Americans Aren't Haters

Periodically my corner of the internets will erupt with multiple postings similar to this one. Some hack journalist has a show called "What Would You Do?"  From the clips I've seen, it seems to be like a diseased "Candid Camera" wherein actors play scenes in which some white dude crudely bullies an innocent minority behind a counter and the camera watches people's reactions.

Usually someone responds particularly eloquently or heroically, and that's what prompts the viral postings. These clips tick me off, however, because the whole premise of the shows seems to be that there is deep latent racism and malice in the hearts of most Americans and we're supposed to be amazed and proud of the one guy who stands up to it. You can almost feel the condescension: most Americans suck, but I am enlightened enough to value the good guy in this clip.

Yet the clips NEVER show Americans behaving badly. They always reveal the opposite; everyone behaves well -- standing up to the bully or the bigot or at the very least being visibly upset by the behavior and thinking about what to do.

Every once in a while there might be a lone jerk who comes into the store and kind of smirks his approval of the bully actor's nasty comments -- but, as happens in the clip above, when questioned privately, even the jerk's point of view turns out to be a little more nuanced than outright bigotry.

As I say, the show ticks me off. The people who send its clips around virally tick me off, because they too are so eager to believe Americans are sour, closed-minded cretins. No one ever notices that it's the cretins who are few and far between.

All of this is just a lengthy prelude to a review my Spy in Virginia just sent me of The Book of Matt -- the forthcoming work of a gay journalist who, after several years and 100s of interviews, has concluded that Matthew Shepard was not killed for being gay, but by his gay lover on a meth binge. 

The entire anti-bullying curriculum in our schools (the one where grown-ups teach kids not to bully by laying a steaming heap of emotional bullying on them ) was generated largely in response to Shepard's murder. It will be astonishing (and yet in another way not even slightly surprising) if it turns out the whole story was a big lie perpetrated by the killers to get off more easily, but foisted on the rest of us by ingenuous journalists eager to believe their fellow citizens are boors. It's the folks who easily believe these stories who are bigots -- it was easier to believe folks out West were a bunch of brutal redneck thugs than to investigate what actually happened.