Why Do People Want Rick Perry To Be More "Disliked" Than Rebecca Black?
You may have heard that Rick Perry's mind-meltingly horrible anti-gay campaign ad has more dislikes on YouTube than Rebecca Black's "Friday." The story has been covered by Time, the Today Show, and the Huffington Post, among many others. There's only one problem: that's not actually true. The current version of "Friday" has only been online since September, even though the Internet's interest in the song clearly dates back to March. That's because the original YouTube upload of the clip was removed in an aborted attempt to put it behind a paywall; when that didn't work, "Friday"'s creators re-upped the original clip, thus resetting the counter on views and dislikes. That current version, it's true, only has some 250k+ dislikes, less than Perry's now-400k+ figure. But before it was taken down, the original upload had more than three million dislikes, far outstripping what Perry's video has accumulated. (Some outlets got it even more wrong, trying to claim that passing Black's video made Perry's the most-disliked in YouTube history, even though two Justin Bieber clips and Black's other video have far more dislikes than Perry's.)
While some outlets have issued corrections, the "fact" has gone viral, leaving the more interesting question of why, exactly, it's important that Perry is more disliked than Black (or Bieber). On one level, of course, it's just good news for liberals, a nice confirmation that their repulsed reaction to Perry's ad is shared by lots of others. But it belies a deeper anxiety about the relationship between politics and entertainment. In the last few years, YouTube has taken a weirdly major role in our political campaigns, serving as the central clearinghouse of everything from campaign ads like Perry's to major campaign speeches, career-ending gaffes, and even presidential debates, to say nothing of all the reaction videos and remixes voters produce.
Despite the fact that a service that's only existed for six years has become central to our democracy, YouTube remains steadfastly focused on more frivolous things. (Same goes for Twitter.) While it's bracingly impressive that Obama's "A More Perfect Union" speech has gotten over six million views, that's just a drop in the bucket compared to YouTube's entertainment content; to take even a very recent example, Rihanna's "We Found Love" video, which has only been online since October, has been viewed more than 72 million times. Even more so than the passive metric of views, likes and dislikes offer an indication of how engaged users are with the material, and politics seems to fall short here, too: Herman Cain's widely mocked smoking ad has 8,620 downvotes (and 1.7 million views), but that's pretty damn close to the figure for Kelly Rowland's "Motivation" video, which has 6,105 dislikes (and almost 44 million views). You can argue that a lot of the energy that would go into rating politics videos goes instead into creating parody or reaction videos and memes, but even still, it's hard to imagine even all of those combined could touch the kind of firestorm you see on the like/dislike meter and comment section of Bieber's "Baby" video: 672 million views, a million likes, 2 million dislikes, and almost seven million comments. (In the minute or so between my clicking on the video and noting these figures, eight new comments were posted.)