It wasn’t so long ago when this kind of critique would have been considered healthy, or within the spirit of American debate and discourse. Today in reality it’s probably closer to career suicide. They say there’s an optimal time and a place for ideas, and for several weeks they’ve reminded us it’s “not the time” to ask questions. It’s true, it’s probably not the optimal time to speak up.
Oh, well. YOLO
I’ve been carrying on for years about the consequences of ubiquitous news, entertainment, and social media while offering no concrete proposal for an alternative. “Why not propose a solution, instead of just launching another critique?” you might ask. The solution from my perspective has long been the same, and I’ve mostly kept mum about it, for fear no one would understand or sympathize:
Wait for the natural human response to phenomena. Maybe you do understand this today, maybe it’s easier to explain as events unfold. Maybe it makes more sense now that “solutions” in this era so quickly become exploitation or cooked-up bags of hype. Maybe we see the downside of reckless campaigns to “de-fang” political opponents, understand the danger of bad faith technological monstrosities which attempt to “measure” truth with algorithms or totalitarian abominations that “innovate” ways to eliminate all cultural tension and conflict.
The era we live in yields products that reduce friction. We favor less transparent functionality, more fluid transactions, stickier interactions and affiliations, bigger margins. In that world, what exactly will a “modern solution to media” look like? The less you know about how today’s “solutions” actually work, the better they sound.
Conversely, a natural human response is organic. It’s meaningful and deeply felt. I think some would say the human response is underway right now, online, and in the streets. But I don’t think the kind of response I’m talking about has occurred quite yet. It’s what comes after the clamor and anger, beyond the fog of war.
What once seemed like an overblown concern confined to impassioned University campuses is now a sobering reality, spreading through every institution in this country and beyond.
The response I’m talking about is reflection after catharsis. Normally it only pays off when we’ve lost something significant. It’s true we will soon look for ways to “fix” our culture, by tweaking platforms, changing laws, overhauling language, indulging in broad iconoclasm, banning voices we disagree with, revising history, building “widgets” and deciding who gets to have a job and who doesn’t, based on stated beliefs or political affiliation. What once seemed like an overblown concern confined to impassioned University campuses is now a sobering reality, spreading through every institution in this country and beyond. Those who aren’t blinded by partisan dogma and distorted media narratives know this. Some good changes are among them, surely, but mostly what we get is detrimental panic.
To many, this feels like long-overdue progress, to others these are unmistakable echoes of historical failures and transgressions. And it has always been thus; for centuries upheaval looks very different to participants with different aims. In our case divisions mostly follow generational lines and cultural backgrounds—What is your realm of experience and understanding? What is your grasp of history? Have you seen this movie before? (Because if you have, you may remember how it ends.)
But today there is a difference, a uniquely postmodern way upheaval unfolds, which offers a reason for hope. It’s my belief that many will soon have a natural response to media which spawns a third position, one which sits outside tired viewpoints we’ve become accustomed to as our only choices; a response the culture-crunchers may not anticipate.
The third position now seems to be interwoven with something I’ve described before as “The Turning Away:” The intellectual and existential critical mass we reach when we’ve exceeded a safe dosage of media. The point at which we can palpably sense our own sickness, identify the cause, and attempt to remove it.
I have no science to back it up, no data or charts or polls to show you. All I have is anecdotal experience and whatever meager powers of insight I’ve gained, through years of study and rumination on culture and mass communication. What I can tell you is more people I know have expressed this exhausted and self-protective signal to me in recent weeks than they have in the last decade combined.
And so it seems to me: The Turning Away has begun.
So what would this mean, exactly? Does turning away mean you don’t care? Is this some kind of dog-whistle for white supremacy, or the conscious muting of marginalized voices, denial of protest? Or as Nike recently said: turning your back on racism?
Not in the slightest. Surely there will be those who limit exposure to media in a kind of isolation effort, to see/hear no evil or bury their heads in the sand, but the majority maintain whatever ideals they consider “core beliefs.” In fact, I’d expect the strongest and most motivated voices will come from the black community itself. And here’s why.