Of all the jaw-dropping things that have made me wonder, ‘Am I really that far ahead of the rest of society?!’, none have been so maddening as the articles that pop up questioning if social media is making us more narcissistic. Their existence is utterly stupefying. What’s next, an article debating whether or not a shotgun blast to the temple affects critical thinking?
I had social media’s number from the first moment I encountered it. Way back around 2004, when myspace was making its first appearance, I remember having a conversation with my ex about selecting pictures to put online. The dialogue was something akin to:
“Yeah, but, you’re only putting the pictures that you look best in up, right?”
“Of course. Who wants to put bad pictures on myspace?”
That was the moment I lost it. It was as if her statement, spoken with such a sense of, ‘duh!’, behind it, immediately confirmed all my fears about the possibilities of social media and how easily it was going to tap into human narcissism. Recognizing the traits I had seen in myself in those using the site (and even in those early days, it already seemed as if everyone had suddenly jumped onto myspace), I, echoing the sentiment of Groucho’s classic line about belonging to clubs who’d have him as a member, wanted absolutely nothing to do with it.
But was it my traits that stood out so blatantly to me, or the overall traits of my people, the artists, the dreamers, the entertainers?
Recently I saw a campaign from an 18-year old Instagram model who was rallying against the fake nature of social media, recaptioning all her photos with realistic descriptions like, ‘It took me 100 different shots to get my stomach to look this flat.’ In the video accompanying her campaign, she tearfully recounts how much she took photos only for likes and followers, how fake that all was, and how she wants her deleting her account to be a ‘wake up call’ to people that social media just isn’t as (gasp!) real as the real world.
What a fucking genius, eh?
Watching this stream of brilliance spew forth from her tear-stained teenage face, I finally realized just exactly what it was that upset me so much about this entire now-inescapable realm of online fuckery: it allows people to get a taste of the show business life with no work whatsoever.
Models take many different shots to get the right version for the magazine cover. Directors also take many different shots to get the right take for the final cut. Musicians do many takes to get the best possible version on the album. Publicists exist solely to sculpt acceptable versions of whatever star they’re representing to the general public. It’s all smoke and mirrors, it’s all controlled, it’s all fake, and it’s all been going on for hundreds of years now. It’s not exactly a revelation. This is how show business works.
People will often give me a hard time for how obsessively active I became on facebook after spewing venom at it for so many years. No shit. Why do you think I was so vehement about not joining? I knew social media was created exactly for people like me. It was as if the Gods of artistic vanity had come down from the sky to create a website exclusively for their loyal subjects. I knew, in my heart, from the very first second I heard of it, that social media would be everything I could ever want out of life.
And why not? I’m a lifelong student of entertainment. What could be better than a format to readily share my talents with the public? I could put carefully constructed pictures of myself up, sculpt a persona through well-thought out posts, and in general be given a place to experience a pseudo-version of what the already-established’s were doing. Hey, this is what we do! You think Jimmy Iovine saw Eminem walk in with a freshly blonde head of hair and thought, ‘Hmm, but that’s not your natural color, Marshall’? He damn near flipped his lid thinking of how much he could now sell this platinum-topped potty mouth to the public. Reading Eminem’s mother’s book, you also get a sense of how financially beneficial the record companies thought all the family drama was. Should they have started up a campaign tearfully telling people they were wrong for wanting the public to eat up Em talking about raping his mother?
I mean, they could have, as it obviously has despicable undertones, but my point is how much this already is, and always has been, the way the world of show business works. You ‘normal’ folks, if you’ll excuse the derogatory sting I’m sure that word carries with it, are now able to experience a little bit of that for yourself simply by signing up for a free website.
You have no desire to be famous, nor the time available to put in the effort to do so. You won’t be living the movie star cliche anytime soon, but guess what? Posting a picture up you think you look pretty damn hot in and coming back to a swarm of likes and comments about it is a pretty goddamn good facsimile of the situation. You’re not an established writer with a column, but you now have a format to easily post your opinions to hundreds of people and even have them shared by others. You’re not a comedian, but you can easily waltz into a department store, do something stupid on your cellphone, post it in seconds, and boom, now you’re experiencing a facsimile of what it’s like to be Jim Carrey, likes and LOL’s popping up from your hilarious antics.
I must admit, it kind of hurts. This is what was at the heart of all this distrust of these websites. Nowadays, culturally-approved beauty and an Instagram account is enough to experience what Elizabeth Taylor must have felt like walking down the red carpet. Why try for the real thing? It’s a ton of work and stress, and you only want the fun parts, right?
This is like a new app coming out called ‘Doctor for a Day’, where people can easily connect to hospital operating rooms through their phones and give helpful advice to the surgeons on what needs to be done. You can imagine the people who busted their asses in medical school for over a decade feeling a little pissed that suddenly it’s beyond easy for every jackass to dispense quack advice and feel important just because someone made the process of being able to get your voice heard in the operating room so breathtakingly stress free.
I have a slavish devotion to honesty in my art, and yet am still blindingly aware of how much of a constant tight rope act pursuing something like this is. You’re always controlling and sculpting what you put out there. And yet here our little Mensa student is, crying her eyes out about getting caught up in the quest for likes and how awful and fake it is.
Awful and fake it may be, sweetie, but that’s simply the world us artists and entertainers deal with every day. If she and the rest of this society wants to complain about the lack of real life on social media, I suggest you go back to reality and leave the vanity sites to the people who are actually supposed to use them, the ones whose thumping passion means we’ll never spend a day on this planet not calculating what we put out there to entertain you.
So for every wannabe Tom Green Vine star running around Target with an iPhone, every wannabe model getting the perfect ass angle for followers on instagram, and every motherfucking one of you out there trying to pimp yourself out in your spare time between college classes and kid-raising, I say to you: give it back to us. Only certain people are made to actually be able to handle these kinds of levels of narcissism, and that is us, the artists, writers, performers, singers, madmen, and clowns, the ones for whom constant public sculpting is an unavoidable side effect of their passion. Horrifically cliche as it may be, we do suffer for our art. Those of you gleefully counting the likes on the picture of your raspberry chicken walnut salad are mainlining our attention buzz without ever feeling the true pangs of a life dedicated to this behavior. Before you complain about how social media has gotten, start to think if it was really for you in the first place.
Shame on all of you normal people out there. Your love of social media has raped and robbed our rock star dreams of their special nature.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to watch some Netflix, smoke a bowl and masturbate before I give my two cents on this heart replacement surgery in a few hours.