An Open Letter to Raise Awareness
To the people who recently changed their Facebook profile picture to or from a cartoon character,
I know I’m not the first one to tell you this, and I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to tell you this before you changed your profile picture to a cartoon in order to “raise awareness” for child abuse, but you probably shouldn’t have. As you may know, I’m no longer on Facebook to directly experience this latest meme, so maybe the people who did see your profile pictures flipping and flopping didn’t think you were an asshole.
I’m sure your intentions were good. You thought you were doing something that would help people. You’re against child abuse, right? Of course you are. You are a conscientious person who cares about people, even if it means that you must deprive yourself a pedestal for displaying your pretty mug for a week or two. It’s for the children, after all.
How exactly did you think that was going to happen? Did you think that some molester or alcoholic parent, logging onto Facebook and seeing legions of cutesy cartoon faces staring back at him or her, would suddenly become so distraught that they would set themselves on the path to reform themselves after realizing how much society doesn’t support their deviance? Did you think that NAMBLA would be shuttering its doors after being stared down by the Great Gazoo?
Maybe you thought that all this awareness would cause some money being donated to some worthwhile causes that take action in the real world. It’s not like it’s difficult for people to figure out for themselves that organizations that would actually work in the real world to end child abuse include groups like UNICEF or this one or this one or this one. Sure, you didn’t donate any yourself, but maybe your profile picture helped to remind someone else to donate. You’ll put one of those links in a status message next time around, I’m sure.
I’m also sure you didn’t think that this whole exercise was, at bottom, selfish. You were thinking that this would be helpful, not thinking about the fact that the act of changing a profile picture is, and always was, an act to draw attention to oneself (i.e., one’s individuality) by drawing everyone’s attention to something interesting about oneself. You were thinking that the act of changing your picture to a cartoon from your childhood would draw attention away from yourself and focus on the cause of helping stop child abuse. I’m sure you would have done it anyway, even if you didn’t get to choose which cartoon character you displayed to symbolize your taste, experiences, and general life outlook (just like a normal profile picture). After all, it’s not a selfish display of self-centeredness if everyone’s doing it, right?
Were you one of the people who rushed out to buy American flag lapel pins after 9/11 and ribbons to put on the on the bumper of your car in support of the troops or maybe a Livestrong bracelet in support of Darfur? At least the money for those things presumably went somewhere good, right? Sure you don’t know exactly where, but it probably wasn’t going to someone just trying to make a buck. Could you tell me where the money for the cartoons is coming or going? And at the time, when you proudly displayed that pin/sticker/bracelet, did you think then that you were changing people’s minds by drawing attention to issues that they would have otherwise not realized were an issue? You thought that the soft coercion of conformity would roll into more money for the cause, right? Or did you think that you were displaying your individuality?
You probably didn’t think that you were trumpeting the safest and most commonly held opinions as though they were expressions of your individuality. You didn’t realize that these efforts appeared to others as attempts to appropriate everyone’s commonly held opinion for yourself. Or at the very least, you were (implicitly) shaming people who do not similarly externalize that commonly held opinion. Were you one of the people who helped make it a big deal that Obama didn’t wear a flag pin? If you have an IQ above 75, did you actually believe that he didn’t support America if he didn’t wear the pin? For that matter, why aren’t you still wearing a flag pin? Are you with the terrorists?
I’m sorry if the tone of this letter made you feel guilty. Like you, I’m just trying to raise awareness for an issue I found important. But at least you can sleep soundly and contentedly with the knowledge your actions weren’t at all vain or selfish because you made a difference and helped bring child abuse to an end.