My inclination this morning was to completely unplug from social media for at least 24 hours. I probably should have. Instead, this afternoon I went ahead and scrolled through my Facebook feed and found pretty much what I expected to find: a bunch of self-righteous bleating about Scarlett Johansson’s Super Bowl Ad for Sodastream, and a lot of pontificating about addiction in the wake of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death of an apparent heroin overdose.
For those unfamiliar with the controversy, Ms. Johansson’s sponsorship of Sodastream is apparently a crime against humanity because the company assembles and packages its machines in a factory in an illegal Israeli settlement in the West Bank. In fact, her transgression is so severe that international antipoverty charity Oxfam International asked her to give up the ad or stop serving as one of their celebrity “ambassadors”. No doubt they were shocked and chagrined when she opted in favor of honoring her contract with Sodastream. Never mind that the United Nations, the European Union, the US government and the governments of EVERY OTHER NATION ON THE PLANET have all failed to do anything meaningful or effective to bring an end to illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. Ms. Johansson is a celebrity, and is therefore subject to higher expectations than mere heads of state, UN General Secretaries or democratic nation-states.
Alongside the critiques of Ms. Johansson’s heinous and callous disregard for her responsibilities are the comments about what Mr. Hoffman should have done about his addiction. He should have given up acting, he should have gone to rehab, he should have done (fill in the blank) . Never mind that many of those offering such expert opinions have never even talked with an addict, let alone suffered from an addiction (at least not a socially unacceptable one like heroin) themselves. As with Ms. Johansson, Mr. Hoffman was a celebrity, and therefore subject to higher expectations than other mortals.
The problem with the easy moral outrage of the internet age is how hypocritical it is. It’s easy to dash off a couple of lines of “expert” commentary on a tragic death, but not actually do anything to address the epidemic of heroin addiction in this country. It’s easy to click “share” on link about injustice and exploitation in the West Bank, but not actually do anything that will bring that injustice to an end. It’s easy for us to sit back on our high horses and say what Mr. Hoffman should have done about his addiction without doing anything about the disease of addiction in our own communities. It’s easy for us to say which moral principles Ms. Johansson should take a stand on without actually burdening ourselves at all. It’s easy to expect celebrities to be better than we are. It’s easy to expect others to take the specks out of their eyes while ignoring the logs in our own.
So if you’re upset about the settlements in the West Bank, do something hard. Call your congressperson. Not just once, or even twice. Call them again and again and again until they hear you. Better still, educate the people you know about the issue, and do something together. Pack up a dozen of your closest friends and go protest outside the Israeli embassy for a week. Or a month. Or a year. Don’t expect Scarlett Johansson to sacrifice more on this issue than you’re willing to.
If you grieve the fact that another human being is dead because of an addiction, do something about it. Call a rehab facility in your area and volunteer. Offer to sponsor an addict’s treatment. Try actually talking to a recovering addict. Does your church host a Narcotics Anonymous group? If not, why not? Call your local NA office and offer them space in your building. Don’t bewail the death of the celebrity addict while ignoring the non-famous addicts in your own community.
If moral outrage expressed via the interwebs had the power to end the settlements, it would have happened by now. If pontification about addiction had any real effect, it would have happened after the death of Heath Ledger. Or Corey Monteith. Or Chris Kelly. Or… You get the idea. That’s the difference between the social media world and the real world: in the real world, change is hard, and it requires work.