Taki’s Magazine, called Takimag for short, is an online magazine of politics and culture published by the Greek journalist and socialite Taki Theodoracopulos and edited by his daughter Mandolyna Theodoracopulos. Taki writes in a piece called Better Red Than Woke: “What amuses me to no end is when millennials whine that their complacent elders bequeathed to them a rotten world that leaves them to live rotten lives. Unprecedented prosperity and the defeat of communism mean little to them. Mind you, it’s close, living under the yoke of communism or the tyranny of the digital revolution and its gadgets. I’ll take the former because you could whisper things to people in Red Square, whereas under the latter, one cannot be heard. People are too busy looking at screens and their ears are blocked. And PC coupled with #MeToo are far more unforgiving and punitive than post-Stalin communism was.”
Modern digital technologies, especially in the guises of social media apps like Twitter, Instagram, #hashtags, Snapchat or, to a lesser extent, Facebook, are like serpentine sewer pipes tapping into the limbic system of humanity, revealing the depths of hearts and souls. As emotional impulses are translated into words and images with a half life of their own, sometimes they really stick. Yesterday, I was watching College Gameday on ESPN, my usual fall Saturday morning ritual, when a bunch of people I didn’t recognize, who were caught by the camera in various embarrassing actions or expressions during years of the show, were featured. Each were being interviewed about the effect of becoming a “meme” on their lives.
“In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” This celebrated quote has become Andy Warhol’s most well-known statement. It led to the concept of “15 minutes of fame”—the idea that celebrity, from media scandals to memes, will almost always be fleeting. The original quote seems to trace back to a 1968 brochure that Warhol distributed to exhibition attendees in Sweden, and while the expression became his most famous “quote”, he never actually said it. Be that as it may, the Internet and attendant digital technologies have rendered that quote obsolete. Memes live on as long as the Internet lives. The lovely coed trying to catch a football, when the camera recorded the exact second the ball hit her in the face instead, became an object of scorn. The six sorority sisters ignoring the game while passing their phones back and forth, laughing at whatever was on the screens, became objects of ridicule once the camera recorded those vapid expressions. The fat, shirtless literature professor, sitting in the sun in the bleachers, reading a book, waiting for the game to begin, became famous for his flab instead. Some of the people-turned-memes sought fame, like Bella, whose resemblance to Clemson star Trevor Lawrence led to her 15 seconds of fame when her idol hugged her on camera.
If even an unknown person sipping coffee in a dark cafe can become an instant meme when some stranger’s cellphone camera catches a funny expression (and what unguarded expressions frozen by the camera are not funny?), what about a person attending a college football game with national playoff implications, exposed to the roving cameras of ESPN College Gameday? Privacy? Is it an outmoded concept? Roe v. Wade was a 1973 landmark decision by the US Supreme Court. The court ruled that a Texas state law that banned abortions (except to save the life of the mother) was unconstitutional. The ruling made abortion legal in many circumstances. The decision said that a woman’s right to privacy extended to the fetus/unborn child she was carrying. Where in the U.S. Constitution did the “justices” find a right to privacy? I have read the entire Constitution over many times, and have yet to find the word “privacy”, let alone a right to such. The concept developed mainly from of the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects against “unreasonable search and seizures,” and subsequently became the central argument in several landmark court decisions, including Roe v. Wade. But I digress.
The British drama series Black Mirror, streaming on Netflix, projects our current technological trends into future alternative societies, but no matter how frightening those episodes were, real life, or is it @realife, is more frightening. Consider the true story of Justine Sacco, 30 years old and the senior director of corporate communications at IAC, the corporate owner of The Daily Beast, OKCupid and Vimeo.
During the holidays in 2013, as she flew from New York to South Africa, to visit family, she began tweeting acerbic little jokes about the indignities of travel–don’t most of us? There was one about a fellow passenger on the flight from John F. Kennedy International Airport: “ ‘Weird German Dude: You’re in First Class. It’s 2014. Get some deodorant.’—Inner monologue as I inhale BO. Thank God for pharmaceuticals.” Then, during her layover at Heathrow: “Chilly—cucumber sandwiches—bad teeth. Back in London!” Stereotypes, to be sure, and often true, but most of us assume that the objects of her scorn are Caucasian. Then on Dec. 20, from Heathrow Airport, before the final leg of her trip to Cape Town: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” OOPS!
She had only 170 Twitter followers when she boarded the plane. It was an 11-hour flight, so she slept. When the plane landed in Cape Town, she turned on her phone. Right away, she got a text from someone she hadn’t spoken to since high school: “I’m so sorry to see what’s happening.” Sacco looked at it, baffled. Then another text: “You need to call me immediately.” It was from her best friend, Hannah. Then her phone exploded with more texts and alerts. And then it rang. It was Hannah. “You’re the No. 1 worldwide trend on Twitter right now,” she said. The furor over Sacco’s tweet had become not just an ideological crusade against her, but also a form of idle entertainment. Her ignorance of her predicament during the 11 hour flight lent both dramatic irony and a pleasing narrative arc. As Sacco’s flight traversed the length of Africa, a hashtag began to trend worldwide: #HasJustineLandedYet. By the time Sacco had touched down, tens of thousands of angry tweets had been sent in response to her joke. “Sorry @JustineSacco,” wrote one Twitter user, “your tweet lives on forever.” That’s how you become world famous in 2013. It has only gotten worse, 6 years later.