From time to time, The Awl offers its space to normal, everyday people with a perspective on national issues. Today brings a report from Jay Casey, who has been paying attention to the Internet all week.
A few nights ago now, something insignificant happened. Therefore people on the internet became very interested. During the Boise State halftime show, a news camera panned down the drumline, stopping on a young woman playing the cowbell. She had what looked to be a sullen look on her face and after these seconds of footage, people were already talking about her on Twitter. They called her Sad Cowbell Girl. A clip was put on YouTube and her face was Photoshopped onto Will Ferrell's in Blue Ã–yster Cult parody videos. There was Christopher Walken, yelling for more cowbell while the girl beat to the rhythm. The meme was mildly amusing until her glassy gaze and blank expression was explained. She is blind.
When people realized they had been laughing at a blind person, the mood shifted. No one wanted to have a good time at the expensive of a disabled person. This was branded unfunny. Actually, anyone amused by her state became the butt of the joke.
Gone was the happy beat of her hollow instrument, replaced by stolen chuckles, stifled under hand-covered mouths.
Everyone's favorite cowbell player was now everyone's very guilty pleasure.
But we should laugh at Sad Cowbell Girl. She's one of us. She's a regular person. Why does her blindness protect her from being caught off-guard by the camera?
What if she was caught up in the moment?
What if she was stunned by the majesty of her cowbell?
Here is this girl, on the percussion line, striking an object, making this distinct sound. Isn't it funny when she plays the cowbell, too?
People are only willing to laugh if they're not going to be judged. It's this anonymous removal, this distance that we enjoy on the Internet, that makes it okay to mock others. When it became known that she was blind, it made her actually human to us. It created this awkward intimacy that we're not ready to address. When found out about her blindness, we became less removed. We thought that, therefore, we were bad people for laughing at a blind percussionist.
But it's okay to laugh. She's the cowbell player. The cowbell is a silly instrument.
Jay Casey blogs semi-anonymously to get out of explaining why he has no manners.