Ellen DeGeneres tweeted a photoshopped picture of herself riding on Usain Bolt’s back as he breezed to a gold medal in the 100-meter dash, suggesting this is how she’ll run errands from now on. It wasn’t a particularly funny meme, basically because it was simply pointing out that Bolt is fast, but it was fine.
Bolt was among the nearly 34,000 users to retweet the picture. One could take this as indication that he enjoyed it, or at the very least, didn’t find it heinously offensive.
Enough people decried the post’s “racism”, however, to prop up “social backlash” follow-up stories by Fox News, Time, E! and TIME, among others. Enough news stories were posted to prompt a response from DeGeneres.
Everyone has different sensibilities. What seems perfectly acceptable to some may not be for others. But there is a difference between being immediately offended by an egregious comment and finding a shred of discomfort after a spirited bout of mental gymnastics. Treating everything like a Rubik’s Cube of aggrievement seems like a miserable way to go through life.
Backlash to DeGeneres’ tweet was predictable in 2016. Backlash to the backlash and denouncement of PC culture is equally predictable. Never underestimate the ability of seemingly trivial things to further fracture society.
It’s disappointing that Ellen felt compelled to even address the tweet. As a betting man, I’d feel confident putting my life’s savings on the hunch she had no idea this would ever be construed as insensitive. She saw the world’s fastest man excel on the world’s stage and parlayed it into a relatable joke.
DeGeneres seems to have done the difficult dance of acknowledging the situation but not apologizing for it. At a certain point, one has to wonder when comedians will become endangered species. There will come a time when a tepid laugh isn’t worth the internet firestorm set off by even the most inoffensive punchlines. And it may come soon.