook profiles are art. They should reflect the arts you find meaningful — and I’m not alone in believing that animation and illustration are important and inspiring.

And some of this!: Facebook is culture. It is increasingly representative of the ways in which many if not most of us stay connected and experience new forms of art and interaction.

And one of THESE: Cartoons and comic books have nothing to do with stopping violence against children.

You know what might help to end violence against children? Informing your legislators in no uncertain terms that they are to increase funding to social services aimed at improving the lives of children. You know what would be “Literally the least you can do?” Fail utterly to complain about what an utterly enormous portion of your hard-earned income the government takes to pay for unearned “social services” slurped up by the people whose primary crimes are being young and poor, or young and abandoned, or young and otherwise at risk.

That’s not why you’re poor. That’s not why you pay too much in taxes. It’s just not.

You could also volunteer at a shelter or just read a book about child abuse or talk to your friends about it. This is a world rich with possibility. There is no excuse to feel helpless. We are not helpless until Facebook Activism makes us helpless. Facebook Activism is dangerous. It tells us that in order to change the world, all we have to do is a Google Image Search for “Marvin the Martian.” It tells us that doing anything more than that is not strictly necessary.

Perhaps more importantly, it tells us that doing almost nothing is sufficient to demonstrate to others that we give a damn, allowing us to feel every so slightly superior to others who didn’t do the specific “almost” part we each decided was important and/or easy enough to do.

And yeah, I get a little cantankerous, maybe, after long enough spent reading gun blogs where arrogant white guys complain about the government stealing their money to pay for the lavish lifestyles of welfare cheats and illegal immigrants. Yes, that makes me cranky. American voters have time and again supported legislators and ballot initiatives that have utterly gutted the social safety net in this country.

Do you want to know why kids are being abused in the United States? Because no system exists to prevent them from being abused. Do you want to know why no system exists to prevent kids from being abused? Because some very vocal Americans seem to spend much of their time being terrified that some kid somewhere who’s not their kid will get something for free, up to and including a life without abuse.

Violence against children has been endemic throughout all societies. We in the Western world had a chance, last century, to make great strides toward eliminating it. We chose to fight wars, cut school lunches, privatize national parks and pay lower taxes instead. As a result, we march into a new decade in which the kids of the world are as helpless as ever.

And legions of people out there are exactly upset enough about that to upload an image of Danger Mouse.

This is the world we live in. If you’re American, at least, these are the people you smile at in the grocery store — people for whom putting up a new Facebook profile pic is — literally — the most they care to do to end child abuse. They may think they have the best intentions, but their real intentions are to avoid exerting even a tiny amount of effort.

Pretending they’re not — pretending everyone is on the same page about this — is as empty a gesture as clicking Like.

And yes, the pic is staying. Bugs Bunny is bad-ass.

Possibly related posts:

Tags: , ,
  1. December 5th, 2010 at 02:14 | #1

    Didn’t know the history of this current meme, but that’s interesting.

  2. Michelle
    December 5th, 2010 at 02:31 | #2

    Just a thought (because the world does go on outside the U S of A) while you are doing you “better than facebook lobbying” may I suggest that you ask you, well I was going to say government but I will say individuals running the country, to sing the UN convention of the child! Might be a start & it could signal to the rest of the world that there is hope for kids in America!

  3. Michael
    December 5th, 2010 at 04:23 | #3

    “it draws a connection between comic books/cartoons and childhood, where none should exist”

    Not sure about this – surely childhood is where we contract the virus that keeps some of us spending a fortune on “Absolute This” and “Ultimate That” (and “Essential The Other”, of course).

    Also, isn’t it possible to do the avatar thing and contribute to ending child abuse in other ways?

  4. December 5th, 2010 at 05:20 | #4

    Thank you for this brilliant post! It says what I wanted to say, and have been trying to do on Facebook/Twitter a hell of a lot more eloquently.

    As a friend of mine pointed out earlier, “Apparently it’s all about the ‘awareness’. I’m aware of rain but that doesn’t stop it happening.”

  5. December 5th, 2010 at 11:15 | #5

    @Michelle — Very good point. The U.S. signed the convention, but has not ratified it. The only two nations that have not ratified it are the U.S. and Somalia, according to the Wikipedia page and to UNICEF’s site: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Convention_on_the_Rights_of_the_Child#United_Stateshttp://www.unicef.org/crc/index_30229.html

  6. December 5th, 2010 at 11:58 | #6

    This article is very much in line with my point of view, however until I read it, I certainly was not aware of the broader scope of things mentioned here. Thank you for this clear and important perspective and for reminding us to think, once in awhile, before we act out of that all too frequent place inside us that says…well, it may be very little…but at least it’s something…because most of the time…it’s really nothing at all! And by the way, I have a hunch this may be more strongly an American way of seeing such things, but I hope, if that is so, we can be first to recognize our propensity for the facade being all important, and begin giving good example worldwide, as the “leaders” we are supposed to be, by actually thinking about what we are doing before we board the train to nowhere. Thanks, Thomas.

  7. Chris
    December 5th, 2010 at 14:23 | #7

    Self gratifying drivel!

    It is correct that this does nothing to directly help stop child abuse but you shouldn’t undervalue the positive impact of raising awareness. When people are aware and consious of things that are wrong in the world they are more likely to act upon it.

    Also, the origins are irrelevant.

  8. gozer
    December 5th, 2010 at 16:56 | #8

    Chris-

    People weren’t aware of child abuse before this meme? Really??

    But no; you’re right. Seeing an avatar of Darkwing Duck has finally compelled me to act.

  9. December 5th, 2010 at 17:01 | #9

    Thomas my friend, you’ve struck again at the nerve center of our squishy meme-etic universe!

  10. December 5th, 2010 at 17:19 | #10

    FYI friends and new visitors: I don’t approve abusive comments. Otherwise, I’m happy for the dialogue, challenging and supportive and everything in between.

    Love,
    Editor

  11. LL1
    December 5th, 2010 at 19:21 | #11

    You took the rant right out of my head and made it sound so much better. Thanks for this.

  12. Juniper
    December 6th, 2010 at 00:10 | #12

    I will say this, it’s fun. I love art and animation. And, to avoid the “doing nothing but feeling like we are doing something” virus, my friends and I all donated hundreds of dollars to various reputable child abuse treatment centers, and similar causes during this trip down memory lane and encouraged others to do the same.

    It was fun, hopefully raised some money, and made my facebook a LOT more interesting to see the cartoons people remembered and not their silly faces or the faces of their myriad newborns.

  13. el majico
    December 6th, 2010 at 02:37 | #13

    started by a group of friends in greece with no real point except how many FB users they could engage in this stupid act of MeMe’ ing, copycatting, or doing a round robin.. Does not help the NSPCC and possibly donating to the cause the FB users are suppposedly supporting would be more appropriate gesture

  14. Shannon
    December 6th, 2010 at 05:09 | #14

    The funny thing is, this meme came through my friends group for the first time about two weeks ago, and said nothing about promoting any cause whatsoever. It was basically just, pick a cartoon character that you’ve always liked and change your picture to it. So I did, because I thought it’d be fun to see what everyone chose. That’s all. Just wanted to know what my facebook friends would pick as some of their favorite cartoons. Had it said it was to promote cartoonists and artists, I’d still have done it.

    Then it came through again this weekend, with the bit about child abuse added on. I changed my picture again, but I didn’t do the status message, because I think these things are kind of stupid. What does “bringing awareness to child abuse” even mean? Do you know anyone who is unaware of the existence of child abuse? Because, I don’t. So, how is it helping anyone?

  15. Sharon
    December 6th, 2010 at 06:11 | #15

    Please do not assume that EVERYONE who puts up a new profile picture is doing only that. There IS something to be said for awareness. I did NOT take part in the ‘breast-cancer awareness’ “I like it on….” meme because what more needs to be done on that one in the awareness front – everyone knows what pink means already and being aware does not help much at all. But child abuse is one of those ‘sometimes invisible’ issues, and keeping it out where people ‘have to’ think about it is a GOOD thing. I do appreciate your ‘Please do MORE than that!” message though. And I do appreciate the plight of struggling creative people. I’m right there with them. Perhaps it’s not an all bad thing after all, changing the profile picture. huh?

    By the way – changing my profile is NOT all I did – I’m a Mom to three kids whom we have adopted out of the foster system – we live with the daily, long-term effects of child abuse.

  16. Justin James
    December 6th, 2010 at 08:16 | #16

    I got really angry about this over the weekend too. Many of my friends have gotten defensive about it. So I am actually DOING something about it. I’ve been writing WP7 apps lately, and I am committing 10% of the *gross* revenues (before Microsoft takes 30%) from 11/3/2010 (when the store opened) through 3/1/2011 to One Simple Wish, an excellent charity that helps kids. You can read the details here: http://www.formortals.com/doing-something-vs-talking-about-it/

    I urge anyone who is doing some sort of revenue generating side-work, who doesn’t depend on that money to feed their family or put a roof over their heads, to consider something similar. Just pick a percentage, charity, and timespan… and do it.

    J.Ja

  17. Heidi Johnson
    December 7th, 2010 at 20:53 | #17

    I think it’s interesting that you think that child abuse can be stopped with government funding. It seems to me that child abuse occurs in every tax bracket, country, and religion. I think the best thing we can do is raise our own children with the love and respect they deserve, even if we did not have that kind of childhood ourselves. Break the cycle. By the way, I did have fun picking a Facebook comic avatar.

  18. December 8th, 2010 at 08:32 | #18

    I know there is no justice in the united states for abused children. I was abused every which way by my father he served 3 years for abusing me for 10 and making my life something at the time I didnt want to live. Laws have improves over the last 20 years BUT NO WHERE CLOSE to where they need to be. So I know about abuse and I know kids are not protected here it sucks and it sad.

  19. December 9th, 2010 at 10:45 | #19

    @Heidi, I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but:

    While I couldn’t agree with you more that we should “raise our own children with the love and respect they deserve…” — that is not policy. It is sentiment.

    Those who wish to be the architects of the world need to have specific proposals that create good, and “raise our own children with the love and respect they deserve” has nothing to do with anyone’s child other than your own.