The tragic suicide of Chester Bennington is a harbinger of the often destructive nature of social media habits and internet culture.
I was never a fan of Chester or his band. In fact, with about two precise exceptions, I was never a fan of Nu Metal. However I recognized that his art touched many people and I accept without question the validity of his work. I sympathize with his family, friends and fans as they mourn their loss.
In the last several months, since the release of their newest single and album, Linkin Park have been under fire from fans, critics and scoffers who found this most recent work to be “too commercial, too poppy”. The attacks were relentless. Even from a distance I saw this man becoming unhinged by this, and attacking back in like fashion.
Linkin Park are one of the biggest musical acts of the last few decades, and are no doubt set for life on their back catalog alone. There was no reason for them to “sell out” as it has been claimed, so I accept Chester’s recent claims that their reasons were personal and artistic and not commercial.
Having followed their artistic instincts and desires, they were absolutely slain with criticism. Artists have always had a rough relationship with professional critics, who can make or break entire careers with the power of their writing. That pressure has always chafed at the successful artist, driving them into greater depths of artistry, addiction or apathy.
Yet today, thanks to the internet and social media, everybody has fashioned their selves as some sort of minor celebrity and Very Important Critic. The horrors visited by criticism on artists of the past have been amplified millions of times in just a few decades.
Imagine being an artist and going online, seeing thousands of people saying terrible things about you and your music. Imagine pouring your heart into something you believed in only to be ridiculed and antagonized by critics, fans and haters alike at that kind of level.
Imagine the feeling of having reached the top of the world only to learn that everyone around and below you has stones to cast at you.
The internet is relentless. It is not just relentless to artists either, but to everyone participating. It is a global screaming match fueled by self-righteous fury. It is the lowest common denominator become the only denominator left. It is anger and rage and fear and psychotic nihilism.
And when one man tried to take his music past anger and rage and fear and psychotic nihilism, he was vilified and driven to the madness which snuffs itself out when it becomes too much to bear.
The internet is not just a tool. It is not just a medium. It has become a culture. And that culture has led to things like a resurgence of fascism and white supremacy, a reality television moron becoming the symbolic central figure of power and the general devolution of decency, integrity and intelligence. Not to mention the suffering and death.
You may think you are smarter than the internet and that you have control of it, but if you are not skeptical of it’s potential consequences and unwilling to concede any vulnerability to it, then you are almost definitely being adversely affected by it.
I know, because I have been, too. I was already on a good start to being an asshole before the internet, but I surfed its wave right into an over-inflated sense of self-importance and disregard for other people. I became merciless and self-righteous and so fucking idiotically certain of myself. And hard as I work at it, I am still not completely over myself. It will take plenty of time and some very careful consideration and caution to transform myself into the kind of person that I want to be.
I am not saying to stop using the internet or social media. I don’t know what YOU need to do to deal with this, but I hope my humbling admission of this is enough to motivate you to self-examine and decide for yourself if and how you have been affected by this growing inhumanity that seems to have sprung up unintended from the bowels of cyberspace, and what (if anything) you need to do to heal and make amends.
The internet (probably) killed an artist for trying to express himself. But even death is not as awful a fate as a lifetime of anger, resentment, confrontation, self-righteousness and all the snark-laced virtues of internet culture. While we are so busy trying to save everyone else, we have forgotten to save ourselves from the excess of ego this medium makes all too easy.
Think about that shit real hard.