There are a lot of names in the title of this video, and while this video isn’t a hamfisted attempt to shove as many buzzword names as I can into a title, it’s also not not that.
Media is in a very, very weird spot right now. Let me share my take on it.
I am a journalist. I do journalism. For eight months a year, I study and perform journalism. And if you want someone preaching the doom and gloom that’s headed towards journalism, you don’t have to look very far. I’m not going to do that.
But there is some weirdness going on. It’s a strange, counter-productive problem and it has its roots in internet culture. Our culture.In many ways, it is a problem inherent to the culture of outage, and the culture of counter-outrage.
This is a problem directly related to infamy. It is what leads to those the public hating to ultimately getting the best of them in the end. It is what turns hard-hitting attacks into helium for those don’t deserve it but thrive on it. And to illustrate this problem, I want to look at some recent and not so recent news stories.
First and most recently, there’s the case of the instagram model Christian Burns verbally assaulting a security guard during VidCon. The assault was covered by several YouTube news sources that look for controversies to garner attention from.
Watch the video. It is hard not to have it elicit an emotional reaction. Here’s a kid that is in many ways emblematic of a perceived problem eating away at society. Youth are narcissistic as fuck, entitled, whiny, spoiled. The attractive are treated as gods and view themselves as gods, and when they brag about that fact we spew vitriol at them because partially know they’re right.
When this kid brags about his fame because he has 20 thousand instagram followers, we laugh. This is absurd. 20 thousand instagram followers is essentially being a nobody.
And so our culture vilifies him, the internet culture, the culture you are probably a part of if you’re deep enough down the YouTube rabbit hole that you actually managed to find this video, eventually chooses some cases to focus on. Rightfully so. This guy is truly reprehensible.
But he won.
Today, Christian Burns has 500 thousand instagram followers. Overnight, he became 2500% more famous than he was before that video. Let me say that again. He won.
There is a certain nearsightedness that occurs online when a target is the victim of ridicule or rage. There is the initial wave of hatred. Nasty stuff. Death threats and anger, mockery and reporting. Reaction videos. News releases. More outrage. Their name blows up in google.
And then the hate disappears. And what’s left is the fans of that person. The new fans that stuck around after the wave of outrage had left.
If I’m not explaining myself properly, here is the emotional core of my argument. People are making money off of being reprehensible. And here’s why.
There is a woman called Nicole Arbor. Maybe you’ve heard of her, maybe you haven’t. If you haven’t don’t look her up but the fact that I know her name means that somewhere along the line, she won. In the battle between the internet’s outrage and her public image, she won. Let me explain.
A few years ago, Nicole Arbor made a video called “Dear Fat People.” It basically tore to shreds anyone that was overweight. It was a shitty, unfunny, mean-spirited video that Arbor herself admitted was made specifically to generate outrage. And it did. People were all over her, dissing her, reaction videos, blah blah blah blah.
And then people forgot about her. Guess what happened.
Nicole Arbor is now a thousand times more famous than she was before that video. Because when we are outraged, we share this outrage with our friends. And not all of our friends agree with us.
Some of our friends might like shitty, mean-spirited, unfunny videos. They would see Nicole Arbor’s trash and laugh and think “haha hey this chick’s pretty funny.”
And this is why we’re kind of fucked. Because what is worse, witnessing a video like Christian Burns’ and not reporting on it at all? Or witnessing the very same video and helping him.
Attention is power. Humans do not have unlimited attention. We are small, we have tiny frames of reference, and we stick to those tiny frames of reference most of our lives. It is very hard for us to focus on a topic for a very long period of time. We forget.
Let’s say I have a fanbase of ten thousand people. Ten thousand people know about me. They all have a pretty good emotional reaction towards me. They don’t love me, but they don’t hate me.
Now let’s say I do something crazy and hateful and stupid that pisses nine thousand of those ten thousand people off. Nine thousand of those people hate me, but of course the one thousand that are left adore me because I’m saying the crazy bullshit that was on their mind.
Which scenario is better? You know the answer to that question. Machiavelli’s “it is better to be feared than loved” is now so true that it is better to be hated than liked.
Nobody is more indicative of the flames of outrage than Donald Trump, but I’m not going to talk about him. I want to talk about someone else. I want to talk about Laura Loomer.
Laura Loomer is… you know what it’s 2017 let me just show you the video.
Basically, Laura Loomer is a jo- a jour-
Laura Loomer calls herself a journalist, in the same way some people on Tumblr call themselves unicorns. She paired up with a person who didn’t like the play to interrupt the play. The play featured Donald Trump as Julius Caesar in Shakespeare’s play “Julius Caesar.” Donald Trump was assassinated. They didn’t like that, so they interrupted the play to protest.
Loomer was arrested. So far so good. But oh wait shit now she’s viral. You see where this is going.
90% of people think what Laura Loomer did was dumb. She violated the actor’s freedom of speech, but also she was seeing a political move against her candidate where none really existed. This is personally VERY disturbing to me because Laura Loomer calls herself a journalist but then also intentionally causes the controversy that creates the news. This is the equivalent of me putting a kid in a dangerous situation just so I can report on the firefighters that save the kid (journalists have done this in the past by the way and it’s hilarious look it up)
Anyways, even if 90% of people hate you and think you’re terrible, it doesn’t matter if it’s on the internet. Realistically, think about it. What are they going to do. Send you an instagram message saying “kill urself”? Loomer knew this would create controversy, knew people want to talk about her after she pulled this stunt, and had a gofund me page created before she was even arrested, showing that she knew what she was doing.
All of this to defend a president whose rise to fame was eerily similar to what I’ve been describing before. If you can get a huge swathe of people to hate you and think you’re crazy and a joke, you are still getting people to listen to you. People naturally have very short attention spans. And if someone starts listening to you because they think you’re a joke, and you say something that they agree with, they’re going to forget the fact that they originally tuned in because you were a joke. All they’re going to do is remember that you say what they like. Your fervent haters become your biggest supporters.
These examples have all been pretty heavy. One more that’s a little less so. Jake Paul.
Think Christian Burns but actually famous. He made a video called “It’s Everyday Bro.” If you haven’t heard of it then you probably haven’t made it this far into the video because you actually have a life, but here’s a clip just in case.
It’s a shit video made by a shit person. Classicly reprehensible. But at least half of its popularity was spurred on because it was bad. Basically, if you create a piece of art that is shitty in just the right way, you can make that art more successful than genuinely good art.
I can slave away for years on a perfect piece of art that nobody will look at twice, but if I slapdash some art that gets people talking about it then I can blow up and become viral. Hmngh.
All of this leads me to ask. What do journalists do about these stories? Outrage is attention. Attention is money. If you can get enough eyes on you, it doesn’t matter how you got them there. Outrage is power, power is money.
I don’t know. I don’t think this is a clear cut answer. I don’t even have a good conclusion to this shitty slapdash video essay.