No, I am not talking about the youth in another MiddleEastern or Eurasian country trying to snatch freedom from the jaws of fundamentalist or tasteless tyranny. I have in mind a curious analogy Virginia Heffernan, an enthusiastic digital watcher for the NYT, makes between the liberating potential of 1) the social media, and 2) the disco scene of the 1970s (“Internet Geeks and Freaks”). Addressing a question Heffernan had long asked (“why do women, gay people and nonwhite people revel in the very forms of Internet culture that make some of the prominent straight white men who write about the Internet most dejected, fearful and furious”), Nussbaum had written simply: “Social media is disco.”
So, Heffernan explains: “In the 1970s, the ecstatic, heavily produced, floridly electronic and supersexy music of the dance clubs freed audiences from the tedium of lead guitars, sulky rockers and undanceable rhythms. Disco also let crowds of African-Americans, Latinos, gays and women resist the poses and politics of the self-styled, and male-dominated, counterculture.” Back then, disco provoked the rage of white male discophobes; now online self-exposure similarly drives up the wall white male traditionalists. A case in point – Timothy Egan’s online column on the NYT web site, “Please Stop Sharing.” My initial reaction to his text was knee-jerk admiration – I would give at least a toe to be able to write like this! Egan laments the way technology now allows everyone “to be banal in real time,” and to indulge easily a “compulsion for light confession” – often forgetting the “digital tattoo” an indiscreet comment or picture may leave on one’s non-virtual reputation. This does seem cleverly written, but Heffernan’s column gave me this much needed wisdom – I realized Egan is probably one of those white male pricks who, while often spewing leftist platitudes, have really served the forces of racial, gender, and anti-gay oppression. This becomes quite obvious if you consider that Egan calls former congressman Anthony D. Weiner “the saddest of the digital exhibitionists.” Heffernan, on the other hand, praises Weiner’s bold, technologically enabled sexual self-expression which should not have ruffled so many feathers.