Impotent and Power Hungry: The Rise of the American Snitch Culture

In March of this year, Eric Garcetti, the emotionally incontinent Mayor of Los Angeles, announced a rewards program for citizens and non-citizens willing to snitch on local businesses violating COVID-19 citywide lockdown orders. “Snitch” is not used here for hyperbole, the Mayor himself used the s-word in his daily televised briefing:

“You know the old expression about snitches, well, in this case, snitches get rewards. We want to thank you for turning folks in and making sure we are all safe.”

Pop quiz: when’s the last time a political leader publicly thanked people for turning their neighbors in? I mean, in an English speaking country? No fudging or doublespeak or rhetorical tricks, simply, come snitch with me. You’ll float too. Joseph McCarthy was subtle by comparison. So was Mao.

While the constipated pleadings of a spineless political scion would normally go unnoticed, consider this the first time the word “snitch” was meant to connote a heroic quality. Heretofore, snitch was one-hundred-percent fighting words. People died for being snitches. People died for merely being accused of being snitches. Snitch was the word written on the bloodied bodies of traitors to criminal organizations. Snitches got stitches.

Despite the universal ignominy assigned to the snitch, we’ve always had them. We’ve always had people and institutions promoting the act of snitching. Rewards programs for turning in criminals is ingrained into our American culture. The Old West was plastered with “Wanted” posters for helping in the capture of scoundrels. Dead or alive, same price. Imagine turning people in under those rather loose penal guidelines.

My first high school job was in a department store where the manager informed us during orientation we’d receive ten-percent of the value of stolen merchandise for alerting security to shoplifting activity. For hauling, lifting, sorting, and moving shmata, I received $4.95 an hour. If I pointed out Winona Ryder shoving frocks and lip liners into her purse, I could make $50 in two minutes. I prayed for well-heeled women with kleptomania to show up. I’m sorry daddy wanted a son, but I’m trying to buy my way into a well-worn Corolla. Was I a snitch or merely an enterprising young man? Heaven will have to judge me.

In some settings, even upright settings, snitching is not only suggested, but it’s also required. Considering the Honor Codes at military academies or other old school institutions. You’re required to turn in fellow students you witness breaking the rules. Refuse to tattle and you may suffer the same fate as the underlying offender. This is snitching. Do you forgive them? Or even honor the young men and women who abide by their school code?

Snitching is the second oldest profession, and only because the oldest profession had to exist first so that snitches could rat on guys they saw cheating on their wives. If you don’t believe that tattling is a very human quality, raise some children when you get the chance. Ages five to seven are the Legos and ratting years. Even the kids of Solntsevskaya Bratva snitch at that developmental stage. Kindergarteners know the inherent value of information.

Is Snitching Ever Not Horrible?

There are some people who never snitch. Guys who wear uniforms and belong to fraternal organizations. Prisoners, if they want to live. Baseball players didn’t snitch (before the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal); they’d silently watch Barry Bonds hit the ball 800 feet and grind their teeth. I knew a guy who played college football who knew of a teammate who had committed a crime, but told me that he wasn’t going to report it because “There’s no “I” in the word “Team”. That didn’t even make sense. All I could think about was all the wrong that was done in this world in the name of Little League coaching cliches.

Would you argue that a police officer who sees his partner repeatedly acting unnecessarily violent toward suspects shouldn’t snitch on his partner? I know it’s the theme of twenty-five different good movies. And fifty different bad movies. We know the “rat” cop gets literal rats placed into his locker, a ritualistic shunning that includes mandatory missing out on guy-time barbecues and up to receiving an alleyway beatdown.

Without the snitch, maybe that dysfunctional cop chokes to death an otherwise innocuous suspect, followed by several American cities burning to the ground and a tortured celebrity ensemble video. Maybe the full-bird Colonel goes loon-balls and Napalms a gaggle of Laotian children playing a knockoff version of Gnip Gnop. Now those kids are mostly dead. The few who survived have been adopted by an emotionally overwrought movie actress. Do you want that on your conscience?

In Casualties of War, Michael J. Fox’s character struggles with ratting on his platoonmates after they kidnapped, raped, and murdered an innocent Vietnamese girl. His fellow soldiers attempt to frag him in the shitter because they thought he would snitch. He decides he won’t turn them in, not because he shouldn’t, but because nobody seems to give a damn about that kind of horror anyhow. That’s heavy stuff (and a soft recommendation for that film).

Can we agree that the morality of snitching is conditional to the intended purpose of the disclosure?

We all want people to snitch when it comes to really important matters, like saving lives. We want Karen Silkwood to let us know when the nuclear plant is using the Clift Notes version of the safety protocols. Consider the Boeing 737 Max. It would’ve been nice if somebody had made an anonymous phone call and reported flawed software and training manuals prior to passengers plummeting to fiery deaths.

There is good snitching. That’s why we invented the word whistleblowing. It’s snitching with purpose. Yes, it’s a small percentage of all the snitching that goes on in the world. Think baby and bathwater. Or baby and the Pacific Ocean for a more accurate scale. Either way, do your best not to trash the baby. What color bin do they even go into?

Unofficial Informants

After claiming East Germany in the big post-WWII Central European carve-up, the Soviets set up the Stasi to arrest, imprison, torture, and terrorize enough people in the totalitarian state to keep the peace. It’s a similar asymmetric warfare technique to that employed by public school P.E. teachers pre-enlightenment. Pick out a few marks and make them run wind sprints until they puke as punishment for absolutely nothing. Pre-cogging troublemakers sets the tone in the yard.

The Stasi’s mission was to monitor people who might be enemies to the glorious state. Largely that meant East Germans planning on defecting to the West. Fleeing citizens was the biggest bee in the Commie bonnet. When you’re hosting the world’s crappiest party, you don’t care if guests get drunk and pee on your cat, but you’re incredibly paranoid they’ll leave and tell everybody on the outside what a lousy party you threw.

The Stasi never had the resources to monitor and control the veritable hordes of East Germans looking to escape to Reubenesque women and decent cigarettes in West Germany. The Stasi relied heavily upon a group they called “Unofficial Informants”. The Unofficial Informants were the Karens of the Deutsche Demokratische Republik. And there were tons.

The Stasi wore wire-rimmed glasses and cheaply-fashioned Russian overcoats, so definitively a very clever subsegment of your normal Teuton. They knew they couldn’t turn citizens into narcs out of loyalty to a nation that had single-ply toilet sheets and tough cuts of meat. They certainly didn’t have the money to properly bribe their snitches. So they played to uglier human motivations. The Stasi became a place you could contact day or night to vent your anger and frustration with your neighbors. They became the world’s first Next Door app.

East Germans soon came to realize the power in their rotary phone. If they had a dispute with a local store owner, a former boyfriend, a cheating spouse, an abusive uncle, or that hoity-toity highbrow down the block who thought she was better than everybody because she had fully-soled shoes, you could call the Stasi and report on them. Defectors! Or so I overheard. The named were hauled off to dank building basements to learn the difference between voltage and wattage as it applies to gator clips on your reproductive organs.

East German tattling became so popular, even West Germans started calling the Stasi over The Wall to inform on people they didn’t want coming back across. Say, an angry mistress. You don’t want her showing up with a day visa to ruin your sausage and strudel smorgasbord with the nuclear family. Anonymously report that former sidepiece to the Stasi. I heard she’s digging tunnels. No more problems.

Snitching had rewards. Those rewards were putting a superpower into the hands of very ordinary humans. And very ordinary humans love power.

If Snitching Were A Sport It’d Be Even Worse Than Soccer

In 1941, the American War Advertising Council came up with the snappy slogan, “Loose Lips Might Sink Ships”. The War Department put these posters up around ports-of-call where sailors and soldiers were likely to be hanging out. The purported intent was to keep military men from gossiping about war efforts lest German spies might overhear. Though that point’s been contested since FBI records from the time indicate nobody in law enforcement believed there were German conspirators lurking about the Eastern Seaboard during the war. Hail, Hydra.

Some believe the slogan was part of a broader campaign by the War Department to keep people from talking about the war in general because war talk made everybody sad and depressed. Better everybody watches War Department funded movies about heroism in battle or how all Japanese people are yellow and sinister. Either way, the point was quite clear, shut your flapping gums if you love your country.

Fast forward to social-media-digital-age-virtue-signaling-woke-point-scoreboard America. Whether or not you believe that morality is defined by likes from your social bubble, enough people do that it matters. Twitter is the new church. That church concluded The Inquisition ought to be revisited. No Cardinal Richelieu this time. Too soft. Alyssa Milano and a blue-check-marked cable news reporter will be your judge and jury.

Snitching has degraded into a partisan political sport in contemporary America. That’s probably true in other countries in the world but they’re not America so they don’t count as much.

Often, snitches have never met the people they’re snitching on, they simply don’t like them because of how they vote, or because their opinions make them uncomfortable, or because they have male genitalia in a similar fashion to their last horrible boyfriend or their cat Tony who won’t love them back.

Back in the Stasi days, you’d have to contort yourself behind a ficus to eavesdrop on conversations. That was real snitch work. Now you can dig into a target’s social feed and rat them out by merely sharing a ten-year-old single sentence. If the target is a TV actor, post an old episode where the actor did something politically incorrect like wearing blackface or making a joke about women being bad drivers. The actors were merely repeating lines in a script, but this isn’t about logic. The fire doesn’t ask questions, merely consumes.

Last winter, Gabrielle Union was “dismissed” from her job as a judge on America’s Got Talent. Should you care? Nope. But stay with me on this story.

Gabrielle Union is a mom, a stepmom, a woman, black, a basketball wife, a football ex-wife, a parent to a transgender child, and an expert and a victim of all of the above. She revels in relating the oppression of people with only five homes. Granted, that is a ton of vacuuming. Though not for her.

There is no sanctimonious meter for celebrities because you can’t design a gauge that has no upper limit. As imprecise as the self-righteous scores may be, presume Gabrielle Union could top them all.

After being shown the door with what likely amounts to ten years worth of normal person pay, Union informed reporters that Jay Leno, a celebrity guest that season on AGT, had made a potentially racist joke in her presence. How she inferred that back to the only possible reason for her dismissal is what makes her a snitch gold medalist.

Leno allegedly made a joke during the filming of an episode about Asian people eating dogs. Obviously, not all Asian people eat dogs. Keep that in mind as you watch the ones who do chew demonstratively on the tough hindquarters of a Dauchsand. Or wonder where COVID came from.

Union claims she wanted to report Leno to NBC Human Resources, you know, in the name of jokes deemed inappropriate by the Muses in her head. Show producers urged her to reconsider. It’s not clear why they asked her to hold off, other than the flash-forwards to the pain in the butt meetings and endless reporting simply because Jay Leno finally made a decent joke.

After the allegations hit, Union received a day-long meeting with NBC executives to air out her grievances. Not an unsubstantial grant. If you’re not sure, go back to any boss that fired you and see if they’re willing to spend the day listening to you tell them how horrible they are.

It wasn’t clear at first why Gabrielle Union snitched on Leno. Jay Leno is the vanilla of the comedy world. He’s a corporate gig guy. Being born and raised before the Age of Enlightenment, he may still spit out a microaggressive clam like the dog bit. The larger offense may be the rumor in Hollywood that Jay Leno votes Republican. Nobody’s going after Ellen for tasteless jokes. Until they do. I think they did. This town will eat it’s own as needed. The blood of innocents keeps its neck skin from creping.

You’d posit perhaps Union’s less than shocking revelation was a lead-up to a lawsuit. But Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade and family are private jets plural loaded. She wasn’t after more money. It was power. No different than Frau Blücher calling the Stasi to report her no-good lazy husband just might be receiving Baden-Baden hot springs mailers. Power and control are the drugs of choice for the impish souls who crave it so.

People who love the power that snitching provides always couch their motives for some higher purpose. Why not double-dip and destroy somebody for no good reason while improving your own standing in your wise and cultured social bubble? That’s rhetorical. It’s exactly why it’s done. Gabrielle Union is a snitcher. In her world, she’s a hero. Imagine how ugly that world is.

Snitching Is a Virus

What happens in Hollywood isn’t inherently important. In fact, it’s the converse. It’s ridiculously unimportant. Save for that little slice of moron heaven that finds inspiration in media culture and celebrities. And that little slice is millions in numbers. Take a dig at Taylor Swift online sometime and report back. Or have your surviving family members do so for you.

The #MeToo reflexive victim flag tallowed every woman ever created to cry foul because men also exist in the world. Outing Gerald who likes to tell inappropriate jokes in the breakroom was a good kind of burn. And reporting Scott for telling a woman he liked her hair, that was just desserts. It was a generic and often insipid victim claiming on a rocket launch. But the self-righteous afterburners didn’t ignite fully until racism became tres chic once more.

Racism signaling is so powerful that wealthy white women on the Westside of every city stopped claiming to be oppressed for two full weeks in early June. Haley’s Comet flashes by the Earth more often than women at Soul Cycle and the fashionable pressed juice houses will stay mum on their slings and arrows of cosmic misfortune.

Snitching for power, revenge, position, to feel a tiny bit of height in a world in which you are ever so tiny quickly transitioned into the corporate and academic worlds. Stately institutions are ripe targets as the people who self-select into these worlds tend to be bureaucratic cowards. Nobody wants to make waves or be put on the “list”. You’ll be uninvited to parties, passed up on promotions, and occasionally find people circling your home with lit candles chanting monotonously. That might sound like an exaggeration, unless you study history, even the most fractional amount.

We have academics snitching on one another for things they wrote or said, intended to shame or ruin the object of their wrath. These uncovered “offenses” are innocuous and often plainly factual. Try saying aloud in any university in 2020 that biology only supports the existence of two genders. It’s true. Also, you’re fired. Screw you and your science, stupid scientist in our science department.

Are these people being ratted out due to the genuine academic concern of their colleagues? Nope. It’s the power to destroy those who disagree with you, or maybe they merely never called you back after a night of thoughtful beard grooming. Calling it politics is unfair to mere political hacks. This is envy and wrath and other deadly sins. It’s ugly, it’s personal, and it’s not possibly going to lead to lux or veritas.

Corporate America is seeing the same levels of personal sabotage. Say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing, wear the wrong t-shirt, recite words not to say around the office to a group of employees when discussing cultural or racial sensitivities in an HR orientation, and be labeled a hater for uttering the very word. Commence the snitch calls to the Diversity, Inclusion, and Othering Department. Your career is over. Your kids will be shunned at school. I only know ten people in this world; that very thing happened to one I know.

There’s no reason to stuff this mini-tome with more examples. It’s incredibly commonplace now. Google it. Review daily trending on Twitter. There’s an army of self-righteous morons in search of targets to destroy. It’s amusing until it happens to you. And it will.

Assume a million people are heading out each morning for school or work or shopping and lacing up their shoes looking to turn somebody in for something that day. Are some of these instances justified? Most definitely. But they are the exception to the rule. The rule is destruction. I don’t like how somebody thinks, how they look, what they’re saying, how they’re not toeing the line, how unafraid they appear to be of new social norms as established by me. I shall make them pay. And now I can. And I will be enshrined in the Hall of the Good People. Pray it’s not in statue form.

But Lex, I’m Just a Man, or a Woman, or a Man Who Identifies as a Woman So I Can Be Really Good at Women’s Sports, What Can I Do to Stop This Madness?

There’s a sickness running through our nation. It’s always been there. Like Judd Apatow, it’s never going away no matter how hard we wish it. The best we can do is incentivize decency and try to mock the ever-living hell out of the lesser angels of our nature. Rewarding snitching only brings more snitching. We’re into that phase right now. It’s horrible.

Whether it’s the snitch culture, the cancel culture, or merely the painfully banal content Silicon Valley streaming services are pushing, just say no. “Truth to Power” is a nauseatingly overused and misapplied social meme. But it applies here. The slug-like lifeforms who live to ruin others with secret information have the power. The truth is not backing down. Stand your ground. Not necessarily Florida style, but all the same, remind the world that people who destroy things are inherently worse people than those that build.

You can’t convince a transnational corporation or an Ivy League institution to shed their yellow-belly flight instinct, but you can be resolute. An army of one. Don’t accept that people being compensated in their dark hearts for being horrible people is okay. Karma will sweep through their lot like the seemingly endless number of woke celebrities who’ve inexplicably appeared in blackface. It’s like progressive herpes. Who knew they all had it?

Breathe. We’ll get through this. Most likely.

Lex Jurgen is the co-host of the universally popular Last Men on Earth podcast, the author of Man Rules: The Beginner’s Guide to Manhood, the former editor of WWTDD and a regular social and media commentator on radio and intergalactic light beams. 

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