A bending interpretation of visibility as a trap; Alternatively Thursdays brainworm


Yesterday A friend had posted a question asking, what is the definitive line (if any) that separates the sharing of news as exploitive ('Pimping peoples pain' as she said) or helpful. The source of the question being the political, social media influencer Shaun King. Her peers were critiquing King claiming he is exploitive and uses peoples pain for social mobility, some adding that he shouldn't be allowed to speak on some issues because he is only 'half black.' King's political views don't necessarily line up with her own or mine. On many subjects his politics lean more towards the liberal view, ours is a more radical lens, but we both agreed that at risk of sounding like the great defenders of Shaun King; his presence has its place and he brings forth information usually with a call to action that gets shit done. I found myself waist deep in a rabbit hole of a few things regarding permission, social trappings, and personal history.

I would argue that King's position as a highly visible and widely influencing social media force makes him inherently opportunistic, and that's not to say its wrong. Much like any budding 'relationship' where people use the vulnerability and unsureness of possibilities as an opportunity to make a thing work or not work, it's just the nature of it all. Many political acts of the past and the future will require an often tragic situation as an opportunity for people to take notice. It is a symbiotic relationship. For any of his call to actions to affect, his social influence must be, and that comes from his use of others pain as social mobility. When it's broken down to that level it seems morally objective, but that too is a flimsy claim for most of his outcries draw support to the collateral victims, and they usually allow permission after he sends up his flares. This definitive line is far too situational to be marked.

My critique of King would mostly have to come from my ideas around social media opening the door to a whole new level of darker opportunity leashing us to the morals of invisible peers. I am often brought back to Foucault's theory around the Panopticon, Visibility becoming a trap as a reference point to this new amorphous guardhouse. He is neither bad or good, whatever those mean. My biggest hesitance with Political Social Media Influencers is that being hyper-visible you become imprisoned by the politics of your peers, sometimes without even noticing. Your influence depends mostly on what they approve of and this vague exchange, this relational phantom limb you are placed in a reductive lens. In the flurry of social media ephemera reduction has become vacuous and harmful. Each of us is infinitely complex and yet we approach others with this reductive lens and do not allow them the complexities we grant ourselves. No one wins in the court of public opinion; the false connection connections can dehumanize and proliferate inaction out of its possible functions creating hysteria, guilt, and fear. Tieing back into the theory of visibility as a trap, it explains that the peers, being the controllers or judges, create a condition which bonds order in the person of interest, the controllers become invisible, in this case, the peers are just a word or an idea somewhere out there in internet world. In these situations, the person is kept under constant scrutiny and disallowed retreat or forms of privacy. These circumstances yield power to the individual, possessing the ability to make decisions and have great social wealth. The trap being, in most contexts the fear of observation by peers is much higher than the motivation to do 'wrong' most of the time and as we know being 'wrong' sometimes is just in our nature. Especially for those who are doing many things it is our impatience with being sure of correctness that gives power to our method, to learn as we go.

Many critics on the internet have a finger-waggy way of protest that is always outward with little to no solution, in this, they find momentary resolve in their lazy critiques. The critique of not black enough to speak on issues revolving around black people is a misuse of identity politics and is divisive with no strategy. It too often centers the self as the dominant point of action using separatist self-liberation to hold the place of community emancipation. When the majority of discussion becomes an unchallengeable polemic centered on arriving first, it gives a marring currency to our oppressions oozing this idea onto others; the idea that to be heard, to be valid, to be authentic your identity must first be authenticated or challenged to be real is at times counterproductive. We take this framework, and we go round and round challenging the identities of our peers, shooting ourselves in the foot in this race for ‘passing.’ Also, the conversation of permission regarding peoples pain is a touchy one to which I say, fuck it. There are times when people get locked up in what is right and in turn paralyze any subsequent action resulting in, well nothing.

A woman in San Jose is the beacon of support for families which have lost their children to police violence. She had lost a family member years prior, and so her motivating force is justice for all creating some posthumous justice for her family member as well. When the news hits that a person has been killed by state-sanctioned violence, she is immediately at the door of the family, whom she does not know and I'd say aggressively offers her support and is a force to be reckoned with. While others sit unsure of how to respond to these tragedies she takes action and worries about navigating these hard and nuanced situations as they unravel. The families often cling to her and are grateful for the waves of support she creates.

Another example which is personal and maybe a little different, but runs along the idea still is a time three years ago when a friend of mine was diagnosed with Cancer I was both sympathetic and scared. I was in the middle of a significant personal life shift of my own. I lacked the kind of attention to or devotion a friend would need of another friend at that moment and so I began to muddle in guilt waiting for the right time to reach out fearful of the response or even worse non-response I would receive from them regarding my inconsistent support. I was waiting for permission from them, buried by worry or guilt waiting on someday, but someday never came. It became less about them and more about me. A few years later we finally reconnected as her cancer had passed and my life continued to spiral away from me. I confessed to her over a coffee in my car outside of a bookstore that I felt shamed by my inability to give her support in a tough time for her. I admitted it became a struggle over permission. She told me basically that, sometimes you have to suck it up and put it out there regardless of what will happen. Take the risk of disrespect, or misrepresenting emotions, or assumption whatever it may be so that someone may see that you care enough to speak up. Our relationship exists, but not as it once was, and for that, I am both grateful and guilt-ridden, but so is life. Concerning pain; In these situations of who has the right to speak on what or when the lines become blurry and in the search for the moral high ground or what is the 'right thing to do' we should be worried about the injustice over hurt feelings or bringing up a pain. For feelings are fleeting, and Pain is inevitable. The want to be 'good' or to be 'real' will invisibilize us all.

Richard Gutierrez