The overuse of words void of definite meaning by the general population is often cringeworthy, and as the whole edifice of pop culture is predominantly based on such overuses, it is not surprising that today’s pop culture often makes us cringe.
In pop culture today – just as on battlefields all around the world (well, mostly in the Middle East), the flag of FREEDOM is waved high as the ultimate canon of the millennial generation. Freedom. And self-love. Adages such as “Love yourself,” “Love your own body,” and “You are free to do what you want to do with your body” are immanent to every music video, every song lyric, every Facebook status, tweet, and Instagram post by our biggest pop stars. Criticism is frowned upon, and if anyone dares to post a negative review about anything or anyone, they are systematically accused of snobbism, jealousy, racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia/transphobia, and find themselves ultimately relegated to the category of #haters.
Bret Easton Ellis recently tweeted: “There was a time when people were fans and had opinions and could like things and dislike things and it was all OK. But those days are over.” In other words, in today’s LIKE culture, you have to choose your side. You’re either a happy and open and inclusive and positive and supportive Miley-Cyrus-Molly-Popping unicorn-riding individual, springing around rainbow fields in a Katy-Perry-cotton-candy filled land, or you’re a #hater. A disgrace and a setback to everything that this generation of awesome people has fought so hard for: the complete liberation of our minds and bodies, the acceptance and love of who we are, and of our freedom. In other words, you’re not #awesome.
What we need to understand is that such a rejection of criticism is directly linked to the firm belief in personal freedom: Don’t be a hater and stop criticizing: people are free to do what they want. Let them be.
What the general opinion doesn’t realize is that our concept of freedom is a fictional construct that doesn’t really exist – in the way it is believed to exist. Meaning, no one ever does what they really feel like doing. People – and especially young people – do what they think they should be doing because of social pressure, peer pressure, advertising, lifestyle magazines, reality TV, and most importantly, celebrity behavioral models. And this is exactly why there is a real perversion with the mindless belief in freedom.
Are 13 year old girls really acting out of freedom when their overly sexualized teen idols make them feel that you’re only cool if you blow every boy in your class? Are teenage boys really acting out of freedom when they mistreat their girlfriends because their idea of a relationship is based on a Hip Hop video? Are older women really acting out of freedom when they alter their appearances to no ends just to feel slightly more comfortable in an era that rejects aging and death while constantly glorifying youth as an inspirational perfection? Are morbidly obese people really acting out of freedom when they’re told they can eat all the fuck they want because they should learn to accept and love their own body just the way it is? Are young men really acting out of freedom when their whole perception of sex stems from endless hours of watching male-dominant porn?
Before going back home and weeping in the bathtub. Before looking in the mirror and remembering that death is unescapable. Before realizing your heart is weaker and diabetes is killing you. Before crying yourself to sleep, images of gross unwanted hands defiling every inch of your free body.
Before all of this, we must be aware that freedom is a mere social construct that’s not even real. It’s an illusion. And that A-list celebrities are not the free individuals roaming in a free loving world that people think they are: they are constructed personas and branded images and strong signifiers that ultimately mean things to people. We don’t have to be sexist or ageist to criticize Madonna’s caricatural refusal to age by acting like the 20 year old woman she once was, four decades later. We don’t have to be sexist to criticize Lana Del Rey flaunting how she fucked her way up to the top, romanticizing the idea of being gang raped by bikers in the “Ride” music video, or culturally appropriating a Native American headpiece. We don’t have to be sexist to criticize teen idols for spreading a premature and inaccurate portrayal of sex. Just like it is okay to criticize the porn industry. Just like it is okay to criticize Robin Thick’s “Blurred Lines”. Just like it is okay to make fun of Ozzy Osbourne, who in his mid 60s and in 2015 still thinks that anti-religious symbols and stage shows are provocative. Just like it is okay to smirk at an older and chubbier Robert Smith, looking pathetic in his gothic makeup and attire that once made him look interesting, three decades ago.
Am I advocating for censorship? No. Am I calling for a general toning down? No. I am simply saying that we need to go back to accepting criticism without constantly feeling offended by any comment that is remotely negative. I am simply saying that this fake happy-lovey-accepting-free-inclusive moral of the Like culture is perverse, and that criticism today is as needed as it ever was. I am simply saying that we don’t have to settle for being thumbs-up-robots because everyone’s answer to criticism is: “people are free to do what they want.” I am simply saying that opinions matter and should be voiced. And that if you’re not a Liker because you have all the reasons in the world not to be, it doesn’t make you a #hater. I am simply saying that this everything is pink and everyone is happy and love is everywhere culture is art-numbing. I am simply saying that not everyone has to feel beautiful, and that insecurity can produce great art. I am simply saying that some self-hate isn’t always a bad thing; – self-hate made me write and release two albums. It also, on a slightly higher and more important scale (read: sarcasm), gave us bands like Nirvana. Ultimately, I am simply saying that authenticity is more beautiful than beauty itself.
Because at the end of the day, maybe the world is beautiful because not everything is beautiful.