The Illusions of Youtube 5-minute Philosophy

In its subjectivity and beauty, a philosophical idea is much like a good wine, and if you don’t suck on a wine-like candy to get a taste of a good Chardonnay, why would you suck on a 5-minute Foucault pap to get a taste of Foucault?

It’s extremely easy nowadays to get the impression that knowledge is easily accessible. And while that might be true for hard facts (like the distance between Rome and Paris, or the year of the French Revolution), thinking that philosophy or literature is at your fingertips is a dangerously false impression.

In short, I’m referring to a type of papped second-hand discourse, illustrated mostly by the so-called edutainment videos and Youtube channels — you know, the likes of Wisecrack, BuzzFeed and the very pompously titled FightMediocrity. What these channels do is take a philosophical idea or a piece of literature (with which I’m pretty sure they came in contact via other second-hand web sources), summarize it to the best of their abilities, wrap it up in some catchy video effects and finally deliver it in the form of a short video. They do convey some information related to the topic being debated, but that’s nonetheless a lie — they simplify and distort the ideas of the author to a degree that makes it “easily accessible”, as though the original weren’t “easily accessible” to whoever had the interest to put in the necessary time!

What happens next is that somebody might spend 5 minutes watching a simplified version of, let’s say, Nietzsche’s Superman theory, and then be under the impression that they actually understand it. A very ego-caressing impression, to be sure, but a false one, nonetheless. Similarly, they might look up Foucault’s theory of whatever — of the control of the body, for instance — and they might think “Shit! I’m so much smarter now!”.

Obviously, that’s false. And it’s false precisely because “being smarter” when it comes to philosophy or literature means, probably above anything else, spending time thinking about a certain concept and turning it in and around your head. Needless to say, this is only provided for by the very personal time of reading the book — those intense hours of dialogue between you and the novelist or the philosopher, that slow building up of thoughts and arguments and conclusions, that ever-blossoming of ideas that makes up the process of reading and understanding — as relative as this term might be — philosophy or literature. A process which depends as much on you as it does on the author, in which you form your own ideas, in which the author’s input generates a unique process of thoughts and emotions that are your own construction, that belong to you and you alone, and that, in a sense, are a symbol of your intellectual freedom and power.

It’s this very freedom and power that is undermined when a philosophical concept is clad in the manipulative vestment of video media — by giving you the digested (and often redigested) version of this or that concept, it is in fact selling you the opinions of a not-so smart guy under the pretense of the opinions of a very smart thinker; it’s selling you the ideas of Wisecrack, claiming in fact to teach you about Foucault; it’s really FightMediocrity’s lame understanding of whatever FM’s claiming to teach you about. It’s ultimately mediocrity being sold as value, and, while it’s in tune with the whole dominant ideology of capitalism, it’s really a cancer to education and knowledge.

Cliche as it may be, there’s nothing like reading a book if you want to be wiser — and there’s nothing like reading Foucault if you want to experience Foucault. Anything else, and you’re deceiving yourself and wasting your time. In its subjectivity and beauty, a philosophical idea is much like a good wine, and if you don’t suck on a wine-like candy to get a taste of a good Chardonnay, why would you suck on a 5-minute Foucault pap to get a taste of Foucault?

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If you like what you’ve just read, recommend it — it makes me feel considerably less lonely.

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