September 6, 2013
So, at Thursday night's NFL season opener, Ryan Seacrest stepped onto the field during the opening ceremonies in Denver and people were OUTRAGED. I mean, Twitter and Facebook just MELTED DOWN from all the outrage. HOW DARE HE, people sputtered. Because, you know... just because. HOW DARE HE.
Strange. I was watching along with millions of others, and I thought the same thing most football fans must have been thinking -- Ryan Seacrest? Why? -- and then I thought, oh, right, NBCUniversal/Comcast deal, new game show coming, publicity. And then I kinda forgot to be outraged, because he really didn't do anything. He just walked out, shouted the intro, awkwardly punched the air, and pointed at the video board. That, apparently, is enough to trigger both a cascade of boos and indignant tweets -- HOW DARE HE -- and news coverage of the boos and indignant tweets. You'd think he lobbed his own missiles at Syria from all the reaction. (I was more offended by the use of "The Final Countdown," which I thought would forever be remembered primarily as GOB's theme on "Arrested Development").
What seems to be missing from coverage of these kinds of Twitter cause celebres is perspective. First, you're putting a guy whose appeal is primarily to young female audiences and dropping him onto an aggressively male audience that isn't expecting him -- what do you expect the reaction to be? Second, Twitter is still a small subset of the overall audience -- heavy social media action doesn't necessarily translate to actual popularity (if it did, certain low-rated TV shows would top the ratings and some of the real hits wouldn't show up in the top 50). And third, this moment's HOW DARE HE is next moment's completely forgotten footnote. In fact, had I not been alerted to search for Seacrest later in the evening, I'd have forgotten he was there, and the people I follow in my timeline quickly moved on to obsessing over the rain delay, then the game, then Peyton Manning in particular. But everyone loves a controversy, and so we have headlines like "Ryan Seacrest Booed at NFL's Season Opener" and - this really is a headline -- "Ryan Seacrest and the NFL did their best to ruin opening night." Ruin? HOW DARE HE.
But it's the same with Miley Cyrus, whose HOW DARE SHE moment managed not to destroy the nation (whatever the Parents Television Council thinks), or pretty much any other controversy fueled by social media. Most of it is trivial, fleeting, and really not all that outrageous in the grand scheme of things. Tweets and status updates can be fuel for the fire, but they can also burn a topic out before you can get to it. What they also do, though, is muddy the waters for you when deciding if something really IS a hot topic. It's a good indicator of where your audience's minds are at a given moment, but you have to weigh other factors before latching on. Were people REALLY outraged? Was YOUR audience outraged? Is the outrage still in effect or is it yesterday's news? The answers make the difference between a decent talk topic and a fleeting, hey-did-you-see-that mention on your show. The timing is particularly critical: Some social media controversies last for a while -- I think the Miley Cyrus Twerkfest had some legs (oh, go ahead, say "and butt," you know you want to) -- and some don't. I can't say for sure which the Ryan Seacrest thing is -- I'm amused that there's a Whitehouse.gov petition demanding the passage of the Americans Seeking Protection from Ryan Seacrest Act -- but it helps to consider exactly what's fueling the HOW DARE HE reaction first. In this case, let's face it, people are having fun making Ryan Seacrest jokes. It IS fun. And he'll worry about it all the way to the bank. Meanwhile, more adults are out of the workforce, we're teetering on the edge of more war, and... and...
Oh, Lord, I'm not making the argument for talking about "serious" things, am I? Perish the thought. In fact, "Why We Hate Ryan Seacrest/the Kardashians/LeBron James/any other celebrity who gets his or her share of opprobrium" would make a great topic. (Just don't use "opprobrium" -- that's an "I want to prove that I went to college" word.) So would "People We Never Want To See On TV Again." And "People Who Don't Belong On Sports Telecasts." Just realize that the outrage on social media may not be so much outrage as the fleeting fun of piling on.
I'm finishing this week's column late, which is why I'm not even sure if it made sense. Too bad, that's all I got. Oh, and I also got -- er, have All Access News-Talk-Sports' show prep column Talk Topics with interesting stuff to talk about, and you can get that stuff by clicking here for the full column or going to Twitter at @talktopics, where every story is individually linked to the appropriate item.
Did I mention how late I am with this thing? Too late to come up with a closer. Maybe next week.