When sarcasm goes wrong...
On Thursday, Kanye West and Paul McCartney released a song they collaborated on called “Only One,” in what was inarguably a momentous, generation-spanning moment from two musical icons. So was it any good? If you paid attention to the reactions online you wouldn’t really know, as the conversation almost instantly moved on to a much more important question: Who is Paul McCartney?
One of the laziest forms of contemporary content creation, which I'm sure by now you're familiar with, is the blog post round up of a series of embedded tweets. It can come in a few different forms: “Look at how outraged people are about XYZ” is the most common variety, but only slightly less so is “Get a load of these dumbass, know-nothing teens.” The purpose is obvious: to leverage our inherent disdain for the ignorance of youth in order to score on a cheap cycle of traffic. And the best part for the dickhead behind it is that it requires almost no effort besides using the search field on Twitter, something only further compounded by the arrival of this news on New Year’s Day, a holiday weekend when most bloggers are phoning it in from the comforts of their hangover couch cocoons.
There's a reason why Rando on Twitter is considered a generally disreputable source, however, and that's because while it's a good first stepping stone for finding information, it's also an infinite morass of trolling and blatant disinformation. Case in point, this latest tempest in a teapot over young people allegedly not knowing who Kanye West collaborator Paul McCartney is.
Buzzfeed, surprisingly, lead the charge on this one on Friday, headlining a post These Kanye West Fans Want To Know: “Who Is Paul McCartney?” In it, they included screencaps of tweets (not embeds, by the way, which would make following up on them easier) from a series of Twitter users who expressed their confusion over the identity of one of, if not the most famous living musician in the world.
This isn't even the first time we've done this dance, incidentally. Remember McCartney appeared on the Grammys back in 2012? Similar phoney posts were ginned up around Arcade Fire and Bon Iver, and when Billy Crystal was on the Oscars, to name a few. This garbage website has probably done a dozen of these types of things for all I know.
I was tempted to ignore it, and move on, which is good advice for almost anything you see online, but then, of course, of course, everyone else started piling on. E! Online upped the ante, saying These Kanye West Fans Don't Know Who Paul McCartney Is, Which Means All of Society Is Doomed, including many of the same tweets as Buzzfeed. The Daily Mail, lead with, again, the same three tweets, as did Death and Taxes and ABC News. Good Morning America actually ran a segment about the non-troversy on air.
This aired in national television.
People and The Independent, of all places, seemed hip to the fact that this was all a wind-up on the other hand, which is something that should've been evident to anyone who took five seconds to look at the examples of the tweets being shared as evidence of the erosion of an entire generation's intelligence in the first place. @DesusNice, one of the three, is a very well known Twitter wiseass with 60k+ followers, whose timeline is literally filled with jokes of this kind. “David Duke came back out of nowhere like a racist D'angelo so shouts to him,” he cracked a few tweets later. Anyone capable of pulling off a joke that layered knows who Paul McCartney is, he just does. If you looked at even a few of the tweets from any of these users in either direction it would be obvious that they’re regular bullshitters.
Then there's the phrasing of the tweets from @OVOJosh, exhibit A in, I don't know, the decline of civilization or whatever. “I don't know who Paul McCartney is, but Kanye is going to give this man a career w/ this new song!!” he tweeted. Who talks like that? What sort of leaps of obliviousness would a person have to make to convince themselves that this is a person who a.) not only doesn't know who Paul McCartney is, and b.) thinks he's going to get a career out of collaborating with Kanye, but c.) ends the sentence with two exclamation points?
The same could be said for @CurvedDaily's tweet, thanking Kanye for shedding light on unknown artists. If you couldn't spot these as deliberate acts of trolling from a mile away, then there's definitely someone stupid and clueless in this story, and it's not who you think it is.
All three of those accounts continued to RT all of the outraged (and borderline threatening) Beatles fans in their timeline, or link to posts about the story. Why? Because that's the point in the first place. The reason you troll is because you want to get attention, and to revel in the stupidity of the people who fell for it.
I'm not overly concerned with whether or not young people should know who Paul McCartney is; others have been wrestling with that important question. I’m sure many actually do not, but these are not the teens you’re looking for (via Star Trek). What I am concerned with is the intelligence of our media. Never mind not knowing who one of the Beatles is, a better sign of society being doomed is thousands of gullible dupes not being able to recognise a joke when they see one. They say it's hard to detect sarcasm online, but that's an excuse that people too lazy to look for context clues use when they get played. Never mind the ability to conduct interviews and generate stories, the first question in any new media job interview going forward should be: Do you have any idea what irony is?
The thing is, with these types of posts, I think many of the content aggregators actually do know, they just don't care, which is a lot worse. We're living through a human centipede of condescension here. It’s like McCartney once sang on his first post-Beatles solo record: “I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round.” The Twitter trolls know that the bloggers are too lazy to discern if they're joking or not, the bloggers know that the general reader is too lazy to realise that they're being cynically manipulated, and self-important media critics like me are too addicted to the smell of our own pedantic farts to realise that we got meta-trolled ourselves by writing a piece like this.
Luke O'Neil only tweets serious things. He is a good Twitter boy - @lukeoneil47