Thursday, January 7th, 2010

Guest Op Ed: I Fell For a Blind Girl

It's Half the Time at Half TimeFrom 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 Öyster 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.

45 Comments / Post A Comment

Screen Name (#2,416)

At the risk of being judged, the following night while watching the Orange Bowl halftime show it occurred to me that Kool & the Gang could really use a blind cowbell player.

I just kept thinking, "Wow, they are a great wedding cover band!" And then kept remembering that they were actually Kool & the Gang.*

*or that at least one of them was from the original Kool & the Gang, as the lead singer and one of the guitarists appeared to be no older than 35.

carpetblogger (#306)

I laughed for three hours yesterday at the Royal Swimming Feline Academy and felt not a minute of remorse, even though I was swiftly and harshly judged by my contemporaries.

I enjoyed that. I ought not have, but I did. I look forward to sharing that seat in hell next to you.

Maevemealone (#968)

Oh man, I didn't see the seal in time…

Natan (#1,967)

I thought this piece was going to give me an opportunity to say home much I wanted to fuck the deaf girl on Weeds. And it has, I suppose.

Re. above: I also did not see the seal!

Natan (#1,967)

home = how. That fancy Gawker site lets 'em edit, you know.

Legs Battaglia (#2,484)

i thought it was going to give me the chance to talk about the one-armed guy in my neighborhood that i have a crush on.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

I hope the internet gets her a present like it did for the Star Wars Kid.

ThomG (#2,973)

alternatively, a contract with Doctor Pepper

KarenUhOh (#19)

You want funny? Wait till they tell her she's been attending Boise State.

brianvan (#149)

"Wait a minute! I'm BLACK?!?"

Rod T (#33)

I'd rather make fun of people that Twitter during football games.

I must not be online as much as I think I am. Missed this one completely until now.

HiredGoons (#603)

I'm just glad she can't see that tacky uniform.

Also, might be a Deadspin hooker.

kneetoe (#1,881)

Sure, she has to wear the uniform, but at least she's got good seats for the game.

Leaving now.

oooo this was moody and good.

But Jay, what's the rule on anonymous blogging these days? Is it ok to rattle off about people you know and see in person? Who maybe, if pressed you would admit to all the things that could appear on a blog post, but who would want to have that conversation?

6h057 (#1,914)

The only way to win is to lose the game.


You know, I'm not ideologically opposed to anonymous blogging. But as of today, in terms of social networks etc, no one has provided a decent defense of why it's acceptable/encourage behavior besides 'other people do it' or 'better than an overshare.' Like, I want to be convinced! Some one convince me!

NinetyNine (#98)

So writing about what people say without requesting permission (or mentioning that your troll your personal experiences for blog material) or signing your name is bad, but doing the exact same thing and signing your name is… good?


(also see: two legs v. four legs)

NinetyNine (#98)

Narcissism trumps discretion, I guess.

I don't think that's an accurate binary, 99.

NinetyNine (#98)

I missed the part where there was causation between 'anonymous' and 'writing about others indiscriminately.'

Flashman (#418)

Imagine what the cowbell must sound like to a blind person. Magical, probably.

garge (#736)

I would imagine the vibrations also feel very sensual, and the form imperial.

Slava (#216)

I'm guessing it's some kind of Daredevil deal, where the sound waves emanating from the cowbell, paint a vivid mind-portrait of the world in brilliant cowbell colours.

mathnet (#27)

They're friends with a crippled dolphin.

Katester (#2,937)

I officially like this. Thank you for keeping it alive.

HiredGoons (#603)


Bittersweet (#765)

It is, and I'm wondering how in hell I missed it at first. Entranced by cowbell girl, I guess.

OldBillyBaroo (#1,697)

what the 'oh no you di'int!' crowd failed to understand was that the humor came from her apparent total lack of enthusiasm. out of nowhere comes this chick who's whacking a cowbell in a ridiculous uniform and she looks like she is *not* having fun with it, unlike the dude whacking the cymbal right next to her.

also, what if it turned out that she was in fact smiling but has a disease that prevents her facial muscles from making smiles? would it all be okay then to the asswipes who tried to make us feel guilty for still finding this funny?

josh_speed (#97)

Visually-impaired people, or at least those mostly/nearly all blind from any early age, do not 'make faces' with the same ease and variety that the sighted do, for the same reason many hearing-impaired people do not talk: they have no idea how they look/sound.

I mean, she would eat a lemon and make the 'eww, sour' face, but a full vocabulary of facial gestures like sighted folks? Nope. Which may explain her deadpan expression in the first place, G-d bless her.

Oh I dunno about that.

That guy sure has found plenty to grin about and he's never seen anyone do so in his life.

Ms. Boise State just wasn't feelin' the cowbell.

The seal meme! You used it! After my photoshop efforts yesterday, I was starting to worry that it wasn't going anywhere …

Now I hope we don't find out that the seal is blind, too.

6h057 (#1,914)

The seal is actually a Scientologist.


Flashman (#418)

I was at the garage the other day and the mechanic said to me 'you've blown a seal'.
I said just fix the damn car and leave my private life out of it.

6h057 (#1,914)

I hear they taste like kelp.

Flashman (#418)

But seriously, it's a terrific meme.

It took me ages to see the seal but I like to think it is because that girl looks a lot like an ex of mine so, you know, sigh.

iplaudius (#1,066)

Is blind the ones that talk funny? I think I saw a Family Guy thing about this with that weird Bunny Swan lady.

HiredGoons (#603)

(Don't mention Family Guy or Choire will spit on you)

iplaudius (#1,066)

(For that comment, I was intentionally channeling YouTube/Gawker commenters!)

katiebakes (#32)

Voyage of the Mimi? Anyone? Anyone? SALLY RUTH? Anyone? ANYONE?

BEN AFFLECK!???!?!?!??!?!

fek (#93)

I really enjoyed this! Especially "People are only willing to laugh if they're not going to be judged." which is true because if they are it turns out they're fucking pussies and then react the other way around by calling out those who DO laugh. Like this! Oh, Jay, this really was really good. Nice work.

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