Thursday, March 29, 2012

Spike Lee, The Hunger Games, and The Double-Edged Sword of Twitter

I have to get something off my chest…and I need more than 140 characters to do so. In the past week two national news stories have surfaced that I’d like to quickly summarize and discuss. Please bear with me.

The first is the tragic shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin and the subsequent outrage from media outlets and celebrities on Twitter. One of the most interesting—and further infuriating—developments in this story occurred when filmmaker Spike Lee used his Twitter account to publicly broadcast the home address of the man who killed Martin. In an ironic twist of fate, Mr. Lee was retweeting someone who had the incorrect address. Now an elderly couple living in Florida has been forced to temporarily move out of their home due to an onslaught of hate mail and threatening phone calls. I say “an ironic twist of fate” because it was Mr. Lee’s directorial debut (the brilliantly crafted classic Do The Right Thing) that ends on a heart wrenching scene depicting the terrifying nature of an angry mob, the aftermath of racially-charged vigilantism, and the effect of such atrocities on completely innocent bystanders.

The second story, while not being broadcast quite as loudly in the media, also involves racism, Twitter, and yet another ironic twist. Ever since the release of the staggeringly-successful film adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ blockbuster novel The Hunger Games, an overwhelming number of “fans” have tweeted their disdain in the casting of a young, African-American actress who portrays Rue, a twelve-year-old girl who loses her life in the titular tournament. There’s even a website devoted to collecting tweets such as (my stomach churns as I quote): “Sense when has Rue been a nigger” and “Kk call me racist but when I found out rue was black her death wasn’t as sad #ihatemyself.” I say “yet another ironic twist” because Suzanne Collins describes Rue as having “dark skin” in the book. When I read the novel, I came across the description and instantly imagined Rudy Huxtible from “The Cosby Show” as Rue. And when she was speared through the chest, I did something I so rarely do when reading a book or watching a movie…I cried.

There’s something truly terrifying about that second story, aside from the piss poor grammar and dirt low reading comprehension level of these Americans. What scares me is how the ability to instantaneously voice one’s uninformed opinion in a public forum can become a hurtful, damaging weapon. Twitter allows users to post their thoughts to a completely open, worldwide message board. This is slightly different than Facebook, because in that arena users are more or less sharing their thoughts with a closed network of friends, coworkers, and acquaintances (the one exception being George Takei—who everyone should “like” as a friend). What I find fascinating about Twitter is how quickly people like Spike Lee and all these racist Hunger Games fans forget that in this day and age words can be more powerful than sticks and stones.

Allow me to digress for a moment. The strongest relationship in my life right now is the one I share with my iPhone. This tiny little device with a fast depleting battery and (oftentimes) terrible 3G coverage reminds me when I have an appointment, tells me how to get to the location of said appointment, tells me what the weather will be like when I get to that location, lets me purchase everything from movie tickets to clothing, plays my favorite music, suggests other music to enjoy, and even fuels my dating life. And those are just the ancillary uses for a device thats primary purpose is to make phone calls and send text messages. It lives in my back left pocket—physically touching me more often than any human being ever has. I am so in love with my iPhone—and share such a personal connection with it—that sometimes I forget how strongly it connects me to the public world. I’ve had countless incidents of uploading an incriminating photo or tweeting a ribald joke during a Saturday night bar binge that unfortunately will be viewed the next day by my high school English teacher, my childhood babysitter, and (most importantly) my mother. And I imagine it’s the same for many, many Twitter users.

Now, here’s where I start to flip-flop on whether or not this personal connection to a device which provides users with a platform like the Twitter app is a good thing. On the one hand, if it weren’t for this week on Twitter, I would go on naively assuming that racism in America is less of an issue today than it was in the 60’s. Apparently that’s not the case. We still have an incredibly long way to go. And I have a responsibility to be diligent in treating everyone around me with as much respect as I would a member of my own family. Yet, that same tool which so blatantly shines a spotlight on ignorance and arrogance just as easily unites the ignorant in a persuasive, common voice. It digitizes an angry mob mentality and spits that rage out into electronic ether that mentally, emotionally, and (in the case of Spike Lee and the McClain family) physically affects us all. And since users are limited to 140 characters, they’re only able to share one single message without the luxury of shading, context, or introspective thought.

Like all other monstrous problems we face nationally these days, I am completely clueless about how to tackle this issue. I’m not going to pretend to have any kind of answer. However, I would implore everyone with a Twitter account, Facebook profile, or blog to think twice before posting anything. Use these tools to put good back into the world. Whether you’re a liberal hippie or a conservative Christian, we should all agree that spreading love and respect for one another’s humanity is a righteous, moral thing to do. Do it.

Also, please proofread before clicking “Post.” Bad grammar is simply inexcusable.


madonna said...

very nice!

Runs Like A Gay said...

Here in the UK we too have recently been reminded of the pervasive stench of racism and how Twitter can be used to spread these poisonous views.

On 17 March Bolton Wanderers player Fabrice Muamba suffered a near fatal cardiac arrest on the pitch. Whilst most fans of all teams held their breath a drunk student in Swansea tweeted racist abuse about Muamba essentially hoping that he died.

10 days later the student was jailed for 52 days, since then the nature of Twitter and it's impact has very much been in the public concious. Even to the extent of the subject being raised in Parliament.

Do you imagine a criminal case ever being raised in the States to cover such incidents?