As long as there’s no blind transgender Aleut in the room, Roxane Gay gets away with using her victim points to attack anyone who points out that she’s full of shit. She a woman. She’s black. She’s Haitian. She’s gay. She’s morbidly obese. Somehow, the fact that her parents were wealthy, she went to Philips Exeter for prep school and then Yale for undergrad doesn’t manage to find its way into her oppression narrative. Hey, there’s only so much room.
Online is where I found a community beyond my graduate school peers. I followed and met other emerging writers, many of whom remain my truest friends. I got to share opinions, join in on memes, celebrate people’s personal joys, process the news with others and partake in the collective effervescence of watching awards shows with thousands of strangers.
Something fundamental has changed since then. I don’t enjoy most social media anymore. I’ve felt this way for a while, but I’m loath to admit it.
Even I felt bad for this person with her more than 843,000 followers, denied the pleasant banalities of chatting with her truest friends and thousands of strangers about awards shows.
Increasingly, I’ve felt that online engagement is fueled by the hopelessness many people feel when we consider the state of the world and the challenges we deal with in our day-to-day lives. Online spaces offer the hopeful fiction of a tangible cause and effect — an injustice answered by an immediate consequence. On Twitter, we can wield a small measure of power, avenge wrongs, punish villains, exalt the pure of heart.
All she wants to do is “wield a small measure of power” to destroy anyone she decides is evil. Is that too much to ask? Oh, and be loved and appreciated for it, but then, who doesn’t? But has it gotten so bad, so vicious, that even mean girls feel it’s gone too far?
In our quest for this simulacrum of justice, however, we have lost all sense of proportion and scale. We hold in equal contempt a war criminal and a fiction writer who too transparently borrows details from someone else’s life. It’s hard to calibrate how we engage or argue.
Coming from a woman whose idea of empathy is to demand the burning of a black guy who was acquitted of rape, but who Gay decided was guilty anyway because that’s how she felt, this rings rather hollow. But then, she’s not shy about her simplistic but absolutely certain grasp of good and evil in the world, for which she, and she alone, is the voice of the righteous, even if she still hasn’t denied killing the puppy.
After a while, the lines blur, and it’s not at all clear what friend or foe look like, or how we as humans should interact in this place. After being on the receiving end of enough aggression, everything starts to feel like an attack. Your skin thins until you have no defenses left. It becomes harder and harder to distinguish good-faith criticism from pettiness or cruelty. It becomes harder to disinvest from pointless arguments that have nothing at all to do with you. An experience that was once charming and fun becomes stressful and largely unpleasant. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way. We have all become hammers in search of nails.
It’s not that she’s wrong about twitter, or social media writ large. You can twit “it’s Sunday” and half a dozen minimum will feel the irresistible impulse to argue the point, call you racist if they’re from the left or a cuck if they’re from the right, and often you get both sides of the horseshoe outraged at the same thing for not going as far off the ledge as they demand. No, Gay isn’t wrong. Gay is the problem.
There is a curious phenomenon that infects the pathologically twisted self-anointed victims where they can spew their vitriol at will, utter the most absurdly irrational nonsense and attack at will. They sic their swarm of sycophantic gnats on their enemies to shut them down, shut them up, teach them what happens when you challenge a Victim-Superior like Roxane Gay.
And that makes her sad?
Every harm is treated as trauma. Vulnerability and difference are weaponized. People assume the worst intentions. Bad-faith arguments abound, presented with righteous bluster.
And these are the more reasonable online arguments. There is another category entirely of racists, homophobes, transphobes, xenophobes and other bigots who target the subjects of their ire relentlessly and are largely unchecked by the platforms enabling them. And then, of course, there are the straight-up trolls, gleefully wreaking havoc.
If this emits the stench of “it’s so exhausting to be right and have to deal with all the wrong people who don’t adore me,” that’s nothing compared to the laundry list of pejoratives cast on the “straight-up trolls, gleefully wreaking havoc” whom Gay hasn’t already blocked for not replying “Yasss Queen” to her vitriol.
But is Gay’s compulsion to simultaneously attack even as she whines about poor her sincere?
It is infuriating. It is also entirely understandable. Some days, as I am reading the news, I feel as if I am drowning. I think most of us do. At least online, we can use our voices and know they can be heard by someone.
It’s no wonder that we seek control and justice online. It’s no wonder that the tenor of online engagement has devolved so precipitously. It’s no wonder that some of us have grown weary of it.
No matter how many victim points she can muster for someone who has enjoyed a life of amazing privilege, and who has almost nothing substantive to say and yet gets space in the op-ed pages and has amassed a swarm of useful idiots to do as she commands, she’s yet again the weary victim of mean social media. And all she sought was control over others and to impose her personal brand of justice. Was that too much to ask?