23 December 2009

Why... won't... you... DIE!

The autopsy of the Rage vs. Robojoe incident continues with the entirely unsurprising conjecture that the whole thing was a viral scam. The glee with which the author of this piece by turns "exposes" the web of coincidence that panders to the most cynical view of the whole affair and then, knowing full well that the showboat piece has done its job, heartily retracts it is evident in every smug, calculated word.

I used to be of the opinion that a position of advocacy for the devil was a worthy cause indeed. However the devil's advocate game is not immune to being hijacked by banal thinkers who merely continue to operate within the rat runs of our everyday thought patterns. Dichotomous thinking has its place, if only people weren't so bad at it.

The central problem with Mr. Lyle's analysis is that it plays to some common presumptions in popular culture that don't help anything and force from others reactions that implicitly buy into these presumptions. As the task of Lyle's expose, as far as I can make out, is to promote his blog, and his way of thinking, it doesn't matter whether you buy in to the expose or wish to refute it the point is you've bought into the presumption that this information is in any meaningful sense relevant to anything.

Don't make the mistake that I'm trying to act above the whole gossipy nature of this entire story; if I were above that I wouldn't have been writing my X Factor pieces since I began my journal revivication programme. Gossip is good when applied to products, services and entertainment, I wholeheartedly endorse anyone's right to gossip about any aspect of the developing story. I, myself, had toyed with the idea that it was Sony BMG behind the whole incident and passed comments to that effect to co-workers and the Mrs.

The Mrs really is an excellent barometer of the likelihood, relevance and importance of such notions. She shrugged at my conjecture. This was my cue for how to treat my conspiracy theory. Essentially, even if all of Lyle's piece were true, so what? The facts are the facts, to quibble about how they came to be so is only important if it somehow forced a result that is a gross misrepresentation of reality as it stands.

When it comes to a pop music chart, a few pop music artists, a record label, a corporation and a million people participating in a retail battle orchestrated by both mass and social media reality in an essential sense is so thin on the ground as to be negligible. What smug commentary questioning the purity of the grassroots campaign fails to take into account is the question that if the whole thing was a set up who does that really make a difference to? The only people it really effects are the imagined ninja viral marketers who instigated the whole shebang at the grassroots level.

If the campaign was pure then the whole thing for two normal people who started a silly social networking scheme became a bit of a laugh and a lot of a headache (as the comments refuting Lyle's article indicate). If the campaign was a Sony masterminded viral advertising campaign then it remains a laugh for the ninjas but they also collect on a hefty pay day in exchange for a campaign well orchestrated.

The litmus test of the likelihood of the "RATMgate" conspiracy being an actual thing is to ask if the viral campaign would have been worth the money before the event. If I were speaking to a massive corporation from the position of egotism it would require to guarantee I could pull off this fake campaign coup I would want that corporation to reward me in proportion to my skills.

This isn't a Western or a gangster flick, all of this would have to be mediated via contracts and statements of expectation. The contract would have to guarantee the viral ninja some recompense even in the advent of the scam being uncovered by heroic reporters such as Mr. Lyle, or in the advent of the entire thing being an enormous flop.

Here's the sticking point. I don't for one second believe that Sony would buy into any such contract. What people fail to take into account about businesses it is that they have neither a sense of fun nor a sense of humour. They may well have coffers deep enough to throw money at speculative viral marketers willy nilly but I could throw a snowball and hit a couple of people with "a really neat idea for a viral marketing stunt".

Sony are far more likely to sit back and ask potential viral marketers to prove themselves before they'll even enter talks. The problem for the viral ninjas being that the execution of a successful viral stunt kind of lets the genie out of the bottle. The science of the viral meme is more akin to alchemy than Newtonian Physics, flash viral successes are usually found to have originated from the pan.

So overall common sense and intuition tells us that the campaign was genuine. This does not present people from using the spectre of some imagined corruption stemming from the idea that the whole thing was engineered exploiting this fear to gain attention.

I just find the whole thing quite manipulative and unhelpful. What we know is that radicalism doesn't help, conformity doesn't help, bickering over authenticity doesn't help, fear doesn't help, mud slinging doesn't help. The only way to gain a sense of clarity, it would seem, is to put the whole thing in a perspective that makes a kind of pragmatic sense. The whole thing was a jolly good laugh, it's funny, that's all that really matters, who cares why it came to be. If Sony engineered it that means the company is way cooler than I'd thought it was, so they should be proud to have brought us Christmas care of Rage. If not, then still good, it remains funny.

The only people who might feel aggrieved about being duped by a multi-national corporate entity are those who resent the fact that they can't afford a new car or a bigger house while the people at the top of the corporation have both. If they duped you then that tells you, as the dupee, why they have all that money. If you genuinely handed your money to them while they didn't lift a finger it also drops you a clue. If you choose to look at it this way they duped you either by doing something or doing nothing. In that frame of mind they dupe us all a hundred times a day.

From another perspective, stuff happens. Systems exist. Learn to game them and you will succeed, fail to game them, or refuse to participate and you won't reap what the people who accept those systems consider to be the rewards of participation. Really you have to ask yourself, what's more important? Having a good laugh about a song with naughty words in it invading a cultural institution? Or worrying that you're laughing while others are accumulating vast wealth from your laughter? I picked my answer.

Ho. Ho. Ho.

P.S. This is officially my last post about the Rage debacle.

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