Anyone else watch “Fractured Fairy Tales” cartoons as a kid? They were already “retro” by the time I got to them, but I gobbled them up, along with other stuff produced by the same studio, like “George of the Jungle” and “Super Chicken.” What I loved most about all of these series, and what sticks in my memory, is the use of townspeople as a sort of Greek chorus. They reacted to events in the episodes with a simple “Yay!” or “Boo!”, and when I say simple, I mean that they used a handful of voice actors unenthusiastically muttering”Yay!” or “Boo!” They were instantly either really in favour or something, or really against it, and their opinions could change at the drop of a hat. There was no grey area. As a kid, I loved its simplicity. In a five-minute, satirical cartoon, this kind of polarity was perfect.
Outside of those particular cartoons, however, this kind of knee-jerk extremes are a little scary. Scratch that. They’re a lot scary. We’ve become the cartoon Greek chorus, and regrettably, we’re exhibiting the same shallow aversion to subtleties. We stand on the sidelines and yell “Yay!” or “Boo!”, changing our minds by the minute. We either passionately love and support something, or we’re deadset against it.
If you want an example, log in to Facebook (other social media platforms will do as well). Pick a post, maybe something a little controversial, and read what people put as comments. Post something they like, and you’ll be showered with compliments. You’ll be lauded for your beautiful world outlook and generous heart. Post something even remotely unpopular, and you’ll be handed your tushy on a platter. There isn’t a whole lot in between.
A few things about this phenomenon are concerning. First, social media is put together with these nifty little algorithms that try to feed you stuff to which you’re likely to say “Yay”. Say “Boo” often enough, and the yucky stuff will start disappearing from your news feed. We all need a little “Boo” in our lives now and then. “Boo” makes us aware that not everything is meant to be “Yay.” “Boo” presents us with things that make us a little uncomfortable. It pushes us to think about things a little more. You take away the “Boo” and you take away growth, progress, reflection. You see where I’m going with this.
It’s also a little scary (okay, a lot scary) that everything in social media has to be either a “Yay” or a “Boo” in the first place. Okay, the spectrum of emojiis and response icons available to us has expanded over the past couple of years, but they’re still mostly about really liking or really disliking something. There isn’t much of a a “Hmmm….” option, no “Why?” or “Discuss.” What would your reaction be if you checked your feed one morning to find someone had stamped something you posted with a big ‘ole question mark? #confused.
The big worry is how all of this yaying and booing has translated to life outside of social media (yes, there is life outside of social media). We’ve come to expect the pendulum to swing all the way to one side or the other, becoming more willing to be ridiculously offended by something than being undecided or curious about it. If recent political events have shown us anything, it’s that we’re hopelessly devoted to being on one side or the other, so desperate for change has to be sudden, radical, and complete. Ironically, the word “extremist” has become a dirty term, even though most of us are guilty of it to some degree. We “like” before we look, and get defensive if anyone questions our hastiness.
So why were “Yay” and “Boo” so flippin’ hilarious in the cartoons I watched as a child? Well, comedy is built on the notion that what’s happening is just a little unrealistic, just a tad unbelievable or too silly to be true. Maybe, even as a kid, I somehow recognized that the comical reactions of the townspeople were just that- comical, not really meant to represent how the real world worked, or at least not how it ought to work. We’re not a cartoon mob, watching a jungle man crash into a tree or a feathery superhero save the world. More importantly, we get (and need) more than five minutes to decide if we’re going to yell “Yay” or “Boo”, or if we want to yell either one in the first place.