Recently, former child star Raven-Symone (I believe she was Cliff Huxtable’s step-granddaughter on The Cosby Show) obliquely came out as a lesbian by tweeting:
I can finally get married! Yay government! So proud of you
— Raven-Symonè (@MissRavenSymone) August 2, 2013
A flurry of response tweets ensued, using the hashtag “#childhoodruined,” and ensuing from those were several articles aggregating those tweets and tsk-tsking the tweeters for their uncalled-for homophobia.
Well…sure. It’s wrong to be homophobic, and those three linked news stories did collect un-ironic tweets from a bunch of immature and homophobic teenagers. But the shaming reports also seem to be oblivious to the general purpose of the “childhood ruined” meme. It tags a reappraisal or paradigm-shifting re-evaluation of a pop culture icon from one’s youth. Often, but not always, it’s about the revelation of unguessed-at adult themes or in-jokes in that TV show or character, often but not always of a sexual nature. The very helpful website Know Your Meme has an entry for “ruined childhood.”
A quick browse of the various “ruined childhood” tumblrs and blogs, and the Twitter hashtag #childhoodruined, shows mostly these knowing, ironic uses of the term. Bill Nye the Science Guy is going on Dancing With The Stars? Childhood ruined! Hannah Montana twerking? Childhood ruined! Shaggy from Scooby-Doo was a stoner? Childhood, etc. I’ve actually found that last one out there, and I’m still a little boggled at the thought there there are people who didn’t know it. I mean, come on!
One of my favorite blogs to visit when I get a spare moment is Literally Unbelievable, which consists of screenshots of Facebook comments by people who think the satirical newspaper The Onion prints true news stories.
For example, below the screenshot “DNA Evidence Frees Black Man Convicted of Bear Attack,” we see the reactions “WTF?! How the heck do you convict someone of a bear attack?” and SERIOUSLY? How can a MAN be convicted of a BEAR attack???”
Snark is a powerful tool, and skeptics and other progressives usually use it well. But it’s easy to lapse into smugness and assume no one else is doing it, or knows how to do it. Look at this:
That Twitter screencap began making the rounds on Facebook back when the Higgs boson, nicknamed the “God particle,” was discovered. Just about everyone who circulated it added a comment to the effect of “look at the stupid Christians who don’t understand the term ‘God particle!’”
That wasn’t what was going on. Every tweeter in that image was making a joke based on the nickname of the Higgs boson. I couldn’t definitively find any tweet that sincerely claimed the Higgs boson discovery had anything to say about the existence of god. It was a joke, but the skeptic and scientific community seemed unwilling to recognize it as such.
Now, look at this:
Bryan Fischer is an intolerant, theocratic goon, but he wasn’t seriously arguing that the unchurched should be taxed (here are his real thoughts about Obamacare). He was joking. Whether his joke was actually funny is wide open to debate, but that he was joking is plain to anyone who did the least bit of research into Fischer’s writings and statements. But bloggers here, here, and here, and the YouTube channel Right Wing Watch (that’s their video embedded above) took him at face value.
Skeptics should have a better understanding that they don’t own irony. We only embarrass themselves when we fail to recognize others employing it.