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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Not Saying Anything Is Still an Option

The Monitor is a weekly column devoted to everything happening in the WIRED world of culture, from movies to memes, TV to Twitter.

First, let’s get one thing out of the way: The very thesis of this essay lives in the realm of hypocrisy. This column—as the description above states—exists to engage with what people are talking about in popular culture. And this week, only one story dominated social media feeds. You know the one. That thing that happened at the Oscars. (It might kill this story’s SEO, but in the spirit of practicing what I preach, this space will be free of the names of those involved.) People’s thoughts on the incident have been everywhere since Sunday night—and they show no sign of letting up. But writing about how people don’t need to share all of their opinions, as I’m about to, is still sharing an opinion. I have to live with that.

Moments like this one represent the internet at its worst. Not necessarily its most ugly, but its most insufferable. Yes, everyone can have opinions about what happened; not all of them need to live online. Saying nothing is an option. It’s hard not to want to be a part of the conversation, but in cases like this—ones with few, if any clear-cut takeaways and even fewer folks with the necessary insights to provide them—STFU should be encouraged among those who have no relevant experience. This makes it easier for those with valuable perspectives to have their voices heard and frees everyone else up to do literally anything else.

Otherwise, we have what’s been going on in a near-constant cycle in the last week. First, there were the Sunday night tweets—wise reflections on trauma and violence, and even some useful commentary about the relevance of the Oscars. Unfortunately, this more valuable discourse was accompanied by more than a few ill-advised jokes and overblown rhetoric. They continued on into the next morning, when the essays, the hot takes, the reactions began—news outlets reporting more than just the news. Celebrities started to weigh in, some of whom were in the room for the incident, and some who weren’t. Next, there were the social media reactions to those celebrities; then there were reports about the backlash those celebrities faced. This has been going on for nearly five days now, and (maybe) 20 percent of the commentary has shed light on what happened; the rest has not.

To be clear, this entreaty for thoughtfulness isn’t as necessary when, say, Jennifer Lawrence trips over her dress, or Apple TV+ defeats a rival streaming service in an upset. Those events are part of the cultural conversation, and no one was physically, emotionally, or psychologically harmed by them. But Sunday’s incident is one where a subset of people have genuinely insightful things to contribute, and everyone else would be wise to listen rather than fire off jokes or hot takes. Those add to the noise and make the astute commentary harder to hear.

They also distract from a lot of other news. In the time since the Oscars, Florida governor Ron DeSantis signed the state’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill, Bruce Willis announced he has aphasia and will leave acting, a new Covid-19 subvariant became dominant in the US, and Russia continued its assault on Ukraine. It’s not that these incidents received no attention, but they probably didn’t get the attention they would and should have if the Oscars incident wasn’t dominating every feed.

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Certainly, I’ve been guilty of rushing to write a hot take myself. But the current situation just feels out of hand. The great thing about the internet is that it has given a voice to so many; the unfortunate thing about the internet is that so many use it to speak rather than listen. The signal-to-noise ratio is way off, and it has been for a while. If the past few years have offered any clarity, it’s that the price of free speech might be the cacophony of everyone talking at once. People deserve a say, but before they get it, they ought to consider whether theirs is the voice that matters. But that’s just my take.

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