For my regular visitors, if you find that this blog hasn't been updating much lately, chances are pretty good I've been spending my writing energy on my companion blog. Feel free to pop over to Home is Where the Central Cardio-pulmonary Organ Is, and see what else has been going on.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A word on the facebook dad

Normally, when a topic gets really hot for one reason or another, I tend to stay away from posting about it.  Most of the time it's because there are so many people saying what I'd already be saying, I see no need to add my own voice. 

So when the story came out with the dad responding to something his daughter wrote on facebook and ended with him shooting her laptop and posting the video on her facebook page, I wasn't going to bother writing about it.  I'd shared it myself, but that was about it.  I wasn't surprised it went viral.

What I found interesting is the reactions the video got, and that's what prompted me to throw in my own two cents.  Here's the video, just in case you've been living in a cave and haven't seen it yet.  Or if you're one of those who've refused to see it because you heard such terrible things about it.  If you're one of those, it's not as bad as it's been made out to be.  Go ahead and watch it.  It won't claim your immortal soul and plunge you into the depths of despair.

So there you have it.

As people have been sharing this video, tweeting about it, blogging about it, writing articles about it, and just plain adding to the din, the usual sorts gravitated to different camps about it.

On the one hand, you've got the people lauding him as a hero.  Father of the year, best dad ever, and so on and so forth.  On that side, I really didn't see much I didn't expect.  A lot of people out there could really empathize with this dad.  At the most extreme, some people said some pretty nasty things about the daughter that were uncalled for and unwarranted, but for the most part, there was a lot of understanding about the father's anger and frustration.

Then there's the other side, and this is the one that I found fascinating.  It wasn't just that they disagreed with this dad and what he did.  They were horrified.  Saddened.  Depressed.  Feeling that this just showed how terrible the world was becoming.  Doom. Gloom.  Terror.  Woe.

One of the first things I noticed is that many completely disregarded the daughter's role in triggering the situation.  It didn't matter to them that the daughter had posted a rant online that portrayed herself as a slave and victim of her parents' cruelty, or that she had actually lied to make her own case sound so much worse.  They weren't bothered by her class-ist reference to the "cleaning lady."  It didn't matter that she was rude and crude.  It didn't matter that she exemplified the white privilege this side tends to rail against. It didn't matter that she used facebook as a soapbox to rant against her parents, for all the world to see, except for her parents, whom she thought she could block from seeing it.  Nope. She was just an innocent child and the dad was an ogre, humiliating her online for no valid reason.  He was labelled cruel and abusive, and if they bothered to note the daughter's part in all this at all, it was to blame the dad.

It was all rather fascinating to watch this side of the equation play out.  We don't actually know a whole lot about this family and how they got to this point in their lives, but I quickly noticed a whole lot of projection happening.  People who had experienced parental disciplinary action that they felt scarred them for life would project those events onto this family, with this dad standing in for their own parents' cruelty.  Interestingly, they often referred to being punished for something they didn't actually do, whereas in this video, there was no question that the daughter had done what she did.  This wasn't some guy going off the deep end with no evidence - he had the evidence right there in his hand, and he'd found it in the laptop he had worked long and hard to fix up for his daughter.

A lot of people were distressed over how this dad had humiliated his daughter, and I'm sure they're right that she has been humiliated by it.  Of course, they don't care that she had humiliated her parents and their "cleaning lady" online herself, and these folks don't seem to have any problem with that.

Then there was the really over-the-top commentary.  There were people predicting that this daughter will someday end up shooting her parents/boyfriend/insert whoever else here as a direct result of this horrible, horrible parenting.  Others suggest the daughter is going to shoot herself.  Some predicted that she will leave home at 18 and never have contact with her parents again (usually from people who went on to say how they had left their own parents young, and how they'd never forgiven them for being such terrible parents).  I've seen people actually advise the daughter to run away from home, while others recommended she exact revenge by doing this like using her dad's toothbrush to scrub the toilet.  Others suggest that the father should shoot himself because he was so cruel to his daughter by posting this video.  There's more and worse, but that's just a sampling.

As I was reading from a lot of parents talking about how much they had a problem with this, I began to notice something.

The one thing they all agreed with was that he was a bad parent.  Why?  Well, he humiliated his daughter, of course.  And he smokes.  He's got a gun.  He shot the laptop instead of donating it to charity.  He has a southern accent.  He disrespected his daughter.  He clearly doesn't love his daughter.  He's a redneck. Her mother should have stopped him.  His wife is just as bad because she told him to throw in a shot for her.

This whole thing, of course, is all his fault.  You see, if he had respected his daughter first, she would never had done what she did.  If he had been a good parent, he would never humiliate his daughter online like this.  If he were a good parent, he wouldn't have a gun to shoot the laptop with (and we all know those gun owners; they're just a thread away from going into rampages - a laptop today, a human tomorrow, that sort of thing).

They, of course, would NEVER do something like this!  They respect their children too much. They would never be so cruel.  They would never shoot anything.  They would never...

... and that's when it became glaringly obvious to me.  It wasn't about the dad and his daughter at all.  It was all about them.  You see, only a bad parent would do something like this, and since they would never do something like this, THEY were clearly good parents.  They were superior to the redneck with the cowboy Tilley hat and the cigarette and the Colt .45  By running on about how terrible this guy was, how wrong he was, or psychoanalysing him as someone who is clearly [fill in diagnosis by projection here] and unfit to be a parent, they were able to turn the spotlight on themselves over what wonderful parents THEY were, because they weren't like him.

Chances are, this dad probably regrets putting up this video.  He was clearly very angry when he made it, and I doubt it occurred to him that it would get beyond his daughter's facebook friends; his target audience.  People - even IT people - can forget that the internet is forever.  How could he predict that it would be taken up by newspapers and go viral?  Yet his daughter had been warned.  While such a public display might be considered too much, he was following through with the consequences he's warned her of. 

In reading comments from his detractors, I began to detect a hint of resentment, and even perhaps some jealousy.  Here is a guy with a "went uphill both ways, barefoot" type of history, and he has clearly made a success of himself. He mentioned being an IT guy, which can pay pretty darn good.  They live on an acreage, and he can afford to buy his daughter a laptop and all the stuff that comes with such a purchase, along with other electronic toys for her.  He can afford a video camera, and he can afford a gun and ammunition.  He's also willing to work out exchanges of service, such as with their "cleaning lady" that showed he wasn't the greedy, money obsessed sort, either.  He's got what a lot of people wish they had.

In condemning this man for being a bad parent, his detractors seek to elevate themselves above him.  THEY would never do such things, sure, but then they likely couldn't afford to buy their own kids all the electronic gadgets they wish.  And how many could forfeit payment and barter for services, instead?  THEY would never humiliate their child, but they probably don't know what their kids are doing behind their backs any more than this dad did until he stumbled on it (and I've encountered more than a few parents, including home schooling parents, blissfully in denial that their kids were completely messed up).  THEY would never smoke or own a gun, and they certainly wouldn't destroy something that could be donated to charity.

I suspect these folks would have been much happier if Mr. Cowboy Hat, with his cigarette and Colt .45 and his pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps work ethic went back to the trailer park where he belongs, and they could go back to living their superior little lives and never have to look at their own lives in comparison.

update:  If you want to see what this dad has to say for himself about all this, his facebook page is public.  And for those freaking out, yes, he has been visited by the police.

uppderdate:  Response to Dr. Phil.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Either, or

Social media makes it extremely easy to share things.  With just a click on a link, you can pass on all sorts of things to all your friends, followers and so on.

Taking advantage of this, people make all sorts of graphics specifically to be shared.  Some include only text, or quotes with relevant (or not) images.  They can be funny, silly, thought provoking or heartbreaking.  Some announce to the world that the individual sharing it believes in a particular faith, holds a certain political viewpoint, or just likes cute, fuzzy animals.

What seems to be very popular are graphics that juxtapose two extreme images, then make a statement comparing them in such a way as to point out the flaws of particular concept.  These can actually be done well, pointing out how illogical a situation or some such is.  I've shared the odd one myself, though rarely.  Why?  Because more often then not, they are not only done poorly, but they reveal the maker (and the sharers) to be ... well, let's just say critical thinking isn't their strong point.  Either that or they so favour the supposed message, they're willing to overlook all sorts of logical fallacies to score their point.

Among the ones I've seen recently are silly ones comparing Occupy camps with customers camping overnight in store parking lots, or a particularly obnoxious one that insisted that Republicans/Teabaggers have to chose between Ayn Rand and Jesus Christ, but they can't like both, because Rand hated religion and Jesus said it's hard for rich people to get into heaven.  There's just a whole lot of stupid being demonstrated with these things.

Today I saw another one that had me shaking my head.  The original text was in Spanish, I believe, but the version I saw was a translation into English.  On the left was a photo of two men, lips almost touching, eyes closed and half-closed, about to engage in a passionate kiss.  On the right is this photo.


The caption under it reads, "If the picture on the left shocks you more than the one on the right, you need to revise your views on immorality."

What, precisely, is the maker of this graphic suggesting?  Are we being told that we cannot consider two vastly different and unrelated things as being immoral at the same time?  Are we being told that, if we find photo A immoral, we must necessarily view photo B moral, or vice versa?  Or that our level of shock reflects our views on morality?  What if we find both shocking, but for different reasons?

There's another problem with using these two photos, however.  Only one of them actually deals with morality.  Let's look at what morality actually means.

From we have:
1. conformity to the rules of right conduct; moral or virtuous conduct.
2. moral quality or character.
3. virtue in sexual matters; chastity.
4. a doctrine or system of morals.
5. moral instruction; a moral lesson, precept, discourse, or utterance.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy tells us:

The term “morality” can be used either
  1. descriptively to refer to some codes of conduct put forward by a society or,
    1. some other group, such as a religion, or
    2. accepted by an individual for her own behavior or
  2. normatively to refer to a code of conduct that, given specified conditions, would be put forward by all rational persons.

So what is immorality?  Going back to, we get:
1. immoral quality, character, or conduct; wickedness; evilness.
2. sexual misconduct.
3. an immoral act.

Merriam-Webster has an even more interesting definition.

Definition of IMMORALITY
1 : the quality or state of being immoral; especially : unchastity
2 : an immoral act or practice  
Examples of IMMORALITY
<religious denominations that regard drinking, smoking, and even dancing as examples of immorality>
<a sermon about modern society's casual acceptance of or indifference to immorality>

First Known Use of IMMORALITY
circa 1566
Synonyms: corruption, debauchery, depravity, vice, iniquitousness, iniquity, libertinage, libertinism, licentiousness, profligacy, sin

In essence, morality and immorality involve our choices and actions, and is often closely related to sexual behaviour (or lack of it) and vice.  Morality and immorality is about what we DO.

Which brings me back to the images in question.  In the one photo, we have two men about to kiss in a sexual manner.  This is an act that many consider immoral, and actually fits within the definitions regarding morality and immorality.  Whether someone considers it an immoral act or not, the photo is appropriate to the theme.

The caption, however, doesn't talk about that.  What is does is challenge whether or not we find the one more shocking than the other - as if the two are in any way comparable.  If we find men kissing more shocking then children starving, we, the viewer, are told we have misguided views on what is or isn't moral.  Obviously the maker of this graphic does not view men kissing as either shocking or immoral, and it's basically telling anyone who does think so that they are the ones with messed up views on immorality.  It also suggests that anyone who does think there's something wrong with two men kissing with sexual passion must also think there's nothing wrong with starving children.  Or something.  It's presented as an either/or situation.  Either you are okay with men kissing and not okay with starving children, or you are not okay with men kissing, but are okay with starving children.  Like so many of these graphics, it presents a false dichotomy.

The other photo, however, has nothing to do with morality.  It shows starving children reaching out, presumably, to food.  We don't actually know, though we can judge from what looks like children holding food in the background.  I really don't think the creator of this graphic is suggesting the children in the photo are being moral/immoral because they're starving and appear to be reaching for food.  If the photo were of someone denying them food, that would then make it appropriate to the theme. Since it's more likely the children are actually being given food, this makes it an even more inappropriate juxtaposition.

The second photo shows us a tragic situation, but it does not illustrate morality or immorality.

I have actually seen this photo of the starving children used in such graphics before, and just as badly (juxtaposing it with Christmas shopping, for example).  This photo has been around for a long time, and the children in it are probably either adults now, or may even be dead.

Which brings up a question.

Just how moral is it for the creators of this and similar graphics to use a photo of starving children to bolster their own personal agendas?