Lisa Hickey wants to re-define pop culture into something more personal.
It was the day of the Royal Wedding, and my daughter Shannon was telling me about her plan of attack. “So I’ve studied all of the Princes. There are six in Europe that might be available. I’m a little young for them – but not *that* young.” Shannon is 16. “Like, if he’s 10 years older than me, that’s fine – I just have to meet him soon enough, before he marries someone else. If I go to Oxford, I’d be close enough to possibly rendezvous maybe one of those Princes, somewhere.” She barely stopped long enough to take a breath. “I mean, you’re with me, right, mom?”
I’d like to think I have brought up my children to focus on education, to have enough independence to think for themselves, not me, to be good at problem-solving and creativity and have plenty of self-confidence. Shannon had just demonstrated all of those qualities. Unfortunately, she did so while talking very earnestly about actually marrying a prince.
Kurt Vonnegut talks about how story-telling gets mixed up with real life in one his brilliant speeches. How, in most stories, there are ups that go way up and downs that go waaaaay down, from the fantastic to the terrible, in the space of about 5 minutes. “Oh no, the wicked stepsisters, scrubbing the fireplace, tra-la-la. But ahh, the wave of a magic wand, and we’re off to meet the prince! More calamities, and she goes not so far down this time, ‘cuz she has the kiss of a prince and a song in her heart, but calamities none the less. But all are resolved in less then 24 hours, at which point – da-ta-ta-ta – wedding bells chime. And the heroine achieves off-scale happiness.”
Long dramatic pause. “In real life,” says Vonnegut, “does anything happen that way?”
Uhm, no, says Derek Sivers, describing Vonnegut’s speech. In normal life, there’s a lot of drifting along, a lot of long pauses.
Some ups, some downs, but nothing to go down in history about. Nothing so fantastic or terrible that it’ll be told for a thousand years. But because we grew up surrounded by big dramatic story arcs in books and movies, we think our lives are supposed to be filled with huge ups and downs! So people pretend there is drama where there is none.
That’s why people invent fights. That’s why we’re drawn to sports. That’s why we act like everything that happens to us is such a big deal.
We’re trying to make our life into a fairy tale.
All you have to do is channel surf to realize that you can be a millionaire, you can marry a millionaire, you can divorce a millionaire and even then, you can still be a millionaire. You can have a physical makeover and become completely unrecognizable — in front of a live audience. You can live on a deserted island, you be an American Idol and you can learn to dance with the stars. And it all happens Just. Like. That. Heck, you can even sing *badly* and achieve pop culture status. In fact, 15 minutes of fame was never so easy to measure as it was once you could start counting YouTube views.
So I’m in CVS, purchasing some Q-tips, and the Tabloids are staring at me. Jennifer Aniston is pregnant. Ashton Kutchner is a serial cheater. “I did good!” he reportedly said upon awakening to a strange girl in his hotel room. Boy, I wish I didn’t know that. Brad Pitt is getting called a wimp, and somehow this is news. Demi’s in rehab, with the implication of “who wouldn’t be?”
The ups, the downs, and ohhhhhhh that drama. The things that seem to happen with lightening speed. And then happen all over again to someone else.
When someone reaches “celebrity status” it means they have gotten to a tipping point of popularity. Not only have you heard about them once, you’ve heard about them 3-5 times, from different sources. As soon as that happens, you’ve made the switch in your own mind that everyone has heard of them. And like it or not, they are part of the collective consciousness.
Clive Thompson wrote one of my favorite articles of all times, called “I’m so Totally, Digitally Close to You.” He describes the “Brave New World of Digital Intimacy”, talks about the early days of Facebook and Twitter and teaches me a brand new concept which I talk about forever. The concept is ambient awareness, which Clive uses to describe the cumulative effects of seeing status updates every day from those in your social media circles:
Each little update — each individual bit of social information — is insignificant on its own, even supremely mundane. But taken together, over time, the little snippets coalesce into a surprisingly sophisticated portrait of your friends’ and family members’ lives, like thousands of dots making a pointillist painting. This was never before possible, because in the real world, no friend would bother to call you up and detail the sandwiches she was eating. The ambient information becomes like “a type of E.S.P.,” an invisible dimension floating over everyday life.
Ambient Awareness – the moment I named it – was life-changing for me. I had always been painfully shy, socially awkward. I would meet people in social situations and simply couldn’t get my facts about them straight. Were they married or divorced? Have one kid or three? Republican or Democrat? For all but the smallest circle of people I knew, it was as if I’d have to start all over every time I ran into someone.
With ambient awareness, all of those details seeped into my brain. It was just like Clive said. Life became a pointillist painting that suddenly snapped into place. My new-found E.S.P had a profound, potent effect. I went from painfully shy to “Social-Media Promiscuous.” Da-ta-da-ta-da. Just like that.
Of course, pop-culture celebs like Brad-Jennifer-Demi-Ashton and anyone else who had the good (or bad) fortune to grace the covers of America’s tabloids know all about ambient awareness even if they never call it that.
When you’re a pop-culture celeb, ambient awareness is what you must use to maintain your pop-culture celeb-ness. Once you’ve gotten into people’s consciousness, it’s your job to stay there. Your picture on the cover of the tabloids is the analog version of Facebook Status updates. It keeps you in the collective consciousness. People couldn’t forget you if they tried.
I don’t think this up and down, good and evil, prince or villain, pop-culture-as-a-fairy-tale life is good for anyone. Not for men. Not for women.
And so, the people who’s lives I like to share things with aren’t celebs who share with me the minutia of their lives and try to make it into drama. It’s normal, everyday people who share with me their art. Art is term I use loosely. iPhone’s are art. Wikipedia is art. The cardboard signs at #OccupyWallStreet is art. A conversation with my friends Steve Locke or Jackie Summers about racism is art. My favorite project in the world, The Good Men Project, is an art project.
And if it were a choice of me thinking of you — or Prince William or Brad Pitt or Ashton Kutchner — being a part of pop culture — who would I choose? Whose minutiae, whose drama, would I rather hear about? Who shares with me the best art? I love that pop culture is changing. You are my pop culture. The very best kind indeed.