Personal branding

Questions of why I’m so candid on social media have come my way again, and once again, I’m disturbed that I’m fielding them. The particulars this time weren’t too bad intrinsically, but their context is damning. The Insurance Schmuck suggested that maybe I was shooting myself in the foot by indiscriminately publishing every brutally honest thing that came to my mind without regard to the audience that would be able to see it. When I told him that I’m extremely careful about privacy settings, he sounded somewhat relieved, although not entirely. He was probably feeling an element of not wanting to get into an argument about moral courage with Lech Walesa again. We might say that solidarity is not a core value in the insurance business. #PassItOn.

Still, his concerns seemed sincere and well-meaning. What disturbed me was that he was basically concern-trolling me by accident. The Insurance Schmuck has had it beaten into his head by forces much larger than himself that there are socioeconomic consequences for candor and that this is a tolerable social arrangement, not cause for a sustained mass rebellion until the creeps and crypto-Maoist cadres enforcing this regime stand the fuck down. When management is snooping into employees’ or applicants’ social media activities, for example, there is a simple stance that labor can and should take: one toe over the line legally and we’ll pack you off to federal prison, where you will be enjoyed by more permissive privacy settings. Management goes there because it rarely faces consequences for going there. As I told the Insurance Schmuck, if employers breach privacy walls in the course of snooping on their employees or applicants, that’s tantamount to the interception and examination of their mail, which is a federal felony.

Having third-party informants who have been given access to their social media accounts is legally less extreme but morally no better. In some ways, it’s even more pernicious, since it destroys social trust and cohesion by cultivating a society of stool pigeons. If we’ve crowdsourced the Stasi spy network, that’s a reason to be ashamed and scandalized, not proud. We shouldn’t be able to live with ourselves if we’ve been perverted into a nation of cowards and narcs.

Of course, I sound like Vaclav Serpico Snowden for sitting down on a sofa in a coffeeshop and asserting any of this. We have in fact become a nation of cowards and narcs. The slave mentality keeps rearing its hideous head, often through a plantation system that has never been properly demolished and replaced. The United States government blazed the trail for free speech, but US businesses keep making the world safe for corporate propaganda and private law, the original privilege. The organizing philosophy, although it’s rarely stated explicitly, is that you’ll get a job if you watch your damn language. This is the case except when it isn’t. Sometimes you get a job for toeing the company line, and sometimes you don’t. Nice job selling your soul to the Devil there; shame the old bastard didn’t make the least effort at offering a fair trade for your trouble. Gotta do what you gotta do to get by, though, and that’s more than it used to be these days since we’re too chickenshit to organize unions.

This toxic crabs-in-the-barrel mentality bleeds over into more strictly social spheres. A drinking buddy of the Insurance Schmuck’s and occasionally of mine moved from their Philadelphia striver suburb to Seattle for work and inadvertently annoyed some people by posting what they thought was too much self-indulgent nonsense on Facebook. I was almost completely on his side, though, for a couple of reasons. First, even though he posted exceptionally large volumes of all sorts of shit, some of it incomprehensibly weird, I never got the feeling that he was trying to gaslight, catfish, or otherwise manipulate anyone. This was a welcome respite from the torrent of blatantly staged bullshit that other Facebook friends of mine were simultaneously vomiting into the ether for purposes of personal branding. Second, this friend of ours was depressed, and pretty badly so by many accounts, in a city with stratospheric levels of depression, seasonal affective disorder (a Pacific Northwest classic), self-harm, and suicide. Seattle had something like the highest or second-highest suicide rate of any major city in the United States, the other of these cities being Pittsburgh, where word on the street was that the rain had a way of getting the Hunky-McCracker cross-breeds down. Having large Japanese and, don’tcha know, Nordic populations doesn’t help Seattle on the mental health front, but there’s some damn weird light up there in both summer and winter, and in winter it’s weird in a who-turned-the-sun-off way. That’s why Jimi Hendrix led by example with that funky music instead of telling depressive white boys what to do with their lives. The suicide rates are higher yet towards the open water: Hoquiam, Astoria, the two-bit reservation towns, all that shit. Find Kurt Cobain’s body in the pond, spend the first two or three decades of the internet age cluttering AOL and then Facebook with stories about how one remembers where one was when they found Cobain because one is a nineties kid, that kind of thing. Or maybe, for the love of God, turn to Leon Bridges for some smooth, smooth poison control. Then again, what the hell does he know about the cool change Christopher Cross crap? He’s from Dallas. He won’t weigh you down in Galveston, oh–God, not another white boy singing about self-harm. When will they, by which I mean we,when will they ever learn?

What in hell was all that? Well, this is the internet, so what else did you expect? Most of you came here for Dubai Porta Potty. I see the page view statistics. I peer into the intellectual abyss of the mass man. What I see in that void tells me that I need to up my Great Multicultural Embarrassments of Canada SEO game. Monty Robinson Russell Williams Robert Pickton Melissa Ann Shepard Rob Ford Jian Ghomeshi Weiguang Vince Li. Also Gerry Rundel, Kwesi Millington’s white ally in arms and at sentencing, because white allies are a culture, too. Look, I’m just trying to make sure that Mark Saunders is too embarrassed to try to impress me into service as an ally of any race. Dude wasn’t chief for a full workday before he was arguing with reporters in defense of the mass carding of Jane and Finch. He’s also a prominent sworn enemy of the reefer, in both senses.

If Big Rob hadn’t drunk himself into an early grave, Toronto today might be only five or ten years away from the urban apotheosis of woke multicultural epicurean libertarianism and expanded subway service. Like, hey, mon, I’ll try to stop the cops from hassling you over the doobie, but in the meantime, maybe take the TTC downtown to smoke that shit if your towelhead neighbors keep moralizing on you and ratting you out to five-oh, or come out to Etobicoke, ’cause I know some forty-five-year-olds who will smoke you under the table in their parents’ basements, and I ain’t talkin’ dank Bob Marley skunk cabbage, either. That strategic lard reserve was starting to come around on the excesses of prohibition, and he, maybe uniquely among GTA leaders, had the weird combination of cynicism, brute candor, and horse sense to make the tapestry of tolerance work. He was a sort of bottle rat Tito with an eating disorder.

John Tory? LOL, friend.

What that lengthy excursion on the T’rana Trippin’ Trolley has to do with the abject moral cowardice of insecure American social climbers is that it’s less depressing than extant sociopolitical dynamics in the United States. Or in Toronto, from what I hear. I don’t always say this, but Haidt-fuck me now, Ghomeshi. I’d have to be paid a commission to assure anyone that that isn’t making the cut. Why the fuck am I still writing all this shit about Toronto? Streams of consciousness are like streams of urine: once they’ve been cut off, there’s no telling when they’ll be possible to restart. Ask your doctor about whatever the FCC is allowing big pharma to advertise on dinnertime television for Boomer dick problems.

The crux of the problem is labor trembling in fear that it will be fired for offending some asshole and censoring itself in desperation. Corporations and neoliberally corporatized nonprofits and government agencies threaten to fire employees who challenge the company line. Activist cadres living their lives out in university or corporate veal pens while the real power players make fun of them for being losers threaten to get dissidents fired for political incorrectness, intolerance, realtalk, sexually or racially tinged rudeness, or whatever we might wish to call it, regardless of the insolent speaker’s contributions to civilization. Think Camille Deng pretending that she isn’t a marginal bit player compared to Hoyt Thorpe or, better yet, compared to Thorpe’s father. Some crooked or gratuitously officious shithead is allowed to dictate our language not only during business hours, but after hours, too. Robber barons and moral busybodies: get you a society that gives aid and comfort to both. It should be obvious that this is corrosive. For many Americans, however, it’s a “Wet? What’s ‘wet’?” moment.

Of course, we’re trained not to notice these things. We’re taught to redirect all the distrust and anger that we feel for our shitty institutions towards two-bit scapegoats. Our schools and our employers can’t possibly be the problem. We must have been microaggressively raped by some frat bro the other night. That way the administration can be our savior by erecting (heh) emergency phones topped with blue lights every few hundred feet on campus and subjecting everyone to unctuous lectures on sexual consent. We must have been sexually harassed by some rogue leering shithead boss, because otherwise we might start noticing the structural tortiousness and criminality of our employers. Don’t worry, the Oklahoma City Police Department brought Daniel Holtzclaw to justice, so there’s no way that police departments in the East Bay are covering up the serial rape of Celeste Guap under color of authority and threat of arrest. Outlandish, unsupported claims of amorphous cultural toxicity are cool, but there can’t possibly be anything pathological about our cherished institutions as institutions. The Tsar has no fucking idea what the Cossacks are doing.

John Stumpf was not summarily fired over the bogus accounts scandal at Wells Fargo. These things are related.

When I referred to “us” two paragraphs above, I was referring in particular to the managerial class, which in the United States has levels of formal education, income, and net worth far above the averages for the American population as a whole. #NeverForget, the United States was assembled from a patchwork of slaves states, with a couple of minor free states in the far north. All kinds of egregiously depraved shit involving the behavior of American institutions and leaders that makes no sense at all under a gloss of vigorous liberty and the bravery of freemen makes horrifically perfect sense under a gloss of systemic slavery and oppression. I’ve seen rules of thumb that a slave society needs to give somewhere between twenty and thirty percent of its population, at a minimum, power over others and attendant disproportionate wealth in order to remain stable. That is, a significant minority needs to have much to lose in the event of liberation and reform, or else the whole thing will go down in flames. O’Hara, she don’t whip her own darkies.

It’s this managerial class that remains emotionally invested in the legitimacy of institutions, no matter how illegitimate they keep proving themselves. This is the constituency that reveres prestigious colleges, especially its own alma maters, no matter how unabashedly corrupt they become. This is the constituency that most reveres college in the broader sense as an overarching institution and an ideal, no matter how much sheer venality and sleaze becomes the norm among mainstream college administrators or how little college degrees do for their less successful holders. Marginalized college graduates are legion now, but the elements I’m describing either don’t notice this or find ways to blame their failed classmates for their own failures. Their myopia can be insufferable. The lower classes might be expected to be parochial and ignorant of classes higher than their own due to their financial entrapment in extremely limiting circumstances. If they can’t afford to drive or to move out of seedy neighborhoods with functionally useless public transit and generally shitty services, the closeness of their horizons is largely out of their control. When the generationally affluent have no fucking idea how the poor in their own towns live, it’s because they choose to be sheltered. They’re the ones who can afford to venture out beyond their own native habitat. It’s their choice to inhabit an archipelago of Potemkin Villages. That this is a choice becomes clearer whenever they react angrily to intrusions by the lower classes into their world. Some of them do this quite often.

Chris Arnade’s back-row kids don’t trust shitty institutions. They’ve been done bogus too many times to be so naive. The ones who still have this trust have either been financially backstopped against immiseration by exploitative institutions or bought their way into positions that shield them from the more destructive excesses of institutional rent-seeking. Put another way, if your parents bought you a ten-thousand-dollar country club membership and you talk the Horatio Alger story of your own life, you’re full of shit. Full stop. That is not meritocracy.

I’m exposed to enough of this sort of kin-and-cronies slushfunding, either from secondhand stories or directly as an occasional hanger-on, to wonder whether the concern over my online candor isn’t motivated by a fear that I’ll successfully call bullshit on some scam or racket or puddle of sleaze and embarrass the bullshitters involved in it. Tough titty. No one has paid me to run marketing for any of these hustlers.

What should we make of those who have been paid to run the marketing? Probably nothing reputable. I’ve met a number of communications majors, all of them somewhere between ditzy and idiotic, and a number of liberal arts types who went into public relations, who were smarter but not enough so. An increase in intelligence in this crowd mainly results in an increase in carefully whitewashed neurosis and fear. There’s something to be said for being dumb and happy, especially when one is backstopped in tolerable comfort at one’s childhood home. (These chicks, no matter how unemployable they seem, aren’t living on the streets. I don’t see them at the rest areas.) If nothing else, the really dimwitted ones aren’t wasting their minds. It would be a terrible thing to inadvertently disappoint Dan Quayle. It might inspire him to additional public speaking. Speaking of public speakers who are available to small venues on short notice, we might say that these women Communicate to Create (TM) a sad world of half-articulate talking points and tragically wasted careers.

Oh, snap! I bet that came as a shock.

Men can embarrass themselves in a satisfyingly similar fashion, too. Millington made it through Depot, and just look at him now. With chicks, though, it fits more easily under a gloss of fun-timey psychosexual dysfunction in the academy and the workplace, including sexual harassment, sexual quid pro quo, rape culture, and a sense of vaginally derived insecurity. We’re litigating a loving spoonful of these recriminations in our current presidential race on account of the Venezuelan lady who got fat, so God bless America. Women in particular have to watch how they present themselves, to walk that fine line between being not enough of a tease and too much of a slut. Their drunkenness and promiscuity in out-of-state beach towns could endanger their employment by institutions that are not religious orders if they let evidence of it slip on Facebook. Meanwhile Kim Kardashian’s electronic samizdat of nudie Judies is antifragile, but only as long as she, the daughter of a prominent criminal defense lawyer, doesn’t do anything compromising, like contribute to a law review article under her own name or say something openly coherent in public.

This is how we end up with social climbers publishing photos on Facebook of themselves holding mixed drinks on Caribbean beaches, but not drinking them. This is why we’re having our moral panic over sexting, even when it does not involve Anthony Weiner. That weirdo is less neurotic than the young social climbers I’ve been describing. Do you realize how fucked up that is? He knows he’s off and admits as much. He is to electronic flashing what Rob Ford eventually was to crack use.

It’s worth stressing that we expose ourselves (heh) to a reinvigorated culture of blackmail by submitting to these hypocritical strictures on sexual expression. Weiner, shall we say, put it all out there on fairly short order. The prospect of being fired for harmless after-hours monkey business that happened to be discovered by management in the course of some electronic witch hunt or meeting with an informant is chilling. It’s systemic J. Edgar Hoover.

Meanwhile, there’s no discernible code of etiquette informing the social media publication of material that might upset the poor in one’s life. There’s no lower bound on the obnoxious broadcasting of photos and status updates from stadium skyboxes, luxury vacations, and the like that will provoke significant scolding for being inconsiderate of those who can’t afford to live like that. This is probably because it is assumed that one will either not have the poor in one’s life or will have only the meekly, obsequiously, subordinately poor.

I’m probably more considerate and restrained about broadcasting this sort of thing than my friends from high school and college are. I don’t want to be the dipshit who makes the poor feel unworthy, ashamed, and humiliated because they can’t keep up with the Joneses. I’d rather annoy some bougies by being a buzzkill when they’re looking to flaunt their affluence than afflict the already afflicted by trying to curry favor with people who have a decade-plus track record of pretty much not hooking me up with the good stuff.

What the hell did I do to end up living a society where rebuking the talented tenth for flaunting their wealth and privilege makes me feel like Adrian Schoolcraft? God. Was I Henry VIII in a past life? What is wrong with this country? Why are we embarrassed to be whores or whoremongers or out of work and adrift but not embarrassed to sell our souls to every sleazy, cult-like racket proclaiming its own authority that wanders into our view?

Sometimes I think that Orwell was over-the-top to have Winston Smith say that the salvation of his country would come from the proles. Other times, I remember that “Look, you can’t leave your shit all over the floor, this is the incall room” is a huge improvement over “watch what you say or you’ll get blacklisted.” They don’t like to hear this at the Maryland Bar Association, but there are times when I, too, STRAIGHT UP NUTT IN THAT BITCH. (Getting through law school and still using that second T is a problem, though. Katie door the bar.) For a prudish society we’re sure awash in public indulgence in sexually explicit material far worse than that. Like Levi Johnston, I’m a gentleman, Larry. I don’t kiss and tell. I do, however, sometimes do what the other Larry, Craig, called “nasty naughty” with women who have the courage to advertise their milkshake on the internet under their own likenesses. That way I don’t have to cruise airport terminals.

Give me lip for not being a total abject chickenshit about these things when SVU has been relegated to late nights on D-List cable channels. There’s nothing wrong with Sound and Pound, even if it’s a bit trashy to get it in Spanaway.


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