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'Look Up' if you must, but the viral video is cloying, reductionist rubbish

Gary Turk's viral film replicates everything awful about internet culture, but he'll have the last lol if we keep watching


The internet is a swirling cauldron of contradiction, erudition and stupefaction but a new video urging people to ‘look up’ from their computers threatens to stretch online irony to its breaking point.

Film maker Gary Turk’s spoken word video plays on the idea that despite social media making it easier to connect with each other, technology pushes us further apart.  It’s been shared thousands of times on social media and labelled by Twitter and Facebook users as a “love story to life” and “brilliant, factual and emotional”.  

The video itself consists of saccharine rhyming drivel shot over anodyne footage of daily life. Turk chants such doggerel as: “We’re a generation of idiots, smart phones and dumb people” and “When you step away from this device of delusion, you awaken to see a world of confusion.”

Yet his message has struck a chord. Turk’s 'Look Up’ video is particularly irritating as it replicates everything awful about internet culture whilst lamenting its monstrous influence.  It is 300 seconds of cloying, reductionist rubbish. But because it was tweeted by a couple of celebrities and is about as nuanced as a Jeremy Kyle op-ed, it will now be lapped up as the sacred truth of our age.

To characterise social media as an isolating evil is nonsense. Twitter and Facebook are unfairly given a bad rap, with many studies attempting to link obsessive use of the networks to depression, mental burnout and the “dumbing down” of the population.  

Social media is made up of people. And human beings, beautiful though they can be, can also be complete idiots. It’s no mystery that the same baseness witnessed in real life can also be observed online.

Directly contradicting Turk are the huge number of posts on Twitter, Facebook or even Reddit that contain unadulterated emotion, expressed much more truthfully than might be possible face to face.

Social media can offer the kind of support-at-a-distance that can be incredibly helpful when people are grieving or suffering an emotionally difficult time. Grief can be intensely private, but a community remembering together is both an outlet and a way of celebrating the life of a person who has died. We still sometimes invite one of my friends who has died to Facebook events. I like seeing statuses he is tagged in; it’s just a different way of remembering.

One of the reasons Turk’s video has gone viral is down to people’s desire to spread positivity and remain connected, an altruistic impetus only amplified by social media. Anything that arouses nostalgia is gobbled up by the internet, as glancing through the online annuls of viral behemoth Buzzfeed will tell you. Arguably, one of the reasons for this is because remembering is so much more rewarding when shared with another person. These mutual experiences help cement relationships, as individuals look for common ground to help them connect, both online and offline.

Turk describes social media as “a world of self interest, self image, self promotion, where we all share our best bits, but leave out the emotion.” Well, Turk should know. When I contacted him to ask a few questions for this article, I was urged to get in touch with his representation, a company which “connects brands with social video influencers.” Their first email stressed that if we wanted to use the video in any way except via YouTube we needed to discuss the proposed fee for usage. Only then would they “be happy to speak to our client with you.”

Turk wanted to prove that ‘looking up’ from the screen was important for a happier, more connected life. After watching his five minute video, I’m inclined to agree with him.  However the social media with which Turk is apparently so disillusioned could, it seems, net him a tidy profit. So maybe he’s had the last lol.