OUR VIEW: Pay attention to selective virtue signaling

OUR VIEW: Pay attention to selective virtue signaling

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Time deconstructs everything, almost cruelly. It’s how we decide to react to any deconstruction that shows us what kind of people we are now.

That historic deconstruction is why some people are uncomfortable with art from our past, be it a statue, a song, a movie or a marketing icon.

The latest items in the line of fire are Aunt Jemima and Mrs. Butterworth (syrup), Uncle Ben (rice) and Frank White, the man on boxes of Cream of Wheat. All are being “reviewed.” In the current climate, that means they’ll be gone soon, like the Native American woman found on Land O’ Lakes butter and cheese packages.

There are people who think the decision is way overdue. There are people who feel a part of their life being stripped away as we step too far into an area of overheated guilt, working too hard at being “politically correct.” And there are people who consider these changes little more than "virtue signaling."

Virtue signaling is what we’ve come to expect in 2020. We demand statements of purpose be made. Companies running scared during a volatile time have to make statements, and those statements will be put under a microscope and parsed until a vocal someone or a vocal group of someones evaluate it as acceptable or not.

The changing times are catching many off guard. Consider NFL quarterback Drew Brees. He voiced his opinion that players should not kneel during the playing of the national anthem. That was a far less controversial stance in 2016 compared with what it is now. It took a weekend, two additional statements from Brees and one from his wife before things quieted down long enough to move on to the next outrage.

We all have things in our lives where given the opportunity, we’d make a different choice. We’re not giving up anything truly significant if we reverse course on something we end up believing we’re wrong about. We’re not giving up anything truly significant if we’re willing to listen to what that change means to other people.

Certainly the 24-hour news cycle and the existence of social media amplify outrage, for good and ill. Positive changes can come when we focus on issues that turn heated. On the other hand, too many of us are looking to be outraged, trying to find anything untoward on which we can focus our anger.

We sometimes choose to focus it in curious fashion. We don’t have the time, energy or wherewithal to examine all of our past. So we’ve been selective. The crisis over the Christmas song “Baby It’s Cold Outside” has been broiling for a decade. Some blackface might be OK, some is not, but it’s a guarantee that two people don’t draw the same line. Some “classic” films have aged poorly. “Gone With the Wind” has been pulled from a streaming service in order to add to it a contextual message. The same has happened with some Disney films.

There’s nothing wrong with reevaluating something in your life and realizing that there are different perspectives. And we have complex feelings about and defending what we enjoy, whatever form that thing takes. We tie amounts of our individuality to what we enjoy and embrace from our pasts.

But there’s also good reason to pay attention when people are genuinely hurt by something. Understanding is often all people are looking for.


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