In 1972, comedian George Carlin recorded the controversial monologue Seven Words You Can Never Say on television. The snippet included, of course, the censored terms. The result was that Carlin was arrested and beaten on charges of “indecency” and also “for disturbing the peace.” But the monologue’s long journey to public disgrace did not end there. The series of jokes related to terms of special vulgarity it was broadcast by radio. And before the show ended, the station was sued by the FCC, case that finally reached the Supreme Court. While all this was happening, uncomfortable comedians like Lenny Bruce were also arrested for “vulgarity”, “disruption of the peace” and other similar situations.
So what is lived today it is not an unprecedented situation. Pop culture is especially sensitive to the social debates around it. And press accordingly. In recent years, the phenomenon has become increasingly direct. Social networks and the direct involvement of public opinion in the content they create a new weight to deal with. Of course, it is also an uncomfortable journey through a bias of our time that is analyzed from the extremes. Why should entertainment please political positions? Why must satisfy specific groups?
Actually, the debate is broader than that and it starts right in a specific place. Social networks and their power.
Social networks: a fearsome weight
A few days ago, Netflix broadcast the docuseries Crime Scene: The disappearance of Elisa Lam. The four chapters of the program show the phenomenon around Lam’s disappearance, but also something else. The case, turned into an online curiosity, also demonstrated the distortion of virtual public opinion.
After the Los Angeles police released a video showing Lam in an inexplicable situation, millions of internet users became obsessed with the case. And despite the fact that the police investigation proved what happened to the victim, legions of amateur researchers misrepresented the situation. So much as to even destroy a musician’s life and harass Lam’s family in Canada. Even dismissing the official conclusions.
Internet is an ideal breeding ground for false premises, supported by circumstantial evidence. It is also a fertile space for large-scale harassment, and in particular backlash against controversial debates. The combination of both things is directly reflected in the culture as a massive fact. And they make social media a dangerous place.
Looking for culprits
A few months before his death, the actor Chadwick Boseman was harassed in networks. The epithet “Crack Panther” was used to refer to his thinness and haggard appearance. The persecution was so tenacious that it ended with the actor, abandoning social networks. The situation was only made public after his tragic passing. The same has happened with several of the actors in the Star Wars saga. Daisy Ridley and Kelly Marie Tran closed their respective accounts on social platforms, after being subjected to the siege of millions of fans of the franchise’s fandom. Time and again, the situation shows how the democratization of information platforms can become an uncontrollable phenomenon.
And also, one that has repercussions on television or in the cinema. After having a role of some relevance in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the character of Kelly Marie Tran disappeared completely at the close of the trilogy. Rose Tico barely appeared in a couple of scenes and as if that wasn’t enough, It was deleted from some of the main ones that the actress claimed to have recorded. A consequence of pressure from fans? Nothing is very clear about it, ensuring that his participation was much broader than what could be seen in Star Wars: The Rise of SkyWalker.
Similar situations multiply. Bri Larson had to face considerable pressure before the premiere of Captain Marvel. The reason? The serious gesture of the character. Also the Feminist connotations around a first superhero movie in the MCU. Later, the harassment was increased by Larson’s refusal to be “nice.” In the end, Larson didn’t budge but he carried negative criticism and a campaign against him that he has yet to deal with.
A territory on fire
On the other hand, examples that cultural pressure on the media are more and more abundant. On July 10, 2020, the newly born streaming platform HBO removed the classic Gone with the Wind from its catalog. The decision came amid accusations of racism. In the street, millions of people were demonstrating due to the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a white policeman.
This move came after John Ridley, screenwriter of the film 12 Years a Slave, requested it. According to an article by the writer, the film “glorifies” slavery during the American Civil War, “ignores its horrors, and perpetuates stereotypes most painful for people of color.” The request went viral and the company was quick to indulge the suggestion. And although the film returned to the catalog months later, it did so with a warning about its controversial points. And also, leaving a precedent behind.
Social networks and the controversy of children’s films
Disney Plus eliminated films like Dumbo, the Aristocats and Peter Pan from its children’s catalog, in others. Previously, films included a warning that could be read “this content includes negative representations or inappropriate treatment of people or cultures. These stereotypes were wrong then and they are now ”. But after the channel’s decision, only can be seen in the profile with adult specifications of the platform.
The decision was made after weeks of criticism over older content on Disney Plus, which includes animated and film classics with controversial content. Were both things related? Little by little it seems that the power of social networks and its sphere of influence is increasing. Which makes you wonder How far is it lawful for this insistent weight to become an obligation or a risk to consider. What is the limit between demands with political weight and aggressiveness in networks? It seems that recently they crossed very clearly.
At the end, blanks
The Mandalorian actress Gina Carano was fired after spreading a group of controversial posts. Carano now faces not only dismissal, but to a progressive disappearance of his image. Hasbro announced that it would stop manufacturing his character’s action figure. Or at least, with the actress’s face.
This occurred almost simultaneously with an extensive campaign on networks, which demanded his dismissal after a series of comments about his political stance and position on the coronavirus health emergency. Disney and LucasFilm undoubtedly acted accordingly to the guidelines of your requirements on the image of its employees. But the big question is if the reaction in networks caused the measure in the end.
Beyond that, Gina Carano suffered harassment in networks that still continues, despite her dismissal. It is a situation that raises questions to what extent, the power and muscle of social media can become runaway terrain. Beyond Carano’s statements and how inappropriate they may be: does he deserve public derision and harassment that has already lasted for weeks?
The power of social media is getting wider and more dangerous. What is the conclusion of a series of increasingly tough situations? The answer is not simple and it becomes more and more difficult to summarize under a single aspect. A reflection that leads to an analysis of the culture and prejudices that are expressed en masse.
The article The power of social networks and opinion in our time: from responsibility to violence was published in Hypertext.