This is a special edition of Doorstep Postings, the periodic political commentary column written by Josh Lieblein for The CJN.
I laughed at the pro-Palestinian protest on Roblox. Maybe I shouldn’t have. Maybe it’s my way of coping with the past few weeks.
There are worse ways to cope, as we will soon see.
For those of you who don’t know, Roblox is one of many online universes—primarily for young children—incentivized so that they will cough up money they don’t have to add pieces of flair to their yellow-headed Lego-like avatar.
And in this world, into which children retreat to manage the senseless cruelty they encounter each day—sometimes taking the form of their peers bullying them because they don’t have as many, or as expensive, pieces of flair for their avatars—a bunch of block people moved through a virtual space, smiles fixed, holding Palestinian flags that hadn’t even been animated to flutter, while the likes poured in.
It’s not nice to laugh at kids, because they have an excuse. The adults who looked at this display and thought it something worthy of serious comment have no such excuse (in theory). Whatever else we’ve decided to abandon as out-of-touch boomer-ism, there’s eventually supposed to be a point where you make a hard distinction between your fandoms, your fetishes, your fairy tales, and the real world.
Children, and adults, playing pretend in and of itself does not change the world; children, and adults, must go out and change the world.
But it’s also true that my elder millennial generation and the ones after it were told a particularly cruel fairy tale, one that perpetuated itself through those fandoms, through all that playing pretend. If we worked hard enough and dreamed hard enough and treated each other kindly enough—if we kept the spirit of those fantasy worlds in our hearts±then the real world would get better, and keep getting better, until it was as magically perfect as those imagined worlds.
Now that that has been eternally proved false, all that remains is the unfulfilled promise and the great online shrines built in its name. And so great was the cope that people lost all ability to keep their fantasies and their realities separate. They would live their deepest truths out in public for all to see, and the public would immediately shift to accommodate them, and if the public didn’t feel like shifting, then that was the public’s problem.
As this epic tragedy was unfolding, small-minded politicos got all dreamy-eyed themselves about the prospect of mobilizing these hordes in support of various tangentially related causes. TikTok influencers, NFT boosters, AI evangelists, wellness gurus, sports personalities, sketchy faith leaders, and associated weirdos from furries to Crossfitters and back again, would be organized into vast virtual armies that would do the bidding of the staffers who commanded them.
Only for these Napoleons to discover that real life doesn’t appeal to the online weirdos, because they have been rendered incapable of that level of organization, as that level of organization is sometimes hard and uncomfortable. But even if the fake armies can’t leave their bedrooms, they can still put up impressive fake numbers online, and because we can’t tell the difference between what’s real and what’s fake anymore, we can fret over a generation of clockwork oranges radicalized by TikTok to hate Israel.
We will not ever be able to undo the damage caused by these unmet expectations, but at least we can take solace in the fact that people who believe watching the latest Marvel movie or reading Harry Potter books is an act of political bravery can never recapture the antisemitic violence of the past. No, you have to be a hardened Hamas fighter, properly stripped of first-world delusions, in order to accomplish that.
There are many admirers of such behaviour, to be fair, but all they can do is cross the line and then quickly retreat: they rip down posters of hostages and look like kids caught with their hands in the cookie jar when filmed: they bang on doors, steal mezuzahs, shout through bullhorns, put hang-glider emojis in their display names.
To do some real smashy-smashy, they must do it under cover of darkness, under masks, using burner accounts. They wave flags in the faces of people eating at a Jewish restaurant and then claim, no, that was an Israeli restaurant, not a Jewish restaurant, what’s wrong with you? They promote a Bikers for Gaza ride through Jewish neighbourhoods while claiming they had no intention of ever intimidating Jews and then change the route when people complain. They hold rallies “glorifying martyrs” and then inform us it’s not about those kinds of martyrs being glorified, the ones you’re thinking of, you racist, you. Whenever people get mad at them, they just escape into fantasy!
So if you are a Jewish restaurant recently targeted by protestors, a Jewish celebrity suddenly being fat-shamed or called a genocide supporter, a Jewish senator and former presidential candidate who’s been revealed this week to be just another white man, or whoever’s responsible for this:
Or even this:
Please don’t confuse the real fight for the insubstantial air war. These cosplayers have never meant less.
In their own words: they could never.
Josh Lieblein can be reached at [email protected] for your response to Doorstep Postings.