In Praise of Subtlety
by David Todd McCarty | Tuesday, November 3, 2015
We live in a loud world.
The music. The traffic. The colors. The entertainment. The styles. The music. It’s all deafening.
Kanye and Kardashians. Big egos and asses. Poster children for the era we currently find ourselves in. All hype. No humility.
Even the written word seems to have gotten loud. John Stewart doesn’t make a joke. He destroys. Obama doesn’t make a point. He annihilates the Republicans. She’s not pretty, she’s stunning. You didn’t find something amusing, you can’t stop laughing. It’s not mildly interesting, you won’t be able to believe your eyes.
There is no cool anymore. Just hype.
I’ll be the first to admit to contributing to the noise. While I’m very quiet in person, I do my fair share of shouting online, usually into the wind, about the world around me. Let’s face it, what I do is a lot of complaining. What I’m talking about here is the lack of subtlety in our society. A lack of authenticity in our language.
Of course, most of this is calculated speech designed to drive clicks and website traffic in order to make money from advertisers. So, that’s hardly typical speech. But it seems to be seeping into every day culture as well.
I have a lot of young people on my various social media feeds and the most unnerving are the young women. Someone will post a fairly banal selfie and the comments will be,
“Why are you so perfect?”
“Can I be you?”
“I love you!”
“I love you more!”
“You should be a model. I hate you.”
Let’s face it, it’s all a little gross and also patently fake. A more authentic response would be,
“Is that your underwear on the floor behind you?”
“Boy, you weren’t kidding about that freshman fifteen.”
“I’m better looking that you and I’m going after your boyfriend.”
“Is that my blouse?”
I realize I’m picking on youth and immaturity, but if any of you yutes are reading this old curmudgeon’s post, take it from the rest of us, it makes you sound shallow at best, and stupid at worst. Tone it down just a bit.
When everything is the greatest thing ever, nothing can ever really live up to that.
How many of those click-bait articles are you going to click on before you realize that the article will never live up to the hype of the headline. They’re usually not even written by the same person. They have a formula for writing those headlines. And we keep falling for it.
I see this in my work too. No one appreciates subtlety. You don’t have to hit everyone over the head. You don’t have so smack everyone in the face. People aren’t that stupid. Give them a little credit. You don’t have to fill all the white space on the page. Sometimes a little minimalism is called for.
Sometimes, the quiet person, makes the most impact.
Ultimately, it’s the hyperbole that bothers me the most. The ridiculous, over the top, unrealistic language used to describe the mundane. And you see it everywhere. Even in places you wouldn’t expect.
One example I had recently was courtesy of a writing forum of all things, or more specifically, a writing forum’s Facebook post. The post was concerning the to do list for a teacher at Hogwarts, the fictional school of wizardry attended by Harry Potter and friends. That should tell you a little something about the author, but I read it anyway. It was slightly clever. Obviously full of inside jokes. That’s fine. That was the point. But what bothered me was the headline the author had chosen.
“You have to read this. I can’t stop laughing.”
I had to say something. “Really? You can’t stop laughing? Give me a break.”
“Why,” someone else replied.
“Because it’s not that funny. It’s mildly amusing at best. But you can’t stop laughing? And you’re running a blog for writing? That’s nothing more than click bait. I expect more from writers,” I wrote back.
I’m not above shaming people, I’m sorry to say.
My other example was from a Bernie Sanders supporter who was sharing the new TV commercial they just launched in Iowa. The spot was good. On point. On message. Policy driven. Nothing shocking. Nothing unexpected. Except the wording of the copy introducing it.
“Sanders stuns with first television ad. Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has sent shockwaves through the political world, with a $2 million television ad campaign.”
This wasn’t from the Sanders campaign, who I believe takes their cues from their commander in chief, who doesn’t often go in for hyperbole. It was from an associate site of supporters. But the hyperbole was so thick you could cut it with a knife. See what I did there?
First off, who did Sanders stun with this ad? No one. It’s almost exactly what I would have expected. Not bad, not earth shattering. Solid.
Second, what kind of shockwaves do you think the #2 candidate sent through the political world when releasing a non-attack ad that featured the same talking points this guy has been talking about for something like—oh I don’t know—30 years? I’ll answer my own question. None. There were no shockwaves.
Finally, are we supposed to be impressed with a $2 million ad buy? That’s nothing in today’s world. Was that for the whole state? Fan Duel spent more than that on the Eagles game last weekend, and they weren’t even playing.
The point is, we need to be more reflective about the language we use online. We can compliment someone without getting ridiculous. We can express delight or pleasure without resorting to language that should be reserved for the second coming.
I’ll give you my theory on why this is. The coddling of the Millennials. That’s right. I said it.
When we stopped keeping score in little league. When we taught kids that they should be praised for not taking a shit in their pants. When we decided that we needed to compliment each and every task as opposed to generally accepting that they were being paid a fair wage for a reasonable job. When we told everyone that they were a great artist, great singer, great actor. When that happened, we created a world full of hype. Reality isn’t good enough. We want hyper-reality. Everyone wants to be famous. Everyone should be a model. Everyone is a celebrity. Everyone deserves the very best.
In truth, I blame emojis.