The Internet is not the world, though it’s easy to forget when it’s all that stands between you and workday boredom. But the web is more than just distraction; for many, it’s our primary source of news, entertainment, social interaction, and pictures of kitties. It’s also a fickle beast with a short memory and even shorter attention span, collectively clicking over to the next meme-of-the-moment before that viral video you just opened has even finished loading. Even the most robust RSS feed can’t capture all the bits of news, humor, and Internet ephemera that go zipping by on their way to virtual obscurity. The A.V. Club is here to help sort it all out with Trending Topics, which looks back at the web week that was and rounds up what the Internet was talking about while you were busy with real life.
Not politics as usual
The web is nothing if not democratic, which makes it a powerful tool for those hoping to engage with their public, be they celebrities, politicians, or some Palin-esque hybrid of the two. It’s debatable whether Barack Obama would have been elected without Facebook pages, YouTube town-hall meetings, viral videos, and the like. Conan O’Brien has mounted a similar 360-degree online offensive in advance of his new late-night talk show, answering viewer questions via Facebook, live-streaming from the show’s offices for 24 hours this week, and soliciting opinion on who his first guest should be with an online poll. We’ll have to wait and see whether things will work out as well for ol’ Conesy as they did Obama, but both clearly recognize the potential the Internet offers for those who are campaigning, whether they’re chasing votes or Neilson ratings.
As we near the first midterm election since the Obama campaign, the sea change is obvious, with four out of five potential voters expecting candidates to have a website, half expecting candidates to participate in social networks and provide webcasts of events, and 41 percent expecting candidates to use Twitter, according to the Fifth Annual Voter Expectations survey from E-Voter Institute conducted by HCD Research. As the notoriously unhip political world becomes more enmeshed in the fast-paced fabric of the Internet, snags and slip-ups are to be expected—but that doesn’t mean we can’t still laugh and point when they happen.
The campaign of California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman has touted her tech savvy—she was CEO of eBay for 10 years—as a major selling point, which makes the virtual oopsie it committed this week particularly delicious: While attempting to tweet an endorsement video from the San Diego County Sherriff on Monday, Whitman’s press secretary, Sarah Pompei, left a letter off the shortened bit.ly URL, causing it to link instead to this:
Even more strangely, as of Wednesday night, Pompei still hasn’t deleted or altered the tweet, suggesting a) she doesn’t know how, b) she doesn’t care, or c) this tutu-wearing bass aficionado has somehow overthrown the San Diego County Sherriff’s Office and is endorsing Whitman.
Option C would probably be preferable to the endorsement received by Senatorial candidate John Raese this week.
Raese might have appreciated Sarah Palin’s support more if she had endorsed him for West Virginia’s seat, considering that’s the state he’s running in. To her credit, Palin quickly deleted the tweet—or rather, added “WV” to it, then stated that all energy-producing states, like Pennsylvania, need someone like Raese to stand up for them in D.C., which is what she really meant the whole time doncha know?
At least Palin spelled Raese’s name right, though, which is more than can be said for Restore America’s Voice, a political action committee raising funds for resident Republican clown princess Christine O’Donnell:
Yes, it’s been a rough week on the Interwebs for the GOP. The Rent Is 2 Damn High Party, on the other hand, saw its star go supernova this week when perennial New York candidate/karate expert Jimmy McMillan appeared Monday’s televised circus, er, gubernatorial debate sporting snappy gloves, a handlebar mustache, and a meme-ready catchphrase.
By Tuesday, McMillan had gone viral, which means it was only a matter of time before he got the photobomb treatment and his own video remix, “The Rent Is Too Damn Up.”
Start wearing purple… or not.
Did you notice the web getting a little more purple this week? That was due to Spirit Day on Oct. 20, which sought to show support for the Internet’s current cause célèbre, ending LGBT-targeted bullying, by encouraging web denizens to change their Twitter and Facebook avatars purple. A look at GLAAD’s Spirit Day page also offers suggestions for Facebook and Twitter statuses, downloadable graphics to place on your blog or website, and a link to a Flickr account for uploading Spirit Day photos. And what’s the point of all this, exactly? Basically the same vague notions that inspired women to share their bra color on Facebook or Twitterers to turn their avatars green: “showing support” and “raising awareness.”
This sort of online sloganeering is harmless, the virtual equivalent of wearing a colored ribbon on your lapel; but it gets murkier when placed in the larger context of social media’s effect on social change, a topic that’s been bandied about a lot lately—ironically, in a couple of the oldest of old-media outlets. Earlier this month, The Tipping Point author Malcolm Gladwell published a piece in The New Yorker decrying the so-called “Twitter Revolution” for increasing participation by lessening motivation—in other words, creating social movements that anyone can participate in with minimal effort, absolving them of the desire to do more. Twitter co-founder Biz Stone responded this week in an Atlantic article, arguing that “big change can come in small packages too,” pointing to Twitter’s use in China, where it’s “chipping away” at an authoritarian regime, and the part social media played in spreading the word about voting in Kenya.
Both arguments have their problems—Gladwell’s straw-man comparison to the Civil Rights movement of the ’60s and dismissal of social media as a pale shadow of activism rather than a new component of it; Stone’s use of a couple of isolated incidents as evidence of broader social trends and his overall pissy tone—but also raise interesting questions, especially when applied to Americans’ use of Twitter and Facebook: Chinese dissidents are circumventing the government to talk about Nobel Prize winner Liu Xiaobo on Twitter; American women are posting their bra colors on Facebook under the guise of raising awareness for breast cancer. Does either lead to real-world change/fundraising? Does online discussion result in action, or postpone it? Is Twitter a rallying point or an echo chamber? And, in the case of Spirit Week, where does the concept of “raising awareness” fall on the activism spectrum—is it important or indulgent?
And now for something completely different
Politics, activism… man, it’s like Trending Topics has forgotten what the web is really about—finding the next bit of pop-culture ephemera to obsess over in our never-ending quest to distract ourselves from getting work done. Whether you love it or hate it, chances are you’ve at least heard 9-year-old Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair” sometime in the last week, because it is goddamn everywhere. The song made a minor splash on the web a few weeks back when the audio track leaked, causing an instant love-hate divide over its hyper-processed sound and wack-a-doo nonsense chorus. Already it’s approaching “Single Ladies” territory in terms of dance routines uploaded to YouTube, but “Whip My Hair” really caught the brass ring of Internet acclaim this week with a Sesame Street mash-up, which sets the tune to this adorable clip that celebrates black women’s hair. The Willow Smith mash-up may be a little less earnest, but at least it’s thematically appropriate.
Serendipitously, the official video for the song debuted just a couple days later and quickly went viral, grabbing nearly 3 million views in just two days, and the mash-ups and parodies are already rolling in. (Warning: That parody video is terrible and you should not watch it, I’m just letting you know it exists.) Then, of course, there’s the animated GIF contingent, which is having a field day with the meme.
I know what you’re thinking: “But what does Snooki think?” Luckily for you, Our Lady Of Bump-Its has weighed in, and is decidedly in the pro-hair-whipping camp.
That video is a perfect storm of things that are fascinating in their terribleness, like that dubstep remix of The Room. First person to mash up “Whip My Hair” with a video of Tommy Wiseau tossing his luscious locks wins all the Internets.
Tumblr insta-blogs sprout up faster than desperate publishers can offer them book deals, capturing a moment in meme history before the next hybrid of ’80s nostalgia, weird foodstuffs, and adorable animals comes along. Catch these while they’re still relevant:
Gnome Life is a newish Tumblr that looks like your typical photo blog cataloguing the urban ennui of some jaded Brooklynite… except that Brooklynite is wearing a gnome mask for some unknown reason. The combination of artsy photography and cryptic captions gives the whole thing a vaguely surreal feeling, like those Travelocity ads as viewed through a codeine haze.
Play us out
A little visual web candy to end the week on a high note.
Lite Brite stop-motion videos have been done before, but rarely this well. Yeah yeah, so it’s a music video for a Christian worship band; hopefully that won’t blind you to the incandescent loveliness on display here.