Q&A: Be Young & Shut Up

When we published the Millennial Manifesto in May, everyone was on the lookout for ways to connect with other writers in the blogosphere. I had recently stumbled across Be Young & Shut Up, and immediately wanted to put Literally, Darling into conversation with them. BYSU publishes smart, timely critiques of media and pop culture, encouraging readers to think more deeply about the information we consume. In true Millennial fashion, I connected with BYSU through Twitter and sat down for a Google Hangout with editors Ari and Solomon.

Literally, Darling: What kind of work do projects like Be Young & Shut Up or the Millennial Manifesto accomplish? You guys are interested in challenging the status quo, but how do you see blogs doing that?

Ari: I don’t know if I ever saw me writing about social justice as outright challenging anything. A lot of it had to do with the fact that I have a lit background and I like to write and I like to analyze everything. It’s sort of frustrating when people are taking things at face value. I think there is such a thing as media literacy, and I think we should be questioning everything.

So, I’m kind of skeptical as to what kind of tangible change blogging can do, but I also think it’s worth having these conversations about what everything means and why is it that we’re being shown certain things, why is that important and what does that mean, how is it shaping our values….

Solomon: We started the blog because we would always get in arguments with people on Facebook, so a lot of the stuff I write is an extension of that. Sometimes I’ll have an idea for an article and I’ll be like, what would they say about this? I just think about what people I don’t like would think about it and write an article in response to that.

LD: That was another question I had. One dilemma in blogging or media in general is the echo chamber effect, where people who tend to agree with you read what you have to say more often. I think it’s really interesting you kind of write specifically to a perspective that is unlike your own.

Ari: When we made this site, I wrote a style guide so that we could decide who the audience was and what our tone would be. You know, we’re writing thousand-word articles—if we take a stronger stance, the people who agree with us will come on because they’ll be like, “Yeah, we agree, and I want to know how to articulate this!” And the people who don’t agree will read on because they hate us, which is also really cool. If people drop off early on because of one reason or another, we wouldn’t have kept them anyway, so we decided on a confrontational tone on purpose.

LD: So you have this community of people who find the articles on Be Young & Shut Up very valuable and meaningful and maybe want to share them with more people, but do you have any idea of how to activate that community, or do you have any plans to do so? It’s fine if you don’t, I’m just really curious.

Ari: I don’t think we have any specific plans to activate the community. Like Solomon said, the whole reason we started it was out of our own frustrations and alienating a lot of friends on Facebook. We were just like, OK, this can be like an angry status, but this should be put somewhere where we could put it to use and have a meaningful argument and images and everything that makes it richer and more well thought out than just an angry Facebook update.

But insofar as engagingyeah, you know, I’m not sure who takes their social justice offline, and even for me that can be hard. I definitely am a part of projects, but I pick and choose because I get anxiety thinking about protesting or thinking about being exposed like that, so writing online is one of the ways that I can do that comfortably and be able to say what I have to say without freaking out, basically.

Solomon: On Tumblr there’s a lot of people who are super intense and really vehement about their views, but then they’ll also have posts about friends who say racist stuff and be like, “Well, it’s just not worth it to call them out on it.” Which is just sort of counter to the attitude, I feel like, but also I think there’s a lot of people who have thought very deeply about this stuff and also don’t really translate it into doing stuff in their actual life. It’s a weird problem, I don’t really know what to do about it.

LD: It is, because in many ways, your social media life is your real life. It’s you posting and writing and thinking just as much as in the physical world, but the interaction is very different in some ways and it can be hard to bridge the two.

Solomon: Maybe it’s just becauseI mean, it is just like you said, social media is big element of a lot of people’s lives and it could just be that that’s enough? Maybe you’re just hoping people will come and read it, like people come and read our blog or something, and just know how they feel and not have to tell them in real life.

LD: On that subject, I’ve written some articles that were very personalone that comes to mind is disordered eating, and I had a lot of friends and family come up to me afterwards and be like, “Wow, I never knew that, I’m so concerned!” And I wanted to be like, “I’m fine. I’m writing about this because I’m OK, and that’s why I can write about it now, because it’s about a past event.” Do you ever have friends or family or people who know you in the physical world come to you and be like, “Wow I can’t believe you said that or thought that, I never knew that.” Have you ever noticed any kind of divide like that or any collision between your social media life and your real life?

Ari: Definitely. I’ve written two pretty personal pieces. There was an article on XOJane about sexual assault, and I shared my own specific story about what happened to me in college. It was something that I feel like, even now when I talk about it, I mostly talk about how it was handled and the injustice and how unfair it is and how it made me angry that it was swept under the rug and I didn’t have anyone alongside me, but I didn’t really talk about the actual event and how it affected me. So that was just a really interesting reaction to see others have to my writing, and that was one of those things that happened a long, long time ago and I’m not embarrassed by it.

I think it’s ridiculous, we’re told to be embarrassed by that kind of stuff—but I can tell you if I got mugged and people won’t freak out. Sexual assault is another realm. So that was one of those things where I could write about it because I wasn’t in a weird headspace any more and I could totally reflect on it and be OK.

And the other thing that I wrote about is this indie game called Gone Home. It was posited as a horror game, but it’s not a horror gamewhich is lucky for me. It was essentially about a girl coming home and finding out that her sister is missing, and as the story unfolds you find bits and pieces of her life, and it turns out she’s run off with her girlfriend. So I got to talk about my high school experience and trying to come out and a bunch of other issues that I was going through. That was a really emotional thing to write because I hadn’t officially come out to my parents yet. It was sort of like, well, by writing this I will be coming out to my parents, because they will read it. I didn’t want to come out to my parents, but my work took precedence over my personal life, and I was like, I’d rather people read my shit, so I wrote it anyway.

Stay tuned for Part II of our conversation, in which we chatted about citizen journalism and more.

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  • Reading this reminded me of a nonprofit with an interesting idea I came across at my job. It’s called The News Literacy Project: http://www.thenewsliteracyproject.org/ – basically, journalists go into schools and teach middle and high schoolers how to separate fact from fiction in the digital age. Sounded really cool and necessary!

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