Recently I was prepping one of my trivia shows and I came across a “factoid” that I had jotted down years ago about an infamous moment for a celebrity singer. I started crafting a short question about the incident, but stopped myself and wondered- “why would I ask a question about this?”. Sometimes contemplative pauses like this are due to second thoughts I have about the informative and entertaining merit of the “factoid”. In this case, it was because I remembered a promise I made to myself to avoid being carelessly mean-spirited towards people when trying to be entertaining and informative. I call it being “Casually Nasty”, and I believe it’s a more serious problem than being intentionally nasty.
Not that I’m cool with being intentionally mean-spirited, which is a whole other problem and shouldn’t be tolerated in any way, shape, or form. I’m just saying it’s less of a concern because it’s less common, if not rare. You might be thinking, “Wait, I read the posts from trolls in the “Comments” section on news articles, and scroll through vicious exchanges on email chains, or social media feeds- deliberate hatefulness is rampant, buddy!” Well, these examples are actually still what I consider “Casually Nasty”.
Like me, you might remember being purposefully cruel a few times when you were a kid, experimenting with social boundaries and learning what’s acceptable. But, also like me, you’ve probably been guilty of dispersing offhanded malice more frequently and more recently. Heck, you may have even participated in some of those lengthy heated exchanges of hostility from the comfort of your own computer.
Any form of communicating that is an easy alternative compared to saying the same thing when looking someone in the eyes is in the realm of being carelessly mean-spirited. The most common forms are the seemingly aloof comments that some would want you to believe, or you fool yourself into thinking are “all in good fun”. With more and more “channels” through which people have a “voice”, it has become far too easy to be “Casually Nasty”. As a result, it occurs in remarkable abundance, and can be very hurtful and damaging.
Before you post, Tweet, share, comment, reply, snap, text, email, speak, or pin a message, if you want to be certain you aren’t being “Casually Nasty” to people, you can follow the almost foolproof guide I use when writing trivia questions.
“Wait!”, you might ask, “what about the people who seem to have it coming, or only have themselves to blame, or have to suck it up and get used to it if they are going to live in the spotlight? For some people it’s okay, because it’s impossible to NOT be mean-spirited based on their behaviour”. Okay, let’s consider that angle. Who might these people be, about whom it’s impossible for me to write a trivia question without being “Casually Nasty”?
Categories of Stereotypical Kinds of People Who Might Have It Coming:
Someone who says, or does something outrageous that brings the lens of public opinion upon himself or herself. People who are looking for their “15 minutes of fame” (or more) will often go to ridiculous lengths.
“In 2009, what nickname was given to infamous balloon event that the Heene family orchestrated?”
The Heene’s brought unwarranted, costly international attention on themselves, but, for me, it’s the subject that is fair game. It would be “Casually Nasty” to write a question making fun of their son, Falcon, or even attacking their parenting abilities when you don’t know them.
Someone who expresses their ideas, or acts within the context of their lifestyle or occupation that is controversial in the eyes of the general population. While I’m not referring only to career politicians here, bridging actual politics and popculture is a perfect example of fair game for trivia.
In a 1992 speech about the “poverty of values”, then U.S. Vice President Dan Quayle criticized what TV character for being a single mother?
Again, it’s the event itself that’s fair game. I disagree with his position on bearing a child alone as a single parent, but I’m not muddling the question with editorial about how dopey he seems when using a fictional TV character to make a serious point.
Someone who’s in the spotlight of public opinion because they’re a celebrity. Of course celebrities are fair game for trivia questions!
In 2011, what kind of blood did Charlie Sheen rant about having?
Despite his larger-than-life personality and, at times, scandalous behaviour, it would still be insensitive to make light of him being HIV positive. This is, I’m sure, scary for eccentric celebrities as much as anyone else.
Someone who behaves in a scandalous way that is blatantly socially unacceptable, corrupt, or criminal. At first blush, you’d think it’s “open season” on these people!
Found in the possession of criminals like Mark David Chapmam and John Hinckley Jr., what controversial book is associated with serial killers?
As much as TV, books, podcasts, Netflix Original Series, etc… have capitalized on the fascination people have with despicable behaviour by loathsome people, I’m not convinced that there’s anything “informative and entertaining” about something like serial murder. This is a tough one for me, unless I’m confident I don’t come across as glamourizing something dreadful.
Someone who experiences random embarrassing situations that are either no fault of their own, or simply the result of misfortune. Pranks, Fails, Wipeouts, Nip Slips, etc… are increasingly popular fodder in the public domain.
At a 2003 MLB playoff game, what did Steve Bartman reach for at Wrigley Field?
This is another tough one for me because I’m not a big fan of things like pranks, especially when they’re at someone else’s expense, or put people and animals in danger. Plus, I have embarrassing moments in my life that give me the “squirms” when I think of them and would rather not be reminded of, thank you very much. So, I hesitate to put poor Steve Bartman in the crosshairs, but I chose this Chicago Cubs example because the only way for me to justify writing a trivia question about someone in this category, is it has to be just this massively internationally renowned.
Someone who makes you angry, or annoyed, or hurts your feelings. There are going to be friends, family, classmates, neighbours, community members, random citizens of the world, and public figures who you dislike at times.
What was the favourite TV show of the woman I worked with years ago who lied behind my back and undermined my authority?
Yeah, see, it’s highly unlikely that there is any basis for writing an entertaining and informative trivia question about these people. Why I mention them is because they’re often the most likely to be targeted by mean-spirited comments, or be confused with the above categories, both resulting in you being “Casually Nasty”. For example, if you write a trivia question about a Politician you disagree with from a mindset that they’re your Nemesis, you’re going to miss the mark.
Someone with physical characteristics, or personality traits that get public attention because of their more obvious nature. Sure, you can write trivia questions about cute puppies! But, what we’re talking about here is mean-spirited comments, and who in their right mind would be “Casually Nasty” to a puppy? You simply don’t do it!
So, as you can see, even with the above list of the kinds of people who supposedly “only have themselves to blame”, or “have to pay the price for choosing a life in the spotlight”, it’s very possible to either write a trivia question that is more neutral and “topic” oriented, or simply choose not to write a question at all.
I’m going to use a very sensitive example to really drive home the prevalence and problems with being “Casually Nasty”.
Rob Ford, former mayor of Toronto, died of cancer on March 22, 2016. Because I met him only twice, I don’t profess to have any more insight into what he was like as a person than the vast majority of other people. My impression of him face to face was that he was a decent guy, and a proud parent. During his political career, or time in the public spotlight, however, he was often in my crosshairs as a potential subject for content as a comedian and trivia host.
Let me be clear, and respectful to his memory, that Mr. Ford had admirable qualities that would have placed him in other categories of stereotypical kinds of people with positive attributes not listed in this post. At the same time, he could have been included in ALL of the above categories listed of the Stereotypical Kinds of People Who Might Have It Coming. This is based not on my informed opinion about him as an individual, but on my perception of him. This is why it’s so very important to me to be vigilant about not being carelessly mean-spirited.
Warhol Rob Ford: Wearing an NFL tie at the media conference when he confessed to smoking crack cocaine.
Politician Rob Ford: Refusing to attend the Toronto Pride Parade.
Rockstar Rob Ford: Dressed like a mobster-magician on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
Villain Rob Ford: Smoking crack cocaine.
Spaz Rob Ford: Stumbling and falling with a football on a TV news clip.
Nemesis Rob Ford: Blatantly and repeatedly lying about smoking an illegal substance.
Puppy Rob Ford: A hefty guy who carried a towel to wipe the sweat from his brow.
It is possible to write some neutral, “topic” oriented trivia based on the “factoids” above. But, mostly, in order to avoid being “Casually Nasty”, it’s best to opt not to write anything at all. Yet, for someone so widely exposed in the media, and such an easy target across ALL categories, the temptation to abandon the rules and lash out, or make jokes is strong, and many people have and do. In light of his recent, tragic passing, some people will temporarily hesitate; “there’s no room for mean-spirited comments about him, intentional or otherwise, at this time of mourning”. My point is, if there’s no room for them now, when would there have ever been? Even when his crack denial, public displays of inebriation and lies were at the peak of their insanity, he still had children to whom you would not say mean-spirited things about him. There’s simply no basis for someone to be a deserved recipient of hateful comments.
Being “Casually Nasty” is when you’re far enough removed from your words or actions, that you don’t sense the magnitude of their impact on others. This applies to when you naively make an offhanded comment, or are intentionally caustic in the absence of clear and present danger. I’m not suggesting people shouldn’t have a “voice”, or that critics, cynics, satirists, humorists, journalists, or anyone else for that matter, should be silenced. Sometimes informed opinions are hard for people to hear. Not everyone is going to like what people say about them. They may even have their feelings hurt. What I am saying is that carelessly mean-spirited comments can be just as hateful as those with intent, it has become too easy to be hateful, and there’s just no acceptable place for it.
In the example I described at the very outset of this post, the person I was going to write a trivia question about was a Rockstar who found herself in a Spaz situation. I’m not going to tell you the infamous incident that I was referring to, (because that would defeat the purpose of not referencing it in the form of a trivia question in order to avoid being carelessly mean-spirited). What I will tell you is that while her Rockstar status made her a viable target for a trivia question, when I considered the Spaz-like circumstances of the “factoid”, I felt I could no longer be entertaining and informative without it coming across as mean.
You can make the same choices. Start today. It was just announced that Jian Ghomeshi was found not guilty on all sex assault charges against him. Just like Rob Ford, Ghomeshi is seemingly an easy target. And just like Mr. Ford, of whom you wouldn’t speak carelessly mean-spirited about in front of his children, you have to ask yourself if you’d say what you’re thinking about Mr. Ghomeshi while sitting in a room with him and his mother.
While I admit to having slip-ups on occasion, here’s the almost foolproof guide I use when writing a trivia question that you can follow in order to be certain you aren’t being “Casually Nasty” towards people. Before you share a comment about someone, even if they are the most obvious target, ask yourself:
-Would you say it aloud if you were sitting in a room with this person and their children, or their mother?
-Is it informative and/or entertaining?
-Are you confident it won’t be considered mean?
If even one of your answers is “no”, it’s probably best if you make some changes to your comment, or don’t bother sharing.