There was always that one guy in High School (at least when I was in high school) who would go to the mat to try to make you believe that Paul Mc Cartney was dead. True to form, the urban legend states that in 1967 Paul McCartney had been killed in a traffic accident while driving along the M1 motorway. While there was no real proof, only rumors, and hazy evidence, the rumor persisted and still has its followers today. The insecurity of the past, the idea that we can’t be sure of what really happened can take many forms, from a false memory, where a person recalls something that did not happen or differently from the way it happened but the idea is taken to a whole new level around 2014 when a concept “The Mandella Effect” began to take hold. It seems that some people remembered Nelson Mandela’s tragic death in a South African prison, prior to late 2009. (In this reality, Mandela died in 2013.) The idea being that someone had gone back to tamper with the past and re-set our experience of it. While we have often spoken of cyber truth in this blog, this idea seems to take the idea into a much larger and more terrifying realm. While a computer could easily erase our bank records we like to think that we have some memory of what happened and that other people could confirm our story. However, the more terrifying reality is that we could find ourselves in a George Bailey like fate, alive and remembering a world in which he never existed. As we continue to hear more tales of data being stolen, do we not see that the true goal may not be just our data but the very fact that we ever existed?
While watching the news report on our president, the image of Raphael’s, “Sistine Madonna” came to mind. Now bear with me for a moment, as this painting is probably best known for the cherubs at the bottom of the image. The thing that made me think of them was not their cheeky demeanor but the fact that the cherubs are downright chubby. Like many representations of cherubs in paintings of the time, they are notoriously well fed. Later I discovered that the reason for that was that in a time when most people were starving the idea that there might be more than enough food in heaven did add a certain level of interest that a blushing Madonna’s or pious saints wouldn’t have- the elusive robustness was to be valued, prized even idolized. In this time when we think of social media as a new form of religion, why are we surprised to see the parade of characters cast before us every waking moment? From the earliest days in television, we were presented with ideal visions of family and life that were far from anything most people had known or were even possible. Today we watch the Kardashian’s in the hopes that we could also be famous and valued for absolutely no reason. We watched “Friends” living in an absolutely amazing New York apartment with they paid for with jobs and paychecks that they never seemed to work for projection a similar fate might be possible for us too. Perhaps we should not be surprised that we have projected our most precious desires into a world that seems real and yet attainable only through a miracle or some miraculous transformation. It seems we look to these media icons to allow us to dream a world that we cannot or don’t live in. A world where we will be fed to the point of plumpness, rewarded with adulation and attention for no reason, or be able to act and say whatever we want, no matter how hateful, contradictory or detached from reason. Perhaps it conceals a certain desire in all of us to act as if our actions had no consequences, other than those that would be resolved by the final credits. I mean, wouldn’t we all like the opportunity to act like children – even if only chubby children with wings?
It was an honor just to be asked. I was a first-year masters student in the opera program and a very well respected accompanist asked me to sing on a recital of the songs of Hugo Wolf. The songs had been selected and I was ready for what was to become a pivotal event in my musical education. Among the songs was one, Abschied (there is a link to a performance below) that described a critic coming to the poet’s house and criticizing everything from the shape of his nose and going on from there. The poet listens and nods until finally he has had enough and on showing him out, kicks him down the stairs as the music turns to a waltz celebrating the speed to which the critic rolled down the stairs. This uninvited criticism has been on my mind for while with the incidents of body shaming that seem to be everywhere on the internet. Now, I firmly believe that everyone has the right to express themselves and if that means putting a large body into a very small swimsuit and posting pictures of myself on the internet- that seems to be my choice and by putting myself in the public sphere, I invite public discussion. However, discussion seems to be beyond the pale when people suggest that for my act of public exposure that I should instead, kill myself or be so horrified by my own existence, that I should somehow know better than to allow myself to be seen or exposed. How did we get to this point where everyone seems to have the right to say exactly what they feel whenever they feel it but no one has to take responsibility for their actions. It seems that we can say all manner of hate speech but that it is negated and indeed made all better when we apologize or in the case of 45 keep saying it more and more forcefully until it takes on the mangy robe of social media truth. Have we come to a gradation of truth- truth with a small t that can be altered with the shift of a hand like a magician making the ace of spades disappear. Indeed, perhaps we are at blame to give anyone’s words the mantle of truth. In the works of the Burton and Learner song, “How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Love You When You Know I’ve Been a Liar All My Life?” perhaps we must take everything with a proverbial grain or block of salt, believing only what we can confirm either in person or by volume of critical sources. Maybe the best approach is that taken by Wolf (and by extension Eduard Mörike the writer of the poem) that while we allow such comments to come in the front door- we also have the choice of which window to throw them out of.
It was late in the day as I finished my cup of coffee at the coffee shop near my house. I watched an employee- probably a high school student or older rolling up the mat at the front door. What was his job life going to be in this new technical age, this technological industrial revolution where more and more people are replaced by machines in the ongoing march of progress. I was reminded of a something George Orwell wrote- “If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever. “ It would be pretty to think that this is only a fiction and that the truth will be much brighter, that the living wage would become the norm and the middle class wouldn’t be defined by lowest income can survive without government aid and that health insurance and an education would be available to everyone.
It would be pretty to think so.
With recent events, I have found this post something that I needed to share once again. Please, no matter how you feel about recent events, we can not keep silent. Make your voice be heard and listen to those who are speaking, in fact based arguments. Now is not the time to be silent and to hide behind hashtags. We have too much to be thankful for and too much to lose.
Change is never easy and watching the news shows that change is necessary. The nature of this change struck me while listening to an NPR interview with the Aunt of the man killed in a police shooting in Minneapolis. She was weeping and crying saying how the police had taken something from her that she could never get back. While I was struck by her grief I was shocked by the way she added a hashtag to the conversation, not unlike the ones used by the black lives matter movement. While I do not argue with the validity of their outrage is a hashtag really the best way to vent our anger? Desmond Tutu once said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor”; is a hashtag or a twitter post really an outlet for our rage? Is a social media post the warm cozy blanket we wrap ourselves in to pretend that we are feeling beings, part of a community of people for whom we have a moral obligation to treat humanely? If we are mad, shouldn’t we get mad, shout from our windows, take to the streets and demand to be heard not read and reposted? What will it come to before we realize that change is often not something that can be done from a comfortable chair? Has a revolution been replaced by the retweet?
Like many people, I have been following the political race pretty closely and have been surprised bordering on shocked in the way that the candidates respective roles have been portrayed. I understand that there is a whole grammatical ballet around how one presents a candidate, there is an entire lexicon available to refer to candidates with the correct meaning, but as we refer to the “Presumptive” nominees it seems as though we take our data to higher and higher platitudes (with a nod to the late Mayor Dailey). It seems as if because we can sample data and make predictions from it that these predictions are obliged to have the future oblige the prediction. An off colour remark by a candidate and the pundits are showing us how this will put his future victory in peril, all charted with colour maps showing delegates hanging like low-pressure systems awaiting the next prediction to blow them to a different course. Maybe we are looking to be ruled by the predictive force of algorithms in place of our own free will. We still have a voice but we won’t for long we allow the predictions to become the dictators of reality.