Hashtag activism is becoming the defining characteristic of this era. One could fill pages with all the hashtag movements that have been created in the last few years, and that’s the macabre point: if you were to make such a list, and then check off which lasted more than a few months, you’d find that most remained unchecked. How can such a short-lived activity claim (in one way or another) to be a sign of enlightenment, humanity, or progress, though?
The majority of hashtag movements have learned that they need to make the biggest splash possible before the capricious culture and media move onto something else. Essentially, slow burn activism is falling to the wayside, as the modern activist has found fasting or refusing to sleep either intolerable or ineffective. As it stands, the attention a hashtag movement receives generally isn’t as much a product of their arguments or physical endurance, but how dramatically they are presented in densely populated areas, within universities, or on social media platforms. This has produced such a strong tribal mentality within the members of many of these movements that their public demonstrations often escalate into a mob mentality, pulling the entire locale to an unneccessary standstill.
This big-splash activism has been effective in the sense that it has allowed participants to receive much attention, but don’t be fooled into thinking their tactics are anything other than typical modern marketing tactics. Activists seem not to have any problem with this though, because any attention to their cause is viewed as good attention, but again, this ends-justifies-the-means modus is derived from modern marketing tactics.
The effects of blending modern marketing tactics with progressive social idealism may not be as benign as people think. Take, for example, the general marketing strategy of the toy industry: knowing that not all toys will be as popular as Legos, toy companies aggressively market for a short time, closely observing which toys make it and which don’t. And if they don’t, the toys are either dropped or sit on shelves, meaning, the companies transfer their marketing energies toward finding the next potential Lego, leaving a trail of toy carcasses in their wake. In a nutshell, the old products are marginalized or disposed of simply to make room for the new, flashy products.
Transferring the marketing practices of tangible consumer products into the realm of intangible products—in this case, activism—is not a good idea because it treats activism like a commodity even though they’re completely different categories. This is why hashtag activism’s compass is askew; it’s more of a progressive marketing firm than the anointed think tank it claims to be.
Since hashtag activism is gradually becoming the popular culture’s version of enlightenment, those deeply involved in the movements are convinced they’re involved in morally righteous causes, viewing the transitory feature as a justification to disrupt or impose upon other people, smugly expecting their otherwise reprobate behavior to be excused due to the allegedly anointed nature of their causes.
This justification seems to be a distinctive feature of modern activism--Activism Du Jour—and has unfortunately and ironically proven to be its most enduring feature. That doesn’t seem very enlightened.
Hashtag activism’s perspective of social progress and enlightenment can therefore be boiled down to these tenets: 1) Forget ‘The Tortoise and the Hare.’ 2) Aggressively advocate something that can capture people’s attention for a short amount of time, and then move on to the next cause. 3) If you get lucky and stumble upon a Lego, by dear God attach yourself to it for as long as you can, because you may never come across another one.
I recently saw a television show where a marijuana dealer was stoic to the point of appearing disinterested in making a sale. He explained to his potential buyer that he didn’t have to actively sell it or market it, because marijuana sold itself. The dealer’s attitude revealed that contrary to popular canon there is no fixed causal linkage between a seller’s behavior and the sale of a product or service.
I realize that my critique of this system will likely cause me to be viewed as obsolete, because “times have changed”, “the world has gotten smaller”, and “everything moves faster now.” However, to echo the conservatives’ perspective in their perennial argument with the liberals: just as some things can be improved upon, some things retain their value over time and don’t need a more updated, flashy version. At base, products are still products and services are still services. I realize that it’s still thrown around that “a good product or service sells itself,” however, I find this disingenuous, because other than illicit drugs, when was the last time you saw a product sold without multiple testimonies, colorful or tactile boxing, or some level of charming or inspirational rhetoric?
A free marketplace is defined as a competition friendly hub where buyers and sellers can operate relatively unrestrictedly. Now, laissez faire systems are truly free marketplaces, where the government doesn’t impose restrictions or tariffs or anything like that. Western, capitalism-leaning economic systems have more restrictions due to the focus on advocating buyer’s rights, as in, the right to not be deceived. This system assumes that a more honest market will be a livelier market, which helps both buyer and seller. I’ve experienced a truly laissez faire market and I understand the West’s criticism; it’s ruthlessly buyer versus seller. One may think that in the West we’re so much better than that due to our smiling faces and chummy rhetoric, but isn’t our big-toothed rhetoric just another method of pitting the buyer and seller against one another, because it muddies the waters? It may not seem like this when the car salesman so eagerly offers the potential car buyer a cup of coffee and tells them how comfortable their future kids will be in the back seats, however, no compliment or coffee will change the car’s features or overall quality.
To look at this in another way, in a New Yorker article titled “My Struggle with American Small Talk”, native Indian Karan Mahajan talked about his issues assimilating into the American culture. Looking back on witnessing a friend make idle banter with city vendors, he said: “At the time, this seemed intellectually dishonest to me. Did he really care what they were wearing? Wasn’t he just expressing his discomfort about being richer than the person serving him? If you did this little number with everyone, was it genuine?” His friend thought he was being curmudgeonly when he made comments like these. Yet, in Delhi, Mahajan’s home city, vendors were treated as the people who merely had something you wanted to buy, so the transaction was stoic and focused; both buyer and seller were on their toes to protect their interests. What Mahajan initially witnessed about America was the deeply seated social politicking that surrounded commerce; it wasn’t merely a transfer of goods for services, but community service. Sadly, when he finally assimilated, he said, “On a day that I don’t spend money in America, I feel oddly depressed. It’s my main form of social interaction—as it is for millions of Americans who live alone or away from their families.”
How is our consumerism a good thing if we’re so addicted toward being extroverted consumers that we become depressed when we’re not consuming?
And where is the quality-meter of the actual products or services?! Can we even recognize products or services in themselves anymore?
When it comes to modern book publishing, this whole mess floods to mind. When I log onto Twitter, I see authors promoting the bejeezus out of their work by featuring bright cover photos, cherry picked reviews, even begging for retweets. I see authors who post their emotional responses to scenes they just wrote or edited, essentially livestreaming their writing process. I even see authors sharing their thoughts and feelings on why they haven’t written in awhile, be it due to a dead pet, dead relative, or being in a manic or depressive state. This may not sound like it has anything to do with modern marketing, but it does: it reveals that we’re obsessed with enveloping our literary product within a certain image or mood. Essentially, books are not standalone products, but public relations campaigns launched in an extroverted modus. (This is why publishing is exhausting to introverts nowadays, which, sadly it not due at all to the actual writing part.)
So, is that the state of the art? Being divas?
Our culture’s compulsive consumerism is linked to our obsession with extroversion. As Mahajan said in his pre-assimilation days, “During these years in the small-talk wilderness, I also wondered why Americans valued friendliness with commerce so much. Was handing over cash the sacred rite of American capitalism—and of American life?”
Well, has this compulsion toward extroverted platitudes become a rite of passage in our world?
This deeply affects book publishing, because as the saying goes: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Essentially, as our culture “progresses,” we’re becoming less and less interested in the whats and the hows, deferring instead to the whos, but more specifically, the me.
Well, the marijuana dealer would disagree, because to him it didn’t matter who was buying the product or selling it or what packaging it came in, because the product was damn good on its own. Simply put, do we do this because we’re not capable of producing good products anymore, whether tangible or literary?