A few weeks ago I saw a social media post that purported to demonstrate the relative smallness of the state of Texas by superimposing the state's silhouette over a map of Manhattan. I forget the exact wording of the post but it said something like, see, Texas is really tiny; it would fit comfortably in the Lower East Side.
A lot of like-minded people found this funny. Probably because we have so often heard about Texas' largeness, and because we know Texas to be, in fact, a great honking enormity of a state. We perceived the post as a joke, more about the pendants who employ similar visual aids to call to our attention that Africa is, in fact, really big.
So some of us start to make silly comments. I vouched for the tininess of Texas. A Texas resident did so as well, noting it took so long to get from Dallas to Houston because Texas cars were really lousy. There might have been 15 or 20 affirmations of the smallness of Texas before someone earnestly set out to prove us all wrong.
"Fake news! Texas is about the size of France!" came the indignant comment. Ding ding ding.
Well yes, Texas is actually about 23 percent larger than France.
But France has more than 40 million more people. So if France and Texas got in a fight, and none of their buddies jumped in, would the French win? Wait, before you answer, consider that Chuck Norris lives in Texas. And Jean Claude Van Damme is Belgian and lives in Los Angeles.
Here I could say something about if the French are feeling froggy they should jump, but that wouldn't be funny because even though some people in Texas say, "if you're feeling froggy, go on, jump" the word "frog" is sometimes used as a derogatory term for French people.
So I won't say that because the point is not to denigrate the French--who have one l'enfer of a set-up over there--or the poor Texans who can't help it that their state is so eensy, but only to point out that there is among us a graceless and tone-deaf element that always ruins the joke and makes it difficult for the rest of us to enjoy this wonderful, absurd and potentially expiring planet during our limited time on it.
Quit stepping on the jokes, people.
We know Texas is in fact a very large state, as states go, and that birds are in fact, feathered descendants of dinosaurs and not government surveillance robots.
I used to think one of the problems with not just Americans but with people in general is a reluctance to take anything seriously. Given a choice between a seminar on, say, rising food insecurity and Judge Joe Brown settling Johnny Depp's libel suit against Amber Heard, most of us are going to gravitate toward the pretty rich people bickering channel.
Ignorance really is bliss, especially when there doesn't appear to be much any of us can do about famine and malnutrition in South Sudan and northeast Nigeria except feel really bad about it.
But now we do take at least some things seriously; the problem is it's the wrong things. A lot of us in this country--and maybe in France too--have the idea that the only way to act in the face of a little disrespect is to get a little froggy and jump.
Just slap that Chris Rock fella if he does his job and makes you uncomfortable with his mouthiness. Just (try to) arm tackle that Dave Chappelle dude if you think he's being boorish with his remarks about the trans community. Just cancel Bill Murray or Frank Langella because they allegedly did and said inappropriate things in a workplace where people pretend to be smart and sexy and funny and evil and all sorts of things they do most decidedly are not.
It's not that people don't take anything seriously, it's that people take the wrong things seriously. Regarding Frank Langella's problems, why is there even a job title of intimacy coordinator?
I'm not defending anyone here. I don't know what happened on those sets, and can certainly understand why Will Smith felt like he had to bow up on Pookie (which, for the literal minded who are still among us and confused, was a character Rock plays in the 1991 movie "New Jack City").
And no one ought to have to put up with men being nasty and lecherous around them. I don't even think intimacy coordinator is all that silly a job (though we could probably come up with a better title) given the kind of things that actors are contractually required to do. I just don't think we ought to care all that much about these incidents, which, despite everybody's best intentions and efforts, are going to occur from time to time given human sexuality and the inability of any of us to fully comprehend all of the consequences of all of our actions.
Misunderstandings happen. Some people gonna perv.
And that's icky. But it shouldn't be all that interesting to grownups who presumably have their own laundry to fold and their own lives to lead.
Of course, we all know--and I am certainly speaking to a self-selected elite of people who actually read newspaper columnists who lead with fake news about Texas' relative size--that this stuff is designed to distract us, because we have created a world where attention is monetized and people understand that it's important to engage readers and keep them reading for as long as possible and to get them to share these columns on social media, especially Twitter because that's somehow important enough for Elon Musk to want to own it, maybe just so he can set it on fire . . .
Sorry. We all want to look at what's shiny, fluffy, lewd and ultimately insignificant because it distracts us from what might make us very sad. Like war and starving babies and generations idling away their lives with diminished expectations and discount dreams. Things that might make us feel bad, rather than stirred up and defiant and ready to fight our neighbors who might have voted for someone whose commercials we can't abide.
You know most of us could probably stand to feel bad about some things, because a lot of our freedom and autonomy was purchased with blood and misery. Most of us are going to blank that stuff out and pretend we earned whatever we've got and we weren't lucky to be born in the right place, at the right time, with the right sort of parents.
But the thing is, we all are lucky, and we ought to have the grace to know and acknowledge that, as well as the license to be a little playful sometimes.
After all, this ain't little Texas.
Philip Martin is a columnist and critic for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.