March 1, 2016 | by Bryne Yancey

Those who say not to read the comments must have never started as one.

When I began reading not long after its inception in 1999, some eight years before I became a regular contributor to the site, it was as a commenter. I was never a particularly good one, but there was a certain allure to reading, and then often reacting, to the thoughts of your peers within the confines of a mostly anonymous forum where one could, if they felt so inclined, convey emotions ranging from playfully flippant to leeringly toxic.

I occasionally tried, and often failed, to wield my moral and intellectual superiority over others. (I still do. I’m working on it. Call me out on it if you see it. Let’s talk about it. Sorry.) Sometimes I tried, and often failed, to be funny. Most of the time, I think, I primarily just expressed excitement, disappointment or ambivalence over bands. It’s weird, that innate need to comment on everything that has existed on the Internet for over a decade now and was arguably born out of these comment sections and continued on social media. We don’t get to watch from the sidelines anymore; even tweeting “I’m gonna sit this one out” or sharing a link to Facebook with the caption “presented without comment” is, of course, a comment in and of itself.

Blogs such as this one are no different. (Bear with me here. This will stop being so self-reflexive in moments.) Here I am, about to react to the reactions of others, in the hopes that you, the reader (or readers, in the unlikely event that there is more than one of you) will react to my reaction about the reactions. Damn if it doesn’t make my head hurt. But this is what our recent generations do, whether it’s mine, the last generation that remembers growing up without the Internet or the generation of those younger than me, who it would appear mostly begun staring at screens the moment they exited the womb. We’ve been self-taught, largely through our own curious self-exploration, that our opinions on everything are largely indispensable and indisputable, or at the very least, that our need to express them to a “captive audience” supersedes any sort of more nuanced, retrospective thought. Instead of just thinking thoughts, we have to share those thoughts with everyone. I’m certainly not advocating self-censorship on that or any front; that would obviously be pretty hypocritical of me. But maybe the entirety of our social circles doesn’t need to know what we think about absolutely everything all the time. It’s a tough habit to break, and those endorphins are difficult to replace once they’ve been released time and time again, but kids are smarter than ever now and my hope is that one day, perhaps soon, that comment is seen as a way to further a discussion rather than an avenue to attack the thoughts of others, attack people personally or otherwise be antagonistic for no real reason other than because it’s easy.

The album art for the Hotelier’s upcoming LP Goodness is attracting an interesting mix of comments. (It’s here if you haven’t seen it, and would be considered by most to be NSFW despite its non-sexual nature.) Some seem to feel it’s portraying a positive message of love, happiness and acceptance. Others just see a bunch of naked old people and are either bewildered or grossed out by it. Nudity, regardless of its context or intent, is seen by many as gratuitous.

This is not meant to denigrate anyone who might be triggered by nudity for any reason whatsoever. But these people are not engaged in sexual situations or anything otherwise resembling a dangerous situation. There’s no blood. It’s not a Dwarves album cover where the intent is clearly to shock, offend, or otherwise appeal to a lower sensibility. In a blog post from two weeks ago, the Hotelier’s Christian Holden called Goodness “a love record” and this art seems to convey that message. Look at their faces. These are happy, comfortable people. Are we so afraid of the unafraid?

It’s impossible to accurately pinpoint why nudity, even seemingly harmless, non-sexual, artistic nudity, evokes such a visceral reaction in so many people. To put it bluntly, why are we so scared of different body types, different types of naked people, or heaven forbid, older naked people? Are our attempts at mean-spirited humor on an Internet comment section or message board also an attempt to slyly deflect our own insecurities about our own bodies?

As there’s a growing body positivity and sex positivity movement—however unorganized—on the internet, shame permeates. Not just shame for ourselves, but shame for others weirdly masquerading as shame for ourselves. For so long the media—magazines, television, film, anything where we are actively being sold something—have tried to tell people, particularly women, that they have to look a certain way or weigh a certain amount or keep their hair a certain length or no man will ever love them, no man will ever hire them. It’s bullshit. But it’s ingrained into all of us because of the toxic culture in which we grew up. We were trained to be ashamed of our bodies, to be ashamed of the bodies of others who don’t fit that “ideal” of what a “good” body is, and to shame others without provocation. (I am fully aware of my position and privilege as a man in pointing this out. No man will ever have it as hard as a woman or non-male does, ever, when it comes to this. All I can do is listen, and try to be a better, more empathetic person. Hopefully I’m doing an OK job of that.) Part of that societal conditioning is what’s coming out in the reaction to this album art. Perhaps the band are seeking to deconstruct a small part of it. One can hope.