Sweary’s Jaw: Cocooned Buffoon.
Poor Rebecca Black. The thirteen-year-old credited – can I say credited? – with having belched into the world the Worst Song Of All Time has been pretty much eaten alive by The Mob. Sound the alarm. Alert the President. Stop the presses.
A quick run through for those of you who’ve found yourself quite inexplicably on a pop culture website: Rebecca Black is … Rebecca Black is … Oh, just listen.
Parents! Want to know how to chip to pieces the psyche of your fragile teen daughter? It’ll cost you. For a couple of grand, ARK Music Factory, a Californian vanity label, will dress up your dolly, vocoder the shit out of her, and send her out into the big wide internet with nary a note or a notion to keep her safe. Like giving Walter Mitty a F-22 Raptor and a map of China, for fuck’s sake.
The Mob – the online community, millions deep and swarm-synched – thought Rebecca Black’s attempt at popular music was hilarious. Where once there was a modern-day Veruca Salt, now there walks a living, breathing, instant meme. “Friday” has passed 61 million YouTube views, because it is so bloody awful. Warbling such inanities as “Gotta have my bowl. Gotta have cereal” and “Which seat can I take?” isn’t going to get you far with the general public nowadays. But why so? Why have the general public become so impatient with the shockingly-shite? There was a time when a thirteen-year-old girl would be given some leeway on her general behaviour. There was a time when we allowed room for teenage error.
That’s as may be. The problem with celebrity in the Information Age is twofold. It can be instantaneous, without gentle introduction or initiation. And it’s all of a sudden a two-way street. We pick our own celebrities now, and it ain’t just pedestals we’re sticking them on. We’re pushing people into ash pits just as fast. We’re splashing about in the glorious hatred the Golden Age of Hollywood never allowed us.
That there are roles to fill on the villainy side of things has not escaped the more enterprising fame-gobblers; there are plenty of “celebrities” out there making a name for themselves for their misdeeds and indiscretions, charging handsomely for the schadenfreudic pleasure of sneering at them. There are plenty who court and manipulate The Mob. That The Mob has torn a person’s character to shreds before is a whacking great truth that should not have escaped ARK music studio, or Rebecca Black’s parents, or Rebecca herself, who I would imagine is pretty internet savvy. Most privileged teens are.
The question is: does little Rebecca Black deserve the derision of The Mob simply for drawing its attention to the Worst Song Of All Time?
Charlie Brooker doesn’t think so. His most recent Guardian article bemoaned the fact that The Mob cannot bemoan effectively without making little girls cry. His main concern – the inelegance of online vitriol – seems rather forced and pointless; the reason Charlie Brooker’s rants are so well-loved is because he is clever enough and stylish enough to make them clever and stylish. If everyone had the bilious “poise” of Brooker, there wouldn’t be a need for a Brooker, would there? The real issue has to be that, in this instance, the collective rage is focused on a teenage girl whose only crime was wanting to be a famous popstar (and releasing an uncommonly horrible song). Is Brooker suggesting that the lynching of Rebecca Black would be justified if we swapped howls of derision for witticisms in the library? I doubt it. But does the fact that Rebecca Black is thirteen oblige us to cut her some slack?
Human decency says yes. Children are innocent, parents are idiots. ARK are a vampiric collective who cannot be expected to give two hoots what happens to their little stars once their terrible singles lurch out into the cyberwilds. We should all make allowances for the fact that Rebecca Black is a child, and that her parents are most likely so bewildered by pester-power and these new fandangled dongles that they completely forgot to do any research on YouTube or Twitter or netiquette or OMGSTFU.
We should, but we won’t. Expecting a collective consciousness to sprout a collective conscience is just plain unrealistic. Yes, of course no one should tweet “JUS DIE U BITHC!!!” at Rebecca Black because her song is The Worst Song Of All Time; she’s only thirteen, and thirteen-year-olds have horrible taste. ‘Course, those tweeting “JUS DIE U BITHC!!!” at Rebecca Black are most likely only thirteen themselves, with nothing in the way of cop on or parental supervision, because their parents are so bewildered by pester-power and new fandangled dongles to bother their arses learning something about new media and adapting household rules to fit. You see where I’m going with this. Expecting the huge, LOLing, rolling ocean of social media addicts to be nice to someone who uses social media to release The Worst Song Of All Time is like covering yourself in sausage meat, wading into the Okefenokee, and expecting the alligators to politely give you directions to the nearest rest stop.
I can roll my eyes at those tweeting misspelled death threats at Rebecca Black, but I cannot entirely condemn those of us calling a shite song a shite song. “Friday” is a shite, shite song. The big problem for these new, internet superstars is that badly-planned interaction with the public means you cannot shut the public back up again if you don’t like what they have to say. If you’ve got broadband in your ivory tower, the blistering honesty (or mocking dishonesty) of your public will get in, too. Thirteen-year-olds may be mollycoddled at home, and may expect their confidence plumped and their every terrible painting stuck with pride on the fridge. But act like a tit in the real world, and the real world won’t be long setting you straight. Sound the alarm. Alert the President. Stop the presses. This is pop culture, not politics.
There’s more than a tentative similarity between Rebecca Black and Jaqueline Howett, the self-published author who responded to a blogger’s review of her terrible “novel” in a less than measured way and split the sides of every soul online. In theory, the fact that an artist no longer has to take the traditional route and subscribe to the traditional distribution model is a good thing – more freedom for both artist and consumer, the cutting-out of the moneygrubbing middle men in the record companies and publishing houses. This new free-for-all approach to commercial art isn’t necessarily working out as well as hypothesised, though, is it? There’s no longer the buffer of the professional cynics between a deluded fool and an impatient audience. And it’s not the audience that needs protection. It’s the fragile egos of those who’d really be better off producing “art” strictly for family and cooing friends.