The Death of Donda West Prompts Bad Virtual Behavior
Source: Kanye West Foundation
Dr. Donda West, an English professor at Chicago State University for more than three decades and co-founder of the Kanye West Foundation, an organization dedicated to combating the problem of high school dropouts, died Saturday of complications from cosmetic surgery. She was the mother of Grammy-nominated hip-hop star Kanye West, and lost her life at the age of 58.
That in itself isn’t mind-boggling news. Tragic, yes. Unbearable for family and friends left behind, yes. But people die every day; death is a fact of life. Car accidents, heart attacks, cancer, murder… there are all kinds of ways we end our stint here on earth.
What’s mind-boggling to some, surprising enough that it’s been covered in the media–including today’s Washington Post–is the reaction in blog-world to Dr. West’s death. Apparently there have been a slew of blogs aimed at the facts surrounding West’s death: that she died from cosmetic surgery. Some bloggers are gleefully pointing to that cosmetic surgery, smugly averring she got what was coming to her. The Post quoted blogs as saying “VANITY KILLS” and “hahahah too bad.” Others are more tactful: Says “shaedoves,” “Note: I know my comment won't be popular, but I do feel the need to say that we all need to truly be happy with what we were given…”
The point of the Post article is that “blog dwellers stepped over an imaginary line of restraint.” My reaction to that is: I’m not surprised.
Why should bloggers be any different than the general population? As far as I can see, we as a society accept an awful lot of really, REALLY bad behavior. Whether in the name of freedom of speech, creative self-expression, or just plain “who gives a ****, I might as well,” there are people every day saying and doing things in public that even 10 years ago would have been considered “over the line.”
From casual hard-core swearing on TV to live video sex online, we’ve never as a society strayed so far from doing the right thing, rather than the easy or “fun” thing. Bloggers attacking a dead woman’s very personal body image decisions are just one more indication that bad behavior knows no bounds.
One of my jobs is to “police” the King Arthur Flour company’s community site. People from all over the world chat to one another, ostensibly about baking. But discussions inevitably wander, and at times the conversation turns nasty. Yes, sad but true, I’ve seen online fights break out over whose recipe was better. When that happens, I speak up and tell the combatants to play nicely; that usually puts an end to it. If it doesn’t, we simply ban those exhibiting the worst behavior.
Problem is, no one can ban bloggers from saying exactly what they like – in public, in print, for all the world to read forevermore. It’s a fact of life, and I don’t see that it’s going to change. All we can do is keep going along, going along, until finally a groundswell of approbation arises and we, as a society, regain our sense of right and wrong.
Back in the 1950s, Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy destroyed the reputation of a number of Americans with lies about their leftist political leanings. The country went along with his insanity until, at one pivotal point, during the famous Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954, the army’s chief legal representative, Joseph Welch, said to McCarthy, “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?" The hearings ended shortly thereafter, with McCarthy’s censure. That single comment was the turning point in his career. McCarthy died of alcoholism three years later, a broken man.
Life is no longer that simple. With the Internet, with Google and Wikipedia, we can all ostensibly know everything about everybody all the time. But this doesn’t mean we have the right to comment publicly on people’s personal lives. There are things best left alone. Things that fall on the wrong side of the immutable Right/Wrong line (and yes, I do believe in such a line). The circumstances of Donda West’s death is one such thing. Clearly this hasn’t happened, but I wish that we could ALL let her rest in peace.