The world has fair reason to hate the song “23,” but based on recent evidence it should at least hear Miley Cyrus out when it comes to her comments on media in the age of Millennials.
Rolling Stone today published some outtakes from its recent cover story on Miley, and the tonguey pop princess said some pretty interesting stuff, not only about social drugs like molly and weed, but also about how the media affects public discourse.
In particular, it was telling to note that, even though she was being interviewed by a print magazine, Miley spoke of the media not in terms of cover lines and front pages, but in terms of clicks. Here she is, for instance, talking about media outrage, something that was covered to similar effect by the Onion in response to CNN’s coverage of Miley’s twerk routine at the VMAs:
I think it’s all marketing. If a website is like, “We love Miley’s performance!”, I don’t think people are gonna click on it. “Miley’s cute performance with teddy bears!”— no one is gonna click on that.
So, for anyone Miley’s age, it is just assumed that “media” means “Internet media.” She backs that up at another point in the conversation by laughing at her dad, Billy Ray, because “he doesn’t know how to Google and all that shit.”
Memo from Miley: News is something published on a website. Take notes, old people.
Her most profound point, however, and one that I think we’re going to see she only gets more right about as clickbait media wends its course through time, is that when it comes to the dissemination of news, too often it’s a case of the tail wagging the dog. Or, as she more eloquently puts it: “I think it’s the media riling up the people, rather than people riling up the media.”
The idea of media riling up the people has long been with us, not least because of the advent of cable news, the 24-hour news cycle, and the imperative to sell copies of magazines. But the problem is getting worse, because now news organizations have to compete for attention on social media, perhaps more than even writing sexy headlines that catch a reader’s eye on a homepage.
As Upworthy, BuzzFeed, Business Insider, Policy Mic, and the likes are showing, the best way to grab attention for a story on social media is to write high-emotion headlines that provoke a passionate response, whether it be outrage, love, delight, or dismay. That’s why these days we see so many headlines with words like “Amazing!,” “Disgusting!,” “Pathetic!,” or “Crazy!” attached to otherwise mundane listicles. It’s also the reason we see the emergence of parodies like the Upworthit Twitter account, which so easily mocks Upworthy’s pathos-drenched clickbait headlines.
In many cases, this riling up of the public is harmless enough, but it does bias the media towards outrage, or, worse, the manufacturing of outrage. On certain occasions, that can be a big problem. It can mean, for instance, that instead of carrying on a prolonged discussion about gun laws and race issues in the wake of the Travyon Martin case, the public instead focuses its moral outrage on Miley’s hyperactively vibrating buttocks.
Or, as Miley puts it:
And what makes me kind of sick is, Trayvon Martin’s trial didn’t happen more than two months ago. It got talked about a lot — but it still got done being talked about a lot quicker than the VMAs. And that’s really sad.
[Image via Billboard]