Not Weinerized: A sort-of response to Tom Hoopes.

First, there are entirely too many Toms on this site. I shall forthwith refer to fellow CV blogger Tom Hoopes as simply “Hoopes.” And if we ever have a meeting of the Toms I’ll buy the first round—these are good guys.

But I have to push back a little, or perhaps simply give a different emphasis, in response to an item he recently wrote at National Review Online and linked to from here.

In his post “The Weinerization of America” Hoopes offers commentary on four societal or cultural conditions which formed Weiner into the perverted cad he has become. I don’t disagree with any of them entirely, but I believe he did not address them adequately, and that which is lacking hurts the larger point I think he was trying to make.

His first point:

1. He is a product of what Neil Postman called the “now this” society. We watch the news of destruction in Joplin, Mo., and then a commercial for Tide, followed by a commercial for a slick horror film, followed by a story about a celebrity divorce. Some of it is real, some of it isn’t. All of it is high-quality and entertaining. All of it is treated in a fleeting way.

Thus, we begin to live our own lives as a series of disjointed fleeting events that we judge for their entertainment value … and create a society that makes it possible for a New York representative to tweet a picture of his underwear to a 22-year-old Seattle coed while watching a hockey game being played in Canada.

Yes, but the true horror would be when, upon the revelation that said Congressman conducted himself in said reprehensible manner, it did not register as reprehensible. The day such a revelation does not have staying power in the (entertaining) news cycle and there were not wide-spread calls for resignation, that day would signal a real societal problem.

The situation Hoopes describes certainly makes healthy relationships difficult, since relationship requires time spent focused on another for whom one cares, rather than fleeting stimulating experiences of things one does not truly value, but with the march of technology we cannot completely undo this situation. What we have to do is learn to live healthily in the midst of it, and help others to do likewise.

I don’t think Hoopes would disagree with this, I just wish he had made that point in his post.

His second point:

2. He is a product of the age of the digitized body. Marketing yourself isn’t just for celebrities anymore. Now, we all market ourselves, choosing just the right Facebook profile picture and photo albums to tell the story we want to about our lives. We start to divorce our “self” from our actual body. This phenomenon reaches its extremes in avatars and sexting: The digital me becomes the exciting me.

This phenomenon also becomes manifest in the clothes we wear and the words we choose to use with this group of friends but not with that group of friends, let alone our boss, or a client, or our mother (or political campaign ads, to keep it topical). In other words, ’twas ever thus.

Now, there is no question that social media—or take it back to blogging and online role playing video games, which well predate MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and the like—enables those who seek an alternate “exciting me” to have a virtual persona that is completely divorced from reality, whereas clothes and patterns of speech are still anchored to the personal, physical “me.”

But as with the first point, the question is not, “can this technology be misused?” The answer is the same as for any technology: yes, of course. Technology is neutral: the acting person is the key. Even low technology can be misused: a hammer can pound nails or skulls, and it doesn’t matter to the hammer which it is. The question is both can people learn to restrain their use of the technology, and can it be used for great good? And again, the answer is yes.

It is not necessary, and, frankly, not preferred or proper for a person’s online persona to exactly match their real self, with all of our idiosyncrasies and rough patches and mood swings and the like. That sort of thing ought only to be shared with family and the friends and trusted advisors who know you and care about you. But, as with above, this was true before the digital revolution, if on a lesser scale.

But moving beyond the discussion of how authentic our avatar is with regard to our real self, the ability to connect and keep in touch with so many people has revolutionized relationships. Yes, we can send lewd photos to underage coeds, or pretend we’re a handsome young lad with lots of adventures when we’re actually a middle aged fat guy who rarely leaves his computer. But look at what else this technology has made possible: shut-ins no longer have to wait and hope someone comes by in order to be in touch. Grandparents who live states away from grandkids don’t have to wait for the rare phone call or letter or even more rare visit. Large families can stay close though they’re spread to the four winds. Parents can keep tabs on a larger aspect of their kids’ interactions with friends. And more.

We are still best suited to have only a few really good friends, and those ought to be people whom we can visit with or at least speak with on the phone regularly, but through this technology we can maintain contact and keep in touch with family and friends a world away, with the click of a mouse. We can share pictures, thoughts, words of encouragement, funny or interesting happenings, and, don’t forget, the Good News of Christ.

Yes, social media enables caddishness and perversion to metastasize into uglier versions of narcissism and enables perverted cads to spread their filth further and wider. But the same holds for virtue and goodness. The technology is neutral: the content put in by acting persons is key.

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3 thoughts on “Not Weinerized: A sort-of response to Tom Hoopes.

  1. Tom Hoopes says:

    Thanks, Crowe (following your “No Toms” rule).

    I was making a very Marshall McLuhan point about technology …

    Every media, he says, entails a gain and a loss. (When storytelling was replaced by book-writing we lost the facial and body language of the story-teller and we lost the ability to remember. We gained concision and a permanent record. )>>>

    To say that you can use radio for good doesn’t change the fact that the front-porch culture that existed before radio became popular can never come back. You can put great stuff on TV. But you are doomed to a superficial culture ruled by entertainer-kings.>>>

    You can Tweet and Facebook great stuff, but even you great stuff will still teach people to be fractured, distracted, and to lose patience with long blocks of text without pictures. >>>

    That said, I don’t think this is the first media revolution ever with no gain. I just don’t think that Anthony Weiner would have lived a life of epic perversion if he had been born, say, 20 years earlier.

    1. Tom Crowe says:

      My friend Hoopes——I’m not willing to admit that about Weiner: some people *will find a way*!!!! ——— “Doomed” in any of those cases only if you assume that the former state was necessarily better. The new situation is definitely different, but I hesitate to say it was necessarily better. ——— I think your assessment of the social media misses a couple of interesting points. For one, I wonder if the glossing over large blocks of text is more because of short attention spans, or because those who write large blocks of text tend to be people who don’t write well, or at least don’t write things worth reading. If either of those is true, that’s a good thing: it forces writers to be more salient and more pithy. Those who are neither will be ignored. The free market forcing good writing, if you will. Second, since you brought up the lack of facial expressions and body language in the break from live storytellers to books. I wonder if the inclusion of images along with text somewhat recovers the imagery of body language and facial expression in text-based story telling. Since receivers of stories would get more out of the story if they had the visuals that the storyteller would include were he telling the story live, the story being told in text is helped along in that sense by including pictures. Good story tellers can manipulate the meaning of parts of the story by using a particular non-verbal cue, while those who tell stories in text can do the same by including a particular image. In that way the non-verbal part of story telling is somewhat recovered in the text-based world. ——— I do hope this wasn’t too long! ;-) ——— (see, I just used an image to indicate I was being flippant, or perhaps sarcastic!)

  2. Davide says:

    Good points and a well written post thank you. I don’t have Twitter, Facebook, myspace or anything like this, but I think I understand your points.

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