If you’ve spent any amount of time on the web you know one unassailable fact: People online…they suck.
Thanks to a false sense of anonymity, a psychologically unhealthy amount of content, and the crushing feeling that you’re not good enough, people on the internet tend to be, how do I put this, “not nice.” This probably isn’t news to you, and if it is: Save yourself now. Log off. Forever.
What might be news to you is that I’ve found a place on the web that is largely hater free. What is this e-utopia? It is the comment section of jazz videos on YouTube. As a musician (term used quite loosely) and longtime jazz fan I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time watching videos of live performances, interviews, and tutorials. Every once in a while I’ll scroll south to browse the comments. Put simply, they are a delight.
Take this video of three jazz guitar titans in a live performance from 1969:
The comments on this video follow some trends I’ve seen on jazz videos.
1.) They’re in awe of the virtuosity:
2.) They’re overjoyed at discovering new artists:
But, mostly, they are 3.) Grateful to the original poster and to YouTube.
Imagine being grateful for YouTube? I personally have taken so much of the internet for granted that this concept is otherworldly to me.
So what the hell is going on in other videos? Are these comments so different from others on YouTube? For good measure, and to prevent any bias, I clicked on the videos that were directly linked to from this video. Some were sponsored, some were based off my recent history. The comments on these videos were…different.
First, let’s look at another music-related video that was suggested. Maybe this sort of attitude is pervasive among music fans. Maybe music generally has some sort of unifying effect on YouTube visitors.
This was a sponsored video of Eric Clapton, by Gibson, a guitar brand, promoting one of their product lines. It’s just Clapton briefly playing guitar and then talking about the product. It’s fine, certainly nothing offensive. I didn’t need to go far down the page before things got less polite:
It’s clear that the attitude here is far different from the polite, positive vibes of the comment section below the jazz video. Perhaps this is because we’ve expanded the target demographic further. At this point we have music fans across the spectrum, not just fans of a particular genre. And, in some way, we’re experiencing the tension that exists when members of different tribes interact with one another.
In the past couple years we’ve experienced a dramatic increase in tribal politics. This phenomenon is partly because our politics are now front and center in our lives like never before. We are forced to pick sides, lest we lose face with our cohort over issues like immigration or abortion. But this attitude has been able to fester for much longer on the internet, where anonymity combined with the fevered efforts of media outlets to win audiences has resulted in a melting pot of bullying and doxxing. This is especially true in the comment sections – to the point where many outlets have decided to drop the section altogether. The sort of articles that draw the most comments, which are overwhelmingly negative? Apparently its ones about Trump, Russia, and refugees. What could go wrong!
What’s fascinating to me about comments on YouTube is that even the most innocuous videos result in comments filled with animus. How about this video about ribs, which was randomly suggested by YouTube (note: I understand that these are not truly “random” suggestions, but also understand that I didn’t think “hm, what would someone think does have nice comments but actually doesn’t?”). In this video a man discusses his recipe for ribs. What about the comments?
There’s obviously comments regarding the size of the chef:
There’s comments on the perceived cultural attitudes of the chef:
And there’s even comments lamenting how mean people are IN THE COMMENTS:
Now, to be fair, I am cherry picking a bit here. There are people in the rib video comments applauding what does look to be mouth-watering BBQ, and even some people thanking the original poster for the video. But on jazz videos, where you predominantly have minorities playing an outmoded genre of music, you don’t find even the slightest bit of animosity. And in today’s environment that is damn surprising. Sure, sometimes some dude will say “musician X will never be musician Y,” or “the rap fans will never appreciate how good this is,” but I’ll gladly take that over some guy commenting on the rib video by saying “The guy on the left looks like Snorlax.”
The jazz comment section is a healthier, happier place. Full stop. Study after study confirms that being thankful on a daily basis and generally happy is just healthier for your body and mind. These comments also express an openness to different cultures and attitudes. And even without scholarly articles we could probably guess that this mindset leads to a higher level of intelligence.
But without all of the tangible benefits of being happy and open, wouldn’t you just rather live in a world full of Murat Taners, who left the below comment on the jazz video? I would.