White Power Signaling, and “Pretending” to Take the Mean Pills

There’s an old Casper the Friendly Ghost Cartoon entitled “Fright from Wrong” where the premise is that the mean ghosts Casper lives with decide to teach him a lesson because he’s too “nice.” So they force him to take “Mean Pills.” Immediately, Casper turns into a devil and does unspeakably horrendous things to the other ghosts — giving one a hot foot, ironing another, vacuuming them up, covering them all with glue and feathers (think: tar and feathers), until finally going after them with a lawn mower, the dire end result of which happens off-screen.

In the last scene, Casper grins impishly, turns back into himself, and breaks the fourth wall to tell the audience, “I didn’t really take those mean pills — I just wanted to teach them a lesson!” A halo flashes over his head and the episode ends.

As a kid, I was always horrified by this episode. The things he does are much awfuller than anything we see the “mean ghosts” do, and the fact that he comes up with these tortures on his own, without the mean pills, made it worse, in my eyes, not better. His “not really taking the pills” disclaimer was the true horror of the cartoon.

But his point is — he didn’t really mean it, so it’s okay.

Which brings me to the issue of the “white power” hand signal that’s showing up everywhere these days, whether it’s Zina Bash behind Bret Kavanaugh at his Supreme Court confirmation hearings, or a Coast Guard officer flashing it on live television while on Hurricane Florence duty. When this action is called out, right-leaning, or out and out alt-right, media jump up and down with glee to say that liberals have been “trolled” and “triggered” because the whole thing was a made up joke! Ha ha, stupid liberals!

But let’s think about that. What actually is the difference between pretending to flash a white supremacist message, and really doing so? Who would take ownership of that message who didn’t assent to it at some level? Certainly it’s not liberals using it to troll the right (though that might have been more interesting.) The meme was specifically invented by alt-right trolls to gaslight commentators. So who’s kidding who? The idea that it’s not an actual signal, that people are “pretending” to signal White Power, is as disturbing as Casper torturing his compatriots with the excuse that he didn’t really take the pills, so it didn’t matter.

You know what really doesn’t matter? The supposed intentions of the signalers. Just ask the Coast Guard officer, whose action has been apologized for by his superiors and who’s been re-assigned. Because whether he was “haha” pretending to signal White Power, or “really” was, the message has been communicated either way. The bottom line is, you can’t be ironically racist. A sarcastic racist symbol is still a racist symbol.

Just like the message Casper sent to his fellow ghosts as he mowed them down.

Either way, someone’s in a white hood, pretending it doesn’t count.