Why I hate the word “content”

Why I hate the word “content” December 28, 2016

I usually hate words whenever they become trendy, whenever it seems like people are saying them because they want others to know that they’re in the know. But the word “content” is uniquely vile to me because it’s a metaphor for everything I find disgusting about the age of social media and platform-building and branding and search engine optimization. I consider “content” to be the master-signifier of an age consumed entirely by  intellectual prostitution.

Content is a definitively vacuous word. It literally means whatever fills the container. It’s a word that confers meaninglessness onto its contents by defining them as nothing more than “content” itself. In this sense, the word has a terrible evocative beauty. I am a “content-creator” to the degree that I am a whore of words, to the degree that I don’t have any actual intrinsic emotional investment in what I’m writing, to the degree that I don’t see any difference between a carrot, a cigar, a hairbrush, or a screwdriver as long as it fits my container, to the degree that I am a “thought-leader” whose only credentials are the ability and willingness to write interesting “think-pieces” on every side of every issue in order to build my platform because of the dull pleasure people receive from mindlessly scrolling through my content.

And everyone who has ever pressed a “share” button is a “curator” of “content.” At one day in time, you actually had to get a master’s degree in art history to call yourself a curator. Not anymore. Because there is no art anymore. There’s only content. All you have to do is share it to be a “curator.” Of course, some people capitalize on their sharing better than others. Some people know instinctively what’s going to viralize and they know how to position themselves in the bottlenecks of information flow so they can game other people’s content and monetize it into their own platforms.

Today there is no difference between being an “activist” and a “content-curator.” The way to be an activist today is to curate content in a way that “pops.” Because if you viralize, then you’re a “thought-leader.” If you dominate Twitter, you’re more important than people who have gotten actual Ph.D.’s in the “content” that you spin off catchy 140 character rants about. And you don’t have to use your own words at all. You can just “curate” other peoples’ content using the right container formed by the right accompanying meme. We shouldn’t even send people to college anymore; they should go to meme school instead.

This is the reason why Donald Trump is our president. Seriously. Donald Trump happened because art, philosophy, science, policy, etc. have all been reduced to content. He won the presidency because he dominated Twitter. Because enough of us decided that’s what matters. Because enough of us have been hypnotized into making the definitive activity of every day curating and consuming content. Regardless of what our actual jobs are, who we love, what our natural surroundings look like, we scroll through dozens of things that shouldn’t be called “articles” every day.

Donald Trump is a genius content-creator even though he consistently demonstrates himself to be barely more literate than my second-grade son. Because he makes himself into everybody else’s content. And because our political culture has been defined utterly by contrarianism, all that Trump had to do to win 60+ million votes was elicit enough condescending content from “liberal media elites,” who were each trying desperately to viralize. And now we’re going to spend four years trying to “fight” against Donald Trump’s agenda by doing the exact thing that got him elected in the first place: writing brilliant, clever think-pieces that we desperately want to viralize so that our words can be the shit that people mindlessly scroll through when they’re waiting in the checkout line.

Can we try something different? I’m not sure what exactly. I’m completely addicted to creating and consuming content even though I hate it and know it doesn’t help anything. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to have as many face-to-face, real-life conversations with immigrants in New Orleans as I can. There’s a mosque that’s a couple of blocks from my ministry building. There’s a Latino ministry at my church that meets for worship early Sunday morning. I can make different choices about how I spend my time in order to build real relationships with people who are actually in physical danger right now. I don’t have a solution or an action plan beyond the general sense that forming real, face-to-face relationships results in more humanity than scrolling through my phone. And humanity is the opposite of content.

If you’ve enjoyed consuming this content (JUST KIDDING)… if you want to help a campus ministry that fights for the dignity of people who have been shunned and marginalized by the church, please consider supporting our year-end fundraiser for NOLA Wesley. We have raised almost half of what we need to pay our staff and our outstanding bills for 2016. It’s not easy doing inclusive campus ministry in the Deep South. There are very few ministries like ours. Even if you can’t give financially, please share our fundraising appeal since this is the last week! And if you’d like to really help us achieve stability, please consider joining our 22 monthly patrons who are each pledging between $10 and $50 a month.

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