Our society is turning into an episode of ABC’s “What Would You Do?” Of all of the possibilities in this golden age of television, we’ve decided to emulate a hidden-camera morality farce.
My long-standing beef with the insanely popular TV show is that it judges people for minding their own business. Producers create unambiguously improper scenarios to bait specific emotional reactions out of folks, and anyone who decides to not dive into the chaos of strangers is portrayed as heartless or amoral.
“What Would You Do?” is one of the most beloved “news” programs of this century, so it’s no surprise that its simplistic method of dealing with conflict would seep into real-world scenarios, even when such scenarios might be as staged as those on the television show.
Here’s one clip: A group of smarmy, entitled white teenagers wearing MAGA caps surround a lone Native American veteran, encircling the indigenous elder in omnious mockery. People of decency on the left and right witnessed this scene on their social media timelines, and responded with uniform indignation that would’ve given “What Would You Do?” viewers goosebumps.
The morality of the encounter becomes messier as new videos emerge, although I’ve seen no footage that dispels the first read of the Covington High School students as entitled, racist pricks. Still, we should heed this incident as a warning for how rapidly our righteousness can be stoked, and how it can be extinguished even quicker.
Here’s another clip, occurring mere days after the above: A black gay television star is attacked with a noose and bleach by two men who tell him Chicago is MAGA country. People of decency on the left and right … goosebumps.
The first reports about the alleged attack against former “Empire” star Jussie Smollett were sickening and heartbreaking, and the initial public response was predictably outraged. However, within hours I saw an eagerness among straight people to view the attack as a gay-hookup-gone-wrong, and desperation among gay folks to believe our brother.
Both sides began to dig trenches with flimsy sourcing of inflammatory details, and I realized there were no hidden cameras waiting for me to give a definitive opinion on a situation about which I knew almost nothing. What Would I Do? Wait for more facts to emerge (i.e. mind my fucking business).
It hurt to see my straight friends giddily posting any development that cast doubt on Jussie’s story, and I would remind them that there were just as many articles alleging the opposite. It hurt to see my gay friends ignoring any evidence (or lack thereof) about the validity of Smollett’s story, and I cautioned them against reaching any conclusions prematurely.
Sadly, it was the latter who felt like “What Would You Do?” producers, casting anyone who didn’t experience a specific emotional reaction to the unfolding story as heartless or amoral, homophobic or self-hating. Some of us became so invested in Jussie’s suffering and how it reflected our own, that anyone who was neutral or disbelieving of him was attacking us and our testimony.
I’ve always hated the way “What Would You Do?” manipulates people’s emotions, then host John Quiñones tries to laugh it off during the camera reveal. I admire those who responded to a brutal scenario with sympathy and solidarity, and it’s sad their feelings may have been manipulated for a moral farce.