Andrew Tate. Pic: YouTube/FullSendPodcast

Andrew Tate and the Attention Economy

If you’ve been on TikTok or Instagram of late, there’s one name that keeps cropping up. Regardless of where you scroll, what corners of the internet you frequent or which sites you lurk on, there’s a certain bald kick-boxing champion that seems to be everywhere. For those of you who don’t know who I mean, his name is Andrew Tate and he’s taken the internet by storm. To put it politely, Tate is a former kick-boxing champion and reality TV show star who has more recently made his name by discussing self-improvement, masculinity and intersex dynamics (usually to the horror of Feminists). To sum up, he’s an irreverent, straight-talking entrepreneur who’s giving young men the kick they need to make something of themselves. To others, he’s blatantly misogynistic and appears to be an avatar of toxic masculinity. But before I go any further talking about Andrew Tate, it’s worth taking a trip to the past. 

It’s roughly 400BC. The day is swelteringly hot under the Greek sun but thankfully you’re sat under the shade of an olive tree. In front of you giving a lecture is a man known for opinions so controversial that his teacher was actually executed because of them. The lecturer in question doesn’t seem like the kind of guy you’d want to get on the wrong side of however, since on top of teaching philosophy, he’s also a well-respected wrestler. His name is Plato and the topic of today’s lecture is the ‘Allegory of the Cave’. Instead of a PowerPoint slide laden with citations, the lecturer is giving today’s lesson as a story. To briefly recount this story, a man and his friends have lived their lives looking at shadows on a wall and they think that’s reality – they think that that is ‘True’. One day, the man gets up and wanders off and he finds a fire that was casting the shadows in the first place and he realises that the shadows aren’t the real world. He wanders off some more and finds his way out of the cave and into the real world where he’s blinded by the Sun for a bit but when he can see, he realises he’s seeing the real world. The story finishes when he returns to the cave to tell his companions what he’s found and they tell him to sod off – but that’s beside the point. 

You may be more familiar with the stories more contemporary rendition – the Matrix. The point of that story is that things we see on social media are shadows on a wall – they’re a reality created by the projections of other people’s ideas. As the musician Prince said at the time in 1999, ‘Don’t be fooled by the internet, it’s cool to get on the computer but don’t let the computer get on you’. For Plato, you should always care about Truth and philosophical Forms more than someone’s fire and definitely more than the shadows they give off. 

Interestingly, in the 1970s an Economist called Herbert Simon talked about an ‘attention economy’. The basic idea is that in the modern age, we have such a wealth of information available to us that whatever can catch our attention is what gets rewarded. For example, TikTok and its predecessor Vine were popular because of their short-form content, Marvel is popular because of its special effects and relatively simple plotlines, more extreme political views have gained traction because they’re usually shorter to describe and more emotive (MAGA, Build the Wall etc,). To me, Andrew Tate is almost a fictional character that he’s created out of his personality and that he sells to the internet. In a sense, he’s entertainment in the same way that book characters are. There are things to love like his grindset mentality and his stories and there are things to loathe like his views on women but it seems obvious to me that he’s crafted a personality to sell as a product. He is eminently marketable shown by the success of the Hustler University and how he’s manipulated the algorithm to promote his content (especially when one considers his popularity on TikTok despite him not even having a TikTok account). Clearly then, Andrew Tate is playing the game of the attention economy but what does that have to do with Plato’s Cave and what does that mean for you?

Personally, I find his Character enjoyable, but he shouldn’t be anything more than a passing amusement. Whether you like him or not, I think it’s a waste of time to invest your energy and more importantly your attention either attacking him or celebrating him. Not to blow my own horn but I have a number of projects I’m currently working on. Besides this weekly column, Uni work and my role as Chair of PolSoc, there are a number of areas in my life that are much more worthy of attention – my friends and family, my fitness, my hobbies. I like Andrew Tate – he’s confident, unafraid and funny – but I’m not one to waste my time buying into everything he says and finding ways to justify it or use mental gymnastics to excuse some of the rather horrible things he’s said. Nonetheless, even if I didn’t like him (and to compare, there are a number of thinkers, speakers and writers I hold in contempt), I wouldn’t waste my time, energy and attention trying to ridicule and attack him.

I appreciate that a number of people may take issue with this and say that his views on women are too damaging and problematic that to even inadvertently support him and his content by watching and sharing his videos is an issue. I can also appreciate that this is an issue close to many people’s hearts – the world recently has seemed like it’s been slipping backwards between Trump and Boris Johnson so to encourage someone like Tate is akin to fanning the flames. For me, however, some historical and cultural context is helpful. There are plenty of people that have come out with views that would be considered abhorrent by the standards of today. Most rappers from the 90s and 00s like Eminem and Snoop Dogg being key examples. To focus in on Snoop Dogg, in a recent podcast he was asked about whether or not he’d like to apologise for anything he said in his early raps and he replied ‘nah, I loved every motherfucking minute. Man, fuck them hoes’. Even at the time when his music career was most active, a Feminist theorist called bell hooks wrote an essay talking about his misogynistic lyrics. Yet, if asked, few people would say with a straight face that it’s an issue to listen to Snoop Dogg. Given that Eminem released Curtain Call 2 the other week, the views of these rappers – these entertainers – are not those of a by-gone decade but nonetheless most people can appreciate the product (whether it’s entertaining podcasts or rap music) without blindly accepting everything a person says. 

To round out this article, I’ll try and leave on a high note. Social media, and a lot of people on it, are trying to take what finite attention you have so that they benefit from it. It’s not usually malicious – in fact with this article, I’m doing the exact same thing. Online, you’re going to come across people you disagree with vehemently and people you agree with passionately. But if all you do is follow what either of these camps say and do then you’re living in their world – looking at the shadows they cast. In the words of one teacher I had, you become a consumer when you should be a creator. The world is a changing place and there are opportunities to be had. There are challenges to overcome and problems to solve and visions to achieve. If you allow your attention to be diverted to whatever social cause is making the rounds on Instagram and TikTok, you’ll never have the time or energy to attend to the issues that bring meaning to your life. 

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