The Small World of a #TrendingTopic: Gorillas and Other Big Things

The Small World of a #TrendingTopic: Gorillas and Other Big Things June 2, 2016

I thought we’d be done talking about the gorilla by now.

Clearly, we are still talking about the gorilla.

Last weekend, a young child got into a wild animal enclosure at the Cincinnati zoo. The gorilla picked the child up and began carrying him around like a Cabbage Patch doll, much to the horror of his parents and other onlookers. While he was not seriously injured, zoo officials decided that the only way to ensure the child’s safety was to kill the gorilla.

And suddenly the internet is full of parenting experts and environmental activists.

The world does not need another think piece about how a child’s life at risk trumps all other elements of conversation. So I will not point that out.

What I will add is the glaring irony: that people are legit OUTRAGED over the death of this member of an endangered species; while seemingly without concern for the rest of the species, still at risk. Or other endangered species, in the wild. Without recognition of environmental factors that endanger so many creatures; and without note of our daily contributions to that dangerous environment.

this is A gorilla. not THE gorilla. Via Pixabay
this is A gorilla. not THE gorilla. Via Pixabay

A trending topic somehow calls forth a fervent compassion in the internet troll community–and in the world at large. But it’s a compassion with a microscopic focus and a shortsighted scope of awareness.

Of course, some of the outraged voices are truly engaged animal and environmental activists. While I still think the zoo did what they had to do–tragic choice though it was– I value those voices of concern for the gorilla. It just seems that 99% of the backlash in mainstream media comes from an angry mob with the collective global awareness of a gnat. A single gnat. So there’s that.

There’s another layer of misguided outrage here… the “neglectful parents” camp.

The world does not need one more think piece about how toddlers are squirmy critters, no parent is perfect, and this could have happened to any one of us. It’s a true story–but not one that I need to tell again.

What I will add is the glaring irony: that people will rant and rave about irresponsible parents and neglected children… while never giving a thought to the truly neglected children in their own communities.

And by “neglected children,” I don’t mean the ones whose parents take them to the city zoo on a Sunday afternoon. Call me crazy, but a kid whose parents plan for time with them, spend disposable income for their entertainment, and have the capacity to transport the family from point A to point B…those are not the kids I’m worried about.

If you truly consider yourself an advocate for the well-being of children, let’s talk about some other kids.

Let’s talk about the children in Kansas who are being homeschooled without regulation…  Children whose parents take advantage of that system to avoid detection of neglect, abuse, even murder. Let’s talk about how the same thing can happen in the foster system, without proper oversight.

And then we can talk about (again in Kansas) politicians whose disastrous tax policies shield the rich, but mean possible public school closures in the poorest districts. Let’s talk about vulnerable children who would be isolated, without the support, structure and resources usually provided by the school system.

Many of those same kids are losing SNAP benefits–in Kansas, and other states dabbling in Tea Party economics.

Let’s talk about how a parent’s right to “discipline” a child is often protected under the law–and the many ways in which “discipline” is open to interpretation.

Let’s talk about how frequently spiritual and emotional abuse is protected under the guise of “religious freedom.”

Where are the child protective enthusiasts of the internet when these children fall through the cracks? On our own watch, with our own tax dollars, in our own back yard?

It’s easy to let a trending topic absorb all of our collective energy and empathy. It is very easy to use our privilege–and the protective shield of a computer screen–to voice judgement on strangers, or to lament the tragic death of an animal. A single animal.

It’s another thing entirely to cultivate a global view of justice, empathy, and the sanctity of life.

There is more than one gorilla that needs saving. There is more than one realm of creation in danger.

And there are so many kinds of child neglect. I bet one of them is happening right under your nose, right this minute.

The Cincinnati Zoo is one thing– and next week there will be one more thing. One story that we are still, always, talking about. It may still be ‘trending’ but it already happened. It is finished. We are not the boss of it.

But there is a whole big world of need out there. And we continue to let a single trending hashtag of a story drive all of our energy inward. It makes our world so small. It makes us so small. And ultimately, ineffective.

Care about animals? Save the planet. We fellow creatures of the world thank you in advance.

And if you care about children– remember that 48 children are victims of gun violence in this country every day. Every day.  Remember that even tomorrow, when #wearorange is no longer trending.

Also remember that 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys are victims of sexual abuse. 

880 refugees drowned in the Mediterranean Sea last week; more than 2500 have died so far this year. This year alone. Do you even want to know how many of that number were children?

In your own back yard… kids are hungry. Kids are neglected. They are abused. Their schools are crumbling around them. They are literally drowning.

Go find THAT kid. Any one kid. Do some small thing to change the story.

Instead of just telling the same one again. And again.


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