(Ask Sami) Blanking on Bowie Blues

Am I the only one who has no interest in David Bowie’s passing away?

Normal Heights

Short answer: I don’t know.

In the rows and piles of my father’s records, sometime in high school, I found Bowie. Maybe because of the many space references (and I was an alien princess), I instantly and always loved his music. I loved him among other rockstars, some dead. some living. I had no context, knew the music only by the words on the cover and its image. To this day, I prefer to listen to albums (and hand-picked playlists: the modern mixtape) over “discover new” or “radio” algorithms.

I did not share my peers’ fluency in the lives of their music favorites — the factoids of band member names, origins, relationships, birthdays. I have no mind for trivia, and cared to memorize only the lyrics by playing albums on repeat. I imagined I could discover traces of the artists in the order they arranged their songs, and listened for an arc of plot, a climax, a theme. To this day, I barely grasp the names of all the members of my favorite band — such a feat is not in my programming. It’s not how I enjoy music.

So, within this context (and being an alien with a poor grasp on reality), I assumed David Bowie was already dead. I mean, Kurt Cobain was dead and his band was my first rock favorite (circa 7th-9th grade). I think I discovered Bowie was still alive not sooner than three years ago. He has already been a Lazarus. Losing him again feels not piercing, but familiar.

There’s also my disinterest in celebrity culture. I enjoy the artwork, the content, the entertainment created by these cultural paragons — but they are not my friends. I’ve never spoken to them. I don’t want to simulate familiarity by learning about their breakups, their pet interests, their lineage. I’m interested in their stories insofar as they relate to their art, and no more.

So, while I understand a desire to be part of a greater narrative — to follow closely specific exalted beings and share emotional paths with strangers, acquaintances, the whole fucking world — my participation is hesitant. I can (and do) cry over tragedies, but he died of a terminal illness surrounded by loved ones at age 69. I don’t begrudge those that held him closer to their hearts a right to their own grief, but sometimes I feel like I don’t get it. I think that’s okay.

I see Bowie’s passing as a time for his significance to resurface in the common conversation. (I love this.) I re-listened to all of Station to Station and Ziggy Stardust and the tracks Space Oddity, Heroes, and Rebel Rebel (which my friend John sang to me on my birthday last month on a karaoke night at Redwing). I’ve enjoyed this occasion to revisit Bowie. I can celebrate, reflect, but I haven’t shed a tear. And I think that’s okay.

You appear to be even further removed than I am.

That’s probably okay.


 

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Facebook: a Foggy Intersection of the Personal vs Political

I don't really know how to choose a picture for a post like this, so here's a selfie.

I don’t really know how to choose a picture for a post like this, so here’s a selfie. Like an author byline pic or something.

On Facebook you might make a personal statement to discuss as friends often do. You may not expect the vitriol, the name-calling, the war of opposing linked articles. Some people take themselves way too seriously.

On Facebook you might publish an important political or philosophical thought. You may not expect the sophomoric joking, the name-calling, or even disappointing silence. Some people just seem to stumble into fires without realizing how much their ignorance hurts others.

Facebook is a paradoxical scrapbook bulletin. Is it a self-help message board, or a public debate forum? Friends and strangers eavesdrop on conversations which only seem private. Yes, there is a difference between a personal and a political statement, but to “post” either makes it visible to an ever-more difficult to filter list of viewers.

The mixed-message, or even missing, interface metaphors don’t help either. In this serious debate we can “like” with a cheeky thumb. In this string of jokes no one can hear the timbre of our laugh, our indecipherable (are you being sarcastic??) “LOL.” This flexibility can lead to gibberish.

What I see is a stream of consciousness. What I see is a reflection of my own thought process, the way ideas snag each other, the way I flit from a picture memory of wearing Charmander pajamas at last night’s party to the Atlantic article on protesting in Baltimore.

But it is so political to “share.” Leveraging your private thoughts onto others is a political act:  a decision by the few (or one) on which content should be consumed by the many. “But I was just thinking out loud.” If you don’t want to be held to your word, then why say it at all? I could try to end the argument there, but I’d be a hypocrite. Sure, my personal Facebook philosophy is “make it interesting or funny, or else don’t bother.” But I’m an out-loud thinker in life. And I have so many avenues to be heard, which others might not.

Oh Facebook “friends.” We are apparently not all chums who know each other. We have different backgrounds and needs. You let me glance your wedding photos, and that is perhaps how I mistake our intimacy. But I can only keep your name with your face because everything is so efficiently indexed and hyperlinked.

As with most things, I return to the analogy of a party. There are strangers here just as there are best friends. Not all of us are interested in drinking. Not all of us are interested in sex. Not all of us are interested in laughing. Some may debate our constitutional rights. Some may cry over ex girlfriends. Some may write what they see in tiny notebooks. We all seem to want something. In this wild collage, this rowdy jumble, this grasp at boredom’s death, we might find it.

Or just avoid getting any work done ;)

How the Grinch Stole Facebook

grinch-who-stole-facebook

My goal here is not to insult my friends. I’ve refrained from writing private letters of direct criticism because giving unsolicited advice is for pretentious douchecanoes. I am not intending to create an anonymized naughty list for you to find your name in. I will remix attributes from several friends so that what you will see is an amalgamation, and if you find yourself in any of these descriptions it is only because these behaviors are universal — they sprout out of primal social needs.

But really, sometimes my friends piss me off.

Isolated from complex human subtlety by the frame of the screen, my Facebook friends become tiny caricatures of themselves, or a blown up facet or two of their personalities that, in real life, is much less clumsy. Because of this, it is quite possible to love — and I mean really love — a friend in real life, but hate what they become in my news feed.

First, stereotypes.

A buddy might be good company over a Lagunitas IPA… But, contextualized by an endless stream of Buzzfeed, Upworthy, and Jezebel posts, they become a loathsome stereotype. Their photo is a square sticker signature slapped onto readily-available asshole personalities. Facebook posters generally expect their friends to be kind and understanding. They do not realize that when they like some sexist meme or other, I don’t see someone who has a complicated appreciation for both feminism and its seedy counterpart, in an ironic sort of way. Bah! Humbug! There is nothing festive about misogyny! I am not amused.

There’s the trope of the gay guy who calls women bitches and thinks vaginas are gross.¹ It’s supposed to be cute because he’s non-threatening and mince-y.  In my newsfeed, I have seen a good friend use the c-word.  “Um,” I want to say, “just because you’re ostensibly lower on the privilege totem pole than straight women doesn’t mean you get to call them cunts.” I should assume this person is adopting the stereotype for the sake of humor, but on the sterile screen, the words echo hatred like an angry red zit.

If I don’t know the person too well, such breaches have me reaching for the “hide” or even “unfriend” buttons. Facebook only lets me see you in one-dimension, and the one you’re giving me is ugly.

today-i-feel-trite-cliche-meaninglessThen, there are my sad friends.

In real life, they are clever and strong. They match self-deprecation with wit and laughter. They feel terribly about themselves, but muster up bravery to face the night. We commiserate about our human weaknesses, and wash the bitter taste away with fun and alcohol.

On Facebook they are whiny children. “Help me” sad post follows help-me-sad-post and they cry into the little box that asks: “What’s on your mind?” I see selfies described with words like “ugly,” “awful,” “not cute.” A flurry of comments reject the insecurities. Fine, I won’t disparage fishing-for-compliments if it’s effective for you, but I’m still always turned off by delusional postings. As in, your selfie is hot, please don’t lie and say it’s not.

And, of course, the over-sharers, in both senses of the word.

I won’t delve too much into the TMI tribe, because I’m probably just the asshole here for not giving a feel when your boyfriend is borderline abusive (and you think it’s more appropriate to cyber-whine than dump him). But I will just say if “some people” did something and they “know who they are” I am pissed at you for not giving me the whole story.

How-to-catch-James-Woods-ooh-piece-of-candy-family-guy

The other over-sharers seem think if they create a trail of links to “funny” or “amazing” internet “articles,” we’ll be gobbling them up like James Woods a la Family Guy. I’m sorry, but your fluffy internet photoblogs about 18 Little Whatsits that Insert-Anthropomorphic-Verb-Here or yet another slapdash rant on how Celebrity Epitomizes Insert-Hyperbolic-Adjective-or-Trendy-Social-Activism-Phenomenon-Here don’t have me bending over exclaiming “Oooh! Piece of candy.” Go play show-and-tell in Reddit where you can at least learn from your downvotes.

I feel like the Facebook Grinch.

Every Who down in Whoville liked Bitstrips a lot
But the Grinch who lived just North of Whoville did not!

The Grinch hated HuffPost! The whole Facebook feed!
What’s the point of this insatiable, selfish human need?

It could be that Upworthy talks down to us, like we’re kids
Or that when I’m in a public place, I’m not trying to watch vids…

The crux of it all is that I’m guilty. I am at once in-narcissistic-love with my Facebook persona and sick with the shame of self-promotion. If I am cringing when my friends post pictures of their lunches, how annoying is my stream of blog links, proud-of-myself check-ins, and hungover affirmations that I have so much party in my life?

We are not professional content finders and writers. Our news feeds are not as carefully curated as The Electric Typewriter. Our editing tools are too basic and imprecise. Facebook filters out 90% of babies-doing-baby-things for me (thank you!), but still shows Upworthy posts on the mobile browser. I blocked it! I totally blocked it already!

We’re scrap-booking together living, breathing yearbooks of human experience, as best we can.

As sappy as it sounds, there is something beautiful about that. What, perhaps, is insane, is that we’re expected to create and consume in this way every day. I’ve always felt squicky about nostalgia. Perhaps I’d be more comfortable if Facebook news feed browsing was relegated to an annual tradition, like an actual yearbook. We could submit content year-long, but it would disappear into the void until it unlocked like a time-capsule. Hmmm….yes…

Fantasies aside, this Grinch’s heart grows three sizes when she thinks about what Facebook represents despite its limitations. Yes, it’s a little bit of amateur-hour. But this mixture of the anxious, the banal, uplifting hope beside crushing failures, daily life and life events — this mixture is as raw and snotty-nosed and breathing and shitting, laughing, sighing as “the real world.”  We’re creating human records and they are exactly that, human.

So, please acknowledge my posts when I please you and I’ll do the same for you. If I come across something I don’t “like,” I guess I’ll just keep on scrolling.


¹To be fair, there is a trope of the lesbian who hates men and says dicks are gross, and while I’m not that way, I’ve heard such sentiment out of the mouth of babes, and I didn’t put my clothes back on and drive away.