Woe be unto those who conflate the way things are with the way things play out in their social media feeds. Steve Grand, an internet-famous gay musician, now has plenty of evidence of this after an observation of his in an interview with PrideSource caused a furor, by the internet’s standards (but in actuality is just people weighing in on a thing that other people are talking about because all we have is time to fill between our being born and dying). To interviewer Chris Azzopardi, Grand said:
I just know people have really, really low expectations of me and that’s what the Internet does. I’m such an easy person to target. Young, good-looking, white, gay men - we love to hate those people.
From the outside, it is absurd that someone who is popular enough to be interviewed, someone who has received enough positive feedback to describe himself as “good-looking” without any sort of qualification or caveat, would nonetheless describe himself as an easy target or hated. There is a fundamental lack of perspective there, a refusal to acknowledge the way that bad often comes with good, that voices of dissent in these matters are defined by the societal goodwill that they’re responding to. Grand’s folly is considerable but it’s also considerably human.
Four years ago (to the day, weirdly), Alina Tugend wrote for the New York Times about our tendency to focus on bad experiences rather than good, even when the latter surrounds and floats us and the former amounts to a few isolated islands of negativity. The resulting article, “Praise Is Fleeting, but Brickbats We Recall,” should be required reading for anyone who routinely attempts to negotiate his emotional processor with the digitalized one that sits on his desk (or in his pocket). According to Tugend:
“The brain handles positive and negative information in different hemispheres,” said Professor Nass, who co-authored “The Man Who Lied to His Laptop: What Machines Teach Us About Human Relationships” (Penguin 2010). Negative emotions generally involve more thinking, and the information is processed more thoroughly than positive ones, he said. Thus, we tend to ruminate more about unpleasant events — and use stronger words to describe them — than happy ones.
As the article, which is a summary of much of the research on the subject, succinctly puts it: “Bad emotions, bad parents and bad feedback have more impact than good ones. Bad impressions and bad stereotypes are quicker to form and more resistant to disconfirmation than good ones.”
And so, Steve Grand’s natural tendency toward feeling the negative while ignoring the positive makes him a less-than-ideal expert on the plight of young, gay, white, and (by his estimation, at any rate) good-looking men. His self-centeredness is too detrimental to make him any kind of sociologist.
Grand is, of course, far from the first or last person whose worldview is shaped by a biased sample of social media feedback and further twisted by his psychology. Just yesterday, Broadly posted a video interview with Azealia Banks, a rapper who is better known for her unreasoned and ignorant Twitter rants than her music. In the interview, Banks said:
I’ll say something on Twitter, and then my head gets ripped off, and Kanye West’ll say some other fuckin’ meaningless, senseless dumb shit, you know? And then it’s like, “Aw well, you know, he’s just an artsy man,” you know? “He’s just fuckin’ cool. He’s just like...” Y’know, it’s like, it’s frustrating.
You don’t need to launch an inquest into Banks’s data-procuring methodology to see that it’s pure egocentrism. For half a decade now, the internet has been a platform for her to spout at will, steadily building a caustic brand while alienating a negligible few. She has vocal defenders (spoiler alert: their arguments are almost always even stupider than hers). A key reason why the criticism she receives seems unfairly hostile compared to that of Kanye West is because she is the one who’s receiving it and it’s about her. There’s no actual analysis of who gets more and worse (and even if that were something that we could quantitatively deduce, it’s safe to say that the numbers are against the mainstream pan-cultural icon with over 20 million followers on Twitter). Regardless, West bruises easily over such matters as well:
question... Why do people not want me to be me?— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) March 7, 2016
Who has it the worst? Is it the young, white, gay, allegedly good-looking man, who’s reminded his rights are in jeopardy on almost a daily basis and who experiences generalizations regarding his identity now framed in terms of smarmy social justice as opposed to the blatant homophobia that was once expressed without reproach (see Sierra Mannie and plenty of Banks’s words, including those in the interview linked to above)? Is it the black people that the self-consciously woke left find it socially unacceptable to criticize in public, but who live in a systematically racist society and risk their lives every day simply by leaving their house? How about trans people? People with disabilities? What about the Asians? Won’t anyone think of the Asians? This pissing contest is as foolhardy as it is inevitable.
He who lacks empathy naturally feels that he suffers the most, and given how the internet makes identity feel less like a negotiation with the world and the self and more like a free fall through a rabbit hole, empathy is a rare commodity.
Perhaps it is most useful to think of social media as a funhouse mirror that’s further warped by our own brains. You’ve come to the wrong place if you’re looking for an accurate reflection.