Your Internet Outrage Doesn’t Make You Smart

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Your Internet Outrage Doesn’t Make You Smart

In response to finding out that Katy Perry would be the Super Bowl halftime entertainment, my cousin’s husband posted the following Facebook status update:

“This has disaster written all over it. The NFL is not a sport watched by 10-18 yr old girls. Didn’t the Bengals ban her song from the stadium. Mark my words, this will be the worst halftime show ever, the NFL audience doesn’t know who she is and doesn’t want to know.”

“MORTALS OF EARTH, MARK MY WORDS AND TREMBLE BEFORE ME, KATY PERRY SHALT NOT BE A VERY GOOD HALFTIME SHOW.” All 900 of his Facebook friends probably immediately packed up their most valuable possessions, bought those tinfoil blankets that marathon runners put on (so EVERYONE KNOWS they just ran a marathon), and made makeshift camps at the edge of the Canadian wilderness. Or they all rolled their eyes. I just don’t fucking know anymore (eight people liked the status). Ignore, for a moment, the swing and miss from my tangential relative on the politics of choosing a Super Bowl halftime performer, or the fact that every American male knows EXACTLY who Katy Perry is. That’s not the argument here. I’m literally waving my hand in dismissal right now; that’s how inane that argument is. My issue isn’t that my sort of cousin thinks Katy Perry is a poor choice. It’s the way it’s presented: “disaster written all over it…Mark my words…” There’s no dissenting opinion presented, no careful consideration–just Katy Perry hated spit aggressively into the ether, presented with the bravado of an apocalypse preacher.

My question is, how is he so sure? I’ve never been so sure of anything in my life. I lock gym lockers, walk away, then come back and check the surrounding gym lockers to make sure I locked the right one. I take breaks during sex to check on the condom (and, yes, that counts toward my time). I call everyone “dude,” “bud,” or “man” just in case I forgot their name. (Thanksgiving was great, by the way. My family is a cool group of dudes.) He’s not a TV executive. He has no authority on this subject at all. Yet, he took 52 words out of his life to tell 900 people that “this has disaster written all over it.”

This week, Facebook released its Top Ten Topics of 2014 list. I love lists (CC: stufffratpeoplelike). Let’s take a look:

1. Ebola virus outbreak
2. Ice Bucket Challenge
3. Robin Williams
4. Super Bowl
5. Michael Brown/Ferguson
6. World Cup
7. Conflict in Gaza
8. US midterm elections
9. Malaysia Airlines
10. ISIS

So here’s where I’m going to be brave and admit something about myself: I don’t know one definitive thing about any of these topics. Sure, I have some thoughts that you’d probably agree with–death is sad, disease is bad, elections happen, and ISIS is the coolest bad guy name since Kobra Kai. But I don’t KNOW anything, at least not enough to form a legitimate opinion. I can’t reveal new information, and I couldn’t stand on a platform and try to convince you of any real facts. And you know what? I think you’re probably a lot like I am: excruciatingly average. Maybe you know a little more about Gaza or when a midterm election even happened, but you’re likely not more than one standard deviation away from the mean. But, look at these most talked about topics. This is some heavy, controversial shit. I mean, you would really need to know A LOT to start spouting off about suicide, war, or soccer. Yet there they are, all over Facebook and Twitter, all year long, the opinions of accountants, baristas, and high schoolers. The ramblings of cousins and uncles and friends who have a lot of trouble with the difference between “your” and “you’re.” The status update opinions are devoid of consideration, and are therefore devoid of meaning.

It’s not that people don’t deserve to have an opinion, and I certainly understand that there is legitimate peer-to-peer idea sharing that occurs on the Internet. It’s the instant outrage that’s dangerous. If its intention is to stir up debate, in practice it really does the opposite, hindering any hope of productive conversation. But I don’t think this is about debate, is it? This is about spectacle and inflation of personal worth. If you play at intelligence and someone celebrates that (via a “like”) you will feel more intelligent. We are a nation of slobbering simples desperate to feel better and smarter than where our real life choices have delivered us. This is how I feel every time I see something posted about Ferguson, or Eric Garner, or campus rape, because it’s never really about those things, is it? Tragedy becomes a conduit for ego.

I don’t think this will ever end. Slowly, our society is segmenting, and we move toward our own side of every argument, a place where you can screamingly agree to agree, come to no real conclusions, and pump up your self-worth. I almost miss the days when a falling snowflake would be a trending subject. Now the same people who thought snow was newsworthy, when we could all just look out the window, are telling me who I should vote for in a midterm election. They must have been doing a lot of reading these last couple years. Who knows. I guess I’ll just move along to a more simple world like Snapchat (@jtrain56) where people send me photos of their poop, which is actually LESS disgusting.

All this to say that Katy Perry is going to be incredible. Mark my words.

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