By: Ben Johnson
If you want to see the internet devolve into the internet, one of the many places you can do this is right here on this website, in the comments section of a post we just ran in which a person from a band said a thing about the band and then people... Jesus. I am not even. I don't. I can't.
I mean, we all know about the comments section. How it is the worst place, physical or otherwise, in the universe. It is worse than spending a weekend at your Great Aunt Esther's house in Fort Myers, Florida. It is worse than the instant you know for a fact that you are going to puke and there isn't anything you can do about it. It's worse than war and famine and senseless death, because at least those things have stakes, and therefore tend not to be boring. It is the worst. The comments section is the worst. We all know this.
But this comments section is the best kind of a comments section, and that's one where somebody writes or does something, and then other people feel a need to express their disagreement with that thing rather than moving on with their lives, and then the original person COMES BACK into the comment section and actually has a dialogue with these people. That is the best kind of a comment section. That's probably what people had in mind when they invented comments sections. "Oh, we can, like, talk to people about what we just said, and this process will enrich us somehow," these people thought, while ignoring the far more likely possibility, given human nature, of "this will be a great opportunity for random stupid talentless piece of shit strangers to call me a stupid talentless piece of shit."
I've been thinking recently about my own life and how it relates to the whole saga of that particular blog post and comments section. It's about Foxygen (a band)(they sound like a more twee version of Jacco Gardner)(sort of a retro 60's sunshine pop thing) and a person in that band who apparently thinks the people in that band are acting like assholes, (stop the presses: musicians are acting like assholes for no reason because they're musicians who can't communicate to other humans without a guitar), and she is sick of it, and also her best friend died so she's especially vulnerable, and therefore probably more sensitive than usual to people doing things that are assholish, and maybe because she is feeling this way she is also a little more prone than usual to her own displays of assholedom, because that is a way people sometimes deal with stress. Just a little conjecture on my part about what's going down. Based on experience.
Fact: right now the deal with that band, Foxygen, which who cares but it's making me think about other things I do care about, is it's a big melodramatic fucking mess, and it's impossible to know who exactly is being the worst asshole, but it sure seems like nobody feels good. From what I've learned about myself through a pretty fucking rocky journey into my mid-30's, that's really the important thing.
Put that in a press release: nobody in the band Foxygen feels good right now.
Also, probably: nobody feels good right now if what they're doing at the moment is participating in a comments section about how much somebody should be to blame for nobody feeling good in a particular band.
Actually: pretty much anybody saying anything ever is actually saying "I don't feel good." When you feel totally good, you usually don't say anything.
I was reminded of this recently when Jim DeRogatis of NPR's Sound Opinions gave a pretty solid thumbs down to the idea of the Pitchfork Festival (I agree) because, among other reasons, of his moral objections to R. Kelly (I think there are other better reasons not to like the Pitchfork Fest than the R. Kelly booking). Then Drew Millard at NOISEY (who pops up, tangentially, again--he also first posted that Foxygen thing--he's been doing a great job of inserting himself into banal music biz kerfuffles, which is actually a compliment, because that's his job) wrote a reaction piece to the DeRogatis thing. Then there was a twitter back-n-forth between Jessica Hopper and DeRogatis about it. It was... I mean, is anybody still reading this? I feel like a different person now after just having written this paragraph.
What struck me about THAT whole thing is how strong an urge I had to join the conversation. It's an interesting conversation, how much one can or should separate the art from the artist, but it doesn't actually fucking matter even a little bit. You could say "it matters a lot to those poor girls R. Kelly abused who have to sit back and watch while their assailant gets to still be celebrated and famous," but then you're in a position of talking yourself out of enjoying things, and R. Kelly is probably as unhappy a person as his victims are and... oh shit, I'm doing it. I'm joining the conversation. Oh shit.
It's an interesting conversation, I'd like to think I'm an interesting person, maybe I can add something that will be interesting. I should. That's what I should do. I've got to. If I don't, everybody will know I'm not interesting. Oh shit oh shit oh shit. I've got to join this conversation. I have thoughts. I've got to share my thoughts. Otherwise why bother having thoughts. Otherwise what am I but an automatic death machine. This is the mindset of every critic, who are basically a class of professional neurotics separated from the muttering-in-sweatpants-at-the-library set only by a thin veneer of capability. I imagine it's even worse when your livelihood is at stake.
Critics don't feel good. Not often. They inhabit a world of conversations where all participants don't feel good. And when you live in a world where nobody feels good, you end up trying to decide things and be right about things and figure out who the exact asshole is and by how much, and generally, impossibly, try to define the edges of life's mysteries so they seem more safe because we're all afraid and alone. A happy person just goes "it's a mystery, isn't that great?!" and whistles while sauntering away.
I'm not suggesting that criticism serves no purpose, or that no conversation is worth having. I'm not suggesting that feeling good all the time is an imperative. Who am I, Gene Simmons? Feeling bad is an essential part of the human experience. We need to feel bad. If we didn't feel bad, we'd never learn anything. We're probably not learning anything anyway, but at least with feeling bad we've got a chance.
Here's what I'm saying: the next time you find yourself confronted with somebody being an asshole, or with a conversation you feel a weird sense of duty to join, you could probably be better served by asking yourself how good you feel and, more importantly, how good the other people who are behaving the way they're behaving feel. It's an easy way to slice through the bullshit.
Of course, what do I know? I wrote this. I must have something wrong with me. I definitely have something wrong with me. Please tell me you think I'm smart in the comment section. Throw me a bone. I'm moving in with my girlfriend who I love this week, and it's stressing me out so much I'm basically shitting my intestines out. Change is stressful. Help me out, guys.