If you come across footage of the moon landing, you might gaze reverently at the truly awesome spectacle. Conversely, you might watch the grainy footage closely and critically, wondering if there might be something to the conspiracy theory that the whole thing was staged. You might look on it as the Great American Accomplishment. Whatever your view of the historic moment, if you go in search of it on YouTube, a site many of us visit daily, the first comment you'll read is "Is your ass jealous of the amount of shit that comes out of your mouth?" Really boils the whole thing down, doesn't it? Move over, "One small step for man", a new perfect phrase has been found.
The internet does a weird thing where it makes us feel more special than we are, and suggests that our opinions carry more weight than they actually do and must always be shared, he said from his blog. Nowhere is this idea more evident than in the rise of what has been termed Commenter Culture. Used to be that the only people you might put in such a category were the sunlight-deprived crackpots that write Letters to the Editor in the newspaper. Now suddenly everyone's in line for a tinfoil hat of their very own!
Whether it's a YouTube comment like, "y can't music b good like it was in 2004? that was real artists" or a Huffington Post think piece about Millennials, Syria, or Miley Cyrus, we've all got itchy keyboard fingers. I think I'm conditioned to the point where, if I start reading an article or watching a video, I'm already formulating a commenter response in my head. For instance, someone posted this article on Facebook the other day. I liked the piece, then read some of his other work, and became disenfranchised. The author writes in another post that he opts out of some vaccinations for his kids, for instance. He says that Hepatitis B can be avoided by changing one's lifestyle and making healthy choices. He goes on,
It’s the same thing that entices health teachers and politicians to make the maniacal claim that HIV is an “equal opportunity disease.” We’re deathly afraid of coming anywhere near anything that might be construed as — GASP! — moralizing. Instead we go around babbling about how everything impacts everyone in the same way, and our own decisions are never to blame when bad things happen.
I think that's a shitty thing to say, and I think it's shitty not to vaccinate your kids. But I don't have HIV or kids, no dogs in this fight, in other words. Also, nobody made me read these articles, I could certainly have used my time more constructively. It was all I could do not to respond in all caps, "THIS IS WHERE YOU'RE WRONG!" But I didn't write that or any other comment because who gives a shit? Really, truly. Who gives a shit?
Dream: Stop commenting on stuff on the internet.
Goal: Unachievable, or Achievable, depending on context. There are things I love commenting on and will continue to comment on. Facebook things, mostly. I love pictures of my friends and their little babies. Plus, I know some clever-ass creative types who post their clever-ass creative work! (Consider my old friend Niko, who created this videoto compete for a scholarship. If you like this, be a love a vote for it, won't you?) Also, I will share things that inspire and provoke me in the hopes that discussion will occur, but only because I know my friends will see them, and I want to engage specifically those people. So I will continue to comment things that are affirming, or at least somewhat informed. But no more arguing for its own sake. No more putting in my two cents when no one is asking for them.
Plan: Realize what I'm truly saying when I post any comment on a public forum. Here's what I need to ask myself every time I'm tempted to hit send:
Is this an original thought, or am I just adding to the noise?
Have you ever been involved in an intense conversation with a group of friends, and everyone is articulating cogent points, and then someone asks you what you think? And all you can do is lamely nod and go, "Yeah, I agree, pretty much, I guess." That's what Commenter Culture is, essentially. Somebody makes a point, somebody else makes a counterpoint, the rest of us go, "YEAH!" or "NO!" and that's it.
Speaking of original thought, the free-for-all that is online communication has created so many STEALERS! Stop stealing, you stealers! Don't quote something from last night's Daily Show in response to something political and not credit the source! And STOP STEALING JOKES! Oh man, I have this Facebook friend who I've only met in real life a handful of times, and every time he's friendly and affable, but dude is stealing his funny statuses right and left! It's rampant! And nobody ever calls him on it, but fuuuuuck you, buddy! Somebody smarter than you crafted a funny joke and you're going to pass it off as your own because you have nothing interesting to say?
Is what I'm saying constructive, critical, or just contrary?
It's fine to offer legitimate criticism of something. I love a blistering takedown especially when it's effective enough to tilt the windmills of the wealthy and powerful. But so many of us are simply contrarians. Smug, insecure, and usually fat, these are the folks who take the opposing view in every argument under the guise of careful consideration, when all they really want to do is be provocative. It's a young man's (or woman's) game, and reveals much more about someone's character than their opinion.
Am I motivated to speak out of anger, bitterness, or jealousy?
I'm a jealous monster. I'm ashamed to say that I still compare myself to others in terms of personal and especially professional success. I'm bitter that you and I share similar opinions and senses of humour, but that people pay money to hear what you have to say. I'm jealous that you get to have both wit and abs. I'm angry that your viral video got 10 000 hits and my directorial debut has yet to crack three grand. But all that anger, bitterness and jealousy does is keep me awake and give me wrinkles. I'm not motivated to work harder, I'm tempted to give up. But why feed the beast by talking shit about other people, y'know? How does that help anyone?
Who gives a shit?
We all need to ask ourselves this way more often. Not just in what we put online, but how we conduct our lives everyday. Nobody outside of your immediate circle cares how your day was, or how long you waited for the cable guy, or what you think of the new Miley Cyrus video (but ohhh god, since you asked I think it's great! She's got a rockin' bod and it's a good song and why are we so mad at her? You know who I am mad at, though, is Lady Gaga. Lady Gaga, I know you're trying to be meta and conceptual and weird-for-the-sake-of-weird, but it's not working. It's off-putting that you take yourself so seriously because you haven't given us enough stuff that's fun. You know why Madonna gets to make out with a black Jesus and wear dominatrix fetish gear and make pretentious documentaries about Africa? Because of Lucky Star and Holiday and Dress You Up (In My Love). We collectively fellate Justin Timberlake for his "mature" sound because of his NSYNC days and McDonald's commercials. They were fun and light before becoming heavy and dark, so our appreciation stemmed from the contrast. But you didn't give us a chance to warm to you, Gaga! You just got all weird and expected us to follow you! NOPE! Okay, I'm done for real this time).
As the previous parenthetical digression illustrates, sometimes I have to comment about inconsequential matters. We can wring our hands and pace the floor and wonder, "What's to be done about the idiots on the internet?" And we can demand better of ourselves when it comes to posting publicly. For instance, all of my comments, for better or worse, have my real name on them. I'd rather have any dumb jokes or smart critiques credited to me rather than BonerDude83. But for now, I think I'll think twice before joining the fray, and maybe put more energy into walking away from the computer. It's not a long trip to leave the laptop and go out into the real world, but perhaps it's "one small step" that this man ought to consider.