A “glitterbomb” isn’t funny, ironic, or harmless. It’s a threat.

This weekend at Right Online, Michele Bachmann was “glittered” by gay rights activists. Newt Gingrich and Tim Pawlenty got a similar treatment before, too. As a result, Bachmann canceled any further media appearances at the event (more than a few wanted to interview). Some considered this to be an overreaction. I do not. On Saturday night I went to the GOProud happy hour at the hotel bar in the event, and some of those invited were a few attendees of Netroots Nation. There I explained to one why a glitterbomb isn’t a good thing.

At its heart, a glitterbomb is a proxy for whatever object that, when flung at a person, would lead to charges of assault, or worse. It’s a projectile, one that replaces spit—assault with a bodily fluid, anyone?—or something else. It’s a replacement for pies, which also leads to charges of assault. But no matter how E.B. Lang may describe it, it isn’t as harmless or light hearted as she claims. A pie attack foreshadowed Pim Fortuyn’s assassination.

What these assailants know and won’t admit in public is that flinging objects at someone, even as innocuous as glitter, is degrading to the flingee. It’s an act of humiliation, one that’s been used to great effect using other materials (pie, water, spittle, blood, name it). When you degrade someone like that in public, it becomes a sign that the victim is fair game for even more dangerous material.

What these assailants know and won’t admit in public is the power of the third participant* in causing a cascade of activity. When glitterbombing someone gets “cool” and “hip” enough, someone, somewhere, is going to get carried away. If you think the sentiments behind glitterbombing Bachmann and others are funny and lighthearted, remember that when they think no one is looking, these are the same people who call Bachmann, Palin, others, the wost possible epithets. (I’m trying to find a link tweeted out yesterday about how someone wanted to shoot Michele Bachmann in the face for being so stupid. On their tumblr blog.) Glitterbombing is a refusal to engage your opponent in an exchange of ideas, even if the only goal is to publicly prove that their ideas are wrong, hateful and bigoted. It’s something you do because you know and accept that this person you’re glittering is someone you hate, but feel is undeserving of the time to discuss anything with them.

Maybe I’m overreacting, but I think people you disagree with deserve more than having stuff flung at them. At the GOProud happy hour, I spoke to Pam Spaulding, Ian Finkenbinder, and a few other folks from the gay left. They were total sweethearts and we had an exchange of ideas that you’d never see happen on a blog, or on Twitter. Naturally there are issues we agree and disagree on. We also share common ground. It was just another human and humane interaction. This is how it’s done; not dehumanizing them by throwing stuff at them.

(* – The “power of the third participant” can best be seen in this video from the Sasquatch festival. One person out of norm is weird, the second is dismissed as his friend, and a third participant causes the cascade.)

2 thoughts on “A “glitterbomb” isn’t funny, ironic, or harmless. It’s a threat.”

  1. If you can hit someone with glitter, you can hit them with acid or something far more dangerous. It’s immature and highlights the impotence of the thrower in packaging their message more effectively.

    1. Yup, I did see a lot of tweets to that effect and I agree. I am submitting this post to a more Liberal writer who asked me for my perspective on this after I talked to her in person. I didn’t want to focus too much on the “if it could be glitter, it could be acid,” because I run the risk of my argument being dismissed for histrionics.

      It’s not so much “if it could be glitter, it could be acid,” it’s “if someone can start something, another can take it where the starter had no intent of taking it.”

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