When I was a boy, my father brought home books from the public library and perhaps in an anthology of verse for children, I encountered the simple poems by Gelett Burgess about the Goops stick in my mind decades later. Here are two — didactic, but also witty and pointed.
The Goops they lick their fingers,
And the Goops they lick their knives;
They spill their broth on the tablecloth —
Oh, they lead disgusting lives!
The Goops they talk while eating,
And loud and fast they chew;
And that is why I’m glad that I
Am not a Goop–are you?
The meanest trick I ever knew
Was one I know you never do.
I saw a Goop once try to do it,
And there was nothing funny to it.
He pulled a chair from under me
As I was sitting down; but he
Was sent to bed, and rightly, too.
It was a horrid thing to do!
This is not a post about table manners, and I think practical jokes of the latter kind are vanishing from the earth, or I hope so.
But it is about the people we know who are Goops. Being a Goop in the twenty-first century, to me, is based in self-absorption, heedlessness, and the desire to make a splash, often through being unpleasant.
I have wanted to write about Goopish behavior as it intrudes on my sphere. So here are a few examples, and you can add more. I think mostly of the Video Goop, the Spectator Goop, and the Online Goop.
THE VIDEO GOOP holds his iPhone up in the air to catch a minute of his favorite band, never thinking for a minute that it is now in our line of sight. Or he shines the light from his phone in the musicians’ eyes; perhaps he has a camera that clicks loudly or one whose strobe flash blinds everyone. He doesn’t think to ask permission of the musicians he videos and is astonished when they object to hour-long sets of their work appearing immediately on YouTube. The Video Goop has a cousin, the “Professional Photographer” Goop, who gets in the way of the audience because he is working — so that we see his back and his camera constantly.
THE SPECTATOR GOOP treats the music as background to their conversation. Concert hall or dive bar, when someone who wants to hear the music asks for lowered voices (raised voices and alcohol go together) the answer is often a huffy “I’m just here to have fun with my friends. What the hell is wrong with you?” At jazz festivals, where the audience has sometimes been following bands for decades, the Spectator Goops start speaking immediately when the music begins, socializing, “Isn’t it a SHAME that Marcia couldn’t make it this year? I hear her husband is VERY ILL!” (I feel very sorry for Marcia and Mr. Marcia, but I came to listen. Kindly go away. Far away.) The talkative Spectator Goop is often the first to whistle or yell at the end of a solo, to offer us loud whoops about music that they can’t possible have taken in.
I witnessed an amazing corollary to this some months back. At a jazz venue distinguished by superb music and loud conversation, both were in evidence. The latter got louder — imagine my pleasure at being able to write that sentence — and one of the apparent jazz fans got madder and madder, offering loud assertive shushing. The AJF, in his righteous rage, even confronted the noisy group and “gave them what for,” as my grandparents might have said, which led to near-violence. The talkers were escorted from the venue, and one would think that Right had prevailed. Alas, no: the AJF spent the rest of the evening loudly congratulating himself on his virtue and how he had done the right thing, unaware that his talk was as loud as the people he had vanquished.
THE ONLINE GOOP is so prolific and energetic that I will not do him justice here. (An attentive reader will note my conscious use of the male-gendered pronoun. Women are often SPECTATOR GOOPS but rarely if ever VIDEO or ONLINE ones. Draw the conclusions you will.) For me, their sub-groups are MEAN and FOOLISH. The MEAN ONLINE GOOP is the person who fires off a scathing critical comment, sometimes cloaked in a thin veneer of “comedy,” that offers his harsh opinion. “Nothing worse than a bad _______ band.” “X can’t play the violin.” “This band sucks.” “Y sucks.” Sometimes, this person is inarticulate but still derisive, hence the vomiting emoji. This Goop finds fault, not only with the musicians (who play badly, who don’t perform as he thinks they should, who don’t smile) but with the person who records them, to him, imperfectly.
A word about such criticisms. Not every musician is perfect; not every performance pleases. And listeners have a right to say they like this and don’t like that. But the prevailing anonymity has fostered astonishing meanness. I have been guided in this not only by one of my professors, Mr. Sigman, now gone for decades, but by Sammut of Malta, who says quietly, “Would you go up to the musicians and say this to their face? Does anyone really need to read how you disapprove of someone’s vibrato?” I have strong opinions, but does it do the world good for me to put my disdain into print? Is my subjective disapproval the same as criticism valid enough to share with everyone who has a lit screen?
Occasionally, all of these cardboard figures become one: my example is the anonymous commenter who is furious about the loud talkers in a 2011 video and says, “I’d like to kill those people who don’t shut up.” I suppose I empathize in theory, but I have written back that wanting to kill people in a video from almost a decade ago seems a vain expenditure of energy.
THE FOOLISH GOOP is hardly malevolent but is still exhausting. When I read a comment that asks a simple question, “Who wrote that song?” “Where can I get the chords for this tune? What year was this done?” “Is he the same person as the one who did ______?” I sigh noisily, and think with no regret of decades of teaching where we — as faculty — were asked to swallow constant doses of this insipidity because our students “were young,” and perhaps because we knew that if they were intellectually curious, some of us wouldn’t have jobs. But I want to say, “You have a computer. Perhaps several. You have a smartphone. Have you ever heard of Google, and have you ever spent time looking up something before you launched your question into the world?” There is also THE JOKESTER GOOP, one who has to make comedy out of everything, but he is not a serious threat to one’s emotional equilibrium. And — this just in — THE SHOPLIFTER GOOP, who sees something (a photograph, a video, a piece of text) and presents it as his own without giving credit to the source. I know this is presumably a democracy, but would you walk through the diner taking a fry or a cherry tomato off of the plates you pass?
My favorite collision of the various online Goops happened just recently. I had posted a video of an excellent band playing a piece that required a great deal of virtuosity. And someone with a YouTube name suggesting hysterical laughter commented, “Nice playing. Just felt it might have gone better without the [insert name of instrument here].” It was a polite enough comment, but I felt as if I’d been standing in front of a Vermeer and heard someone say, “Those curtains should be green.” I wrote back, with some irritation, “Why don’t you send the musicians a note with your opinion?” in hopes that he would recognize some slight disapproval, some irony. Alas, he took the comment literally, “Thanks, I tried, but couldn’t find contact details. Anyway, it’s only one person’s opinion. They make great music, that’s the main thing.” I should have desisted but I was disarmed by his politeness, so I wrote back to say I had not been serious but that the band had a website. And there it lies, I hope.
What does all of this mean? Why have I expended my time and perhaps yours in what some will take simply as “Michael is complaining again.”? I think it’s important to encourage people to be considerate, empathetic, kind, to know that each of us is not the only organism on the planet, that our pleasure might interfere with someone else’s, that we should be gentle rather than cruel. Fewer Goops would be a good thing — I don’t mean they should be exterminated, but that they should be introspective enough to ask, perhaps in front of the mirror, “Is what I am doing something I would like done to me?”
And should you think that my words come from a position of unearned moral superiority, I hope that is not so: I have made serious mistakes in my life; I expect to make other ones, but my goal is to have them be smaller and less frequent — or at least to make new mistakes. For variety’s sake.
But all the Goops in the world can’t take the shine off of this: joy and energy at the highest:
May your happiness increase!