Why Do People Want Rick Perry To Be More "Disliked" Than Rebecca Black?


Rebecca Black, "Friday"

The positive spin on this phenomenon is best summarized by Ethan Zuckerman's "Cute Cats" theory, which posits that for any new technology to be useful politically, it must first become a successful platform for cute cat videos (and/or porn). By drawing people to a service that could be used for political participation and giving them the motivation to learn how to use it, YouTube's entertainment content eventually produces more hooray-democracy moments than would have existed without it. That's heartening, but it discounts the other things we learn about our fellow citizens through YouTube. On the one hand, our fellow citizens' capacity for thoughtful, substantive, and productive engagement with public affairs and the political system is apparent; on the other hand, so is the fact that people spend the vast majority of their time watching videos of baby pandas sneezing and calling one another "fag" in the comments. That duality always existed, but YouTube, like the Internet in general, makes the contradiction so stark that it's become impossible to ignore—even if, as is the case here, the metrics on which we're basing that comparison are highly questionable.

And that's why the narrative about Perry's video being more disliked than Black's is important. Certain critical opinions notwithstanding, Black's publicly agreed-upon meaning is that of vapidity in its purest form, "where the talent wave finally broke and rolled back," as even one admirer recently put it. The consensus is "Friday" is awful, and that caring so much is a bit embarrassing. If there was a way to prove that Americans cared more about Rick Perry's repugnant and potentially harmful hate speech than Rebecca Black's mildly annoying and unquestionably harmless pop, that would just be great news for democracy.

But even that was true, would it really make that much of a difference? After all, Perry's ad would be just the exception that proved the rule. It may have reached the mountaintop, but every other political video is still scrambling up the foothills. And that's as it should be. The reality is that the only time people are going to care more about politics than entertainment is when there is a clear and immediate threat to their well-being; if the military seized control of the federal government, you'd better believe people would spend less time watching Rihanna videos. Public enthusiasm for music videos and other entertainment can happily coexist with a healthy, functioning democracy. What's important is not judging the two by the same standards. When gauging the importance of politics using the same market metrics that measure pop success, politics will always fall short. But that's because politics isn't important in the way "Friday" is—and thank heaven for that.

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