By Tomiwa Adeyemo, Staff Writer
I was in the thick of writing my previous article on automation and universal basic income when news broke about a story I had been following closely: Jussie Smollet had been charged with filing a false police report. The decision by the Chicago Police Department to charge Smollet stunned many and also confirmed what many had suspected but few had been brave enough to say: The whole story was fishy from the start.
The story about the “hate crime” was not just fishy but seemed brazen from the start. On the slim chance you have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s a brief rehash: Smollet, a 36-year-old actor who plays Jamal Lyon, the gay musician on Fox’s musical drama Empire, had alleged that on Jan. 29 he was assaulted by two masked individuals who berated him with racial and homophobic slurs. At 2 a.m. these men allegedly poured bleach on Smollett’s face, looped a rope around his neck and yelled “this is MAGA country.” The reaction was swift. Fans, celebrities and politicians (including some prominent 2020 democratic candidates) quickly hopped on Twitter to condemn the attack, repeating the very same mistake that had just been made in the Covington High School case a few weeks ago.
The unravelling and eventual exposure of Jussie Smollett’s hoax reveals two significant facts about our society today. The first of these is that we live in a society where a rush to judgement is the norm. A lot of people don’t even wait to THINK about news stories before rushing to judgement. In the case of Smollet, all it would have taken was one of many questions to cause you to doubt the story. Trevor Noah presents the best question when he asks (and I’m paraphrasing here), are there really any MAGA hat wearing, passionate Trump supporters that watch Empire, a show with a majority black cast in which one of the lead characters is openly gay? Now of course that question was asked tongue in cheek. There may be Trump supporters that watch empire, but the point is that there were simple questions that could and should have been asked that would have led one to doubt the story.
This “rush to judgement” culture is not just facilitated by individuals, but by media corporations who in the dying age of traditional media have resorted to, among other things, click bait titles to draw audiences and squeeze out the drying drops of advertising revenue. The great actor Denzel Washington once said “if you don’t read the newspaper you’re uninformed. If you do you’re misinformed.” While I don’t agree with that entirely, there’s a semblance of truth there. He went on to say (again, paraphrasing) that there’s a rush to be first, not a rush to be true. And that’s exactly right. A majority of the media (on the left and right) have decided that they are more content with breaking news first and not waiting to properly vet said news. I assume this is because sites that are the first to break news often attract more audiences and hence more advertising revenue. The ramifications of these are not just annoying click bait titles like I mentioned before, but also possibly the re-election of Trump to the White House. I say this because every time the media rushes to put out a story, not bothering to properly vet it and ending up issuing an “apology” or a correction later on, they lend more and more credence to Trump’s catchphrase of “Fake News” and solidify the belief among his base that the media is indeed full of fake news. The Washington Post deserves to be sued and serve as an example to other media corporations. As for we the individuals, we all need to slow down, take a chill pill and wait before rushing to judgment. If nothing else, wait just 24 hours before ranting on social media about the next viral story.
However, I do give Jussie Smollett credit for one thing and this is that he has read the culture well. What I mean by this can be found in my second key fact about our society today: in some ways we have placed a value on victimhood. Sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning call it the “victimhood culture” where victimization becomes a way of attracting sympathy and individuals advertise their oppression as evidence that they deserve respect and assistance. Sound familiar? If you think this is an exaggeration, read this recent news that has gone under the radar in which a transgender activist burned down his own home, killing five of his own pets because he was upset his activism was not receiving more attention. The fact of the matter is as messy as the world currently is, we are living in the most prosperous age in human history. And if you live in the United States, you live in the most prosperous nation in human history, no matter your group identity (race, gender, whatever). If you think you are oppressed, with a thousand-dollar iPhone & Starbucks latte that is worth more than 4.3 BILLION people live on, I have a bridge to sell you. Victimhood culture is a real problem and it is why Jussie Smollet could be so bold as to go on national TV and lie to the face of millions, undermining thousands of real hate crimes that have undeniably risen in the age of Trump.
So, to quote Chris Rock: “That’s right, I said it.” Don’t believe all alleged victims. Instead, take all victims seriously. Wait till all the evidence is presented before rushing to judgement. That’s the path I have decided to take, and I believe it’s the path many of us should look into taking.