This is wrong. All of it. Whatever is developing here, it’s not the way.
What Is the Herman Cain Award?
Have you ever heard of the Darwin award? It was a joke people used to make online when someone died doing something stupid.
In COVID times, people have come up with the Herman Cain award. The award is given to anyone who expresses anti-vaccine or antimask sentiment on social media and later dies from COVID. There is a subreddit dedicated to relishing in this cycle called r/HermanCainAward.
Herman Cain was a politician who refused to wear a mask when COVID first hit in 2020, and the virus took his life. He is the sub’s inspiration and prime example.
The content is mostly Facebook screenshots of people spouting antimask or antivaccine beliefs for several image slides until you reach a final slide, which is a family member publicly grieving their death.
You are supposed to give these upvotes.
Here is an excerpt from the sub’s guidelines:
Qualifications for nomination:
- Public declaration of one’s anti-mask, anti-vax, or Covid-hoax views.
- Admission to hospital for Covid.
Qualifications for award:
- Award is granted upon the nominee’s release from their Earthly shackles
Most of the people featured on this sub are the worst examples of anti-vaccine sentiment. It’s the ones who are the most vocal, the most arrogant, the most religious, and the most hostile.
The intention is to show how this type of thinking is backfiring. The sub is a chance for people to shake their heads and see their points about vaccination get proven.
More than anything, the objective is to highlight and underline the fact that almost all COVID deaths in the United States are among the unvaccinated.
But not really though. It’s not about any of that.
Schadenfreude — Pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune.
Internet cruelty is nothing new. You never had to go far to find some niche of people laughing at death or encouraging suicide or showing any toxic behavior you can think of. But these were always small pockets of the web. Gleeful hate was never mainstream.
The difference now is popularity. As of September 14th, there are 211k members of r/HermanCainAward, and growth doesn’t seem to be slowing. It’s tapping into a furious group of people who have had it with anything anti-vax.
The contempt goes so deep that death is becoming something to be excited about.
Here are some examples of comments from the sub, with their source threads. Each one is in reference to a death.
- What a dipshit. He got what he deserved. And now his family suffers his hubris. Congratulations on your award, you dolt.
- He thought the virus was only fatal for at-risk people, that aren’t him. Since he didn’t think he was in danger; fuck the weak, let them take precautions, and stop inconveniencing me. A selfish prick republican
- I also find it hilarious how many of them suddenly feel the need to warn others during their final days — as if they weren’t exposed to literally thousands of such warnings they themselves either ignored or dismissed. What makes them think their message will be listened to? It’s their own arrogance and inflated sense of superiority. That’s what got them into this death sentence in the first place, and that’s the same thing that makes them think that a warning from them will be heeded by others (it won’t be).
Herman Cain Award Subscribers
The rage and bitterness are understandable. We all want this to be over. And if we think there are people getting in the way of that, then frustration and contempt can’t be avoided.
And it’s true too, that there are people enjoying the suffering of those who have been vaccinated and still ended up in the hospital with COVID. “I told you so” is what everyone is dying to say.
I can’t believe this needs to be said. And I’m surprised I feel nervous to put it down here. But fuck that.
There is nothing good that can come from enjoying suffering and death.
What in the hell is this turning people into?
Even if the people who died are some of the worst examples of the most harmful echo chambers and ideologies in the country, they are still husbands, and fathers, and mothers, and brothers, and friends. Families are breaking.
If you think you know a person by the memes they post on Facebook, then you don’t know a goddamn thing.
This sums up the vibe of Herman Cain Award:
Picture a town square. A man just died in the street from a disease. His family surrounds his body, weeping. A mob shows up. A man from the mob shoves the family aside and picks up the body. He clamps his hand around the dead man’s jaw. Turning to face the crowd, he opens and closes the jaw like a puppett. Talking out the side of his mouth, he says, “Maybe I should have gotten vaccinated. GUESS IT’S TOO LATE NOW.” The crowd roars with laughter and we all go to hell.
I Don’t Even Know
Imagine if the subscribers of Herman Cain Award were in the ICU with the people they posted, and they had to look down and see them on a ventilator. They would see the regret and fear in their eyes. They would feel the family’s pain. Only the most rotten would still spit in their face.
Stories like these are useful only as far as they make a point. If you want to convince a loved one to get vaccinated, showing them threads of people mocking death won’t guide them to your enlightened cause.
If they’re trapped in an echo chamber, then the only thing that can help them is trust. Echo chambers are as difficult to escape as cults. How can you trust a mob of people frothing at the mouth waiting for you to die?
The contempt here goes deeper than COVID vaccination. It’s political. It’s leftover hatred for Trump and his base. The culture on both sides is, if someone doesn’t tow your line, then they are your enemy.
If we go on thinking like this, dehumanizing people and relishing in suffering, then we’re lost.
When compassion goes, so do we.