On being … able to

I’m sure you heard about Cosby show actor (Geoffrey Owens) who was working at a grocery store when a shopper recognized him a couple weeks ago and snapped a picture of him. But that wasn’t all she did. She then shared the photos on the Internet. It’s not clear to me whether she posted them on regular social media (like Facebook), or whether she sent them to so-called celebrity websites, though she says no one paid her for the photos. In any event, shortly after she posted the pictures, a UK tabloid ran them and interviewed her about them.

To start, the idea of intentionally taking a stranger’s photo is really odd to me. It’s one thing if you’re taking a photo of something and there are anonymous people in the picture. That’s innocent enough – kind of like seeing someone walking on the street in a Google Earth photo. But to surreptitiously take a photo and then post it, you have to wonder why?

I realize that, thanks to cell phone cameras, taking pictures is a regular thing. And I know that people post all sorts of things on-line. Indeed, that was basically the rationale given by Karma Lawrence, the woman who took the photos and posted them. She said, “I figure everybody does it.” My immediate reaction was that her mother probably never chided her about not jumping off a bridge just because all your friends are doing it.

Anyway, after the initial “shock” that a once well-known actor was working in a grocery store got out there, the focus of the story shifted to Karma and her intent in posting the photos. Lots of people accused her of “job shaming”, which she denied.

By the end of the week, the tawdry tale ended up as a good news story, of sorts. Owens took the high road throughout the kerfuffle. He politely explained (not that it was anyone’s business) that he took the job because he needed to pay bills and support his family and because it offered the flexibility for him to go to auditions and the like. He also stressed the dignity of honest work, regardless of the pay or the status. A few days later, word came that he accepted a role on Tyler Perry’s TV show. So, all’s well that ends well, at least for Mr. Owens, so it seems.

The most ironic twist of the whole tale doesn’t relate to Mr. Owens. It relates to, Ms. Lawrence – Karma – and the fact that she seemed surprised by the backlash and nasty comments directed at her. After the incident, she was quoted as complaining, “So much hate. So much nastiness. Oh, it’s been terrible”. (I guess her mother never told her that what goes around comes around… Perhaps she figured naming her Karma would be enough of a hint.)

The reason I wanted to write about this story is because of what I think it says about normalized behaviour. Actually, I was going to say “acceptable behaviour”, but that’s what I think the problem is. I’m concerned about behaviour that’s questionable – or wrong – but that people feel comfortable doing because it’s somehow become acceptable.

I jokingly commented that it seemed Karma’s mother never warned her about not following her friends off a bridge, but that really speaks to simply avoiding the herd mentality. Though that’s clearly at play, what concerns me more is that there’s no shame in shaming people.

More and more these days, people’s behaviour is governed simply by what they are able to do (like taking a photo and posting it). It seems people don’t stop and ask themselves whether what they’re about to do is right or wrong, or what the repercussions might be – to others or to themselves even. (Hence the surprise Karma Lawrence had about, well, the law of Karma.) 

And, with the president of the Unites States exhibiting no impulse control and relentlessly engaging in bullying, shaming, defaming, and mocking people, countries, and institutions, it seems more and more people feel empowered to follow suit. Indeed, I think that’s the legacy from the Trump years that will do the most damage.

Maybe all those folks who support Trump, or who dare not contradict him, figure that eventually the law of Karma will catch up to him too. I imagine it will, but between now and when that happens, I wish people would remember that just because you can say or do something, it doesn’t mean you should.

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona


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