The Sound of Silence
Sometimes, the most effective protest is a turned back.
By Ben Zhang, Duke University
It is a simple fact of life: There will always be people that you won’t like.
For many, this isn’t too much of a problem; plenty of individuals can simply suppress their disapproval of others and go about their lives as if nothing was the matter.
Others, however, may feel the need to voice their opinions. They will go on tirades against their irritants once they have turned away, or, as is more often nowadays, simply bash them on the bottomless pit known as the internet.
And, when the individuals being criticized are famous or influential in some sort of way, the need to denigrate seems to grow.
Celebrities are especially vulnerable to this demonizing. You have probably seen dozens of online posts complaining about the Kardashians or Justin Bieber, wondering why they are still relevant, wishing they could just float away, never to be seen again. Maybe you’ve come across angry commenters who wish that Woody Allen and Roman Polanski could be locked up, or that Kanye West and Chris Brown would never sell another record for as long as they live.
Lest you shed a tear for the aforementioned demigods, fear not—human disdain stretches far beyond the realm of people. Nowadays, it isn’t hard to find people who hate movies about turtles that eat pizza, characters in books about shades of gray or gorillas that were murdered. When faced with something that annoys every fiber of your being—whether animate, inanimate or something in between—it is only natural to want to complain. After all, what other way would you go about addressing what gets on your nerves?
Perhaps it is unfair to critique a reaction that many would chalk up to human nature. The criticism is worth entertaining, however, if there may be better ways of driving things into irrelevancy.
For starters, it is not unreasonable to ask whether or not people who constantly protest against something really want it to go away.
Again, consider the case of the omnipresent celebrity. These individuals have been mocked since the dawn of time, and the trend doesn’t appear to be ending anytime soon. People like to make fun of celebrities’ mistakes, often pointing to them as evidence of an increasingly uncultured culture. Without so many celebrities, the message seems to be, the world would be a better place.
But would it?
The fact is, if given the chance, many people would switch places with even the most despicable A-lister in a heartbeat. The reason is simple—fame and fortune are often hard to resist. A “Radiolab” podcast about the television show “Candid Camera” mentions a woman who routinely rails against the ethical dilemmas of recording people in their most vulnerable moments without their permission, until, of course, she ends up on the show herself, at which point she sings a much different tune.
But, if you really do want something to disappear, then perhaps it is time to consider the notion that talking about it only makes it worse.
Case in point—the current political situation. A recent attempt to shut down a certain right-wing pundit ended up causing sales of his book to go through the roof (though it has been since cancelled following certain pedophilic remarks).
And, during last year’s election cycle, the news media came under fire for its constant coverage of Donald Trump, and rightly so; when the chairman of a major network makes comments like, “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS,” it is hard not to be critical. Certainly, it is troubling when candidates such as Trump are given roughly $5 billion of free coverage.
But, lost in all the hullabaloo is the fact that the media was not entirely at fault for Trump. After all, what we see on the nightly news and social media is a reflection of what others think will appeal to us.
From the moment Trump declared his candidacy, people were already chattering about him nonstop. The media responded by increasing its coverage of Trump, which in turn fueled more discussion. What resulted was a never-ending cycle of the Donald that made him even more of a household name than he already was. Perhaps you wondered many times during the 2016 campaigns why Trump simply wouldn’t go away. In many ways, we have only ourselves to blame.
So, as counterintuitive as it seems, refusing to talk about something you hate may often be the best way of banishing it forever. Refusing to entertain certain notions allows them to die out; ignoring people allows them to be forgotten.
Think Bieber should just take his money and live the rest of his life in relative obscurity? Don’t buy his music or mention his name and that is just what may happen. Annoyed when people, like the president or the guy from “Transformers,” try their best to remain in the national spotlight by playing to your emotions? Don’t help their cause by taking the bait. Just take a deep breath and move on; the results may surprise you.
Of course, knowing where to draw the line is often tricky. Ignoring people and ideologies may become impossible if they become too much to bear. For instance, if you want to stop the spread of Richard Spencer and Nazism, it is probably not wise to share videos discussing Richard Spencer and Nazism, for the reasons previously discussed.
However, if people like Spencer are able to get a sizeable following behind them, and their hateful, harmful beliefs began to permeate the national consciousness, ignoring them would probably not be the wisest course of action. In such extreme situations, conversation would be valuable, and its benefits would greatly outweigh its risks.
In the end, it is hard to tell how to best fix a problem—ignore it, or mend it? Maybe tuning out the garbage will fail to work, but it certainly can’t hurt to try, especially when the stakes are as low as the mention of a deceased primate.
Not speaking your mind can be hard in some cases, and making the switch to doing so can be difficult. But if you can, you might find that silence can indeed be golden.