Monday, March 25, 2013

The Social Justice Army

Let's talk about semi-current events for a change. Has anyone else been following the Steubenville rape case? For those who haven't been, it is making headlines for the trial's outcome: Two male high school football players have been found guilty for raping a drunken 16-year-old at a party. There were texts and videos taken during said party that have been circulating the internet. These texts and videos were eventually used as evidence in the case. Justice has been served.

Of course, that is not the story that you would have heard if you were simply watching television news. If you were hearing about the trial at CNN, you probably heard the story spun to focus on how tragic this verdict is for the football players, as though they were the victims.

Sadly, this outcome is traditionally expected. It is a product of our society's overly lenient attitude towards instances of sexual assault, and is referred to in more egalitarian circles as rape culture. Even in this highly publicized case, people are showing greater tendencies to sympathize with the boys than they are the victim. Some even disparage the victim. This is something that is commonplace with most cases of sexual assault - there is often undue blame put on the victim, and in most cases of rape the assaulter can come away with a 'not guilty' verdict.

Hilariously, this scarily relevant Onion video came out years ago.

Except, there's a slight difference this time around. The Internet has played its hand in this particular case.

When this case first began gaining attention, it attracted protests from online bloggers and activists. Any sympathy towards the rapists could be subverted by pointing at the substantial amounts of evidence circulating online about their case. And as for the victim-blaming that is currently going on, everything that more ignorant people are saying about the case is being recorded for posterity.  You can be certain that there are people fighting against the distorted perceptions of rape culture, and the Internet makes their voices louder than ever.

It demonstrates a reason to be optimistic: The digital age is the greatest time to be on the right side of equality and social progress.

Monday, March 18, 2013

What's the password?

When I was in college, I would regularly go to the gym to lift weights. I privately took some satisfaction in bucking the typical nerdy stereotypes - after all, what kind of internet shut-in can say that he benches more than 200 pounds, and not for the sake of sounding like a tough guy online?
It's the small victories in life, right?

After a while, I got to know some of the regulars at the gym - the other fitness junkies out on a personal journey to lift weights and get huge. Conversation usually revolved around proper dieting, lifting cycles, and the occasional story from one's personal life. A lot of these people were part of a school-wide bodybuilding club. They certainly weren't the sort that would spend a lot of time online, I thought. For a time I expected their online footprint to extend about as far as a Facebook page, and maybe an entry on the University's organization listings.

Then, one day, I saw a friend of mine - also an exercise enthusiast - talking to the president of the bodybuilding club. This was a pleasant surprise - after all, who doesn't like having mutual friends? Later, when I met up with my friend, I asked him how he knew the president.

He replied, "Oh, I noticed his shirt, walked up to him and asked, 'Are you aware?'"

I felt a little less special after that day.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Cracked and Online Information

They say there's more truth in comedy than tragedy.

Somehow, in our age of mass information in news, comedian Jon Stewart has emerged as the most trusted news anchor in our time, despite not being an actual news anchor.  His M.O. is to make light of politics in a humorous fashion. He approaches nonfictional discourse like other news sources, but Stewart uses his observations to point out humorous inconsistencies. Though there have been numerous charges of slant on Stewart's part, Stewart denies having any political ambitions. I guess if your underlying motives are purely for humor's sake, chances are people will trust you more.

Wait, this is all meta, isn't it? The joke is that people trust a comedian for news! Ha! Ha!

Something about that psychology towards comedy gives power towards comedic writing. Humor is non-threatening, but that does not mean that humor can't be challenging. It becomes an interesting platform where information can be disseminated, but people know better than to get defensive because they know that it's meant as humor.

How does this come through online? And what does it force us to consider? Let's look at the website Cracked for a guess at the answer.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Politics, Cyberbalkanization and The Generation Gap

We live in a strange era where people seem entitled to their own facts.

In the last blog post, I talked about the pros and cons of online discourse. To recap, I was primarily arguing that internet arguments are better than traditional arguments. This comes from how written arguments have a greater capacity for thoughtful expression, and how online resources permit anyone to establish authority with citations and references.

But I ended with a bit of a cliffhanger: What happens when someone accustomed to online argumentation encounters someone accustomed to offline argumentation? What changes? What gets lost in translation?

More importantly, is it a big deal?

Today, I'll argue that the answer to that last question is yes. So much of a big deal, in fact, that it determined the 2012 election.