Shouldn’t Orwell or Huxley Warned Us about This?

Bryce Hall, Tic-Tok and YouTube Super Celebrity (Gimme a D, gimme a U, gimme an H)

Last Friday, I attended homecoming at the high school where I had taught for thirty-four years. The stadium wasn’t crowded, which suited Caroline and me, given the pandemic. We stood on the perimeter of the field chatting with a couple of moms behind a fence near the goal line when a sudden din distracted us. A swarm of middle schoolers scuttled past with phones held aloft.

Some celebrity, it seemed, had entered the stadium. I figured it must be Kris Middleton, an NBA all-star alum. The squealing commotion reminded me of Beatlemania, and it surprised me that Middleton’s presence would generate so much enthusiasm. The scrum, which had swarmed past a moment ago, now stumbled en masse slowly in the opposite direction with a tall, unsmiling beefy black man in its center. 

As it turned out, he was Bryce Hall’s bodyguard. 

Bryce Hall was in the house! The Bryce Hall![1]

His coming [archaic usage warning] was telegraphed via Tik-Tok, his arrival announced on Tic-Tok. Eventually, the melee settled down on our end of the field, and for a half hour or so, Bryce roamed the homefield sidelines of the stadium. I think he left before halftime, prior to the coronation of the homecoming queen.[2]

As it turns out, Bryce is a Tik-Tok and YouTube celebrity with umpteen-K followers.[3] When I got home, I ascended the stairs to my drafty garret and conjured on my desktop commuter a ten-minute video of Bryce and his pals and a then subjected myself to a couple of his Tic-Toks. 

Look, I have nothing against Bryce – he seems amiable enough – but over the course of that YouTube video, I decided that if I were in my early twenties, these wanna-be cats wouldn’t be hanging out in my seedy apartments. They be vacuous, mon, overly ironic in the boring contemporary unwitty way that un-spleenful cynics are ironic, as a force of habit, not conviction, trafficking in cynicism lite, if you will. In the video, they bragged about quantities of Ks and performed cannonballs in a pool overlooking a canyon. I didn’t dislike them but found them boring and wondered how such unremarkable fellows could garner so much adulation, not to mention, I’m assuming, hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

***

In 1977, I read a just-released book by Christopher Lasch called Cultural Narcissism, which received megatons of media attention after President Carter read it and accused the nation of suffering from a “moral malaise.”  

I have no idea what happened to my copy, so I can’t quote directly, but I clearly remember Lasch’s writing about the narcissistic individuals’ compulsion to appear on national television during football games, the desire of having CBS’s cameras focusing on them, zooming in, flashing their images around the world live (hence the attention-grabbing frat-boy war paint in Gainesville and in Green Bay middle-aged men dressed up like cheese). Lasch argued that being on live TV authenticated their being, underscored their reality.

The same thing might be said for people seeking proximity to celebrity. If you’re near a celebrity, sharing the same space, your status rises, the large number of “likes” the celebrity photo generates on your social media platforms validates your existence.

The more the merrier.

I see a similar phenomenon on Twitter, people groveling for followers, some going so far as announcing publicly mere minutes after loved ones have died how “broken they are” so they can amass “likes” and sympathetic comments.

What’s odd, though, is that one of my stepdaughter’s sleepover friends told me that “no one likes” Bryce, that, in fact, everyone hates him, though she herself admitted to being part of the mob that tried to get as close to him as possible.

It’s as if that in late capitalism that self-worth is a commodity that must be amassed, counted, verified, and broadcast. 

In fact, I’m guilty of it as well.

the scowling author basking in his 15 nanoseconds of fame in Bryce’s YouTube video (hat tip Lucy Freeman)

[1] Whoever that is.

[2] This raises the question: did the opposing team’s teens from Pinewood Prep know of Bryce’s presence? And if they, did they come over to our side to bask in his glow? 

[3] Given my status as “tattered coat upon a stick,” you can bet your very last bitcoin I ain’t bothering to look it up.

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