The Facebook Cartoon Meme

I rarely step on my soapbox and get personal here, but I feel the need to comment on the recent facebook trend of posting cartoon characters as profile pictures to “fight child abuse.”

Let me make this clear: if you posted a cartoon, I’m NOT insulting you. I have no problem with anyone taking part in the trend.

My beef is with the trend itself and what it says about our culture; the unprecedented distance between one’s public dedication to a cause, and any actual measure of reflection or helpful behavior.

Symbols have been iconic representations of various social causes for decades (red ribbons, pink ribbons, rubber bracelets). At least the proceeds from these culturally fabricated products went toward the cause they represented. A small step, but a step nonetheless.

In the social networking world, trends like the cartoon character meme are devoid of ANY direct connection to or impact on the cause itself. No profit, no research, no inquiry, no time volunteered, no outreach program, no benefit.

These trends are yet another reflection of the narcissism that now pervades our technologically advanced society. Only in an extremely egocentric, disconnected population could one believe that posting a favorite character or listing the color of their bra (in the recent “breast cancer awareness” meme) has ANY influence over the true misfortune at stake. Yet I’ve seen an alarming degree of smug self-satisfaction from those who comply.

Sadly, I’d wager that upon the spread of the cartoon character meme, most people briefly thought “Yes, child abuse is wrong.”…and then spent half an hour googling the perfect ironically retro cartoon image to post, enraptured in their own nostalgia. I’ve seen plenty of “Dude, I loved Thundercats!,” but ZERO comments about child abuse itself.

Suddenly, awareness of a good cause becomes about ME, ME, ME! MY favorite things! MY pictures! What do I like? What am I wearing?

How does a call for charity become self-centered and completely divorced from charitable behavior?

I am wholeheartedly grateful for the role technology plays in my life (including online networking), yet I find myself missing the days when people didn’t think what they had for breakfast was newsworthy enough to be shared with everyone they’ve ever known on three different sites. I miss when caring about a cause meant volunteering time and sharing valuable information.

The closer we get, the more disconnected we become.

99% of the time, I ignore solipsistic social networking trends, even when they involve causes very close to my heart.

Here is a cartoon I liked as a kid:

Are children still being abused now? Wait…Really? Are you sure?

I’m afraid I agree with Gossamer here:

7 Responses to “The Facebook Cartoon Meme”

  1. “Are children still being abused now? Wait…Really? Are you sure?”


    It’s so awful you HAVE to laugh.

    I totally agree with you. On all of it.

    I use the Internet for sharing fun ideas with like minded people, and for my art, but I do NOT…that is…I REFUSE to use it as a replacement for real life meaningful interactions.

    Somehow we went from calling each other, to emailing each other, to thinking that updating one’s Facebook status is the equivalent of visiting with the people you know and love. I don’t use a personal facebook account, and if my real life, core friends want to catch up with me, then a phone or email is the tool they must use.

    We’ve reaalllllly lost sight of reality with social networking.

    And while the internet is a tool that CAN be used for change and personal connections, generally speaking it’s often utilized as a short cut. A time saver. A road with the least effort and a false sense of payoff or doing your duty.

    So yeah. I totally agree with you. 100%. And I know where you’re coming from. I also know there are thousands of people who will have NO IDEA what your point is, and think you’re full of it, and will want to reply “Well at LEAST I’m doing something”. But in these specific situations, no…no you’re not. You aren’t doing anything of any consequence. It will be swallowed up in the online ether.

    It’s like a group of women having a tea party to support a local cause. They all buy new hats to wear. The meet and talk about how awful such-and-such issue is, then compliment each other on their hats, and go home full of tiny sandwiches and a sense of righteousness.

  2. It’s a very good point you bring to the surface that I initially ignored completely.
    The funny thing is, the first person I saw post the cartoon meme was a friend who lives in Barcelona. The post was in spanish and did not mention child abuse. Almost a month later when the Americans started posting it did I see the last line had been added about “stopping child abuse.”
    The reason it was added follows the disturbing trend of chain emails. For whatever pathetic power trip it gives them, people feel that they need to trick you into forwarding their chain email through impossibly false promises or coersion through guilt. Facebook has become the new venue for this activity. It was not started as a grass roots movement, but tacked on as a callous new equivalent to “forward this to 10 people or you will never meet your true love.”

  3. you articulated my nyquil-muddied thoughts so perfectly. these memes tempt me to shut down my account all the time, but i never do because i have maintained meaningful, most often long-distance, friendships (despite a far greater number of “friends”) through facebook. also, boyfriend deactivated his account and constantly insists that he lurk on mine because he feels detached.

    fabulous post, per usual.


  4. you summed up the American culture in one word: ME. Now we live in the ME First society – evident everywhere we look; from people driving (running red lights, cutting off people, punching on the gas because ME FIRST and I’m in a hurry!) to a complete breakdown of basic courtesy (basic manners which are almost non-existant). I really, really do not like American culture as it is; its no wonder the world dislikes us so much.
    Your great post is an unfortunate drop in the bucket of slime that our culture has become.

  5. Liesje Kraai Says:

    I completely agree with your post. It’s funny – the whole ‘Cartoon Character’ ting rubbed me the wrong way but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. And in the end, it was so simple!

    The ‘Me’ attitude reminds me of this great shop that use to be up in Maine. It was called ‘It’s All About ME!’ The ‘ME’ obviously referring to Maine but regardless, my father latched on to the phrase and it’s ridiculousness. Since, it’s become a familiar line in my house whenever situations like this come up. So, there you have it: “It’s All About ME!”

  6. I just happened across your blog while researching art blogs. Very smart commentary!

  7. Sophia Walker Says:

    That particular cartoon always scared the shit out of me.

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