The age of entitlement

23 Apr

Gawker turned off comments recently. I miss them. I mean, on the one hand, it’s nice to be able to write a blog post without being subjected to countless iterations of how awful I am. On the other hand, sometimes people say nice things, too. And I enjoy a spirited debate for the five seconds before it turns nasty and name-calling.

That’s not the point. What’s astounded me about Gawker’s brief foray into commentlessness (it’s a word — look it up) and the announcement of a new commenting system is the outrage. I suppose “astounded” isn’t the right word: every development on the internet is greeted with some level of horror, vitriol, and disgust. Certainly I understand that change is scary — I am 25, and I live with my parents (temporarily). But there’s something so gross to me about the way it’s articulated. It’s not, “I’m upset because a website I like is making a change I don’t agree with.” It’s, “How dare you” or “You had no right” or “Do you not care about my needs at all?”

I can’t speak for Gawker, but I can speak for myself. I feel the same way about these comments as I do when people proudly announce that I’m no longer funny on Twitter and they have to unfollow — what makes you think I give a shit?

You know how I respond to your indignation? With indignation of my own. We are absurdly privileged to have access to an infinite amount of free content on the internet, much of which is actually quite good. We don’t pay (or we pay minimally) for movies, music, news, criticism, original fiction, porn — and then we complain about it. Because we’ve been conditioned to believe that it’s our right to do so. If I’m following a person on Twitter and he makes a joke I don’t like, surely I should let him know. Even though I’m just one of the people who follows him, and he didn’t write the joke for me, and I’m making the choice to include him in my feed.

Before you start prattling on about censorship, believe me that I’m all for everyone speaking their mind. Of course you have a right to complain about a free service. I’m just saying, I have the right to think that makes you an ungrateful tool. But that’s beside the point. What I’m annoyed by is the entitlement, the sense that you think you’ve earned a say, that you deserve one just by virtue of having internet access and a keyboard. Everyone has the right to speak, but your words may not have any effect. And that’s fine — that’s the way it always has been. Not all comments are created equal. Not all criticism is valid.

I’m not saying shut up. (Or I am, but if that’s the case, I’m telling myself to shut up, too. Not uncommon.) I’m saying take a step back and look at what you’re saying. Are you making a valid point, or are you just whining because a website isn’t catering to your specific demands? Again, I do it, too. I probably won’t stop doing it. It’s just something to be aware of, the next time you or I bitch about a Facebook redesign or a new login system on OKCupid or, yes, Gawker temporarily disabling comments. Complaining is fine, but acting like you are owed more than what you’re getting is obnoxious.

I’m going to take this in a different direction, and I hope you’ll pardon the shift. Just go with me on it, and if you think I’m an idiot, feel free to let me know! (You will.)

It’s the same sense of entitlement that has inspired much of the criticism behind HBO’s Girls, a sharp and hilarious new series that drives most creative twentysomethings a little crazy because, yes, this is what our lives are like, and damn it, Lena Dunham beat us to it. That’s not a criticism of the show: that’s a credit to the voice it has captured. Of course I relate to the English major writing a book of personal essays while trying to find a “real job” and navigate the sexual politics of 21st century dating. To quote the last generation: “duh.”

And while I’m reluctant to dismiss all criticism as jealousy — “You’re just jealous” is a useless response in most every scenario in which it’s used — I do think that many of the anti-Girls voices on the internet are simply people who wish they had written Girls. It doesn’t manifest in simple admissions of that, because this is the age of entitlement. Instead, it goes back to that same indignant question that’s asked when a website opts for a new design: “What gives you the right?”

It is fine to not like Girls. You probably like a lot of shows that I think are terrible. (Smash? Reallly?) But what bothers me is how much of that hatred seems derived from a sense of “unfairness.” The charges of nepotism are ludicrous: everyone in Hollywood has some sort of advantage. You know someone or you’re related to someone or you fucked someone or you’re just naturally more good looking than anyone else. There is no clear path, and more often than not, you don’t end up on TV just because you’re someone’s kid. If Girls were a bad show, then perhaps you could complain about nepotism. But it’s a good show that should be on the air, regardless of anyone’s parents.

Ask yourself this: are you mad at Lena Dunham’s success because you don’t think she deserves it? Or perhaps more to the point, do you think that you deserve it more than she does?

If I can tie this all together — and yes, that’s going to be a challenge — I’d say that the internet has placed all of us on what appears to be an even playing field. We all have a voice and a say and a direct line of communication to “the right people.” It looks that way, but that’s a false perception. Some of us are smarter and funnier and better than others — and I say that as a person who acknowledges that there are plenty of people smarter and funnier and better than I am. We succeed on the basis of our own merits, but also on luck and timing and, yes, who we know.

Regardless, we feel as though we deserve success. That same narcissism and privilege we see reflected in some of the characters on Girls is what drives rejection of the show. Read my blog. Watch my show. Let me be more famous than you.

And none of this is really a comment on Gawker (or its commenters) or Girls or even Gawker’s opinion on Girls. I’m just reflecting on the fact that now more than ever, everyone on the internet feels equally as important as everyone else, and that has caused a tremendous level of perpetual dissatisfaction. The world can’t revolve around all of us at once. And the ultimate irony, before someone else points it out, is that I’ve written a rambling, self-indulgent, 1,200-word post on this that I expect people to read.

Seriously, though, why should you care what I have to say? I’m just another blogger trying to shout above the crowd.

Advertisements

8 Responses to “The age of entitlement”

  1. Nicole Betz (@TomHanksIsHot) April 23, 2012 at 2:51 pm #

    Very well said, Louis! You are a fantastic writer.

    “I’m just reflecting on the fact that now more than ever, everyone on the internet feels equally as important as everyone else, and that has caused a tremendous level of perpetual dissatisfaction.”

    Nailed it.

  2. Myles Nye (@MylesNye) April 23, 2012 at 3:25 pm #

    +1

  3. Kerri J. (@kerrajar) April 23, 2012 at 3:30 pm #

    I’ve missed your blog posts! What a way to come back. This was so wonderfully written. Although I hate to say that I am guilty of many of these feelings (why them and not me?!) but I suppose that’s the whole point you’re trying to make. The internet makes success seem so close you can taste it … and when you can’t grab it for yourself, the frustration can turn people into absolute spoiled brats, green with jealousy and taking it out on anyone with a smidgen of stardom (well deserved or not, doesn’t matter.) I think the reminder that we must all compete with ourselves rather than anyone else and understand that our merits and hard work must often be tinged with a little bit of luck to get where we need to go is a good one. Thanks for this! It’s given me a lot to ponder.

  4. Aaron Fullerton (@AaronFullerton) April 23, 2012 at 5:38 pm #

    To answer your final question, we should care what you have to say because you’re the one making wise, thoughtful, articulate points. Thank you for this.

    As you point out, the internet can feel like a giant equalizer, a playing field leveler. And, I suppose, it’s one infinite living document to which we all contribute. But this need to “be heard” online – to make a statement and to have an “online presence” – only exaggerates our generation’s soul-crippling sense of entitlement. You hit the nail on the head.

    I made it through that comment with far fewer ironic quotation marks than I thought I would.

  5. Rachel Dory April 23, 2012 at 7:18 pm #

    I am commenting on this because I CAN, GODDAMMIT!

  6. smiffbib April 26, 2012 at 11:30 am #

    You and Me both buddy

  7. corbin (@corbincorbin) May 22, 2012 at 11:16 pm #

    Good article.

    No, wait, I mean bad article. Terrible article! And I hate you because you wrote it before I had the chance to. You talentless bastard!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Dissecting a Bad Review of Girls « 15 Layers of Irony - May 1, 2012

    […] I’m not done talking about Girls. Or rather, I’m not done talking about people talking about Girls. And here’s why: way […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: