Put On the Mask and Dance for Daddy
Your performance will be graded
All the world’s indeed a stage, and we are merely players.
These words were true when Neil Peart wrote them for Rush’s 1981 anthem about the alienation of celebrity, “Limelight,”1 but they’re even truer now. We are under constant surveillance, yes, by our governments, but also by ourselves.
If you’re on social media, posting about your life,2 if you’ve bought an Alexa or a Ring, if you have a smartphone or are around other people with smartphones, smile! You’re on candid camera, and what you say and do will be used against you in a court of law, and the court of public opinion.
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Political commentator Steven Crowder learned this recently, just one if the many right-wing new media figures to implode in a spiral of weird behavior, hypocrisy, and unseriousness. This is also due partly to a separate issue, namely that rightist types tend to have standards of personal and moral conduct, rise to prominence by espousing them vociferously and denouncing those on the other side who don’t live up to them, and then not living up to them themselves in private.3 This is why the charges of hypocrisy stick, and why the funk of “The more some conservative says they’re against X, it’s because they secretly are one!” sticks because there are enough examples of this being true to be a, you know, a pattern.
But oops, we’re not in private anymore. Especially if you fill your house with cameras. That Crowder comes across like a disturbed individual4 is not the entire point. The other part is that we are not alone. We are never alone. God used to be the backstop. Now, it’s the worst people among us.
So we put on faces. We adopt personae. You aren’t the same person at work that you are at home. You’re not the same person on stage during a heated debate that you are as an anon shitposter. And so on. This is how it’s always been. Christ didn’t speak to his disciples the same way he spoke to the Pharisees.5 Call it “code switching” if you want, but recognize the phenomenon, and the fact that we most often are only our true selves when nobody is watching.
But what if everyone is watching?
I enjoy reading about ancient history. It is frustrating and fascinating to realize we take so much on faith. Primary sources are often spotty, unreliable, or lost to the mists of time. This makes what we do have so valuable and so mysterious. Ancient history is just plain cool. It provides a shadowy glimpse into another world that may or may not have actually existed, or happened as we think. We will never know what really went on behind closed doors in Marc Antony and Cleopatra’s love nest, for example, and that’s okay. Probably better.
Our forbearers had much more license to act in accordance without worry that a mob would call for their heads based on false information. Honestly, that happened enough without 24/7 monitoring. Even among those still living, there are many who were allowed to be their true selves to a degree we haven’t been able to for at least 20 years.
I can see the argument that this surveillance, this policing by our peers, will end socially reprehensible activity and incentivize good behavior, but if you believe that, you probably believe Neil Peart originally penned the line I quoted at the top of this post. You also probably believe that those people who made up stuff about their friends and neighbors to report to the Stasi in East Germany were crusading do-gooders out to selflessly save the world.
All of our surveillance technology, and the impetus to wield it, has been weaponized by the worst, most schoolmarm-ish and sadistic agents of the ruling class. Not even the government, but ghastly tattletales who play the hall monitor for free.6 Awful behavior is caught on film and celebrated because the perpetrator was a friend and the victim was an enemy. Meanwhile, if you used the bad word while lip syncing to a rap song7 when you were in high school and somebody caught it on film, you can kiss your future goodbye. So act accordingly. Put on the mask and dance for daddy. Your performance will be graded.
I think a part of this also explains why our culture has been stuck in neutral for decades. It died in 1997 and it ain’t coming back. We have voluminous records of everything. We know exactly what things were like in our grandparents’ day, and we can do a perfect 1:1 recreation. There’s no real imperfect and incomplete “rediscovery” that adds to the old, because the old is perfectly preserved and we can just copy it. Watch a movie or TV show or documentary from the 80s. It’s basically now without smartphones/internet and obesity. The music and fashion might be different, but not by much. And the 80s are back, anyway, and they’re not going away. Neither are the 90s and, God help us, the 2000s.8 An endless loop. Ourobourus. Pulling donuts in our high-school parking lot. The eternal cover version.
We can’t move forward until we stop going around in circles. Or we could if we advanced while going around in circles, pushing against the edges and breaking them, looping back around for another dive into yesterday before rocketing past the frontier once again.
Instead, we’re captives of the gravity of the recent past. History began and ended in 1945. The rest has been window dressing. The technology that was supposed to liberate us has made us fearful and inauthentic, dependent on the twentieth century forever. This is not the future we were promised.
I think somebody else may have said something similar.
If you do something, and don’t document it for complete strangers on the internet to see, did you really do it?
This is a generalization. Generalizations speak to averages. On average, this is how rightists act, and it is what is most likely to bring rightists down. On average, leftists don’t have personal moral standards, or at least the same ones as rightists, so when the standards rightists hold dear are violated by leftists, leftists do not care so long as the individual in question has never violated a leftist stricture: “Yeah, so-and-so might be a pedophile, a murderer, or a tax cheat, but at least they’re not racist!” Anyway, you people all need to stop falling for anyone who quotes the Bible from time to time.
There are other stories from quite a few former workers that make him sound like a gigantic asshole, a liar, and a serial testicle-flasher. I wish I was making this up.
Look at me, I did the thing.
If they at least tried to wheedle a couple of bucks out of Uncle Sam, I could kind of respect the hustle.
White kids: Don’t sing along to rap. Don’t even listen to it. It’s not worth it.
There are young people alive today actually nostalgic for this time period. No! You can do so much better.