Until recently, at least a modicum of what we call “common courtesy” could be expected in America. Most disdain for “other” has been obscured by self-regulated walls throughout this decades-long era of political correctness. Unfortunately, with the rising acceptance of of overt expressions of prejudice, the desire to put people of another demographic “in their place” has become so insidious that it is almost in vogue in some circles to express hate in a gratuitously offensive manner. Suppressed racism, sexism, xenophobia, and homophobia have been percolating for decades ― but the recent normalization of it by political figures has removed the “common” from courtesy in American society.
Several of my colleagues have abandoned social media after having been targets of degradation and threats of violence from internet trolls. My personal breaking point for cyber-bullying was when Leslie Jones’ website was hacked. Jones’ personal information, private photos, and racist vandalism were posted by hackers for anyone to see. She was targeted with a combination of emotional weapons: overt racism on top of overt misogyny. The dregs of society have emerged as hackers and trolls hiding behind a veil of anonymity, and their behavior is beyond reprehensible.
It shouldn’t be remarkable that Leslie Jones is black and female. But it is. It is an incredible anomaly that Leslie Jones has enjoyed a meteoric rise to blockbuster movie-starring, Saturday Night Live-featured, flown-to-the-Olympics-because-people-love-your-tweets kind of success.
The irony of Jones’ being the target of trolls is that she is much more interested in making jokes than making any kind of social statement. She is a comedian who, like many of the greats, pushes the limits of what is deemed appropriate for the sake of entertainment –- not for the sake of social satire. An activist she is not. But her success, with no agenda other than to induce laughter, made her a target of those wanting to “put her in her place.” And the better she does, the harder they try to tear her down.
Public figures will always have “haters” and a certain level of online harassment; it unfortunately comes with the territory – but what has been happening to Leslie Jones throughout 2016 is different. Jones was bombarded with racist tweets early in the year, but she stood up to the trolls, called them out and returned with her head held high. When her popularity on the very medium on which she had been attacked earned her a trip to the Olympics, those trolls made it their mission to humiliate and violate her in a very personal manner. Their method of doing so was hacking her website ― and neither they, nor she, won this battle. It is unwinnable.
I fear the wall of human decency in American society is broken for good, or at least for the foreseeable future. The Gremlins have eaten after midnight, and they have gotten wet.