February 5, 2013
Trayvon Martin (Martin family/Associated Press)
Trayvon Martin (Martin family/Associated Press)

I would really like to denounce Todd Kincannon. What he tweeted at the Super Bowl referencing Trayvon Martin was just downright ugly. If I did, you would read this. You would say, “Oh, yes, what a terrible racist homophobe! How right you were to point this out! I, too, am indignant! Man the barricade!”

I would also, perversely, like to spring to his defense. What he tweeted at the Super Bowl was downright ugly, but it was within his rights to say it. If I did, you might read this.  “Free speech,” you would say. “How true, how important! How vital to protect even the speech I most dislike — especially the speech I most dislike! That man doesn’t deserve death threats! Man the other, unrelated barricade!”

But I can’t in good conscience do either.

Jamil Smith tweeted that he didn’t think he’d ever seen a more offensive tweet than Kincannon’s. Daily Show co-creator Lizz Winstead echoed the sentiment

But if you read Kincannon’s feed, it is clear that he wants to be the Daily Show. “Yep. I ain’t dumb. RT @JimmyPrinceton @ToddKincannon Jon Stewart is more effective than CNN or MSNBC,” he notes.

If only this were that.

This is low-rent trolling. Trolls serve a purpose. Trolling is a noble, ancient art. It shows how ugly people become when they yell. These trolls have thick hides and they keep unwanted travelers off bridges. Some trolls think of themselves as providing us with the Brilliant Satire We So Richly Deserve. If Kincannon is to be believed, this is exactly what he is doing.

“.@dkirkland I’m not stupid,” he tweets. “I see where this is going. “‘Politainment’ is the way of the future. And the Right better understand that [excrement].”

He is in that precise position where you think your number of Twitter followers correlates to your value. “35,000 people can’t be wrong. RT @theginsin @ToddKincannon You are neither thought provoking, nor entertaining.”

Maybe he is the satire we deserve. America will always need people who think “Family Guy” is really edgy and poking fun at our Sacred Cows. One man’s brilliant satire is another man’s laundry list of Offensive Groaners.

The trouble with thick-skinned people capable of rolling with the punches is that they make the brawl last longer than it ought to. This brawl has already lasted far too long.

The rest of his feed is jokes about Natalie Wood (“What kind of wood doesn’t float? Natalie”) and Natalie Holloway, the precise level of tasteless joke you would read on the side of a rude popsicle. “Why, even Helen Keller could see it!” he jokes, if joke is the word I want.

There is nothing wrong with offensive jokes. And he’s within his right to make them.

But the most offensive tweet ever?

There are certain segments of the Internet that anger easily. And given the way we share things on social media, indignation catches faster than pretty much any other emotion than “HEY LOOK, A CAT DID A THING.” We circle the wagons. We hiss.

There is a program you can download to assist with the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, scanning vast clumps of data to see if there are any signs, however faint, of life.

There is a parallel equivalent, running at all times: the search for Online Unintelligence. Not by just anyone — by people with whom you disagree. Whenever someone in some obscure hallway of a state legislature says something ridiculous, sexist or racist, an alarm sounds in the bowels of the Internet and we all go rushing out to man the barricades. Anyone who was Formerly Someone Moderately Important (Kincannon was formerly the GOP director in South Carolina) or is running to become so, is fair game. Heck, sometimes we’ll even search by hideous sentiment and then post the names and faces of everyone who expressed it so they can get fired.

We know how this goes so well that people have started doing it on purpose, mistaking it for satire.

It is so easy to think that just because despicable people are yelling at you, you are right. But this is far from being the case. Sometimes, you are just wrong. “No,” you say, “look, this jerk is threatening my life.” This doesn’t mean that what you said was right. And even if it was right, that doesn’t mean it was polite or well-expressed.

Politeness is a strange molehill to die on.

Someone like Kincannon places a depth charge and then waits for the flies to come flocking to it. More flies are caught with vinegar than with honey, if statistics are to be believed.

But when he appeared in voice to defend himself on HuffingtonPost Live, he was polite. He tried to have a discussion.

Of sorts.

But the point of this whole exercise in free speech is what?

It is so easy to be offended. It is so easy to offend. It is a stupid and pointless exercise if that’s all it is. There is no sentiment so base that someone won’t be ruder than you when they reply to it. That doesn’t mean you should feel vindicated for expressing it. That doesn’t mean you should be silenced. It just means a lot of people will wish you had been.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.