Ridicule is not our only weapon, fortunately, because it’s not very effective. Ridicule is the last refuge of the powerless. Judging by the amount of ridicule being heaped on the president’s tweets, one would think this country had gone over the edge already. Politicians, journalists, economists, jurists and citizens must be all out of influence, if the best we can do is put on pathetic little comedies about the moral and intellectual shortcomings of the aspiring supreme leader and his cadre of oligarchs.
At one time, ridicule may have seemed like an effective tactic — using entertainment and laughter to expose serious deficiencies in political leaders and candidates. But we are way past the winning-hearts-and-minds stage. Our people are suffering and long-term damage is being done to our democracy. There’s nothing funny about it. Besides, making comedy out of an already-ailing political process has only hastened its collapse. We needed to take things more seriously, not less so. We needed to dismiss and ignore tweets (for instance) as not newsworthy, professional or serious, and to reserve social media as a vehicle for offhand, off-the-record, personal interaction.
Members of the media, repeat after me: Tweets are not news. If you don’t read them, don’t repeat them, don’t comment on them, and don’t require your staff to engage in them, they will go away. You will find something else to write about. People will grant you interviews and respond to events in complete, cogent sentences. (Then it will be up to you to spell everything correctly.) And still, lots and lots of people will engage in lots and lots of happy twittering. You can even join in — on your own time, for your own fun, and off of your public platform.
Tweets are not news. Tweets do not belong in the news. Tweets have no part of public policy. Ridiculing them only gives them more publicity, authority and traction. Plus, ridicule doesn’t work as a tool for change, and never has. Because if ridicule is the last refuge of the powerless, it is also the first refuge of the powerful. Make fun, not waves. Make money, not enemies. Satire is just an easy way to look like you’re engaged when you’re not. The spoof-ees will benefit from even the most damning sarcasm. “There is no such thing as bad publicity” continues to prove true. And while powerful people have been brought down, that was never achieved by the taunting jesters. Serious action had to be taken by serious people and supported by an unyielding and growing group of citizens.
A lot of jokes were made about Hitler, as he fenagled his way to power. He was great fodder for political cartoonists. But his agenda, his ambitions, his actions and their devastating consequences were not hindered. And if, to some extent, being mocked drove Hitler to excesses that hastened his downfall, that only served to increase the reach and severity of his cruelty.
As for the man who was a joke as a candidate and is now our president, we are way past the point of ridicule. It’s time to get serious, so what can we do? The greatest bargaining chip we have — as proven by social media — is our attention (eyes on the screen). Our greatest power is our buying power. Our most coveted asset is our personal information that reveals what we think and what we buy, and which is gathered from every online exchange. Therefore, in addition to showing up to protests in person, we have another tactic for dissent: to withdraw energy and participation from the online distraction and disinformation machine. Pull back. Ignore the nonsense, don’t share it. Request that all of the news sources you subscribe to stop reporting on tweets and other social media.
We private citizens can and should retain social media as our tool for bypassing the establishment press. We have weakened our control over it by letting mass media appropriate our private content for their public gain. News agencies are getting a free ride on our interpersonal exchanges while laying off staff and cutting budgets for travel and firsthand reporting. It’s time for us to demand more substance and less fluff.
Laughter is good medicine for body and soul, but incompetence in our leaders is not a laughing matter. Plus, there is the very real possibility that what we perceive as incompetence is intentional. There is an agenda here: to break our political system, to break our judicial system, to break our economic system, to break our trust in one another. Breaking journalism, breaking language itself, and breaking our concentration on what matters appears be phase one of that agenda and, so far, appears to be effective.
Everyone, repeat after me: Tweets are not news. Ridicule is not our only weapon.