Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Hatred and Worship of The Popular

I think for the first time in this blog, I want to do a mini-series. I want to tackle the issue of hate across a few different entries as I started writing this one and realized it was getting long. This first entry is about the Hatred and Worship of the Popular, then the Hatred of Villains, then the Hatred of Heretics.

Modern North American pop culture has become an uncontrollable monster that is unwieldy and is on the brink of destroying our souls. Now, I am not talking about a moral evil that undergirds culture such as the prevalence of cheap, sexual thrills or the bizarre fascination of gore, death and violence. That is something human culture has always had to deal with and always will. It is vitally important to keep ourselves in check with that kind of thing, but that is not what this entry is concerned with.

I am not talking about discrimination of a class of person. While we still have things like racism and sexism, for the most part, people would agree that these are bad for these things to exist and people are pushing back on them. Yes, they still do exist and will for a long time, but it is in the open that they are wrong. Through the many years of civil rights movements in the twentieth century, we are slowly moving in the direction of redeeming this sore areas of our society.

However, in this culture, we have made it more and more acceptable to either worship or debase individuals. While we have fought to uphold the worth of a person regardless of their race, sex, orientation, religion, etcetera, etcetera, we have allow ourselves to become more willing to label individuals as worship-worthy or more distressingly hate-worthy.

The face of the target of our hatred has grown more away from being a type of person (because that is unfair in today's culture) to the specific person (because you are still allowed to judge). Mind you, humans have always had the problem of hating individuals, but in some ways it's more justifiable and thus why you still see it today. It's justifiable in the sense that "this guy did such and such" or "this girl think this and that". As more and more people accept the idea of "you shouldn't hate a person for what they are" we are left with a distressingly narrow sample of things to hate. So you have to hate people for what they do or say.

This is where I want to push against. I think it would be best if we can overcome hate for people. It is easy to justify hating people. Especially, if the rest of the culture does as well.

When I was younger, it was extremely popular for people to say they hate Barney. Remember Barney? Purple dinosaur? Tried to teach kids things like numbers and the alphabet and care for the rest of mankind. It was considered to be humorous to propose visceral and gory death scenarios for the fictional character because we hated him. And why did we hate him? I'm not entirely sure. I think it was the "I love you, you love me" song which is of course, worthy to condemn someone to death. I was probably one of the crowd that sought to destroy the fictional character for laughs and goofs. After a while, I stopped and said, "Wait. Why do I care?" It sunk in that it was vapidly stupid to vent all of this hatred for something that wasn't even meant for me. It was for kids half my age. Of course, it would seem stupid to a 12 year old. I don't need some dinosaur with some strange skin ailment to tell me what the alphabet is, but it's not for me. It's not trying to talk down to me or insulting my intelligence. Yet I hate it? And kids probably (?) liked it. It was educational programming for goodness' sake. I think I would be horrified if people were proposing to slaughter Snufflupogus or Oscar the Grouch and were spending their time imagining new and gory ways to eviscerate childhood characters. It's kind of demented if you think about it.

I use this example because culture is still the same and now it has a new platform to spread a stupid hatred. Barney the fictional character is no longer our target. Now it is Justin Bieber and even more recently Rebecca Black. I am not a fan of Mr. Bieber or Ms. Black (I will now use these titles to as a counterpoint to at least some of the bizarre vitriol that has been heaped on them). Mr. Bieber surely has a great deal of talent as he can sing and dance and he is walking into the meat grinder that is celebrity and doing it at a young age. I don't think his music is very inspired, especially to me who is 28 and is so distinctly far removed from his experience. It is over produced and borders on empty. I would not expect anything more than that from a 17 year old. Do I really expect him from his limited experience to truly evoke some new insightful look into the human experience? Not yet. Not that he can't, but I just don't expect it. And if he hasn't, I'm fine with that. He does not deserve death for it.

However, it is justified both by the ideal of freedom of speech and the fact he is far removed from most of us that we can image and wish death upon him.

Let's remember that Mr. Bieber is not meant for me or for everyone in society. There is no one saying you have to choose whether you love him or hate him. How about, it doesn't affect me? Mr. Bieber is not trying to kill your babies. Nor has he killed a baby. You can just say "he doesn't have any impact on my life and thus I will not give him more credit than I should".

I don't know what the reason of hating him so much is. It seems like the only reason is that it creates a sense of unity. A family of people who don't like Mr. Bieber and I can draw closer to these other people by stepping it up and hating the kid. It's a mob mentality thing.

I think it is a frame of mind that develops when we hit junior high, like my friend Adriane pointed out to me. Our minds develop the concept of the abstract and we get a better grasp on humor. We also start jockeying for position on the social food chain. This means we start ridiculing things to show a dominance over it whether it is a person's clothing, economic status or perceived aberrant personality. This includes elements from pop culture like Barney or Mr. Bieber or now, Ms. Black.

Some people may say that it's harmless. Of course, no one is going to go and actually kill him, but that's not what I'm worried about. I'm worried about the implications that it has on us and what it reflects upon us. It sets the precedent that we can hate and ridicule people for no good reason.

Our celebrity-obsessed culture has turned into a meat grinder with the advances of the internet, we now have access to more and more information and ways to connect with things. Sites like TMZ are devoted to exploiting people of note for the sake of a consumer who will visit their site or watch their show. Paparazzi have grown more vicious and invasive because we condone it. We will eat up anything that puts our cultural icons in a terrible light. If they screw up, then we know we are better than them and are more deserving of success than they are.

The advancement of the internet has also encouraged the crippling of maturity in our generation. World-wide connections such as Facebook and especially Twitter and YouTube comments means that we see more anonymity to take the junior high pot shots on individuals. Instead of people growing up realizing that it is immature to hate people so viciously over pop songs that they create, they are shown that you can safely continue your snarky, destructive remarks and thus stagnant your development into a person who has compassion for the world. It allows to continue to live in your selfish bubble. I see so many people on Twitter who are ripping into celebrities and they are in their mid-20's and bitter that their crappy, underdeveloped talent has not created the viral video that took them to the top like Mr. Bieber.

The internet has given the immature mindset the capability to speak to a worldwide audience and it is now the thorn in our side forever. Or at least to the inevitable nuclear apocalypse and human civilization reverts to a nomadic wasteland and the only survival skills we'll have is that if we could just find the internet, we could check our Facebook and update our status to "At least I'm not at a Justin Bieber concert!"

Recently, Ms. Black has released a video and a song that is not good. The lyrics are empty, the music lacking and the video laughable. Hey Dave, aren't you being hypocritical calling her stuff terrible. No. I don't like her work but I also don't hate her. From this one video and the little I know of music, this doesn't really seem like something that she is suited for. I hope she can find a pleasant way to exit. Or I hope that she finds a way to improve. I want her to do the best with what she has to redeem this world.

What concerns me is the attitude we have towards other individuals. It needs to be consistent. Just because we don't know the person, doesn't mean I should arbitrary attack them. Just because someone is not you, doesn't mean they are less of a person.

This brings me to something else that ties into this idea and that is celebrity worship. These individuals that we treat as greater than the rest of us. The more we raise up these individuals, the more pressure we put on them. The more we expect out of them and it gets to the point where we wind up disappointed. A friend told me once of how one of their friends tried to get an autograph from a celebrity. I forget who. It was one that you'd expect to be nice. Either way, the celebrity snubbed them. The autograph seeker was angered and it made my friend also think less of the celebrity. I asked where this happened. It was in a washroom. The washroom. The one place we should all expect to have a moment to ourselves. We will not take pause and realize the expectations that we have put upon these folk.

Another time, someone said that Keanu Reeves was supposedly disrespectful or didn't do something and the experience was so disappointing because it turns out he's an ass. I had to interrupt them at this point and said "You do realize that you had a 30 second encounter with him and you let that encounter affect you opinion of him." I go onto tell her about a story I heard from a person who worked at the Manitoba Theatre Centre when he came in to do MacBeth. She told me how he would be inundated with boxes of chocolate Turtles because he mentioned it in passing in an interview one time. His room had boxes of Turtles everywhere and he would sit in there, writing thank you cards to each person he could that had sent them to him. Another story was that it was a typical freezing winter night in Winnipeg and after a practice at the theatre, they had secured him a ride at the back door so that way he could avoid the people who had gathered to get his autograph. He decided to go down and out into the cold and sign everything because after all, they came to see him. But no, we never consider others and especially celebrities. Could you imagine you getting terrible news - forget that - how about just a typical crappy day and you have to walk through an airport and people have flooded it to get you to sign everything and we expect you to sign everything all the time no matter where.

We have put these people into the position of deities and they are not equip to handle it. Just because they are good at putting a ball in a hoop or look awesome blowing up stuff or make us jaws drop from their beauty, doesn't mean they are better than us and so are elevated to god-like expectations.

This pressure is what leads people like Michael Jackson, Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan to break. And we're laughing at them all the way. Thinking that they somehow deserved it. "Way to be famous, assholes!" Sure, they've made mistakes but they live in the most caustic fishbowl that our culture can summon that leads for them to try and find an escape and leaves them gasping for air, left to die in front a gawking audience.

People, no matter how famous, are not any better or worse than the rest of us. They don't matter more. They don't matter less.

The problem that arises when we have such unnecessary anger on these folk is that although we are removed from them and may not affect them directly, it creates in us a terrible precedent of hatred for no reason. It creates in us the seed of hatred that will more readily blossom when someone wrongs us and we will be less likely to be gracious.

The problem that arises when we raise these people above us is that it puts unrealistic pressure on them and it can lead them to self-destruct and I would say that the blame falls onto us, the society that crushed them. It also gives us the premise that some people are worth more than others.

By the way, the Onion did a fantastic satirical piece on this very idea. Check it out.,19707/

The next time, I want to talk about people that may deserve our animosity.

"I lie in the soil and fertilize mushrooms
Leaking out gas fumes are made into perfume
You can't fire me because I quit
Throw me in the fire and I won't throw a fit.
Go away! Go away! Go away! Go away! Go away! Go away!"
- "Scentless Apprentice" from the Nirvana album "In Utero"


Mud said...

Bloody great entry.
It's a eye-opening piece of art, really. I didn't realize that was how society was, until this entry made me take a step back - and look at it.

Good writing.

Anonymous said...

How true most of that is. Except I really did hate Barney with a passion. Seemed like he was treating me as an inferior being.
People calming down and not demanding hair clippings from celebs would also solve the problems about celebs who take the praise and let it go to their heads. Not all are the same but I can't even count the people on TV with a complex of being untouchable by us mortals standards.
Thanks for the thought creating paragraphs.

The Amazing Mr Rae said...

Thank you, Mud. That was really encouraging.

As for Anonymous: And thank you for reading those paragraphs. It is distressing because people have no idea that celebrity will not solve their problems but will very much expose and potentially exploit their problems further. It is a culture we have expanded and created and the monster is turning on our sense of civility and compassion.