You may have seen a series of memes featuring the alcoholic product “Twisted Tea” recently. If you haven’t seen the viral video on which they’re based, they won’t make much sense to you. If you do know what the meme refers to, though, you may be wondering if it’s as funny as people think it is.
It happened recently in Ohio. A skinny white man, quite young and probably drunk, is having words with a larger, more solidly built black man. The black man is holding a can of Twisted Tea, apparently about to cash out, but distracted by his dialogue with the white man. At one point, the black man drops the can and bends down to pick it up. The white man tries, too late, to kick the can (or the black man) with a half-hearted and slow sweep of his foot.
This attempt to kick him or his property is the last straw for the black man, who is tired of being called the n-word by the white man. He smashes the can into the white man’s face with such force that the can practically explodes. Then he proceeds to beat the daylights out of the white man, all the while demanding, “Call me n—– again! Call me n—– again!” Someone behind the camera, presumably the person filming, can be heard saying, “I don’t blame you.”
The meme became popular because we all enjoy seeing someone who is rude and obnoxious get his or her comeuppance. No, you ought not be staggering around convenience stores or gas stations drunkenly hurling racial slurs at people if you don’t want to get your very punchable face, well, punched. The Germans even have a word for this: backpfeifengesicht. That’s the literal translation of the word — gesicht is face, and backpfeifen is basically “slap” or “slapping.” When you have backpfeifengesicht, you have a slappy-face, and boy, did this fellow have that.
The Internet went nuts as the Internet tends to do. Many of the memes were absolutely hilarious: Boba Fett dropping a Twisted Tea on Tie Fighters, causing them to explode; AR15s with Twisted Teas mounted to them where grenade launchers would go; John Wick loading his pistol’s magazine with tiny Twisted Teas, and so on. But lost in all this celebrating about the fact that a jerk got his jerk face punched inward repeatedly is a question nobody seems to be asking:
Is it okay to beat the hell out of someone for using a word you don’t like?
Our legal system, while it does pay some lip service to the notion of “fighting words,” generally does not support the idea that you can assault someone physically for insulting you. Certainly there was a time in our society — a time now past — when you could expect to get decked for running your mouth inappropriately. These days, however, our world is considerably more litigious. If you punch someone, you’re more likely to hear them bleat, “I’ll sue you! I’ll sue you!” than you are to have them fight back.
Much more importantly, if I call you a bad word and then you punch me, it isn’t me who’s breaking the law — it’s you. Our legal system generally does not support battery as an acceptable response to any interaction that is only words, as long as those words are not themselves a threat of imminent harm.
Ayn Rand, author of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, was fond of saying that there were only two ways that human beings could deal with one another. Those two ways were reason and force. The first person to remove the interaction from the realm of reason to the realm of force is establishing an interaction that only can be answered with more force. You cannot talk out your differences with someone who is punching you; you can only punch back.
Philosophical issues aside, though, there’s a more practical issue at play here. When we’re all celebrating someone getting their rear end kicked because they used a bad word, we are creating a precedent. There have been a slew of physical assaults in recent memory, all of which had one thing in common: The attackers, who were black, claimed the white victims had used racial slurs and that this justified the assaults.
This was the case with a Macy’s employee several months back, in which one sadist filmed another sadist beating a white victim who could only mewl and apologize and curl into a fetal ball while he was being beaten. The attackers claimed that they were justified because the white man used the n-word… but surveillance video revealed that this was a lie. The word was never spoken; the attackers only knew that they could use the lie about this racial slur as an excuse for physical assault.
This is what I fear. This is what our celebration of the Twisted Tea meme portends. We’re all laughing at a guy who got beaten up for using a bad word. That’s not how our society is supposed to work — and beating a man for using a word you dislike does not make you a hero.