What Another Smashed Guitar Says About Social Media Politics
There is a counterintuitively important political dimension to the preoccupation with triviality. When energy and resources, like the now lucrative and valuable resource of attention, are devoted to the inconsequential, the net effect on outcomes is not trivial.
So is it or is it not OK to smash a guitar on SNL?
Sunday morning Twitter has been preoccupied with this dumb question, in part because yet again it appears to be left-leaning folks who are airing their revulsion at this banal stage antic that became popular *checks notes* sixty years ago. But as with so many micro conversation events on social media, the fact that there is nothing deep or important to be divined from this question, no right or wrong answer is precisely what makes for a good run of binary righteous pronouncement games.
The answer to whether it is OK to smash a guitar is not to answer.
Attention, as it turns out, is zero sum. Each individual only has so much, and attention spent on one thing is attention not spent on another. The saying goes with love, as it is spread across several people, it multiplies it does not divide. The opposite is true in the race for eyes on social platforms — it divides sometimes in mind-numbingly infinitesimal and fractal ways. This ends up being important because it creates desperation. More desperation for attention creates incentives to be increasingly extreme in your views on COVID or critical race theory or cultural marxism.
I’ve smashed one guitar in my life. After a short but satisfying tour through the northeast, we played our last show before arriving back in New York. The audience in New Haven was not large but I was full of energy and the song was intense. I threw the guitar on the floor, smashing the front-facing wood where the volume and tone knobs were. Was it wrong, because there are poor kids in the world who don’t have guitars? Was it right because performance of sound is part of what I’m paid for? After all, a smashing guitar sounds a certain way. It’s now spraypainted entirely black from the tuning heads to the strings and hangs as an ornament on my studio wall.
The answer to that question to the question of whether it was right or wrong is that if you think there’s anything valuable to be derived from asking the question in the first place, your sense for what constitutes a subject-worthy-of-conversational-attention is infantile. And that has genuine consequences for a political world increasingly governed by the zero-sum attention economy. One more notch in volume of chatter means two more notches the next aspiring Trump or Marjorie Taylor Greene knows they have to achieve and we know what they use to achieve it.