With so many cultural and political divisions in America's social fabric, how we interpret any single image can change completely based on who is being represented.
This principle was on stark display over the weekend after a meme highlighting the enragingly biased nature of American cultural stereotypes went viral on Twitter. The meme, which plays off the biases of both conservatives and progressives, turned support for the controversial Supreme Court decision in favor of Hobby Lobby into an unwitting illustration of the continuing double standard regarding what "religious freedom" means in the U.S.
Motivated by an apparently passionate supporter for the Supreme Court's decision, online rabble rouser Holly Fisher of Charleston, W.Va., who now goes by the moniker "Holly Hobby Lobby," tweeted a photo with a "holy trinity" of endorsements for traditionally conservative, traditionally Christian rhetoric. Fisher's first controversial tweet highlights both her support for Hobby Lobby and the now-infamous fast-food joint Chick-fil-a, with a knowing nod to the partisan backlash soon to come.
The result was fairly predictable: Fisher was immediately cheered by right-wing Christian conservatives and jeered by some pro-choice supporters. The discourse often brought out the ugliest of online trolling, from misogynist and sexist tropes to rape threats.
The fighting persisted for a few days until she celebrated the Fourth of July by taunting her pro-choice detractors, with another photo flaunting her unyielding belief in her idea of God, country and freedom.
The outrage — but more importantly, the support — for Fisher intensified.
Struck by the dissonance felt while seeing Fisher's gun, flag and Bible-clad image, one detractor drew a stark juxtaposition. To prove a point, he placed Fisher's photo alongside a fundamentalist Muslim woman, also wielding a gun, with holy text and set to the backdrop of a flag. It's certainly a "holy trinity."
The difference? In one image, the woman is being hailed generally as a hero. In the other, those same people who are so quick to celebrate nationalism, mixed with religion and enthusiasm about guns, immediately assume the other woman is a terrorist.
The photo now retains the moniker "Jihad Barbie." It's an imperfect metaphor, but not a wholly inept one. All you have to do is switch Fisher's clothing, the flag and the holy text in order to understand the common denominator: Both are examples of religious fundamentalism run amok.
When some conservative, right-wing Christians make attempts to socially and institutionally push women and minorities to the margins, it's often explained as an indisputable matter of faith and morals. But when they come under scrutiny for hiding their own bigotry behind an otherwise peaceful religious tradition, they vehemently defend against being persecuted for their beliefs.
In both cases, the fault lies in a group of people taking their narrow view of what it means to have religious convictions, and their tendency to project those beliefs onto everyone else. Both radical Islam and Fisher's brand of conservative Christianity are fringe elements of larger, more global faith communities, but are nowhere close to being representative of the whole. While having faith beliefs — and even non-beliefs — is a freedom everyone can and should have, it becomes toxic and unnecessarily polarizing when those views are positioned in oppressive and controlling ways.
For now, it looks like Fisher remains highly esteemed in herself, basking in the glow of supporters who told the young woman to "hold her head up proudly" for her beliefs. But, in reality, this moment shows how social policies impacting a diverse array of Americans are being stymied by cultural stereotyping that artificially elevates one fringe element, while not-so-ironically calling for the automatic, unrepentant demonizing of everyone else.
It shouldn't be surprising, perhaps, that this meme sprung up in the aftermath of Hobby Lobby, a case that may have just inadvertently opened the dogmatic floodgates by not acknowledging the Constitution's separation of church and state.