Vine & Tumblr
Follow-Up | Exhibit #2
This is a follow up post to my most recent experiences surrounding a social media share that has gotten rather notable engagement on a post. What inference was derived from that in the ongoing developments surrounding the #BlackSpring & #BaltimoreUprising. Not to conflate a trivial NSFW clip of live Cable TV broadcast with some earth shattering movement, or to extrapolate anything too philosophically deep from rather anecdotal superficial evidence.
Instead drawing attention to exactly that is my purpose. Over 20,000 likes/notes/shares on a piece of content is rather middling on Tumblr. Where if I was impossibly handsome and posted a selfie, it might (with the right connections), get me over 100k easily. That would just underscore my point about vanity metrics though. What does this exposure get you? How does this impact your bottom line or your wallet?
It doesn’t; is the simple answer. If you are an artist, small business owner, activist, or other concerned party—wouldn’t this technically be what you are hoping for? To get the almighty ~ “Impressions” / “Reach” / “Lift” / “Momentum” or however you want to describe that virality for your content. Now in the case highlighted previously, I’ve taken someone else’s work, which is itself based upon CNN’s work, and in a very Meta post-post-modern way created a self-reflexive loop. That was my artistic contribution; said rather sarcastically.
Yet, I’m somewhat half-serious. This brief moment, which would never be aired again by CNN, possibly even erased, or maybe only used by the FCC to assess fines is now semi-permanent. The times have changed and what was live and ephemeral before, can quickly be transferred to the never-forgetting world of the internet. Copied, over & over again, just as it loops, shared repeatedly for years to come (or until Vine collapses), and be trotted out whenever the mood strikes us.
Each time, those 10 seconds, on infinite loop meriting a different response. Ones of frustration, humor, curmudgeonry, or whatever happens to be our mood at the moment. It has over 2 million loops, which doesn’t mean unique views, no let’s not assume that. But also let’s not assume that because Fox pulls in 2 million viewers for its show that they are all nodding along in approval or even paying attention. A statistically significant amount of those watching consider it just background noise.
That is where the real winning is going on, who the real MVPs of the situation are. This cottage industry of them parachuting into Baltimore to cover it. In decadently gory and fully salacious coverage sure to frighten the rest of America away from any real context. For in a true to form: keep your eyes glued to it sitting on the edge of your seats in breathless anticipation coverage, you show the same loop over & over again with thoroughly banal “reportage” that wildly speculates on fast-moving incidents and has sketchy at best reporting of the facts. In a frantic search for meaning, or the lack thereof, we quickly form assumptions, give it very little thought, and then in typical culture of panic and tabloid journalism, let that feeling infect and inform all our decisions.
The race to the bottom in the journalism industry and MSM at large is one of diminishing returns on investment. Cord-cutters, the internet, and varying competition for content have created a climate in which to stay relevant you have to sometimes gravitate towards the most outlandish method of delivery. Keeping that captivated, and highly coveted audience and stream of revenue for your employers, the Madison Avenue Mad Men to properly exploit. Delivering them luxury sedan commercials, anti-anxiety medications, and insurance to properly assuage their feelings of inadequacy.
The fright they must feel to no longer be the keepers of the key to the kingdom that is the Information Age must be terrifying. The reduction in the number of corporate owners of all these outlets is troubling for sure, the reduction of and reliance on local media too, as the landscape becomes flattened and we each become a proper global citizen residing in the empire that is the United States of America.
How did they lose 50% of their audience, and where did they go? Surely some, if not most, of this predates the internet. There are many answers to that question, and it is far more nuanced & complex than is the scope of this article. But, it is worth contrasting that in a similar slide, since the 90s, crime has precipitously dropped. We don’t remark upon that, because our coverage of it, has become amplified. Now correlation is not causation, but imagine if we compared the drop in crime & fear, as related to not tuning in as a nation to the nightly roundup of all that was horrible in the world? Let me dream for just one moment that this is the case.
That would mean that the narrative they espouse, that we take as indicative of what we as a nation feel, their narrative is and has been slipping for some time. It is as unrealistic as the photoshopped covers of beauty magazines represent real women. Making them circus barkers for how the sky is falling. The difference being that it becomes an echo chamber, handwringing and pearl clutching by policy makers who then battle to wag the dog, and launch us into what we as a nation of sheeple are supposed to believe, do, and represent.
Again, these are narratives we could employ to critique the prevailing wisdom. Interrogate data to find out what are the outliers, and also what the margins say, versus the averages of a particular set of data points. Other than media executives it confounds me that people are worried, in this climate, what is the most watched network news. We aren’t trying to sell soap or pharmaceuticals, so why would it matter? We can’t assume either that people tune into the news to be comforted or find their own opinions there, while some do, perhaps even a large part may, they are there for information. They make up their minds about what to do with that, what to act upon, and how to better frame their interactions with the rest of the world.
Last I checked, Fox was leading viewership during the last election, and the one before that and yet people did not vote like FoxNews would have you believe or seemingly wanted you to. That such hyper-partisanship, such binary reference points, does very little to explain a rather nuanced and complex relationship that we have to both the information and our actions upon it. Anymore than listening superficially to Twitter will tell you what conversations are happening around the kitchen table of the typical American household. In fact just like any large gathering of folks in a public square you have a very small fraction of the users actually doing the talking. The rest are listening, reacting, and perhaps if you are lucky sharing & commenting. They in no way are representative of the public at large. Yet they are people having meaningful conversations, that impact lives, creating networks of support or terror, allowing people to push back against it is the only bright spot in an otherwise rather ordinary power structure. You use it, they sell ads, everyone wins.
Yet that isn’t what happens. Governments topple, riots occur, protests are formed, and prevailing narratives can be subverted. This isn’t part of its scope, or in its business plan, these are disruptions to the status quo, these are messaging campaigns that require vast human power to propel, that are quickly disseminated to circumvent the powers that be and to call for accountability. Imagine the power of literacy or the printing press played in the dissemination of radical pamphlets by Martin Luther to creating a schism in a centuries old power structure, and to reshape the world as we know it. Yet that is the eurocentric view, would that not have been aided in part or even possible but by the culture of Islam which valued learning and literacy making it a basic human right? Their reverence of the classical Greek, which is what the bible was subsequently translated from to produce an authentic English version played its part. All this then morphed into the Renaissance which simply acculturated what was happening concurrently in the non-Christian portions of world history. There you have a greater view of forces that had to align for the centuries of revolution and the introduction of democratic and humanist values that we so cherish today.
But they simply were perverted right away to apply to a small portion of the world’s population, white males of European descent. It is at this time we see the beginnings of the Atlantic Slave Trade and the colonization and genocide of native peoples the world over. The overarching paternalism that they were doing it “for your own good” to civilize you rings hollow. A self-serving philosophy allowing them to plunder and enslave nearly every inch of the globe to make oneself rich.