Katie and I were trading e-mail about the Time magazine Person of the Year and I thought I’d share the general discussion just to throw it out there. Katie wondered if Time magazine was taking the easy way out by declaring “you” the Person of the Year. Sure, the capabilities for collaboration online are great, but does it rise to the Man of the Year?
My reply, in essence, challenges the first assertion in the article – that the “Great Man” theory of humanity took a beating this year. Despite all the hype around YouTube, MySpace, and web 2.0, I don’t buy that the fundamental balance between fame and obscurity was altered in the slightest.
If you look at the big moments online – Macaca, Conrad Burns, Michael Richards’ meltdown, etc. They have one thing in common – they are all stories about ‘great’ men. Now I use great not in the context that they actually are, but to suggest that in our celeb obsessed world, they would probably fit into Thomas Carlyle’s definition.
Other than the guy running the camera in the Allen video, does anyone actually know the name of the people that captured these events? Of all the bands pimping themselves on MySpace, how many have actually entered pop culture relevance because of it? The Wikipedia page for MySpace lists two – Arctic Monkeys and Lily Allen. The former had never even heard of MySpace before discovering a fan had created a site and the latter points out that she had a contract before ever establishing a presence online.
What about normal people getting hundreds of thousands of friends and becoming celebrities? Well, most are either models, actors, porn stars, or bands. The few who have escaped obscurity and landed any kind of mainstream publicity are far between and generally relegated to c-list exposure like Playboy spreads (Can you say Darva Conger?) and appearances on daytime talk shows.
So MySpace hasn’t really ‘made’ anyone. With the exception of fat kids who want to be Darth Maul, or fat kids singing/dancing to obscure Romanian pop songs (neither of which, it is worth noting, originated on YouTube), most of the few examples of video that have become famous involve people who were already major or minor celebrities.
So clearly there is some other indicator that these sites are changing the world, right? Well, no. Not yet.
Does that mean all the hype over online collaboration is empty hype? I don’t think so. I am a firm believer that the Internet empowers people. in campaigns, I have seen the possibilities for allowing people to work – either independently or with others, and achieve some amazing things. We may yet come to a day when the power of the Internet is realized, but I do not, at all, believe a 24/7 version of America’s Funniest Home Videos, or a virtual American Idol for garage bands, amateur directors, porn stars, and wannabe actors is changing the world.
These sites, in the short term, may add a few more marginal celebs to the balance sheet, but they will not fundamentally change the nature of our fame obsessed society. They will be, in the annals of history, the Internet equivalent of the pet rock.
So, in answer to Katie’s question, yes. I believe Time magazine took the easy way out.