Punching Down While Punching Up

There’s a phenomenon I’ve been thinking about for a while–I think it started after I read this Salon piece about Justine Sacco–I think of it as ‘punching down while punching up’. People like Justine Sacco, who become not just targets of internet outrage but disproportionate and widespread internet outrage, that spreads beyond subsectors of the internet like the social justice community and is picked up by the mainstream media–I think there is usually both an element of punching up and an element of punching down. People get to experience the self-righteousness of getting angry at someone for being, in Sacco’s case, racist, while at the same time getting the naughty thrill of misogyny.

Once I started noticing it, I noticed it in a lot of other places besides internet outrage-scapegoats-of-the-week.

In the case of Chris Christie, they get to be mad at him for corruption, a bullying attitude, and/or being a Republican, but still get to put him down for his weight.

In the case of an article called, cluelessly, Why The Fat Guy Should Lose His Privilege, they get to be against male privilege but for thin privilege (for men).

In the case of Paula Deen, they get to be anti-racism, while engaging in a little obesity panic, a little fatshaming directed towards Deen personally, a little misogyny, and a little regionalistic prejudice.

When it seems like the entire internet is going past proportionate response, past disproportionate response, and straight into complete loss of perspective, scratch the surface, and there’s usually some punching-up-while-punching-down going on.

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One Response to Punching Down While Punching Up

  1. G says:

    Hm, I hadn’t thought about it this way before– “punching down while punching up” is an excellent way to call it. People get the social sanction of satire and celebrity critique, while feeling the elevated self-worth from mocking someone of lesser status (in some ways). It’s an irresistible combination…

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