The Internet Keeps Regurgitating You, and Other News


On the Shelf

Just another day online!

  • On a similar note, Francine Prose responds with aplomb to what I can only describe as Shrivergate (or Literary Sombrerogate?): “It’s not the responsibility of art to make us better people, but some works of art can (if only temporarily) increase our compassion, sympathy, and tolerance … Even if we acknowledge (as Shriver does not) that we live in a society in serious need of repair, it’s still possible to ask whether the protest against cultural appropriation constitutes the most useful and effective form of political activism, whether it addresses our most critical and pressing problems. We could insure that not a single rock star or runway model ever again wears corn rows or dreadlocks—and not remotely change the fact that a black person with the same hairstyle might have trouble finding a job … We could prohibit writers from inventing characters whose backgrounds differ from their own without preventing even one young black man from being shot by the police.” 

  • While we’re feeling bleak: stop me if you’ve heard this before, but I have good reason to believe that the Internet is positively riddled with pornography. It’s true! Look it up. After decades of growth and innumerable controversies, though, the porn industry is still a mystery to most us, and the effects of pornography are hard to pin down—or even to study— without bias. Katrina Forrester writes, “Not only what we consume but how we consume has changed since the porn wars. Porn is abundantly more, in every way: there are more people, more acts, more clips, more categories. It has permeated everyday life, to the point where we talk easily of food porn, disaster porn, war porn, real-estate porn—not because culture has been sexualized, or sex pornified, but because porn’s patterns of excess, fantasy, desire, and shame are so familiar … The consequences of seeing sex before having it are as unclear as those of Facebook’s colonization of our leisure time. Pornography isn’t hermetically sealed from the rest of culture, and today it sits on a continuum with other problems of technology that we don’t yet know how to address.”
  • Of course, it might not be just the porn that makes the Internet a vast hellscape of indeterminate suffering and slow-burn psychosis. Some, like Alex Balk, have argued (with polemical glee) that the entire World Wide Web is that way: poisonous. “You need the poison like you need the air. ‘If I don’t have another reason to hate myself today,’ your stupid brain tells itself so quietly that you can’t even hear the conversation, ‘I’ll just die.’ And then you think, ‘Gee, let me look at Twitter,’ and you’re sad for the rest of the day, but you don’t know why. It is because all the promise of the Internet turned out to be lies. The Internet makes you depressed by showing you how you and everyone around you look at your worst, which is how you and everyone around you look most of the time. The Internet is a mirror that reveals the worst things about us, because it’s a mirror, and we are mostly worst things.”
  • But why stop there? Let’s implicate real life, too. Real life: what a sham! Lizzie Feidelson’s essay about her time working for a cleaning company is full of small reminders of real life’s inadequacies. Being surveilled, for instance: never any fun. “While I worked, the owner of the cleaning company followed on my heels. ‘Good pour,’ she said when I tipped the bucket of gray water into the toilet. As the day wore on, I’d catch sight of her standing at the periphery of whatever giant living space I was crouching in, peering around the doorframe while I stacked books. Later, while evacuating Cheerios from between the couch cushions, I saw her pick up the miniature rake in the family’s decorative tabletop Zen garden and carefully comb the sand with its tiny teeth.”