What did you think when you heard there had been an enormous earthquake in Japan?
If we are to believe Viceland, you thought “Pearl Harbor.” Unless you are a reader of Viceland, at which point you likely thought “I bet other people are going to think of Pearl Harbor.”
The latter case is what strikes me as more interesting. I get that some people are going to think about Pearl Harbor. Some people think car accidents happen because God hates fags. Some people think global warming is a myth propagated by alien lizards implanted in the federal government. But what explains the cottage industry orbiting these people and their opinions?
It should be obvious that things like “an earthquake in Japan”–that is, instances of reality–are of no concern to either Group A or Group B. Group A’s concern is Group B, and Group B’s is Group A, because everything is an excuse for branding and identity politics. Incidents are rendered unreal because they are given to us by our TV and our computer. What can I do with an image of a wave of flaming garbage demolishing an entire Japanese prefecture? The same thing I can do with a movie that depicts the same image–register sensations and go to the bathroom when my soda content reaches critical levels. I can’t own that. It can say nothing about me. The decision of which channel (or other outlet) I view the fallout on is of much greater personal consequence than the watching itself.
What can I gain from discussing something like an earthquake? “Well, Bob, sure was a big one, wasn’t it? I hope those people are all right.” That’s linguistically dead. We may say it anyway as a kind of social grace, as the expected reaction, just like we mow our lawn and push our chairs in after dinner–but what we really have to do is make a claim. Here’s betting the majority of the people screaming about Pearl Harbor don’t actually believe what they are saying anymore than the person that mows his lawn believes in the uniformity of grass length–but just as mowing the lawn initiates you into the club of communal homeowners concerned with upkeep and social togetherness, sneering about Pearl Harbor initiates you into the club of independent, non politically correct, socially aware, outraged American constituents that just aren’t going to take it anymore.
Group B, though–they are Group Not A. They’re not mad at Group A for saying what they said. They’re not genuinely affected by the destruction in Japan, or interested in doing something about it, “showing solidarity,” or any of that. They are interested in condemnation, because their social identity demands it. It is not a coincidence that the Viceland reader base is the exact opposite of the identifies we might associated with the Pear Harbor thumpers; the one is Republican, emotional, angry, independent; the other is Democratic, affected apathetic, comedic, independent.
One cannot respond to an earthquake. But we can always assert our individuality, brand our ourselves, express our views, vote for the winner of American Idol, click that “like” button. Because it’s not just that reality is harsh, confusing, indifferent, pointless–it’s homogenizing. The earthquake does not care who you are, but by god the internet and CBS sure do; because they need you. They need you in a way not even your own life does.
And here’s Group C, condemning the fake condemners. What else do we all have in common? We’re not talking about an earthquake, silly.
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