At a certain point this year, my South Korean mother-in-law mailed a note to me and my wife. It was unusual in that it arrived without an accompanying box of tea or picture of her dogs in the snow or one of the many awesome gifts she usually includes whenever sending a note. I was about to pen an angrily worded letter back to her thanking her for nothing, when I saw the P.S. at the bottom of the note:
This is a gift. Look at U-tube Obaa-Neun Kang-Nam Style by SSai (Song & Dance). Love, Mom.
Love is a funny thing.
Sounding the words out phonetically, I discovered that I'd just been forwarded the link to "Gangnam Style" in the mail. That letter was dated 9/25/12. As I write this nearly two months later, "Gangnam Style" is the most-viewed video clip in the history of YouTube and therefore the (non-pornographic) Internet. My mother-in-law had scooped us all by two months with a pen and paper.
This is the other side of the Internet coin that hit us square between the eyes this year and left its imprint: The Internet is bringing us together around giant, shared global events. Entering this year, Asian men's role in mainstream popular culture consisted of a guy in a commercial who couldn't believe how stupid we all were ...
This guy. Yes, there was basically only one.
... martial artists, those kids who took down a Vegas casino and Chinese Manute Bol. Today, they have one of the most popular NBA point guards in the league, and the most popular rapper in the world. And they're both cool. Psy might look like a goofy one-hit wonder, like an Urkel rap song, but the optimist in me wants to believe that there's more here than that. The song and accompanying video are intended to be a mockery of the label-obsessed style of the K-pop landscape, and it seems like the brazenly uncool vibe he gives off is just as effective at cutting the American hip-hop scene down to size. You don't have to follow the rules of your culture or your genre if you're confident enough about what you're doing and the music kicks ass. We're not laughing at Psy, and he's not laughing at us. We like him because we get the joke. We might pronounce the name of the neighborhood he's mocking (Gangnam is the Korean Beverly Hills) like we're saying "condom," but we're picking up the meaning loud and clear.
Earlier this year, some piece-of-shit kids treated their bus monitor like one of their own: a piece of human shit. They bullied a person four times their age until she cried, for no reason. Actually, scratch that. They kept it up even after she cried, and the reason was "LULZ."
"Get it? She's in emotional distress! Ha! I am laughing out loudz!"
The Internet is great for a lot of reasons. Obviously. But in some ways, it's pretty terrible for the world outside of it. Kids have always been jerks. But now they live on the Internet, where it's completely OK to be a jerk. In fact, in some Internets, it's encouraged and praised. Anonymity on the Internet equals no consequences, and that is leaking into real life for a lot of kids growing up on the Web.
I'm not saying that these garbage kids wouldn't have been garbage on the bus if the Internet didn't exist. But it certainly helped. It certainly pushed them into the mentality that being mean is hilarious when, in reality, being mean sucks. The bus monitor Karen Klein knew that, which is why she responded to the bullying with "I know all of your addresses! I'm going to send you all thank-you cards, for being so nice." Of course, that just made them physically and emotionally abuse her further. Because the trolls on the bus, who go round and round, were hungry for lulz, ya know?
"It's me again! I'm terrible!"
This doesn't end on a huge downer, though. The Not Jerks part of the Web started a fundraiser and wound up giving Klein hundreds of thousands of dollars. The kids weren't so lucky, but at least they got to keep their winning personalities.
So I guess, you know, be nicer to everyone on the Internet, you stupid fucking assholes. Because nowadays, kids are on the Internet before they reach double digits. They see what you do, and what you think is funny. And once they hit around 12, they'll lose their innocence and conform to your assholery. Let's give them a better example than GIFs of people falling. Let's try to make sure kids stay like this for as long as they can:
You had to be there. Because otherwise, it makes no sense at all -- near the top of YouTube's most-watched videos of all time, in between Katy Perry's "Wide Awake" and Akon's "Smack That ft. Eminem," you have a half-hour documentary on child soldiers in Uganda called "KONY 2012," with 94 million fucking views:
It's all because, in March of 2012, for no reason whatsoever, the Internet became obsessed with this obscure warlord in a part of the world that close to zero percent of Americans can point to on a map. The link was spammed across every single social networking site, and all of the tens of millions of people who heard about it agreed that something needed to be done, and that something was endlessly sharing this video. Pasting the link into our Twitter completely exhausted the energy we were willing to devote to the subject.
And so, a few days later, we completely forgot about the evil warlord Kony, Uganda, and the plight of war-torn Africa altogether. And I mean literally a few days -- the organization behind the video posted a follow-up just three weeks later ("KONY 2012: Part II") -- it only got 2.4 million views, a 98 percent drop. Six months later, a third video on the subject was produced -- so far it has less than 19,000 views. Sorry, guys, we're over that whole thing. Wasn't the nothing we did about it back in March enough?
Didn't you guys hear? There aren't any more child soldiers. We watched them away.
Finally, the man who produced the video was arrested for allegedly masturbating in public, and that was the last we heard about it.
Everybody needs a story. Maybe your story is that you overcame dyslexia to graduate from NYU thanks to the love and support from your family, the Huxtables. Or maybe your story is that you are a career criminal who created the cult that murdered Sharon Tate, and also that your "music" sucks. Thanks to this secretly recorded video and countless gaffes on the campaign trail, Mitt Romney's story was this: rich rich rich. Mitt Romney is stupid rich. Mitt Romney is so rich that he doesn't even know how to articulate human words that human people say, like when he delivered this gem:
"I met a guy yesterday, 7 feet tall ... I figured he had to be in sport, but he wasn't in sport!"
"I love baskets-ball."
And no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't change his story. Was Mitt Romney the first wealthy politician to make a grab at the presidency? No, but he was the first to say that he liked to fire people, that he couldn't "have any illegals" and that some of his best friends were corporations. By the time Mother Jones released this secretly recorded tape, in which Romney claimed that 47 percent of the population see themselves as victims deserving entitlements and will never be convinced otherwise, Mitt's profile as a rich alien from outer space was set in stone, whether it was fair or not. This video was also a great warning for would-be fundraisers to watch their words when disparaging the poor. There's an amazing chance that someone might just take it the wrong way.