May 22, 2013
The night Twitter lost its cool
As the Oscars attempted edginess in order to boost ratings, Twitter suddenly inversed roles and became a stronghold of political correctness, sparking massive outrage over tired old jokes that have been retweeted endlessly in the past without igniting controversy.
One of the perks of living in a post-cynical world is that the younger generations have come to terms with the fact that all the glitter, the etiquette and wooden teleprompter-readings are worthy of mockery. And the universe in which to express such collective gibe is, of course, Twitter.
So now every time an awards show, a game, or even the State of the Union is on, it has become quasi mandatory to arm ourselves with drinks, snacks and our mobile device of choice as the show in question seems to be nothing but a parody of itself and a trigger for what we, as an audience, are really looking for: our own amusement in detriment of others.
According to a Pew Research Center study, 52 percent of viewers in the US are “connected” viewers, which means that they use their smartphones while watching television. An 11 percent of them check their social networks to tweet and read what other people are tweeting about the show they are watching, and about their own tweets.
It’s all very meta, you know how it is.
So the 85th Oscars Academy Awards last night was understandably expected to be one more sideshow in which millions of users engaged in a massive symbiosis, producing a collective snark-fest for as long as the pompous exhibition lasted.
Then as the night progressed we would see the predictable arrival of countless parody accounts, three-second, low-resolution GIFs, memes, and many desperate attempts by mention hunters to be retweeted in hopes of savoring ephemeral, (n)ever-lasting fame.
But as the blinding lights of Hollywood went on and Seth MacFarlane stepped out onto the stage, something unexpectedly altered the TV-Twitter dynamic. Suddenly MacFarlane, creator of Family Guy and known for his edgy and controversial humor, anticipated users by making fun of himself and beating them to the punch.
One of his first skits featured William Shatner as Captain Kirk, who supposedly came from the future to warn him that Monday’s headlines would proclaim him the worst Oscars host ever. Then came the Chris Brown/Rihanna domestic violence jokes, the eating disorder jokes, the sexist jokes, the homophobic jokes.
There’s no point in discussing whether MacFarlane’s banter was offensive or not (although the US media is already doing a tremendous job eviscerating him). His jokes were indeed undoubtedly bad outside of the Family Guy context. But as he said at a certain point in the night: “What did you expect?”
He is certainly not a racist or a homophobe. But his policy as an “equal opportunity offender” and his blue-collar social critique can be easily misconstrued. It was obvious by his constant use of self-referential humor that he was out of his comfort zone so he resorted to laughing at himself as a defense mechanism.
But it was the result of MacFarlane’s blend of anticipation and inappropriate humor that brought a reversal of roles in which Twitter, usually a sang-froid entity where the creative underclass uniformly resorts to politically incorrectness to cope with that fake reality, finally lost its cool.
The social network quickly morphed to become a denouncer of MacFarlane’s opprobrium until it became as prudish as the audience sitting in the Dolby Theater. Everyone in the US pretty much hated him.
And as the Family Guy creator upped the ante, many on Twitter scrambling for attention seemed to turn to a similar methodology to attract more readers, but with devastating consequences.
As the end of the ceremony drew near, the twitterati switched their attention from MacFarlane’s remarks on the TV screen to a stupid and needlessly offensive tweet coming from The Onion, a satirical news outlet that so far has swiftly captured the social network’s zeitgeist and come up on top with hilarious – yet extremely clever - statements.
As it turns out, someone at The Onion exercised some poor judgment when they decided insulting 9-year-old Oscar-nominated actress Quvenzhané Wallis would be fun: “Everyone else seems afraid to say it, but that Quvenzhané Wallis is kind of a c*nt, right? #Oscars2013”
With a collective gasp still reverberating inside the social network echo chamber and like a pack of hungry wolves, users redirected their fury to @TheOnion, which last night had been striving for a fair share of retweets with a feed that seemed unusually off-key due to other eyebrow-raising comments such as one including the word “n*gger” and other saying Kathryn Bigelow “had showed up to the Oscars donning blood-soaked rags from Osama Bin Laden.”
But The Onion’s anecdotal faux-pas aside, it was striking to see how MacFarlane had managed to alter the social networks's mood in a whole new level.
Despite the overflowing number of fake profiles and trolls, Twitter has become a weapon to fight intolerance and discrimination through snide and snark rather than direct confrontation with those who really promote racism, sexism, anti-Semitism or homophobia.
So beyond the banality of MacFarlane’s jokes, it was hard not to sense a certain underlying hypocrisy at Twitter’s righteous indignation, considering how the platform has become a fantastic source for that kind of politically incorrect humor.
MacFarlane often says he likes to criticize US pop culture by holding a mirror up and making audiences uncomfortable by confronting them with their own reflection.
It seems that Twitter – if I may use the anthropomorphic fallacy- didn’t like what the mirror reflected back.
In an unrelated tweet today, user @rayovirtual compared the way we interact on Twitter with the way neurons connect through synapse, adding that it's the sum of all of us that's smart, not just us as individuals.
Seems like last night we missed the memo.