It's a banner year for Saturday Night Live. The show has reaped every reward Donald Trump has given them. This past weekend, Alec Baldwin, their go-to Trump impersonator, hosted. The episode had its best ratings in 6 years. Melissa McCarthy did her Sean Spicer; Baldwin's Trump visited the People's Court. But for me, the best skit involved Cheetos and the manufacturing of advocacy and social justice.
It centres around an advertising meeting. Baldwin and cast member Aidy Bryant blow the executives away with their pitches. A young immigrant girl climbing up a rope of American flags to get over Trump's wall. Hard cut -- Cheetos! Someone taking off layers of skin, each revealing a different visible minority group, the last -- a Cheeto. "Hard cut -- We are one." "Harder cut -- Cheetos!" The executives are giddy. "It's important, it's now, it's Cheetos." one of them boasts. These issues are important in everyday society but have nothing to do with them. SNL was imitating life very closely, though. Many companies are guilty of back-patting, irrelevant pandering.
Whether a consortium like Cheetos or a small, grassroots movement, advocacy is a business. Employees like said ad execs, administrators, and management alike join the workforce. Bell and CIBC, advocates for mental illness and breast cancer have large scale initiatives. It's hard to complain when there's so much good coming through, right? If it raises billions of dollars and new attention, who cares how they do it? But then you have brands who slap their logo on something and are a "champion of the effort". It ends up punishing the companies who invest all that blood, sweat and tears into their crusades. It's important to distinguish between good and bad corporate charity and social awareness.
Union 613, a restaurant in Ottawa, is notorious for free publicity backfiring. Shopify didn't drop Breitbart as a customer, despite public outcry over the alt-right publication. They put ethics above knee-jerk reactions. It led to the eatery announcing they were "suspending ties" with the e-commerce giant. It was short-sighted, waging a battle with one of the city's biggest employers. People have been mocking them, asking if they closed their social media accounts with Facebook and Twitter. Breitbart is on there as well, so go all out, right? This wasn't the first time they half-baked an idea. Outside their regulars, people groaned wondering how a business can be so political and petty.
On the other end, advocacy movements are vying for attention. They aren't selling cell phones or hardware. They can't compete with these enterprises who bleed money. So they have to be creative, loud and persistent when carving out a following. Some movements do honest, good work and should be celebrated. They can grow and become a louder voice who makes a difference. But before that, the biggest battle is being heard in a room full of shrieking and screaming. Some feel overwhelmed, blaring and roaring themselves into the inaudible abyss.
"Fake advocacy" is powerful. It's a sensationalist howl, a call to action. Glorifying you riled up. Outrage porn, as addicting as trolling, is a crucial tool. We all fall victim to it. "Hey, look, red meat! Mmm," we say as we chew away at the feast of trivial matters. It's SO EASY to get enraged at someone you've never met and never will. Something that has no impact on you and never will. Content closer to tabloid gossip than news. It's moments like those where it's easy to feel self-righteous.
I'm an outrage addict. I recently wrote a column about Black Lives Matter Toronto & their deteriorating public support. I wasn't so much outraged at what they were doing rather what they weren't. I saw potential within their membership. It was careless, though, because it doesn't affect my life. I'm not a member, I'm white and I don't live in Toronto. I opened a can of worms I couldn't close -- my self-righteousness spawned new outrage. I received messages from members of BLMTO, supporters, their opposition. A white male thanked me for whitesplaining, calling me a douchebag. I deserved the blowback and I'll take it on the chin.
What troubles me most about the epidemic of fake outrage is the messaging. We try to one-up each other before realising no one's listening. We're soapboxing into the cosmos. Recently, a Toronto bar had the message on their sidewalk chalkboard: "No means yes and yes means a***?". It prompted many angry and justified responses. There's no debate if it was in bad taste. Unlike BLMTO or Pride, they would be lucky to have a dozen defenders. Stuff like that is gross and has no place in our society. But we end up with a genital measuring contest of who can be most upset. By all means, they deserve bad press. If you live in the neighbourhood and frequent it, write them off. Let your wallet advocate for you. Don't invest time into them beyond telling them off or venting in a column about how gross it was. They don't deserve it.
I've been writing about not taking things personal online for years. It's difficult. I'm proof -- look at the above paragraphs or my previous work. Sometimes, I need a slap like the BLMTO reaction to refocus and remember what's important. Don't give blind trust, but at the same time, question those you have trouble trusting. Don't be afraid to stand up for issues you believe in, but also pick and choose your battles. You'll end up fatigued, asking yourself if these wars you wage matter. The causes lose the attention they deserve and it becomes less about your beliefs and instead about your ego or image.
Being critical, cynical, and self-righteous is easy. Wolfing down Cheetos and laughing at "Kelly-Anne Conway" stalking "Jake Tapper"... That's bliss. You will not win every battle. It's okay to put down the pitchfork for a break. It'll be there, sharpened for when provoked about your real passions.