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‘Solidarity with Ukraine’ Can Still Be Cringe

Please find a way to support Ukraine that isn’t so embarrassing

Nobody wants to feel helpless. Yet this is exactly the effect that global upheaval has on the bystanders: It minimizes agency and makes the individual seem almost irrelevant. The natural instinct — as we’ve seen during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — is to announce your solidarity with the victims of violence and terror, if only with a symbolic gesture. Anti-war protestors in Russia risk far more than Americans posting the Ukrainian flag on Facebook, of course, but that doesn’t mean social media sympathy is entirely hollow or besides the point.

There is a limit, however. There are people, communities and companies that wade into the subject of international conflict with dreadful ideas and worse execution. A few sound as tone-deaf as Gal Gadot and her celebrity pals when they sang “Imagine” in the earliest days of the pandemic. Usually, their actions and statements are unnecessary. Niche subreddits for controversial kinks like “forced breeding” simply don’t need to take a stand on this issue, nor will the kind of ultimatum spelled out below accomplish anything. (For the record, r/russia is already a quarantined forum, while r/forcedbreeding is in no sense “closed” to new posts right now.)    

It also goes without saying that you shouldn’t be trying to profit off of the suffering in Ukraine, but I’m noting it again for the ghoulish scammers who set up accounts to prey on well-intentioned people eager to help however they can. Beware bogus charities in the mold of @ukraine_animals, a new Twitter account that purportedly represents an animal shelter in the country and accepts PayPal donations. It’s one example of how imagery suggesting links to Ukraine can disguise a heartless scam. Curiously, too, their bio is written in Russian. Hmm.

I’ve already mentioned how awful the celebs were as COVID-19 swept the U.S. — let’s check in on their Ukraine posts, shall we? Star Trek icon and prominent #Resistance figure George Takei has joined other liberals in calling for ordinary Americans to suck up the high gas prices of late in order to stick it to Russia, a key exporter of oil, and show some resolve on Ukraine’s behalf. Easy to say as an 84-year-old millionaire who probably hasn’t driven himself anywhere in years, let alone made a daily commute. And are we supposed to act like ordinary working people have a choice in how much they pay at the pump, or at the grocery store? These purchases aren’t optional. I’m as irked as anyone by guys in gas-guzzling trucks whining about the price of a gallon, but come on. My patriotic stoicism as I fill up the tank is no comfort or aid to anyone.

Here’s another cringe trend, which we can think of as the “Freedom Fries” effect: removing or modifying cultural products associated with whatever country we’re mad at. In this case, it means filtering out unacceptable liquor, renaming chicken dishes and temporarily banning the teaching of Dostoyevsky at the university level. Wow! That’ll show Putin. He must be devastated to see American bar owners dumping out Smirnoff (distilled in suburban Illinois) and Stolichnaya (made in Latvia since 2000, when the brand’s founder was exiled from Russia for opposing him). In so many ways, it looks as if this particular ship has sailed, but I promise that critical thinking is still an available tool should anyone wish to use it. Sadly, our haste to signal support — for civilians in bomb shelters unlikely to see or hear of it anyway — leads to stupid and self-aggrandizing displays. Unable to change history, we settle for high-fiving one another.

Ah, the Avengers: Endgame edit. It was, as Thanos would say, inevitable. We should hope no future archaeologist discovers how we chose to represent some of the great atrocities of our time with murky CGI and Disney-owned characters, because that humiliation would sting even in the afterlife. Meanwhile, let’s avoid the Marvel analogies or tweeting like a clueless brand on 9/11, and we may yet salvage a crumb of dignity in the face of escalating bloodshed. It’s perfectly fine to voice your solidarity here. Maybe take an extra two seconds to decide just how.