“We get stories much faster than we can make sense of them, informed by cellphone pictures and eyewitnesses found on social networks and dubious official sources like police scanner streams. Real life moves much slower than these technologies. There’s a gap between facts and comprehension, between finding some pictures online and making sense of how they fit into a story. What ends up filling that gap is speculation. On both Twitter and cable, people are mostly just collecting little factoids and thinking aloud about various possibilities. They’re just shooting the shit, and the excrement ends up flying everywhere and hitting innocent targets.”—
Farhad Manjoo, Slate. Breaking News Is Broken.
“It's important to realize that no matter what crazy thought that enters your head, there's now a minor media outlet out there willing to tell you that you are right...And we get trapped in the sort of reality dysmorphia, this idea that we can just view what it is that we want to see in the world without that actually being attached to reality.”—Clay Johnson on a healthier “Information Diet”
“Part of the reason why many people (particularly geeks) dislike talking on the phone is that it forces both sides to be present at the same time, instead of allowing a user to consume or respond to the information at their own pace — or multi-task while they are doing so.”—
Ingram is talking about synchronous vs. asynchronous communication (ie: phone vs. e-mail or text) and how the proliferation of different kinds of communication technology has allowed people to develop different affinities for communication etiquette (depending on age/industry/how connected you are).
Both are interesting reads. The bottom line is that people have different preferences and we need to keep that in mind when we communicate with each other. Bilton, for example, writes of his distaste for communication that wastes your time (ie: leaving a voicemail when you can just send a text). Ingram, in a similar-but-different example, writes of the patience we need to develop for those who might not be at the same technological level we are (ie: don’t expect your parents to text you if they are just getting used to e-mail).
Sort of Related: Our recent post on How to Tweet Like a Buddha. It’s essentially a list of tips on how to be mindful on Twitter. How to remember that behind the screen is human being with a particular set of values, habits, preferences, and a particular level of knowledge, tech literacy and access to communication. So, in the same way we are mindful of how the person in front of us is receiving the information we convey, it’s worth being mindful of the person behind the screen. It’s an important mindfulness, I believe, that is sorely lacking in our attempts to navigate the technological literacy divides of our time.—Jihii
The Sexualization and Objectification of Women through Advertising
This article from the Sociological Images website sums up one of my presentations on media literacy, advertising and the objectification of women perfectly. If this is a topic you are interested in and you like looking at pictures that give you beautiful but also horrific examples of how violence, objectification and ownership of women is continually reinforced through advertising, then click here.
*Trigger warning: some of the ads allude to rape and domestic violence.
My answers to questions about media & body image
A student recently sent me a message asking if she could interview me for a research project. She sent me a list of questions related to media, advertising, body image and self esteem.
I had fun answering the questions and I figured that other people might find my answers interesting or useful, so I am posting them here.
1. Do you think there is a link between media influence and dissatisfaction with one’s appearance? Why or why not?
I certainly do. There have been numerous academic studies that have indicated a correlation between media influence and dissatisfaction with one’s appearance. One study that really stands out was conducted in Fiji in the 1990’s. Just a few years after television and American shows like Melrose Place arrived on Fiji’s main island, eating disorders went from being virtually unheard of to noticeably on the rise. Read more about the study here.
2. Who do you think is most affected by unrealistic body expectations?
I think that young girls from the ages of approximately 8 – 17 are the most affected. This is because girls start to become more aware of how they look, and how they are “supposed to look” around age 8. They are very influenced by the images around them and desperate to fit in and be “normal.” Also, they have not yet developed the critical thinking skills necessary to combat the onslaught of images that confront them every day… their minds are like sponges just soaking up all these negative messages that women need to be very thin yet have large breasts and a round butt, dress in sexy attire, have long blonde hair and the lightest skin possible in order to be considered attractive.
3. When do you think this issue became especially prominent?
I think it became prominent when advertising really got ramped up in the post-war consumer era of the 1950’s. Advertisers realized that women were the primary shoppers and decision makers when it comes to household products (food, clothing, beauty products, appliances, etc.) so they began to target the majority of advertising towards women.
4. How does media affect our perception of beauty?
It has a HUGE affect on our perception of beauty. The biggest problem is that images of women in the media are often constructed using Photoshop, and they are not “real.” It is all too easy to brighten eyes, whiten teeth, remove winkles, slim down a waist or thighs using Photoshop. When this is done over and over again on virtually every image that we see of women in the media, it has a devastating effect on women. We believe that we CAN and SHOULD look like that, when in fact the models in the images don’t even look like that.
5. Why is the media so obsessed with thinness?
Thinness is desirable because it’s difficult to achieve. Very few people naturally have a “model’s body” – I believe it’s only 2 to 5% of the female population. So, advertisers and the media use thin models because they know that almost nobody can achieve that look, yet everyone will desire that look because it’s put up on a pedestal and worshiped. If people are constantly trying to look like something they are not, they will have lower self esteem and be dissatisfied with their bodies. This means they are more likely to spend money buying products to try and achieve that look.
6. How are men affected by unrealistic body expectations?
Men are definitely affected by this too, although I believe it’s to a lesser extent. Men feel pressured to have good skin, muscular arms, six packs, thick hair and to be tall.
The reason why men do not have as much pressure placed on their physical appearance as women do is because there are men in successful roles who are NOT thin, young or beautiful. Think about all the successful men who are bald, overweight, ugly, short, etc. Now think if you know any successful women who fit that description? And if a woman is successful yet fat, she is constantly harassed about her weight in the media, where as men are not.
7. Does the beauty industry prey on women’s insecurities to sell them things they don’t need? Explain.
Yes they do. An example would be anti-aging creams. Open any women’s magazine and you’ll find tons of ads for anti-wrinkle cream. The incredible thing is that these ads are targeting increasingly younger and younger women. There are so many in COSMO magazine, whose readers are mostly in the 17-23 age range. These are young women who don’t even have wrinkles yet, but they are already getting the message that wrinkles are bad, ugly, undesirable and something must be done to stop or prevent them. So women start obsessing over these “imperfections” and worrying about them. Once we become self conscious about something like wrinkles, we are much more likely to spend money on products like anti-wrinkle cream in order to “cure” the problem.
8. What do you think should be done to eliminate or reduce the influence of media on our perception of beauty?
I think that advertisers should stop using Photoshop to create unrealistic beauty standards, and I think they should use more variety in their models. I’d like to see images of REAL women of different ages, different ethnic backgrounds and different body types.
9. How does media influence directly relate to eating disorders and low self-esteem?
Go to Google Scholar and type in “media influence and self esteem” you will see tons of academic studies indicating that consumption of media DOES impact self esteem in a negative way. Almost every study I’ve read has come back with the same conclusion: the images we see every day are extremely powerful – we cannot live up to those unrealistic standards of beauty, yet we keep trying and continually fail. Constantly failing to live up to the ideal beauty standard takes a toll on our self esteem… it’s no wonder eating disorders are rampant.
10. How can everyday people combat against unrealistic beauty ideals and embrace their natural beauty?
My first bit of advice is to stop buying magazines or looking at images of “beauty” that are highly retouched. The next step is to start following blogs or Facebook pages that promote REAL beauty. For example, there are plenty of blogs on Tumblr that promote beautiful curvy women, beautiful petite women, beautiful black women, beautiful punk-rock women…. and almost every other niche you can think of. Find the niche that interests you and start to look at THOSE images rather than mainstream media images. This way YOU get to control the types of images you are seeing, and that is hugely powerful. For example, when I scroll through my Tumblr dashboard, I see amazing images of all these beautiful women who look nothing like the images in magazines, and it’s so refreshing. It makes me feel like my body is beautiful and normal, which of course it is.
News Is Bad For You
Apparently, the more mobile devices you have, the higher your perceived value of media is. According to BCG’s recent study, Through the Mobile Looking Glass, when you get a second mobile device, there is a 41% increase in perceived media value, a 40% increase when you get a third, and a 30% increase when you get a fourth.
Which makes sense, if you’re spending your days juggling four mobile devices and consuming media on all of them. What could be more important than the information nuggets you’re eating all day long?
Hopefully a lot of things, considering that the nutritional value of all the information we’re consuming could be very low.
The Guardian’s Rolf Dobelli explains:
In the past few decades, the fortunate among us have recognised the hazards of living with an overabundance of food (obesity, diabetes) and have started to change our diets. But most of us do not yet understand that news is to the mind what sugar is to the body. News is easy to digest. The media feeds us small bites of trivial matter, tidbits that don’t really concern our lives and don’t require thinking. That’s why we experience almost no saturation. Unlike reading books and long magazine articles (which require thinking), we can swallow limitless quantities of news flashes, which are bright-coloured candies for the mind. Today, we have reached the same point in relation to information that we faced 20 years ago in regard to food. We are beginning to recognise how toxic news can be.
Dobelli goes on to provide illustrative examples of the following:
- News misleads.
- News is irrelevant.
- News has no explanatory power.
- News is toxic to your body (literally).
- News increases cognitive errors.
- News inhibits thinking.
- News works like a drug (you begin to crave it).
- News wastes time.
- News kills creativity.
Dobelli wants us to go without news. To be clear, he’s not arguing against ALL journalism. He supports investigative journalism, long-form, and books, but for the last four years has entirely removed the consumption of other (shorter) news from his diet. He’s since experienced: “less disruption, less anxiety, deeper thinking, more time, and more insights.”
FJP: Firstly, journalists simply can’t afford that kind of lifestyle and anyone active on a social network can’t avoid it. And great, illuminating, informative, well-reported, well-presented journalism is out there. But if we set aside the details of his argument (over which we could debate at length), Dobelli’s larger point (that our news consumption habits aren’t very healthy), coupled with the fact that we of the mobile generations perceive the value of media so highly, raises the most important question of all for people living in 2013: How can we construct healthy, anxiety-free, informative, enjoyable news diets that help us live better lives and understand the world better? News literacy. Just like we ought to do with food, practice consuming with balance and intention.—Jihii
Being Rebecca Black
Rebecca Black - Friday
WHO IS REBECCA BLACK?
My first exposure to “Friday” was on Tumblr, through a series of then-cryptic posts and .GIF memes — Rebecca mouths, “I see my friends,” pronounced with an elongated short “a”: “I see my Frans.” Cue a couple of teenagers in the backseat of a car, their heads replaced with Fran Drescher’s. Another line, “my friend is to my right, ‘ay” merits a 4chan sadface replacing the head of the poor neglected friend on the left.
On one listen, maybe on a Friday (that would be March 18th), I didn’t really get what all the fuss was about. But fuss there was. Matthew Perpetua defended the song in Rolling Stone:
With a voice as strange as [hers], Black probably doesn’t belong in the world’s most generic modern pop song, but here she is. “Friday” is exactly what you expect from teen-oriented pop in 2011, from the sing-song melodies on down to a guest spot from an anonymous rapper who’s only tangentially related to the rest of the song. If the video was intended to be a parody of teen pop convention, it would be on par with some of the best SNL Digital Shorts by Lonely Island.
And thus Black and Ark Music Factory have made a video that forces its audience to reckon with a particular formula for pop music. It’s not as if any of this was ever actually cool, but suddenly it seems as if any legit pop singer goes anywhere near the vibe of “Friday,” it will just seem like a joke.
There was something off about this particular read, even though it handily beat out the waves of snark that greeted the song’s YouTube video — later removed for a legal dispute between producers Ark Music Factory, a cross between the American Song-Poems composers and a pop star fantasy camp, and the Black family — and countless posts online. That’s not to mention the personal pot-shots students made at Black’s Orange County high school, which she has since left in favor of home-schooling, like so many teenpop celebrities before her. Critics both named and anonymous made fun of everything from Rebecca Black’s singing (“When I walk by they’ll start singing ‘Friday’ in a really nasally voice”) to blemishes covered by make-up in the music video.
There’s the incongruous rap cameo from Ark Music Factory producer Patrice Wilson, a European expat who founded the company as a means to offer music and video production services to celebrity-hungry children and teens (and their possibly celebrity-hungrier parents) for the price of a summer camp experience (between $2-4,000). But other than that, contra Matthew, I was surprised at how little “Friday” sounded like a typical teen pop song. Its overtures to Justin Bieber or the Disney-produced simulacrums of R&B and pop from subsidiary Hollywood Records were negligible, aside from some slang (‘ay!) and a few decorative electronic burbles that would be at home on a mid-00’s Hilary Duff single.
The song is a campfire singalong at heart. It’s one of the most basic chord progressions in pop — doo-wop without the swing (I-vi-IV-V). Modern teenpop, at both its most innocuous and its most outrageous, is fundamentally of the now, and usually complex. But “Friday” is not — its arrangement codes as good-natured in a deeply uncynical way, like it’s been culled from children’s songs and novelty records and given a mild studio gloss, including the extraneous Autotune. When Jimmy Fallon (good-naturedly) covered the song with Stephen Colbert and Taylor Hicks in an early April episode of Late Night, the festive arrangement with the Roots brought out, or maybe merely recalled, the song’s earnestness. It was impossible to laugh “at.” (This is probably the defining feature of Fallon’s parodies of Neil Young and Jim Morrison — that they are at the same time so absurd and so respectful.)
I started responding more positively to other earnest takes on the song. Katy Perry covered the song without any more fanfare than her usual fare in concert in late April. A month before that, a YouTube novelty group called Bad Lip-Reading left the original alone and instead crafted a new song around misinterpreted lip-readings of the music video. That song, “Gang Fight,” is an indie-pop trifle reminiscent of under-the-radar indie novelties like the Mae Shi or Jesus H. Christ and the Four Hornsmen of the Apocalypse. The joke was squarely on the lip-readers — Black was now supplied with lyrics like “Gonna get you with my pleasant Nazis, am I right?”
The timeline of “virality” is astonishing:
On February 10th (a Thursday), the song is uploaded to the YouTube channel of Ark Music Factory (with inauspicious handle “trizzy66”) alongside other AMF productions like Alana Lee Hamilton’s drippy love ballad “Butterflies” and CJ Fam’s precocious (and premature) kiss-off to haters “Ordinary Pop Star.” Unlike “Friday,” most of AMF’s other songs did engage directly with Disney-sanctioned and parent-approved pop styles taken from, and thrown back into, the pop mainstream.
On March 11th (a Friday), pop culture blog The Daily What, tipped off by someone named “shawn,” posts the song. It’s picked up shortly thereafter by the Tosh.0 blog. Less than a Friday later, the song has 13 million hits.
On March 18th (a Friday), Rebecca Black appears on Good Morning America along with her mother, the Ark Music Factory producing duo, and a few high school friends. Under the chyron “Worst Video in the World?” Andrea Canning asks Black whether or not she feels bullied. Black is then asked to perform the National Anthem a capella to “prove” she can really sing. George Stephanopolous notes in his transition, “It’s bad, but it’s not the worst song ever.” Co-host Robin Roberts adds, “She says it herself — she’s not the worst singer. Not the best singer, but not the worst singer, either.” A poll, Stephanopolous informs us, says that 76% of GMA viewers think “the attacks are justified.”
On March 25th (a Friday), Black and her family hire a publicist, Debra Baum, to manage her career. Future interviews with Black include the publicist providing a second parental role (along with Black’s own mother), leading to pieces like this one. Black’s reticence to answer questions like, “What [have you] done to invest in [yourself] as an artist, now that the world is watching. More singing lessons? Dance training?” is met with interviewer Natasha Vargas-Cooper’s snarky observations about Black’s tendency to distraction, reading text messages with her head on the table during the interview, and her self-evidently misguided career priorities:
She tells me that she’s been watching a lot of celebrity interviews. “I grew up being the girl who would always tune in to watch famous people talk about their careers, how they handled scandals and megafame. I’m trying to pick up tips,” she says without a trace of irony.
- That interview was conducted after Black’s appearance on a CBS morning show in July to announce the release of her second single, “My Moment,” which debuted July 19th (a Saturday). In the span between the two singles, Black was featured in a Katy Perry music video, for “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)”, appeared at the 2011 Video Music Awards, and was hailed as a “genius” by Lady GaGa.
When her mother describes the post-“Friday” ordeal, it sounds like a lesson in media literacy gone awry. According to Georgina Marquez Kelly (Black’s single mother):
“I thought it would be a good experience and would give her a glimpse of what it takes,” Kelly says. “I wanted her to see that the only glamour that comes with this career is when you go to a function and they roll out a red carpet. In a way I was hoping to discourage her, and to send the message that maybe she should have a backup plan. This certainly has been much more than what we ever bargained for in terms of teaching her the downside. And she still wants to do this.”
The diverse and often contradictory field of media literacy has a history of protectionist approaches to media use, from rules in the home to government intervention to limit or shape children’s exposure to media. Kelly describes something that media literacy theorist Len Masterman refers to as “the technicist trap” — a tendency for students to get discouraged when their amateur productions cannot match the high production values of mainstream media they love. For Kelly, falling into the technicist trap is protective.
The aesthetics of viral media in the YouTube age, paired with rapidly decreasing costs for high-quality production tools, have perhaps made the technicist trap irrelevant. One reason that Kelly’s plan backfired was not just that her daughter’s fame spiraled out of control, but that, in fact, “Friday” is a perfectly competently-produced song with a video that, while not particularly flashy, is not categorically distinguishable from professional music videos. That this process now costs $4,000 at most (via the Ark Music Factory experience) is as much a testament to the changing face of production and distribution in the music industry as it is to how much work goes into creating a song and video. If anything, Rebecca Black’s story might do more to discourage professional singers, who now have to deal with something like the “amateurist trap” of viral marketing and scant professional resources or support for their work.
So what skills might have prepared Rebecca Black for the onslaught of so-called haters that followed the release of her song and video? Maybe none — Black’s case is extraordinary, the kind of popularity “cascade” that, as Duncan Watts notes, has a strong element of randomness to it after a small initial push (say, being picked up on the blog of a Comedy Central program). Watts noted the tendency for popularity to cascade
at random after a random inciting spark in a 2006 study of audience preferences of music selections [EDIT: The Watts study explores the concept of cumulative advantage, the tendency for people to cluster around things that the people in their networks also listen to, like, or use. Watts’s key insight is that “introducing social influence into human decision-making, in other words, increased not just inequality, but unpredictability as well.”]. But what he failed to account for, and what little media literacy seems to account for, is the comparable arbitrariness of passion in relationship to music we hate.
In his book on celebrity culture Fame, Mark Rowlands calls this kind of fame stemming from hate “v-fame” (essentially, virality) which he describes as “being famous for being famous.” This is a critique that goes back to Daniel Boorstin’s seminal book on celebrity culture, The Image. What both books miss, though, is an analysis of what exactly about their posited change in perceptions of fame (the collapse of fame and infamy) is actually connected to “work.”
“Work” is a nebulous hedge concept that allows commentators to deny that the kind of image-crafting that Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian, or Snooki do are in any way equivalent to the mastery of a skill or art. But I’m not convinced that fame absent of mastery of art and skill are specifically a feature of modern media (after all, Paris Hilton has been intriguingly compared to Marie Antoinette by no less of a celebrity/artist than Sophia Coppola) any more than I’m convinced that we can prove that seemingly artless, skill-less celebrities aren’t actually doing any work.
The nexus between celebrity and due-paying, usually a moving target that reflects audience’s expectations of a particular celebrity rather than a system through which an artist might actually become famous, is particularly ironic when we see Rebecca Black as the victim of an outmoded media literacy lesson. The exercise was precisely for Rebecca Black to pay those dues, and in so doing inoculate her against the drive to become famous. The result was that she became more famous, and exponentially faster, than she possibly could have otherwise, and for so doing was criticized for her amateurishness, and then for failing to pay her dues.
Perhaps the real media literacy lesson is for audiences, as diverse as they are, to better or more thoughtfully reflect on what exactly they want from music and why music is or isn’t giving it to them. The trick is that music often creates its own new contexts — essentially telling you what you want before you’re able to identify what it is. So Rebecca Black’s “Friday” fills a need for something its audience would never recognize as a need prior to its existence. And yet passion for the song, whether pro or con, or both in equal measure (the source of the “guilty pleasure”), suggests that “Friday” both creates and fulfills the need in the same moment, in the same object. That is to say, Rebecca Black will never happen again precisely because Rebecca Black happened.
That’s just the way pop music works, when it “works” — an idea — a melody, a phrase, a gesture — nestles its way into the everyday lives of people. Successful pop songs function as successful memes; the transmission from person to person, whether top-down (mass media) or bottom-up (viral media), is one important barometer for the song’s success. This leaves out some pretty key elements of pop songs — messages, sounds, feelings, social uses. But the precondition of all of these things is that someone heard the song in the first place. In that sense, “Friday” is the most successful song of the year for me personally (after all, it meaningfully, if minimally, changed the way I think about one-seventh of my existence) and probably for the U.S., and maybe for other parts of the world, too. Perhaps the biggest lesson for Rebecca Black and her mother to learn is that sometimes stuff just happens, for no particularly good reason at all. To paraphrase
Jay Ruby Dai Vaughn, songs may be “about” something, but reality is not.
OCCUPY THE VACUUM
Michelangelo Matos hates the word haters. He says of the word:
Hands down, end of discussion, no contest, the single shittiest phrase of the ’00s—even over “webinar.” “Hater” emerged in the ’90s, but it seeped its way into pop music’s bloodstream during this decade and shows no signs of going away. It’s the ultimate cop-out, equally applicable, and specious, whether you’re a megastar or a wannabe. Don’t want to own up to your own bullshit? Call everyone a hater! No one knows about your piddling little rap career yet? Bitch about all your haters! Selling millions of albums (despite the fact that “albums” are fast going the way of the dodo) and impressing critics all over the damn place? Goddamn world’s still full of haters! Somebody disagrees with you about—oh—anything, and you don’t have a cogent response? Haterhaterhater! Keep hiding behind your mediocrity by using this stupid term and you’ll deserve as many of them as you can get. (And no, “Stop hatin’!” or some variation thereof is not a clever response.)
Yeah, “hater” sucks. But its emergence in the mainstream is also linked to the ease with which the paranoid (or the bullshit-prone) can seek or be sought by the words of others. There’s an existential dread associated with Googling yourself — I’ve experienced it. If you’re reading this online, or probably anywhere else, you’ve likely experienced it.
But I’m lucky. I was 20 before I had my first taste of being publicly called out for bullshit, when I started reviewing records semi-professionally online. No one “deserves” abuse — bullying is a thing, and it happens; I’ve done it myself — but adults need, or at least are expected, to respond to criticism of all kinds, whether founded or not, whether hurtful or not, like adults. But how young is that really an appropriate expectation? How about 15, when other music writers, and plenty of precocious musicians, started publishing and/or performing regularly? How about 13, when many performers enter the spotlight? How about toddlers in tiaras?
No one is helped when anyone who produces anything is entirely sheltered from responses. For one thing, this would limit positive responses as well as negative ones. For another, failures are often as instructive as or more instructive than successes. But there is a particular variation on criticism that is hard to pin on the producer herself. It’s the trespassing of a line between critique and malice, one that is inseparable for many artists (Lady Gaga navigated the line poorly in a memo to NYT fashion correspondent Cathy Horyn claiming that critics should try as hard as possible to avoid negativity, an impossible and unfair expectation).
The expectation of reacting like an adult is unfair to ask of someone who is not an adult. It has rarely been noted how well Rebecca Black handled her rapid ascent to fame. When Rebecca Black’s alleged Twitter account, @_RebeccaBlack_, began publishing eloquent tweets about taking the experience in stride, and making commentary about bullying not dissimilar to what danah boyd has said about the language of “bullying” and “cyberbullying” obfuscating the (IRL) sources of children’s antagonism, I wanted to believe it was real. (It wasn’t.)
But talk show appearances and a later-verified Twitter account (@MsRebeccaBlack) all played into what I saw as a young woman who managed not to let what must have been a traumatic experience sour her outlook on her own life, regardless of “what it said” about celebrity or pop culture or any number of abstract concepts. I can easily do the victimizing in my head, turning the Rebecca Black story into one for an ABC Family after-school special instead of the VMA Awards Show — girl and mother plan “pop fantasy camp” experience, girl is mercilessly mocked online, chaos ensues. Fade out on any number of tragic endings. (Protectionists have already made that movie — Cyberbully, in which Emily Osment is saved at the last minute from suicide because she can’t figure out how to unscrew the child-proof cap on mom’s pills.)
Performers and artists themselves aren’t abstract concepts, comforting though it may be to think and talk about them that way. Despite the myriad ways images are shaped and mediated and disseminated, music performers are still uniquely vulnerable to personal attack — they usually act as synecdoche for the entire apparatus of music production, video production, advertising, marketing, and any number of other “undesirable” media machinators, who are blessed with a more anonymous role in the process. When things get personal, it’s only felt as personal in one direction, for one person, who, perhaps necessarily, must adopt a warped view of the world to continue to function in it.
But this isn’t a call to Leave Britney Alone (even though I would love to see more people leave Britney Spears, an actual human being, alone and instead focus on Britney Spears, synecdoche for the entire apparatus of etc.). It’s a call to reflect on the how and why of sensationalism — to better understand and analyze every cog in whatever machine we want to blame our problems on, perhaps especially when the cogs are us. “Friday” might be a text, but Rebecca Black, the person, is not.
The fact that Rebecca Black was 13 when the song was written, recorded, and distributed is irrelevant here, then. Rebecca Black, the human being, must be irrelevant when we talk about “Rebecca Black,” the image and the idea. Call it the intentional fallacy if you need to, or just call it empathy. It’s hard, and it needs to be more a part of our celebrity culture, especially as celebrity becomes a normalized (if rare) function of casual and accidental interactions in the world.
SAY A LITTLE PRAYER
“Friday” by Rebecca Black is the best song of 2011 on no greater authority than my own, take it for what it’s worth. I sing it to myself at least once a week (you know what it is), if not more. I’ve memorized it. I know every shot in the video, I think, and not because I’ve studied it carefully. It really is a miraculous little thing. Literally, it’s a song about a girl who wakes up, eats her cereal, catches the school bus, and rides to school thinking about how great it is that it’s Friday (despite the use of the convertible in the video, the song only references the bus, and use of the car was improvised the day of the film shoot when the bus fell through; the rap cameo makes more sense when you realize that Patrice Wilson, the rapper, is passing the bus that Rebecca Black is on, a nifty little spatial gimmick).
This squares with my feelings about Fridays, of course. On Friday, you look forward to the weekend. Saturday followed by Sunday. There’s reference to partying, sure, but partying of no specific kind. I’m reminded on most listens of Party Cat, who wakes you up at night to party. Which is what cats do when they’re not sleeping. By cat logic, “partying” is anything that is not being asleep. And that’s the logic of the song, too. Cereal — party. Seeing your friends on the bus — party. Just thinking about partying — party.
Fun, fun, fun, fun. Thinking ‘bout fun.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily. Life is but a dream.
This music is made to be re-made. There’s a GarageBand preset hi-hat! When sixth grade students I work with argued about the song — they all knew every word, even though half claimed love and half claimed hate — they decided that, in their own parody version (“Wednesday, Wednesday, gonna graduate on Wednesday!”) they would re-make the music themselves. And they did! It took two weeks. They worked with the music teacher. The result was just as competent as Ark Music Factory’s, and it was theirs.
“Friday” is a very easy song to make “ours.” It can be played by anyone who can play “Heart and Soul” on the piano (just double each set of “da-da, da-da’s” in the bass, two C, two A, two F, two G, since you’re probably playing it in C). The verses can be sung by anyone who can sing a single note (and the chorus is designed for a group anyway — yeah!). The lyrics don’t matter. You can sing about anything! Anything that can happen on Friday — love, loss, doing the laundry, sleeping with your best friend’s wife. Whatever. You’re still looking forward to the weekend, aren’t you?
This music is made to be sung. And not like karaoke staples are fun to sing. I mean when it’s in your head, you need to start singing it aloud, letting your voice be heard in the world, for better or worse. And then your voice will spread, and other voices will join in, and they will be able to join in, because it’s as easy as A-B-C, 1-2-3. And I’m not talking about the Jackson 5 song, I mean reciting the ABC’s or counting to ten.
This music is made by nobody, for everybody. It is a folk song in the deepest sense. It’s “Greensleeves.” It’s “Twinkle Twinkle.” You could get down to it in your car, on a bus, at a rollerskating rink, on your iPod. Or you could just sing it acapella and it will be diminished none. This is a song that is always enriched when robbed of its original context.
It’s a special song. It will never be repeated — can’t be repeated. Calling Rebecca Black a “one-hit wonder” is like calling the composer* of “Happy Birthday” a one-hit wonder. We made this song, continue to make it; after all, we own it, we being the folk. Calling it an “event” cheapens it; calling it a “meme” is, ultimately, facile. It’s a ritual that transcends borders, differences. Everybody is looking forward to the weekend. Everybody wants to be happy. It’s Friday, Friday. Let’s cherish it.
* EDIT h/t Kat, Patty and Mildred Hill, copyright still active — a common pain in the ass for Hollywood films and other potential licensers, even though most “recordings” would probably fall under fair use.
Has anyone taught media literacy?
I mentioned during a conversation with my second period the other day that news organizations are controlled by like
five six media conglomerates and how much that affects what news we are given. Minds were blown. They wanted to know more.
So, next week when we’re doing state testings and we’re keeping the assignments light
because heaven forbid you affect those test scores, I’d like to do a low-stakes, learn-for-the-sake-of-learning mini-unit on media literacy.
I’m glad they’re interested. I think it’s an extremely important topic, but while I had an extremely interesting intro-class to it in college, I’m not sure where to start or how to break it down to a high school level. Any suggestions or experiences with it would be lovely…