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Who's Bad? Who's, Who's Bad?

« April 2011 »

Memo to Mary Elizabeth Williams: YOU WISH.

If awful were the new good, Mary Elizabeth Williams would be the second-best writer on Salon, still incapable of surpassing advice columnist Cary Tennis*, This is, I assume, the only reason Mary Elizabeth Williams wrote an article for Salon, entitled "Is Awful The New Good?", in which she posits that yes, awful is the new good. And thus a certain writer's only viable path to personal improvement was forged.

What prompted this strange revelation? Rebecca Black, of course. Who's Rebecca Black? Exactly. You've forgotten. It's been like two weeks, and already you have to go to Wikipedia to remember what the big deal was. Rebecca Black is that teenager who got her mom to spring for Ark Music Factory, which is to music what Glamour Shots is to Renaissance portraiture. You hand them a pile of cash, and they'll record your song, auto-tune your voice, help you make a video, and put the video on YouTube.

Black's song, "Friday", wasn't very good. It was, in fact, awful. But it went viral, and got Internet famous for a bit, and Black went on Good Morning America, and it got referenced on the late night chat shows. We gave it attention for a little while, and Mary Elizabeth Williams, for reasons we will leave between her and her therapist, thought this attention was validation. ACTUAL QUOTE TIME!

"When did we start living in Opposite Land? And why is the sight and sound of someone sucking so compelling? Part of the allure may come from the plucky, Pee Wee Herman-like 'I meant to do that' moxie of those who can really bomb and brush it off. It takes guts to put yourself out there in the public eye, but it takes a really special kind of confidence to brag about being the brains behind 'The Room.' Why else do audiences suffer through the 'Idol' audition episodes, if not to witness the almost touching disconnect between dreams and ability?"

This bit is a hallmark of Williams' writing. The way she dances effortlessly around an obvious truth, never quite reaching it, all the while throwing out misguided assumptions in adjective form that attempt to distract the reader from that truth - people watch car crashes, and the Internet is like a dog.

Why did "Friday" go viral? Nobody will ever really know. But in the case of Black, it was never Opposite Day, because NOBODY LIKED "FRIDAY". They were watching the car wreck. They were rubbernecking. They were asking each other to smell the sour milk. The Internet is like a dog. Sometimes it's cute, sometimes it fetches, but at any point, for no reason whatsoever, it can decide to spend the entire day eating its own poop. And that's how viral videos are born.

As for why the sight and sound of someone sucking is so compelling? Well, it's a combination of things. Part of it is that the failure of others makes us feel better about ourselves. Part of it is the inherent cruelty of human nature. And part of it is that it's Wednesday night and the thought of writing about politics one more damn time turns our fucking stomachs, so we look for wildly inaccurate Pee Wee Herman metaphors to make fun of instead.

None of this matters, because the question isn't "Why do audiences suffer through the 'Idol' audition episodes?". The real question is, why do audiences suffer through ANY of Idol? When you're looking to point out foibles of society, the fact that we can all agree that "Friday" is a shitty song is an actual achievement.

Stop asking why everyone's paying attention to Crazy Charlie Sheen, and wonder why people watched eight seasons of "Two And A Half Men". Don't actually write an article about it, please, because the answer to that is obvious too. The masses like mediocre shit, which is why they're the masses. Milli Vanilli has always won Best New Artist at the Grammys, and they always will.

The good news is, we live in the Information Age, and audiences just keep fragmenting. Which means there's a place for niche content for those of us who didn't give a shit about American Idol when it premiered, and give even less of a shit about it now that they've replaced the original judges with knockoff Spitting Image puppets. The downside of that, of course, is that niche players in other areas that would have been ignored or marginalized even fifteen years ago can gain a toehold and a following today. I mean, I don't think it'll be enough to get Trump into the White House, but that's still a bit more attention AND validation than I'm comfortable with.

*If you're wondering why, by the way, Cary Tennis has never actually received more than a glancing blow in the hallowed halls of You Are Dumb Dot Net, it's because I've spent years trying, and failing, to figure out how to do it. The best I've come up with so far is to just quote him, then scream, then quote him again, then scream again.

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