Why Can't the Internet Just Be for Porn?

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Chez Pazienza
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Last week on the podcast I regularly do with Bob Cesca, I mentioned, only half-jokingly, that there are times I wish the internet would just go away. Obviously, there's no denying that the internet as a global public forum, marketplace for the exchange of ideas, and tool for researching and networking is truly one of the great wonders of the world, a creation so culturally significant that it's almost impossible to remember what our lives were like before it came along. Also, I won't deny the irony of the fact that I made my little negative comment about the internet -- and am making this one -- on a platform that wouldn't exist were it not for the hyper-connectivity provided by the internet itself. Still, while digital media have allowed us access to an unparalleled amount of information which should, by any measure, make us the smartest our society has ever been, they've also allowed idiots access to an unparalleled amount of misinformation and elevated it to the point where the moron hive-mind can become just as powerful as the intellectual one. I realize I'm not breaking a lot of new ground by saying this, but rather than making us smarter as a culture, I'm pretty sure the free and instantaneous exchange of ideas provided by the internet is actually making us dumber because so often those ideas we're freely, instantaneously exchanging are fucking nonsense.

Case in point: A YouTube clip called "The Sandy Hook Shooting -- Fully Exposed," which advances the theory that the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting last month was at least partially a hoax, has garnered almost nine-million views in just one week. Nine-million people have taken around thirty minutes out of their day not to read the works of Shakespeare now available at their fingertips or scan the latest developments at CERN or even watch an episode of Louie online but to completely lose themselves in the dizzying psychic labyrinth of the conspiracy theorist. I suppose you could make the argument that some of them just wanted to see what the big deal is or to laugh out loud at the painful lunacy on proud display in this thing, but you have to imagine that there are millions of others who truly believe that because our culture has become one where the real and artificial are practically indistinguishable and everything could very well be The Matrix, the whole Sandy Hook nightmare appeared unreal specifically because it was so perfectly horrible -- and perfection, in their mind, smacks of artifice.

The problem is obvious: The democratization of information means that everyone gets nearly the same seat at the table and that means that it all becomes a free-for-all where any idiotic thing that gets said that be transmitted and circulated in exactly the same way and often with the same volume as information that's actually based in provable reality. Throw in social networking, which allows formerly far-flung outliers who were once relegated to the loneliness of Mom's basement to now find each other and speak with one voice and you get, well, Alex Jones as someone an at least vocal section of the population takes seriously and, again, nine-million views for a clip that unfathomably rubs salt in the wound of one of the greatest tragedies in this nation's recent history by claiming that it was somehow all a set-up.

I don't want to sound like a luddite or anything but more and more I find myself asking whether it's worth it that we have access to so much media and the ability to disseminate it just as quickly as we can take it in. Yeah, I'm kind of kidding myself when I have those fantasies of waking up one morning and suddenly realizing that we've gone back to a nation where there were actually filters and kingmakers in media since I've very much been a proponent of the new media revolution in the past, but there's simply no denying that it's the sheer volume of media that's turned us into an ADD culture, where news cycles roll over every few hours and nobody's attention span is longer than 140-characters. That's bad enough for us, but when you also consider the sheer amount of crappy media circulating and feeding the delusions of those looking for nothing more than the confirmation of their already firmly held biases, the results are disastrous for America as a whole and certainly for our national and political discourse.

Right now there's a big debate going on over the new NRA ad, an ad which was admittedly created for television but which was of course also designed for viral transmission and discussion as well otherwise it wouldn't reach half the people the NRA needs it to. The ad employs near-comically ridiculous "logic" in its attack on President Obama and defense of its what-could-possibly-go-wrong idea of turning the nation's schools into armed camps. The argument the NRA makes is that since the daughters of the President of the United States have armed Secret Service protection at all times, Obama expressing hesitation at the idea of putting guards with guns at schools instead of tackling the problem of too many guns in the first place amounts to "elitist hypocrisy." Never mind that the Secret Service undergoes, you know, extensive background checks or that the very reason the first daughters are guarded 24/7 is that there are armed NRA-worshiping, end-times survivalist wack-jobs who believe that their father is a socialist, Kenyan Antichrist coming to take away their rights, it's the kind of backward-ass logic the NRA thinks is entirely rational and even profound. It's like when Ted Nugent said back in December that "blaming guns for crime is like blaming helmuts (sic) for headbutts." You just know he wrote that nugget down, took a step back and marveled at his own sagacity, saying to himself, "Helmuts. Headbutts. Damn, Ted, that is good." But of course it's complete crap as a comparison.

And yet, because of the digital media circulation it gets on its own and then through the discussion of it on sites representing the other side of the political spectrum, it gains traction and often becomes as powerful as any attempt to discredit it. I'm not saying that we shouldn't slap down stupidity at the risk of elevating it, but that risk is certainly there and we should always be cognizant of it. There's a serious danger in lending it respectability through internet dissemination of any kind; it's just the way things work these days. The morons are always listening and democratization of an idea is exactly that: it makes all views at least somewhat equal.

So what you get is what we've already got: anybody with an opinion, no matter how divorced from reality, can capture the imagination of the digital nation and therefore the nation in general because more and more they're one and the same. Then you get those trying to capitalize on that nonsense and turn it into a living -- guys like Glenn Beck setting up an internet empire and Allen West now deciding that he wants, as Oliver Willis brilliantly put it on Twitter today, his piece of the grifter pie by starting his own internet show aimed at, I guess, the really, really stupid youth demographic -- and the resulting cacophony becomes a kind of Idiot Entertainment Complex.

And none of it would've been possible just ten or fifteen years ago. Sure, there are plenty of amazing ideas that come into our lives every single day thanks to internet connectivity and proliferation. But there's also a lot of crap -- and every once in a while you can't help but wonder if the trade off is worth it.

Then again, there is the bottomless cornucopia of porn. I guess that's a universal good. And cats. There are cats.