Opinion
Reading Los Angeles: Join The Times' new book club
Opinion Opinion L.A.

Daum: We're weary of 'being Trayvon'

In the wake of the media blackout imposed last week by Angela Corey, the newly appointed special prosecutor investigating February's fatal shooting of black Florida teen Trayvon Martin, the media has had no choice but to cover the story surrounding the story. This would include the widespread public demonstrations, the evolution of the "hoodie" as a symbolic rallying point, and the emergence of protest T-shirts adorned with phrases like "I Am Trayvon" and "Justice for Trayvon," both of which Martin's mother is trying to have trademarked.

The short bursts of indignation haven't been limited to writing on shirts. Social media sites have been burbling with support for Martin, who was unarmed when he was killed by George Zimmerman, a white neighborhood watch volunteer who apparently saw him as a threat. On Facebook, where a "Justice for Trayvon Martin" page currently has more than 200,000 "likes," users have shown solidarity by posting photos of themselves in hoodies.

Meanwhile, some celebrity tweeters got in trouble last week when they used their 140 characters to broadcast Zimmerman's home address. As it turned out, director Spike Lee got the address wrong, driving the parents of one (unrelated) William George Zimmerman out of their home. Roseanne Barr retweeted the correct address and phone number, later deleting it but adding that if Zimmerman wasn't arrested she'd retweet again and "maybe even go 2 his house myself." This tidbit first appeared on the Smoking Gun and then spread across the Internet until it landed on enough news sites to pass for important information.

So this is what a media blackout looks like: gossip reframed as news, T-shirt slogans as portents of revolution, Twitter as public records database. In other words, a lot of wheels spinning.

But now that the Florida state attorney's office has finally stopped spinning its wheels and started investigating the case, it might be a good idea to give the tweeting and the T-shirts and the hoodie meme a rest.

Some of the reasons are too obvious to ignore. Protesting a vigilante act by making vigilante-like threats on Twitter is about as hypocritical as it gets. Other reasons are obvious but will inevitably be ignored anyway: Whenever there's a massive groundswell around a cause, particularly if it's been inflamed by the Internet and even more particularly if it touches on a sensitive issue like race, the shouting and sloganeering tend to drown out the facts (some of which are still murky in this case and some of which suggest that Zimmerman, while perhaps a reactionary, is not necessarily the racist many have made him out to be).

But perhaps the best reason for turning Trayvon-related animus down a notch or two — at least for the time being — is the prevention of the latest media-generated scourge: Indignation Fatigue.

We've been employing so much indignation lately, how can we be anything but exhausted? We're indignant at our political leaders, our justice system, our radio talk show hosts. Last month, a viral video about Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony made us indignant about human rights abuses in Africa until some of us changed our minds and became indignant about the motives of the Americans who made the video, one of whom apparently got so stressed that he was caught on video suffering a breakdown and running around naked in public. The indignation turned to shock and then amusement, and then everyone forgot about it.

In the days before current events were rebranded as "trending topics," public indignation arrived slower and stayed longer. It took the form of picketing and passing out fliers. It sometimes involved police barricades. It almost always involved showing up. Today, with dissent just a click away, indignation has a shelf life that's all but over when the next object of outrage comes along.

Those who are making the most noise — virtual and otherwise — about the tragedy of Martin's death are doing so because they fear, understandably, that a shoddy investigation and the ramifications of "Stand your ground" laws threaten to compound that tragedy. But they have more to fear than that: the potential for all that noise to dull the senses and shorten the memory.

After all, "I am Trayvon" may get trademarked. But "I don't care anymore" is public domain.

mdaum@latimescolumnists.com

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
  • California's cracking down on urban water waste. What about the farmers?
    California's cracking down on urban water waste. What about the farmers?

    California's brutal drought has state officials looking for ways to conserve water. Ideas that they are considering include "directing urban agencies to limit the number of days residents can water their yards," according to The Times. The emergency restrictions also "prohibit landscape...

  • What's the Afghanistan endgame?
    What's the Afghanistan endgame?

    President Obama's announcement this week that he will delay the withdrawal of some 4,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan is an acceptable course correction. Keeping troop levels at their current strength will allow the United States to continue training Afghan forces while also helping with...

  • California rightly revisits its tough-on-youth-crime stance
    California rightly revisits its tough-on-youth-crime stance

    California long led the world in juvenile injustice. Just five years ago, when there were only seven people outside the U.S. serving life prison terms with no possibility of parole for crimes they had committed before they became adults, California had more than 200.

  • How to fight government by money in L.A.
    How to fight government by money in L.A.

    This month Los Angeles voters — at least the sliver of the electorate that managed to vote — approved two ballot measures that moved the date of city elections from the spring of odd-numbered years to the November of even-numbered ones. The rescheduled elections will now coincide...

  • Why almond growers aren't the water enemy
    Why almond growers aren't the water enemy

    A quarter-century ago, when I first started farming the fertile ground of western Fresno County, my crop was cotton.

  • The sayings of Lee Kuan Yew, the sage of Singapore
    The sayings of Lee Kuan Yew, the sage of Singapore

    Lee Kuan Yew, the former prime minister of Singapore who died Monday, was more than his country's founding father. Not only did he raise a poor, notoriously corrupt port from the bottom rungs of the Third World to a modern First World nation in a single generation, but he was also one of two...

Comments
Loading