Time to Chill the Eff Out

Warning: this is going to be a very selfish post, but I hope in the best possible way.

The clip above is from the 1999 film South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut. A character named Big Gay Al is emceeing a USO show before the United States goes to war with Canada over the foul language and toilet humour favoured by fictional Canadian stars “Terrance & Phillip”. Obviously, the entire film is pretty tongue in cheek (it’s actually one of my favourite “musical movies” because the music is AWESOME and hilarious), and this number is especially selfish, but I’ve found the lyrics running through my head these last few days.

I have been realizing that most people on the internet, myself included, need to chill the eff out right now. It’s not that bad things aren’t happening–they are–but not to most of us, and not things that can possibly be helped by having anyone mindlessly freak out about it on the internet. The sad fact of the matter is that madly retweeting, Facebooking, or posting rabid comments on news stories that piss you off generally does very little to help the situation. You may think that at the very least you are relieving your frustration, and showing your peers how much you care about Situation X (which I know feels good at the time), but the cumulative effect of all of this activity does little more than turn your social media activity into a major bummer.

Take a look at your Facebook timeline or your tweets. Taken all together, does your social media profile make you look like you’re angry all the damn time? Mine sure does. And that worries me. Because I’m not actually angry all the time, at least I don’t want to be, and these are not the vibes I want to be putting out into the world. It’s time for me to chill the eff out.

Obviously, there are times when linking and tweeting can be a useful political or social activity. Examples of this include:

  • Signing, then linking to, an online petition about something you care about. I know I have signed many an online petition, especially when they relate to Canadian or BC politics. Online petitions are a great way to show politicians and corporations what is important to you, and posting a link on Twitter or Facebook enables your friends to sign too. Petitions are especially useful when you are a resident of the province/country involved in the issue, or a target market for a particular company–sadly, I highly doubt the Florida justice system gives a good god damn about what someone in Vancouver thinks about their handling of the Trayvon Martin case, any more than the Texas legislature cares what a bunch of liberals up in Canada think about their anti-abortion laws. This is not to say you shouldn’t show your support, but unless you’re in the demographic that can vote for the particular politicians involved, or can buy the product you’re boycotting, those in power probably care very little.
  • Sharing breaking news, or news the mainstream media is not covering. Like many people, I was absolutely appalled by the lack of coverage of Texas senator Wendy Davis’ incredible (though ultimately unsuccessful) filibuster of anti-abortion legislation. Without social media, I never would have known what was happening.
  • Encouraging others to attend a protest/vigil/event and linking to event information.
  • Linking to donation or support information in the wake of a tragedy or natural disaster. It’s natural to want to help when something horrible happens, and we all appreciate being given a short cut to the donor page or to the information we need (for example, here’s a link to the donation page for the Canadian Red Cross Disaster Relief).

I’m sure you’d agree that the activities listed above are beneficial activities. Instead of being angry, concrete gestures like these allow me to be involved and promote further action and awareness. But not all politically-motivated social media activities are useful–most of them aren’t–and my constant and continuous participation in some of these activities does little more than keep me in a a perpetual state of anger, reactivity, and helplessness.

So I need to chill the eff out. And so do a lot of you. Lately, I’ve been doing the incredibly stupid thing of reading internet comments (mostly the ones which appear in my own online networks) and I gotta say, I’m seeing a lot of “issue creepage” going on. What I mean is that a lot of people, with issues and causes they care deeply about, are letting these issues creep in and colour every single thing they react to on the internet. A discussion on the Wreck Beach Facebook group about the age old question “to nude or not to nude” became somehow racially charged. A news story about young boys rescuing a missing girl was framed by the “reporter” in the terms of “isn’t it nice to see news stories like this for a change instead of ones about politicians rushing to defend abortion” (I’m paraphrasing). And whenever anything goes wrong in the U.S., whether unemployment is high, education is failing students, or a corporation stomps all over the little guy, hundreds (if not thousands) of commenters jump on the chance to sarcastically thank Obama (we do it too and it’s not very useful–I don’t like Stephen Harper one iota but it’s just not humanly possible for EVERYTHING to be his fault; he simply hasn’t been alive long enough to have created some of these systemic issues). While I recognize the inherent interconnectedness of our politics, economy, environment, and culture, indiscriminate issue creepage tends to muddy the waters and obscure the situation at hand. Not everyone who loves animals needs to be vegan. Not everyone who cares about the environment needs to be anti-capitalist (though there are a lot of convincing arguments to this effect). Not every issue is about EVERY issue, and sometimes your issue is not sensitive to the reality of what is happening.

As for the ongoing parade of bad news on my Twitter and Facebook newsfeeds (a good percentage of it put there by me)–does it really need to be posted, shared, and commented on every time? I’m beginning to think that maybe it doesn’t. I’m beginning to think that the constant anger and anxiety I am nurturing despite my many and various blessings is not a grateful or healthy way to live. I’m beginning to think that I need to give it a rest and chill the eff out.

Obviously, there are times when we need to fight the good fight, which is why I think we need to choose our battles and take a critical look at the various types of “action”, online and off, that we’re engaged in. General anger accomplishes nothing positive, though it does annoy people and may even scare people away who otherwise may have lent their support. It’s exhausting. When something comes along that I really need to act on, I don’t want to be too broken and bitter to deal with it. If I can’t find some balance I can’t be all that useful, and if I’m going to find balance I’m going to need to chill out once in a while.

Besides, and I know I’m being selfish here, but nothing really bad is happening to most of us (and by “us” I mean the people most likely to read this blog). As Big Gay Al says,

Bombs are flying, people are dying
Children are crying, politicians are lying too
Cancer is killing, Texaco’s spilling
The whole world’s gone to hell but how are you?

I’m…well, I’m actually super, if I think about it. I’m super. Thanks for asking. I hope you feel you’re super too.

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