Saw a rather compelling episode of FRONTLINE, one of the few news publications that actually cares about good journalism. This was an episode called “Generation Like” (Linked here) and it was a very interesting episode. My generation grew up in the 90’s, and we are so unconnected in a lot of ways from how this latest generation is perceiving and interacting with the world. This isn’t going to be a negative response. Or rather, I’m not going to be going after FRONTLINE. Their episode was good and I am glad I saw it. But seeing what they had to say, it got me to thinking about something.
Those who are coming up after me live and breathe the Internet. Social media is everything. For real, everything. This is a reality that isn’t about to change, so don’t go hoping or expecting it to. We can’t go back. Like Napster before it, Facebook and Myspace (remember them?) opened the floodgates that changed the world forever. There was this great line that Sean Parker had in The Social Network –
We lived on farms, then we lived in cities, and now we’re going to live on the Internet!
That’s a reality that is never going to change, however much we might want it to. And there is a reason that we want it to. As I watched this episode, I realized something – this culture is so empty. For real, the level of shallowness that was displayed in this episode of FRONTLINE was almost heart-breaking. You had kids who were obsessed with pop culture. The narrator talked about how this was a trend among those he interviewed. There was a character who made his brand, identity and living off of his obsession with bands like One Direction (who sucks) and the like. All stuff that is mainstream and marketable. Corporate advertisers liked him and the average females who clicked on his YouTube videos liked him too. This kind of popularity is not uncommon on the Internet world.
However, there was another side to this. They showed a young boy who originally made skateboarding videos. Kid seemed to have talent, but then he realized something – the racier and more risque his content became, the more views he got and the more money he got. The more recognition he got. An identity was made. It showed something I already had some idea about, but never knew the extent of until now. It is a huge market of both identity and fame for people who go out of their way to make complete asses of themselves for the Internet’s amusement. It is a harrowing look at how vacant the lives of young people have become when they can go out and hurt themselves for the express purpose of getting attention. Or, to make themselves look like complete sexist assholes in cheap videos about how to pick up loose women. Though girls do the same to the other extreme. No gender is blameless. No gender is innocent. It seems that so many do it.
There was this comic that was done a while back where it showed a network that made a show where everybody could watch everybody at any time. It said at the bottom – having finally been rendered obsolete, the concept of art quietly passes away. That’s where we seem to be heading. Culture seems to have stagnated. Artistic creativity in ways that matter seems to be valued less and less. Now, I will recognize that there is no malice behind this reality. For real, it’s all very innocent, in most ways. Kids don’t realize what this is doing. They’re just getting out there and having fun. I don’t begrudge them that. With how shitty the economy is (and going nowhere fast), if they can find a niche that can get them an identity and make money, hey, power to them. And indeed, there is money to be made. Where once the online sphere was something that couldn’t make a lot of money, now there is a ton of cash swimming around, waiting for people to swoop in and grab it.
But the bigger question is – at what point do we realize how pathetically empty all of these pursuits are? At what point do we sit back and wonder – does anyone even care about this anymore? Does the kid who is trying to hit it much the same as how Justin Bieber got famous, using that same kind of soulless garbage, realize how much he is taking away from actual potential for good music? The visual arts are almost completely dead, with the exception of Indie gaming companies who are trying to push the boundaries and tell powerful stories. Although, if The Last of Us is any example, the blockbuster games can still do the same thing, in a big way. But the other visual arts are pretty much dead and gone, with the exception of those who are rebels and choose to do their medium in ways where they can get noticed for doing what’s wrong, like street art taggers who go marking places that don’t get hit with great works. It’s telling when the only paintings you see in this country in recent years are the ones on brick walls.
We are starting to become consumed by the banal. Corporate America is very cleverly using this new world to make a ton of cash. The youth are burying themselves up to their eyeballs in it, because this is their world. It is never going to change, so they knew to get in while the getting is good. But at the same time, they are dying because of it. You have kids who say that their profile page is their world, because it symbolizes them in their entirety. The amount of likes is something that people take pride in. Followers and views is a measure of power and success. Where are we going?
I get the feeling that wherever it is, it isn’t good.
Until next time, a quote,
“Nowadays, people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.” -Oscar Wilde