When woe is Indeed you
What to make of the online trend that has spawned purveying overwrought pathos and lining one’s pockets with the proceeds of human pain into a job?
Online, click farmers in thrall to their self-importance regurgitate tired tropes to the tune of their own constant whine.
Graceless laments paying tribute to the cult of victimhood ooze forth from their grabby fingertips on a schedule.
Seven days a week, the cottage industry of gloom churns out content that reads like bullets aimed straight at the human heart.
Grateful for our relative good fortune in comparison to those to whom everything seems to happen, we sigh in sympathy.
Unsuspecting eyeballs get squeezed for tears; discerning ones stare in disbelief at the greed that keeps the words coming.
In both cases, it feels like having a front row seat to the death of the human spirit playing out in slow motion; it is a deeply unsettling experience.
Once the agent of enlightenment about what it means to be a human in the world, the personal essay has become a weapon of mass depression.
Is it any wonder that pity and schadenfreude are taking over the internet?
For the purveyors of overdone calamity, this is excellent news as it creates friction, pushback, and outrage.
This material is then instantly monetized, thus perpetuating the victim narrative ad nauseam.
Torment is the gift that keeps on giving and can be endlessly mined to manipulate “feels” by applying faux candor to any topic.
This content hijacks our attention by serving up attitude instead of affability; it’s a slap in the face and a punch in the gut, never a pat on the back.
Or a supportive hug.
And yet, many of us support miserymongers because humans are by nature sensitive and helpful. We cannot abide another’s suffering and feel duty-bound to step in to try and contain it.
It is all to our credit that the possibility of being played for fools seldom enters our consciousness. Unless words are our profession and have been for some time, how the sausage gets made isn’t always immediately obvious.
And because critical thinking is a bug rather than a feature online, echo chambers thrive as disconnectedness grows.
How genuine are those narratives?
Anyone who asks and wonders out loud whether truth might sometimes be subject to distortion for maximum impact stands to be pilloried for their curiosity.
Woe befall those who dare question the tenor of anything online, for to do so is to become the instant target of vicious bullying.
Contrary to public opinion, this doesn’t only happen at the hands of men.
Harassment can also be perpetrated by reasonable female members of a particular echo chamber. And some may not even be aware they’re doing it because they automatically conflate the other gender with toxicity.
By doing away with the physical component, the internet has emboldened the best and the worst of human nature.
Much as a random stranger might offer us a hand to hold in our hour of need and not let go, another will appropriate human pain for profit.
The problem isn’t the internet but what we do with it when we forget that it is a global digital mirror.
In short, this is who we are now.
And this is who we will continue to be unless we begin to hold ourselves and one another accountable for what we write about and how we write about it.
I’m a French-American writer and journalist living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.