Vive la fraternite. Vive le Facebook.
The red, white and blue profile-photo filter was just the right touch for expressing sympathy for and solidarity with the French people in the wake of the Friday the Thirteenth attacks. Simple, subtle, clear, and most of all self-effacing. So seldom does it go that way.
The ghastly horrors of 9/11 and Oklahoma City, among many other bloody catastrophes, were followed immediately by repulsive aftershocks of self-congratulatory ad messages from marketers that in some cases cynically exploited mass death to burnish their images, or were simply tone deaf to the trivialization of tragedy.
There is often an impulse to say something appropriately sensitive in the midst of grieving. But it’s strangely hard to find the right expression of sadness or condolence. Ask any young parent who has ever lost a child: “You’ll have more.” “God has a plan.” “She’s in a better place.” “At least you have the other kids.”
In mourning, as in medicine, the guiding principle of condolence is “First do no harm.” Or, put another way: just shut the fuck up.
On Twitter amid the chaos of Paris, there was, of course, a torrent of expressions from helpless onlookers: outrage, disbelief, horror, deep empathy; some was poignant, some banal. And some so insipid as to gloss over the cruel and complex realities of the crime to victims, survivors, countrymen, political actors, refugees and all parties in the ecosystem of terrorist barbarism.
John Stamos @JohnStamos
What the world needs now is love, sweet love. It's the only thing that there's just too little of. #PrayForPeace#Paris
Really, John? For your 1.6 million followers, you reduce terrorist slaughter to a Burt Bacharach lyric? Why not visit the home of a next of kin and drop that pearl of wisdom? Or better yet, just shut the fuck up.
Now, I may be a little oversensitive at the moment, because I have just lost a loved one and have been the beneficiary of my own condolence torrent -- most of it perfunctory, all of it kind and some of it just a bull in a mortuary. It’s just that the impulse to say something comforting is not always matched with sensitivity or common sense.
On the theory that it’s all well intentioned, one doesn’t typically call out a well-wisher for a gaffe. Because everybody’s motives are pure.
The same cannot be said of corporations, however. There is no presumption of anything, except for the fraught conflict between the human sentiments of human employees and the profit motive. When consumer brands spend money to weigh in one tragedy, it is at best naïve and most likely stupid to not see the branding imperative at work.
When, to cite one especially ugly example, Makita power tools humble bragged in its post-Oklahoma City advertising that its products were used in the rescue effort, no rhetoric of “thoughts and prayers” could paper over the naked self-promotion.
And who can forget the automakers and their flag-waving sales promotions after 9/11, turning a bloody wound to the soul of a nation into a 3,000-dead Sale-a-Bration.
This is what I expected to see over the weekend.
Though it may well materialize, it has not thus far. For my part, I don’t want to hear about General Motors' sadness, I don’t want to see any Clydesdales, I don’t want to hear the Hallmark sentiments of any entity incorporated in the state of Delaware.
If you feel the urge coming on, I urge you instead to just hop onto Facebook. Cover your profile pic with the French flag. And otherwise, please, just shut the fuck up.