McGinnis: How the Internet might end up killing witWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | email@example.com
Every now and then, I like to stretch my creative legs a little bit here in this column, as anyone who read last week’s piece (the acclaimed and sure-to-be-award-winning “Cereal? Killer,” still available on toledofreepress.com, hint hint, wink wink) will tell you.
About a month ago, I got an idea for a piece on weird, humorous rules that could be added to modern sports. But why simply write these ideas under my own name, I wondered? Wouldn’t it be more fun, and more fun to read, if these suggestions came from a fictional reader of my column, something like the God of modern columnists Mike Royko used to do?
I came up with a suitably ridiculous name: Brock Rocklaw. I’d publish the supposed “comment from a fan” without further explanation. I figured Brock’s points were so ludicrous, and his style of writing so outlandish, that to the average reader it’d be pretty clear it was just me playing a character.
I submitted the piece to my editor-in-chief Michael Miller, thinking that this might be the first of many columns featuring this alter-ego. But then, I heard back — Michael wasn’t sure folks would know it was a satire. I told him that was no problem, that I’d rework it and submit it again later.
I gotta be honest — I was a bit frustrated. I mean, come on, “Brock Rocklaw?” A bizarre letter arguing that the ceremonial first pitch at a baseball game should count? How could anyone take that seriously?
Then, on June 20, a CBS press release came across the wire. And now, I get it.
See, CBS has come to believe that ABC’s new reality series, “The Glass House,” is a pretty blatant rip-off of their long-running “Big Brother.” They have even filed suit in an effort to get an injunction to keep the show off the air, which has thus far been denied. So, CBS decided to take a different tack — a satirical one.
They put out a notice announcing a new show “That Owes Its Concept and Execution to Nobody at All” — “Dancing on the Stars.” The release touted this “exciting and completely original” new show, where “moderately famous and sort of well-known people you almost recognize compete for big prizes by dancing on the graves of Hollywood’s most iconic and beloved stars of stage and screen.”
The release quoted imaginary employees stressing how this show had been “completely developed by the people at CBS independent of any other programming on the air,” then tentatively announced another great new show, “Postmodern Family.” The closing line noted “people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”
Bizarre? Sure. Funny? I thought so. But clearly satirical, right? I mean, come on, no one could possibly take this release seriously — it practically bursts at the seams with double entendre and wise-ass remarks. It’s obviously not real, right?
Then I started seeing the reaction. Tons of folks on social networking sites posting links and expressing outrage — real outrage — that CBS would dare to host a dancing show on stars’ graves. How sick, they proclaimed! And these were not just the kind of folks who fall for an Onion headline, either — these were intelligent folks, people who I follow and respect an amazing amount, who seemed to take the release entirely at face value.
And I thought, “Thank goodness Michael didn’t run Brock Rocklaw.”
In the hours since everyone grew to understand what the “Dancing on the Stars” thing was all about, many defended their reaction, noting that it was an actual press release, it wasn’t funny anyway and the state of modern reality TV is so ludicrous that who would put it past them?
Okay, maybe it wasn’t funny to you. Matter of personal opinion. But reading the whole piece, it’s so clear that it’s a joke, it practically smacks you in the face. So what happened?
Personally, I blame Twitter. Well, no, not just Twitter, but the whole Internet culture that we live in. See, in this modern age of social media, we can share our thoughts on everything immediately — heck, the faster the better.
So when folks catch wind of something, they can post their reactions and express their outrage right away, without taking the time to consider whether they actually should get outraged. Tons of ‘Net commenters hear about something, skim the source (if they do any reading at all) and announce their anger without delay. I admit, I’m as guilty of it as anyone.
So the satirists, folks who help bring life a delightful twist of variety, have to be more and more careful, lest their words be taken at face value. The expectation that your audience will take the time to get the joke goes out the window. Subtlety becomes a casualty of the war of information. The soul of wit dies just a little more with each passing second.
And Brock Rocklaw sits dormant, waiting for his time to come. Someday, my friend. Someday.