Friday, August 12, 2016

The Rising Tide

We are all familiar with the man who speaks loudly and says whatever pops into his head, sans filter of any kind. Some have suggested that he's the logical product of the worst ideological elements of the Republican Party, the pillars of which are now wringing their hands and grinding their teeth in the wake of their fallen angel.

And because of him, most of us have become reacquainted with the word "demagogue." I'll tell you straight up, I had to Google it to be quite sure what it meant: a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument.

In addition to "demagogue," which, let's face it,  smacks of intellectual elitism, the more colloquial term, "bullshit artist," has been upgraded in popular psychology to describe a person who so full of shit that they can no longer tell the difference between truth and lie--at least, not in every instance. (The New Republic, The Washington Post, and CNN have all written about the Republican candidate being a bullshit artist. Google: Trump as bullshit artist.) According to this theory, Trump has not lost his mind, he has lost his bearings.

And have you heard about the rising tide of anti-intellectualism?  I wish they would call it something else.

The word "intellectual" has always bugged me. It's like referring to one's self as an athlete. Even if you are an athlete, you don't go around saying that about yourself. It's too grand. And I don't go around calling myself intellectual, because I know that someone who has read more than I have would smack me down for it. And I would deserve it, especially if they're the stealthy, under-the-radar intellectual type who eschews pretentious words like "eschew"; who were raised without advantage by their single mom; who reads Blake and keeps manuscripts of difficult but brilliant poetry in cheap notebooks in the back of their closet.

Those are the intellectuals I most admire, as well as the unemployed ones living out of cheap hotels in Bangkok, with her ear to the wall of every insurrection and terrorist plot in Southeast Asia. (Yes, I'm speaking of the class valedictorian who spent her senior year interning for Green Peace before cutting out for the Western Territories, ultimately continuing until West became East.)

Those are my intellectuals: the quiet ones who don't speak of anti-intellectual tides, because that is a meaningless platitude that fails to elicit any concern from the masses for the drowning intellectuals muttering, "Idiots, idiots!," instead of "Help!"

I digress.

I do think that there are a lot more voices in the media shouting a lot of bullshit to a lot of impressionable young people, mainly through You Tube.

I think You Tube is a marvelous thing. I know there are a lot of thoughtful and terrific Tubers on You Tube. Some that my son has watched over the years have been a delight for me to watch with him. They're witty and clever and funny and smart. They do science experiments and "life hacks" and sing hilarious and ironic songs.

But like the Internet itself, there is a dark side to You Tube--perhaps not like the notorious  other side of the Internet that is supposed to be a seedy, miserable, crime-ridden space where people exchange human organs, traffic in drugs, stolen art, and God knows what else. I've only heard tell, and it sounds apocryphal, but it probably isn't.

If, like me, you have a twelve-year-old boy, it may have come to your attention that he is on the receiving end of a stable of talking-head Tubers, mostly young men, who do and say all kinds of things--sometimes funny and clever; sometimes sopping with prejudice.

Watching a talking-head Tubers (THT?) speak at three times the normal rate and volume makes me feel like I'm being assaulted by a drill sergeant with ADD.  They talk as if we were hard of hearing. And they speak super fast, knowing that their audience could instead be spending that hour watching 550 vines.

Everything in my kid's You Tube world is fast, fast, fast. After I've watched 20 - 25 vines, I feel disoriented. I have to concentrate so hard to take in so many slivers of information that when I look away, the room fairly spins. It takes me a moment to focus my brain on any one thing.

Josh has grown fond of some Tubers, so sparkly and cool, so fast and loud. He looks up to them, and it kind of tears him up to have to acknowledge that sometimes they might be wrong. He wants them to be right all the time. To borrow the parlance of some popular Tuber, he gets very "triggered" when I argue against anything any of them have said.

Condemn me if you will for letting my son "subscribe" to such nonsense. I'm not proud. I admit it, he spends too much time on the computer. Most kids do. But next month, he'll be 13; and then there's 14...and  after that, there will be 15 to deal with...If I have little control over him now, I'll have even less as time goes by. In any event, there will be other talking-head Tubers to spout off on every topic for every age.

In his article, "Why Are SO MANY YouTubers Faced with Allegations of Abuse?" (click on the link below to read the article), Liam Dryden, who worked with Tubers Tobuscus and Toby Turner, suggests that their enormous success "gave them a sense that they could have anything--and anyone--they wanted."

http://www.wetheunicorns.com/debate/youtubers-abuse-rape-tobuscus-toby-turner/

Tobuscus was not a demagogue or a provocateur. I used to watch his videos with my son. I enjoyed his mostly tasteful, clever, ironic humor and funny voices and songs. He may have treated women badly behind the camera, but I don't remember him speaking badly about women or girls in front of the camera. (That is not to excuse his behind-the-camera behavior.)

My son was upset by these allegations, as you can imagine. He had a hard time accepting that they could be true, and was inclined to believe that the accusers were lying. Tobuscus denied and denied, but the allegations piled up. Ultimately, Tobuscus was roundly condemned by the You Tuber community. My son was tapped into that grapevine, and I think that his disappointment ran very deep. Based on the comments he made, I have the impression that it made him feel like humanity was more shabby and bleak than he could have imagined.

Last year, he was a big fan of PewDiePie. I bought PDP's book for Christmas, This Book Loves You.  PewDiePie strikes me as a kind and popular kid who, through his power and grace, levels the social hierarchy and makes friends of everyone. That's a marvelous quality. With that in mind, the title and marketing of his book (This Book Loves You), seemed brutishly manipulative (less transparently so, if you're eleven).

My son made a study of that book, which was said (by PDP) to be an ironic treatment of platitudes, but is, in my (ever so humble) opinion, a bunch of crap between covers (with the exception of earnest illustrators and book designers), created for the sole purpose of cashing in on PDP's mega-market earnings potential.

To be able to put a book into the hands of millions of young people who look up to you as an ally and friend is a tremendous honor. PewDiePie dishonored the kids who look up to him by squandering the opportunity to give them something meaningful for their money, and with a cynical book title that slyly mocks them.   

I would take pains to emphasize that not all You Tubers who appeal to young audiences are predators, demagogues, provocateurs, or mercenaries. Many enrich kids' lives with their creativity and genius for teaching. And even the talking-head Tubers who speak loudly and fast are not always speaking out of their ass. Some of them, like Daz, (who referred to feminists as femi-Nazis) are a mixed bag. In one video, he gave what I thought was a very sensitive explanation of what it means to be a transgender person. Kudos for that.

I've tried to emphasize to my son that I'm not condemning his fave Tuber by disagreeing with something they've said on a specific topic. Josh doesn't yet understand what I mean by that. He wants to believe that everything his fave You Tubers say is Gospel. This is worrisome, as far as it goes, but I am reassured by the fact that he doesn't let it end there. He continues to mull things over, to ruminate.

He asked his camp counselor what he thought about feminism. (The counselor told Josh that the word "feminism" has become meaningless. It used to mean something back in the day, but now it doesn't.) Josh asked his cello teacher (a woman) what she thought about feminism. (I don't know what she said; he didn't report it to me, so maybe it was consistent with my views and therefor a wash.)

He does report back that the word feminism has become meaningless; that it used to mean something, but now it doesn't. And I tactfully correct him, which upsets him. He wishes everyone would just get along, and there was no sexism or racism or rapists or terrorists.

I remind him that we started out as fish. We crawled out of the sea as frogs. We were lizards before we were mammals. We were apes before we were human. We have evolved. We started out brainless and got smarter and smarter. But we're still kind of dumb, so we have to keep learning and getting smarter. Not just about stuff, but also about ethics--about what's true, right, and decent. That's how we get better, I said. (Something like that.)



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