Because the Internet obviously needed another piece about a not-so-beloved 13-year-old YouTube star, here’s another authorial bowel movement to clog the editorial outhouse that is coverage of Rebecca Black.
On Monday, Salon published a piece called “Is Awful the New Good?,” positing that Rebecca Black, Charlie Sheen, and Snooki are spearheading a new phenomenon: being bad or crazy or obnoxiously trashy has recently replaced real talent as the quickest way to becoming a household name. Mary Elizabeth Williams writes:
Being terrible—it’s the new being good! … When did we start living in Opposite Land? And why is the sight and sound of someone sucking so compelling?
Williams raises an important, challenging question about why people enjoy watching other people mess up. But she misses the mark on this being any sort of new development. When have we ever not reveled in people’s lack of talent or embarrassing public displays of dreadfulness?
Remember William Hung from American Idol? How is watching him crash and burn again and again while doing his awkward rendition of “She Bangs” any different from reveling in the “this-is-so-funny-it-can’t-possibly-be-real” feeling we get from watching the ARK Music Factory‘s creations?
People like watching disasters—after all, the clichéd comparisons we make to watching a train wreck didn’t just emerge out of the blue. Whether it’s news coverage of a natural disaster or the scandalous burnout of a celebrity like Lindsay Lohan or, yes, Charlie Sheen, it’s required viewing, and we love making time for it.
We do it with music contests, we do it with reality-TV stars, and we do it in the real world, too; when people mess up in a way that’s even slightly funny at the office or at school, we laugh and tell our friends about it and recount the story until a different person makes an ass out of themselves. It’s just schadenfreude, “people taking pleasure in your pain,” as Avenue Q so succinctly puts it. For whatever reason, it’s part of human nature, and Rebecca Black is just the latest to capitalize on that; according to Forbes, she and ARK stand to make a ton of money with this song alone.
What is new, and what Williams may have missed in her piece, is that we’re now gushing about how bad people are in new, different ways, and it’s creating an echo effect. Those tweets, reblogs and Facebook “likes” help to construct the madness that surrounds a particularly devastating pseudo-celebrity disaster, and suddenly, that’s news. There’s such insane hype about how bad something is that you just need to see for yourself. Hell, this post, too, is helping to construct that madness by analyzing the very problem of the Black “Friday” obsession.
So how do we stop it? Is there a way for us to collectively realize that our never-ending chatter about inanities is, well, inane? And while we’re at it, has anyone seen the plunger?