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I'm late to this, but it's an amazing piece of writing about an amazing work of art: Charlie Warzel, "Bo Burnham And The Online Condition." Warzel talks about how distracted our online minds are, but builds to a conclusion I didn't expect. It isn't just that being perpetually distracted has consequences--that we know. It's that it is impossible to figure anything out because of this, including our own desires:
...information overload repeats throughout Inside like a chorus. It reaches its immaculate form when Burnham sings, ‘Welcome To The Internet,’ a carnival song tour of the endless options of cyberspace. “Can I interest you in everything, all of the time,” the hook repeats.
I mean, how can we know what we want in such a situation? I can't even imagine an advertiser being able to operate effectively. They have to go for clicks and interest and hype. An actual message about an actual product? That feels like a relic of capitalism from 70 years ago.
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Kay Ryan, "Lime Light"
"One can't work / by lime light," Kay Ryan declares. She means this quite literally. She did try to write by lime light, as there was a "bowlful" right at her elbow. But all it gave was "a baleful glow."
Lime Light Kay Ryan One can't work by lime light. A bowlful right at one's elbow produces no more than a baleful glow against the kitchen table. The fruit purveyor's whole unstable pyramid doesn't equal what daylight did.
It's a joke, right? A fancy way of saying fame fails to produce. I'm not so sure, though, that the poem is only a joke. The more one has to deal with, the more one has to take seriously. Fame entails an incredible amount to deal with, even when utterly absurd. Because it is so much—however ridiculous it may be—it demands serious attention.
OK, you say. But then why exactly is fame so much to handle? A lot of us believe that people make themselves subservient to it. Examples abound of people willing to do or say anything to be relevant. They act like addicts, and their lack of self-control leads to our moral posturing.
The problem with this treatment of fame: we're not talking about fame itself. We're focused on those desperate for it.
How to understand fame itself? As said before, it's overwhelming. I believe this is because of something which could make one an addict, but is more fundamental than that. Consider Dickinson's brief encapsulation of the topic:
Fame is a bee. It has a song— It has a sting— Ah, too, it has a wing.
I'm tempted to summarize this poem with its last line only. Fame has a wing, it flies away, nothing else needs to be known. I have to stop myself and remember to read. Fame has a "song" and a "sting," pleasures and pains specific to it. Recognition of this goes a long way to knowing why fame overwhelms. It's a whole other world with its own rules. I can't relate, myself. I can imagine, though, being completely paralyzed before saying anything, worrying that saying the wrong thing could lead to years of being publicly shamed.
However, there is a deeper concern. "Fame is a bee." Bees work, defend the hive, produce honey. Maybe the problem with fame is that it does produce real goods. If this is true, then the loss of fame must be maddening. In general, we don't just indulge what is good for us, we like to reflect on it (even or especially if those reflections are a bit shallow). But how to reflect on what can't be had any longer? There's a blank in the brain, a perpetual frustration.
The "bowlful" produces the merely "baleful," but it was meant to be more. So much more. Ryan tells us "The fruit purveyor's / whole unstable / pyramid // doesn't equal / what daylight did." The limes form a pyramid, a kingly construct wherein one finds an afterlife. Fame, too, has been linked to immortality: "So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, / So long lives this, and this gives life to thee."
It does no good to say fame provides no goods. Yes, there's a "baleful glow" and an "unstable pyramid." This language can mislead. Someone who gets a huge payout because they've built a lifestyle brand on Instagram isn't obviously hurting. There are peculiarities and problems with their influence, sure. These problems can be deep. But if they're inaccessible to the formerly famous, then they're probably inaccessible to us.
What we need is something better than fame. Something reliable. Ryan's doing the work of writing with the limes next to her, enabled by daylight. Daylight here doesn't symbolize a concept like rationality or the clarity of common sense. It's just an everyday occurrence filling a kitchen. A thing which happens regularly which you can plan around, even create with. Fame is special, but we're apt to treat it as miraculous. In reality, an everyday consistency, a common good, goes much further.