Two deeply religious brothers born outside the US move to Boston, and after living there a while, they have a powerful religious experience that causes them to believe they are meant to act on behalf of the almighty, serving swift and righteous justice to people they consider “evil.” So, after arming themselves to the teeth, they begin targeting and eliminating those who fall short of their ultimate morality, smiting the enemy whenever possible in the name of their god. Their crimes go unsolved at first as Boston writhes in the wake of the bloodbath created by the two foreign-born brothers. A massive manhunt ensues and both brothers are severely wounded in an epic firefight. The End. If this sounds like Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his brother Tamerlan, that is false. It’s a summary of the plot to the movie Boondock Saints (1999). Amid the litany of “support Boston” hyper-nationalist propaganda that dominated Facebook, the picture that kept popping up on newsfeeds featured the two lead actors surrounded by white text reading something like, “Remember what happened the last time somebody messed with Boston? LOLZ!!”
People who re-posted or shared that image clearly missed the irony. First off, it was a bad movie in which nearly all the characters fit established stereotypes. The main characters in Boondock Saints are religious extremists at best.
At worst they’re psychotic mass-murdering domestic terrorists who spout a pseudo-religious family creed in unison before they blow your skull to pieces with nickel-plated .45 caliber pistols.
Social media users might as well have posted pictures after 9/11 of John McClane from Die Hard that said “Remember what happened the last time someone planned to blow up buildings and kill NYPD detectives?” Or after the government bailout during the Great Recession you could have used images from Die Hard 3 that read “Remember what happened the last time someone messed with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York?”
Still, the “Boondock Saints” became a meme as to testify to the toughness and solidarity of religious blue-collar Anglo-Americans in the midst of a tragedy. #YIPPIEKIYAY!
In reality, the brothers’ actions in the movie are more similar to the suspected actions of the Chechen Tsarnaev brothers than they are different.
Recently, social media has become the main conduit through which information travels. Craig Smith reports on digital media site expandedramblings.com that as of April 2013, Facebook has 1.06 billion active monthly users with 680 million mobile users, and Twitter has 500 million total users.
For comparison, the four most watched TV programs in history are the series finale of M*A*S*H, and the 2010, 2011, and 2012 Super Bowls, respectively. They are the only TV programs in history to top 100 million viewers, according to the ratings gurus at Nielsen.
That means on any given day, YouTube’s 1 billion users who accumulate 4 billion hits are more than twice the amount that tuned in for the four most watched TV events in history combined. #GOOGLEISSKYNET!
From engagement announcements to same-sex marriage legislation, live-tweeting sports results to breaking news tragedies like the Boston bombings and mass shootings, social media outlets touch more eyes and ears than television or radio.
Unfortunately, this paradigm shift is often responsible for quickly spreading misinformation. Members of the huge internet newsgroup community Reddit created a spreadsheet of potential suspects on www.reddit.com/r/findbostonbombers after examining thousands of photos and videos posted on that site.
Reading the comments reveals the grassroots sleuthing as little more than conjecture and amateurish speculation as to whom in the pictures “had a bag,” or “looked suspicious.”
Despite growing mistrust for the mainstream media, there is a distinct responsibility and code of journalistic ethics to which reporters are held that is inherently lacking in the social media universe. I’m not going to lie and tell you the media always gets it right, but someone tweeting their opinion in 140 characters or less doesn’t adhere to the same level of integrity as the journalist whose name is on a story.
Still, many bona fide journalists sacrificed that same integrity by failing to fact-check information regarding the bombings before they reported it. The drive to be first took precedent over telling the Truth, which is an example of a shameful trend in not only American news media but also of American culture as a whole.
The total acceptance of a 24 hour news stream has convinced the media that people care more about the quantity of information they ingest than they do about the quality of that information. The cultural paradox, of course, is that the media assumes their increased supply of constant information is in response to increased demand. This is false. The media creates demand by providing seemingly infinite content.
This is a dangerous practice. At one time, Walter Kronkite was voted the most trusted man in America. Generally, people believe what they see on TV and the internet. News organizations know this and they use it to their advantage in a process Noam Chomsky dubbed “manufacturing consent.” The people, the consumers of information, accept the things they see on TV and read on websites like Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit simply because the information is out there.
The 24 hour news stream has become the elevator music of daily American life. Think about it: your Facebook has a “newsfeed” that constantly updates automatically and so does your Twitterfeed.
The societal reverberations of the Boston Marathon bombing weren’t limited to the internet, though. A plane scheduled to leave Boston’s Logan International Airport was grounded during the manhunt because two men on board were overheard speaking Arabic.
The two men committed no crime, but they were obviously suspicious because they were “brown” and speaking a foreign language; a language that is not, in fact, native to Russia or Chechnya. They were later convicted in the court of public opinion for DWI- Distressing White Idiots.
The anti-Muslim backlash stemming from this tragedy is the kind of hate that would make George Wallace proud. The overt and depraved nature of this racism has politicians using Twitter; calling publicly for torture and human rights deprivation for the teenaged bombing suspect.
New York State Senator Greg Ball (R) tweeted “So, scumbag #2 in custody. Who wouldn’t use torture on this punk to save more lives?”#TheWorldAccordingToDickCheney Doubtful that fellow Republican Senator John McCain would use torture on this “punk,” Senator Ball.
Representative Louie Gohmert (R) of Texas quickly linked the Boston bombings to gun control, saying: “Let me ask you, if you’re sitting in your home and you know there are only two possibilities for people coming to your door; one is law enforcement and the other is somebody who has already killed Americans and continues to do so, how many rounds do you want to be limited to in your magazine as you sit in your chair and wait?”
As long as law enforcement can kick down doors and execute warrantless searches under the guise of homeland security, the number of rounds per magazine shouldn’t worry the public as much as a suspension of their civil rights. #PATRIOTACT!
Despite the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and anti-terror legislation like the Patriot Act, the threat of terrorism uniquely looms large over the American psyche. Fear bred from ignorance prevails, and it seems to be gaining momentum with every new threat.
Would the American people support more stringent anti-terror legislation even if it allows the government to operate outside the Constitution? I’d like to say people wouldn’t support it, but if the rash of racist and xenophobic sentiment that permeated American social media after the Boston bombings is any indication, it wouldn’t surprise me if they did. #theskyisfalling
I guess American ignorance isn’t all bad. As long as Republicans and Tea Partier’s don’t figure out Chechnya is in Russia, I won’t have to suffer profiling by the TSA because of my last name. So at least I’ve got that to look forward to.