History will describe Gary Turk, whose recently uploaded video, Look Up, is now pushing 20m views on YouTube, as a social media phenomenon. I’m certainly not the first person to point out the screaming irony here, as it’s also been branded “A poem that will inspire you to put down your smart phone”. A further irony, perhaps, is that Look Up (far from persuading me to quit social media) made me want to staple my eyes to Facebook.
The video begins with a man in the world’s dullest sweater, Turk, announcing that, in spite of his 422 friends, he’s lonely. And so commences the Hallmark Guide to Being a Prick. Turk launches into a rhyming tirade against social media, so ear-stabbingly trite that a Nicholas Sparks fanatic riding a dolphin into a sunset would probably describe it as, “a bit much.”
The crux of Turk’s argument seems to be that the more we connect with each other via Facebook, the less we actually connect (whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean): “When we open our computers… it’s our doors that we shut.” Hard-hitting.
He further illustrates the point by interweaving the dry heave-inducing narrative with a love story between him and a woman he approaches on the street, which should probably be called something like ‘The Puffer Jacket Perv and the Restraining Order’. It’s tempting, at this point in the video, to give over all your concentration to working out when you last saw someone in a puffer jacket. I’d advise anyone watching for the first time to do exactly that, rather than dedicate their next couple of precious waking minutes to Gary Turk and his snot monsoon of a video.
But Look Up isn’t just a schlocky and harmless waste of time; it’s perniciously anti-progress. Like an even less talented John Betjeman, Turk denounces modernity in favour of some kind of sun-drenched bucolic realm, where strangers talk to one another on public transport. There are many valid arguments against social media: the promotion of vanity, smugness as sport, extreme commercialisation. Turk touches on none of them. Instead, his only point is that communicating through the likes of Facebook is simply the wrong kind of communication. Why? Because he says so. Also, some hackneyed garbage about eye contact and how, without it, we might as well be living in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, man. Tell that to Alexander Graham Bell, mate.
In Turk’s bizarre little reality, social media is even stopping families from happening. He and his girlfriend-wife-person (the one he harassed in a puffer jacket), in what he seems to be suggesting is some kind of antidote to the ennui of modern life, get pregnant. In a gesture that says, “Get us. We delete our Facebook pages and five minutes later we invent procreation,” Mrs Turk waves a pissy pregnancy test way too close to Mr Turk’s face. At risk of coming over all greetings card-y myself, I’d quite like the Turk family to know that it’s the power of social media that allows me to watch my niece, who lives three thousand miles away, grow up. Perhaps in Turk’s utopia, I’d be sending her weekly letters that she can save up for a few years, until she learns to read.
I’d also like the makers of Look Up to know that, when I came out, I had hardly any LGBT friends. It was social media that provided me with my big fat lesbian family.
It’s no wonder that Gary Turk is lonely. I’m no expert, but it strikes me that preaching banalities in rhyming couplets is a shit way of making friends. The video ends with him going out and leaving his iPhone behind. For now, I’m praying for a sequel where he falls into a man-eating rat infested ditch, and no one can hear his cries for help. If only he had some incredible piece of technology that would allow him to contact anyone in the world, in a heartbeat – even the emergency services…