Culture postsThursday February 20, 2014
To Like and Be Liked in Return
Last night I watched “Generation Like” on PBS's Frontline and wanted to kill myself afterwards. It's about the online world, and social media, and how corporations pitch to kids and kids pitch to each other, and how little starlets are made from all this. And how money is made from all this.
A lot of it is obvious—your likes are added to the pool of likes and constitute market research which is monetized—so why did it depress me so? Perhaps because it shows some aspect of my own desires (attention, fame, hits) turned to 11. Perhaps because it reveals how bad I am at this game. (Of course, I still think people want to read.) Perhaps because there doesn't seem to be anything else. It's just this airless, clueless world.
I think the most depressing moment was when author Douglas Rushkoff asked kids about being a “sell out” or the concept of “selling out” and they didn't know what it was. They couldn't define it. They had no clue.
Identifying yourself by what you like is an old concept. Milan Kundera wrote about identifying yourself by the method of addition (likes) or subtraction in his novel “Immortality” but he goes further:
Here is that strange paradox to which all people cultivating the self by way of the addition method are subject: they use addition in order to create a unique, inimitable self, yet because they automatically become propagandists for the added attributes, they are actually doing everything in their power to make as many others as possible similar to themselves; as a result, their uniqueness (so painfully gained) quickly begins to disappear.
Wanting to be liked is an even older concept. But that's all there appears to be in this world. To like and be liked by dozens or hundreds or thousands or millions. For doing what? Skateboarding? No, harassing girls. For singing? No, just talking. For pushing this or that corporate product. For being the person with 300K likes. It's all turned up to 11. It's icky.
After it was over, and not learning my lesson, I tweeted something about it, and that tweet was immediately “favorited” by someone else. But it was one of those fake Twitter accounts, with the pretty girl on it, and the garbled tweets, and a decided lack of followers. It was someone pretending to be human. There was no one there.
The State of the Union ... Contains 'A Deep Seated Dislike for Most Things America Stands For'
Three days ago The New York Times offered us this headline: “Obama Pursuing Modest Agenda in State of the Union,” which, since the address is tonight, shows us once again that the news isn't what's happened but what's about to happen. Shame. The news should be so five minutes ago.
Today, the Times is offering us ... well, us: user-generated content. How Would You Describe the State of the Union?: “Please share your opinion with us on Twitter by adding the hashtag #TellNYT to your tweet.” Friends on Facebook are doing the same. “The state of the union is ___________” one asks. Since he lives in Georgia, he's getting all kinds of answers.
Here's my answer. I came across it last night reading on the planeride home from New York:
Seems to be a deep seated dislike for most things America is and stands for.
That's not the current state of the union; that's FBI analysis of the movie “State of the Union,” as reported in John Sbardellati's book, “J. Edgar Hoover Goes to the Movies: The FBI and the Origins of Hollywood's Cold War.” The movie stars Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn and was directed by Frank Capra.
Of course, to the FBI, Capra, a Norman Rockwellseque figure today, who made movies steeped in Americana and schmaltz, was suspect. Among other FBI reviews of Capra movies:
- Mr. Deeds Goes to Town: “Gary Cooper sides with the underprivileged.”
- Mr. Smith Goes to Washington: “First Hollywood movie to show tie-up between Congressmen and Big Business.”
- It's a Wonderful Life: “The picture represented a rather obvious attempt to discredit bankers.”
Plus ca change. You can still be suspect by siding with the underprivileged, showing the tie-up between Congress and Business, and attempting to discredit bankers. And now more people are taking notes.
SLIDESHOW: Tea Shirts
I first noticed them in Rehoboth Beach, Del., during the summer of 2010. There are several T-shirt shops along the boadwalk there, and while in the late 1970s they tended to focus on the pop cultural (DARTH VADER LIVES, etc.), by 2010 they seemed angrier, loutish, sexist and right-wing. Call them Tea-shirts. Last month in Minneapolis for Christmas, I saw the same at City Shirts at the Mall of America. The above one isn't bad, although using a Wayans Bros. catchphrase for a backwoods reality-show star who has commented on how happy black people were before civil rights is, at the least, incongruous.
But it's the political ones that get to me. A diminishing number of producers? Having their wealth confiscated? In what world? 1950s America when the top tax rate was 91%? Or today when it was a battle to make it 39%? And that's for wages not capital gains. The above tee is a bigger fantasyland than any of my “Star Wars” T-shirts ever were.
Dude: 1) Those aren't guns; 2) Pres. Obama isn't going after guns. Sadly. Apparently to enact any kind of sane gun laws in this country, we'll need a Nixon/China thing: a politician less likely to be besmirched for doing the thing because he's usually the one doing the besmirching. We need this because armed men coming into our schools and killing our children isn't enough.
I've said it before, I'll keep saying it: America is a man eating filet mignon on a yacht telling a man eating a baloney sandwich in his car to resent the man eating his crumbs on the street.
Then you get to the sexist ones. Here's a T-shirt worn by a dude who will never get laid.
Ditto. This is a sad, sad shirt for anyone who stops to think about it for two seconds.
People on the right do know that John Wayne avoided serving in World War II, right? He fought the safer battle in Hollywood for bigger bucks. And speaking of World War II ...
Is there anything more American than reducing the worst conflagrations in human history to Sunday afternoon bragging rights? Thirty-seven million died in World War I and 60 million died in World War II and all I know about it is this lousy T-shirt.
Stay classy ...
Saddest T-Shirt Ever
This was for sale at a T-shirt shop at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn. What kind of idiot would buy this? Wear this? How puny do you have to feel to want to brag about this—something that most likely had nothing to do with you and ignores not only the other countries involved but history. Since when do wars that led to the death of tens of millions of people become something like Super Bowl championships?
Ninety percent of the shop was this way: sad and stupid. I complained as we stood outside waiting for a friend to finish shopping, and Patricia and I had the following conversation:
Patricia: I don't know. T-shirt shops have always been bad.
Me: They weren't this loutish back then.
Patricia: America wasn't this loutish back then.
How the Miss America Controversy is like the Movie 'Crash,' and Other Observations
My friend Tim alerted me to this quote from Aasif Mandvi on “The Daily Show” the other night, reacting to the Miss America/Twitter controversy:
Look, John, it's Twitter. It's like that movie “Crash”: You've got 140 characters and 120 are racist for no apparent reason.
You know about the controversy, right? Nina Davuluri, an American of Indian descent, as in India the country, as in Gandhi and “Slumdog Millionaire,” won the Miss America crown over the weekend and a few racist people on Twitter had a shit fit. They called her Miss 7-11, Miss al-Qaeda. They said, “She's a TERRORIST,” and “This is AMERICA!” It's just stupid shit. The world is full of stupid people and now they're online. The Pakleds have spoken.
The early reaction on social media and Salon was one of umbrage, which is a little boring. A better reaction came from “The Daily Show” and “Stephen Colbert.”
That's brilliant. Or: that's truly how sad and stupid those people are. So sad and stupid they probably don't even get the joke.
Then we got Aasif, my brother of the double-a from another continent, with his critique via “Crash,” which longtime readers know I didn't exactly think was best picture material. Two birds. Brilliant again.
BTW: In the various footage about the controversy (or kerfuffle, or blip), we'd often get shots of Ms. Davuluri in the talent competition doing a Bollywood-type dance. I kept thinking, “It looks like she's doing that 'Dhoom Tana' dance from 'Om Shanti Om,” which is one of about three Bollywood movies I know. Turns out? She is.
In the end? Racists with a foot in the 19th century objected that a competition that had its heyday in the middle of the 20th century was won with something reflecting 21st century values. No surprises here. Wind us up and let us go.
Twitter: @ErikLundegaardTweets by @ErikLundegaard