To Me, Mean Pictures Aren’t Funny (even the really funny ones…)


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The Internet has done amazing, wonderful, stupendous things for connecting the world, promoting freedom and diversity, enabling distance learning and online friendships, and establishing whole new worlds of commerce, but there is a dark side to it that is really starting to bother me.  All this interconnectedness has created a meanness in us, or maybe it has simply revealed a mean spirit that was there all along, but I wish it would go away.  Even kind, loving people I know are susceptible to it, and my hope is that this post will get them to reconsider.

I’m talking about the Mean Photo.  You know, the snapshot of someone in Walmart, or going to the prom, or on the subway who probably thinks he/she looks perfectly okay, but some stranger (or worse, a friend) takes a picture and posts it on the Internet for the rest of us to forward and “like” and write snide, superior comments.

If I see one more picture with the caption, “Oh. Dear. God!” I may just lose it.

That is a human being in that picture.  A person who got up that day, got dressed and left the house without ever thinking it would make her the subject of national ridicule, simply because her shorts are too tight.  Maybe she’s gained a lot of weight recently due to a medical condition and can’t afford new clothes, or doesn’t want to buy things in a size she intends to reduce.  Maybe it’s a single mom who had to choose between doing the laundry and going to her son’s baseball game, so here she is, making the better choice, even though this is all she had to put on.

Did you come up with the cleverest caption for the balding guy with glasses waiting for the bus?  Congratulations!  Yes, I’m sure he chose to lose his hair, be nearsighted and not own a car.  You are so much bigger and better than he is, by all means, make as nasty a comment as you can think of.  He won’t mind, since his life is already so perfect.

I know that writing this will subject me to all kinds of “lighten up” responses, and I don’t care.  I’m putting it out there, so I’m willing to weather whatever ridicule it generates.  That’s my choice.

But to degrade, insult, mock, malign, put down, humiliate and (probably) hurt someone because their appearance amuses you is not funny.  It’s cruel.  You’re better than that.

Truly happy people treat everyone with respect.  
Show the world how happy you are.  
Delete the mean photo and go give a total stranger a nice compliment.  
Especially if it looks like she needs it.


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14 thoughts on “To Me, Mean Pictures Aren’t Funny (even the really funny ones…)

  • johnathanness

    I agree overall, but I think there’s a difference between being mean and superior vs. having a chuckle. I don’t mind when other people laugh when I do something stupid. My wife and I keep a “quote book” full of the times we misspeak. We tease each other not to be mean, but to have a laugh. And because we both know where the other’s heart is, we don’t take the teasing the wrong way.

    • speakhappiness

      Jonathan, there is a vast difference between gentle teasing between spouses (my husband and I have a rule: it’s okay to be mean, as long as it’s funny), and what goes on online. How would you feel if your “quote book” was published on the Internet and people commented by the thousands about what a moron you are, and wrote that you are “too stupid to live” or that they “hope you don’t have children ’cause they’d be retards?” These are actual quotes from a video a man made of his wife being unable to figure out a basic math problem. There is a meanness and sense of superiority that cannot be ignored, and I’m just hoping that by pointing this out, I can get people to think twice before the next time they forward or comment on this type of content.

      • johnathanness

        Honestly, I wouldn’t care. I don’t give others the right to determine my value, least of all some complete stranger online. If people are mean-spirited, that’s their problem. I’m not going to let it bug me.

      • Velda

        My girl decided to make a video response to that math video you mentioned. Her argument was that the woman clearly misunderstood, as people often do. That being kind is every bit as important as understanding math, if not more so. Especially in marriage where you’re supposed to be on the same team.

        She was super cute, well spoken, thoughtful, and just as passionate as a 9 year old could be, but I seriously regret allowing her to post it. My son checked the comments just a few minutes later and just couldn’t stop crying (mind you this kid never cries) about the terrible things they’d said about his sister. We took the video down immediately, and talked together about what happened. We got a tiny taste of just how mean people can be. I can’t even imagine how these targets feel with exposure on a larger scale.

        • speakhappiness

          Oh, Velda, that breaks my heart! Bless your daughter, who at nine knows more about kindness than 30% of the people sitting in front of keyboards right now. I work in the entertainment industry and my husband and I are actually friends with some of the people who get the worst of it on sites like Deadline.com, and I don’t know how they do it. There’s a post on this site called, “Don’t Read the Comments” that I think was written by a more naive me. (http://speakhappiness.wordpress.com/2013/08/19/dont-read-the-comments/) Good for your daughter for trying to stop the hate, and good for you for letting her, then knowing when to protect her. I also love that your son cared enough about his sister to cry when people are mean to her. Your family must be full of love!

  • Robert Renick

    Nice post Valerie, I do agree that we need to be supportive and positive with our comments, but this type of joking and criticism is so common. How many watch American Idol to make fun of the early round contestants vs. how many are inspired to start practicing an hour a day. You make some great points in the book on how to avoid the negators, bottom line is that anything we do publicly requires some seriously thick skin. We have to choose whose opinion and advise is valuable, and whose is just a distraction. Social networking exposes us to way more opinions than ever before, but there are real teachers and lessons in there as well.

    • speakhappiness

      Robert, I totally agree with this. What bothers me is people being subject to ridicule merely for going to the grocery store in an outfit someone else deemed ugly enough to photograph and post online. I guess daily life in the Internet era just requires a thicker skin in general, but maybe we need more people to shame the poster of the mean photo than the subject of it, since the poster is the one making the choice to do something publicly.

  • David Erickson

    This is like the ‘crotch hit’ videos on the home video shows. There is nothing funny about getting hit in the cortch, but sometimes it’s funny in what got that to happen. I wish they’d not show the ones that are all about the crotch hit, but I can handle the ones that show the guy being really stupid and inviting such missteps.

    I know where you’re coming from on what people wear, but still anyone who goes out in public with a wild outfit on or something that is just plain weird or really, really bad, invites attention. Many do it just to get the attention.

    In other words, what people do in public is pretty much fair game, regardless of the motivation.

    • speakhappiness

      David, to say that if you are in public you’re fair game is exactly the attitude I’m trying to combat. You are NOT fair game to be ridiculed on a national level simply because you left your house in an outfit others would find weird or inappropriate. There is an entire website dedicated to making fun of people shopping at Walmart. I’ve seen a lot of the pictures (sadly, because they are constantly being posted online and forwarded), and most of those people did not leave the house to get attention. They left the house to get milk. And they have the right to do that without being called a “plain ol’ white trash nasty #ss HEFFA” (yes, actual quote from the comments).

    • Robert Renick

      How we react to those dressing for attention is still a challenge, For me I feel awkward when a woman has words on her clothing over their chest or bottom, it is not really polite to stare at these parts, but by putting words there is an invitation to look. Tattoos in certain locations create the same dynamic. Not sure I have a point here, just a thought.

  • Trystiane

    I think its easy to let people mock you when you are not in a category of people who are socially devalued — like people with disabilities, fat people, poor people, people of color, women or men who don’t conform to gender rules. It is about power and privilege. I do not know the commentators here, but one is lucky to be powerful and valued enough in society “not give others the right to determine your value.” Because people in society in fact DO give value to categories of people differently. People experience discrimination for being fat, or ugly, or not being able to afford a nice enough suit for an interview. Laughing at the way people dress is often about laughing at class, cultural and regional differences in taste. I think a fair rule of thumb is, if you would not laugh at someone to their face, you should not laugh at their picture.

    Yes, people dress for attention, but generally they want positive attention, not to be laughed at. And by all means, if someone has a word written on their butt, then you should assume you have the right to read it. But that doesn’t mean you have to keep staring at it. There are some commons sense ways to think about these things.

  • kingmidget

    Completely agree. Why is it necessary to make fun of people’s weaknesses or shortcomings? It’s an aspect of our culture and human existence I have grown so monumentally tired of.

  • Free To Be

    We live in a world that is increasingly impersonal and yet, social media can be authentic, sincere OR completely unkind. Thanks for sharing on such an important issue in such a life-giving way.
    (and thanks for liking my own blog post last month)