Why I Hate the Internet Sometimes

I consider myself a relatively intelligent person. I have a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in literature from New College, and a Master’s Degree in Education from the University of Florida. I have spent the twenty years of my adult life honing my perspective on the world, and developing my skills of writing and communication.

I am constantly trying to perfect my understanding of the world, and figure out what’s wrong with how I do things, when I do something wrong.

So when I have an online interaction that doesn’t meet my expectations, I immediately begin a thorough process of self-examination. Where did I go wrong? How can I do it right next time? Of course it’s possible that the person who is reacting negatively is just a jerk, or s/he doesn’t understand what I’m trying to say/do, or s/he is trolling with negativity just for the sake of trolling.

But I don’t like to write people off like that. I prefer to (as Wikipedia commands) assume good faith. We humans are much too quick to dismiss entirely those who disagree with us, and therefore most of us spend great swaths of our lives encompassed in cocoons of reassurance, where no dissenting voices can ever reach us (cf. the new US “Tea Party”).

Wikipedia

Take Wikipedia. For the last year I have slowly and meticulously composed the article about Honoré de Balzac’s wife, Eveline Hanska. Without boring everyone (by which I mean the two people who are still reading) with the details, I’ll just say that nominating it as a Featured Article Candidate (FAC) has been extremely frustrating.

I’ve gone through the FAC process thirteen times already, and come close several other times (before I realized that the article would never pass, so I shouldn’t bother). I know that it’s often annoying and aggravating. But I figured that by now I knew what to expect.

I began responding to the comments right away — fixing citations, clarifying phrases, etc. I was a little annoyed when a week went by and not one person supported the article. Now, almost two weeks later, I no longer care if the damned thing passes or not.

The worst part is — again — I feel like I’m crazy, since the experience has deviated so severely from my expectations. It’s not as though I based those expectations on some article I read somewhere. My entire understanding of what it means to contribute meaningfully has been mauled.

Reddit, Too

The same thing happens on my favorite site these days, Reddit. I’ll find something awesome or post something I’ve made, and expect that it will do well. (“I know what people on Reddit like”, I tell myself. “This will get some upvotes for sure.”) Then I post it and it gets downvoted into oblivion and no one ever sees it again.

Part of the problem with Reddit is that — as with Newgrounds and lots of other sites — the new stuff is subject to the whim of a very small percentage of the community, and if it doesn’t get upvoted on those first views, it will probably never get upvoted. Granted, much of the stuff in the “new” queue really is garbage, but I can’t help wondering how much other cool stuff is getting deleted because one or two people gave a thumbs-down.

I guess at the end of the day, that’s the problem — people on the internet can have such a powerful impact, usually without even realizing it. I’ve posted rap tracks to Reddit, things I’ve spent weeks working on. To see them get no upvotes — or worse, get downvoted — is just heartbreaking. And of course, no one ever says why they don’t like it. Just: “BAD! IT’S BAD! YOU SUCK.”

Ego?

I know that this has a lot to do with my ego, as much as I try to defend against that sort of thing. I take great pride in my thirteen bronze FA Wikipedia stars. After all, the article about Eveline Hanska is still just as superb without the star, right? So it’s obvious that ego is part of what drives that process for me. I can’t pretend like I don’t want barnstars and congratulatory messages on my talk page.

But it’s more than just ego. It’s about the self, and especially the intellectual self.

If someone says I’m not doing it right when I write a Wikipedia article, I begin to worry about what I’m doing wrong in other forms of writing. I start to worry if maybe I’m doing research wrong, or if maybe I need to change the way I approach things like teaching.

Of course several months from now I’ll look back and laugh at myself for getting so worked up about what one or two people say about that thing I worked so hard on (especially when I get the distinct impression that they didn’t read or listen very closely).

But right now I kinda hate the internet.

TimeWaster™

Here’s Joe Rogan talking for nine minutes about how messed up everything in the US is. Danger! Bad words!

Today I’m listening to: Soma FM!

Timor: Where Has All the Aid Gone?

Foreign Policy in Focus has a really good article up about what’s happened to all the foreign aid that’s gone into East Timor in the last decade. You are hereby ordered to read the whole thing.

Timor-Leste is one of the most oil-dependent countries in the world, where more than 90% of the government’s annual budget comes from petroleum revenues. It imports everything from computer hardware to bottled water. Its infrastructure is very poor, making it hard for local farmers to transport crops to markets. Local farmers must also compete with an influx of imported goods from Australia, Singapore, and other countries. Many Timorese are still struggling with poor healthcare, lack of educational opportunities, little clean water, and other insufficient social services. Social inequality is widening, especially between the capital Dili and other districts.

Jon Stewart on Fox News Sunday

Over the weekend, Jon Stewart sat down with Fox News Sunday‘s Chris Wallace for a discussion of media and politics. As always, StewBeef did a superb job of delineating the difference between Fox and the so-called “liberal media”.

Somewhat spotty transcript here. Jon’s best quote:

[Obama] came in and said you can’t expect to have a different result with the same people. That was, in many ways, his seminal campaign focus. And all I see as far as economic stewardship are the guys that got us into this mess in the first place.

New Breeds of Hip-Hop Misogyny

Misogyny, violence against women, objectification, and other forms of sexism have always been a part of hip-hop, just as they have always been a part of US popular culture. From Audio Two to 2 Live Crew to Eminem to Redman to Lil’ John, you’re not going to spend decades listening to (and loving) hip-hop without rolling your eyes or pretending to vomit at the prevalence of male-supremacist lyrical and visual content.

There’s so much to be said about it all, but Tricia Rose says it all much better than I ever could. (If you love hip-hop but you have not read her book The Hip Hop Wars, then you don’t really love hip-hop.)

What concerns me right now is a wave of videos which revel in another level of violent misogyny, blending stalker-rapist visuals with lyrics about all the creepy stuff that goes on in the guys’ minds. Two stand out: “Monster” by Kanye West (feat. Rick Ross, Jay-Z, and Nicki Minaj), and “She” by Tyler the Creator. (Warning! The videos contain some disturbing imagery and plenty of curse words.)

Kanye’s video shows female corpses (all supermodel-gorgeous and scantily-clad) hanging from nooses, draped lifeless across couches, and (as in the pic) arranged in bed with Mr. West himself. Jay-Z raps in front of a couch with a dead woman on it, and elsewhere we see 18-year-old schoolgirl zombies jumping rope for some reason.

Tyler’s video is perhaps more unsettling, since it features Mr. the Creator as a more sensitive stalker type, who creeps into some young lady’s bedroom right after she gets done knocking some shameful boots (just as her husband or father — it’s unclear which — comes home). As a self-professed “Goblin” (the title of the album), Tyler lightly touches her face as she sleeps, rummages through her underpants drawer, and generally creeps over her in the night.

Why It Matters

As disturbed as I am by the violence in these clips, violence alone does not put me off good art. I love Silence of the Lambs and some violent rap artists like Jedi Mind Tricks and Immortal Technique.

As disturbed as I am by the sexism in these clips, sexism alone does not disturb me in this way. I’ve learned how to critique the negative gender dynamics in so much of the hip-hop I love, while simultaneously celebrating the positive, artistically viable elements — often in the same song!

What bothers me about these videos is the gruesome gendered violence, aimed specifically at women. It is sexualized violence, the same type that showed up in Cronenberg’s epically stupid movie A History of Violence (which disturbed me every bit as much as these videos, lest anyone think I’m picking on the poor rappers here). In all cases, the artists argue that these images are mere representations of the twisted darkness brewing inside everyone’s minds. So how can you be upset by it?

Well, I am upset by it, and I’m sick of seeing it celebrated uncritically. I don’t want people to stop listening to Tyler or Odd Future, or boycott Kanye. I just want someone — anyone — to acknowledge that there is some really twisted sexist stuff going on here, and that it’s going to a new level that’s qualitatively different from the “Baby Got Back” and “Jiggling Baby” misogyny of not so long ago.

Putting Nicki Minaj in the mix doesn’t change anything, by the way. Just as Lil’ Kim is expected to spit the same exact hypersexual nonsense as Luke, Nicki is — for better or worse — in the boy’s clubhouse, and so she’s expected to put on exactly the same masks. (I suppose it’s interesting that she’s attacking herself, which could be interpreted as a more nuanced recognition of the self-consuming nature of this gendered violence all around her, but whatever.)

I felt exactly like this when Eminem released him song “Kim”, in which he dragged his ex-girlfriend to the middle of nowhere and slit her throat while telling her to scream all she wants. This stuff matters! (It made Kim try to kill herself, for one thing.) And just like Kanye and Tyler, Em insisted that he was just “venting”, and giving voice to all the dark, twisted stuff that he’s got to deal with.

Well, you  know what, guys? If this is how you deal with that dark twisted stuff — by reveling in it, and making videos where you celebrate your violent impulses toward women — then you’re not doing a very good job of dealing with it. Has this “venting” helped your interactions with the women in your life? Have you come to understand your masculinity any better? If so, how?

If not (and I expect the answer is no), then maybe it’s time to knock it off with this stupid garbage, and write more lyrics about walking with Jesus (Kanye), or the contradictions of white America (Eminem), or .. well I don’t like anything from Odd Future, so I’m not sure what to recommend for Tyler.

Where This Rant Began

Thanks to Redditor SoTrueFlotsam for linking this article from Alternet, about how some people are wetting their pants over a new video from Rhianna, which shows her shooting a man dead, and then (via flashbacks) depicts her being raped by the guy.

Yet almost immediately, watchdog groups condemned the video for the murder aspect. Paul Porter, the cofounder of Industry Ears, released a statement: “‘Man Down’ is an inexcusable, shock-only, shoot-and-kill theme song.” Paul Porter is a former program director for BET (who presided during its famously misogynist “Uncut” years), so it’s pretty laughable that the comparatively soft violence in “Man Down” offended his sensibilities so vehemently.

The author goes on to describe the absurd hypocrisy in condemnations of Rhianna’s video while few industry observers spoke out against Kanye’s. I had never seen the “Monster” video, so it just goes to show how ancient and oblivious I am when it comes to today’s hip-hop.

TimeWaster™

Lest anyone think I’m some stodgy highbrow stuffed shirt with no appreciation for lowbrow art, allow me to present my favorite Beavis and Butthead cartoon of all time:

Today I’m listening to: Gift of Gab!

Allons Y, Citoyens!

Some new lyrics I spit over beats from Klashnekoff and Omni Trio. Enjoy!

Aux Armes