Does anyone else get a little uncomfortable when the entire Internet all of the sudden decides to simultaneously agree on a singular issue? Usually I go online expecting to see a steady stream of bickering and debate, like my Aunt Joan arguing about gun control with one of my college roommates in the comments of a status update I wrote about going to see Ant-Man last weekend.
Aside from baby photos and saying happy birthday, there’s really no such thing as a neutral position online. You’re either for something, you’re against it, or you’ve gotten to the point where you don’t say anything at all. Which is why this whole Cecil the Lion business makes me feel kind of weird.
Like I said, it’s not every day where you find everyone on your social networks unanimously agreed on one subject. And what’s there to disagree about? Some rich dentist went to Africa, he paid a ridiculous sum of money to go lion hunting, he lured a national mascot out of his protected habitat, and he shot it with a crossbow two days before he finished the job with a handgun.
That’s terrible, right? Right? I don’t hear you! You’re going to have to do a lot better than that. I said, that’s terrible, right? Right! Who the hell does this asshole think he is! Let’s shoot him with a bow and arrow and track him in the jungle for two days! Yeah! And then let’s skin him alive! That murderer! Let’s make sure everybody knows his name! And where he works! Let’s send him death threats! Let’s kill him!
Right? Jeez. And again, I’m not trying to defend this guy. I just don’t understand the strength and scope of the pitchfork mentality. Everyone has something to say about Cecil the Lion. It’s like, we’re constantly divided, on politics, government, gun control, race, police … it’s just nice that, finally, we all have something that we can all hate together.
Here’s a guy who killed a lion, and his actions are allowing us to get past all of the petty noise that usually defines our differences. Hand in hand, Republicans and Democrats, black and white, we can all of us join together to say, “Fuck that guy.” Finally we can go online and write stuff like, “That guy should be publicly executed,” without sounding like too much of a crazy person.
Because everyone’s saying crazy stuff. Someone went to this guy’s office and, amongst a makeshift Cecil-inspired cat-memorial, wrote #CatLivesMatter. And nobody’s getting upset! Jimmy Kimmel went on TV and made a joke about this dentist not being able to get an erection. And everyone’s like, “Yeah!”
Because fuck that guy. Am I right? Doesn’t it feel good? Isn’t it nice to be able to go online and say “Fuck that guy,” without sounding like an extremist?
I just don’t get it. Say what you want about hunting and lions, this whole Cecil story is just another case of runaway Internet mass hysteria. These things come and go in waves. Usually, by the time you even notice what’s going on, the popular opinion has already been cemented and repeated and amplified to the point where there’s only one acceptable discourse. You can either join in or keep quiet. Pour a bowl of ice water over your head or keep your mouth shut.
But what’s really going on? The whole idea that you’re allowed to pile on this cat-murderer and spew whatever you want on the Internet, it’s because what he did was wrong, right? This is as clear as it gets, black and white, good vs. evil, this guy is a bad guy, right?
I mean, maybe. But the way I see it, these sorts of online movements, these public shamings, all they do is kind of blanket over a series of complex issues with an easily digestible false narrative of right and wrong. Here’s a situation, one side is good, the other side is evil, I’m publicly standing up for the good side, so I’m a good person, right? Easy.
But what about the complex economies of big game preservation, hunting as sport, and African tourism? What does any of this say about the firearms issue? Because, isn’t one of the big points of gun control that Americans are allowed to keep weapons for hunting? How about Africa and the legacy of western imperialism? The Zimbabwe officials are all upset that their precious lion was killed. What about Zimbabwe President-for-life Robert Mugabe? Didn’t that guy just recently orchestrate a massive government crackdown after he technically lost his last election? In siding with Cecil, are we complicit in validating Zimbabwe’s political establishment?
And what about #BlackLivesMatter? Why does the killing of a lion command an across-the-board outrage that’s not seen when a human life is taken? Why was Sandra Bland dragged from her car during a traffic stop, and there’s a very real debate about whether or not she was doing anything wrong? How is it that a church full of black parishioners is shot up by a white supremacist, and weeks later there’s a KKK march in South Carolina?
We’ve got bigger fish to fry than one lion getting hunted in Africa. Was it an injustice? Sure. But it’s a problem much, much lower on the list of priorities that deserve our universal attention.