“By giving people the power to share, we’re making the world more transparent”
Mark Zuckerberg talks a lot about transparency, especially for someone who isn’t transparent. The bravest thing he ever said was “We find a dying squirrel on our lawn more relevant than dying people in Africa.” But who’s made us that way? Isn’t it exactly what Zuckerberg has created with Facebook?
This “transparency” Zuckerberg talks about is a bit of an illusion. We share our love of family, friends, household pets, etc. We’re happy living in a world where happiness is our own achievements. Things are great as long as we say they’re great. Don’t bother looking further. You don’t need to know whether we’re over-extended with our beautiful houses or our vacation to Corfu. It’s what we want to show that matters, and what we want to show is happy.
Not that we can’t have occasional angst and outrage. We don’t mind speaking out against people like, say, Donald Trump. Everyone knows he’s a ridiculous blowhard. But, as Michael Moore stated the other day, “That might be what gets him elected. Giving everyone the finger makes him relevant.”
And isn’t that the point? Trump’s debating skills are negligible. His facts are questionable. His whole demeanor flies in the face of what we believe a president should be. Yet he’s more transparent than the rest of us.
Nobody denies he’s jerk, a creep, a misanthrope, a misogynist, but that, in its own way, is more honest than we are. What are we doing except complimenting others and ourselves at the same time? When we tell someone they look great, isn’t it quid pro quo? Aren’t we expecting the same in return?
We want transparency — not to be honest — but to be sheltered. Good times make us secure. It’s Beach Blanket Bingo played out in daily posts and blogs. Sure, we want equality and compassion. We want what everyone wants. Together we show a consensus of mutual concern, carried across social media, waiting to be agreed upon and therefore accepted as fact.
The other night, I watched a special on Norman Lear. When asked what made a racist bigot like Archie Bunker relevant at the time, Lear said “Archie Bunker reflected more of society than any of us realized. As much as the censors at the network said, ‘You can’t have him saying that,’ we came back with ‘People are saying that. You honestly think Archie Bunker is expressing anything new?’”
All In The Family shocked audiences in ways audiences had never been shocked before. Archie Bunker was transparent. Outside, we were shaking our heads, inside we were nodding. We were embarrassed — not for Archie Bunker — but for ourselves. Lear held up a mirror and we couldn’t help looking. Eight seasons later, we still couldn’t help looking.
At one time, Lear had six of the ten sitcoms on television, each one holding up that mirror. Maude, The Jeffersons, Good Times, Sanford and Son — all challenged convention, forcing us to look at the world and ourselves. Nothing since has had that power of transparency, to see what our lives are really like.
Maybe Donald Trump is our Archie Bunker, a man who gains a shadowy respect by expressing views we don’t want to express openly. Maybe — without having sitcoms like Lear’s anymore — we’re forced to realize our own prejudices through Trump and these presidential debates.
What we won’t see is social media being transparent. Sure, we have comments, we have anger, we have dismay. On some level, they show the unrest that exists today. Is this commentary enough to move people to act, to express their concerns beyond the computer and keyboard?
After the episode of Maude, where she decided to have an abortion, the network received 17,000 letters. Some called the show “brave” while others described their death threats in graphic terms. There were protests, people taking to the streets, evangelists wanting Lear sent to the Adirondacks.
That’s a far cry from a few hundred comments about Trump on Facebook, all sent from the comfort of a chair in the safe confines of a suburban house.
Zuckerberg can talk all he wants about transparency, but if it goes no further than “likes” or “comments,” we’ll never see anything like the change effected by people like Norman Lear and Archie Bunker.
Our transparency has its own comfort level. Right now it’s that vacation in Corfu.
Do you agree? Have we become armchair realists? Let me know at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Robert Cormack is a freelance copywriter, novelist and blogger. His first novel “You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive)” is available online and at most major bookstores. Check out Yucca Publishing or Skyhorse Press for more details (you can also order the books from them).