Indo col week 33
In June last year, Australian cartoonist Ben Ward, known by his Twitter handle @PixellatedBoat, tweeted a joke. It was a simple three-line gag about a character named Milkshake Duck, the cartoon duck who everyone loves…until five seconds later when the duck is revealed as racist. The joke perfectly fit its medium and obviously enough loses a lot in translation to print, but the use of the term Milkshake Duck has since taken hold and has become shorthand for the perils of internet fame.
Andy Warhol may have predicted that in the future, everyone would be famous for 15 minutes, but thanks to the internet it’s really more like 15 seconds. As soon as someone is thrust into the limelight for a viral video in which they wear a funny jumper or a write blog post about feelings (all blog posts are about feelings), the internet regurgitates some dirt from the person’s past, and their brief moment of fame rapidly pivots into a slightly less brief moment of notoriety.
The latest Milkshake Duck is an American schoolboy named Keaton Jones. The 11-year-old made a short video, shot by his mother, in which he called out the bullies who made his life hell. She shared it on her Facebook page, and it has gone on to be viewed more than 20 million times. Soon, Hollywood celebrities like Mark Hamill, Chris Evans and Mark Ruffalo were tweeting their support, offering to bring Keaton to movie premieres, while a GoFundMe page set up for the family racked up US$60,000.
It was at this point that the mechanics of internet fame kicked in, as I regret to inform you that it would appear this Milkshake Duck’s mother Kimberly is a racist. Old Facebook posts by Keaton’s mother showed the family draped in Confederate flags, with one daughter holding a gun. In other posts Mrs Jones mocked civil rights protesters.
Then the recoil started – these people weren’t innocent victims, they were the monsters all along. The mother set her Facebook page to private, but it was too late. The GoFundMe accounts were frozen, and a little kid who was upset at being bullied has become the innocent victim of viral hate.
By today, Keaton and his family have learned some hard lessons about the internet and how it works. It is an archive of every mistake you have ever made, a treasure trove of casually abusive comments, off colour jokes and general obnoxiousness – and that’s just your Facebook account. In the silent world of the internet we can be our worst selves, falsely believing that we are invisible and anonymous, when actually almost none of us are. When we post, we might as well be standing on a street corner with a megaphone screaming out our thoughts, or going to the toilet with the door open. Take it from someone who learned the hard way.
More than a decade ago I was working in a job that I didn’t especially enjoy. I was going through the proverbial ‘difficult time’ personally, and a lot of my frustrations with myself and my then employers came to a head with a series of splenetic posts on the absolute mess that was MySpace. Soon I was in an office with the head of HR and CEO being given a final written warning. I’m glad it happened; it served as an incredibly valuable lesson at a point where the digital age – led by social media game-changers like MySpace and Bebo – was shifting into top gear. Internet 101 is be prepared to stand over everything you say, because sooner or later it will come back to haunt you.
I spent another seven years working with the same company, living under a cloud of shame. I kept my head down, worked hard and worked well, and atoned for my mistake. As the company came asunder, I heard there might be redundancies – so I got in early with my requests, and kept rattling the cage until New Year’s Eve 2014, when I picked up my cheque and skipped out the door. I no longer work in the media, and I’m happier for it. I found the old written warning recently, and briefly contemplated getting it framed – it’s a reminder that I shouldn’t take life too seriously, but also a reminder that change, no matter how traumatic at the time, can often be a positive thing.
The company I worked for, Landmark Media, is being sold to the Irish Times. This was news to nobody; it was a miracle that TCH – as they were known when I Milkshake Ducked myself – managed to make it this far, and I would imagine there are a lot of people breathing a sigh of relief. However, there are many more who are now facing redundancy. The problem for anyone working in the media in Cork who loses their job is – where do you go from here?
The perils of being one of the few outposts of the national media that lies beyond The Pale is that once you leave, you can’t stroll into another paper and start work there. There are other options – for subeditors it seems technical writing is the best fit for their skills, while journalists can segue into content creation, PR or communications jobs, but the problem is in how many get let go at the same time, and how many jobs there are out there. The economy is picking up, but if a hundred media professionals in Cork lose their job at the same time, there simply won’t be enough jobs to absorb them all.
But it isn’t the end of the world – you will get another job, and you will look back and marvel at how you resisted the change when it came. Although it might be an idea to delete all those Facebook photos of you in Pairc Ui Chaoimh draped in a Confederate flag before you go into any interviews.