Now we’re concerned with mediocrity? (My response to “Why Rebecca Black is Everyone’s Fault”)

24 Mar

In case you’ve been under a rock, there’s a new hot “reality-singer” celebrity of sorts with a simple — yet catchy tune that is making serious rounds in digital, social, and traditional media. Her name, Rebecca Black. Her song “Friday.” Without going into too much detail (because if you’re somewhat literate you can guess), Rebecca recounts, in painstaking detail, one of her favorite days of the week “Friday.” In case the premise was too complicated for some listeners, there’s a video that provides visual cues to uncover the less than veiled meanings of her words and phrases.

From what I can tell, Rebecca Black’s parents “gifted” her production time and the opportunity to make her own music video. My gifts as a teen were never so elaborate or expensive — but I digress.

So, many media traditional and online, personalities are giving this chick grief for what is clearly a less than stellar vocal performance. In particular Peter Shankman provides his commentary “The Age of Mediocrity: Why Rebecca Black is Everyone’s Fault,” posted on Peter Shankman’s point is that Rebecca Black’s popularity is not her fault, but rather the fault of society because we have lowered our standards so much — this is what counts as main stream musical talent and entertainment.

My response to Peter Shankman and others spouting this position is — where have you been? This crappy, poppy performance is only one in a long line. I mean let’s be honest, when Taylor Swift is lauded as a songwriter and exceptional storyteller, and Christina Auguilera (who has since re-cooperated herself) is reaching stardom with verses like “I’m a genie in a bottle baby,”and don’t get me started on Katy Perry and that damn “California Girls.” Furthermore, let’s just venture a little outside music and consider our good friend Snookie, The Situation, or the Real Housewvies of _________ (insert desired city here).

It seems pretty clear to me that we’ve already reached — or sunk to depending on your disposition — mediocrity. I say to the Peter Shankmans of the world — get over yourself and don’t blame society as an excuse. If you really think society is at fault, where do you identify your role contributing the the rise of Rebecca Black. Blaming society is a cop out, plain and simple.

We’re in an age when people seek opportunities to exploit themselves and whatever mediocre talent they have. And further more, there are plenty of people that seek out those individuals to make their quick buck giving some poor, unsuspecting sucker their 15 seconds to 15 minutes of fame. It is what it is. And if you’re looking for people to assume some personal responsibility for th state of affairs, I’m asking that you start with yourself.

Additionally, I would argue that Rebecca Black’s instant popularity is the result of the global village Marshall McLuhan hypothesized many moons ago. He knew even before Rebecca, Taylor or Christina was a glimmer in their parents eye, that electronic communication would compress the world making access to information instant. And it has. He did warned others to be prepared for such a revolution. So all I can say is “whoop there it is!” (another great musical number lacking depth and breadth).

On the flip side I can respect Rebecca Black’s approach. She did it because she wanted to and had the opportunity to do something fun. Rather than big, bad record company that seeks to exploit the kid for the 3 songs she can eek out, leaving her with nothing but a VH1 “Behind the Music” episode when it’s all said and done.

So, what do you think is she at all new low of mediocrity or is Rebecca Black par for the course?


Posted by on March 24, 2011 in communication, media, social media


Tags: , , , , , , ,

13 responses to “Now we’re concerned with mediocrity? (My response to “Why Rebecca Black is Everyone’s Fault”)

  1. Jacob Stoops

    March 29, 2011 at 8:04 am

    My fiance’s brother just tuned me into this video – wait for it – last Friday! He loves how awesomely (bad) mediocre it is! Just another testament to the power of the social media mob when it gets a hold of something and runs. It can be just like a bull in a china shop sometimes if you think about it! Anyhow…hope to see you at tonight’s #CBusr event!

    • Erika Pryor

      March 29, 2011 at 9:02 am

      The bull in the china shop is such an accurate description. When social and digital media get a hold of something there really is no telling what will happen. What I think is also interesting about this is that nobody is diluting themselves by suggestions poor Rebecca Black can sing. I think we can think of plenty of personalities and products that are awesomely bad and that’s exactly why they are good — and ultimately popular.

      Looking forward to seeing you at tonights #Cbusr event too. Thanks for stopping by. I can’t wait to guest post on your blog soon (hint hint, I’ve got something coming)!

  2. Tom Lillis IV

    March 29, 2011 at 3:16 am

    I have a response to this but I don’t want it to seem like I’m some sort of snob. Or, perhaps, I am some sort of snob and the response just reflects this fact. I’m cool either way. In either event, this post has some definitional difficulties. Both this post and the original Mashable piece lament that “society” is promoting mediocrities such as Ms. Black. But, when you read further, you realize that “society” is defined as “those who have promoted Ms. Black’s video”. That begs the question. I think it would be fairer to say the Ms. Black’s sudden fame is a side effect of the death throes of mass media and that “society” casts a much wider net.

    Neither my brothers, nor my wife nor I have seceded from “society”. Neither do we live under a rock (however, if you’ve seen my brother’s apartment you’d be forgiven for thinking that sub-rock living would be “trading up”). While aware there was a home-video making the rounds I wasn’t even aware of Ms. Black’s name and face until Dr. Erika embedded the piece in her blog. If my brothers are aware of her it’s because I’ve asked “have you heard of this” and they’ve looked it up. My wife has never heard of either Ms. Black or her video – and I count on her for my pop culture references. Yet, we live normal, happy lives interacting with the rest of the world. We are part of “society”. In the parlance of the day we are in “the long tail”.

    You can’t even us Luddites. A rueful smile crossed my lips when I realized that don’t listen to my favorite “radio” programs* on the radio and I only watch one of my favorite TV shows on television** (unfortunately, I’m still addicted to “The Nanny” reruns on Nick and Night). I even look for interesting or thoughtful home-made videos on YouTube***. So how did my immediate family and I get erased from society? Was it something we said? Or is it because we no longer consume much mass media any longer?

    Take away the definitional issue and the “problem” goes away. Ms. Black is popular with that segment of society which enjoys art that appeals to the lowest common denominator – hence the accusation of “mediocrity”. She became popular because the narrative of the unknown but talented amateur making it big is embedded into the same group. The rest of us, a group that the “big four” will lament is growing quickly and wrecking their business model, don’t know and don’t care about her. As for how new artists will get exposure in the future, that is a question for which artists and business-types are still feeling around for the answer (and I’ve occupied enough of Dr. Erika’s space without conjecturing about it).

    I hope Ms. Black keeps making videos. I won’t watch them but if she enjoys doing then then mozel tov. Meanwhile, my brothers will continue to comfortably inhabit their niches while my wife downloads the latest episode of “Glee” and I await the next Gary Louris album. And, finally, for all the sneering against Main Stream Media it’s fun to see that the social media cognoscenti of the world can be just as susceptible to group-think.

    * “The Big Broadcast” with Rich Conaty & “Digital 411” with Dr. Erika
    ** “House” on iTunes, “Conan” on the web and “Nanny and the Professor” on Hulu
    *** “Three Things you Didn’t Know About Me” from Cherryl Harrison & “Tired Old Queen at the Movies” from Steve Hayes

    • Erika Pryor

      March 29, 2011 at 9:10 am

      Tom! Holy moly look who got fired up about this piece. I love it! Now, if it was 5 years ago and you said you don’t consume media in the traditional outlets (television, radio, etc) then I would have gleefully called you a snob, but today I think not. It’s a great point that people are consuming both user generated and industry produced media. Which is why so many record companies I should hope are studying the Rebecca Black case closely (like Justin Beiber). When it comes to figuring out how to manage the new media model, there’s something to be said for what these young people have been able to do, ability to mobilize people, and garner national attention.

      Now, there’s not much I can say about the fact that you and your family hadn’t yet heard about Rebecca Black. I take that as a testament to your existence under a rock — and dare I say — you’re not her target demographic. So, it’s no surprise you hadn’t heard the song, but you know about it know and that still says something about reach.

  3. Teddy Anderson

    March 25, 2011 at 6:34 am


    Wow, this is side of you I’ve not seen nor expected to see however it is a side we should see more often. My hat is off to you, as they say in gymnastics “You nailed, girl!” And way to Smack Down the Peter Shankmans of the world. It is time, once and for all, to bury the phrase “It’s Society’s Fault.”

    As for sinking to mediocrity I think that is what most have always wanted. Otherwise why do we work so hard to knock down the really exceptional and then cheer when they fall. Mediocrity for most in their jeans (pun intended).

    • Erika Pryor

      March 29, 2011 at 9:13 am

      I’m glad you like the “Fired Up” Erika. Lucky for me I get irritated about much more than I let on, so I’ve got plenty material to work with =). After reading that article from Shankman, I felt as though I had no choice but to respond. I get so annoyed with people that play the “blame it on society” card. I mean really, that’s just as bad as those people that argue, “Well I’m entitled to my opinion.” I always say, okay great. That also means I have the right to call you to task on your opinion, and if you’ve formed it with any thought or easily validated research you should be able to defend it as well.

  4. keif

    March 24, 2011 at 9:44 am

    Instant access means anyone can get their fifteen minutes of fame now, and just as quickly be forgotten. As this is still a “new” thing, and not every teen’s parents can afford to gift production time to their child, but as people become more tech savvy (and garage band, iMovie, whatever makes it just as easy for a hobbyest to do it themselves) we’re going to see more of this.

    What’s different between her and some of the hilarious parodies we see online? She chose to do something original, not covering a song, not having fun with it (I direct you to Brett Domino, ) – and people are pissed because she’s getting attention, her parents are rich, and she’s getting attention. Is she whining like Britney Spears? Is she signing up for her own reality show? Is she on a kid’s tv show, while going out and getting drunk, while talking about how she’s not a role model? Would we care less if she showed up on “America’s Got Talent” or “American Idol”?

    Probably, but people would still find something to whine about if she was chosen, or cry because she wasn’t chosen. This is the nature of mass media and the pop culture attitude of the internet.

    She’s a kid. With rich parents. Who made a video. And is getting attention for it. She must be good enough to be worthy of all this ire directed at her for willing to be public about what she did (and isn’t there something awesome about people willing to out themselves online doing karaoke? They’re braver than I am – like CathyMay15, who pulled her YouTube channel because of the people that decided to deride her: )

    How is she any different than any contestant on American Idol? How is she different from the myriad of “teens” on Nickelodeon/Disney who get auto-tuned in to singer/performers?

    Her parents paid for her to make a video. Cool, I wish I had that much money to blow.

    But as well, she’s handling the attention well, and that *is* something to admire, as is Zachary Freiman, who made the video *himself* and posted it online:

    These kids are being creative. Will they be musicians? Maybe. Maybe they’ll be producers, directors, camera operators. Either way, I wish I had their creativity and willingness to put myself online like that (and handle the hatred with their attitude – I love Zach’s response to the haters:
    “It’s just the Internet,” he told his parents. “They don’t really know me.”

    And that’s just it. It’s the internet, the thing nerds were made fun of for being on ten years ago, and now everyone is on it. I’ve seen a dozen others just like Zack and Rebecca for the past several years, from attempts at being serious to parody to parodies of the serious attempts.

    People only care *now* because it’s mentioned on Mashable – and for some reason, that validates the many attempted over the years by many more/less talented.

    • Erika Pryor

      March 25, 2011 at 12:30 am

      I am in complete agreement with you on a number of points. First and foremost, the willingness to put yourself out there and do something creative is a point that should be highlighted. Many people are not willing to take that risk so she should be lauded. And as you aptly point out, her video also points to her creativity. And as we move towards a future with increased jobs in technology related and high-tech fields, we will need creative individuals that can do the possible production and other types of work that these teens are getting experience at in their free time and for fun.

      Also, you’re so right in that there have been teens and not so young people creating videos of all sorts, posting them online in different places. It’s not as though what Rebecca Black is doing is original. The fact that it’s on Mashable and other online and traditional media venues is what is more novel than the actual video, song, or concept. Which is why I have a hard time understanding why people are now all the sudden concerned with mediocre performers, or even that we can blame society for what’s happening. What’s happening is people willing to do something that they enjoy, be creative and take a chance. Which is what we want.

      If we want to blame society for something, it should be for the fact that more people aren’t willing to put themselves out there because they fear the ridicule that may ensure. That’s something that we should be more concerned about an assume some personal accountability about because if that’s our first response, than there’s no wonder there is a lack of creativity and innovation when it comes to music among other things.

  5. Cheri Allbritton

    March 24, 2011 at 8:37 am

    My husband and I were watching last night’s episode (March 23) of American Idol. It was Motown night. We could picture a few of the singers probably “knocking it out of the ball park” because they are really amazing singers. But there’s one kid who is clearly going to be a country music singer no matter what genre he is asked to sing for the week. Anyway, a few of the kids chose Marvin Gaye songs, one chose the Supremes and so on. My husband said, “I can’t believe at least one of these singers didn’t choose a Stevie Wonder song!” And then it happened. Mr. Country Music selected one of Stevie’s most popular hits, ‘For Once In My Life’. Now I’ve heard many many people record and/or sing this song and I couldn’t begin to imagine the spin this kid was going to put on it without sounding like a Glen Campbellish lounge singer. But darn it if he didn’t manage to turn it into a crooning country ballad while still preserving a recognizable sense of Stevie’s original arrangement! Now I wouldn’t have voted him the best singer last night, but he was certainly one of the few who took a big chance and succeeded. After the judges did their bit and Ryan Seacrest cut to commercial I saidto my husband, ” Can’t you just imagine Stevie ~ the Business Man ~ Wonder calling his entertainment lawyer on the phone, “Hey, shop the song catalog in Nashville for a few more gazillion$ in royalties.”

    Here’s my point (finally you say?): If something is good, like Stevie’s song, it will remain good no matter who borrows it temporarily. But if it’s bad, Hello 15 minutes (as you say) and then good bye.
    Wasn’t YouTube, like many social sites, originally conceived for the entertainment of the user? Do you think developers actually conceived YouTube as a platform for the video upload center of serious global news? I don’t think so.

    • Erika Pryor

      March 24, 2011 at 9:04 am

      Well said, and although YouTube was not intended to be a social media network co-opted by mainstream media giants it has been. So, I suggest they must be comfortable with their slick, glossy productions sitting alongside the Rebecca Blacks of YouTube. As a social media site, it’s purpose is to provide a venue for any user to post their work and have an opportunity to show what they’ve got. Granted her sing and songwriting skills clearly lack luster, at the very least we know it’s her original production and that’s got to count for something right?

  6. Ariana Ulloa

    March 24, 2011 at 8:07 am

    I completely agree! But sadly, it is society’s fault for buying the crap the music industry puts out! Not every generation will have their MJ, Tito Puente or U2. Although I also think it’s the speed at which they crank out new artists… seems like every Tuesday, all these artists are coming out with albums that are here one day and gone the next.

    • Erika Pryor

      March 24, 2011 at 9:02 am

      I might consider agreeing that it’s society’s fault for buying “the crap” if the people that make up society had an actual voice in what music gets produced, packaged, bought and sold. When it comes to mainstream music, the actual consumer is so far removed from the process, which is why people like Justin Beiber and Rebecca Black can be seen as some sort of success when it comes to the “democratization” process that the internet provides.

      However, in reality, I would actually agree that there are so many new artists, I listen to top 40 radio and only recognize the original tune these poppy singers are covering. I guess that’s something, right?


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