It is, I suspect, an unpleasant fact of the human condition that people will collect just about anything; dolls, shoes, livers, porcelain chickens, pewter spoons, knitting needles, grandmothers, road signs, apple cores, old computers, fudge, welcome mats, vintage postcards, tops, unicycles, combat boots, movie posters, gum, Jesus-shaped food, broken glass, hubcaps, used bandages, canceled checks, dog food, signed photos of burned-out gym teachers, coupons, pablum, rocket sleds, teabags, and soup.
And then there are those special souls who collect, of all things, other people.
I don’t mean the crazy-ass, paint-me-a-happy-clown, bodies-under-the-stairs kind of collection that gets turned into a Lifetime movie, but rather the socially sanctioned variety that made a mint for the dudes who started Facebook and MySpace, or AOL back when it was relevant. Thanks to the Internet, friend collecting has taken on an entirely new and newly profitable dynamic, a concept which only recently used to baffle me as though I were a linebacker mulling the question to Final Jeopardy. (And to all the summa cum laude linebackers reading this, I sincerely and most humbly apologize.)
I could never figure out the appeal of having more friends than you could ever hope to keep up with on one of these social networks, until one day when a dead woman explained it to me in a novel that’s been in print for over 50 years; of course the point is not the value of each individual as potential or actual “friend” (in the true, unobfuscated meaning of the word) but is instead the number on the page, as in “VapidWank316 has 668 friends!” This much is self-evident, but what eluded me for so long was the reasoning behind it. Now I know why, and I’m going to share it with you, Fair World.
Most of the time, there’s a kind of social auto-elevation that occurs when someone makes a friend, either actual or virtual, by virtue of acceptance of and approval from another. It goes something like this; “Hey, Jim2101 really likes me. He’s so cool and all–I’m glad he’s my friend because now I can feel better about myself.” This is precisely the kind of behind-the-brain automatic thinking that causes someone’s friends lists to swell to a sufficient length and girth to make Ron Jeremy blush with self-conscious detumescence.
The way it works for me is “Hey, Jane343 seems to like me. I guess this means that she’s okay. Good for her, then.” In other words, the only elevation taking place here is that my opinion of her rises when I find out that she likes me. For me, other people are not a means towards some self-aggrandizing end, but are instead an end in themselves–some are ends worth pursuing and maintaining, and others (most) … not so much.
I cannot stand the concept of The Group, nor will I tolerate being lumped into a pasty, indistinct friendship bouillabaisse by those flitty, flighty socialites o’ malaise who send mass emails and those wonderfully impersonal “this is what happened to us this year” holiday updates, simply because the thought of actual personal communication (as opposed to social communication) is as anathema to them as is the thought of telling their screaming, unwashed brood to sit the fuck down, shut the fuck up, and eat their fucking chicken fingers, lest someone drag them into the Olive Garden’s bathroom and beat the holy Roman piss out of them with a toilet brush. If you’ve ever sent one of those horrible, “this is just how much I could give less than a shit about you” letters to someone who’s supposed to be your friend, please, for the sake of decency, be promptly and thoroughly ashamed of yourself.
If you’ve flypapered so many people into your address book that you no longer have time to write to each of them individually (which means, you know, as individuals), if you’ve reduced the concept of “friendship” to nothing more than spamming everyone you know once or twice a year with some insipid family newsletter, please, don’t bother. I get it; you’re busy. You’re important. Move along.
I am not a piece for anyone’s collection. I am not a means towards anyone’s end of improving their self-esteem. I don’t give a shit how many friends you’ve got on Facebook, or how many followers you’ve got on Twitter, and I don’t particularly care if you care that I don’t care. If you’ve got to “squeeze me in somewhere” when you come to town, I’ll pass; I don’t find time for the people who matter to me. I make it.
The word “friend” used to mean something, back before it was lured into the that seedy-looking van, tied up, abused, and later pimped out onto the streets of our new electronic society by a few soulless corporate twats in Hugo Boss suits, as little more than some dazed, makeup-smeared marketing gimmick. A friend is no longer someone you go to the movies with, or shoot some hoops with, or fix your car with. A friend is a now cyber commodity, a means by which those in control of these services can increase their companies’ value–a notion to which I offer my most sincere and uncompromising contempt.
Why does this bother me, and why should it bother you? Well, if you’re one of those vapid skanks who enjoys collecting people like so many dessicated moths pinned to a entomology major’s display board, it shouldn’t. But if things matter to you, and if you’re not one of those too-cool-to-care douchenozzles who just can’t be bothered with anything, if words–specifically the content and character of ideas–matter to you, then you’ll take steps to halt the spread of this particular brand of concept-destruction.
If you permit the use of a particular word to describe something that is patently not that word, then you are effectively destroying the thing that is that word. The idea that a photograph of a crucifix submerged in a glass of pee could be displayed in the same gallery and at the same time as a Rembrandt exhibit is in no way an expression of artistic freedom; it is instead a crass perversion of the very concept of art. The fact that it was funded by an NEA grant says all you need to know about the value of this so-called art and the value of government agencies that distribute these funds.
The best way to ensure the destruction of the concept “friend” is to use the word to describe that which is clearly not a friend. Some ass-clown you met on XBL or PSN is not a friend, regardless of what the corporate knobs who run these networks want you to believe. This is because–unless you’re James Joyce–words actually have meaning. So does true friendship.
And I’ll be damned if I’ll be a party to the destruction of either.