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Times ain't a changing much

From the editor

POSTED: October 2, 2017 6:00 p.m.
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Jeff Whitten is managing editor of the Coastal Courier.

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This column was going to be about my gearing up to run the Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon in November.

That’s "running" 26.2 miles around the streets of Savannah even though nobody is chasing me. No, I’m not too smart.

But then, well, then someone reached out to Patty Leon and Facebook because someone out in Long County’s Halloween decorations included a dummy hanging from a barn.

In fairness, the offending mannequin was part of a larger display that included a werewolf and other creepy stuff. But in fairness, nobody knew the motivation behind it hanging there.

Didn’t matter.

Before you knew it, there were comments on social media about somebody going over and burning the offending place down.

Hopefully, that kind of stuff was just folks blowing off steam, but you never know. These are the times we live in. Almost everybody professes to be angry about something, and probably is. Outrage is in. Especially on social media.

There, you don’t even have to look hard to find something aimed at making you mad, whether its NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem or a woman incensed because cotton was used as an ornament in a Hobby Lobby. Or, in this case, someone lynching a dummy for Halloween.

The person who reached out thought the lynched mannequin both in poor taste and probably not a good thing for kids too see, and I tend to think she makes a good point on both counts. Empathy for others is important.

But what happened next wasn’t the actions of an empathetic person. The woman put it on Facebook, hardly a place for serious discussion, and it went sideways from there. In the court of social media opinion, you’re guilty of being guilty without even a trial.

Maybe, it’s healthy in a weird way, as long as it stays there on the internet. Still, I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of a campaign to teach me a lesson because I wasn’t sensitive enough to somebody else’s history.

But it’s apparently in our collective nature, to scold and find fault when we know there’s no immediate threat to our physical safety. While there are those who do wear their hearts on their sleeves, and their biases, most of us try to get along and be kind to one another.

Maybe those religious admonitions to "judge not lest ye be judged" exist because we need to feel morally superior to something or life just ain’t worth living. There’s this, too. It seems we’re almost hardwired to go after those who don’t think or look or act the way we think they ought to, and that "ought" depends on a lot on the cards one is dealt in life.

So in that regard, maybe social media is a proxy, an outlet for folks to get their outrage out of the way before they go on with their lives and find something more constructive to do than waste precious hours staring at a computer screen and getting their knickers in a twist.

Or maybe it’s a sign that, to misquote the great English writer T.H. White, as a species we’re fated to ultimately end up each in our separate tree, throwing rocks at another other because we can’t get along.

White wrote that as World War II got under way and the world was tearing itself into bits. You’d think we’d have learned something since then.

Some of you may remember the 1980s comic strip "Bloom County" by Berkley Breathed. It included such characters as Bill the Cat, Opus the Penguin and Steve Dallas, among others. Topical, irreverent and funny, at its best it was as good as Doonesbury, and Doonesbury was pretty good.

There is a particular Bloom County strip that still resonates with me to this day. It starts with a bunch of folks waiting for a bus stop when a man looks over at Opus and says "Ya know ... you penguin types offend me."

A man sitting on the other side of Opus looks over at the first man and says "Hey ... I’ll tell ya what offends me. Dirty words, that’s what."

And then everyone at the bus stop gets in the act.

"Polish jokes offend me."

"Stereotypes offend me."

"TV sex offends me!"

"Look! That sign offends me!"

"I made that sign and I’m offended!"

"Frankly sir, you offend me!"

"Well, I’m offended at your offense!"

"Those nudes offend my womanhood!"

"Those gays offend my manhood!"

"This comic offends my offensiveness!"

Then, in unison, they shout:

"Oh my gosh, life is offensive!"

And they run away, leaving Opus alone at the bus stop.

"Offensensitivity," he says.

The definition of insanity? Doing the same thing and expecting different results. 30-something years after that cartoon, we’re still there as a country, offended and offending.

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