Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Trendy: #CuttingForBieber. Wait...what?

So. I currently teach a senior level semester class called Struggles of Humanity, and we currently focus on dystopian fiction. The semester just began a few weeks back and, after some intro material ("Harrison Bergeron"), I am ready to jump into the first main novel, Huxley's Brave New World (that has such people in it).

I began yesterday with the foreword to Neil postman's book, Amusing Ourselves To Death. In it, he mentions " man's infinite appetite for distractions." As hoped, the students made the leap to today's ultimate distractions, social media. Then the bell rang.

Today I begin with a word web: " social media is..." The students in period 4 came up with the following web:

The discussion began slowly, but started top heat up when I asked how many followers Justin Bieber has on Twitter (side note - it just made my night the Bieber is not in my autocorrect). A change washes over the class. Cell phone are out. Tweets are being read. Someone shouts out "34.3 million."

Now the discussion shifted to the value of JB's tweets (we were clearly on the entertainment value on social media). There was one about slapping the drummer from the black keys. Great tweet JB. Thanks.
Then one student shifted the discussion again. Picking up on the trends aspect of social media, he mentioned #CuttingForBieber Here's a sample:

MIKE KLEFF (@KOOLAIDKLEFF) tweeted at 4:01 PM on Mon, Jan 07, 2013:
No hope left for the youth “@Kellydu851: IT HURTS BUT I DO IT FOR MY JUSTIN :(((
#CuttingForBieber #CutForBieber http://t.co/InaaCPcP”
I guess I've been living under my PLN rock, but this trend from a  month ago gave me pause. Evidently, JB admitted to smoking pot and his legions decided to cut themselves to make him stop.
A number of students hadn't heard of it, so, naturally, they looked it up. I'm not sure what image they found, but it started with giggles (muscular, " cut" men in skimpy clothes), to awkward gaps, to one girl retching.

And we encounter a teachable moment.

I stopped the discussion to ask them to really examine what happened here: obsessed fans took their disappointment on a celebrity's actions out on their own bodies. And then published it. And then received validation as it tended. And then inspired the " copycats" to express their disdain. And the Twitter cycle continues.

I went further. I posited that the extreme, hyperbolic connection we potentially have to anyone in the world has backfired; the increase in possible connection has resulted in an impossible disconnect. So much so that children have gone numb from the lack of human (read: face-to-face) connection, and must resort to the entirely visceral act of slicing their bodies open to feel again.

This may not be new thought to all of you (I am a child of the nineties... Grunge for life), but the class feel truly silent. They felt it. Until one of the jocks just said "shit." Which brought the class back to laughter. He followed up, in all sincerity, with " that was too heavy. I needed to get back to normal."
I feel that they felt it. I am happy they did.

But will they be able to connect #CuttingForBieber with the social inadequacies of Huxley's World State? Will they be able to see that, with constant access to pleasure, the pain goes away, but when the pain leaves, you are left numb. Unfeeling.

Can they see how horrifying a thought that is?

==== UPDATE ====
As an update (I know... How can you update an unpublished post?), I did some research and discovered that this was a hoax. Looks like the teachable moment gets extended tomorrow... here's my question for the class: just because the tweeter could do this, should he? What does this say about the power of social media and the lack of human connection (empathy is one of my themes of the class)? How can someone take a serious medical condition and satirize it