I’ve been doing this whole Broke-Ass Stuart thing for 13-and-a-half years. If my brand were a Jewish boy, his bar mitzvah would’ve been last summer. And I’m sure he would’ve done marvelously at his Torah portion.
Thirteen years is a long time to be working with the written word in a public setting. I’ve had strangers tell me what they think about my writing, without solicitation, since about the time Barry Bonds *wasn’t* doing steroids. One thing I can say for sure is that, judging by the way people behave in comments sections, we’re all losing our sense of humor.
BrokeAssStuart.com is a lot of things. It’s humor site. It’s a guide to things going on in the Bay Area and beyond. And it’s a place where progressive causes are supported and discussed. Some people come to my site for the politics, some come for the poop jokes, but regardless of what people come for, the comments (which are usually on the Facebook posts) continually show that nobody is given the benefit of the doubt on the internet.
A perfect example of this is an article we post every so often, titled “The 10 Worst Burritos in San Francisco.” In the article, we list 10 different Taco Bell locations (plus one Carl’s Jr. Green Burrito) and write funny things about each one. It’s a joke, an obvious one, yet people lose their minds about it in the comments section. They get so angry you’d think it linked to a naked picture of their mother instead of it just being a satirical thing making fun of The City’s burrito obsession. And, of course, people call me mean names and say they’re going stop following my page.
Come on, people. Grow up.
These days, it feels like people get on the internet with the expectation of being offended. It’s like they’re looking for something to get righteously indignant about. Don’t get me wrong: There are A LOT of things to be concerned, angry and anxious about. But we’re so used to the internet bringing us bad news that we look for ways to be offended by inoffensive things.
I recently posted about an event where people dress up in banana costumes and hand out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and socks to homeless people, while playing the “Peanut Butter Jelly Time” song on speakers. People in the comments were searching for ways to be offended by it …
Is dressing up like a banana while doing a good deed a silly thing to do? Absolutely. Would the money used on the banana costume be better served buying more socks for people? Totally! But is it offensive? Oh, come on!
You have to meet people where they are, and if putting on a ridiculous banana suit will get people out on a weekday to feed folks, why bust their balls about it? Having participated in the event in previous years, most of the folks we gave food and socks too loved the silliness. Looking at homeless people as only deserving our pity or our help is nearly as dehumanizing as ignoring them altogether. The best part of being human is allowing ourselves frivolity, and the folks we came across were almost as excited about that as receiving the food and socks.
Here’s another thing that never ceases to amaze me about the way the comments section and Twitter have democratized opinions: You can say 99 things that someone agrees with, but the one time you say something they disagree with, they suddenly hate you. The best example of this was when Gloria Steinem said that young women were supporting Bernie Sanders because the “boys are with Bernie.” Instead of giving the benefit of the doubt to a woman who has spent her life fighting for feminism, the entire internet flipped its wig. Steinem later explained that her comment was taken out of context, since the rest of her sentence was cut off. But by that point, people were more interested in dragging her for it than figuring out what she was trying to say.
The internet is an incredible thing, and the ability to use it to express your opinion is remarkably powerful. But having an opinion doesn’t make you an expert and shouldn’t preclude you from learning more about your opinion before expressing it. We need to hold ourselves accountable for the comments we make. We need to give each other the benefit of the doubt. We need to let each other make mistakes and learn from them. Let’s be better to each other online.
And for Pete’s sake, please stop commenting on things before you read them.
Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com. Broke-Ass City runs Thursdays in the San Francisco Examiner.