Cliff’s Notes for “A Wednesday Evening Blog Post by Me”:
I’ve written a blog. The first paragraph will have you doubting your own writing skills and ability to take the tools provided by the English language and craft heavenly prose. The third sentence in the second paragraph will have you donating the majority of the insulation material you previously referred to as “books” to Third World countries so they can have better heating. Have a tissue box ready for the end of the third paragraph. Have an enema and lubricant for the fourth. By the closing line, you’ll have a gun in your hand, finger on the trigger, credit card chopped to bits. Thank me later.
Sound familiar? This ridiculous format, which I like to refer to as hyperbolic idiocy, has taken content-sharing websites by storm and is proliferating faster than an STD at NYU. You’ve seen it on Upworthy, MobileDia, and other sites that don’t actually generate their own content but rather remarket and repackage preexisting videos to make them seem more dramatic and profound than they already are.
I was reading an article on salon.com yesterday about how Facebook is going to start promoting “high quality news” on people’s feeds. The writer of this particular article took a couple of jabs at Upworthy.com, jabs that I personally found wholly merited. What?! But it’s such a nice site! Indeed, Upworthy focuses on content that is more profound than pictures of celebrities looking less-than-fly, or GIFS of single people getting drunk. But they’re contradictory: while presuming to promote content that privileges individuality, intellect and openmindedness, they seem to have pioneered the most offensive internet trend to date: emotion-stamping videos, telling viewers not only what to feel, but at what second they’re supposed to feel it. “At 2:19, you’ll bawl your eyes out.” What if I don’t? Does this make me insensitive? “At 5:56 (yes, we know it’s long!) you’ll be getting a divorce.”
It goes without saying that this is fucking irritating. It’s also wholly pretentious, and assumes that millennials – the largest viewing demographic – are too into technology to remember how to emote properly. This simpering presentation suggests that we’re not capable of watching something “important” for the benefits of the content or for the pleasure of knowing something new and stimulating, but rather that we need a daily dose of “happy,” “striking,” “shocking,” and “thought-provoking” to mix in with our already complex cocktail of activities; a check-list, as it were, for the soul.
I’m as susceptible to a catchy headline as the next 80s baby, so when I saw a friend had posted an allegedly insane travel video, I clicked. The title is: “This Man Will Show You More In One Minute Than You’ll See In a Lifetime. Seriously.” The caption explains that the creator spent a month and a half traveling through 11 countries to make a 60-second video; it also advises against blinking at 0:28.
Here’s what happened. At 0:04, I realized I hated this video. At 0:11, I saw Paris. At 0:23, as the smiling man stood in the center of rapidly flashing images of famous monuments, I started to get dizzy. At 0:28, the images started flashing at double speed. At 0:37, I wanted to punch the dude. At 0:52, I wondered how much his backpack had cost him. At 0:59, I wondered how much the trip had cost him.
And at 1:00, I was pissed. I know we’re meant to hate the game, not the player, so I can’t fault the hearty traveler for the patronizing way the Internet decided to present this super short film. But this man did not show me more in one minute than I’ll see in a lifetime. Even if I’d never left New York for a day in my life, a white guy posing in Ray Bans in front of tourist attractions is not showing me anything except a white guy posing in Ray Bans in front of tourist attractions.
Going to 11 countries is 44 days is fulfillment of a checklist, and, while impressive to see in a sixty second window, it’s nothing more than a bunch of moving images compiled just because he can. It’s those people who cram all of Central America into a six-week journey, the ones who Eurail across an entire continent in just one short summer. It’s passport whoring, it’s boast travel, it’s the bucket list mentality that diminishes the emotional and spiritual value of a life event.
There’s no social commentary indicated in such a compilation. Imagine if I took a video of every single time I smoked, snorted, or swallowed, and then compiled them together on a split screen with my bank accounts throughout the years. This would be a comment on wasted youth, and the transience of currency. Pictures of used tampons, or condoms, empty fast food containers…something that presents us with a dilemma, an idea, a potential change…something other than “hey, look what I did.” Does traveling introduce you to many more individuals and places? Thrust you into unknown territory, thus giving you more opportunities to open up, connect with people, and have a beautiful, human interaction? Yes. Does the mere act of traveling guarantee this in any way? Absolutely not.
Videos like these, that come labeled with pre-established, pre-defined reactions, take us further and further away from being humans. They’re another block in the cubicles we’re building ourselves into with the constant accessing of information. Every time you view a Yelp article, another random occurrence loses its wings. Think about it: When was the last time you went to a restaurant or bar without checking it on at least one review site? On the one hand, it’s like having a million super-opinionated friends for every possible thing that could ever happen in your life. On the other hand, though, aren’t friends sometimes annoying? There’s no impulse, no spontaneity, no thrill of the random. Once we watch, say, The Saddest Video You’ve Ever Seen (Seriously – Makes Bambi Look Like A Vice Article About Sexy Oedipal Fawns) we then hit up The 10 Best Speakeasies Below 14th Street.
And is this not ironic considering my last post about the near-impossibility of defining a relationship these days? Do we need an social media intern to come write a blurb about our relationships? Must we see a one-minute video highlighting our best times with someone before we make it official? This is an age in which people will break up with people simply because they’ve never, for example, fucked a Frenchman; in other words, sex bucket lists exist. The desire to be a person who has done “different” things has surpassed the desire to do the thing itself. We no longer want to travel; we want to travel so we can hashtag things that other people we know haven’t hashtagged. We want to do the most things in the shortest time period and have an tiny article written, an article that will, in weeks, disappear into the annals of the internet. We are so utterly uncertain of what we want that we feel the need to qualify every breath, every action, every post. Meltdown Monday. Traumatized Tuesday. Outfit of the Day?! What the fuck?! Didn’t we used to just put on clothes and walk out the door?!
But wait – what the hell just happened? In the first paragraph, I thought I was promoting my writing talent. By the second paragraph, I was deep into an analysis of SEO and social media sites. Almost 20 lines in, I was bashing a really short movie of someone I’ll never meet, and by the time I reached the halfway point, I had to stop and eat a granola bar. Paragraph seven seemed hopeful, but then paragraph eight took a borderline hostile tone. By the end of the article, I was wishing I hadn’t started.