Gary’s Turk’s “Look Up” Video – Powerful Message or Sentimentalised Drivel?

“This media we call social, is anything but” is just one of the lines which rings out in Turk’s solemn exercise in the spoken word. Garnering over 32 million views, the highly emotive commentary on society’s addiction to technology strives to be a wake-up call for a generation seemingly blinded by the light of our phone screens, iPads and computer monitors. Utilising that which he is lambasting, the power of social media, to propel his video to dizzying heights of fame seems slightly hypocritical. Indeed, alongside the positive reactions, questions have been raised (albeit to a lesser degree) about why this video has actually gone viral. Is this just shameless self-promotion in the guise of sensitivity or is there some poignant issues behind Turk’s ostentatious couplets?

Turk’s video laments the degree to which social media and technology in general are prevalent in society because they, supposedly, detract attention from the important things in life. The aspects in life deemed “important” are outlined in a parallel universe where the protagonist doesn’t happen to be engrossed in his phone and so meets what just-so-happens-to-be his future wife walking down the street. Then ensues the unbearably tacky storyline of meeting someone, falling in love, having children and growing old together. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Perhaps I am being too cynical but this entire mawkish narrative seems a bit played out when it has been perpetuated in films, books and TV shows since, well, always. The idealised notion of fate being used to stir up a moment of enlightenment seems at this stage to be slightly impersonal and dated. Yet the positive reactions to this video appear to far outweigh the reactions which question it. Are we being pulled in by Turk’s sentimentalized drivel?

The idea that technology is getting in the way of our social relationships with other people as opposed to aiding them is one which is by no means new to us: it has been a concern since the rapid rise in our dependency upon the internet. It can feel quite unnatural when we regard just how much of our lives are governed by impersonal technology. From social media and Skype to bank accounts and university work, the internet is now much more of a necessity than it was in the past.

Oliver Farry has written for The New Statesman about how the abundance of information and resources on the internet “means we never get round to doing anything”. We become overwhelmed by the seemingly never-ending myriad of music, books, videos and articles that as a result we cannot seem to settle on one thing. While we read one book, we remember an album we wanted to listen to, then we remember a video we need to watch and so on and so forth until our eyes are glazed and we find ourselves on the weird side of Youtube. While the internet might make all these resources ready at the click of a mouse, it also devalues them. The rapid decline in music stores and book stores on the high street is a prime example of this. Who wants to buy music or books when you can just download them from iTunes, Amazon or Spotify? This is the real cost behind the quiet supremacy of the internet; not an idealistic, highly imaginative world where you just walk out your front door and meet your future wife. That isn’t what is at stake here because, well, that just doesn’t happen.

While Turk’s video might be interpreted as sentimentalized drivel, it does on some level serve as an undeniable reminder of just how integral the online world is within our lives. It might not cost us potential significant others or our future children as it did Turk’s unfortunate protagonist. It is, however, almost certainly going to cost us some aspects of society which have meant a lot culturally in the past. Buying music and books no longer has the meaning it once did. Being able to hold an album in your hand is now quite rare. While this might seem like a minimal loss in regard to the wealth we have access to online, it has an impersonal and damning affect in the long run, especially for those whose livelihoods depend or have depended upon such stores. The fact that we have a Record Store Day is a harrowing reminder of this cultural decline. So, we can merit Turk’s video in the sense that it is a springboard for reflection on the role of the online world, but we must admit that it is through an intolerably banal framework.

As published on on May 16 2014