Knowledge Darts Vol 18: Why So Serious?
God forbid you take your chosen profession seriously. People might think you actually care.
One thing I find disturbing is how afraid society as a whole seems to be of critical thinking or any kind of meaningful analysis of art, modern media or culture. If you dare scrutinize anything or demand more of it in terms of substance, quality or consistency you’re made to feel like you’re asking for too much or essentially branded as a malcontent. I can’t tell you how often someone has tried to make me out to be an asshole for saying something wasn’t up to standard. One of the most frequent responses is that I’m joyless, bitter, angry and hate fun. I’ve also heard that I need to stop thinking so much. While I will readily acknowledge that I have a tendency to overthink things from time to time my issue lies more with how people seem to be discouraged from thinking or being critical at all. I’m sick of constantly being told I take things too seriously because I feel like art and culture are suffering in quality because far too few people involved are treating things with a sufficient level of gravity.
It concerns me how uneasy people seem to feel around people who use their brain. In public, I’ve been asked if I was alright because I was very clearly thinking and it concerned them. This has happened to me at shows, in bars and even in hospitals. When pressed, people admit that my silence made them anxious. I’ve also discovered many people who have trouble meditating or thinking silently because they freaked out when they had to face their own thoughts or listen to their own interior monologue. In an age where everything is instantaneous and all that matters is “the now,” there’s not as much focus on what’s substantive and damn near none on going back to the past to gather adequate background data and context. This explains why so-called “think pieces” are so terrible now, and are usually replaced with “hot takes” instead.
At times like these I am often reminded of classic Sci Fi novels like Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 or short stories like Kurt Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron,” which tried to warn us of the dangers of doing away with critical thinking in favor of empty images, disposable art, celebrity worship and other distractions to keep the masses pacified. In the Trump era feel like I’m navigating a world created by the intentional Dumbing Down Of America which began about 20 years ago. I’m trying to fight it using all available means, which are ironically becoming less and less important with the passage of time. When I saw Complex let go a gang of its writing staff to instead focus on video content I knew that other shoes would drop elsewhere. It came as no surprise to me when MTV News gutted its writing staff (freelancers included) in favor of focusing on video and short form content. Because God knows no one has the attention span to read 1000-word pieces anymore… (this one runs 998.)
With a 24-hour news cycle, real time social media platforms and an endless portals inundating you with the latest bad news from every corner of the world as it happens you’d think it natural for humans to seek out some form of escapism or exercise some form of self care. I don’t begrudge anyone the right to unplug or look for the occasional mindless distraction or guilty pleasure, but it seems like most people are ill prepared to deal with so much information, good or bad. My brothers and I recently had a talk where we all discussed growing up in the late ’60s to late ’70s in an economically depressed city under Republican presidents. We were literally preparing ourselves for the possibility of the world ending due to nuclear war. Mind you, this wasn’t just a scenario in some Sci Fi film, cartoon or TV show to us… We thought it was an INEVITABILITY.
That being the case? Living in Trump World feels like old hat to me. I’ve been waiting for the Apocalypse to drop like it was a Jay Electronica album since I was 6 years old and I used to deal with crackheads on a daily basis during my formative years, so dealing with chaos on a daily basis is pretty much the equivalent of training in a remote Buddhist temple. Even throughout all of this I was able to see through to the root of things and deconstruct what was really going on at its core, even in the face of window dressing and superficial distractions that could potentially through you off course. My passion and dedication to the things I loved led to me becoming immersed in whatever it was that led me to study the entire history of each subject I was captivated by, whether music, art, sports, or science fiction. To me, that was just what you did. Nowadays, I find that people who do that are sort of ridiculed for digging so deeply into anything. That’s something I could never get behind or comprehend.
I get reminded daily that caring about the declining quality of music, music journalism and art in general is unpopular. It’s also been hammered into my psyche that being vocal about the dangers of accepting mediocre art or letting it ride because it’s “fun” and “lighthearted” while not fighting for more substantive or talent-based art marks you as being a “hater” or “mad at the world.” I see how Joe Budden got treated like the angry old head for becoming frustrated at Lil’ Yachty’s being so aloof and laissez-faire in regards to his career and the art form as a whole. Problem being no one noticed how impressed he was by Vince Staples who’s from the same age group but far more aware, which is what Joe said he wanted Yachty to be. God forbid you take your chosen profession seriously. People might think you actually care.