2014-05-27T14:39:19+00:00 2016-02-04T04:23:38+00:00

Rap Genius Co-Founder Learns Lesson In Recursion


In a private setting, we all say the wrong things. We make snide remarks and comments that should never, ever be uttered in a public setting. We all metaphorically "annotate" our lives and society when we read news stories, and talk about it with our friends. My gut reaction to the recent mass shooting in UCSB was to think about my younger sister. She recently graduated from UCSB, and she lived in Isla Vista. "Thank fucking God my sister is a stupid fuck that couldn't get into grad school. I don't think I've ever been happier to have a stupid sister.", I remarked to my girlfriend.

My sister Susanne isn't stupid. I don't think she even applied to grad school after graduating from UCSB. My remarks to my girlfriend were hyperbolic, and the only way I knew how to process a completely insane situation. I think that on some level, when our brains lose the capacity to understand the mass of a tragedy, we subconsciously need to make light of it. The reality and pain of thinking about all the broken families and lives is just too gripping for 99.9% of us to handle.

Rap Genius Co-Founder Mahbod Moghadam made a tragic error in judgement by annotating the manifesto of alleged mass murderer Elliot Rodger. (Here's an annotation that people might take the wrong way: If a killer makes YouTube videos, and writes a 141 page manifesto, can we all agree to stop using the term "alleged"? He did it. We all know he did it.) In no way am I defending Moghadam's misogynistic and gleeful comments. My annotation to his annotation is an extension of logic: Commenting on a serial killer's manifesto is probably something best left without commentary, despite Rap Genius' mission to "annotate the world". 

My friend Adam calls thoughts like these annotations our "inside voice": The thoughts that go through your head, analyzing your surroundings, taking notes, and drawing conclusions that aren't always ready for other people to hear. We all have a friend that "doesn't have a filter" and says shocking things. In my social circles, I'm that guy. In my own way, I sympathize with Moghadam, because he probably didn't understand the gravity of what he was typing when he made his remarks. The internet gives you the power to all-too-easily release unrefined and unprocessed ideas into the world. Moghadam is now feeling the power of a publishing platform he helped to create, albeit in the most ironic way.

Rap Genius began with a mission to annotate music, and then followed into the realm of "everything else" – and now its co-founder is being annotated with footnotes across the internet, including what you're reading here. His assertion that people need a forum to annotate things was 100% correct – people want a place where they can collectively translate life experiences, music, and other media. The irony happens when Rap Genius itself is being annotated by other publishers, annotating the annotations, of an annotator, showing the ultimate power that these "inside voices" really have when they aren't ready for the world to see and hear.

In literature and art, we call this recursion. You're probably familiar with the concept; a picture of someone holding a framed picture of the picture you're looking at, that then again holds that picture, into infinity. It's like looking down a hallway lined with mirrors, and then being uncomfortable with the reflection being shown to you. This is the sharp wrath of power, and the unstable nature of annotations.

When I last visited Isla Vista, my sister gave me a book she was reading for a psychology course at UCSB called "Trickster Makes This World". The crux of the book is how people on the periphery of society are often the figures most responsible for change, whether their actions are good, bad, morally reprehensible or otherwise. Characters in mythology have historically been used to teach lessons, because by pushing the periphery of what is comfortable, acceptable by society or known, they demonstrate lessons to society as a whole.

"Trickster's" in our world can annotate life with whatever commentary they choose, and the comments vary in length.

Take the role  of Rosa Parks as a trickster, for instance. Her annotation can be summed up in one word: "No." In that simple footnote, she showed her value as a fringe character, pushing the limits of society in a positive direction, towards equality.

Moghadam's role as a trickster will be a cautionary tale we learn about the power of clicking the publish button. We are all subject to the equalizing power of humanity in the realm of the internet, because it propels our inside voice into the public spectrum. The power of one click can instantly remove all your hard work from beneath you – a lesson all publishers should take away from this.

Elliot Rodger's role as a trickster is still yet to be determined. I can only hope we learn from his abhorrent actions, lest the deaths he caused all be for naught. Hopefully, we'll glean the lessons we need to regarding mental health, gun control, parenting, and the importance of using our "internet power" to get people like Elliot Rodger the help they need before they reach the point of no return.

In summation; Rodger's 141 page manifesto doesn't need annotation, because annotations are part of a discussion. Annotations are there to provide clarity, and a bridge between the original context, and the perception of the audience. Fundamentally, I am against the annotation of Rodger's manifesto, because Rodger's actions ended the discussion before it ever began. Rodger lost the privilege of us understanding him, and gaining clarity on his life the moment he decided to take the lives of others.

Annotations give us the power of understanding; seeking to understand, and being understood. With the horrible finality of his actions, Rodger demonstrated to us that he didn't want understanding, and he didn't want to be part of the conversation. He had the opportunity to do that in life, and I'll be goddamned if I reward him with clarity after the finality of mass murder. 


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