Gary Turk’s “Look Up” viral video makes me feel lonely, but not for the reasons described in the video. It makes me lonely because by now an estimated 100 percent of people I know have forwarded, posted, or retweeted Turk’s sprung-tetrameter rhyme, usually with notations about how it really speaks to our era or says it all or will be deeply moving to the viewer. And for me there’s something alienating in the feeling that everybody seems to be enchanted by something that only makes me say, “You like this garbage?”
Just to be clear: I didn’t say that at first. I don’t like to gainsay anybody’s bliss, and apparently Gary Turk’s anti-technology doggerel is meaningful to them. So when “Look Up” started pushing its way into my face last week, I held my peace.
But Gary Turk’s “Look Up” just keeps coming, like a workplace harasser refusing to take no for an answer, insisting it knows your inner emotional landscape better than you do. By now you may be among the more than 27 million people who have viewed it, but just in case you haven’t suffered yet:
I find a lot to hate in this video. I hate the guy’s tone-deaf spoken-word verse. I hate his simpering, purse-lipped look and his modest brown sweater. I hate his stupid accent. I hate his sanctimonious argument. I hate his moral superiority. I hate his presumption that he’s understanding life on some deeper level than the rest of us. I hate the meet-cute-for-a-lifetime storyline that’s already been used in a million commercials for toothpaste and pregnancy tests but here is supposed to be a profound statement on How We Live Today. I don’t wish bodily harm on anybody — so I don’t really wish this — but I do sort of think idly about what it would be like if Gary Turk looked up an instant too late and got run over by a truck. Excuse me: by a lorry.
But most of all I hate the rhymes, which are the type that give ammunition to people who think serious poetry should not rhyme. The schmuck rhymes “lonely” with “know me.” He uses that dumbbell word-order inversion you employed when you were five and your handmade Mother’s Day card said stuff like “My mom’s such a good cook/About her I could write a book.” (“This media we call social is anything but / when we open our computers and it’s our doors we shut.”) His prosody stinks, stuffing 13- and 14-syllable phrases into what are supposed to be four-beat lines. (“A world where we’re slaves to the technology we mastered / where information gets sold to some rich, greedy bastard.” Is there a Bulwer-Lytton Award for couplets? There should be.) Everybody has their own theory about when the British Empire truly died: I say it was when Gary Turk emerged in the nation of William Shakespeare and somebody called him a “poet.”
Thinking about Gary Turk’s philosophy just makes you stupider, but I’ll point out that it’s not substantially different than Plato’s argument against literacy. It’s a deeply anti-human claim dressed up as a warm and fuzzy appeal to our deepest emotions. Technology enhances our human existence. Anybody who believes otherwise is a fool. Anybody who sits in judgment about how or how often other people choose to use technology in their personal lives is a bluenosed prig.
To put it mildly, the behavioral evidence that fancy phones are diminishing our ability to interact in person is extremely thin. And the evidence that devices add to our personal experience is abundant. I wish I had more than a handful of pictures of myself and my siblings when we were little kids and photographs had to be made by Mathew Brady using the the wet-plate collodion process. I’m very happy that, thanks to tablets and phones and digital cameras, my children have thousands of pictures of themselves. Would our appreciation of fleeting memories be deeper if we had to trade in our sound videos of family events for silent Super 8 cartridges with four minutes of film? (And how come you never see anybody ranting against compulsory education, which forces your kids to spend the bulk of every day in the company of cretinous strangers rather than with their families? I think I’ve missed more of life’s special moments that way than I have due to the tyranny of the smart phone.)
The central fact of a private life is that it’s your private life, not to be assessed or found wanting by a viral video maker. Somebody else’s idea of profundity may be a thing you don’t even notice. Gary Turk is the Facebook friend who insists you “don’t have a soul” if you aren’t into his picture of a cat, the client who insists you shared a deep connection with him when you just wish he’d put the money on the dresser and let you leave. He can tell me to look up, but as they might put in Turk’s country, I say f*** off.