When John Mellencamp (then still under the “John Cougar” label) in 1980 released an album called “Nothin’ Matters and What if it Did”, he did at least have the advantage of appending a phrase that saved the idea from complete nihilism.
No such luck a few decades later.
Sometime probably in early 2013 an animated gif image, consisting only of rotating letters, was designed to say “lol nothing matters.”
An advocate soon responded, “So try responding to someone with the “lol nothing matters” gif the next time you are in an internet fight. You will automatically win so hard your opponent will probably disable all of their social media accounts and move to a remote mountaintop.”
And there it might have stopped but, in the nihilistic spirit of the age, it did not. It was in fact widely used as an image in commenting – on all manner of subjects – but then it forked into new, curious and eerie meanings.
A writer in Slate reported about the indifference of many people to checking whether purported facts were actually truthful (the article was discussing a professional fact-checker). One subject concerned the false report that weapons of mass destruction were stockpiled in Iraq before the American invasion there. A correction on that report was issued, but for students inclined initially to believe in the WMD report, the correction only caused them to defend the idea more fiercely.
The resulting thesis was that “the internet divides us, that facts will make us dumber, and that debunking doesn’t work. These ideas, and the buzzwords that came with them—filter bubbles, selective exposure, and the backfire effect—would be cited, again and again, as seismic forces pushing us to rival islands of belief.” In other words, “nothing matters” next to one’s belief. The article concluded with the suggestions that the concern may be overstated; but by how much remained unclear.
The “nothing matters” idea was picked up by Donald Trump, on more than one occasion. Back in 2004, speaking on the Larry King show, he answered a question on coping with stress by saying, “I try and tell myself it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters.”
The theme popped up in his presidency, an arena where nearly everything said and eon is cloaked in a mantle of significance. In september 2018 he said “We’ll see what happens with Iran. … I will always be available, but it doesn’t matter one way or the other.” In October 2018, he answered a question about the controversy surrounding the Supreme Court appointment of Brett Kavanaugh by saying, “It doesn’t matter. We won.”
Tim O’Brien, who wrote the book “TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald,” suggested the slip into the concept is natural for him: “He profoundly believes nothing matters because he usually isn’t the victim of his own mistakes,”
A headline over a Michelle Goldberg column [New York Times, August 28, 2018] said: “Motto for the Trump Age: Lol, nothing matters.” The context for the piece was a recitation of the problems of the Trump Administration, noting that very little effective blowback to those issues had materialized. So endless scandals and legal issues are reported: Does any of it matter?
Or, put another way, “The watchwords of Trump-era politics are “LOL nothing matters.” If you’re in a jam, you just lie about it.”
What does matter?