Jazz People Are Nicer

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.

Wrong.

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.

6 comments

  1. Love this post Jim! I had no idea Jazz videos were such a sanctuary, however having been to a Jazz club or two it doesn’t surprise me! Jazz musicians seem to have the power to unite a room in a way that I’ve never seen elsewhere. I am curious though – has there been any studies done on how popular a video must be to warrant negative posts. Like I’d love to know if there were certain viewer number thresholds that led to a spike in the number of negative comments. I’m sure the really popular videos attract trolls just because but at what point does a video have enough views for a troll to become interested or do trolls even care about video popularity?

    1. That’s a good question. While I have no statistical evidence to prove this, I’m sure trolling occurs more on videos that garner the widest demographics of viewership. This is likely because the aim of the troll is to rile up viewers/readers based on a comment versus describing their reaction to the video content itself. I don’t believe the videos I reference here rise to that level of popularity.

  2. Fun to see such a positive side of social media when it often seems like the dark side of social media is taking over. I was originally in Professor Sutton’s section of this class, and on the first day we watched a TedTalk about tribes (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=589tH-wtCak) and how the internet has the unique ability to bring together people from all over the world, with the most niche interests. The more divicive our politics (and so many other things that people have very strong opinions about) become, the more it feels like the internet serves to bring people together based on hatred and anger. Artistic communities like this one are a great foil to that, and get back to what making connections should really be about.

  3. Extremely refreshing post, inviting audiences to read a genuine display of passion, art and respect. Jim, great reminder that there are some very meaningful communities out there online who simply want to enjoy the music and videos of artists. Unfortunately, because of all the press that social media picks up with any political, professional or famous personalities, it is hard to avoid all the white and black noise. However, for the amount of black and white noise, there is always, always others out there who will aim to cultivate positive communities such as your Jazz land – this is a given. I think the animosity and spitfire of rage is a reactionary effect that people have when they do not take accountability and blame others.

  4. It’s nice to see that some corners of YouTube haven’t been completely taken over by negativity! I wonder if the positive comments/appreciation seen on these jazz videos have any connection to the level of expertise (real or de facto) that the viewers have – I would think jazz, in addition to being more of a niche genre, also takes a certain baseline of knowledge/appreciation to enjoy, as opposed to more mainstream music genres or major topics in the media that are accessible to virtually anyone (in the sense of understanding and enjoyment). If a particular ‘topic community,’ for lack of a better term, does not have high implied standards for expressing opinions, you are more likely to feel empowered to make whatever comment comes to mind. If the perceived gates to participation are higher, however, you are probably more fearful of being proven wrong and use more discretion in engaging with content and others around you.

  5. It’s so easy to be a jerk when you’re anonymous. I think some people do it to get a reaction from others (AKA trolls), some people do it because they’re unsatisfied with their own lives and hope to feel superior, while a third group probably don’t even realize the emotional impact they’re having on people. I also think it’s really interesting that negative comments typically have as much of an impact on someone whether they are given in-person or via the internet, while positive comments don’t have nearly the same effect over the web. Why do you think this is?

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