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College Strawman


This is not a post about gun control. This is not a post about the Patriot Act. This is a post about how the image to the left isn’t about those things either.

Up until a year or so ago, I loved arguing about politics on the internet. That’s what the internet was for! I stopped doing it when I realized it was stressing me out, and I have more than enough stress without participating in political slap fights with anonymous strangers. I fell off the wagon immediately after Sandy Hook but I’ve been pretty good since then. Nowadays I am content to sit on the sidelines and point and laugh and cry.

But this image? It’s been bugging me in a way that’s not all proportionate to the size of its audience. Let me explain.

If you’re unfamiliar, this image is an example of the “College Liberal” image meme. From the linked Know Your Meme page:

College Liberal (also known as “Female College Liberal” and “Bad Argument Hippie”) is an advice animal image macro series featuring a photo of a young Caucasian female with dreadlocks wearing a knitted cap. The captions typically portray the character as a naive and hypocritical left-wing political activist, referencing various clichés associated with the “hippie” subculture.

In other words, it’s a way for right-leaning college-aged computer nerds to feel better about not getting invited to the good parties. That’s uncharitable, I know, but the meme itself is uncharitable. As you can tell I’m not a fan, but as with most memes it’s easily ignored. It’s especially easy if you stay away from reddit, which is something we should all be doing anyway.

However, I happened across this particular example about a week ago and it’s been with me ever since, like a shard of popcorn kernel jammed between my teeth. If I still had a reddit account, I’m sure I would have jumped into the thread for this and started (attempting) to bust heads. But I deleted my account, so here I am now. I’m writing a post on my blog for the first time in ages, and it’s because of a stupid fucking advice animal meme.

The premise of this image seems utterly wrong to me, but wrong in a way that a reader (particularly one who is predisposed to opposing gun control) could miss at first. It took me a while to figure out what precisely was bugging me about it. It seems to be a clear case of hypocrisy, and it’s pithy and symmetrical in a way that easily rolls off the tongue. But it would only make sense if “9/11″, “Patriot Act”, “Sandy Hook” and “Gun Legislation”  were meaningless variables, devoid of context. The premise seems to be that in any variation of “x was used to justify y“, where x is an event in the news and y is a piece of legislation, y is always wrong.

But this misrepresents objections to the Patriot Act. The problem with the Patriot Act was not that 9/11 was used to justify it. The problem with the Patriot Act was the Patriot Act. That 9/11 was used to justify it is obvious, historical fact, but the Act was objectionable on its own.

Imagine that, after 9/11, the Bush Administration pushed for systemic changes to the country’s intelligence apparatus in an attempt to prevent future attacks. These changes could be aimed at things like improving inter-agency communication and would preserve the people’s civil liberties. If Bush had done these things, “College Liberal” would not have objected, 9/11 as justification or no. Conversely, if Bush had attempted to use — I don’t know — rumors of a third Ghostbusters movie to justify the Patriot Act, “College Liberal” still would have objected.

I personally am in favor of more stringent gun control, but as I said this post isn’t about that. If you think that new gun legislation is as objectionable as the Patriot Act, feel free to make that case. That’s a debate I’m willing to have.* But obnoxious image memes that use stereotypes and false equivalences to make you feel better about your own positions? These issues deserve better.

Whew. I think that popcorn kernel is gone now.


*Well, not me. Like I said, I don’t do this anymore. But you get my point.

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