Social networking, the place where fakery is applauded — or at least sanctioned. Not only is the myth of bands discovered entirely through MySpace perpetuated, the people behind the social networking sites trn out to be as manipulative them too. But hey, aren’t we all expected to use some “white lies” to get what we want?
The old, official story is usually that “so and so bands were discovered through MySpace and yeah it totally rocks because it’s all in the hands of the users”.
However, it soon comes to show that this is a somewhat simplified picture. Arctic Monkeys didn’t have a MySpace page until shortly before their debut single release; Lily Allen was already signed by an EMI subsidiary before she joined MySpace; and Sandi Thom had a lucrative publishing deal in place by the time she began webcasting.
Not trying to rant here, but what soon emerges when you talk to MySpace users is exactly how no-one ever really buys the hype wholesale when faced by a completely new, never-heard-of band; it usually takes more, a lot more than some simple spam messages or digital flyers saying “come download our tunes. We’re really good. Honest.”
Here’s a typical user account:
…often I use Myspace to check out bands whose name I’ve heard of. Most of the new bands I tend to discover these days are either mates of other bands I know or on the same bill as either myself or other bands I know (which is probably the way it’s always been). Myspace is a convenient way to check someone out but you wouldn’t sit there checking out bands all day. And if I do hear a band I certainly don’t personally post and say “check this band out”, although I would of course bring them up in conversation. […] That said, it undoubtedly suits Lily Allen, Sandi Thom and whoever else to have the myth that they were discovered by internet word-of-mouth but it isn’t really any different to the kind of hype people have always done about bands — it’s just a new technological means to promote the same old myths.
We see here that the popularity of bands still requires things like word-of-mouth, trusted friends, already established preferences and patterns of consumption. Which can of course be leveraged by social networking sites. But then we’re talking a hybrid phenomenon: not entirely down to the digital network anymore. It still takes real human relations. And to go beyond that, it takes good old, conventional marketing. And then we’re back to square one again; A&R executives, marketing agencies, ad men. It would be naïve to think anything else.
And boy, what a good marketing ploy the actual myth of this MySpace hype was in itself, for the artists and record execs involved. When it is in fact manipulation.
This week it also emerged we’ve all been manipulated to think that Tom MySpace is younger than he actually is. That Californian careerists try so hard to be ‘dudes’ when all it comes to is opportunism might not be hugely surprising, but more surprising is the fact that this behaviour seems to be officially sanctioned by MySpace. I mean, they still let him claim a false age on his über-linked site. The anonymity of social networking sites lends itself perfectly to a little lyin’, braggin’, over-exaggeration, all of it simply to make oneself come out in a slightly better light. It’s like an army of Californian life-coaches have come together to chant to each one of us the importance of appearing to be special, no matter what.
In this sense, social networking is just like that myriad of websites dedicated to cheating on exams: it carries an implicit normative agreement that in order to come out a successful, market-able individual, one has to make some market decisions. Like having a good PR strategy for oneself. Marketing your own self has never been easier; these tools are all there and the implicit moral of stories about artists like Lily Allen and entreprenurs like Tom MySpace is that its not really about working hard and following the imposed moral of society like our grandparents did.
To cut it in today’s society one has to lie a little, exagerrate a little.
As if the world is one big CV, where you have to come out on top, looking successful no matter what. Nikolas Rose nailed it pretty well with his theory of ‘the entreprenueurial self,’ Adam Curtis’s The Trap outlines the model of society that this is all based on: the game theory of corporate competition, applied to individuals. Gilles Deleuze framed it succinctly in the idea that disciplinary control from outside is no longer the key imposition of power in Western societies: With the ethic of late capitalist society, we’re doing it all ourselves, monitoring and pruning our own identities, constantly bettering ourselves — or in lack of real improvement, making it seem like bettering ourselves. So we will all come out good in the competitive game of life.