Jimmy Kimmel and Sean Hannity got into an escalating Twitter war last week. Their conflict is a good example of mimetic theory and everything that’s wrong with our culture.
It all began when Jimmy Kimmel attempted to make a joke about Melania Trump, who was reading books to children on Easter. Kimmel showed a clip of Trump reading to children. After the clip, Kimmel mocked Trump’s accent.
Then Hannity responded by coming to Trump’s rescue, saying on his show, “Brutal. Liberal Jimmy Kimmel making fun of the First Lady of the United States and her involvement in the White House Easter Egg Roll. Even her accent. Jimmy, you are a despicable disgrace…This ass clown Kimmel. Now I gotta tell you something. What a disgrace. Mr. Kimmel, that’s her fifth language. How many do you speak?”
Well, you know that Kimmel had to defend himself, so he wondered aloud about what exactly an “ass clown” is and why Hannity is so interested in them. Then Kimmel admitted that he might be an ass clown, but if he’s an ass clown, well then, Hannity is the whole ass circus!
Then they took their feud to Twitter for their followers to get in on the act. Which is, you know, lovely.
And here’s where mimetic theory helps us understand this cycle of verbal bombs. Mimetic is the Greek word for imitative. We humans are fundamentally imitative creatures. The most obvious example is in violence. Physical violence for sure, but also verbal violence. If you hit me, my natural response is to imitate your hit. I will hit you back. The same goes for verbal blows. If you say something negative about me, I will naturally respond by saying something negative about you. We see this cycle of physical and verbal violence on individual and national levels.
Until someone stops the cycle.
And that’s what Kimmel did. He wrote an apology, “…after some thought, I realize that the level of vitriol from all sides (mine and me included) does nothing good for anyone and, in fact, is harmful to our country.”
Yes, it is. And thank you, Jimmy Kimmel, for naming the fact that you got caught up in the very thing that’s harming our country. Our national soul is contaminated by this vitriol.
But, you might be wondering, what was Hannity’s response to Kimmel’s apology? Hannity invited Kimmel to come on his show so that they could have a polite discussion about policy. But if Kimmel ever tries to attack the First Lady again, Hannity warned, “I promise I will punch back even harder.”
Kimmel’s apology seemed somewhat sincere. While he admitted that he got caught up in vitriol, he couldn’t help make veiled verbal jabs against Donald Trump. But that’s beside the point.
Hannity claimed that his religion has taught him to accept apologies, and so he accepted Kimmel’s apology. Hannity is a Catholic, but his form of Catholicism doesn’t seem very Christ-like to me. It seems more like Donald Trump. You know, the Donald Trump who says, “Get even with people. If they screw you, screw them back 10 times as hard. I really believe that.”
Because surely you remember that passage in the Gospels where Jesus says, “If someone slaps you on the right cheek…slap that ass clown on the other cheek even harder!”
Trump and Hannity both claim to be Christians. And who am I to say otherwise? Apparently, we just follow different Jesuses. The Jesus I (imperfectly) attempt to follow teaches to turn the other cheek.
Interestingly, Jimmy Kimmel is a Catholic, too. And so I wonder, how could two Catholics be so different?
I think it boils down to this: Mimetic theory claims we will always imitate someone. That’s why Jesus says, “Follow me.” He knew that we need a model. The most important question the feud between Kimmel and Hannity poses to us is, “Which Christ are we going to follow?” One member of this feud attempts to follow the Christ who tells us to repent and turn the other cheek. The other follows a Christ who somehow justifies revenge.
Unfortunately, there are liberals who criticize Kimmel for backing down from his fight with Hannity. They say you should never back down for Hannity and conservatives because they will do just what Hannity did – hit back harder. Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks stated,
When you back down from conservatives, or you apologize, or you are in any way decent to them, it never pays. All they do is rub it in your face. They never do likewise. Hannity never apologized for any of the things that he said that were way over the top in regards to Jimmy Kimmel and he never will. Instead, he spits in your face. The next time progressives, you are in a situation like this…against the monsters on the right, understand they are not going to reciprocate on your decency.
Uygur is caught up in the mimetic cycle of imitative verbal violence. He’s basically saying that progressives should not be decent people because conservatives will never be decent people. I refuse to give into this defeatist mentality because when we do, no one will ever act decently. In fact, we will become the very “monsters” we oppose. In other words, we all become a bunch of ass clowns.
But Jimmy Kimmel modeled the way out. No matter how we identify politically, the cycle of vitriol leads to the rotting of our souls. We need more people to stop mirroring the vitriol in our culture. We need more people to stop the cycle of hatred and vitriol. We need more people to turn the other cheek and act decently towards others, especially those with whom we disagree. That’s the way to save our souls on a personal and national level.