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Invasion of the Cartoon Characters

06 Dec

“…he that laughs at me today will have somebody to laugh at him tomorrow.”
– Seneca

Unless you’re living under a rock, or if you’re one of the few who don’t have a Facebook account, you are probably aware of the latest internet meme to sweep the nation.  The latest craze is to replace your current profile picture with a picture from a cartoon show that might have found some resonance for you during childhood.  Ostensibly, the goal of this meme is to generate enough buzz about the act of thousands of people replacing their profile pictures, that it will draw some attention from the media.  This, in turn, will lead to an opportunity to raise awareness about child abuse.

I’ve read a number of different reactions from people on the matter.  As you can well imagine, opinions range from indifference, to condemnation, to misinformed accusations.  Since I am among those who have changed their profile picture (Voltron: Defender of the Universe now greets visitors to my page), I thought I would take a few moments to clarify why I chose to join in and perhaps offer some insight (and debunk some myths) regarding the phenomenon.

First, let’s clarify one thing: this meme did not originally intend to become part of a campaign against child abuse.  In fact, if you do your homework (here’s a cheat sheet), you’ll find it began in Greece a few weeks ago, with the original intent simply being to see how many non-human faces would appear on Facebook.  Just a typical, run-of-the-mill meme.  Nothing special.

However, as tends to happen, folks began to modify the message; first to give it a deadline (Monday) and then to add the child abuse footnote.  It’s unclear where the last part came in, but it seems to have come to the forefront of the movement, at least here in the U.S.A.

So, I think we can lay to rest the idea that this is a hoax created by pedophiles, since the child abuse element was added after the fact.  In all likelihood it was started as an innocent addition to the “game” by a well-meaning person who was trying to be positive.  We may never know.  But we can safely say that it’s not a hoax.  And hopefully we’ve also learned to research what we hear before we buy it wholesale.

So what of this “fight against child abuse” angle?  Is it worth it?  Can it be effective?  Or does it just give ignorant trolls the chance to ironically post cartoon images of Bart Simpson being choked, and Pedobear?

When the internet community is galvanized, change can happen.  We saw this just a few weeks ago, when Amazon.com pulled a book off their site that was, essentially, a guidebook to pedophilia (including instructions on how not to get caught, and how to get a lighter sentence if you do).  Initially, Amazon refused to pull the book.  The negative backlash in the press was so profound, they eventually buckled and pulled it from their site completely.  This was facilitated in large part by two Facebook groups (one of which I am proud to have been an early member of; one of the founders is a good friend of mine) that unified the outraged citizenry and provided some degree of focus for their efforts.  In the end, Amazon saved a bit of face by removing the book – but we shouldn’t pretend they did it for the right reasons.  They did it because they knew they were going to lose money.  But, motivation notwithstanding, this scenario is a perfect example of a united group of webizens taking on a cause and coming out victorious.  Could the same thing happen here?

Unlikely.

At most, the “child abuse” footnote to the game will get some local media coverage and maybe start a few meaningful discussions about child abuse prevention.  It’s possible it could ignite the fire under some activists, or kick-start programs for victims.  The most likely outcome is that it will fade away in a week or two, like every other meme in the brief history of meme-dom.

Did dangling the “child abuse awareness” carrot attached to this message inspire me to change my own pic?  Sure, a little bit.  I’m not deluded, I know it’s not going to change the world.  But there have been some demonstrable effects, as seen around the web (here and here for example).  The child abuse addition may have been an innocent footnote, but it has since morphed into the primary concern of the game.

The criticism I have read regarding the cartoon invasion trying to raise awareness for child abuse is completely unwarranted.  Nevermind that it wasn’t the original intent behind the game; even now, it is meant to be a simple, easy gesture to show support against abuse.  It’s not an attempt to stop abuse completely (as much as I wish that were possible, I don’t think that will ever happen).  It’s simply a show of support that the issue needs attention.  And if that attention does bring about some positive steps for some community, somewhere, that’s great.  If not – well, there’s still no harm done.  At worst, it’s simply another meme sweeping the nation and perhaps inspiring a few enjoyable strolls down memory lane for GenXers like myself who miss the simpler days, when Voltron, G.I. Joe, and the Thundercats stood ready to do battle against evil, and when The Real Ghostbusters kept the monsters out of our closets.

I do hope this inspires some people to become involved in preventing child abuse.  I’ve got five children myself, and I know several people who were physically and sexually abused in their youth.  It’s heartbreaking, and very difficult to recover from.  Yes, more needs done.  No, an internet meme is not likely to have a major impact.  But it might have a small impact.  Either way, it seems pointless to criticize people for taking part in a meme whose real purpose was just to have a bit of fun.

If you do want to take steps to end child abuse, there are many organizations who, unlike a passing internet meme, are dedicated to raising awareness and educating the public year round.  I encourage readers to get involved and take steps that are more tangible and meaningful, if this is something you feel passionate about.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go stream some more episodes of Voltron from Netflix.

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Posted by on December 6, 2010 in Facebook, Uncategorized

 

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