We Have to Be Liked

Bret Easton Ellis, writing in his essay collection White, on the social-corporate demand of inclusivity:

Most people of a certain age probably noticed this when they joined their very first corporation. Facebook encouraged its users to “like” things, and because this platform is where they branded themselves on the social Web for the first time, their umpulse was to follow the Facebook dictum and present an idealized portrait of themselves — or or a nicer, friendlier, duller self. And this is where the twin ideas of likability and “relatability” were born, which together began to reduce all of us, ultimately, to a neutered clockwork orange, enslafed to yet another corporate version of the status quo. To be accepted, we had to follow an upbeat morality code under which everything had to be liked and everybody’s voice had to be respected, and anyone who held negative or unpopular opinions that weren’t inclusive — in other words, a simple dislike — would be shut out of the conversation and ruthlessly shamed. Absurd doses of invective were often hurled at the supposed troll, to the poitn where the original “offense” or “transgression” or “insensitive dickish joke” or “idea” seemed negligible by comparison. In the new post-Empire age we’re accustomed to rating TV shows, Restaurants, video games, books, even doctors, and we mostly give positive reviews because nobody wants to look like a hater. And even if you aren’t one, that’s what you’re labeled as if you steer away from the herd.

I like this because it’s a take obverse from the usual complaint about the internet and social media: a festering boil of rage and uncouthery. I myself have described Twitter as “both the tape recorder and the riot”. But this suggests that really everything is pushing the other way, as social media purges those lacking social credit, as the Chinese put it. Skynet turned out to be far more seductive than we thought.

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