While twitter trends are unpredictable and oftentimes not a good reflection of what is actually happening in the world at that moment, there is one amorphous group that can be counted on to consistently be in the top ten: they are of course, the various pop fandom groups made up of preteens and teens (mostly) that back one singer, tv show or band and work hard to defend their identities. They go by cutesy names like “gleeks”, “directioners”, “twihards”, “beliebers”, etc. and they can be found all over twitter fighting the good fight.
Preteens and teens are especially good at doing this because they literally have all the time in the world. They have absolutely nothing better to do than to sit online and stoke virility. Their trends have become so common that seeing something like “#43millionbeliebersstilllovejustin” trending is par the course on twitter, something to be ignored and skipped over as more serious trends like “Cairo” or “#badbandnames” engage your attention.
Last night though, the preteens rose their little idol worship obsession into something more: the collective consciousness of the rest of us. Sometime on the night of August 16th, a hashtag began trending that was obscure enough to beg for the uninitiated to click it “#RIPlarryshippers”. Who was Larry Shippers? Did the world lose another celebrity struggling with substance abuse and paying for a life of excess? No.
— RIPLarry + Elounor3 (@ellie_chase7) August 16, 2013
Reading a few tweets exposed that Larry Shippers wasn’t a person but in fact 14 young, fresh faced One Direction fans who, like sunni and shiite muslims, had been recently engaged in a sectarian war with other One Direction fans over whether two bandmates (Louis and Harry) were romantically involved. It’s apparently a big deal if your version of a big deal is following the lives, rumors and Public Relations releases of pop bands. Unfortunately, it took tragedy to remind these preteens that even if Louis and Harry weren’t together, ALL Directioners were deserving of life. The tragedy was the alleged suicide of 14 (or 28 or 42 or 56?) “Larryshippers” (Larryshippers = people who were pro-louis and harry having sex) after a scathing documentary that was released on England’s Channel 4. So damaging was the documentary, so tasteless and unfair, that teens were driven to suicide over just watching it. It was like a more efficient “Ring” video.
Also it happened to be complete nonsense. It is, without a doubt, not true. Not one scrap of evidence supports that a single child killed themselves over the Channel 4 video. It simply did not happen. But that wasn’t going to stop the Directioners who were really gaining traction with this thing.
Manufactured outrage is nothing new. Fox News has built an entire network on the premise. People love to feel outrage. I suspect it has something to do with the simplicity of it. Channel 4 is a “hater” and because it hates One Direction (probably from jealousy), it made an unfair and untrue documentary that was so mean that it drove kids to suicide. Immediately after the outrage began, One Directioners started posting anti-bullying pictures and numbers to suicide hotlines. It’s well meaning, but completely misdirected. The message being lost when the same “anti-bullying” fans threaten to kill people working at Channel 4 for being mean. It also assumes that a documentary picking on One Direction fans is somehow driving people to suicide, which it wasn’t. These kids are at risk of bullying and do commit suicide sometimes, but for all the uninteresting reasons that most kids do.
The general sense of bafflement (as an outsider) continues as you watch other “fandoms” come to One Direction fans’ defense. Directioners started retweeting this picture, taken from a tweet of a belieber:
Which then led me to learn that until recently One Direction fans and Justin Bieber fans had been engaged in a twitter war (as a preteen there are lots of wars you need to keep track of, none of which have the names Syria or Egypt in them).
I would give almost anything to watch this night unfold from the perspective of the Channel 4 team that made the documentary. So many emotions were probably at play. I’m sure there was a mix of bafflement and surprise, but also perhaps a sense of powerlessness. Do they need to respond to something so silly? The public at large would probably mostly miss the fake, viral, twitter story but still… a bunch of preteens were going around saying that their tv show just killed 14 (or 28 or 56?) Larryshippers. I still would love to find out what they made of the situation. As far as addressing the outrage, Channel 4 wrote a piece about itself and calmly documented the oddity of the rumors.
It would be easy to believe that this type of event is unique to the unchecked speculation machine of the 21st century Age of Social Media, but I’m not so sure. The faces are probably younger (adults move on to more mature forms of gullibility such as Birther movements and Death Panels) but the premise of an unfounded claim whipping an ignorant group up into a frenzy is a common human experience: think Jews poisoning wells rumors common in the Middle Ages, or Salem Witch Trials.
As I wrote before, these events are probably extremely satisfying to those who allow themselves to become wrapped up in it. It’s so rare these days to be able to freely and openly lose yourself into a self-righteous, targeted outrage frenzy. The sense of community it builds – as proven by the uniting of even the bitterest of enemies: Beliebers and Directioners – has to feel great. It’s also rare to be able to feel like you are really having an impact and by seeing your group’s hashtag trending or retweeting a picture you are made to feel as if you, individually and in a group, have contributed to the success of something big. That’s gotta feel pretty satisfying.
As a whole, the experience of fandom is replacing religion. And here politicians and clergy were terrified that science would destroy people’s belief in God, when it has now been replaced by worship of another kind. It is only when looking at fandom as frantic as this that the Old Testament’s God’s commandment to not worship any god but Him is so reasonable. I guess, in his mysterious way, God knew that in 4000 years he would have to compete with Harry Styles and his smile.
A dangerous threat indeed.
But what is also remarkable is how much fandom borrows from religion: Unquestioningly loyalty, policing of group membership by self-appointed members, fanaticism, fantasy, and even group ritual.
One of the things that struck me about last nights twitter event was how many Directioners invented ways to show solidarity with their (not at all) dead comrades.
— xJUSTINxAUSTIN♡ (@xJETSKEEHx) August 16, 2013
GUYS IN 45 MINUTES pic.twitter.com/iKslENLjF4
— ☆ josine ☆ (@paynerhampton) August 16, 2013
— chloee (@Chloenicole1D) August 16, 2013
— #RIPLarryShippers (@wishyouhadme87) August 16, 2013
i have an idea!tomorrow write in your hand 1DFamily and send me an photo!rt if you will do that!please #RIPLarryShippers
— ♥RIPLarryShippers♥ (@Proud_Directio3) August 16, 2013
It’s enough to make a Directioner get dizzy. If I wanted this much group enforced shared ritual I would be Catholic!
If you’ve been on social media recently you will have noticed that the rap world is in Game of Thrones level turmoil. Headlines abound. Kendrick Lamar blasts other rappers. Kendrick Lamar scorches other rappers. Kendrick Lamar hostile verb other rappers. In his new freshly leaked song* (*meaning “released by Kendrick Lamar’s people at a pre-established time”), Kendrick Lamar spends a great deal of time “calling out” other big name rappers and declaring himself – in no uncertain terms – the King of both the East Coast and the West Coast (why it took so long for rappers to discover manifest destiny is beyond the scope of this article).
I heard the barbershops be in great debates all the time
Bout who’s the best MC? Kendrick, Jigga and Nas
Eminem, Andre 3000, the rest of y’all
New niggas just new niggas, don’t get involved
I’m usually homeboys with the same niggas I’m rhymin’ wit
But this is hip hop and them niggas should know what time it is
And that goes for Jermaine Cole, Big KRIT, Wale
Pusha T, Meek Millz, A$AP Rocky, Drake
Big Sean, Jay Electron’, Tyler, Mac Miller
I got love for you all but I’m tryna murder you niggas
Tryna make sure your core fans never heard of you niggas
They dont wanna hear not one more noun or verb from you niggas
What is competition? I’m tryna raise the bar high
Who tryna jump and get it? You better off tryna skydive
Out the exit window of 5 G5’s with 5 grand
With your granddad as the pilot he drunk as fuck tryna land
With the hand full of arthritis and popping prosthetic leg
Bumpin Pac in the cockpit so the shit that pops in his head
Is an option of violence, someone heard the stewardess said
That your parachute is a latex condom hooked to a dread
Rap fans ate it up.
That was the point.
You know what else was exactly the point? What happened next. What happened next was this: The rappers who were (and weren’t) named spent the day responding to Kendrick Lamar in kind. More headlines came in, more page views were achieved, more hashtags were made trending.
Obviously the rappers eviscerated in the song played their part (they knew the role well) and responded with come backs, drama and vows to get lyrical on his ass. Secretly, they were probably giddy. The only thing that can make someone swallow their ego is the prospect of making big money to do so. That’s what this latest spat of drama means. Dollars all around. Stoke the fires of manufactured drama and the public will pay for the privilege of being along for the ride, such is our addiction to intrigue.
Big K.R.I.T. (one of the rappers named) said it best:
“This is Gladiator Shit”…Gotta give the people what they want .”
— BIG KRIT (@BIG_KRIT) August 13, 2013
Gladiator shit not in its combative sense, but in its sense of spectacle. Rap has always walked a very different path then that of other genres of music. Calling people out, creating drama and sadly, even actual violence, are all part of its legacy. It’s like a less regulated pro wrestling saga, where age old feuds and convoluted backstories (complete with betrayals, sacrifices and shaky alliances) play out in the public eye and raise the stakes of the music. Tupac and Biggie engineered such a masterful publicity feud that it still plays out daily for their legions of fans who have not forgotten (it also ended, sadly, with both promising rappers dead).
This is all so reality TV. Real Housewives of Compton called by any other name would seem as shamelessly self indulgent. This is no different than what Keeping up with the Kardashians does so well, and like a reality producer who knows when the drama is in need of a boost, Kendrick Lamar recognized that the rap game needed someone to rake the coals.
What this means in terms of money can only be positive. Loyal fans in both camps will feel it is their duty to vote with their wallets. It’s the only way, aside from ineffectually dissing one another on Youtube videos, that they can support “their guys”. Us vs Them is a helluva drug and one that leads to a vested interest in winning something. The feud is amplified further by social media algorithms that act as a feedback loop as more and more people see trending topics about Kendrick Lamar and chime in, making the topics trend even stronger.
Whether or not Kendrick Lamar is lyrically King of the rap game is of little consequence, he’s certainly the King of playing the rap game.
Yesterday, in an op-ed piece for the New York Times Angelina Jolie wrote a moving and courageous account of her decision to have a double mastectomy due to a very high risk of developing breast cancer given her genetic background and family history. It was intimate and objective at the same time, and it could do a world of good for women who are at similar risk but are afraid to undergo a life altering operation or afraid of the stigmas they will be attached with after. It also put a well needed light on preventative medicine and how much more in control we are when it comes to fighting illness. Science has been making great progress towards predicting future disease, it’s about time our social norms caught up with the medical advancements. It’s no longer enough to simply “wait and see” when it comes to our health. Angelina Jolie, always on the cutting edge, boldly and unflinchingly went where many will soon follow and took control of her health.
I was surprised to see that so far most of the response from social media has been overwhelmingly positive. Her article was having the desired effect, as the conversation about breast cancer, predictive science, and preventative measures began emerging in the wake of her announcement. Many people tweeted well wishes, or that they were inspired by her courage, or spoke of their own experiences with cancer. It was enough to make your spirits soar. But I couldn’t get too excited because I haven’t forgotten Jason Collins. He became the first openly gay major sports figure in America, and in similar fashion, the initial response was one of overwhelming support and positivity, and then it turned kind of ugly. And then it turned really ugly:
Soon, the dialogue became less about Jason Collins’ groundbreaking and courageous act and instead turned into a character assassination targeting Jason himself, but also – inexplicably – Obama, the media, our “politically correct” society, and, of course, Tim Tebow. If I’ve learned anything from that sad affair it’s that if we give this thing a day or two, terrible people will come out of the woodwork to say terrible things. Angelina Jolie probably doesn’t care because Angelina Jolie rocks (and if you bring up Billy Bob Thorton or her brother and ignore the last decade of her rocking in every way imaginable then I get to bring up that time in college where you did that idiotic thing that was really embarrassing and you hoped would never be remembered).
Here are the two prongs of what we can expect, illustrated by two harbingers of poisonous vitriol:
1. “She’s rich, therefore what she did wasn’t brave at all.”
As seen by:
Yes, Angelina Jolie has a ton of money. Obviously. But that doesn’t somehow prevent her from being at risk for breast cancer. In her article, she explains why this is a deeply personal decision that she made with her children in mind and her future at stake. And while she can afford the best treatment, she also can expect the most scrutiny. As a public figure, she has, in the eyes of many, become public domain. She knows this. That’s why she wrote an article about it, explaining her decision and that’s why it’s news worthy. (Bonus eye roll if the person saying this respected Mitt Romney for his wealth but hate celebrities for theirs. It’s almost like capitalism can afford some people “unfair” advantages huh guys?)
2. “Those glorious breasts! What a tragedy!”
As seen by:
Yes, shed a tear, Andy. The breasts that were never yours are now gone. How will you ever cope with this terrible, terrible news. This is objectification at its finest. A glorious cesspool of entitlement and creepy misplaced adoration. It blows my mind that people can feel so attached to something that they have never actually seen except in movies and of which they have zero chance of ever interacting with (Brad Pitt withstanding, of course). But, going back to this idea that her body is public domain, we find that people feel, in a very real way, that they’ve lost something. Nevermind that her choice gives her a better chance of being around a lot longer to do real and lasting good work in the world, or what it means to her family to know they don’t have to worry, or the sheer importance of her own commitment to staying alive as long as she can, because you know, boobs. (Bonus eye roll to the many people who have joked about buying her removed breasts. You guys are a real treat.)
This is the “new normal”, a phrase I fully intend on running directly into the ground until it’s completely meaningless. We HAVE to provide two perspectives on any event. No matter how ridiculous one side is, they need to be given equal footing in a discussion. We saw this with Jason Collins and the ESPN Chris Broussard debacle. We see it when creationists sit alongside scientists to discuss evolution. We see it in every political story that flares up. Freedom of speech has somehow turned into “every voice is equally valid”, which just isn’t true. We have become a culture of point-counterpoint mentality, when in many cases none should exist. Somethings are just wrong. We need to be brave enough to say that.