My editor asked me I had come across the #empathy hashtag, and whether the concept of being an “empath” meant anything. It did, of course, but I didn’t say anything because you don’t always want to come across as a nerd or dork. But then she said:
“It made me think of a Star Trek episode.”
Uh - why yes! These two dudes in shiny robes beat the hell out of McCoy to see if the empath would take away his pain at her own expense. She made all these faces like someone who got a fishbone stuck in her throat. Is that the rage on the internet now? Sucking out someone’s discomfort through your fingertips?
I’m not opposed to empathy; that would be callous. Perhaps it’s the idea of a hashtag about empathy that makes one weary. Perhaps you’ve started to discount things proceeded by #, because it means something irrelevant to the actual world, and signifies a whole lotta signifying. Just because a hashtag is trending doesn’t mean anyone’s actually doing it. It means people are talking about it. And by “talking” we mean retweeting other things people are saying.
Here’s how these hashytaggy things starts: somewhere in the high-school halls of Tumblr, a concept gets born, an old word revived, a new word forged, a new identity gene-spliced out of old ones, a micro-issue elevated to cosmic status.
Like all pathogens in a scary movie, it escapes the lab and runs wild on Twitter, where people who are eager to show they knew the cool stuff before anyone else start talking about #empathy as if they’ve been interested in this since forever. Another cohort decides it’s a new identity, and starts to present themselves as an Empath.
The next step is to find an enemy - some group on social media that’s probably opposed to #empathy - and start a group on Reddit where Empaths can post derisive quotes from anti-Empaths. There will also be an Anti-Empath movement that posts ridiculous things Empaths say; after a few weeks, the majority of these posts will be fictional, but everyone will pretend they’re real.
While this war heats up, a split in the Empath camp emerges over some definition or statement, and people will have to choose sides, and be known for their stance on previously admired Empaths who are now un-persons.
Meanwhile, someone on BuzzFeed who is Very Online latches on to #empathy to write a questionnaire.
“Are you an empath?” Is the first. As soon as the concept is familiar to the audience, which has the attention span of a fruit fly, we get “Which Disney princess is the empath you’re most like?” The third quiz will be “Empaths share their stories about absorbing other people’s pain and OMG we are here for this,” followed by a Serious story - no seriously you guys this is serious - about how empathy has affected the lives of a certain group of people, all of whom happen to be coincidentally friends of the author’s friends.
While all this is crackling and popping on the BuzzFeed main page, the New York Times or Washington Post has been preparing a serious story on the Rise of Empathy in The Age of Cruelty (they mean America, of course). They find a psychologist who wrote a book about empathy, and gives serious sonorous quotes that put the hashtag into a conceptual framework that flatters the preconceptions of the audience.
And then it’s done. By April #empathy feels like ten million years ago, and we all move on.
Lesson: remember, the overwhelming amount of humanity does not use Twitter. Just because something happens there doesn’t mean it really happens in the real world. Do you feel that to be true?
Awesome! You’re an empath!
It’s been a week or so and I’m still thinking about this show, and feeling sad to let it go. Thanks, binging model. The show would go away from a long time, then reappear with all eps available at once, and its pace, details, and bizarre world would come rushing back to you with familiarity - ah! Home again.
Most people balk when you advise watching a show about a depressed, alcoholic horse, but it’s funny and brilliant, and had a greater emotional wallop than most shows I’ve ever watched, and never went for trite happy Hollywoob BS.
One thing you can’t help notice is the horse-themed art:
It’s the Hockney painting. The bottom picture is from the penultimate ep -a fleeting moment, just a second or two, but it’s there, and it means a lot.
Compare the opening credits of the first season to the last. You can skip ahead in case you don't want to see all the versions, except . . .
one of my favorite themes of any TV show. It doesn't really have a melody. It has a mood. For all that soulful horsey sax, it's all about fate, and it's implacable.
I’ve got the Willys was never a slogan they considered.
It's an appeal to a certain kind of customer to call it America's "Most Useful" Vehicle.
The floor space of the pre-war 6s! No one would know what that meant today, but you ought to be able to figure it out easily from context.
When you see "IT'S ALL COLD" you have an idea how fridges used to be.
Hours away from Rio! Hey, “17 hours” is “hours”
You can rent the cliched blow-up ball and the inexplicably unbraced umbrella, and then lose them both to beach robbers! They’re everywhere.
It’s Futuramic Whirl-away Hydromatic!
They didn’t have to invent these things. They did so to make cars not just work, but work better. Jackrabbit off that stop sign, daddy-o! It’s Futuramatamatic!
Then again . . .
It’s an ad telling you to contact the relevant politicians and make them spend money on railroad infrastructure.
When was the last time you waited for a train to pass?
(Me, last year, in Fargo. Three times)
Will you let Whiman’s speak for you?
Four and a half seconds, around the clock! Prompting some no doubt to wonder who was giving someone chocolates at 4:04 AM.