I’m not sure if it’s ever been verified statistically that Tumblr is made up primarily of teens. But that’s definitely the story we tell ourselves.
“They’re just stupid kids. They’ll grow out of it, preferably before they can vote.”
There’s plenty of things to hate online, but the social justice tweens seem to bring a lot of focused ire. Why? We know NAMLBA is still a thing right? Well I have a theory…
They’re obsessed with labels.
When we were younger there was boys and girls, gay and straight. Most of us had very little understanding, if any, that a broader spectrum existed. Now we do and exploring this has been a really positive experience for many. Cis or nonCis? Cool. Trans, gender queer, asexual, pansexual, non-binary etc. We’ve discovered a completely new language to help people feel more accepted in society.
The problem is teens seem to ruin everything. Whenever a group starts to become larger and more accepted, inevitably smaller groups begin to splinter off. The labels obsess over minutia and eventually we get things like “demisexual” to refer to someone who only likes to have sex with people to whom they are emotionally involved. Well grats, kiddo, you’re fucking normal.
(edit: I’ve been corrected on Twitter by someone explaining that Demisexual is someone who can only be aroused by someone who they are romantically involved with. This is however, the way someone claiming to be Demisexual explained it. Which actually shows how much people minced these labels.)
This practice seems bizarre to us because our teen years were all about rejecting labels. At least we thought they were. But we’ll get to that in a moment.
You’ll never convince them they’re wrong
The internet is a double edged sword. On one hand it’s allowed disenfranchised groups to finally have a voice. People of color, trans individuals, and the LGBT community now have a platform to speak out against bigotry. They can also give people an insight into what it’s like to live in their shoes. Visibility matters.
On the other hand, it allows people to cloister themselves within an echo chamber wherein they are never challenged. Allowing naïve and shortsighted ideas to fester into full blown movements. No one is talking to each other, everyone is talking at each other.
You’ll never convince these teens that screaming at people wont solve anything. For some reason this is something one has to come to understand on their own. And most importantly, it’s not really about solving a problem, it’s about the righteous feeling they get from aligning themselves with a movement.
They’re stupid and we know it
One of the most frustrating things in retrospect for a lot of adults is how ignorant we were as teens. The world was a sea of adults telling us we were stupid. The harsh reality being of course that most of us were stupid. We had over-simplistic and self absorbed ideas about the world. But as we grew up, we put away our war drums and found ourselves with a deeper understanding of events. Most of us, at least. Some of us are still beating at “9/11 was an inside job” drum.
It’s really hard to watch someone go down the same road and hit the same embarrassing bumps as you did. They embarrass us by proxy. Especially since the internet allows all of their social justice ramblings to be preserved eternally as a testament of their teenage angst. And that’s really all it is: ANGST.
The self centered angst of the Social Justice movement
I’d like to go on record saying I think social justice is a good thing, nay, a great thing! Bringing attention to people who are under represented is important if we’re going to move forward in society. Calling out bullshit in the media that reinforces racism, sexism and homophobia is good.
What’s not good is co opting a movement and using it like fashion accessory. Appropriating words like “trigger warning” and using them to describe anything that makes you uncomfortable or upset. Demanding everyone accept you for who you are while screaming at everyone else about who they are. Throwing textual tantrums at anyone who challenges you and calling it oppression.
This is where most adults begin to see red.
These kids… these young, mostly white, and despite their best efforts straight kids don’t know anything about oppression. Furthermore they don’t care about actual oppression, the type that you read about in the news. They only care about the madey-uppy oppression that they feel is thrust upon them unfairly.
There must be thousands of Tumblr pages by now but no matter how they spin it, the underlying theme is the same: YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND ME.
This is where we pull back and reflect.
It’s a phrase we’ve heard before. One we screamed at our own parents. Somewhere down the line we lost sight of the fact that these are kids. Young people who are grappling with the age old dilemma of wanting to be part of a group while remaining different and special. And in their quest to do so will take labels and movements to the most fanatical extreme.
This is why we hate them… because we were them. Sure, it was a different flavor in the 80’s and 90’s, but the fool’s quest for self validation still rings true. I predict that a large portion of these teens will eventually grow up, as we did, and realize how self absorbed and petulant they were being. They’ll keep their core values of social justice and acceptance. But they’ll drop the self centered tragedy and focus on more productive writing.
Most of them, at least.
Just as we have a few stragglers who never really left the teenage cave, they too will have the awkward experience of running into someone from high school whose still on Tumblr calling people “cisfags”. It is an inevitable, surreal experience.
So let us end here on this note, give them their time and space. Yes, they’re annoying. But so were we once. Hopefully we’ll meet again someday. Preferably not on Tumblr.