You Can’t Sit With Us…Anymore: When Popular Becomes “Problematic”

Here’s a story:

Once upon a time, there were two Facebook friends. They connected over their love of free samples and hating people who say that working is a good way to make money. They enjoyed most of the same fan pages too. For years, they got along swimmingly. They even racked up mutuals. It was one big happy Facebook family.  One day, their favorite fan page had a discussion about the conditions at a chicken farm in Goodluck, Mississippi. One friend responded that it was sad but they’d still be getting their 3-piece mixed with biscuit for $5 on Wednesdays like they have for years. A mutual saw the comment, screenshot it, and posted it on their page with the instruction that anybody who has that person on their list delete him E-ME-JET-LEE! The friend who had shared their third Go Fund Me campaign that fiscal year, held their secrets and talked shit about somebody with them in PMs was now trash because their dedication to seasoned fowl made them too “problematic” to be friends with any longer. The rest of the friends all deleted the chicken-eating friend and forced him into hiding. He came back three months later under a new name in hopes of rebuilding his Facebook life.

Sound familiar? I’m sure it does. Every two months, a social media “fave” is outed for doing, saying or thinking something that the Facebook Committee of Dubious Logic & Morality™ deems problematic. For those of you not quite acquainted with the FCDLM™, being problematic basically means that you believe things that though they may be true, don’t make people feel good these days; and you just may be the reason the world will destruct in 5…4…3….2… The drill is that once you find out one of your friends is problematic, you’re supposed to disavow them, defriend them, and then let everybody know that they, too, should stay away from this monster.

The people who are into this kind of behavior think they are performing a public service. They think they are saving the rest of us from a future full of disappointment and headache by telling us to evacuate the building before there’s even a crack. All they’re really doing, though, is making themselves look like reactionary 7th graders. I’m sure the loose definition of “friends” these days has something to do with it. I mean, the people I consider friends would have a hard time surprising me with their socio-political beliefs. But even if your main locus of friendship is the world wide web, it’s okay that your friends don’t agree with every single thing that you do or think; it’s even beneficial if they don’t.

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But let’s back-up. 80% of the time, the person we’re supposed to stay away from didn’t really do or say anything that egregious. Your longtime friend, from Facebook or otherwise, saying “women menstruate” is not a phobe in support of the mass exile of trans people. You just have to pretend like they are because you’re afraid of how other people will perceive you as their friend. Some “male feminist” playboy you met on a social justice page getting you to pay for his bus ticket, food and lodging, and then talking you out of your panties while he’s “Netflix n’ chillin’” with 5 other women at home isn’t the capital offense you want it to be. Your feelings are hurt and your face is cracked because you realize you didn’t use good judgment and need someone other than yourself to which assign blame.

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The purpose of friendship is not to make you feel good about your bad decisions; nor is it to garner “likes”, followers or views on an app. Unless we’re talking about something especially heinous (I mean, if you’re friends with R. Kelly, you need to let that go already), you have to seriously evaluate whether or not your friend being pro-voucher or anti-tax is enough to drop them completely. Different friends and types of friendship should mutually provide different benefits. I’ve found that when philosophical disagreement are at play, it’s wise to remember why you developed a friendship with that person in the first place.

For example, I have a friend we’ll call Cherry Colastein. Her political values most closely resemble that of a Libertarian. I think it’s unrealistic to totally eradicate taxes and count on religious entities to provide the things that the various welfare systems in the country do. I also have a friend we’ll call Proteinia Shakelton. She is probably the most far left person in the country, although Guiness hasn’t called her yet. If it were up to her, the country would resemble a cross between Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and the Garden of Eden. In her world, money wouldn’t even exist. I think that goal is the stuff that unicorn dreams are made of and completely impractical.

Yet, I manage to maintain functional friendships with both of them. I’d never give up the non-hater in Cherry or the academic intellect of Proteinia over a political difference. We’ve learned the skill of compartmentalization. Cherry knows not to invite me to her Libertarian functions. I know not to invite Proteinia to gatherings with more of a right-leaning tone. We all know not to broach certain topics with each other lest the conversation turn into DEFCON 5.

It really is that simple.

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With all the talk these days about being triggered and the apparent trendiness of frailty, one would think that we’d be finding reasons to retain our friendships as opposed to getting rid of them when there is no ascertainable harm in keeping them.

Maybe our reliance on social media is slowly killing our various types of intelligence. Perhaps the cliquish nature of pages, groups and accounts has impeded our ability to deal with the differences of which we claim we want everybody to be accepting. Perhaps our ability to defriend people in an instant or have an online cheerleading squad without even a semblance of a true connection with other human beings has turned us into people who find even the smallest variance too uncomfortable to bear. Either way, at some point we’re going to have to realize that the liberation we claim we want is not going to come from lockstep interactions.

 

 

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