We live in an era when we’re especially hypercritical and divided—an unsurprising development given all the nonsense occurring regularly—and our news reporters are particularly keen on garnering clicks and buzz, for as the old saying goes, “no publicity is bad publicity.” This environment enables the publication of news stories that sound enticing and critical initially but are largely obsolete upon closer inspection, alongside the ensuing reactions that feel mostly off-base. Those of you who scour the internet fervently may deem this the art of “clickbait,” a sentiment with which I concur. In fact, a couple incidents from this past week highlight the toxicity of this “clickbait culture.”
On Oct. 4, the third season of “Big Mouth,” a critically-acclaimed adult cartoon depicting middle schoolers’ turbulent journey through puberty, premiered on Netflix. Some took issue with a scene outlining the differences between pansexuality and bisexuality, decrying the portrayal’s inaccuracy and offensiveness. Now, maybe I’m biased as a heterosexual fan of the show, but I hardly take issue with said scene. Although some may disagree, I just find it difficult to believe that a large group of adult cartoon producers—especially with its financial standing and reputation at stake—would alienate its audience deliberately. If anything, its actual intent, which appears to involve dispelling harmful stereotypes, runs counter to this proposition. The show plays off of the fact that its subjects are ignorant teenagers, thereby educating them and the audience simultaneously. Given that “Big Mouth” falls largely within the same vein as shows like “South Park,” which have been accepted and lauded for their unfiltered satire of our culture - why are we getting so bent out of shape now? Besides, the status of “Big Mouth” as a “Netflix Original” gives it limited reach compared to typical cable television programs. I truly sympathize with members of the LGBTQ community who feel further stigmatized by the show’s portrayal, and I believe that there’s justification for speaking up about the issue calmly and rationally. Thus I appreciate executive producer Andrew Goldberg’s apology and hope this incident helps us all communicate more effectively.
On Oct. 6, comedian and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres was spotted at the Packers-Cowboys NFL game, but to many’s dismay, she sat alongside and engaged in friendly banter with former U.S. president and contentious public figure George W. Bush. In DeGeneres’s words, “They thought, why is a gay Hollywood liberal sitting next to a conservative Republican president?” Whereas I can at least understand the outcry from the “Big Mouth” incident, I find this controversy utterly ridiculous. I’m not Bush’s biggest fan either, but he’s not a rapist, mass murderer, racist, misogynist, homophobe or anyone else who’d merit ostracism. He merely did some unpopular things as president, and for that matter lacks the same influence because he doesn’t even hold public office anymore! Likewise, DeGeneres holds sway, but not as a legislator; for one, I’ve never seen her dance on the Oval Office seal in exchange for the president’s signature. There’s nothing malicious about their mutual acquaintance, and it’s discouraging that even the most inoffensive public displays bear heavy scrutiny. Whether you want to admit it or not, DeGeneres raises a salient point about the importance of accepting those who hold different values and beliefs from our own. And news flash: In real life, we’ll inevitably encounter people and situations that don’t align perfectly with our worldview! We may scoff at these celebrities’ privilege, but we can’t exhibit hypocrisy by sheltering ourselves from this reality. Instead, we must become more tolerant and less judgmental toward those who differ from us, at least to a certain extent.
Perhaps I’m hypocritical for posing this argument in the first place and now I’ve angered you all with my “naive pacifism.” And just to clarify, I don’t mean to discourage anyone from speaking their truth or, in the case of journalists and other reporters, fulfilling their occupational duties. But there’s a massive difference between passionately speaking your mind and actively seeking reasons to become enraged. Journalism elicits more than enough criticism for its purported lack of credibility nowadays, and toxicity infiltrates our conversational climate too easily as it is. So moving forward, we must get our minds to click and avoid providing or taking any bait.
Thumbnail photo courtesy of @bigmouthnetflix Instagram.
Michael Katz is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.