I’ve said in the past that all the crazy and stupid in the world doesn’t make me bitter so much as bemused (which is not at all the same as amused). Lately, as the stakes seem higher and the ought-is gap ever wider, I have to admit to a fair degree of bitterness. It just doesn’t have to be this bad, and often I can’t really grasp why it is.
I read my news feed and am struck by the juxtaposition of items describing the tragedies of life so many experience daily with… hand-wringing over Taylor Swift’s latest romantic breakup.
Ah, the flotsam and jetsam of modern humanity…
Hayley Tsukayama, writing in the Washington Post (August 31), ponders Pokémon Go and the lifespan of fads in the Internet age.
Pokémon Go — the augmented-reality game that sent the classic Japanese franchise into a new age — took the world by storm last month. But just last week, there was already a number of articles declaring the game all but dead. A report from Bloomberg News showed that Pokémon Go was already “in decline,” including charts from Axiom Management that fewer people are playing the game every day and that the people who are playing are not playing for quite as long.
It was interesting to me, having seen the cycle repeatedly, to watch the Pokémon Go fad catch fire, capture everyone’s interest (for an internet-centric definition of “everyone”), and begin to fade within months.
Much of it has to do with something I’ve talked about many times: scale. The global village is huge, and one characteristic of large systems with millions of connected members is that memes spread explosively.
But given that these memes are ultimately devoid of substance, like a piece of candy, they don’t endure (let alone nourish). Eat one piece of candy and you immediately begin to think about the next piece.
Speaking of which: Who remembers Candy Crush?
Venkatesh Rad, writing in The Atlantic (September 6), asks How Harambe Became the Perfect Meme.
It is perhaps the sheer meaninglessness of the original episode that made it an ideal candidate for memetic perfection. There is no object lesson in the Harambe story. No greater moral or meaning. No nascent Clint Eastwood movie. Yet the powerful video of a small child being dragged along by a large gorilla demanded a response and emotional resolution. When that resolution could not be found within the limited original context, Harambe broke out into the broader cultural marketplace, seeking, if not narrative interpretation, at least emotional resolution.
If you don’t recall, Harambe is the zoo gorilla shot and killed last May by keepers at the Cincinnati Zoo. The did it to save a small child who had wandered into the gorilla enclosure.
Essentially Rad paints a picture of a world turned so weird that we’re captured by events like these while simultaneously drawing away from normal expressions of human values (such as Eastwood’s recent movie, Sully).
It is perhaps Clint Eastwood movies that are out of place in this world, in that they offer no acknowledgement or accommodation of the great weirding that defines our times — only escapist fantasies set in worlds of moral meaning and emotional closure. In a world defined by Harambe, Sully is emotional science fiction.
Harambe is post-everything. Post-normal, atemporal, post-cultural, post-ironic—choose your favorite descriptor of the zeitgeist: Harambe is an entropic heat death anti-narrative that can mean anything while signifying nothing. And perhaps that’s a good thing: any substantive and creative collective response to the weird, no matter how incoherent, is better than a fearful retreat to the normal.
What strikes me is the normalizing of weird. Very bemusing!
I’ve never been a much of a fan of the whole Burning Man thing. The idea is interesting enough, but the problems of scale kind of ruin it. That and how shit always wins, so it’s hard to keep things good.
Apparently it’s getting harder. Melissa Chan, in Time (September 5), writes about the Burning Man Camp Attacked by Vandals Over Outrage at ‘Parasite Class’.
Apparently some folks thought the White Ocean camp was too cush and comfy for the Burning Man ethic. So naturally they vandalized the place.
The next day (September 6), Kate Samuelson, also in Time, writes that Revellers are Still Trying to Leave Burning Man Festival – 24 Hours After it Finished.
Once again, the scale of things these days makes things a challenge.
There was (and I assume still is) a great Oktoberfest event in Minneapolis. It runs on weekends four weeks in a row and has all the usual fun things. My friends and I used to go every year.
I haven’t been in years. Too many people. Getting to the beer line is difficult with the press of bodies. With so many people, it stops being fun.
I’ve read articles about the difficulties the National Parks system had dealing with the influx of visitors, many of whom have no idea what proper behavior is.
Matthew Brown, writing in Time (August 28), explains how How Selfies Are Making Yellowstone Dangerous for Tourists.
Record visitor numbers at the nation’s first national park have transformed its annual summer rush into a sometimes dangerous frenzy, with selfie-taking tourists routinely breaking park rules and getting too close to Yellowstone’s storied elk herds, grizzly bears, wolves and bison.
Law enforcement records obtained by The Associated Press suggest such problems are on the rise at the park, offering a stark illustration of the pressures facing some of America’s most treasured lands as the National Park Service marks its 100th anniversary.
Two other articles from Time (we’re on a kick here) chime in:
Video Shows Vandals Destroying Popular Rock Formation at Oregon State Park, Martha Bellisle, September 5, describes a bit of casual vandalism caught by an overflying drone.
Apparently the young men were mad at the rock formation because one of their friends had broken his leg on it.
Man Arrested After Breaking Into House and Painting Dog Purple, Police Say, Melissa Chan, September 5.
A couple of sources have reported a new interweb mini-fad: This live stream of an intersection in a random Wyoming town is my favorite fall TV show, Kaitlyn Tiffany, The Verge, September 6.
Apparently over two-thousand people spend a chunk of their day watching a webcam of an intersection in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Apparently there is a way to comment on the stream, so viewers spend their day gushing over seeing a red truck.
And then there’s You’re the Worst, a TV series that I’d heard about and which seemed to be getting acclaim. But then I read Nandini Balial’s article in New Republic (September 2), The Worst Is Yet to Come.
Relationships are hard, so is comedy, and the intersection of the two is the primordial ooze for You’re the Worst, now entering its third season on FXX. No show on TV has given its audience such a complete insight into people who are adults only in name. The wealth of insecurities on display aren’t available on your average show about relationships—or your friend’s Instagram feed, or your cousin’s Facebook posts. The first season established the wretchedness of its lovers: Jimmy the one-hit-wonder writer and Gretchen the frustrated music publicist, two unstoppable self-destructive assholes who are comfortable only when they wage war against stability and relationships.
Oh, good, Lord, no thank you.
As I’ve said before, I watch TV to be with people I’d like to have as friends. This business of watching assholes, extreme criminals, or just the incredibly ignorant, stupid, and incompetent, is utterly beyond me.
Why spend time with a virtual asshole I’d never let in my house or share a meal with? What is the attraction?
It’s all of a piece in my eyes. The sheer scale of humanity combined with the sheer lack of real meaning for most of it. I guess it makes sense to spend all your free time in shallow, meaningless pursuits.
It’s a simple equation. With a wolf pack or a village — even a town or city of old — all the members mattered, were valued. These days humanity is more like an ant hill or herd of ruminants. Individuals have less and less meaning.
And, in terms of numbers, we’re approaching petri dish counts.
It’s really existentialism writ large onto the seven-billion-plus humans infesting the globe (very much like an ant hill).
I’m increasingly convinced the real answer to Fermi’s Paradox is that “intelligent” (let’s just say “clever”) life’s progress tends to so far outstrip its actual intelligence that self-destruction is almost a certainty.
These days I can’t think of a species that deserves it more.