03
Jan
08

This is gonna look so sweet on YouTube…

It’s a new year, and you know what that means.  It means that it’s time for our great nation to gather together to think long and hard about the “Top 10 Crazy Reality TV Moments of 2007.”  Or maybe “2007’s Most Super-Bitchin’ Action Sequences.”  It really doesn’t matter what they’re about, it just seems that around the start of a new year, everybody gets all excited about making lists, even lists about the 100 Sluttiest Celebrity Moments of 2007.  …Especially lists about the 100 Sluttiest Celebrity Moments of 2007.

And therein lies the point I’m trying to make.  I recently was listening to NPR’s Fresh Air, the most interesting, intriguing, and well-researched interview show on the planet, and they had on a critic named John Powers, who listed his “Top 10 Cultural Trends of 2007.”  They included such hot topics as steroids in sports, the writers’ strike, political campaigning– these sort of things you’d expect.  But one item on his list really got me thinking.  Powers said that Americans are voluntarily giving up their privacy, something he called the “TMZing of America,” after the celebrity news website TMZ.com, which writes a news report every time Lindsay Lohan wipes her ass.  The subjects of this website, people like Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, and whoever they’re having sex with at the moment, have cameras that follow them everywhere, essentially ripping their privacy from them whether they like it or not (and frankly, if I had to guess, I’d say they probably do like it, in some sad, sad way).  So what Powers is saying is that celebrities, no matter how ridiculous they act, are still role models in this country, and because of TMZ (and the internet in general) the “nothing-is-private-not-even-whether-or-not-I’m-wearing-underwear-today” lifestyle is becoming sort of, well, glamorous.

It’s a shame, really, but when you think about it, it’s true.  People today are longing for exposure, no matter the embarrassing forum, broadcasting every little thought they have on YouTube (or blogging about it, I guess…) for the whole world to see, or presenting every little character flaw they have on some mindless VH1 reality TV show, and our culture is eating it up.  We used to live in a culture where privacy was encouraged and valued.  Now we want to be public so much so that in the past year, 47% of Americans Googled themselves, searching for some shred of themselves out there in the public eye.  YouTube, in what is a shockingly accurate understanding of our culture, attracts more and more people each day using the slogan “Broadcast Yourself,” encouraging the masses to put themselves out there, no matter whether they have something to say or not.  A current search of the word “webcam” on YouTube comes up with over 81,000 results, further proof that we are voluntarily surrendering our private lives, eager for someone else to see what we’re doing all the time and validate us.

In what serves as even more evidence of this shift in our world, Yale (yes, that Yale, with the bricks, ivy and the tweed sportjackets) just released its book of quotations for 2007.  Can you guess what its most popular quotation was?

“Don’t taze me, bro.”

That’s right.  And the fact that I don’t have to tell you where that comes from is further proof that the internet is making our world less and less private by the minute.

And what kind of effect does this have?  Well, when you blur the lines between what is private and what is public, it turns out that a lot of people and things that for their own good should stay private end up being thrust into the limelight.  Take, for example, Yale’s #2 quotation:

“I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because some people out there in our nation don’t have maps and I believe that our education like such as in South Africa and the Iraq and everywhere like such as and I believe that they should our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S. or should help South Africa and should help the Iraq and the Asian countries so we will be able to build up our future for us.”

This shining beacon of wisdom came from Miss Teen South Carolina, asked during the Q&A portion of the pageant why one fifth of Americans couldn’t identify the United States on a world map (a shocking enough premise as it is).  Miss South Carolina decided not to answer the question, but chose rather to sympathize with the little dullards the question speaks of by displaying herself as the intellectual equal of that very one-fifth of our nation.  For those of you who may be unaware, there are fifty states in our country, meaning there are fifty young ladies in the Miss Teen USA pageant.  Miss South Carolina placed fourth.

It goes without saying that the video clip of this event enjoyed mass viewings all over the internet, just like the “don’t taze me, bro” video did.  If we didn’t already have enough evidence from reality TV as it is, it now seems that you can get famous just by being good ol’ fashioned stupid.  Miss Teen South Carolina even appeared on a few talk shows after the pageant so she could laugh off her embarrassing moment before going back to trying on bathing suits and bleaching her teeth.

So here’s the part where after looking back over the past year, you look forward to the next.  The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman argues in one of his bestselling books that the world we live in is now flat, thanks, in part, to the internet because efficient communication makes the world seem like a smaller place.  And while Friedman’s book is about globalization, if he’s right and we are living in a flat world, then it could be argued that in a smaller, flat world, everyone can see everyone else all of the time, as long as you’ve got the right tools.

Heaven help us all.

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1 Response to “This is gonna look so sweet on YouTube…”


  1. January 4, 2009 at 4:22 pm

    Miss Teen South Carolina answered that question badly, but she’s still got her looks to fall back on…


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