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How social media turns historic moments into comical junk (and can also bring surprising sanity)

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Smith Galtney

Kim Davis has invaded my dreams. Anytime I closed my eyes during the long weekend, there she was, lurking in the near distance. She wasn’t a monster. She didn’t scratch at my window or rattle the foundation of my home and marriage. She was just … there. And all she did was stare at me, with eyes that never blinked and her mouth locked in an eternal smirk. I tried to make her laugh, perhaps win her over with my charm, but Davis was a statue. Not unlike McKayla Maroney, the Olympic gymnast turned Internet sensation, she was cold and stony and forever unimpressed.

So it goes when a headline becomes a meme-fueled obsession. The tale of Kim Davis is a simple one: A county clerk in Kentucky with strong faith and a complicated past goes to jail for not issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. But thanks to social media, naturally, the whole thing bloated into an unavoidable junk opera, with the marriage-equality camp shaming the fundamentalists, and the fundamentalists shaming the Supreme Court, and extreme liberals shaming everyone for not giving a trigger warning before using the word “shame.” Some real-life, civil-rights history went down last week. You just had to fish it out of a steady stream of pious JPEGs and fat jokes.

It all began in early July, when David Ermold and David Moore, who’ve been together for 17 years, posted a video of Davis denying their request for a license. Not only was it 15 minutes long, but also I’d grown skeptical of YouTube clips with a mission. (Remember the one of the guy getting “gay-bashed,” only the “homophobic attacker” turned out to be gay, too, and the incident was actually a catfight?) I watched as much as I could, and seethed, but my anger was quickly displaced once Trump’s campaign picked up steam and Cecil the Lion got killed. (Not to imply the two are related. Or are they?)

Then on August 26, a meme appeared in my Facebook feed featuring a still from the video and this text: “KIM DAVIS WONT LET HIM GET MARRIED. KIM DAVIS HAS BEEN MARRIED FOUR TIMES.” With that, the “hypocrite” ammo was locked and loaded, and soon the shite was flying in all directions. If anyone commented in favor of “religious freedom,” the basic response was, “Kim Davis is a two-faced whore who had two children out of wedlock.” One friend even compared her zealotry to Osama Bin Laden. (Meriting an immediate “unfollow.”) Amid cries of how gay marriage spells “the end of days” and hopes that Davis will “rot in hell,” I received a push notification from The New York Times that started: “Prosecutors to Seek Death Penalty …” I thought, That’s a little harsh, no? Then I saw it was about Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof, not Kim Davis. I went to bed feeling like a horrible person.

I did feel some joy when a cousin from Lexington posted, “If I were a Rowan County clerk refusing to issue marriage licenses, I’d at least get a decent haircut knowing the cameras are rolling.” The outpouring of “she should do her job” sentiment it stirred was a gentle, obvious reminder that most people in Kentucky are not like Kim Davis. But then came the comments about her weight (“obviously she doesn’t have a problem with gluttony”) and style (“You wanna talk abomination? A long-sleeved shirt under a sundress”). Once again, Facebook felt like that first, classy glass of wine that somehow turned into a three-bottle bender.

Thankfully, there is one unspoiled diamond in the social-media rough, and it is Sitnexto Kim Davis (@nexttokimdavis). The fictional Twitter account imagines the work life of the woman seated near Davis in all those press photos, and it is a fine piece of Internet theater. Tweets range from the silly (“Hey, @andersoncooper—we’re out of f*cking creamer. Your guys got some in the truck?”) to the sublime (“#KimDavis—Did God order you not to refill the Xerox tray, too?”). And the first tweet once the news broke that Davis was off to jail? “Come on down to the Rowan County Clerk’s Office and I’ll marry a f*cking chair to a tiger.” Whenever I hear Mike Huckabee preach about “the criminalization of Christianity,” I will take a deep breath and revisit this Twitter gem, instead of posting a cheap joke about his dad jeans.

Tags: Opinion
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