Generational Humor and #CNNBlackmail

Everybody’s been talking about President Trump tweeting an absurd, juvenile GIF at CNN. If I wasn’t dead inside, I probably would find this whole thing hilarious.

As somebody who works with and grew up around devout Republicans, talks to a lot of classic liberals and libertarians online, and struggles to communicate with the middle-aged conservatives who watch The Blaze, I’ve seen the full spectrum of reactions to this nonsense.

Progressives and far leftists are losing their minds over how unpresidential it was. Social and political conservatives are anguished for much the same reason. The social justice zealots I’m unlucky enough to run into are inconsolable at the supposed violence Trump is normalizing. CNN is the largest for-profit organization I’ve ever seen become the physical embodiment of insecurity, and that part would be hilarious if they weren’t blackmailing the guy who made the GIF into completely out-of-character contrition.

As far as the reactions to CNN effectively blackmailing a shitposter into giving up one of the most noble crafts in the history of mankind, the reactions have been considerably less diverse.

That Girl did a brilliant video on how this asinine behavior has been the final straw in crushing her dream to become a CNN anchor one day. The hashtag #CNNBlackmail was actually one of the top trends worldwide on Twitter yesterday. Many of those on the left have been condemning this bizarre, reactionary nonsense. Even Tim Blake denounced the corporation’s targeting of the meme wielder. (Tim’s adorable, by the way.) The only people making excuses for CNN seem to be the same people who prioritize Shariah law over LGBT and women’s rights and demand that poor, helpless minorities be rescued by the evil, rich white people.

But that’s not what I want to talk about here. What I’m interested in is something less well-known since most of the conservatives my age are too cool and skeptical to admit that they’re conservatives.

I’ve been listening to Rush Limbaugh since I was conceived. I had no choice in the matter. My mom also listens to Sean Hannity, and when Glenn Beck became nationally syndicated, she started listening to him, too. Out of the three main pundits she respects and listens to, I gravitated toward Beck the most. His voice is the least abrasive of the group, his commentary is more passive and less heavy-handed narrative, and his irreverent sense of humor is something so inherent to my generation that it’s like breathing for us.

I listened to Glenn a lot during the summers growing up, and when he got his own show on CNN, I was thrilled. Shockingly enough, they despised him, and he sort of took a step in the right direction when he went to Fox. Like all major news networks, of course, Fox has an agenda, and when Beck wanted to talk about things like the horrors of child trafficking and the coming caliphate, they forbade him from doing so. Now that he’s created his own network, I listen to him as often as I can. I don’t agree with everything he says, of course, but neither do any of the other personalities who have shows on his channel, his radio network, and podcasts. I still really like him, though, and his refusal to obediently defend one political party, as well as how much good his charity, Mercury One, has done, particularly while the Red Cross was still on its way to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Mercury One has also funded the relocation of hundreds of Iraqi Christians whose homes were being encroached upon by ISIS, some of whom were only a few miles from the frontlines of battle when they were evacuated. He has also advocated for Operation Underground Railroad, a group who goes under deep cover to initiate stings on the child sex trafficking industry and works to provide rescued children with psychiatric help and a chance at adoption.

I joined because the stories published by its journalists have facilitated some pretty interesting discussions in their comments sections. Despite the fact that Glenn’s network is sluggishly beginning to target younger audiences, first with the well-intentioned risk that was Tomi Lahren and now with the host of a segment called “Millenial Moment” named Allie Stuckey, when you read the comments on The Blaze’s website, it becomes abysmally obvious that there’s nobody my age there.

The issue isn’t the average age of the people there though; it’s the mindset. There are a few users who do nothing but complain and insult everybody writing and mentioned in the articles (probably Russians, amirite?) but the bulk of the comments are by people who either still haven’t outwitted the Caps Lock button or are so old that they think people can hear them better if they write everything like they’re yelling. People unironically use terms like “libtards”, “dumbocrats”, “t-RUMP”, “Obummer”, and “demoRATS”. These people demonize all “lefties” and find creative ways to turn every story into evidence that everybody who isn’t Christian is taking part in a concerted effort to hand the country over to Satan. It’s horrifying. It’s archaic. And what’s weird to me is that I don’t think it’s an accurate interpretation of Beck’s commentary at all.

Despite the fact that many of the contributers to the website are in their 20’s and 30’s, the people with enough time and anxiety to participate in the online discussion are primarily of a very specific and bizarre demographic. Nobody there understands what a GIF is, let alone memes. It’s like watching a Neanderthal trying to play Mario Kart. And this generational, cultural disconnect is what fascinates and distresses me so much.

Your parents are probably from a generation close to my parents. My mom’s generation perceives and responds to the world far differently from you or I. Her generation grew up watching Hee-Haw and The Three Stooges. Humor then was something wholesome and direct. And while the nonsensical was appreciated then, too, the evolution of what American culture finds funny has been refined and sophisticated. Although we didn’t consume the same comedic media that they did, the response to that media has changed like a child growing up. The simplicity of humor then has ceased to be as effective. Coupled with the dismay and often panic we observed in our parents and other adults when we were children, our collective sense of humor has taken on a sense of nihilism. We are aware that the world as we know it is over, that mankind is doomed. The fact that nuclear war is on our doorstep is something we’re so familiar with that, culturally, we are coping with it through humor. That sarcasm and hopelessness, delving almost into insanity, is something that many older generations just don’t get, and that’s why they don’t get memes.

I’ve tried to get my mom to appreciate Billy and Mandy. I made my mom watch all of Invader Zim with me, and all she got out of it was obnoxious GIR quotes that still haunt our conversations to this day. I used every word in my considerable arsenal possible to try to explain to her why the Babadook becoming a gay icon is the most hilarious thing to happen in years, and she just doesn’t get it.

While the office of President of the United States is something that should be held with grace and humility, there is something to be said when Donald Trump is seemingly more literate in the “pop cultural” sense of humor than the entirety of the media combined. It’s fascinating to watch individuals of different ideologies and age groups react. Tweeting out that ridiculous GIF was not presidential. It was utterly childish and arguably petty. Yet in doing so, the president has championed the exact sense of absurdity and irreverence that hits my generation, the generation that is now beginning to shape the country, the culture, and the world. It’s only God reminding us that he hasn’t given up on humanity that CNN chose to do something so spectacularly unethical that the President’s egregious misjudgment has fallen by the wayside.

I was listening to Glenn Beck the other day while I was alone at the office, and he was talking about this surreal debacle. He denounced the childishness of Trump’s tweet and portrayed this specific vein of memes as an example of the meanness and animosity that is dividing our country. I strongly believe in the almost supernatural way that kindness and respect manifest in the world around you, and I analyze everything that happens through the lens of Alinsky’s tactics being put into action, yet I disagreed entirely. I genuinely see nothing cruel or immoral about the GIF itself. It’s irreverent and absurd and a humorous personification of the reactionary and compromising way CNN has responded to everything Donald Trump does. There is nothing in me suppressing some deep-seated guilt or meanness when I find the GIF completely innocuous.

This is what I wish I could impart to my mom and Glenn Beck and all of the well-intentioned ninnies hurling insults at the opposite political party on social media. There is no hidden malicious intent in memes. They’re simply a succinct and bizarre way in which people personify world events. And that’s only the ones whose humor relies on only a single layer of irony that doesn’t reference other memes. The individual who started the meme may be an unreliable or malicious individual. The content itself may be overtly offensive. This brand of humor itself, however, isn’t mean or subversive. It simply isn’t.

I don’t mean to imply that my generation is in any way correct or necessarily superior to those that have been here longer. While older conservatives emphasized and exalted Christian morality above all else, my generation emphasizes and exalts the freedom to express yourself to any degree that doesn’t infringe on others’ rights as its own moral principle. There is legitimacy and effectiveness to both, and learning to discuss either stance without dismissing one another as too old and self-righteous or too young and entitled to understand would inarguably strengthen the nation.

How on earth do you make someone “get” your sense of humor? I don’t have any groundbreaking answer for that. All I know is that this cultural disconnect is causing a lack of understanding within the right.

Maybe if somebody can put a few Hee-Haw skits into meme format, we’ll get somewhere.




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