It must have been so difficult in Ye Olden Days to put a mob together. It happened, of course, from time to time, even before the Internet. No less an authority than Smithsonian Magazine, in a June 2020 article, reports that nearly 2,000 Black Americans were lynched during Reconstruction, perhaps as many as 6,500 from the end of the Civil War until 1950. Murder by mob. Over and over and over again.
A mob is a gathering of people which collectively adopts, by some unspoken means, the IQ of the most ignorant person present.
Which is why Internet mobs are so very dangerous indeed: With old style mobs, whether recruited by newspaper or word of mouth, the individuals comprising the mob had to have at least enough intelligence to work their own doorknobs. Now, with the Internet generally, and Twitter specifically, even that minimal qualification is no longer necessary. So we have mobs that are more ignorant than ever, and they can assemble at the Speed of Light.
And supposedly serious people take these mobs seriously indeed.
Careers are ruined, reputations trashed, lives are forever altered all because largely anonymous people take their umbrage to Twitter.
In a recent post by Ken Levine, "Dave Chappelle and the current state of comedy," Levine laments, "Remember the days when some people thought something was funny while others didn’t and it was just chalked up to differing senses of humor?"
Levine was not defending Dave Chappelle per se. He's not particularly a fan. But, he said, he is glad there is at least one comic out there who is fearless, who is willing to ruffle feathers, who forces people to think. On the other hand, he adds,
I’m personally not a fan of mean-spirited comedy. And if it’s designed to demean anyone, regardless of color, gender, age — then it’s not for me. And it’s not the type of thing I write. But I don’t think there should censorship when it comes to comedy. I don’t think writers or comics should be blasted for things they wrote or said that may not be acceptable now but were when they wrote or said them.
That last sentence should be engraved in stone somewhere. Perhaps atop a pile of rubble left over from the destruction of statues of persons we (as a society) once thought heroic or important for something they had done in their lives, only to be torn down recently by mobs who were outraged by their failure to espouse 21st Century "values" (as they see them) in the 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, or 19th Centuries. I'm not talking Robert E. Lee here, kids. I'm talking about George Washington. Or Abraham Lincoln.
Anyway, Levine's post cited to a long article on Commentary called "Destroying Comedy," by David Zucker. Zucker was one of the creators of the classic movie Airplane!, one of the many funny movies made a generation ago that could never, ever be made today.
Which was Mr. Zucker's point exactly. Go ahead, read the whole article. I'll wait.
You're back? I thought some of his jokes very funny, others crude and tasteless. Kind of like his movies. The good ones had more hits than misses, the not-so-good ones had more misses than hits. Whatever.
This passage in particular jumped off the screen at me:
[S]ome of the best contemporary comedy minds are abandoning laughter in favor of admittedly brilliant but serious projects such as Joker, directed by Todd Phillips, and Chernobyl, written by Craig Mazin. These men collaborated on two of the Hangover pictures, which struck gold at the box office. Phillips summed up the general plight of the comedy writer when he said, “It’s hard to argue with 30 million people on Twitter. You just can’t do it. So, you just go, ‘I’m out.’”
Zucker suggests we use Phillips' estimate of 30 million as the number of the perpetually outraged Twitterati or, as Zucker writes, that portion of the "population is killing joy for everyone." By his reckoning, that comes to about 9% of the population.
Nine percent. Do you realize how vanishingly small 9% is?
Donald Trump -- Donald Trump! -- got 34% of the vote in Ken Levine's California (source: Wikipedia). Trump was buried in a Biden landslide -- in a state where Republicans are an endangered species -- and he still got nearly four times (3.77777 if you're keeping score at home) the estimated percentage of perpetually outraged Twitterati, compared to the rest of the country.
And I think Mr. Phillips may be overly generous in his estimate. An outfit called Statista estimates that there are 73 million Twitter users in the U.S. as of July 2021 (and another 17.55 million in the U.K. -- not all our online outrage is necessarily domestic). An online marketing firm called Oberlo suggests that there were 55 million active daily Twitter users in the U.S. as of Q4 2020.
That makes sense to me: In my own family I am by far the most active Twitter user. I post fairly regularly. But my sons follow the latest local sports news and rumors on the site and seldom, if ever, post. Their usage varies widely, fluctuating with the seasons. None of us, to my knowledge, has ever joined a Twitter mob.
So the percentage of persons regularly active on Twitter should be less than the total number of registered Twitter users. And there are uses for Twitter, believe it or not, besides trying to ruin the lives of persons who inadvertently offend the perpetually outraged. And there are right-wing kooks and crazies on Twitter, too, and these would presumably not be upset at the same things that animate their equally dim brethren on the Left. So the total number of perpetually outraged Twitterati should be some modest percentage of overall active Twitter users -- 30 million may be way high and off the mark.
But whatever. Assume that they are 9% of the country's population. Ninety-one to nine is not just a landslide, it's an avalanche. And while the vanishingly small cadre of perpetually outraged Twitterati may be concentrated in various geographic locations -- perhaps in the most hip, trendy, and tawdry neighborhoods of our largest cities -- they could not carry an election for dogcatcher. Anywhere. Why do we listen to such as these?
Part of the reason, presumably, is because the perpetually outraged make such outlandish statements that media types, the few remaining journalists and all the multiplying cable 'news' outlets, find them irresistible. They bring in eyeballs. Or clicks. And that's how media companies make money in 2021. And, some, surely, are embedded in the media or in academia. But, if you went to college -- heck, if you went to high school -- you know darn good and well that not all teachers are necessarily smart.
And they may "follow" each other. The more followers one has on Twitter, the greater that person's presumed influence. But if all the like-minded (and I am using 'minded' here in the loosest possible sense) perpertually outraged folk follow each other, that has no influence on the 91% at all. And some of them aren't even influential enough to attract followers even within their own tiny-minded clique. Chicago Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) recently apologized online for 'engaging' with a Twitter user who had one more nostril than he had followers.
That's a positively Churchillian put-down.
Let me conclude by going back to the Ken Levine post I mentioned at the outset. A final quote:
The night ALL IN THE FAMILY premiered on CBS, they installed extra phone banks and operators to field the inevitable throng of complaints. They got 12 calls. 12. Now today those 12 could cause such a stink that they might be able to pressure ALL IN THE FAMILY off the air. How horrifying is that?
It doesn't have to be horrifying at all.
In the Pixar movie A Bug's Life, a handful of grasshoppers terrorize an ant colony until one ant, Flick, realizes that, just by sticking together, the ants are far stronger than the grasshoppers no matter how loud the grasshoppers roar or how scary they look. The perpetually outraged Twitterati are the grasshoppers, people. We are the ants. We don't have to live in fear of them.