Wednesday, January 11

David Brooks on Myspace

David Brooks is a not-as-nutty-as-most conservative columnist for the New York Times. He wrote a fantastic book about "bourgeouis bohemians" called Bobos in Paradise, that I highly recommend. Anyway, this week in the Times, he took on MySpace and Facebook. I've bolded my favorite parts:

"Dude, we totally need to hang out. ... Erin, you're a [great] waitress and friend. We definitely need to hang out sometime. ... You rock my world. It was awesome seeing you. ... Where did you go!!! I haven't seen you in a long time and I NEED to see you!!! Cause I love you!!! ... Happy New Year my sexy friend. I love you sooo much!"

Companionship isn't dead. Go to or Facebook or Xanga or any of the other online sites where people leave messages on the home pages of their friends and you'll see these great waves of praise and encouragement. People visit their friends' pages and drop lovebombs. There's scarcely a critical word about anyone or anything in the whole social network. It's just fervent declarations of friendship, vows to get together soon and memories of great times gone by.

Some sociologists worry that we're bowling alone, but these sites (MySpace has 20 million visitors a month) are all about community. They're commonly used by people in the new stage of life that's been created over the past few decades. They are in their early to mid-20's; they're out of school but have no expectation they should marry soon. They're highly mobile, half-teen/half-adult, looking for a life plan and in between the formal networks of school, career and family.

So they bond online with an almost desperate enthusiasm. The Web pages they create are part dorm-room wall, part bulletin board, part young person's society page. They post photos of favorite celebrities, dirty postcards and music videos. And there are tons of chug-and-grins: photos of the gang gripping beers at a bar, photos of the tribe chugging vodka on the beach, photos of the posse doing shots at an apartment. Scroll down the page and there are people falling over each other, beaming and mugging for the camera phone. You can see why Rupert Murdoch just spent $580 million to buy the company that owns MySpace. It's become a treasured institution and, in many ways, quite a positive one. But, this being youth culture in America, of course there's something to
make parents cringe.

Every social environment has its own lingua franca, and the one on these sites has been shaped by "American Pie," spring break and "Girls Gone Wild." The sites are smutty. Facebook, which is restricted to students and alumni of colleges, is rollicking but respectable. But there is a huge class distinction between the people on Facebook and the much larger and less educated population that uses MySpace. The atmosphere on MySpace is much raunchier.

To get the attention of fast-clicking Web surfers, many women have posed for their photos in bikinis or their underwear or in Penthouse-parody, "I clutch my breasts for you" positions. Here's a woman in a jokey sadomasochistic pose. There's a woman with a caption: "Yes, I make out with girls. Get over it" - complete with a photo of herself liplocked with a buddy.

The girls are the peacocks in this social universe. Their pages are racy, filled with dirty jokes and macha declarations: "I'm hot and like to party. Why have one boy when there are plenty to go around?!" The boys' pages tend to be passive and unimaginative: a
guy posing with a beer or next to a Corvette. In a world in which the girls have been schooled in sexual aggressiveness, the boys sit back and let the action come to them.

On most Web pages, there's a chance to list your favorite TV shows and books. And while the TV lists are long ("The OC," "Desperate Housewives," "Nip/Tuck," etc.) many of the book lists will make publishers suicidal: "Books! Ha! Me! What a joke! ... I think reading's ridiculous. ... I don't finish books very often but I'm attempting 'Smart Women Finish Rich.'... This is what I have to say about books (next to an icon of Bart Simpson's rear end)."

The idea on these sites is to show you're a purebred party animal, which leaves us fogies with two ways to see MySpace.

The happy view is that this is a generation of wholesome young people building nurturing communities and the smutty talk is just a harmless way of demarcating an adult-free social space. The dark view is that these prolonged adolescents are filled with earnest desires for meaningful human contact, but they live in a culture that has provided them with no vocabulary to create these sorts of bonds except through cleavage and vodka.

Depending on the person, both views are true.