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.