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And Then There’s This: An Overview

November 13th, 2009 No comments

Bill Wasik in And Then There’s This: How Stories Live and Die in Viral Culture states that one of the goals of the text is “to consider political smear, meaningless fads, perishable bands, momentary celebrities, and disposable narrative” in a more realistic and accurate light.  He begins with an example of what he describes as the nanostory.  He refers to Blair Hornstine, a high school senior and valedictorian from Moorestown, New Jersey who was scheduled to attend Harvard University. However, the superintendent of the district ruled that Hornstine must share her valedictory honors with the second place finisher, whose score was only lower due to a technicality.  Hornstine, whose father was a judge, sued to be named the sole valedictorian and for 2.7 million in punitive damages. The U.S. district judge ruled in her favor however a local paper “discovered that she was a serial plagiarist” and so “Harvard quickly rescinded” her acceptance (p. 2).   Wasik provides this example to show readers “the trajectory of her short-lived fame” or as he later describes it, meaning because of how her story was “fit handily into one of the various meanings imposed on her…” (p. 3-4).

Wasik continues on to talk about viral culture which he describes as seizing, elevating, and spreading ideas as meaningful, significant, or representative of “something about the moment” (p. 64).  He saids that “viral culture is based on a new type of sudden success- a success with 4 key attributes” (p. 8). These are “Speed”, “shamelessness”, “duration”, and “sophistication”(p. 8). Wasik explains that “success in viral culture is interactive, born of mass participation, defined by an awareness of the conditions of its creation” and is built “upon what one might call the media mind”(p. 8).  Further on in the text Wasik states that the media mind refers to when individuals market and promote themselves in the hopes of making meaning and gaining followers which would then change the way they speak, how they act, and how they see themselves (p. 12-13). Wasik explains his ideas on viral culture in the video Bill Wasik’s new book: The view from atop the spike of viral culture.

Wasik discusses his flash mob experiments which he states were brought on by boredom.  With the help of e-mail, Wasik was able to gather people together in specific locations and then on the day of the mob give them directions on where to go and what to do.  This idea he said would work because “it was  a self-conscious idea for a self-conscious culture, a promise to create something out of nothing” (p. 19).  Wasik’s mobs occurred in several different sites in NYC but inspired others to create mobs in other cites as well.  These mobs were described as meme: “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture” (p. 25).

Wasik goes on to talk for some length about an indie rock band called Annuals who was swept up in what Wasik calls niche sensationalism. The band’s rise and fall provided a perfect example of nanofame, with the added benefit of the band’s name itself accurately portraying viral culture. Wasik states, rather poetically, that title was a “melancholy vision of a beautiful band built constitutionally, to die” (p. 62) The author provides us with another experiment in viral culture in which he tried to “neutralize or reverse” the buzz of the band Peter Bjorn and John.

Wasik goes on to talk about the Huffington Post Contagious Festival in which he enters a site called “The Right-Wing New York Times” using the pseudonym Will Murphy and ultimately wins.  He acts as both a participant in the contest and a journalist interviewing the other prominent contests and so is able to show readers a more complete picture of the creation of a meme

The author continues on to corporate agents and word of mouth marketing.  Here companies attempt to engage consumers and turn them into proponents of the company’s products or services. The reward often times for this the agent’s feeling of being an insider.  Wasik talks about how this changes the individual’s relationship with the company and the product.  Wasik created Bill Shiller “the ideal viral consumer” to better show this point and had Shiller actively seek out companies and products to support and promote including giving demonstrations and recommendations of products to friends and family (p. 123).

The author finishes with a discussion of how nanostories effect politics. He shows how false or embellished information can “Swift-boat” a candidate’s campaign (p. 153) . Wasik also created a bipartisan cite called OppoDepot that provides “decontextualized negative stories” about the candidates (p. 159).  However the cite was not as successful as he had hoped.  Wasik points to the rise of Youtube and ads such as “Vote Different” and “Chuck Norris Approved” saying that the online 2008 political campaign was “defined by Youtube more than by blogs” (p. 175).

The book ends with a conclusion in which Wasik looks critically at how as a culture we have become hyper connected to technology.  He proposes that we unplug from our devises be it the internet, iphone, television, etc or at least come to some sort of compromise.  He warns that we should become less enthralled with nanostories and become more “judicious controllers of our own context, making careful and self-reflective choices about what we read, watch, consume” (p. 186).