Today, Chris Brown–the singer probably most famous for beating the shit out of Rihanna–tweeted a series of somewhat nonsensical, but awareness-raising tweets about the horrifying massacre that took place yesterday in Houla, Syria.
My cynicism immediately kicked in, and I tweeted: “Oh look, @chrisbrown took time off from beating his girlfriend to show empathy for Syrians.” While the tweet got quite a bit of positive response, I also got some death threats, nasty words, and criticism for my outburst. Since the former is not worth my time, I’d like to focus on the latter: Some folks feel that because Chris Brown–who has 10 million Twitter followers–tweeted about Syria briefly, that something might change. Let me put it bluntly: I do not.
— Destiny Gonzales (@deenasty_x) May 27, 2012
How, exactly, do you think anything might change in Syria because the people who follow Chris Brown–a man whose opening salvo on Syria was “#HoulaMassacre OMG!!!!! Not cool!”–are now vaguely aware that something happened in Syria, a place that Americans (whom, I’m guessing constitute most of Brown’s followers) have no control over whatsoever? I mean, Americans have been fully aware for a decade now that our own troops are killing Iraqis–something that we, as Americans, actually do, in theory, have the power to stop with our votes–and have done just about nothing.
Rather, I suspect that those who learned something today from Chris Brown might pause for a moment, hug their children a little tighter tonight, but tomorrow go on as if before.
Or perhaps I’m wrong. And if so, what is the best possible outcome of Chris Brown’s tweets? Is it like the KONY 2012 campaign? Surely, awareness was raised, though I doubt Ugandan children are better off for it. Perhaps if enough celebrities tweeted, maybe the US would intervene in Syria (an idea which debatably could make things worse on the ground). Ideally, a (more than a) few people would turn into activists themselves, and work toward tangible societal change. Maybe that’s the best we can hope for.
The nice folks who tweet from @openAwakening responded by saying “Hope springs eternal… awareness is step 1” – and I don’t think they’re wrong. But as they later tweeted: “Anyone else feel that the way hashtags rise and fall is a form of passing indifference? We need sustained awareness! #HoulaMassacre.”
Because that’s precisely it: Sustained awareness is what matters, awareness enough to care, to do something. And perhaps there is not a single thing any of us can immediately do to fix Syria*, but if, one by one, we become aware, and keep caring, and activate, then eventually we will accomplish something. But I can assure you that won’t come from a few million people seeing a poorly-written tweet from a pop singer who beats women.
*Not entirely true: I think there are lots of little things we can do. For my part, I’ve focused on helping Syrians resist online surveillance.