Thursday, September 17, 2020

It's Okay If You Didn't Know the Celebrity Who Just Died, and It's Okay If You Never Learn Who They Were

If you'd like to know what's on the mind of suburbans, what motivates them, how they view themselves, how they want to measure up to the herd, then watch car commercials.

Billions of dollars goes into researching suburbans in an effort to "connect" to them, thereby, ostensibly, giving big car corporations "access" to their deeper desires and wishes. The sad part is: it works. Remarkably well. It must work, because these commercials are "beta-tested" on audiences over and over again before being aired, and routinely become very popular. Suburbans watch these dumb-ass commercials and, like the herd animals they are, work ever harder at jobs they hate so that they can begin making payments they can't afford on that new, sleeker bit of plastic and faux chrome and genuine imitation rubber and computerized-this and computerized-that motorized vessel of leather-smelling suburbanness.

Cars are one of the most obvious signs of status, perhaps the most obvious, with the possible exception of houses. And status, to suburbans, is paramount. It is everything.

For those of you who don't know me, the term suburban refers to people who, be they suburbanites or "urban-dwellers" or rural country folk, are those who, whether or not they know it, subscribe to the morally and culturally bankrupt philosophy known as suburbanism, which is my term for those who believe in and fight for herd status, who believe that by consuming they can save the world, who clamor after new trends and fashions, who care to an unhealthy degree about what their neighbors think of them (and yes, that's almost certainly you), who blow with the political winds no matter how foul they may be, who seek ten easy steps for pretty much anything and everything, but particularly thorny issues of morality, ethics, and changing their behavior (Tony Robbins, anyone?), and so on. They live by the brochure and the bullet points therein. Their brochures must be glossy and colorful, the information inside like their Facebook profiles, with lots of happy-smiley-this and sugar-coated cat-GIF'd-that, with all the actual life and substance edited out.

There is much, much more to suburbanism than all that; it's really an umbrella term that describes all sorts of hateful modern-day beliefs and philosophies, if they can be called such.


One of those bullet points referenced above is to seem wiser, hipper, and more knowledgeable than you actually are. This can be done a variety of ways, but one of the best is to keep up with the latest celebrity news and gossip, carefully curating what you repost or "meme" to whatever particular herd you're trying to impress. This is particularly effective when a celebrity dies, especially if that celebrity was known for his or her intelligence or insights, or who made their way to fame via intellectual means versus less exalted ones.

Case in point: Toni Morrison.

Who was she? I had no damn idea until news went viral that she had died. According to Wikipedia, she was

an American novelist, essayist, editor, teacher, and professor emeritus at Princeton University. Her first novel, The Bluest Eye, was published in 1970. The critically acclaimed Song of Solomon (1977) brought her national attention and won the National Book Critics Circle Award. In 1988, she won the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award for Beloved (1987).

Everything there looks properly formatted and cited, which is pretty much ninety percent of the battle for suburbans; but reading that passage, which very few of you will ever do, you will notice that she was, apparently, a renowned author.

So here's where you get your suburban hackles up and laugh disdainfully at me.

"You're an author and you didn't know about Toni Morrison? Please!"

No. I didn't. And I'm still an author. Fuck you.

When she died, it seemed that every-fuckin'-one was posting news about it, followed by, of course, the memes: the photos of her overlaid with some pithy or wise thing she said or wrote.

This was a solid move to secure a good bullet point. Very solid.

My guess is that more than half of those who "memed" Ms. Morrison had no idea who the fuck she was while she was living; and nearly a hundred percent of those didn't bother buying one of her books in order to find out, if even a little bit, about her, her talent, her insights, and so on after she passed.

Three quarters of the rest of you shared links about her death, or memes, having perhaps opened one of her books, but never finishing it. That leaves the remaining quarter of you who did, eighty percent of whom didn't (and still don't) care one way or another about her, but knew she was an Important Person of Note, and so knew that that bullet point in your brochures would look very nice indeed.

Of course, not ten days later, Ms. Morrison was utterly and completely forgotten, as evidenced by her total disappearance from the Interwebs. That's what a Nobel Prize in Literature apparently merits these days: ten days of plastic memes ganked from hundreds of thousands of very-hard-earned words that strived for eternity with each syllable, mistaking that "eternity" for suburbans equals ten fucking days.

Ten days of "RIP" followed by maybe, at most, a sentence about how Toni's books meant so much (sniff!).

Tens days of quotes; ten days of likes (the most important thing); ten days of "I read so-and-so ..." to demonstrate your intelligence and cultural depth; ten days of one-upping one another to see who emerges on top of the herd's manure heap of faux bullet-point culture.

At most ten days. It was, in truth, probably closer to three. Ten seems to be a stretch.

From all I can tell about my admittedly very cursory research on Toni Morrison, she was a thoroughly remarkable individual. But does that mean I'm going to go out and buy one of her books and read it? It's quite doubtful. Does that mean I'm going to get down on myself because I didn't know who she was, even though I'm an author who, I'm sure most of you are thinking, should know? Not at all.

Should I take the time and learn about Toni Morrison--I mean, more time than I have taken? Only if I want to; otherwise, no.

Does this make me some sort of stubborn ignoramus? Not at all.

Our culture is so celebrity-oriented, so overfocused on those at the top, regardless of profession, that an essential point is missed, and it's this: Those at the top got there almost completely by luck, not by talent, not by hard work, not by "pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps." That includes Ms. Toni Morrison.

Did she deserve her celebrity status? Most assuredly. The problem is in our overdevotion to celebrities, our vast overestimation of their gifts (especially in comparison to those who didn't "make it"), our envy of their fame and fortune. In a remotely sane world, Ms. Morrison would be a hundredth as famous and ten thousand times more known and loved. But we don't live in such a world. We live in an insane world of fucking memes and plastic everything and three-second attention spans, where genuinely impressive individuals, as Ms. Morrison seems to have been, receive idiotic "RIPs" and endlessly useless whatnot, including memes. In a sane (saner) world, she would have received far more substantive and reasoned eulogies, and not just from intellectual elites. The "RIPs" would be few and far between, and rightly utterly disdained, as would the memes.

Bottom line: You assholes who memed and "RIP" 'd Ms. Morrison ultimately did her a disservice and denigrated her works. Congratulations.

But hey--her death sure made for a nice bullet point, didn't it?