It was Thursday night, less than a week after a “Unite the Right” protest, ostensibly to protect Confederate statues, turned deadly. Earlier in the day, the normally loser-hating president of the United States tweeted that he was “sad” over the removal of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson statues. The country is still mourning the tragic death of Heather Heyer, still frightened with images of neo-Nazis burned into our minds. The country is now at a crossroads: What do we do next? Yet the president is still going on about those damn statues of people who fought a lost cause to secede from the United States — statues that, as many have pointed out, were used to intimidate and remind people that racism persists, even if the Confederacy doesn't.
I scrolled through social media feeds, read news stories and opinion pieces, tried to make sense of a country that's starting to feel as bleak as The Empire Strikes Back. Part of me didn't want to leave the apartment, but a good friend with whom I often DJ was playing out that night, and going out seemed like a good idea.
Going out has become the only way I can handle life in 2017 America. Clubs and music have long been a part of my life; I was a DJ before I was a writer and continue to play out a few times a month. Since the dawn of the Trump era, though, clubs have taken on a new significance in my life. On the days when reading the news leaves me facepalming — and there are a lot of those — clubs are a great way to disconnect for a few hours and forget about the American nightmare.
I can't totally blame Trump for this. He's a symptom more than a cause. Really, what we're seeing is the internet hitting its ugly, petulant adolescence, just as the line between online life and real life disappears.
A few years ago, whenever it was that this whole social media phenomenon hit critical mass, something started changing online. You could see it in the content that was being shared and re-shared. Stories about random nerds whose strange creations inadvertently went viral were giving way to made-to-be-viral corporate campaigns and pop culture moments that could elicit excitement, a backlash and sometimes even a backlash-to-a-backlash. Childlike awe gave way to teenage-like cynicism.
I don't want to grow so accustomed to living inside the internet rage machine that my capacity to feel genuine emotions is diminished.
As bona fide celebrities usurped the Twitter famous in terms of social media influence, you could watch the popular crowd rise and see the masses decamp into cliques. Then the cliques started warring. Fighting words — hipster, snowflake — were flung. Twitter beefs became fodder for news reports. It was like watching fights in the school cafeteria the day after you finished reading Lord of the Flies, and realizing that you can't wait to grow up and get the hell out of here. Except in this case, you're already grown up, so you can't really leave — even though the school bully was just elected president.
But the past two weeks have been different. This wasn't “covfefe” and “fake news.” This was death and Nazis. This was racism, nationalism and a realization that the Civil War fought long before many of our families even arrived on these shores never truly ended. This was the fear that some of us had on Election Night becoming a reality. All those trolls that we were taught not to feed are no longer just random, faceless internet users messing with you for the lulz. They have elected a president, hit the streets, and are causing real-world pain, their faces in full view.
At times like this, going out seems horribly shallow. But it's not like resisting by way of social media is doing a hell of a lot of good, either. So I pulled out my phone, hailed a ride the 21st-century way, and headed out for what I intended to be an hour-or-so excursion.
Many years ago, a friend and I went to see Madonna at Staples Center. It was just days after 9/11 and, even in Los Angeles, there was a palpable sense of anxiety in the crowd. My most vivid memory is one of standing outside on an upper-level patio area and hearing people gasp at the sound of an aircraft flying overhead. But despite this, there was some sense of unity and love that came out during the show and even, in what was a really dark moment in 21st-century history, some hope that we could get through it.
Ever since that night, I've been a firm believer that when people gather together to listen to music, it might not change the world, but it can help ease our fears.
Right now, there are two fears rising in me. One has been brewing since the election: a fear that I'll lose my sense of humanity. I like being a sensitive, empathetic person. Those are good qualities for a writer to have. They're good qualities for any person to have. I don't want to grow so accustomed to living inside the internet rage machine that my capacity to feel genuine emotions is diminished. Maybe other people like reconnecting with their inner teenage assholes — all reaction, no reflection — but I don't.
Then there's the fear of more war, more violence and more discrimination in a country already overflowing with them. That's the fear that I keep trying to push out of my mind since last Saturday, and the one that had been growing last Thursday when I finally escaped my Twitter feed and went to the club.
Inside the club, the fear started to fade. Early on, in the back room of the venue, my friend played a Skinny Puppy track. In the front room, another DJ played Coil. Those harsh, industrial beats hit just the right spot. I could stomp out the fear, the frustration, the anger, the sadness. Familiar faces appeared and the conversations flowed, one into the next. Sure, there was talk about politics and Nazis, but also about parties and music and art. Reality didn't disappear, but I was able to compartmentalize it.
At this moment, we need to remind ourselves that people are more than beings hidden behind screen names and avatars — or, for that matter, behind flags and protest signs. That's why I go out.
Hours passed and, suddenly, it was 1 a.m. I headed home with a slightly less heavy heart, know there was still beauty in the world, still good people, still hope.