Saturday, October 27, 2012

Misstra Unplugged

In the end, it was my worldstarthiphop consumption that made me realize I had a problem. For those not familiar with the website, it's about the worst thing to happen to the image of Black people in American culture since Homeboys in Outer Space. There are hundreds, thousands of videos of Black people actin ignant. Fights outside of chicken shacks (nay, in chicken shacks!), weaves being seized like dandelion stems, every video seems to end with one Black man in victorious ecstasy while the other Black man (the recipient of violence) in a near paralyzed state. A quitter, is what they call it. The settings change, but not the power these videos hold over me.

I'm not sure how I started being a worldstarfiend, but I noticed that it kept creeping into rotation of websites I checked before I went to bed. Huffpost, talkingpoints, espn, cnnsi. Then worldstar. They started me off with highlights of Blake Griffin yamming on people. (I'm a sucker for Bright Boys who slam like this.)

I'm just about to log off and then the link listed most popular catches my eye. Usually the title is something like, My nigga knocked this nigga out, bleve dat!! In weaker moments, I can't resist. I click and the show begins.

Two bodies jerk at each other, feinting and striking. Back and forth. A misstep, a nervous hesitation, and then one person bashes the head of their opponent. Said opponent submits to the fist of Morpheus and lays prone on the sidewalk, or classroom, or shag carpet.

The clip usually end with an exhilarating shout from the cameraman about how many hits the footage will earn him on worldstar. If he's not too caught up in the moment, the narrator might plug the relevant social media where you can "follow" him. I'm doing big things this year, he assures us.  

But what happens after the violence? Most clips end quickly after the decisive blow. Some allow you to see  the even more brutal scenes that follow someone knocked unconscious. And for some reason you're not really supposed to think about that.

The girl on your screen who gets her hair pulled out and her head bashed against a desk, has no idea that that one of the worst moments of her life will be seen by hundreds of thousands of people. People who will laugh and watch it over and over again, posting comments about how funny it is. And who knows what happened to her? What's happening to her? What's happening to all of these people who are being brutalized on our computer screens for our entertainment?

In that way it has a lot in common with pornography, which is the unspoken engine of the Internet. You don't have to be a psychiatrist to infer that that a large number of people who end up doing pornographic videos are doing so for financial reasons. They're in an machine fueled by the consumption human bodies. The engine goes through thousands a day, so they'll need a thousand more tomorrow. And they will find them, somewhere. And worldstar will find more. People will head to the streets to do battle so they can live for a few flashes on a legion of computer screens.

I would like to be able to say I took a principled stand against technological dehumanization, but my reaction to worldstar also had a more practical reason: watching people act crazy made me think crazy. I noticed that it invaded my psychic space as my brain began to drown in muck. It made me not even want to write.
So this summer I quit, mostly. I Limited my email, reduced my Facebook, and cold turkeyed my worldstar habit. With the extra time I wrote a bunch, read more, and spent time with Missus and Baby Knowitall.  
And I didn't stop at worldstar. I realized that espn, talkingpointsmemo, chicagotribune, huffington post, and cnnsi would have to go by the wayside. They were all different in the flavor of information they were giving, but all of them encouraged continued use. All discouraged presence. 

After a couple of weeks, life wasn't that much different. I was actually happy when I wasn't following updates all day. I didn't feel the constant need to log on.

The time with my two ladies made me more aware of how little time we really have. Actually we have no time. The only thing we have is this moment that we're in. That just passed. And passed again. If you're not present, than your wasting my time became my mantra (no Ekhart Tolle).

My biggest help in staying present is my daughter. She's the most present person I know. She cries a storm when I try to put a hat on her, and then a dog passes by and she laughs and claps. We're walking to the corner store together, but really she's not walking somewhere, just walking, enjoying how it feels to stomp the concrete with her pink sneakers. One foot and then the other. Relentlessly present. My hero.