Andrew has been writing Anti Buzz for 4 years resulting in almost 200 articles. For the next several weeks we will revisit some of these just in case you missed it.
The AntiBuzz: Anti-Internetism
—About ten years ago I was studying film in college and we were lectured on how ideology can be encoded into art. “Ideology” is itself a tricky thing to define and trying to do so here could lead us too far astray, but one salient point was that ideologies seek to become invisible – that is, you are typically unaware of them. Successful ideologies feel like scientific law, their veracity so clear that you no longer want to call them ideologies, “ideology” being some word used to describe the culture and morals of those foreign to you, or those who hold positions you don’t like.
The naturalized nature of ideology is what allows fiction to make heroes and villains without having to explicitly define them as such. When a book or film is “trying to say something” and says it a bit too hard, we criticize the work for being pedantic, or preachy, or sappy, but what we are really reacting against is the uncomfortable visibility of the work’s ideology. When we have trouble relating to something foreign, it is in part because we are not fluent in the core ideologies that the work is built on top of.
The real key, however, is that you can go a long way in analyzing a piece of art not by looking at what it says, but by looking at what it assumes.
—About three years ago we all saw the first wave of bankrupt newspapers. This was on the heels of the 2008 financial collapse. For legal reasons, I think it best I just provide links rather than reproduce the images here, but consider this political cartoon from April 2009. Also, in accordance with my non-confrontationalist policy, I will tiptoe around the details of the financial collapse, but the underlying belief of this cartoon is that newspapers are a “scientific law” constant of our society, that they represent the public voice and the public discourse, and that their failure is the harbinger of a new voiceless American public. The argument of the cartoon is that the flailing newspaper industry is another piece of the big “injustice” pie. Considering that I’m basically just some guy and I get to blab at you each and every week, I’m not too sold on the idea that bankrupt newspapers are impeding my “voice”. I think we all understand that newspapers in general are not a sustainable business, and that a financial crisis only hastened their demise, but they were already doomed anyway.
Here’s another cartoon from the same era. This one is much crasser. Where the first cartoon is just a case of misguided mourning, this one seems to imply that my generation, by not having attended the right college, is a class of thoughtless dunderpates. But that’s what it says. What it’s saying is pretty clear: Internet culture is neolithic. But what it assumes is what is more telling: that shuttering public discourse behind the filter of “publishing standards” made for better public discourse and that a new society that enjoys freedom of speech in both word and deed is going to be besieged by blithering idiots. It’s ivory tower cultural elitism, the odd 20th century belief that anything available to the masses must be low brow or dangerous.
—About a year ago I was returning home from Europe, and the flight was sufficiently long that avoiding the in-flight entertainment was not an option. As sort of a guilty pleasure, my fiance and I watched several episodes of a new police procedural drama. This was as close to “normal television” as I had gotten in a long while. It was clear the show was aimed at people 20 years older than me, but what really stuck out were the underlying beliefs about the Internet. Bloggers are unironically ridiculed at press conferences. Police Commissioners agonize over social networks spreading public panic and otherwise irresponsibly handling delicate information. Villains record their crime sprees and post them on YouTube. Other villains learn how to make bombs from the Internet. The Internet is a big problem for law and order. This was one of my first inklings that traditional media was being overrun with anti-Internetism.
I’ve seen it elsewhere. Talk show host Craig Ferguson likes to say that Wikipedia is “wrong”. Aaron Sorkin’s drama Newsroom has a token Internet journalist who is routinely ridiculed for taking any non-traditional media seriously. Most recently, I watched an episode of Saturday Night Live where a Weekend Update segment spent too many minutes on a gag about rude social media users being taken just as seriously as traditional sources, (“too many minutes on a gag” also being a good summary of Saturday Night Live). I’m sure I could fill up a book if only I had the stomach to watch more traditional television. I already encounter the anti-Internet ideology far too often considering how little television I watch.
I’m ranting about it here largely because I feel the sentiment is completely naturalized – that is, it is “invisible”. I think one could watch a lot of television and not “get” that nearly every show takes a stab at Internet culture. I’m hoping that by pointing it out, it might become more visible.
—This week, in the United States, we celebrate Thanksgiving. I should tell you here that, among other things, I am thankful that we are moving closer to a a true freedom of speech, where everyone has not only the right but also the means to voice their opinion. I am thankful that the cynics are wrong, and that a typical user can patrol the cacophony of content and make responsible choices. I’m thankful that the “Lowest Common Denominator” is just an ugly myth perpetuated by a generation of over privileged media producers. In short, I am thankful for the Internet.