October 16, 2013

Writing, tweeting, and barking

I used to pursue a public forum the old-fashioned way, writing books and laying them before the cold, businesslike eyes of editors. The writing part was always enjoyable, but the self-promotion exercise was boring in the extreme. I never found rejection slips humiliating – only tiresome. Little anticlimaxes at the end of modest expectations. Editors, for the most part, are looking for marketable material and have trained their noses to detect good sales prospects. They are not fine arbiters of artistic merit, much less the judges of the ultimate value of one’s soul. Marketability and self-worth really should be two different things. If you want to feel better about a publishing failure, go to a bookstore and have a look at all the worthless dreck that actually succeeds. It may be better to rule in hell than to serve in heaven – but it is also better to go unrecognized than to be a famous writer of dreck. Unless you are too shallow to know the difference – in which case you had better move on to another article because what follows will probably only insult you, if that’s possible.

We are all authors now. Anyone with fingers and an intact chunk of cerebral cortex can fling an electronic message-in-a-bottle into the abyss of cyberspace. One may blog and tweet and Facebook and Reddit and comment and venture into more venues than I can count. In one sense, it is nothing new – an electronic medium is just another medium, another kind of paper, but in another sense it is uncharted territory that humanity is stumbling enthusiastically into. Even grandma can have her Facebook page. In theory, Tamil villagers in Sri Lanka can be enthralled with gripping tails of the grandkids and their puppy, or whatever else the industrious grandma might choose to inflict upon a fascinated world. Everyone can strive to be famous, without the tedious, unsympathetic bulwark of the editor. Free at last! Free at last! Except, of course, that no one really cares about you now that didn’t care before. The Tamil villagers have no reason to care about Grandma, her progeny, or little Toto either. The only nearly sure-fire method of acquiring a willing audience is to make an utter fool of yourself in some novel and usually disgusting way. YouTube overfloweth with such fools. Video yourself jumping off a diving board into an empty swimming pool, or taking a dump in the aisle of your local grocery store, and you will get your 15 minutes of fame. A certain fraction of murders and would-be murders have always understood this possibility. John Hinckley not only got Jodie Foster’s attention by shooting Ronald Reagan – he got everybody else’s too. A sad, sick nobody became a sad, sick somebody. We all know Dzhokar Tsarnaev’s name and what he looks like. He didn’t even need an agent.

People throw themselves at the internet in all sorts of ways and for all sorts of reasons. I want my ideas to be heard, and I thereby hope to alter the world, however slightly, into something a little more to my liking. I want to be immortal, if only in a footnote somewhere. It is a ridiculous quest, of course, but most of the people out there trying to save the world, or some portion of it, are not actually doing anything better than that. We want our lives to have some meaning, and, paradoxically, the more of us there are and the more noise we make the less meaning we all have. Meaning is a luxury we indulge in when we aren’t starving or freezing. The pursuit of it is a bit better that self-mutilation or shooting holes in politicians du jour, but it isn’t a special or sacred avocation. It is just a quirk of the brain – a sort of Nietzschean will to power with a sugary glaze of altruism to make it more palatable to modern sensibilities. I should like to expand the realm of “me” by making you think like “me.” Who cares? So what? But I have held onto you this far – and that’s something. At least we can be ridiculous together.

Social media is a different species of animal from what I consider “real” writing, but it serves some of the same functions nevertheless. If it’s not an outreach of ideas it’s at least an extension of small talk. It is the communication mode of choice for those that find security not in meaning, but in simple attachment. It is now possible to engage strangers in the same sort of mutually reassuring babble we used to share with family members, friends, and neighbors. It is also possible to reinvent yourself in the convenient absence of a commonly known personal history – or even a body. I am a bit too misanthropic to spend my life in one long session of social network maintenance, so I admit I don’t have much to say about this sort of activity. I’m a deaf music critic when it comes to Facebook. Twitter, however, I despise on principle. Any form of communication that constricts an interlocutor to 140 characters is a direct assault not only on linguistic subtlety, but on the complexity of any underlying thought. It is reminiscent of Orwell’s newspeak from the novel 1984. The intention of newspeak was to constrain language to such a limited set of words that seditious or otherwise dangerous ideas could no longer even be entertained. This is language as a sort of straightjacket for the mind. Twitter, not surprisingly, has become a primary means for politicians and other celebrities to commune, in a sort of grunting troglodytic way, with their fans. I know I’m not insulting anybody here, because if you’re a dedicated tweeter, I’ve long since exceeded your attention span. LOL! ROFLMAO!

Last, and least, among the varied breeds of cybernoisemakers is the habitual snarky commenter. To be fair, I have read a few very insightful comments, and more than a few amusing ones. These are worthy products of the mind, and not the idle barking of the sort of beast I’m talking about. The kind of loathsome creature I’m referring to is the one whose favorite word is “idiot” or “asshole” and who takes a clear delight in name-calling from the anonymous safety of his smart phone – or whatever connective device they have these days in hell. Decades ago, public bathroom stalls were lavishly decorated with random (and not-so-random) insults, crude sketches of genitalia, and the general outpourings of small and primitively antisocial minds. Public bathrooms are much cleaner places now – but I’m pretty sure I know where all their unpaid decorators have gone. “FUCK YOU IDIOT!!!” Hmm. The similarity is uncanny. Some people don’t have the courage to pitch themselves headfirst into empty swimming pools to get attention. Still, in the spirit of tolerance and generosity, I wish them all the best in finding that much courage.

No comments:

Post a Comment