This article was published on The Appalachian’s opinion page.
When big, international news breaks, people have opinions and they want to voice them. That’s understandable.
These days, it’s much easier to do so, thanks to social media. In recent days, as the Japanese people have struggled through a massive earthquake and tsunami, public and private figures alike have taken to Twitter to express their perspectives on the heartbreaking event.
And of course, some of their views were overwhelmingly offensive.Gilbert Gottfried, a comedian perhaps best known as the voice of the Aflac duck, apparently thinks national disasters that kill thousands are a comedic gold mine.
“I just split up with my girlfriend,” one of his tweets read, “but like the Japanese say, ‘There’ll be another one floating by every minute now.’”
The tweet was not an isolated incident. Gottfried continued to make his “enlightening” observations March 12 and 13, eventually racking up insensitive comments in the double digits. The website buzzfeed.com even compiled a list of his 10 worst Japan-related Tweets.
Aflac has since seen fit to end their relationship with the comedian.
Unfortunately, other insensitive Twitter users aren’t exactly in a position to be fired – like 50 Cent, for instance.
The rapper, whose given name is Curtis Jackson, thinks a tsunami is “all good, ‘till bi—-s see their Christian Louboutins floating down da street,” according to a Tweet made on his account.
Jackson also expressed his regret about having to “evacuate all [his] hoe’s from LA, Hawaii and Japan.”
Jackson and Gottfried’s Tweets weren’t the only uncaring commentaries made at the expense of the Japanese people, but to me, they’re possibly the most reprehensible, simply because of how incredibly lukewarm the two men’s apologies were.
“I meant no disrespect,” Gottfried insisted – again, via Twitter. “My thoughts are with the victims and their families,” he continued.
Jackson’s response was even weaker.
“Some of my tweets are ignorant,” he wrote. “I do it for shock value. Hate it or love it. I’m cool either way.”
Given the opportunity to address either man, my anger would probably get the best of me.
To Gottfried, I’d have to point out the fact that whether he meant it or not, he was disrespectful. Although, admittedly, it’s obvious his thoughts have been with the victims and their families – he’d have to think about them quite a bit to craft multiple insults about their situation.
To Jackson, I’d have to bring up the fact his idea of an apology does not actually involve apologizing.
Shock value is just another way of saying “publicity,” and publicity is no excuse for showing blatant disregard for the feelings of others.
In the end, it’s just another reminder of a simple truth – one that’s been iterated in the Bible and various other places: what’s really inside a man’s heart is what comes out of his mouth.
Gottfried, Jackson, and other careless Tweeters can say what they like about quick responses and mistakes and the fact that they just weren’t thinking.
But the response of a compassionate person – not a person who feigns compassion but one who genuinely has it in his heart – to a tragedy like the one in Japan is horror, not humor.
It is horrifying to see a disaster unfold because you know you’re human and you really understand the fact that other people are human as well. You’re capable of grasping and embracing the fact that people in Japan hurt like you, cry like you, love like you. That basic horror at the suffering of other human beings is the real essence of compassion, of respect.
And if you have to fake that – if the humor comes first and you have to drum up the compassion later – it probably wasn’t there to begin with.