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Must we sound off on Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death, BuzzFeed quizzes and the like?


It’s hard to complain about Facebook and social media, because I tend to think about it like this: If you don’t like the show, you can turn it off or pick up a book. But isn’t it twisted, the way in which we come to know people through Facebook statuses and the photos and links that we share (some with more regularity than others)? And that our in-real-life personas become challenging to discern from the Facebook personalities you see your friends and loved ones broadcasting across the Internet, like they haven’t a care in the world who sees it and reads it? Of course, we have privacy settings, and this greatly affects who sees what and how, but there’s not a single one of you reading this who hasn’t lost some esteem for an old high school classmate, potential suitor or even employer based on how they project themselves through this social media crutch that’s become so engrained into our lives.

I’d like to share some observations and thoughts I have on the matter, if you don’t mind.

It’s miraculous the way that Facebook and Twitter immediately make you aware of something: a news event, a television show’s cult-like following, the popularity of certain Internet trends, a national catastrophe, or a diva’s judgable moment. Oh, did you know exactly what I was talking about? I’m hinting at Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death, American Horror Story: Coven, BuzzFeed’s goddamn quizzes and hash-tagging everything, stuff like the Boston Marathon bombing or Sandy Hook, and the merits and demerits of a few pop stars (Biebs, Bey, Madonna). Mind if I tick off a couple one by one?

PSH: A great actor in our time, a rare creature in Hollywood who seemed genuinely talented and interested in breathing life into characters, fictional or not, and a life cut short by addiction and drugs. This is a story we hear, at minimum annually, and it manages to get more suffocating every time it happens. The eulogies as Facebook statuses start pouring out, the sharing of obits, and soapboxes of condolences get stood upon. While there are filmmakers and critics in the digital sphere that I expect poignant and thoughtful ruminations from, you, dear fairweather fan who watches a couple movies a year and didn’t know who he was until he started showing up in Hunger Games movies, can keep your heartfelt expressions of grief to yourself. It cheapens the entire process. Why do we feel the need so strongly to shout out into the empty digital universe that we’re sorry for his family’s loss? They don’t know you, won’t see it, never will, and you sound shallow for sucking on the teat of the like-machine popularity contest with your sad face emoticon. Please.

AHSC: Now, I know the following is a lot more applicable to the gay community than, I would imagine, it is to the hetero community. But there’s a show called American Horror Story: Coven that just saw its season finale, and the queers were fucking gaga over the witches, their power struggles, their dynamic performances and the cliff-hanging conclusion. Approximately 75 percent of the gays in my Facebook interface managed to express some kind of “I cannot!” “Yassss,” “Work, Myrtle” or “Miley Cyrus is #thenewsupreme,” or some such eye-glazing utterance, so as to make absolute sure that everyone knew their cultural intelligence quotient. It’s a great show! I haven’t kept up with it episode-to-episode, but the wave of statues and tweets that washed over me within hours of the show’s airing made me want to wring from my brain every memory left of lingo and plotlines and never let my eyes feast upon Sarah Paulson’s magnetism again. Why do we have to beat into the ground the cultural flashpoints that, yes, are great water cooler and brunch chit-chat? But your posting “SURFBOART” or “COVEN = LIFE” is so tiresome. It’s like farting in a quiet room and expecting everyone in it to acknowledge that you let wind pass out of your colon with high-fives and congratulations.

BZFD: I will also admit to falling into the “Which city should you be living in?” BuzzFeed quiz and sharing my excitement that I got Paris. But for some reason, even friends with discernible taste don’t seem immune to taking them and telling us that they’re really “Alanis Morissette” (”Which ’90s Angry Rock Diva are You?)” or that they should be a nurse (Which Career Should You Really Have?). It’s kind of like how people sometimes still invite you to play Candy Crush, and you get a notification that makes you think, I thought everyone agreed this was a stupid thing to do.

BM/SH: When brutal tragedies beset communities by means of terrorism or natural disaster, it is often Facebook where folks go to make sure their friends know they’re okay. Did you have some friends running in the marathon or a cousin that lives in Somerville and she’s locked down in her house by the FBI? Interesting, what’s their takeaway? No involvement whatsoever—but you’re so deeply heartbroken and sad? SHUT IT. This is not your place. And whatever happened to privately-offered notions of condolence and support? Guess those are too unseen and unheard by your real friends: your most active Facebook friends.

And we really got over 100,000 people to sign a petition to deport Justin Bieber, but we can’t get 100,000 people to sign a petition for an equitable tax code? You, who have never performed on a stage in your life, feel compelled to shit on Beyonce’s stage presence? We still need to make sure folks know that you saw Madonna warble out “Open Your Heart” during Macklemore’s Grammy performance and that you have a stance on its quality?

It just feels like we’re drowning in GIFs and text-speak and investing way too much in how much power is left in our phones, and it’s making it really hard to not become more mired in the allure/enchantment of being in on the joke/story/new thing/future/conversation. But resistance isn’t futile, friends. It really isn’t.

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