Please Stop Posting That Morgan Freeman Meme
By now you’ve seen the Morgan Freeman meme all over your FB news feed, and you’ve probably also heard it’s fake, if you didn’t already look at it and think, “That’s the fakest thing on the fakerwebs.” Yet still it gets posted, so it’s worth taking at least as long as it took to be written to refute it. In ascending order of importance, why this meme is dumb and counterproductive:
1. Morgan Freeman didn’t say it. Avoid posting things you know or even suspect to be untrue; it lowers the trustworthiness of everything else.
2. Morgan Freeman didn’t say it. This matters, because the main point of the little diatribe is that there exists a reality that the media is harming through its distortions. But that’s exactly what this meme is doing by falsely attributing its quote to a celebrity. I almost want to say it’s enacting its own criticism—but come on. Accusing the media of abusing reality and then attaching that claim to someone who never voiced it is self-refuting.
3. The most pernicious part of this meme’s logic is hidden at the end, and I suspect smuggling this argument was actually the entire point: that mental health treatment and gun control are mutually exclusive. This is one of the most widely cited arguments since Friday (as it is after every mass shooting): that we shouldn’t be focusing on gun control to stop these events, we should be focusing on mental health treatments. This is ridiculous for two reasons. 1) As already stated, the two are not mutually exclusive, and those who argue for gun control usually do so in tandem with pushing for better mental health treatment. Nobody actually wants to ban guns; we want to stop incidents like Friday from happening, and the best way to do that is through better mental health treatment that identifies troubled people before they act and good gun control policy (waiting periods, assault bans etc.) that limits their likelihood to act. In no way do these two reforms exclude each other; if anything, they’re mutually reinforcing. 2) If you walked up to a gun rights advocate last Thursday and asked how they felt about increased funding for mental health facilities, you probably would have gotten a lecture on Kenyan Socialism and the culture of dependency. Now mental health reform is the most pressing issue facing America today? This is a dodge to avoid talking about the blaring, blaring, blaring need for better, more restrictive gun laws. I actually think the screed on the media was a dodge, too, which brings me to:
4. Blaming the media is a copout. It always is. Take the fake-Freeman rant and replace “sensationalist media” with “lamestream media” and “shooting” with any pet conservative cause like global warming or the war on women, and you have the average Sarah Palin Facebook post or Breitbart.com screed; replace it with “corporate media” and “East Timor” and you have a Noam Chomsky interview. This is because there is no coordinated entity that is “the media”—it’s an abstraction of a huge variety of mediums, each with different incentives and practices and standards and biases. Because “the media” doesn’t actually refer to one existing thing, it can refer to anything; “the media” can be blamed for whatever you want, and this phenomenological promiscuity should be a sign that causal logic has left the building.
Does the method of reporting these shootings amplify the shock value in a way that might encourage more? Maybe. But its effects are tertiary at worst. Impugning “the media” is not an argument; it’s a way to avoid having an argument by accusing an abstraction that can’t refute you.
Now, please, someone cut and paste this over Ian McKellan’s face so I can go viral.
Evan, I could have used you as a guest speaker in one of my rhet-comp courses. No matter how much I tried to explain why the use of “the media” in argumentation damages the argument one makes, it didn’t seem to reach many of my students. Would have been nice to have added another voice to the conversation.