Bret Michaels vs. the Internet Hipsters

4 min read

So Poison frontman and reality TV starĀ Bret Michaels, he of the ubiquitous bandana and dueling groupies, has had a massive brain hemorrhage. As of this writing, he’s still in critical condition at an undisclosed hospital, but he’s beenĀ “awake and chatty.”

That’s good–even though the prognosis for this sort of brain bleed is bad. A stroke neurologist at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit told theĀ New York Daily News that about 40% of brain hemorrhage patients die within the first three months, and only 10% to 20% made a good recovery.

Stroke is a serious matter. You don’t mess around with stroke. It’s incredibly important toĀ know the signs of stroke, and, if you experience one, call 9-1-1 immediately. Time lost is brain lost; for every minute you go untreated, you lose about two million brain cells.

Today, there are lots of things doctors can do to help people experiencing a stroke. No matter where he is, we assume Bret Michaels is getting great medical treatment.

The question is, what kind of treatment is he getting out here in the Land of Snark?

One need look no further than theĀ A.V. Club, the great pop culture site that spun out ofĀ The Onion, to experience the brutal barrage of Bret Michaels jokes. First comment to the story about Bret’s condition: “Obviously, his bandana was on too tight.” Read down the list: “His neurons mis-FIRED.” “Maybe he ingested some poison?” “Dear Jehovah: Aim for the Insane Clown Posse next time.”

Not surprisingly, some commenters expressed indignation: “Yeah, he’s not a hipster-approved human being, so go on, mock his misfortune.” The comeback: “For the record, I mock poor Bret not for his lack of hipster-cred, but because I’ve come to the conclusion that he’s wasted his life by spending the last decade diluting any sort of artistic credibility with his numerous celebrity reality TV-show roles. It’s really a fair trade, though: he gets the fame, money, and exposure (to herpes!), and we get to mock him on the internet when shit goes wrong.”

So that’s the question: is Bret Michaels fair game because he’s prostituted himself on bad TV shows–after his career as a singer in a non-hipster-approved hair metal band? Or is it bad form to mock any person who’s experienced a medical emergency that may kill him and, if it doesn’t, will almost certainly leave him with some–perhaps severe–disability?

Two things to consider:

1. Let’s don’t pretend the jokes aren’t funny. The commenters at the A.V. Club are smart and savage. And this sort of thing is the essence of comedy: bad things that happen to other people can be funny. You don’ have to look much further thanĀ Harold Lloyd orĀ Daffy Duck to establish that. When bad things happen to a celebrity as cartoon-like as Bret Michaels, the jokes write themselves.

2. To make these kinds of jokes, we have to turn off our compassion. No matter what we think of Bret Michaels’s music or his star status or the way he’s lived his life, he’s a real human being dealing with a medical condition that could kill him. That’s inherently unfunny.

It’s tough to imagine that the people making the jokes actually mean Bret Michaels any ill will. They’re just quick-witted boys and girls using the anonymity of the Internet to crack wise.

And that’s the real issue here: some of us might make Bret Michaels jokes privately, among friends. But most of us would never broadcast our insensitivity to the world if we were using our own names. We’d never do what Bret Michaels has done for decades: open himself up to ridicule and even hatred by having the guts to be out there in the world for everyone to see.

That’s the private hell of the Internet hipster. All the hipster can do is make nasty jokes for the entertainment of a bunch of other hipsters. As long as you’re known as “otto mann empire” or “Slippery Pete,” you can insult and defame people all day long. There are no consequences. Also, there is no payoff. Just you and your snarky friends flaming each other.

Here in America, we have a long, proud tradition of maintainingĀ clubs where we can insult people in private. We’re certainly no strangers toĀ crowds of people behaving boorishly.

But here in the Internet Age, we get to combine the two. We can have all the anonymous bad behavior–and the mob mentality. It’s a whole new thing.


So come on, Internet Hipsters! Tell your Bret Michaels jokes. Mock his hair extensions and his bandana and his cheesy music. He’s had a little bit of everything in his life: fame, fortune, more women than he could possibly want, etc. (Also: diabetes. That’s hilarious, too.) Ā Surely, he can take a little mean-spirited ribbing. He’s earned it by turning himself into a walking cartoon!

Just–you know–let us see your real faces.

Or would you rather practice compassion in public? Because that’s a choice, too.