Ramona's picture

    On The Internet Mean Streets

    There is a picture making its way around the internet of a grossly overweight woman standing in what looks like a cafeteria line.  She is wearing a pair of shorts that are several sizes too small and the fat rolls at her stomach and bottom are pushed up and exposed. I don't know who the woman is or where the picture came from, but from what I can tell, it's a picture that both liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, men and women, Americans and non-Americans, feel perfectly at ease making fun of.

    There is another one of an obese man sitting on a motorcycle, butt crack exposed.

    And yet another one where a woman's breasts and belly have been photo-shopped to look like a huge, green Ninja Turtle. 

    Wander around Facebook or Twitter on any given day and you'll find FB friends and Twitter followers who have posted dozens of pictures like this; where the only purpose for posting is to make raucous, profane fun of a mostly undeserving subject.

    Everyone in the public eye can expect to be the subject of speculation and/or ridicule, simply by being in the public eye.  When Britney Spears had a public mental breakdown, the internet couldn't get enough of it--not to empathize or commiserate, but to shame her and make her misery complete.

    More recently, Renee Zellweger may have had an eye-lift but so far she's not admitting it.  Now we're forced to spend hours and hours and hours discussing this important issue, to the neglect of other even more important things. Like whether Monica Lewinsky's entry into the Twitterverse is all about embarrassing Hillary so close to her presidential campaign or is really about the advantage her own experiences might bring during a campaign against cyber-bullying.

    After speaking to groups about slut-shaming and cyber-bullying, Lewinsky joined Twitter last week in order to open up the conversation.  This is her focus now, she says.  After 16 years of having almost universal hatred and ridicule directed at her, who would know better about what that kind of unwanted attention does to a young life?   What happened next wasn't surprising: The cyber-bullies came out in full force against her.

    The anonymity of the internet allows anyone with a cruel streak and access to Wi-Fi a safe haven for vicious intolerance.  Now no one is immune and the meanies are everywhere, hiding behind usernames that keep them safe from the same kind of public scrutiny they're so rabidly enforcing. 

    Even the websites I normally go to for mostly true news and views profit from sidebar links to photo-stories about former child stars who are now ugly, about celebrities who smell bad, about ridiculously awful plastic surgeries, about female stars with cellulite or without makeup.

    Sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube build their numbers to sky-high status whenever hatred and ridicule goes viral.  The comments and re-tweets are nightmarish, and if I think too long on what kind of people are out there gorging on this stuff I find myself questioning whether, as a civilization, we're even worth saving.

    And we're not even talking yet about politics and politicians.

    The destructive politics of, say, Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, or Chris Christie are enough to be the centerpiece of any conversation.  Their looks don't hurt us, their policies do.  But whenever their political activities cause some major ruckus, the comment sections invariably devolve into jokes about their personal appearance--as if the only way they can be hurt is by making fun of weight, chin, or skin.

    As a political blogger, I'm not above enjoying the hell out of ridiculing certain Right Wing pols whose own meanness goes beyond hurting individuals and leans more toward causing heartache and dismay to multitudes.  They deserve it.  But going beyond their politics to make fun of their looks, or their wives' looks, or their children's looks doesn't add to the conversation--it doesn't fix anything.  It's a cruel way to get a laugh.

    Inflicting personal, psychic pain for the pleasure of an audience isn't anything new.  The concept of making fun of other human beings is centuries old.  But spreading  ridicule to the ends of the earth electronically in a matter of seconds is new.  And chilling.  Anyone with a camera or a smart phone can snap a picture of someone who looks funny--without them even knowing it--and post it to the internet.  Once the deed is done it's out there forever.  No taking it back.  Forever.

    We hear about teen suicides nearly every day.  The direct cause of far too many of them is cruel, senseless public shaming and/or bullying on the internet.  It's time the shamers take the heat.  They're miserable excuses for human beings, made even worse by the fact that they know they can inflict that kind of harm anonymously.  They're heartless cowards, blameless as long as they can stay nameless.

    The broad scope and openness of the internet is a gift, but when it's used as a tool for abuse we have an obligation to self-regulate it.  We have to pay attention.  We are the grown-ups here.



    Good piece Ramona, but I think it would've been better had you altered this sentence:

    The anonymity of the internet allows anyone with access to Wi-Fi a safe haven for the kind of vicious intolerance that, before the WWW, we otherwise might only have seen at the movies or in certain Southern states.  (Yes, I said that.)

    In a piece that takes us (as a community) to task for our willingness to point at, make accusations about, and ridicule others, I find an unintentional irony in the above. That said, the problem isn't what it says about "certain Southern states" (for surely it is true), but what it says about other states — namely that you might not have found that kind of "vicious intolerance" there. As has been pointed out numerous times at dagblog when this topic comes out, vicious intolerance has not been monopolized by the South. The Kent State riots happened in Ohio, the Stonewall riots happened in New York, etc. Don't think that I'm unduly sensitive, as (a) having been born abroad to parents who were born in Ohio I don't identify as a Southerner (despite having lived in the South for most of my life), and (b) I readily acknowledge that the South is responsible for a disproportionate amount of the vicious intolerance you're talking about.

    In addition to the problem about such a statement letting others off too easily, I believe its tone greatly undermines the very point you're trying to make.

    That said, with that one exception, I agree with everything else you've written here, and do not pretend that I'm always above making fun of the opposition, even though I wish I were. I will strive to do better in the future.

    Thanks, VA.  I appreciate your comment here.  I did mean the South when I used it as an example of the kind of vicious intolerance that was all too acceptable before the World Wide Web. 

    I didn't live in the South but I'm still sickened by the stories of the treatment of blacks well into the 20th Century.   We're seeing that same kind of ugly hatred directed at people who don't deserve it and are powerless to stop it.  I don't see what I said as ridicule, but if it came across that way to you, I'm sorry.   I can easily draw parallels between the days in the South, pre-Civil Rights Movement, and the pack mentality of the haters on the Internet.  This is the way it starts.

    VA, your words have haunted me all evening.  I can't stand it anymore!  I changed that one line and I have you to thank for it.  Seriously.  You are so right.  I was so wrong.  It needed to go and thank you so much for helping me move it along.

    Now I suppose you'll be wanting an editing fee?  frown

    This time it's free. This time. wink

    You're an excellent person Ramona, no matter what DD says. laugh

    Ha! It may be unrequited but I LOVE DD.  He was the first one to make me feel welcome over at TPM and it's because of him I started blogging over there--and here.  He's a gem!  (And so are you, by the way.)

    I was going to let this thing go.

    But Cville and Missy and now you....make me feel really good.

    And I no longer feel really good much.

    Jeez you make me feel soooooooooo good.

    So I guess I have you and Cville and Missy and....

    It makes me feeeeeel so very gooooooooood.

    the end

    Lol. We three are all you will ever need, DD.  Don't go looking anywhere else!  (Except Momoe, of course)

    Humans in my experience, love to see other people fail!

    That is the origin of Vaudeville.

    Think of Punch & Judy hitting each other with sticks!

    There are at least ten video reality shows where we are treated with movies showing people falling down and otherwise injuring themselves.

    See, I am old now and fat and ugly but it was not always so. hahahahah

    I don't care anymore.

    But watching Palin give me the oral history of Paul Revere, I cannot stop laughing.

    Or watching Bachmann tell me the history of the Founding Fathers and it is hysterical to me!

    Of course when the pass receiver on my team drops a pass or stumbles, I aint gonna laugh.

    However, Joe Biden makes me laugh and I love him and I pray he ends up being Senator Biden again.

    Police can no longer assume that there are no witnesses when a thug really really pisses them off.

    Everything is on the net.

    Even my mistakes are there for everyone to see, but I never seem to get a million hits.

    Genetically, we all wish to see failure.

    But just because we wish so does not mean that we cannot use our superego to adjust our reaction.



    I think there's different levels of this. At the best level, what I'll call a zero, are virtual saints who would never laugh at the misfortune of another, even if that other is someone who would wish them ill. We can aspire to that, but I suspect everyone here at dagblog would fall short. One level darker (but still not too bad) is when you laugh inwardly or by yourself at the misfortune of others. Far darker is when you deliberately mock another in such a way as to bring them great shame and discomfort.

    Yes, yes, yes.

    But that is our human superego or conscience.

    Some of us still have a conscience; it does not work all the time but WE MUST LISTEN TO THAT CONSCIENCE!

    Well put Athiest!

    Richard, we're all guilty of making fun of other people, and as you've shown, some of them SO deserve it!  But VA makes a good point about the degrees.  Deliberately setting out to humiliate someone none of us knows simply because of the way a person looks or dresses or talks is far below the usual teasing, and it worries me that we're beginning to treat it as a universal sport.

    It gets uglier and uglier and the people who spread those stories and pictures don't see themselves as necessarily mean.  I think the treatment of Monica Lewinsky this past week made me sit up and take notice of how much of that goes on.  I really don't know how she did it--how she came out of it even half way sane--and now it's starting up all over again.  Even people I've come to admire have jumped on the hate wagon and have no qualms about ragging on her via the internet. 

    It doesn't help that we're inundated by hateful election attacks 24 hours a day.  I think I need to take a break and go and seek out happy places.  I should do it right after the election.  I may really need it by then!

    (My second cataract surgery is tomorrow AM.  Maybe I'll be seeing things more clearly after that!)

    You will be in my thoughts all day.  Take care. 



    Thank you, Momoe.  Nothing to eat or drink.  I want my coffee!

    Okay, I admit I took a cheap shot at Renee Zellweger last Friday with this haiku:  

    Tell me, did Renee
    Zellweger join the Witness
    Protection Program?


    Yes, it was an easy target and yes, I still think it was kind of funny.   But does it rise to the level of  cyber-bullying or celebrity-bashing?

    I could be wrong, but I don't think so.    Is every disparaging remark about a public figure a case of cyber-bullying?  Where does one draw the line?   Are we allowed to laugh at another's misfortune?  If not, then you've just banned over a thousand years of comedic literature. 

    I agree that the internet can be mean place, but it can also call out bullshit and demand the truth in a much more direct and immediate way than almost any other medium.   It is a leveler.  That anonymity also allows people to speak freely and without the usual social constraints that have us 'make nice' polite conversation instead of saying what we're really feel.    Unfortunately, some people are just bitter and mean spirited and don't know where to draw the line when it comes to taste-less or hurtful comments.  

    Mind you, I'm not defending bullying.  Destroying someone's life through relentless online attacks is horrible and vindictive, but how can this problem be solved by self-regulating when the people doing the bullying don't see their lack of empathy as a problem?   Free speech demands responsibilty.  Being a decent human being demands having empathy for others.   Rather than spend time regulating comments, I would suggest that we need to educate the bullies and increase their levels of empathy for their fellow human beings.




    I was thinking about Rene over the last week or so.

    She has the means to change her persona.

    And, you already know Mr. Smith, that there are these ten or fifteen or whatever slides demonstrating how bad Stalone looks now or this actor or whatever 'screwed it up'.

    Walk a mile in their shoes as it were.

    Rene was such a 'sweety' to me in my old age and now she is a middle-aged actor!

    Rene is certainly not ugly, whatever the hell that means,

    We need to modify or moderate or whatever we have as prejudices..

    It is easy to call Christy from NJ a prick and then just call him fat. And I was guilty of that but not on purpose; whatever the hell that means. I hit the wrong link.

    I will attempt to keep 'ad hominem' comments to myself.


    It is harder when I perceive Gohmert or Bachmann or Palin or Cruz as idiots. Cruz is not, after all, an idiot at all. Cruz knows damn well what he is doing.

    Hell, it looks like the 'idiots' are going to win this entire election in eight days.

    It is difficult to distinguish between ugly and ugly minded.

    We must hold back the id in favor of the super ego.

    the end



    Wait, now I can't call Christie a fat pr*ck?  D'OH!    ( Sigh.)   I thought that the definition of libel says that if the statement is true it isn't libelous.... (I know, I know, I was just having fun with you.)

    Mr. Smith, your haiku is funny!  And not the least bit mean.  I threw the reference to Zellweger in there because it was timely and I found the whole thing a bit baffling.  I mean, CNN was reporting on her appearance!  Why?  There were off-the-wall suppositions about her mental status, about her need to "hide" the real Renee by changing her appearance so drastically (you saw that, too, huh?), about the lengths she would go to revive a sinking career.  There was a kind of bullying about it; not to the degree I cited in the rest of the piece, but gathered as a part of the whole.  internet denizens seem to feel the need to insinuate themselves into everyone's lives without a thought to how it might affect the person they're focusing on.  I think it goes too far.

    I love the internet for many reasons, but it's like living in a big city, where there are certain places you want to avoid but can't.  Where mean things go on and they're frightening, but where there are things that amaze and delight.  It's a balance, and it's hard to ignore one over the other.



    Oh it is soooo very much easier to attack the powerful, the rich, the owners of our Media.

    I mean you get however many millions to work on a movie and then peeps make fun of you.

    Let us just make fun  of the  powerful!

    It's okay with me.



    Owners of Media needs to have their noses rubbed in the media messes they make.

    Well put Momoe.

    And hell, if I get a million hits, come and get me. hahahah

    People who hit the lottery and end up with millions of viewers, will receive hundreds of thousands of 'bad' hits.

    Such is life.

    Richard if you got a million hits, you would be dancing naked in the street. 

    Hell! I am dancing naked in the street right now. 

    My 11 yo grandson was given a 4 year college scholarship this week. It is part of a program called "take stock in children."   It is for poor kids of high risk that normally drop out of school because of conditions at home.  We have to finish filling out the forms which involves his mother.  She has to sign a contract to do what she can to support his education goals.  He has to take a pledge that he will go to school every day except when sick, not do drugs, or rob a bank and do his homework.

    He will be given a adult mentor who will once a week have lunch with him at school. This volunteer will stay his mentor through high school and help him apply to college.  He only has to maintain a 2.5 to stay in the program. The scholarship is a prepaid college tuition program that Florida has for Florida public colleges.  I have been paying into a partial one for him that costs me $125 a month.  Some one has donated one for this program so a disadvantage and deserving child can go to school. They usually select kids in 6th and 7th grade before they fall into the mean streets and under peer pressure or go to work to help pay bills.  

    The magnet middle school he is attending had 12 of these scholarships this year.  He was picked.  He is a good student that is why I have been scraping the gas money together to send him there and arguing with everyone about it's value.  I had to twist some arms to get his mother to agree with him going there. This ends the argument. They were afraid he would be bullied by better off kids. So I guess this fits in with this discussion. 



    Momoe, what great news!  All of your hard work and sacrifices for your dear kids is paying off.  You are an amazing woman.  I'm so proud to know you.

    Sometimes it comes down to being in the right place at the right time or maybe just the stars lining up at the right time. I certainly wasn't expecting it. 

    But this time it came down to someone who really cares---you. It's the most heartwarming and uplifting thing I've read in a year.

    Thanks,  I just wanted to tell someone.   


    Your grandson is a very lucky boy regardless the scholarship. He chose his grandmother very well.  Congratulations to both of you.

    He knows he is lucky. He thought he was being called to the office because he did something wrong. He is very excited about this. The part he likes is someone bringing him lunch once a week at school so he don't have to eat crappy school lunch everyday. When you are eleven you really don't think about college.  Thanks. 

    I would love to know more about that program.  Maybe you should write a blog about it?  It sounds like a wonderful program--and in Florida yet!

    I will after we go though all the orientation. 

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