Snap offensiveness in “insensitive” tweets

Yesterday, in an attempt to capitalize on the growing sensation that is the Serial podcast, Best Buy sent out a tweet that was kind of a wink and nod to fans of the show.

A little insensitive? Maybe, depending on your interpretation of what defines that. Personally, I didn’t really get the big deal. It seemed like a fairly humorless “dad joke” kind of thing, and one that I didn’t feel stepped on the sensitive nature of Serial’s whodunnit narrative. But clearly, the mileage of others varied. Here’s some of the moral outrage, as collected by Mashable:

Did Best Buy’s tweet made a bad joke that was tied to the narrative of a murder? Sure. But they didn’t exactly make one that was directly tied to the murder described in Serial, only one that I’d contend was merely peripherally and tangentially related.

In reality, anything could be defined as potentially offensive. We’re in the month constantly lambasted as the home of the “War on Christmas,” where a perpetually offended group defines the phrase “Happy Holidays” as one purposefully antagonistic to their very being. Sure, there are other holiday jokes that are harmless or all in good fun, but Christmas itself is tied to a narrative in which thousands of babies were murdered in the still of the night in Bethlehem.

Prior to the Best Buy tweet yesterday, I heard an interview with Chris Rock on the radio where he touched on the subject of what’s an acceptable joke, or what goes too far:

“I don’t know where the line is. … In most religions you’re taught that you’re not going to be judged by your actions; you’re going to be judged by your intent. … So if your intent is to gay-bash, yes, you are a gay-basher. Even when you don’t do it. If your intent is to not, then it’s not.
Now, it can still be offensive, but once you explain that to the person that made the mistake, you can pretty much be sure they will go back on that and try to rectify hurting you. Does this make sense? I see stuff that I think is a little racist, but I judge the person. I judge their other work. … I don’t go to “bash,” or to, “Ooh, he’s racist.”

He hits on a good point. It’s not necessarily the joke, but the intent or context. The truth is, anything can be funny. Some of the most disgusting and offensive stuff is most often funny. Just go listen to some old Carlin routines.

Of course, Best Buy is no Chris Rock or George Carlin. They’re in the business of up-selling cheap foreign produced consumer electronics, not writing standup sets. But that’s the context Chris Rock is talking about. If they had a history of this kind of thing, sure you can judge them on that. If they had the intent of making a tasteless joke about a murder, that’s certainly open to judgement as well.

I feel that instead of processing that intent or context, tweets like the ones embedded above are just piggybacking for attention. They’re changing the narrative without context in order to stand on the shoulders of an established brand, just to put themselves on the pedestal of their manufactured moral high ground. I think this hits on a larger point of why we’re all so cynical and snarky on social media in general.

That kind of cynicism is something I’m obviously not a huge fan of. I realize it’s almost a beloved modern American pasttime to tear down established brands whenever we get the chance, but that kind of toxic pessimism is just as “offensive” as the mistranslated intent of the Best Buy tweet if you ask me.

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