Scandals occur across industries; for politics, one merely has to utter the word “Clinton” to get a knee-jerk reaction. In business, 2005 was a particularly sore spot for Tyco — a company that faced 600 million dollars worth of internal theft — who saw widespread scrutiny from mainstream media sources taint its name for months. Today, the eyes are on the entertainment business; actor Jussie Smollett at present faces one to three years in prison if convicted for the offense of ‘staging an attack.’ However, as the ongoing events surrounding the FOX signee will unravel over time, the response(s) at present, have revealed an unprecedented media spectacle, mob mentality of the masses on either side of the fence, and layered internal prejudices.
The media’s facilitation of the narrative
From this narratives inception, tabloid media platform, TMZ has helped in framing Jussie Smollett’s every move. With “allegedly” guiding their way, the site have been relentless in being the first or one of the first to document the on-goings of the case. They helped incite the rumour that Smollett had paid 3,500 dollars for his attack to be staged. Ironically, at the time of writing (Sunday, February 24th) TMZ was one of the news sources to report that the entertainer may not have written a letter to himself, which in turn forms a fundamental part of his “staging” charges.
What’s unique about this case, is that many outlets trusted TMZ and reported with urgency citing the platform as a source. In the past, media outlets, even on the most neutral of cases, have refrained from using TMZ in their articles or social media posts. In a 2016 article, the Washington Post commented on this reluctance in trusting the website across the board. As writer Paul Farhi notes “Although it has been quite reliable on many major stories, mainstream news sources are reluctant to rely on its say so alone.” In the case of Michael Jackson’s passing for instance, outlets waited for Associated Press — a more trusted source — before reporting.
While it can be said that TMZ has both grown and entrenched itself in media, it still is marked as a tabloid outlet, meaning that it conventionally doesn’t hold a high degree of weight on a broad spectrum as a source amongst the masses.
Social media and the mob of majorities
If it wasn’t traditional media sources creating a spectacle in relation to Smollett’s proceedings, it was social media and the “hot take” culture that exists on them. Many people, instead of waiting for the facts to surface, persisted to comment on how they couldn’t wait until the masses were “wrong” for taking either stance on the matter. Ego permeated and continues to permeate throughout this case. Its existence, in some ways, draws close parallels to cancel culture.
An article by w24 mind has commented on the prioritization of self, as opposed to the wider point at hand, that plagues cancel culture. “… But when we assign ourselves judge and jury, quick to rake offenders over the coals and often forgetting that we’re imperfect human beings” Tammy February summarizes.
Ignoring the wider scope of the quote, the main takeaway is that in many of the conversations that dominate Twitter nowadays, self importance is the precursor and the actual topic at hand appears to be an afterthought. With Jussie Smollett not even at the mercy of judge and jury yet, it’s interesting to see that a wide majority of people have indulged in the 280 character limit back and forth and already have exhausted their stances.
Some have noted the increased amount of biases that have manifested over the last month in response to Smollett’s current scandal. In the wake of the Revolt’s networks’ ‘State of Culture’ February 18th airing, panellist Scottie Beam faced persistent misogyny on her Instagram for believing the ‘Empire’ actors hate crime claims. She tweeted a series of direct messages that likened her to a monkey, referred to her as “bitch” and other expletives in response to her support for Jussie Smollett’s side of the story.
Furthermore, writer Richy Rosario made the claim that Black heterosexual men have displayed homophobia in their initial silence as the “hate crime” story broke. Writing for VIBE, Roasrio notes that Black men can’t just be vocal when “rapping about the inequalities of the straight black man from the hood in America.”
While homophobia may have been present in the reaction or lack of reaction initially, this case as a whole has unmasked an ugly side in all arenas. It remains to be seen if Smollett is guilty at all, as the reporting of the case changes by the hour. The Chicago Police Department may have even spoken prematurely in regards to important evidence as it pertains to the accused party.
We’re in an era of failing to act diligently and responsibly, lacking a critical eye when it matters most, and refusing to demonstrate patience when it’s tempting to react in the heat of the moment, myself included. As this case continues to unfold, hopefully we’ll begin to learn important takeaways on both a societal and individual level.
Photo credit: JOSHUA LOTT / REUTERS