A quick note on gay marriage and slacktivism

Unless you’ve been completely abstaining from any form of media over the last two days, you’ve likely noticed that the Supreme Court has been hearing oral arguments for the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8—two landmark cases for gay rights.

You may also have noticed that the pink and red version of the Human Rights Campaigns’s logo has been circulating on many people’s Facebook walls and profile pictures. For yesterday and much of today, Facebook feeds were inundated with the HRC’s red and pink, as well as a few snarky or clever derivative images.

There’s been a somewhat predictable backlash, though, and contrarians from many different ideological backgrounds have been criticizing this campaign as if it were #KONY2012 all over again. There are definite problems with slacktivism, particularly when it replaces legitimate work that might have otherwise been done to help solve a problem. But I think images like this are misguided:

The edgy provocateur-extraordinaires at Vice Magazine wrote an entire post about how useless a gesture the Facebook campaign was, noting that it would be more helpful to do things like donate money, write representatives, and take other proactive measures to ensure that gay men and women can share in all the same privileges and responsibilities that the rest of the country enjoys.

And I actually don’t disagree at all with the idea that there are more pressing and influential actions that can be taken by those sympathetic to gay marriage,[ref]and I encourage readers to do some of the above if they haven’t already[/ref] but I think Vice and other Facebook naysayers are wrong to suggest that the heavy show of solidarity doesn’t matter or otherwise help.

Chris wrote yesterday about how momentous an occasion these Supreme Court cases are, and the hopes and futures of many gay Americans will be determined by the decision. Even if we ignore all the gay users who were very personally invested in the ruling,[ref]George Takei was one of the early popularizers of the image[/ref] I think it’s a mistake to suppose that everyone who took part in the Facebook campaign was trying to somehow shift the outcome of the case.

Instead, I think the gesture is done out of a show of solidarity for our gay friends and family.[ref]That’s at least why I did it. I hope this post is more than simply my own rationalization.[/ref] People recognized what an important and pivotal moment this was for so many Americans, and what resulted was a spontaneous outpouring of support that turned many users’s Facebook feeds into seas of pink and red. And this hasn’t gone unappreciated. Andrew Sullivan posted a letter from a reader, who saw:

. . . update after update of friends changing their profile pictures to red equal-sign logos, and posts about wearing red, and posts on hearing updates. Even my young niece changed her profile pic to a red logo.

And then it hit me like a ton of bricks: the majority of folks who made these updates and posts are straight! In my circle, the biggest champions of marriage equality have been my straight friends. I am somewhat ashamed that others are fighting and believing in something for me that I never fought myself – merely for the reason that I just never thought it was possible. To be sitting here on such a precipice, with all of their support, is amazingly humbling.

So, given responses like this, I’m confused how a gesture of solidarity and support for gay Americans can not matter. Perez Hilton called this campaign the greatest idea since stuffed crust pizza,[ref]and I’m sure there are more examples than the two I’ve provided, but I’m kind of too lazy to go digging. Links would be appreciated[/ref] but it’s somehow ineffectual because a few cynics don’t think it’ll shift the decision? I don’t think anyone expects it to shift the decision, and that was never the point.

Trying so hard to be a contrarian, responding to everything with cynicism, and taking every opportunity to try to put others down so that you can be distinguished from the red-and-pink masses strikes me as a sad and shitty way to live. This might sound strange coming from me in particular,[ref]I’m saying this as an often sarcastic and extraordinarily cynical human being who reacts to nearly every situation in life with some kind of mixture of reluctance and disdain.[/ref] but I think that sometimes we can take things at face value. We can let our hearts be warmed by good faith gestures and showings of support without becoming gullible or overly credulous.

So I’m going to keep a different profile picture for a few days. I’m not under any misapprehension that this will drastically change the world, and I won’t blame anyone for not taking part. But if you take an outpouring of support for gay Americans as simply a chance to let everyone know how above slacktivism you are, then I’ll probably just think you’re an asshole.

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About Vlad Chituc

Vlad Chituc edits NonProphet Status. He's a researcher at the intersection of psychology, philosophy, and sometimes economics at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. He likes the South very much and lives with his dog, Toad, who is great. In 2012, he graduated with a B.S. in psychology from Yale University, where he spent a lot of time reading philosophy and learning to write.