The following anecdote says volumes about the internet, my relationship to it, and the way it intersects with modern culture. [Links are not provided on purpose. If you want to see the stuff I'm talking about, find it yourself. Just try and be mindful as you do it. It may give you pause.]
The other night my roommate and I sat in our respective corners, tapping away at our respective web delivery systems, when Jo came over and asked if she could send me something. "It's tasteless," she warned, "maybe even offensive. My dad sent it to me." Naturally, I said yes. Too curious to wait for her email to dial up mine, I asked her what it was. "A video of Hitler singing," was her answer. I was so in.
She double checked my email address and hit "send." We waited, but the message never arrived. Silently cursing hamsters for blocking up the tubes, I decided to search for the thing myself, something apparently called, "Mein Fuhrer Sings." The first page of google results showed the requisite links to wiki articles on nazis, one of Hitler's more famous addresses and a couple of random forum quotes. But there was also something promising, something potentially offensive. The fourth link down. I clicked it. It turned out to be a flash cartoon of Hitler singing "Barbie Girl"...with a sock puppet.
After watching for a few seconds - because, really, how funny can something like that be - I clicked away, bored and slightly crestfallen that this was not the same video Jo's dad had emailed her (I know him, he wouldn't find a German rendition of Aqua and a sock with lipstick on it funny either). Then it hit me: there is another video of Hitler lip-syncing out there and I wanted to find it. In fact, there are 38,300 hits for the phrase, "Hitler sings." Apparently, the intertubes are not clogged with rodents, they're clogged with videos of Hitler getting his karaoke on.
It's tempting to look at what the internet has wrought and blame it for a downward spiral in the quality of our culture. It's an easy argument to make. Enter lol-speak, exeunt proper grammar in the under 25 set. Thing is, we've been complaining about this same trend for thousands of years. Just ask Socrates or Peter the Hermit.*
Maybe it's true, maybe things are worse. Or maybe they're just different. I'm convinced that nothing much has changed. Ancient Romans etched graffiti onto stone lavatory walls, today we use sharpies, but we're still drawing pictures of cocks. Where we once turned to America's Funniest Home Videos for a weekly fix of baseball-on-crotch action, now we aim those suckers at ourselves and post it to Youtube. We've always been just a bunch of cave-dwellers amusing ourselves around a campfire with tales of hunting and fart jokes. Only now our campfire is really fucking big. To think otherwise is to deny what I feel is an essential truth about humanity: we're not all that. Some of us are pretty exceptional, but most of us are just alright. And that is not something to be ashamed of, it is something we need to accept in order to get on with what's really important in life. And while I think "what's really important" has more to do with communing meaningfully with our fellow humans, and less to do with vector-izing a long-dead epic bastard, I doubt the internet had much more to do with the impulse than providing a convenient medium.
I will say one thing, though: it is beyond fucked up that I didn't just get up and watch the damn thing on Jo's laptop.
*"The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority, they show disrespect to their elders.... They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and are tyrants over their teachers."
-Widely attributed to Socrates
"The world is passing through troublous times. The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they knew everything, and what passes for wisdom with us is foolishness with them. As for the girls, they are forward, immodest and unladylike in speech, behavior and dress."
-Attributed to Peter the Hermit, A.D. 1274