I used to write a website about movies and television with the occasional Think Piece on Gwyneth Paltrow’s spending power. It is a website that just happens to be closing up shop for good tomorrow, unfortunately. Ours was a love the world could not understand. R.I.P.
By the end of my tenure at the soon (so soon) to be defunct pop culture website, it genuinely felt like I was reading the Entire Internet every day, and the only takeaway one can have from reading the Entire Internet every day is that the Internet is 100% Horrible. There’s a common sense that the Internet is just a collection of sad adolescent trolls hiding in their parents’ basements throwing digital feces through the proverbial bars, but the truth is much worse. Everyone is throwing the digital feces. The trolls just enjoy it a little more.
So, one of the most wonderful aspects of stopping writing for that website on a daily basis was that I also stopped reading other websites on a daily basis. With rare exception, I haven’t LOOKED at a blog in six months, much less read one. I still look at Tumblr most days, but Tumblr might as well be Instagram. It hardly counts.
And yet, I somehow have not managed to escape Blog Culture, because Blog Culture has become so pervasive that we are all doomed to a wasteland future of ad hominem non-jokes, knee-jerk unreflective judgements punched out on iPads during commercial breaks, and a Smithsonian’s worth of #selfies.
Which is just the way that it is! This is not an old man’s screed decrying the collapse of something that never existed. The world is constantly repaving itself, and for as many problems as our world faces, it has always been worse. You can’t wax rhapsodic about, say, the family values of the 1950s without pointing out that we hadn’t even pointed firehoses at black people yet. THAT WAS SOMETHING WE STILL HAD TO LOOK FORWARD TO. The point is, we are human garbage wading waist-deep through our own filth, but we used to be subhuman garbage, and the filth was up to our eyes.
I think I’m losing the thread. Hold on. OK.
This all started because I read an article in the New York Times this morning that purported to describe the final days of Philip Seymour Hoffman. Before we go on let me just point out the obvious: shame on ME for reading it. That’s on me. I have to live with the choices I make. But also shame on the New York Times for assigning, editing, and publishing the article, which is by all accounts simply a collection of bystanders claiming that his skin looked very bad.
OH DID IT? DID A HEROIN ADDICT’S SKIN LOOK BAD IN THE DAYS BEFORE HE OVERDOSED ON HEROIN?
This quote has to be the lowest form of human expression I have seen in a long time:
“He passed me and my fiancée,” said Andrew Kirell, editor of Mediaite, a blog that covers the media. “It was remarkable how awful he looked.” They recognized him right away: “My fiancée and I are huge fans.”
I will say one thing about this paragraph: the efficiency with which it racks up outrageous offenses is impressive. You start with a morbid and queasily-gushing first hand account of a civilian’s brush with celebrity, which already sucks. Who cares that you saw someone famous? Write it down in your dream journal, you piece of shit. He also gives us a quick status update on his social life: fiancee. He’s lovable! Someone loves him so much they want to marry him forever! Then, before the first sentence is even concluded, you have a name-dropping curriculum vitae, just to prove that the civilian is more than civilian. There is no subject more compelling to New York media than New York media. After that: a useless, unflattering, and egregiously unnecessary description of the PHYSICAL APPEARANCE of a person who we already knew before we even started reading the article in question has died from a vicious drug addiction. It’s basically slut-shaming. Some kind of weird, grim, false-moralistic slut-shaming. Incidentally, the comment about Philip Seymour Hoffman’s physical appearance is the ONLY thing in the paragraph that is ABOUT Philip Seymour Hoffman. Everything else is about Andrew Kirell, betrothed editor of Mediaite, a blog that covers the media. Just to cap it off, this paragraph from hell, we have a throwaway remark about the civilian’s appreciation for the deceased celebrity, as if that somehow makes all of this OK. He was a fan, you see. And aren’t we all, in the end, just fans?
If I have a point—and I am not sure that I do—it is that we do not have to give a quote to the New York Times just because they asked us for a quote. We do not have to write a Tweet just because we are waiting in line for the bathroom. We can spend entire days in silence if we so choose. You can keep your mouth shut. It is possible.
For all of its hilarious mis-steps and weirdly tone-deaf grabs for the attention pie, the New York Times is obviously, OBVIOUSLY still an incredible resource. May it live forever and ever. And Twitter can be super fun. I even understand, when used in moderation, the occasional selfie. Keyword: occasional.
But in the rush of all this technology and instant gratification and the lab rat need to push the button because sure, 9 times out of 10 you get an electric shock but on the 10th time you get a crumb of cheese, and cheese is great, I do think we are forgetting a time honored human tradition that was passed from generation to generation, which is literally just this:
Think before you speak. You fucking dicks.