A friend, who, like many of my friends, has shaded his Facebook profile picture with the French tricolor, shared Jonathan Tobin’s thoughts on the trend. “[I]f Facebook had been around in 1941,” Tobin quotes a friend as saying, Americans wouldn’t have “wasted their time changing their profile pictures [or] posting John Lennon song lyrics . . . . Instead they would . . . say it was time to go out and kill these bleeps.” Tobin concedes that those with similar reservations “are undoubtedly right” and that we should “concentrate on killing our enemies” rather than emoting on the Internet, and he lays out hard-nosed policies that people horrified by the French terror attacks should support. But he also calls the criticism “a little bit unfair,” likening the Facebook displays to “a flag hanging in front of your house.”
I’m not sure. I understand the emotional power of symbols and, as Tobin puts it, the need of those “helpless to do anything” else to express sympathy and “an unwillingness to let the incident pass without comment.” But Tobin is wrong, I think, to analogize the profile picture shadings to flying a flag in front of one’s home. It would be a different story if people were changing their profile pictures to the French flag itself—as some did with the Israeli flag in response to the recent terrorist attacks there. A flag is a dignified and serious symbol of solidarity and resolve. By contrast, there’s something about the artsy profile-pic shading that seems, as Tobin’s friend suggests, unserious and frivolous in the face of evil. Perhaps it’s the fact that the Facebook user making the statement is still the center of the picture, reflecting the self-indulgent narcissism that started with the Baby Boomers and reached its nadir last week with the “cry-bully” millennials at Yale, Mizzou, and other campuses.
Like Tobin, I’m open to the idea that I’m being unfair to the profile-shaders. It’s possible that it only seems offensive in the context of the other more glaringly inappropriate social media responses, such as the “Peace for Paris” symbol, which Mark Steyn eviscerates in a typically withering column: “Isn’t that a cool, stylish way of showing how saddy-saddy-sadcakes you are about all those corpses in the streets of Paris? It’s already gone viral! And that’s all that matters, isn’t it? Our enemies use social media to distribute snuff videos as a means of recruitment. We use it to confirm to them how passive and enervated we are.”
The Eiffel Tower peace symbol isn’t just a feel-good, how-could-anyone-object representation of the universal longing for an end to war. Rather, from its origin in the campaign for unilateral Western nuclear disarmament against the Soviet Union, it has had an expressly political meaning served as an emblem for a dovish military policy. Thus, intentionally or not, the seemingly innocuous “Peace for Paris” logo manipulates people’s revulsion at Islamic terrorism into an expression of opposition to responding forcefully to it.
This kind of manipulation reaches a farcical peak in the invoking of John Lennon’s 1971 song “Imagine.” As one Facebook poster aptly put it: “Really? Could there possibly be a more wrong-headed response to the Paris massacre? This song is emblematic of exactly the kind of squishy, ‘no countries, no religions, nothing to fight or die for’ mentality in the West that has opened the door to the atrocities of the Islamic jihad.” Indeed: there are things worth fighting and dying for, and the defense of civilization against barbarism is surely one of them.