This is an edition of the newsletter Pulling Weeds With Chris Black, in which the columnist weighs in on hot topics in culture. Sign up here to get it in your inbox every Thursday.
Whether it’s a serious issue like a heinous war or a deeply unserious celebrity story like Taylor Swift dating an NFL tight end, we cannot seem to stop offering our opinions online, no matter how little we know about a topic. The pressure to participate has never been more significant, often leading to a severe case of foot-in-mouth disease.
I am part of the problem. On my podcast, How Long Gone, Jason and I discuss most topics at length, with humor in mind. I blast off on Twitter and have gotten my wrist slapped a few times (not loving Frank Ocean is a crime on social media). I believe it’s part of the job, as a professional commentator, but I am also wired that way—I like to share and get the dopamine hit when the likes roll in.
But more and more people are seemingly unable to resist weighing in on the topics of the day. Take Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce’s relationship. Her appearance in a box at an NFL game makes the evening news and sparks fascinating conspiracy theories. Everyone is watching so they can add to the swirl of discourse and unearth some as-yet-unnoticed minutiae, untold joke, or novel take on what happened (or steal someone else’s). The launch of the relationship was conveniently timed with the release of Swift’s concert film, but most posters choose to ignore the fact that they’re generating free publicity as they attempt to be the most clever person on social media.
The rich and famous aren’t immune to the posting impulse. Drake recently posted a scathing (and lengthy) response to the Pulling Weeds favorite Joe Budden on Instagram. He was upset with Joe for calling him immature as he discussed For All The Dogs, Drake’s new album, on his podcast. Drake’s Instagram comment came off as personal, and ultimately, it was unnecessary; even the king of petty should be above that kind of back-and-forth, especially when it’s free for public consumption.
During Covid, America’s first family, the Kardashians, took a luxurious vacation via private jet. They probably didn’t break any rules, but pandemic-era public scolding was still rampant at that time. I wondered why they chose to share the trip, almost certainly knowing the potential repercussions. The biggest celebrities can be as desperate as civilians to get into the conversation, even if it’s a negative one.
These habits start small, with posting about things that don’t matter, trivial happenings of little or no consequence. But what happens when the discourse turns to serious matters? When people are suffering in real life? This might be a time to give the Twitter fingers a rest. Complicated issues—actual death and destruction—don’t call for commentary from mostly uninformed people. Reading a few news stories or opinion pieces doesn’t make you an expert, especially on a topic of real gravity. (And as the writer Elizabeth Spiers pointed out in The New York Times earlier this week, pressuring other people to declare an opinion is even less helpful.)
And if you do choose to enter the arena, you have to be prepared to die by the same sword that you’re wielding. It’s all good when you’re popping off with opinions about pickleball, Priscilla, or Taylor and Travis, but if you go chasing that same dopamine rush by spouting an uninformed take about vaccines or Gaza, don’t be surprised if the consequences are more severe than the ones meted out by Frank Ocean stans. It’s okay to sit out a conversation—especially when you have nothing of substance to add to it.
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