Have you ever noticed that lately everything seems to be way over the top? It is like someone took the expressed passion volume and turned it to eleven, but not necessarily in a good way. It makes me wonder if people really are this emotional about everything around them or if this is a reaction to something more problematic along the lines of a disconnection to genuine humanity and true affective response to each other.
It isn’t really that I think people should be unemotional or contained at all times. Obviously, having passions is what makes us human and involved with our world. But, seriously, let’s take a look at what people seem to get their knickers in a wad about… most of the time it isn’t even impacting them on any intimate, personal level.
Does that mean that I think people shouldn’t be concerned about the oppression prevalent in distant lands, or the outlandish contrivances of various governments to demolish our basic human rights, or even abuses in the systems we use that put those basic rights in danger from each other? No. I do not mean that at all. I just think that so much of what people get completely bent about are distractions from what may actually be very wrong right before their very eyes. It is a bit of that “not seeing the forest for the trees” stuff. I cannot decide if it is that people do not have enough to worry about in their own lives, or what is more likely, that to avoid taking a good, hard look at what is going on in their own lives, they choose to get in a towering fury about issues that in the grand scheme of things do not have a lasting impact on anyone (like whatever Paris Hilton is doing or how long the Kardashian’s are staying married).
It’s escapism, pure and not so simple, because, what are people escaping? Why are people so adamantly extravagant in their hyperbole about every blessed thing? It seems to be impossible for anyone to have an opinion unless it is extreme, and sadly, it is not possible for anyone to have a differing opinion without causing a schism the likes of which would cause apocalyptic rumblings at the Vatican. I’ve been pondering this for a while. I’m not claiming to have the complete compendium of knowledge or all the answers, but I have come up with a few theoretical constructs and categories, all of which could be erroneous but I’m going to run with them anyway.
I called it escapism because so much of what people are diving into with all appendages has so little to do with their own physical realities. I can only suspect that their own physical realities are miserable or distasteful to them, and losing themselves in the lives of the rich and famous or fantasy of fiction provides a ready distraction from overwhelming responsibilities and otherwise unpleasant aspects of their own lives. There are also those folks who live in the glass houses, but love to throw stones. They find a good deal of vicarious pleasure in giving counsel to all around them while completely avoiding their own foibles and flaws. These types may legitimately have excellent objective observation skills, but their abilities to critique or provide solution for friends and acquaintances have left them myopic to their own concerns. Bless their hearts! I can understand, truly I can. How many times have I gotten sucked into the wiki-rabbit hole and social media quagmire, neglecting the responsibilities of financial stewardship or household cleanliness in order to argue a point on Facebook or play Farmville, Zombies, or whatever the brain-drainer of the day is? I cannot cast so much as a pebble at this one. Procrastination is my long-time companion, and distraction, the balm for my wounded ego.
Attention-seekers or Social Crusade Warriors
There is nothing wrong with getting a little attention now and then. Everyone deserves a bit of positive attention on occasion. However, some crave it, demand it, and can’t seem to live without it. This isn’t really all that healthy, people. So, perhaps, some of the hyperbole expressed publically (or in social media) isn’t so much about the issues but about getting the attention associated with those issues. It is related to the flawed logic of “If I do not say this loudly with some extreme adverbs or adjectives to define the strength of my passion, no one will notice,” but the notice isn’t so much about the issue but about wanting people to notice them. Yes, there are people who stand on soap boxes merely because they believe the angle makes their butts look better (so to speak… it’s a metaphor, for heaven’s sake!). My rebuttal, why do you need attention for your opinion? Does the issue require this much exposure? If the cause is sufficient, without the grandstanding proclamations to the world by the individual, will the issue languish and subside into the dark and lead to the downfall of society as we know it? There are issues that deserve to be brought into the light, but my question to the hyperbole addict is what are you hoping to accomplish with your expansive, extremes? Are you shedding light on the issue, or are you hoping to have the spotlight directed upon you?
White Knights, Defenders of the Internet and Social Media Realm
This is almost a subcategory of the previous group, but I felt it deserved its own, separate mention. Now, while the nomenclature may be indicative of the masculine, the white knights out there are just as likely to be female as male. These folks can exist on a spectrum of behavior that extends from the supportive to the downright creepy. The defenders of the realm may actually feel strongly about an issue, but what typically happens is that they get a huge boost to their passions about the issue if someone to whom they are attracted expresses their own passionate opinion of same. Sometimes, this can go to the extremes of even flipping the knight’s previous views, but generally, it is more a magnification property than a role reversal. For example, you may have an individual who likes animals well enough. Pets are fine. However, they are not protesting red carpet events about people wearing leather or fur… until… Enter fair damsel in hand-wringing distress. Our maiden in peril is absolutely rabid over the plight of euthanized animals at the animal shelters and the cruelty of carnivorous fare at eating establishments. While our knight has never given much thought to this (and generally enjoys a tasty steak), the charisma of her plea has lit a bonfire within his soul (or her soul… I do not want to be biased). Suddenly, the knight is playing Sarah McLachlan and sharing videos all over the internet of puppies with sad eyes and expounding upon the virtues of tofurkey (“Tastes just like chicken!”), all accompanied by a rousing verbal diatribe upon the special place in hell for unfeeling and complacent people who do not donate to the ASPCA until their wallets scream. That is obviously a little dip in to the hyperbolic on my part, but you get the idea. The knight in question had virtually no opinion or at most a moderate opinion of the issues until expressing otherwise might garner the attention of their lady (or gentleman) fair.
Everyone thinks they know what a troll is. They wait under bridges for unsuspecting billy goats to traipse across, providing dinner for the evening. Well… more or less. They cannot seem to resist poking the hyperbole gorilla with a stick. They frequently attempt to be a check in the system of internet opinion balance. In truth, they probably do not even have that strong an opinion about the issue in question, but they know that the individual proclaiming their passion is overinflated with their social indignation and cannot resist pricking them with the needle of opposing thought. Sadly, trolls often get trapped by their own trollery (yes, I just made that up) and soon find themselves unable to have even their most sincerest sentiments believed in the courts of public opinion. Such is the plight of the terminally cynical and perpetually snide. Even statements of true support become tarnished with the suspicion of sarcasm where none was intentionally placed. Oh well, they chose their path, and truly, they do not seem to mind when people remove them from friends lists. All in all, they are relatively harmless unless the over-inflation in question happens to be in the ego.
So, why do we get sucked into the perpetual drama of the terminal hyperbole? Is it that we haven’t enough real world problems of our own on which to expend our energy? Are we all so overwhelmed by our first world problems that bathing in the iniquity of perceived and manufactured wrongs are our only escape and solace? Has society as a whole been so polarized that no one is allowed to have a moderate opinion? Does it always have to result in “us” vs “them” or “If you are not passionately with me, you are against me and must be destroyed”? I can attest that John Gabriel’s “Internet F#$%wad Theory” (aka Internet Anonymity Theory, 2004) is a reality, and the internet has become a hotbed of mob mentality where people use the shield of anonymity in their mutual hostility about issues that overall… probably don’t matter nearly as much as the relationships that they just torched to prove their points. Unfortunately, we don’t have the face to face opportunity like Scout (To Kill a Mockingbird) to call people out individually and remind them of their humanity to pull them out of the mob and shine the light of respect.
I don’t really expect answers to my rhetorical questions. I’ve pondered this for a good long while now with greater and greater despair, and I expect there is not an answer or solution to this until people can start embracing some moderation in their opinions and have tolerance and understanding that friendship and affection is not necessarily based upon holding the same exact thoughts upon all situations. And no, I will not say “we can agree to disagree” because that is just asinine. I will just say that a little respect for opposing perspectives can go a long way towards peace between friends and less heartburning all around… maybe fewer first world problems.
With great appreciation of Harper Lee for her brilliant understanding of human psyche and the dangers of social pressure.
Gabriel, J. (2004). http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2004/03/19