At some point we have to look in the mirror and see how we are “contributing” to a world we’re too often embarrassed to live in. Today is such a day for me.
We are making heroes of the very least among us, and it must stop. I am. You are. We are.
What terrorists and mass-murderers do is widely misunderstood in my view. The ‘sane’ ones, that is to say those who are not intellectually impaired but spiritually and socially fractured, use murder and mayhem as means not ends. It’s simply the surest way to be heard. And seen. They have some agenda, and since Oprah won’t invite them to her couch, Stern won’t grant them airwaves, Anderson Cooper won’t return their call, and so on, they choose the one thing American media can’t resist— the Big Bad. Then every spotlight, every microphone, every camera, every blog, every everything is obsessively focused on them.
It’s entirely wrong to condemn the media for this. It feeds us what we beg for. We devour it. We spread it. We want it. As a boy I read In Cold Blood and Helter Skelter to find out what makes a person do the unthinkable. Some people, however, take an almost prurient interest in blackest souls. Virtually all of us are on this continuum, somewhere between morbidly curious, obsessed and fawning apologists.
One such person, evidently at the very extreme end of the spectrum, is Kayvon Edson. Unlike the ’sane’ murderers I mentioned earlier, it seems Kayvon is the other kind. The clearly deranged threat.
How can I know this not twelve hours after the world knew of Kayvon? Well, I read how he was walking around the Boston Marathon memorial in a black veil. I read that in the newspaper. It was a lead story. Kayvon was trending on Twitter too!
Then, without even having to be asked to, I went to Facebook to see if Kayvon might have some words of wisdom to share there. He did.
Kayvon’s cover photo is not of his shining face; it’s of his probable idol— Tsarnaev The Younger! Clever, eh? But wait— there’s more! The picture had a caption. It reads: Had A Blast At the Marathon!!!
That’s right. Three exclamation points. Subtle.
If you’re yelling at your computer right now,”He probably didn’t even do that! Someone put the image up after the news of what he’d done”, you’re right. And you’re entirely missing the point. And you’re making mine.
That I would voluntarily investigate this person is gravely disappointing to the point of shame. That someone else would make light of both Kayvon and Tsarnaev’s crimes (against humanity)and draft off of it is vulgar on its face. And spreading.
Heroin addiction is running wild again in the streets of cities and towns. It’s scary and a blight.
I would argue that our addiction to Big Bads is more pervasive, more destructive, and more treatable. Thank God for small favors.
When drunks or loons run onto the field during a game, broadcasters turn the camera away or go to commercial so as not to encourage more attention seekers. Let’s do that for Big Bads.
Of course we have to report what happened. The public has a right to know and the press has an obligation to cover it. But let’s not mention names of perpetrators. Let’s deny them their fifteen minutes— to say nothing of their book deals, jailhouse marriage proposals, or Facebook ‘likes.’ They want an audience. Forget ‘let’s not give it to them’; let’s not be it. Let’s not spend precious hours or even days trying to unravel the yarn. It’s not that interesting.
If we had done that with (redacted), (redacted) might not have felt the urge to jog in his murderous footsteps in a thinly veiled homage. And if (redacted) didn’t do that, we wouldn’t be googling (“redacted”) to see what he looks like, what his favorite bands are, or what President he’d be according to his Facebook quiz.
I think you get my point.
I feel like there should be some cleansing platitude inserted here. “Be kind to strangers.” “Care for the mentally ill.” “Live every day to the fullest.”
I’ll settle for, “Don’t make fame of infamy.” Hey, it’s a start.
I don’t want media companies to be better than me. I want them to help me be better. I need all the help I can get. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe not.
I think this whole mess is about connections or our lack thereof. I also believe that connections are our salvation. But real ones. Not IP ones. Not iConnections.
The only way you could do something like what happened at the marathon is if you viewed all those bystanders as separate and apart from you. At this point whether “you” is a person, a group of people, a nation or a region is unclear. But I’m sure “you” feel disconnected. Otherwise you’d be blowing up yourself, right?
On a macro level I think that since the harmonic convergence of the 60s the world is now retreating back into our respective corners. Turns out love is not, in fact, all we need. Seems we need stuff, wealth, power, guns and devices. Lots and lots of devices.
The Us vs. Them that’s playing out on the global stage is mutated a bit on smaller scale. It’s not Us vs. Them but Me and You. It’s less sinister and corrosive but no less dangerous. Whereas Us vs. Them (UvT moving forward) frequently takes the form of aggression towards our neighbors, MaY takes the form of regression. It’s a retreat into our shells. Our heads ensconced in headphones and soon Google Glasses if Satan is real as I strongly suspect, we plug into our vWorlds and disconnect from our real ones. Sorry, the real one. We all come at it differently, but there’s just one. And we share it.
I see tweets and headlines today about “What can Tech do in response to yesterday’s bombing?” or godforbid “What can advertising do…?”
I take it back. There is something.
Lay down your weapons. We can’t app or advertise our way out of this jam. Don’t push the quick fix. These will be the hard yards. This is the proverbial crawl through glass. We have to actually do something. Not talk about doing something. Not create a “something experience”. There is no app for this.
It’s not about starting a movement. It’s about moving. Action.
And real discussion. We obviously need to find out who did this and handle our business there. But there’s a million or more right behind them. That’s one place I agree with Gun nuts. If you take an AK away bad guys will come up with something else to murder and maim. That’s sadly true. We are obligated to make it harder, however, but it’s a fair point. Guns do kill people but it really is true that it’s actually people that kill people.
And so people have to start talking to people again. In the pubs. In the coffee shops. At soccer games. In the lunch room. Around the dinner table. Disconnect the devices and reconnect with our fellow humans.
Gawker.com will still be there when we get back. The question is will our first-person interactions make third-person social voyeurism less appealing.
I guess we’ll have to google that bridge when we come to it.
(Yes, I’m aware I’m delivering this sermon via blog. Boston wasn’t built in a day. But it was blown up on one.)
British boxer Curtis Woodhouse recently showed up at the house of some guy who’d been running his mouth about him on Twitter. Suffice it to say, there’ll be no more sucker punches from that guy.
It got me to thinking.
I don’t know about you, but I can sing like a motherfucker in the shower. Just the other day I brought myself to tears (or was it the shampoo?) with a plaintive version of Drive-by Truckers’ “You’ve Got Another.” In the shower I am Sam Cooke, Eddie Vedder, Howlin’ Wolf– blessed with golden shower pipes. (Wait. What?)
In the shower I’m not in the suburbs. I’m playing Carnegie Hall. I’m at Red Rocks. I’m at CBGB. I’m pitch-perfect and they love it!
Here’s the thing. In reality I’m in none of those places. I’m in the shower. I’m in my own head. I hear me with my mind, not my ears. Why am I not in those places really? I’m definitely ballless and probably talentless in the singing department. I get ‘stage fright’ in public bathrooms. I don’t want to know what the real thing is like.
I don’t sing in public because I fear ridicule and a lifetime of embarrassment for me, my family, and my pets. Some people call this “social equilibrium.” It’s an affirmative form of peer pressure.
Social Media has little of that. In fact, I think Social Media is becoming a great big shower stage. Twitter has become the Hollywood Bowl. Facebook is Madison Square Garden. Blogs, like this very one, are those great little clubs every town cherishes– the Continental in Buffalo, the Green Mill in Chicago… Places where you “play” for somewhere between handfuls and dozens of people who are mostly there just to get shitfaced.
I give massive credit to the folks who do it. They’re putting themselves out there. But let’s tone down the Rock ‘n’ Roll act a bit. It’s all getting a bit sharply worded, a bit too pointed, a bit too inflammatory for me. It’s kind of the equivalent of talking shit to someone behind bars. It’s easy. There’s no fear of reprisals. If you look, many if not most personal blogs have no response mechanism. Facebook and Twitter have that, of course, but there’s no law requiring you use it. You have the mic and you can really lean into it and give them the show they’ve come to see (in your mind).
As a consequence, you have a lot of folks who do the equivalent of yelling “Fire” in a theater that they’re not sitting in. They do it to stir people up, to get a reaction. That’s cool, but take it for what it is– provocation. Don’t get me wrong. I’m Irish. I love a good dustup. But this isn’t really that. It takes two to tango and usually these tweakers are either too spineless or intellectually flabby to really lock horns. They hit and run.
And they can. Your online you may or may not line up with your offline (aka—flesh and blood) you. You throw something out there and people may or may not ever see it. It’s literary littering on an empty street where you’re not likely to be recognized. You wouldn’t do it if it was going to be on the six o’clock news (remember that?), the front page of the newspaper your neighbors read every day, or, God-forbid, delivered by you in front of the congregation you so dutifully attend each and every week without fail. You wouldn’t do it because you’d own it. You’d own the sentiment. You’d own the consequences. You’d own the addition it made to people’s perception of you.
Social Media seems to be different. Maybe we’d like it to be. Maybe it’s where the kids that had sand kicked in their faces seek retribution. Maybe it’s where real-life sinners can pretend to be saints. Usually, though, it’s the opposite of that. It’s where people who are pretending to be saints in their real lives flex their genuinely demonic muscle. It’s where they can say what’s really on their minds without too many people noticing (except their likeminded followers) or tracking it all the way back from the virtual world to the physical. If that does happen, they can, and do, always brush it off that it was an off-the-cuff comment made hastily, taken out of context, and blown out of proportion. Usually that suffices.
I’m not advocating transparency of online identities. We can’t make dialog mandatory. People are free to say and “be” whatever they choose in Social Media. It’s unvetted. It’s unregulated. It’s unreal. What we can do is call a spade a spade. We can make sure folks’ online crocodile mouths line up with their real world canary asses. Like Curtis did. We can slip a real microphone into their shower (and a recorder too) so they and the whole world can hear what their little Johnny Rotten routine really sounds like.
Maybe then they’ll turn the amp down from ‘eleven’ before they’re counted out.