Call out culture, a phenomenon that casual readers might not even notice, is to me, the most toxic aspect of blogging. Not because it is set to correct wrongs and engage in meaningful ways to actually enact change. No, call out culture is toxic because it has developed as a tool to legitimize aggression and rhetoric violence. Its intent, at the root, is seemingly positive. Constructive even. It works more or less like this: I say something ignorant. Perhaps I make a statement that can be constructed as bigoted or maybe “problematic”. A favorite word in call out culture, problematic is more often than not, used to mean “I didn’t like it” or alternatively, “I disagree with you”. But instead of saying you, the audience disagrees with me, you will call my statement “problematic”. And because we have established that we are at once consumers and producers of media content, you create a blog post or a tweet or a Facebook update “calling me out”. And more often than not, in your post, you tell your readers, other prosumers, to please join you in this call out. BECAUSE THIS IS A SERIOUS WRONG THAT NEEDS TO BE CORRECTED! Unbeknown to me, there are now ten posts in ten different blogs and social media platforms calling me a “BIGOT AND THE WORST PERSON EVER”. Each time, every one of these posts escalating in rhetoric and volume. Each new post trying to outperform the previous one in outrage, in anger, in righteousness. This performance of acrimony and reproach turns into the “pile on”. And I will have to apologize for what I said. At this point, since I am nervous and probably anxious because I am being called THE WORST PERSON EVER, my apology will not be stellar. I might dig a deeper hole even, because hey, I cannot properly articulate when I feel that I am under duress. I might, at this point, say something that is truly, really “problematic”, not just perceived as such, but, to put it in plain words, I might say something shitty. AND OMG at this point the “call out” will escalate out of proportion. Now I am not just THE WORST PERSON EVER but since we have established that I was “a known feminist blogger” (and if I wasn’t up to that moment, I am now because my name is all over the internet!), then, it will be known that I, on my own, HAVE RUINED FEMINISM FOR EVER. And I, alone, will be proof of ALL OF FEMINISM’S PAST FAILURES. FOR EVER.
Call out culture might, at times, dangerously resemble bullying. However, it is not exactly the same. It certainly shares its outcome, however, unlike bullying, call out culture is part of the performative aspect of blogging. Unlike bullying, a call out is intended for an audience.
And here’s the thing, on the surface, call outs are done “for good”. Of course shitty statements need to be challenged, nobody would deny that. Of course those who are hurt by shitty statements deserve to be recognized in their grief and deserve a sincere apology. But that’s not at the root of “call out culture”. The intent behind it, more often than not, is just to make the one initiating the call out feel good, more righteous, more indignant, a “better person”. In the end, the call out is not done for the benefit of a collective goal, it is done for entertainment and shocking value. Call outs are to blogging what Big Brother voting rounds are to reality TV: you have been found wanting and you are now expelled from the house. Because, of course, this is what is rarely mentioned, someone might be attempting to audition for your seat. Someone who thinks they are more righteous, better, more politically engaged than you.
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