What does this have to do with Sandra Oh’s Greek chorus of angry university students, or Max’s curious complaint? The students are depicted as how some of them must look on a social media platform. They leapt out of a witty TikTok or snarky Tweet, living and whole, ready to call you out. Or just to be silly. They’re the kind of person who’d irreverently tweet something like “do not walk away from omelas while the stove is on, you may accidentally burn them,” because it’s kind of hilarious.
In such a culture, there are indeed moments when even the most sincere leftie activism on social media borders on the parodic, where one can watch the most serious of issues get boiled down either to a witty joke, a meme, or a hyperpersonalized callout that seasons private beef with all the importance of a collective political issue.
In almost every case, the speaker appears to be both more and less than what they really are. Of course, this affects almost everybody—could there be anyone more Terminally Online than, say, Elon Musk? Piers Morgan and Richard Dawkins suffer from terminal poster brain, for certain, while Donald Trump is more tweet than man at this point. But only young activists truly get rapped by the mass media for being Too Online, with their portrayals in so much mass media being little better than this much-parodied political cartoon—indeed, the parody is far more authentic in its way, while also typifying the OTT humor of these spaces.
Of course men like Trump are mercilessly satirized for being Terminally Online, but they’re satirized as individuals rather than people of a certain class. Neither Max nor the students in The Chair are based on specific people, but instead a broad idea of what “the youth” must be like.
Because even if we sometimes parody ourselves on social media, portrayals like those in Tár still don’t quite track with reality, even at its most authentically exaggerated. After all, no one refers to themselves as “a BIPOC.” They may refer to communities or groups of people as “BIPOC,” but it’s not generally a self-identifier. If Max were real, they would’ve identified themselves as a person of color, or by their actual ethnic/racial background, even when making the most tendentious identity claim.
Indeed, Max would’ve likely had stronger reasons for his conducting preferences, ones that affirmed the value of modern composers rather than simply dismissing Bach because of his personal life, and he would not have asserted a desire to never conduct the works of white male composers. As a woman of color who’s worked in similarly competitive environments, let me tell you: You simply cannot get away with saying you’ll ignore all the old dead white men in your field. Not only is it bad intellectual practice, but if you’ve made it that far, then you already know that the doyens of your discipline or your profession simply won’t allow it.