Behind the Memes #1: Humanizing Social Media, Celebrity Culture, & Politics

So...my name is Lauren-Blair and on this particular space you likely know me as a fashion blogger who goes to concerts, reads books, and is an aspiring comedian.  On one hand, I do share a lot of personal things, like my way less than fun heart surgery back in early 2014 or some thoughts I had when I hit the 12 year mark of my father's passing.  I shared these stories because the Internet makes the world flat and if my experiences can help someone not feel so alone in a similar situation it would be somewhat selfish not to share, especially after months or even years had passed and I had gained some perspective to pass along.  In exchange for baring these painful parts of my life, I keep a lot of things off limits on this blog (and in some cases off the Internet in general).  How long have you been reading my blog?  If it's been a while, may I ask you what my romantic status is?  Tons of bloggers are very open about their romantic lives...I am not.  There are very limited reasons I can think of that would ever convince me to divulge if I am single, in a relationship, engaged, married, or divorced.  I have a million reasons for this, but to sum it up and not make a whole post about it, I just like keeping that part of my life off the Internet and having something for my real life and the people who are actually apart of my life (Facebook and other personal forms of social media included).  The Internet is a weird place so I like to keep whatever is going on currently private.
Today I'm wearing my Collectif Bananas dress because I think life has gotten kind of bananas... #badjoke #butnoreally

Now, my political and religious views have 100% been aired on out the Internet many o'times before.  I had a whole project based on that up until the end of 2014.  But on this blog?  Not so much.  Because style blogging gets oddly personal at times, I quickly realized what a lot of my fellow bloggers believe in regards to those allegedly taboo dinner topics.  Because I can rarely see my readers, I assumed that the law of averages probably meant that for everyone blogger with a specific political affiliation or religious belief, there were roughly 10 readers thinking the same way.  Not wanting to alienate myself from a potential audience, I opted to never bring up the big world topics on here.  I believe I hide my world views in plain sight and there are absolutely paper trails that anyone in a particular curious or stalker-y mood could follow that would out me, but I have not point blank expressed a solid and opaque opinion about hot button issues on Grace Rock Kelly Roll...until now.

A LOT of shit has gone down in 2016.  All sides of the fence are fractured, confused, angry, and nothing is being solved.  We keep passing along soundbites out of context, memes that are not only overly simplified but also anger other people, and we have a complete distrust in anyone who opposes anything we're for.  I'm by no means claiming I'm going to save the world, but I'm against staying silent so I think it's time I do the little that is in my power: I want to start throwing myself on the tracks a bit and explain the complexities of my world views, not so people will "see things my way," but maybe begin to see the human side of view points they don't agree with.  Dialogues are not happening and the intricate details as to why anyone thinks the way they think are being cut out.  You can't hate someone once you know their story, so in the limited capacity that I can I wish to start sharing my story on hot button issues in an effort to humanize everyone.  You never have to agree with me, I just ask that you listen and accept me as is even if we have differences.  And please feel free to start practicing this with people in your life real life you disagree with.

These monthly posts will never be a bloated ego talking, nor will I even condemn what I disagree with.  I will explain how I came to feel about why I believe in what I believe in, show where I meet people in the middle, question what I don't understand about opposing sides as politely as possible, and just showcase a complicated human world view that people from all sides will find things to agree and disagree with (as we're all kind of special snowflakes with huge world issues).  I'm not starting fights as much as I'm trying to stop the train wreck that is assuming everything about different view points are bad and reducing them to a two sentence (at best) soundbite.

Before I begin, I want to backtrack on how we got in this mess.  Times have changed drastically in less than 20 years and I have some theories.  This post in particular is not political, but an attempt to connect the dots in a non-partisan way.  I mean, we're all guilty and well intending at once, right?

I Blame Celebrity Media of the Early 2000s for How We Treat Modern Social Media.  I've given this a lot of thought, and I'm having trouble coming up with ways I may be wrong about it.  I remember in 2007 or 2008 when I clicked on my then guilty pleasure website of Perez Hilton and saw that he was streaming live footage of Britney Spears being carted away from her home in a gurney and being loaded into an ambulance.  She had locked herself in a bathroom (or something) and people close to her had called 911 reporting her to mentally unfit and a danger to herself.  What stunned me about this was not so much the incident itself (although, of course it was a shocking scene) but the fact that random people throughout the world, like myself, were privy to this incredible meltdown in real time.  

I immediately thought of past pop princesses, specifically 80s sensation, Tiffany.  I have no memories of Tiffany being a "thing" as I was a little young for her reign, but as a former avid watcher of Behind the Music and E! True Hollywood Story, I knew her tale.  Those biography shows had painted a picture of a teenaged superstar who sold millions of albums until one flopped.  She dated a New Kid on the Block until she didn't.  She disappeared into obscurity, had some behind the scenes family drama, resurfaced in PlayBoy, and then ultimately did this interview to explain her story and promote that she was trying to reboot her career in some capacity.  
This is the era I'm referring to, in case anyone needed a visual memory jog.

Sadly, Tiffany has yet to recapture her earlier success. When Britney Spears was being carted off to a mental ward live on the Internet, it represented one of the first moments we were witnessing the fall of an idol in all it's gory details.  Society had always loved to build people up just to knock them down, but the accessibility of this incident was unlike anything we had witnessed yet.  People just kind of disappeared after the public got sick of them.  Though ultimately proven wrong, it looked like we were watching someone unravel and therefore lose power of their Pop Kingdom as many bubble gum stars had before (as we all know Britney bounced back, but at the time this seemed impossible).  I thought of Tiffany and how it was reported in her Behind the Music that she encountered some very rough times and made questionable decisions throughout it, but she was largely out of the public eye for those depressing times.  Britney Spears had no privacy and the public was eating it up with a spoon while licking the leftovers from the pan.

In the years before Britney's meltdown, celebrity had become a thing slightly different than the era or two before it.  Paris Hilton became famous for being rich, being from a famous family, and making a sex tape.  Hoards of her friends got a glimpse of the limelight, most notably Nicole Richie, and they were followed around everywhere.  They were on every red carpet and couldn't do anything without a paparazzi shot.  I'm no fool; I don't doubt they called the paparazzi and arranged a slew of these shots, but the shots kept selling because the public loved it.  And ultimately I do believe they were followed around against their will because their image and lifestyle became bigger than themselves.  Why people became famous for being famous is still a little cloudy for me, but why they and famous people  who were famous for their work (Britney Spears, Lindsey Lohan, etc) suddenly became the darlings of fame isn't as hard to piece together.  Photographic technology upped it's game tremendously with the advent of the Internet.  Film didn't need to be developed anymore and waiting for a magazine to be go to press and get shipped was not an issue; everything could be uploaded to the world within minutes of an event happening.

Other parts of celebrity culture got ridiculous and at times, even funny.  Reality TV proved to be an animal that wouldn't die and tons of famous, or maybe more accurately "previously famous" people signed up for reality shows.  The coverage of party girls in Hollywood became oversaturated. Everyone had a DUI arrests, including Mel Gibson, who notoriously screamed about the Jews and called a female officer "sugar tits" and the knowledge of these events were almost impossible to escape.  Entertainment magazine shows had to compete with the Internet, meaning that in their fixed nightly time slots they had to give viewers a reason to tune in when more and more people were getting their celebrity news fix on blogs.  So these shows continued to feature the most outrageous forms of celebrity behavior.  I'm not saying celebrities didn't ask crazy prior to the technology of the 21st century, but it did become a lot harder to conceal that crazy once everything went digital.  And the public loved to hate it and demanded more of it.

I became "interested" in celebrity culture, in part because it was everywhere and hard to escape.  But really, though I wasn't yet a budding comedian, I had the brain for  comedy and was a nerd about it.  I loved shows like Best Week Ever and largely started reading Perez Hilton daily so I could predict what the comedians would cover on that show and would even privately take my own spin at what could be said about the weird crap Anna Nicole Smith did that week to compare my thoughts to actual working comedians.  So many of these women (men were acting crazy too, but women really got the majority of this spotlight) were walking into public restrooms barefoot, not wearing underwear while not-so-gracefully getting out of cars, and gave incoherent speeches while denying that they (clearly) had plastic surgery and it was hard not to laugh it.  This was the time Kathy Griffin started becoming the household institution that she has since become, as talking about celebrities is her bread and butter.  Countless cable shows had full hours dedicated to countdowns of the craziest behaviors from all of these kooky celebrities and occasionally a whole show featuring just one of these darlings with comedians poking fun at their behavior also aired.  Celebrity culture was more accessible than ever, bigger than ever, and often funnier than ever.

When Celebrity Culture Stopped Being Funny, Personal Social Media Usage Began To Increase.  While she was powerhouse talent, Whitney Houston was apart of the gaggle of people often being caught being erratic and being parodied for it (a la "Bbbboobbbbaaaay" and "Crack is whack.).  By the time she passed away in 2012, celebrity culture had changed and poking fun at erratic behaviors had long stopped being funny long before her passing, but I believe her death was the nail in the coffin of comedy one liners at the expense of a celebrity being erratic or unraveling.  

I believe the first dawn of this change was when Anna Nicole Smith died.  It was 2007 and was roughly a 5 year mark of an over saturation of the craziest celebrities being featured everywhere.  Anna Nicole Smith had a rather crazy life with all kinds of ups and downs and ultimately starred in her own reality show.  To say she seemed sane or grounded would be false.  Even putting aside her below humble upbringing, stripper past, and marrying an incredibly old rich guy who died shortly after they married and all the lawsuits from said rich guy's family, she did crazy stuff.  For instance, I remember her claiming she had sex with a ghost.  That was comic gold richer than her gold digging story.  A year or two before she passed she was a presenter at an award show (below) and gave a speech where she literally embodied a robot suffering from water damage...or something, likely due to drug use.  At the time it was though of as just being crazy, or maybe even just a lack of intelligence, and so it was fair game for comics.  In retrospect, now that we know we we know, she was clearly on drugs and they were killing her--which is no laughing matter. 

Within the next year after Anna Nicole Smith's death is when Britney got carted off in a gurney, and almost every celebrity of this caliber you can think of got arrested, if not multiple times, and/or went to rehab.  I'm not sure you could call me a sympathizer of celebrities, but I'm also not as cold hearted as I even like to pretend I am.  Watching people become their own worst enemies and throw away the good fortune they had come into got incredibly uncomfortable to watch, and it ultimately stopped being even a little bit funny.  Shows counting down crazy behavior from celebrities don't really exist anymore, so I don't think I'm alone in that sentiment. What's interesting to me is that while the over saturation of celebrities acting crazy started to get borderline inhuman to cover, social media began to reach a point of saturation.

Facebook's Newsfeed Changed Everything.  I'm dating myself a bit here (as if I haven't already with some of the above references), but I was amongst the earlier crop of schools to get The Facebook Facebook.  The fall semester of 2004 had barely begun and people left and right were buzzing about it.  For you youths, boycotters of social media, and people who were late to the game, Facebook was not what it is today 14 years ago.  For one, your profile photo was your only photo.  Except for groups, which were mostly puns and nostalgia groups, nothing was linkable.  There was a wall, but it was incredibly crude and always reminded me of an Etch A Sketch because of how the final product looked (I can't even find an image on the Internet it's so old!!).  It was also college .edu email invitational email only, so not only were there no parents or grandparents incorrectly using Facebook, but there were absolutely no businesses--let alone legitimate media companies-- on Facebook.  Remember, MySpace was a competitor at the time and at one point (briefly) eclipsed Facebook, there was something called Friendster, maybe a dating site Match.com (online dating was still something to be ashamed of in those days though), and AOL Instant Messaging.  We were no where near the apex of social media savviness and while Facebook was always user friendly and had a polished professionalism that maybe Myspace or AIM did not, it was a very far cry from what it became today.

I remember in 2006 a 'Newsfeed' appeared.  I was no longer in college and in many ways I loved it because it was way easier to keep up with my friends when they posted photos, got new jobs, or said anything they wanted to say on social media because before this switch you literally had to manually stalk your friends.  Like if you knew "Annie" frequently upload photo albums (a new feature as of only 2005), you had to visit Annie's page to see if she had new activity.  As I type this it sounds really creepy, but that really was how it was done back then!  The Newsfeed announced new activities from your friends for you, and not just the essentials, but trivial things like funny viral videos your friends shared and personal matters like being "in a relationship" with someone.  All of that was on your page right after you logged in, whether you cared about these updates or not.  By just having an account and logging in you were apart of the gossip mill.  This is almost identical to how it is today, minus that there still weren't really any businesses or media conglomerates on Facebook just yet.

My friends and I immediately likened it having all of your friends turn into a celebrity.  Facebook in a way maybe already did that, but now we were "getting the news" just like you could on a celebrity blog or magazine show, without hunting and pecking around profiles.  Remember, this was a little before people without an .edu email could join, so to say that there wasn't a parallel between drunken celebrity tabloid shots and drunken college/young twenty something isn't a stretch.  Instead of those magazine articles that feature "Celebrities: Just Like Us!" posts, it was an opportunity to do the reverse and be just like celebrities by posting photos of fancy drinks, exotic vacations, crazy parties, expensive weddings, and life announcements that erred on the side of glossy and positive over the more benign if not depressing aspects of life.  
I have WAY worse photos than this of me and my friends, but I was in no mood to track them all down and get their consent for me to share it.  Otherwise I have no shame and would have :)

I'll Get Personal For a Moment...Though I've become a helluva a lot more private with how I conduct myself on social media nowadays, I'd be bold faced lying if I said that the 20 year old version of Lauren-Blair didn't get some youth based narcissistic thrill from posting funny party photos.  And on a more serious note, all of these technological changes happened within a year or so after my dad died.  I'm from a small town and whenever I was home and had to go to the store for milk, I'd be bombarded by well meaning people asking about how I or my family was doing.  I was tragedy girl and I fucking hated it.  The second I made a Facebook account I picked the smiliest photo I had (I had to ask my friend, Tyler--I'm shamelessly plugging his food blog HERE!-- to crop it for me because I had no idea how to do that in 2004.  I knew if I looked happy people would assume I was fine and get off my back. From there with every new feature I immediately understood it as a PR function to look more well adjusted than I was, which my 33 year old self wants to kick my 20 year old ass for because my life was falling apart and a little more honestly and a little less self deflecting probably would have prevented me from starting to do that in every form and maybe I would have avoided a myriad of complications that I had to sift through ten years later.  My point with this personal perspective is that while I may not have had the technological skills to crop my own damn profile photo I absolutely understood how to utilize social media as a PR tool.  Without outing anyone I've had personal conversations with, I know other people used Facebook and similar networks for similar reasons.  And, it's no secret that studies have proved that people only post what people want their friends to see.  Good reasons or bad, Facebook is a public relations tool for real people.  Everyone kind of became their own publicist, whether they wanted to look glamorous, deflect from the real story, or be the elusive type everyone wonders about... and all of those strategies mirror celebrity culture.
My seemingly simple first ever social media profile pic!

Facebook nowadays is a little more polished.  People keep more cards close to their vest than they used to, for fear of job complications, wrath of in-laws, and other valid and less than valid reasons.  But back when it was mostly college kids?  Not. So. Much.  There really weren't any consequences of putting crazy party photos on social media yet.  Again, I'd be bold faced lying to you if I said those days weren't fun.  Though I only check Facebook for a whopping minute a day, when I come across too many baby photos I wax nostalgically for the days when all photos were of people being a hot mess and watching my friend's little siblings go buck wild once they got to college.  This lasted for even a while after more generations of people joined social media, but now it's to the point where it's a format of much more polished photos and way less real "candid" memories.  This is kind of where the celebrity comparison comes in for me as well.  It was impossible not to gossip about whatever you were seeing on social media.  At roughly the time celebrity news got depressing, everyone was baring everything for everyone's entertainment.  And as people got more polished with their social media usage, major new organizations became prevalent in social media world...

Then Came Politics and Social Media.   I don't remember the exact time all business were legitimately on Facebook, but it was before the decade closed for sure.  Suddenly every band I ever flippantly listed as one of my favorites in my interests had a clickable page to their Facebook site.  Politicians and celebrities alike got Facebook pages.  When news stations first joined Facebook it seemed weird and people mocked it, but before too long people began getting their news from Facebook as news sites joined in an effort to share their stories quicker.  And unlike anyway in history before, there was suddenly the power to share your thought on every opinion you had to everyone you've ever met before.  All major newspapers and network news stations were doing it on the exact site you shared photos of your pets, so why not throw in your two cents?!?!  The exposure of what an individual posted may not have been on par with  the eyeballs reading The New York Times posts , but the act of publishing was basically the same.  It's no secret that politics and religion were never good dinner topics, but suddenly everyone had the temptation to mimic how news was being received by casting their opinion everywhere.  Why be a guest on a news round table when you can just tweet your opinions?  Hell, you could tweet journalists and celebrities alike and in some cases have them engage with and follow you right back (...block you...)!  The world was flat and suddenly nobody needed to study political science to have a "valid" opinion based solely on their feelings.  Lines were being crossed and it became harder to figure out who had a legitimate leg to stand on versus who was merely fear mongering.  Normal citizens were posting from opinion sites and commenting on them as if they were facts.  News sites started posting and validating anything being sensationalized for hits.  Sadly fear mongering and sensationalism ultimately won out, as did anything that was more simple than complicated.  Having digestible soundbites spreading like wildfire from any Tom, Dick, or Harry are now more trusted than the more complex truths from people who made careers out of researching and understanding the issues at hand.  I'm all for power to the people, but when we start distrusting facts due to our own ignorance and ego, I need to rethink that stance.  

Comments: A Public Hell.  Going back to celebrity culture for a minute, it's a personal hobby of mine to read comments on YouTube videos featuring celebrity guests on talks show or in actual articles from TMZ (ugh) and People magazine.  A few times a week I unwind by getting into the more low brow aspects of what culture has to offer, but it's really the comments that I find the most entertaining (and horrifying).  People really will say anything and trolls are definitely not a mythological creature in these current times--yikes.  People feel a genuine need to knock anyone down and to me it's both sad and ridiculous.  

Because computers in the house became more of a norm when I was in middle school and AOL Chatrooms were starting to take off when I was in high school, I have very fuzzy memories of what was socially accepted prior to the Internet becoming what it's become versus what has actually changed.  I grew up in a political household where elected officials would pop over, so I occasionally witnessed how people spoke about politics with one another...but other than that I come up short.  But I can say that people speak to one another WAY differently to each other on the Internet than they do in real life, and not just about celebrities.  A few years back I posted a relatively innocuous joke stemming from a photo where all the living US presidents gathered for a photo-op.  A friend's mom, whom I knew to have opposite politics beliefs as me, chewed me out on my comments section!  What sucked about it was that I always thought she adored me and I somewhat looked at her as a surrogate Colorado mom as I had done holidays with the family and spent a lot of time with her in general, and now she was taking the time to be negative on my photo.  Again, my joke was really innocuous in the grand scheme of things, I didn't tag or single her or anyone else out with opposing views, and this woman actually posted her political rhetoric all day everyday and failed to see the hypocrisy of her calling me out.  Similar situations have happened with this most recent election; a friend recently sent me screen shots of a shouting match on Facebook versus next to screen shots of a text where both parties diplomatically defused the situation behind closed doors.  What is it about public commenting behind a screen that makes people so shitty to one another?

I honest to goodness think it's how the Internet has made it so easy for everyone to have a voice and how there's razor thin lines in most people's subconscious minds between what the experts are saying versus the average people because it happens to all be on the same platform.  We went from loving to poke fun at celebrities, to acting like them and judging one another for those actions, to politics getting involved and having things be a huge mess.  I shared this (rather long--apologies) first piece because I think it's important for all of us to get on the same page before I unveil individual topics.  We oversimplify everything and judge everything to the point where nobody has compassion for one another, probably because nobody is listening past the surface arguments.  


We will all never agree with one another, but something needs to change and I think the first step is throwing out the memes and engaging in real story telling and listening.  I refuse to believe that our attention spans are so bad that we can't retrieve some of what we've lost.  Actual dialogue is 1000x more interesting than quippy sentences above Gene Wilder's face.  Let's talk about these tough issues, acknowledge how we got in this mess so we can try to avoid making the same mistakes we have already made, and start trying to trace where facts come from versus where emotions cloud facts.  We've all tried yelling at one another and that really isn't working.  So let's try rational discussion and I'll start.  Know that none of this is to pump up my ego or world view's and I don't believe I'll change anyone's minds on specific topics, but I do hope to change the way people look at fellow humans who disagree with them on major world views.  Hopefully this piece serves as proof that I want constructive change that we all need to be accountable for more, and therefore will not come out with pointed finger guns blazing at either side of any topic.  I come in peace, so please don't hate me when I attempt to humanize the 2016 US election during the week of the inauguration next month.  Until then, it'll be back to your regular style-centric programming.  I hope you all have a great weekend!

~Lauren-Blair Donovan


Comments

  1. Wow amazing dress! Thanks for sharing! You are such a darling.
    Much love, Len
    http://www.lenparent.com

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great post dear

    https://iameleine.blogspot.com/

    ReplyDelete
  3. I agree with you, I know many people post about their love lives, marital status, etc, but I keep mine private. And politics, too :) I didn't know about your father, and as I read all I can about grief, I will check your post - and no matter what people tell "oh. get over it. 12 years, enough to recover!" I don't believe it. It's a scar that we learn to live with, but it's there. I don't think you have a bloated ego and I love to read your ideas. Celebrity, facebook, internet in general... topics that polarize. So I find it sad to build celebrities and then feeling happy when the fall down - and not only celebrities, friends in general - as some people I know feel about fellows. Internally feeling happy for fellows' disgraces. Internet and facebook has nearly only billionaires, bank directors and party lovers among our friends :) I loved your post and will love reading the new articles you are sharing! And the dress is lovely! :) Hope you have a great weekend!
    DenisesPlanet.com

    ReplyDelete
  4. This was a very long post but I read every word because you are right on so many points, Lauren. FB is not what it used to be but bloody hell, nothing is anymore with the crazy rise of social medias. I have had bad experience with stalking before thanks to FB which is the main reason why my profile is locked down and I try my best to keep my private life, private.

    Shireen | Reflection of Sanity

    ReplyDelete
  5. You've made some great points here, Lauren. Would you believe that I didn't have a FB account until I started my blog 4yrs ago!? In fact, I had no form of social media because I didn't want to share my personal life with the whole world. I felt that if you were meant to be in my life, you already were. Though I do understand that FB has restored friendships and families, I've actually seen some damage done, too. It's truly a fine line to walk, which is why I'm very mindful of what and who I share and how it can effect anyone I mention. Thanks for sharing, beauty, and I hope you have a great week ahead!

    XO,

    Jalisa
    www.thestylecontour.com

    ReplyDelete
  6. What a great read, lady- and I'm with you, was totally in college in '04 when FB launched at my school and it became a thing. It's insane how much the platform has changed since then! Your post was like a little memory lane trip- with some solid commentary on how societal behavior has shifted in part to the celebrity/social media influence.

    -Ashley
    Le Stylo Rouge

    ReplyDelete
  7. I'm so fascinated by this post and you did a wonderful job of writing it. I know it probably took you some time to sit down and gather all of your thoughts on this. I've always been in love with pop culture so topics like this are at the top of my list. You even brought up some topics and events that I had forgotten about. Your timeline is so on point and looking back, I have to agree with just about everything you said. I know I talked to you about social media and how much of yourself you want to post for everyone to see. This is a great balance though of your views and what actually happened.

    enchantingelegance.net

    ReplyDelete
  8. You know, I have to agree with you on what you said about pop/ celebrity culture and our accessibility to it all. It can be way too much at times. Whatever you're comfortable with sharing or not is up to you. It is a personal choice.

    astylishlovestory.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete

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