Social Media: The Teenage Years

stephen fryIn the face of a midwinter morning, it would be so-o-o-o easy to be bitchy.  It’s cloudy without the threat of mystic rain, chilly without being snuggly cold; the light’s all wrong and Stephen Fry has quit Twitter — again.  Fry is the most recent casualty in the War On Humour.  He made a joke at the Baftas and the Eagerly Offended from Social Media were on him like ugly on an ape.  (No offence, apes!)  Anyway, Fry has gone home to lick his wounds, or whatever else takes his fancy, saying, “too many people have peed in the pool” an apt description of Social Media: The Teenage Years.

Everybody knows the Internet has been around since Al Gore invented it back before Bill Clinton taught the world the value of sexual semantics. (See what bitchy looks like?)  However, most people don’t realize that Social Media is barely a dozen years old.  It isn’t even close to the Age of Consent.  In fact, if Social Media were a person, the things we do with it would get us all arrested.  I’ll just let that one sink in for a minute.

My point is Social Media is still an adolescent.  We all have high hopes that it will become that great intellectual and philosophical adult forum which will connect us to the ideas of the world, but … at this point, it’s still just one giant middle school.  It’s a place where we hang with the people who most reinforce our image of the world.  A place where the unfamiliar is viewed with caution, even suspicion — and sometimes anger.  It’s a place where the questions are painted with broad strokes so the answers can be straightforward.  But, beyond all that, like middle school, Social Media is a place where we’re all desperately, desperately trying to fit in and be cool.  In fact, when Glamour editor Jo Elvin took Fry to task, her exact words were “Uncool of Stephen Fry to say bafta winning costume designer dressed like a ‘bag lady’ I was thinking it was cool she wore what she wanted.”  And that’s what it all comes down to: who’s cool and who isn’t.

Cool is a teenage life choice and “I’m more sensitive than you” is a teenage social tactic.  Clearly, Social Media has a lot of growing up to do.  But Stephen Fry said it better, calling Social Media: “A stalking ground for the sanctimoniously self-righteous who love to second-guess, to leap to conclusions and be offended — worse, to be offended on behalf of others they do not even know.”

Sounds like he doesn’t like the Cool Kids, either.  Get ’em Stephen!

God, it would be so-o-o-o easy to be offended on behalf of Stephen Fry today.  It’s a good thing I’m an adult and don’t go in for that sort of thing.

Vulgar Is As Vulgar Does

18th Annual Critics' Choice Movie Awards - Press RoomThere are some days when, for whatever reason (too many headlines on an empty stomach, maybe?) it feels as if the barbarians have taken over our little garden spot.  It looks as though they’ve tossed their trash everywhere, trampled the flowers and peed in the fountain for good measure.  It’s on days like this that I wish I could just hole up somewhere and read novels.  Unfortunately, I can’t.

At the risk of giving the Oscars way more ink than they deserve, their antics are still holding our heads in the proverbial sewer – five days after the fact.  The Hollywood camp followers, never the brightest lights on the marquee, are keeping the pot boiling, and for some unknown reason  we’re all clambering to get a second crack at who did what to whom on Oscar night.  I have no idea why.  Remember most of these hangers-on are still in apoplectic shock over Seth McFarlane’s song and dance about boobs.  At the other end of the freeway, the rest of them are slobbering all over themselves because the seams on Anne Hathaway’s dress suggested she might have a couple of them hidden in there.  Somehow, I can’t take people who have the sophistication of a pubescent schoolboy seriously, even though it looks as if just about everybody else around me can.  But my gripe is not with these folks – at least not today.

Today, I’m pissed off at The Onion, the risen Messiah of the Chattering Class, and even though they apologized (here) I plan to hold a grudge.

Ever since The Onion deemed it necessary to call a nine-year-old child, Quvenzhane Wallis, a very adults-only nasty name, the prevailing wisdom is the guys and dolls from Chicago went too far.  Crap!  “Going too far” suggests you were on the right road and just didn’t know when to hit the brakes.  If these gangsters merely “went too far,” which epithet should they have used that would have been far enough and no further?  Personally, I can’t think of one.  However, I can tell you, definitely, that The Onion and their loyal readership have missed the point entirely.  While they are rattling on about “appropriate” and “acceptable,” some of us are wondering how (not why) did it all come up in the first place.  After all, The Onion is a big organization; it’s not a couple of guys smoking dope and watching the Oscars in the parents’ basement.  There must have been a general consensus of some sort.  How does a journey that ends in “too far” begin?  What are the building blocks that create an attitude that could ever say, “It’s open season on nine-year-olds”? These are the questions we should be asking– not whether the result was “appropriate.”

It’s obvious that — somewhere between Anna Paquin in ’93 and now — our society has become scuzzy.  We’ve turned into a bunchpower1 of cheap-shot artists who might have a biting wit but lack the wisdom to know where or when to use it.  Why?  In the last twenty years, we have spent so much time Big Brothering each other’s “appropriate” and “acceptable” language and behaviour that we no longer understand the need to govern ourselves.  It’s a matter of supreme indifference to us.  Mainly because we no longer care about the substance of our ideas, we’re simply scared skinny of what they might look like.  For example, you and I both know there are several “inappropriate” words that The Onion could have used in this situation, but they never came up on the panel.  Satire and parody be damned; they were “unacceptable.”

The Onion can be hilarious.  However, vulgar isn’t funny: it’s not satire and it’s not parody.  It’s just bad taste, tarted up as comedy.  Unfortunately, when, as a society, we no longer possess the ability to make that distinction, there’s something dreadfully wrong.  Therefore, as of today, The Onion can go hang.  They might have 7 million readers, but they’re going to have one fewer.  It’s a tiny gesture that those big-ass birds aren’t even going to notice.  But I’ll know.  The barbarians might already be trampling the flowers, but this is one posy who’s going to surrender slowly.

The Twitterpatter of Little Tweets

I’m way too old to understand Twitter.  I know what it is – obviously – I don’t live in a cave.  But I have no emotional attachment to it; therefore, I can’t possibly understand it.  It’s always been my experience that you have to care about something before you can figure out how it works.  For example, I don’t care how the microwave works: zap my burrito and I’ll be on my way.  It might be heat; it might be light; for all I know it might be a little guy with a blow torch.  The transformation from frozen to food doesn’t interest me.  Twitter, however, fascinates me.  Unfortunately, I’m not young enough to see it as an intimate part of life.  I grew up with other things that take precedence.  It’s as if I were my own grandfather, trying to understand why everybody is so captivated by the magic box in the living room where grey-tone Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz live.  It’s nice, but I’ve got other things to do.

Twitter is changing the way we live — D’uh!  But, not in that vacant “everybody’s on Facebook” kind of way.  Yes, everybody’s on Facebook, but most of us have figured out that while Facebook works fine as an ego repository, nobody’s going to change the world by clicking the “Like” icon.  Twitter is more than just being connected, putting on the brag and showing everybody our pictures.  It actually makes us communicate.  Not since the Golden Age of letter writing, when the Victorians introduced regular and inexpensive mail service, has there been such an outpouring of social communication.  It’s as if there’s a gigantic cocktail party going on, 24/7, and everyone’s invited.  Of course, as at any cocktail party, there are a bunch of dolts over by the food, talking nonsense, and most of the rest of the room is as dull as my half-heated burrito.  However, interesting people will gravitate to each other (or to the bar) and Twitter lets them do that – on a scale worthy of the pyramids.

A couple of rainy afternoons ago, I wandered through this electronic booze cruise and randomly gleaned (“stole” is such a hard word) some of this good stuff.  The kicker is it only took me a little over an hour and here are just a few of the results.  I’ve changed them slightly from Twitterspeak.

I wish I had two more middle fingers for you.
Deja Moo: Same old bull
I have heels higher than your standards.
I hope when the shark comes, you don’t hear the music.
Are you Voldemort’s child?
Don’t you think if I was wrong, I would know it?
I can only aspire to be the person my dog thinks I am.

I could go on and on.  If Dorothy Parker were alive today, her head would explode.  The entire world is playing Algonquin Hotel, and Twitter is the Round Table.

Yet, even as you read this, people are lamenting the passing of the written word and damning YouTube for filming the eulogy.  They see texting and Twitter as mind-numbing barbarians who are putting Shakespeare’s quill pen legacy to the sword.  However, there are more words being written today than at any other time in human history.  There are more words being read, more conversations taking place and more ideas being exchanged.  Certainly, most of them are crap, but that’s the nature of democracy: everybody gets a voice.  My point is, though, so far, Twitter is not only saving the written word (140 characters at a time) it’s finding its own place in history.  It, along with texting, are reviving the art of written communication that cheap and easy telephones almost destroyed.   Young people all over the world are thumbing away at each other, sitting in schools and at the dinner table looking down at their crotches and laughing.  The wit and wisdom of the 21st century is sitting there — right in their lap.

This is the Twitter revolution that I’m never going to be able to understand.  I think it’s a wonderful, magical thing, but, as Mark Twain would have texted, “Too bad Tweets are wasted on the young.”