Thursday, October 6, 2011

Express Yourself...

Over the past month or so I’ve become mildly fascinated with a gay American soldier who has documented the process of his coming out in a series of fairly emotionally raw YouTube videos. His channel and twitter feeds are titled: AreYouSuprised, a rhetorical question perhaps on the subjects perceived masculinity.

When the soldier, now known as Randy, started making his videos he pointed his iPhone camera at his pectoral muscles downwards. This framing had a dual purpose: they maintained the soldier’s anonymity (the video’s first appeared in April months before the official repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell) while also highlighting his sculpted chest.

This duality was probably at the heart of Randy’s success as an Internet viral hit (4 million views and counting): his videos targeted an intellectual audience that was empathetic to his lonely plight while titillating the rest of us with twitpics of his six-pack.

The dichotomous nature of the Soliders efforts piqued my own internal fasciation – was AreYouSurprised an entirely wholesome effort, or was it some sort of cleverly concocted social media campaign concocted by GLAAD or Human Rights Campaign to bring attention to gay issues preceding the repeal of DADT?

The soldier finally revealed his face in a dramatic denouement (much to the glee of his many fans whom had been left salivating over his sculpted physic) on September 20th, the day DADT was formally repealed, videotaping himself telling his father over the phone that he was gay.

Was the entire series emotionally honest? It was; especially, to anyone who ahs gone through the routine of telling their best friend that they were gay, and then wrestling up enough courage to come out to other friends, and then finally family. This was what made Randy’s “live” statement to his father that he was gay so heartfelt both for the subject and the viewer. Was there a dry eye in the house when Randy’s father told him that he loved him no matter what? Probably anyone but Maggie Gallagher and Michelle Bachman passed the tissue.

That being said - was the whole series also kind of creepy? Yes it was; since when did it become perfectly normal to watch a stranger go through his coming out process on YouTube? What makes this even creepier is how normalized this all seems in a post “It Gets Better World”.

And this, this is where a problem emerges. Sharing, which was formerly caring, or whatever the saying was that we all learned in kindergarten, has been completely redefined in the twenty first century. Sharing is no longer caring. Sharing is now showing and sharing is also now telling.

Now… of course, who am I to really talk about any of this? I tweet, blog and status update with the best of them. And to a point I do it because I’m bored and because I like to express myself and because I’ve been told I’m a mildly witty writer so I figure use whatever God-given talents I have before I’m carted off to the loony bin.

The problem with all of this incessant sharing is that the contribution of ideas, stories, and the like in a curated state was part of humanity’s ability to create “intellectual capital”. And as Russell Smith argued in a really interesting Globe and Mail column last week ideas are no longer a commodity : “I have a recurring argument with creative young people - about getting paid for ideas. There now exists an entire generation of intelligent people who have grown up without any expectation of compensation for imaginative work.”

And in some ways, as someone who loves to write, but has made a sum total of $600 from various writing pursuits, I write and publish on free blogs, like the Huffington Post, for the joy of it. I am part of Russell Smith’s complaint; I have never had an editor parse my work nor have I had to report on things I don’t like to talk about; I can excuse myself from the dregs of journalism because I am a blogger. I am not, nor ever have I been a journalist… I just play one on the interweb.

And so I understand Smith’s concern with the matter at hand; however, in my generational defense, what Smith may have missed, however, is that young - people and I’ll include myself in that lot - don’t view sharing as a form of creating intellectual capital. We share because its what we’ve been trained to do. We share because there is a button on Facebook that says: share. In our constantly connected world, sharing is just another click on our smartphone.

No longer do we write things down in our diary, or even do we write long, expressive emails to our best friend as we did in the late nineties; remember, the halcyon, days when you received only 1 email a day and it was sort of exciting to log into Hotmail? We make YouTube videos because we want to and as Smith notes we don’t expect to be paid for anything because we don’t really view any of this as art. Sharing is no longer creating (in an arts centric sort of way); we share because we like to share. And should it “go viral”, allowing its creator to reap some sort of financial reward (Obviously Rebecca Black is the most obvious example of this)… that is just financial gravy on top of the emotional gratification of sharing. Show now, reap value later, if at all.

But if we HAVE become a society of constant shares, then the line between what is intellectual output and what is just a fart (to be lewd) is forever blurred. And therefore I do understand Smiths' concern - if everything becomes a simple share (I'll just publish my newest photo album on Facebook), then we do unfortunately de-legitimize the creation of real creative content. And that... my friends is a problem.


  1. There is a chance you're qualified to get a Apple iPhone 7.

  2. Ever wanted to get free Twitter Re-tweets?
    Did you know that you can get these ON AUTO-PILOT & TOTALLY FOR FREE by registering on Add Me Fast?