Ramp Randoms: That Told You, Internet
The Voice of Ireland making for uncomfortable but sometimes surprising viewing isn’t new. For the uninitiated, the RTÉ talent show works on the premise that celeb songster judges (Jamelia, Kian Egan, Bressie and Sharon Corr) pick a team of performers based on voice alone (judges’ chairs are facing away from the stage during the auditions) and then pit their talented singers against each other in battle rounds and live shows until eventually the annual ‘Voice of Ireland’ is crowned.
For the viewer at home, the weeks of battles, mentoring, dodgy and decent performances are a hodge-podge of enjoyment and mild bemusement as the competitors attempt to hit all the right notes on their road to the finals. Sometimes you wonder how a particularly average act has made it all the way to the live shows. Sometimes you wonder who the fuck did their make-up. Sometimes you find yourself moved to all-out emotion by a particularly sincere performance. There are singers and screechers and awkward verbal takedowns between the judges to punctuate the musical performances, and each moment of the show is analysed and commented on via thousands of tweets. This is not new.
Plenty has been written about social media entering the entertainment arena as that awkward third partner. Where once it was you and your gig, or you and your telly, or you and your dinner, it is now you, your entertainment thing, and your phone/tablet/netbook/PC. And nothing good comes in threes. Troikas, love triangles and the unholy trinity of an entertainment-seeker with phone in hand have taught us that much.
But The Voice is different. Where most TV shows operate independently of the online commentary about them, or have some minimal engagement, The Voice has fully integrated social channels via its very own Engine Room where presenter Eoghan McDermott reads out tweets, pitches questions from viewers to the performers and runs all manner of competitions and schemes to keep the social media heads at home satisfied. It works well for them. The show undoubtedly has a youth audience, and they can be encouraged and cajoled into some nice engagement that shows how social can really integrate with traditional media. Meanwhile, as ever, most people just use the hashtag to bitch about the show.
The internet has been called out for bullying before. And we have written before about how the internet can look after itself. But equally, we must take seriously all of the heartache and hurt that the internet is responsible for. People can hide behind their computer screens. Anonymous comments can hurt just as much. Though ‘internet people’ often use the term ‘IRL’ (in real life) to differentiate between those things which happen on and offline – there is no difference in levels of hurt between insults that are typed at you and insults that are yelled at you.
Plenty of initiatives seek to address the problem of online bullying. People are encouraged to speak up, to protect themselves online, to look out for others and tell their stories. And then there’s one small thing that happened on the past two episodes of The Voice. Up in the Engine Room for a mere 60 seconds of the show, presenter Eoghan McDermott gathers together the celeb judges. He presents them with cue cards containing genuine insults about them that have been pulled directly from Twitter and the judges gamely read them out for the public at home. It’s not a pisstake, it’s not an exercise in shaming. Whether it intended to be or not, it is the simplest, quickest takedown of bullies ever seen. If you can watch grown men and women read out some of the nasty messages that are fired directly at them across the intertubes every day without taking a look hard look at every barbed tweet you’ve ever sent, you’re truly ruthless.
True, it doesn’t stop people from being dickheads, but it has to be said that there is nothing more educating than seeing the end result of a jerkbrained tweet fired off at speed when its recipient is standing on national television reading it out. Bullies, you have never looked more ridiculous than when your poor language skills and childish ideas are being voiced with disdain and bemusement by celeby grown ups who have jobs and lives and generally higher degrees of soundness than you’re ever likely to. Keep it up, The Voice. Go home internet, you’re drunk.