A couple of days ago, I had the misfortune of seeing an interview featuring Seth MacFarlane. I was watching The Daily Show with my mother and he appeared on our screen, just as smarmy and self-congratulatory as always. (Blah blah blah, here’s my new screenplay glorifying a time which was horribly racist and largely centered around the genocide of an entire people blah blah blah) So it came as no real shock to hear him taking time out of his busy day to line up a few bitter potshots at my favorite corner of the internet: Twitter.
In his opinion, Twitter is something “everybody’s sick of”, and that we’re all just silently hoping will go away. (Must be nice to know what’s in everyone’s hearts and minds, eh Seth?) The crux of his argument seemed to be that Twitter is annoying because it gives people a platform to line up and hurl mindless criticisms of his work, and he can’t escape them or reason with them. (But at the same time he needs them in order to stay popular. Irony.)
This is an argument I’ve heard dozens of times before, and it’s become so trite that you can basically just slot whatever form of social media you want into the part where “Twitter” is mentioned by name. Yawn.
And the more MacFarlane talked, the more I couldn’t stop thinking: “Well, you’re a jerk. So it’s not really surprising that your experiences on Twitter have been so negative.”
Yes, I know what you’re probably thinking right now: “She’s just upset because he made a joke about something she likes!” And you’re half-right. I love Twitter, and his words irritated me in no small part because of this. But–and this is a but of the Sir Mix-a-Lot variety–this isn’t just about me. In fact, if it were just my feelings, I’d be content to let it go. I certainly wouldn’t be here typing out this blog post.
In the last year alone, the surge of amazing activist hashtags like #NotYourAsianSidekick, #FastTailedGirls, #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen, #OneReasonWhy, #FeministSelfie and so many more have proven Twitter is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to social commentary. When you say that Twitter is stupid, in my mind, you’re also saying that the individuals behind these movements (and those who joined them) are stupid. And that’s, simply put, categorically untrue.
Twitter has allowed all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds to share their stories, and connect with other people they would otherwise never meet. It’s even helping to break down the numerous social barriers we’ve constructed in our society, and gives isolated people like myself an effective place to reach out.
For instance, there’s very little chance that my conservative, elderly neighbors would ever give a flying fig about sexist stereotypes in media. But you can be sure I’ll find a huge community devoted to tackling that issue on Twitter. Same thing for my interest in writing–Twitter hosts one of the most active and supportive groups of creative writers currently available on the internet. I can do things like crowdsource an opinion on whether or not the term “crow’s feet” is hyphenated, or whether or not I should start rewrites on my book before it’s finished. And I get a reply within minutes. That’s just an example of one community available on Twitter, amongst thousands.
Like many things, Twitter gives back whatever you put into it. So much so, that it reminds me of an old French fairy tale I read when I was a child, called “The Fairies“. (Nothing like being on point, eh?)
One of the poor child’s many duties was to go twice a day and draw water from a spring a good half mile away, bringing it back in a large pitcher. One day when she was at the spring an old woman came up and begged for a drink.
“Why, certainly, good mother,” said the beautiful girl. Rinsing the pitcher, she drew some water from the cleanest part of the spring and handed it to her, lifting up the pitcher so that she might drink more easily.
Now this old woman was a fairy, who had taken the form of a poor peasant woman to see just how far the girl’s good nature would go. “You are so beautiful,” she said, when she had finished drinking, “and so polite, that I am determined to bestow a gift upon you. I grant you,” the fairy continued, “that with every word you speak, a flower or a precious stone shall fall from your mouth.”
Naturally, of course, the beautiful young girl has an older sister with a much fouler nature. When their mother sends the sister out to the old woman, the sister is unkind and demanding with her. As a reward, the fairy makes it so that whenever she speaks, vipers and toads fall out. While there’s obviously some not-so-subtle sexism at play here, (be a nice girl no matter how bad life gets, or be punished for it!) the basic message is the same: Life is like a mirror, and it reflects back at you what you put out. And that mirror reveals what’s at the core of your soul much faster and much more accurately than anything else.
(Also I may or may not totally get a kick out of imagining Seth MacFarlane with snakes falling out of his mouth.)
There’s a running joke amongst fantasy authors that you should never, EVER be mean to old ladies you meet out in the woods. Because chances are, the old woman is a fairy, and the forest you’re standing in is probably an enchanted one. In a similar vein, it’s probably best not to use Twitter as a platform for expressing your ideas…while in the same breath, saying that everyone else’s are stupid, and that everyone wishes Twitter would just go away. That’s kind of like flipping that old fairy lady the bird, then attempting to set the enchanted forest on fire. It says a LOT about who you are.
Does this mean that, if you’re kindhearted, every single interaction you have online is going to be positive? Sadly, no. (Though I wish that was true!) Twitter has its share of cruelty, just like everywhere else in life. But I can’t help but wonder when I hear someone yelling about how “evil” or “stupid” a certain corner of social media is. Because, at the end of the day, social media is, well…social. That means it’s made up of people. And, last time I checked, there is no one group of people who are wholly evil, stupid, or anything else.