Last week, I wrote an article for the Life section, sent it in and didn’t think too much about it afterward. About a day later, out of curiosity and the vanity that comes with having view counts on our online articles, I decided to check and see how many people had viewed it.
When I saw that the article in question had tens of thousands of views, I had a weird mix of emotions. Obviously, having something go viral initially just brings shock to one’s mind, but the next feeling I had was one of frustration — I’ve written over 120 stories for The Daily Campus, and THIS is the one that got a ton of attention?
That leads me to today’s topic: The internet, and also society in general, is wild. There really is no way of knowing what is going to gain traction and what isn’t. While it would be awesome if only the best thoughts and products everyone created just rose to the top, this just is not the case.
My conclusion from the past week is that when someone gets their 15 minutes of fame, they should just own it, and I have two reasons.
First, it’s not going to be something that happens every day, so just appreciate that it happened. In my case, I got 32 comments on the story, and some of them were not the most positive. Instead of letting it get me down, I read them all, realized I didn’t really commit any egregious errors that were rightfully pointed out and took a deep breath. Sure, I probably could have improved the article and meticulously re-tailored the story to appease a small group of people, but it just wasn’t worth the effort and stress. The positive spin is that I wrote an article about an opinion of mine, and it started a lively conversation.
The second reason for just living in the moment when one’s work gets mass recognition is that there really isn’t anything one can do about it anyway. When thinking about people who made headlines for things that weren’t exactly their magnum opus, one pre-internet example and one post-internet example comes to mind.
In 1986, Bill Buckner of the Boston Red Sox made an error in Game 6 of the World Series against the New York Mets. Mookie Wilson hit a slow ground ball up the first-base line that went right through Buckner’s legs, on national television.
The clip of that play, along with the legendary Vin Scully’s call of it, is one of the most re-watched pieces of content in MLB history. But how did Buckner handle his infamy? USA Today writer Bob Nightengale shared his experience with the ex-player in a 2019 article.
“If everyone wanted him to be the scapegoat of the entire series, he was fine taking the onus,” Nightingale wrote. “That was Buckner, who I had the pleasure of covering briefly with the Kansas City Royals, and when the subject came up, never, ever did Buckner express anger or resentment. He talked about it whenever asked. Why, he even co-autographed thousands of the pictures with Wilson, appeared in card shows together, and they were even in a beer commercial together.”
Buckner’s behavior epitomizes how to deal with that kind of situation. The man had a great career otherwise — I would argue that he’s a borderline hall-of-famer, but that’s for another article. Knowing full well that he couldn’t change what had happened, he just kind of lived with it and even capitalized on it a bit.
The opposite of Buckner’s attitude toward sudden, likely unwanted fame comes from Barbra Streisand.
When a photo of her home was put online that she wanted taken down, Streisand went to great lengths, including filing a lawsuit against the photographer to achieve her end. The suit ended up being dismissed, and once the internet caught wind of the situation, the image was circulated much more than it had been before.
This story got so much traction that Dictionary.com refers to “the Streisand effect” as “a name for the phenomenon in which attempts to hide, censor, or prevent access to something have the opposite result — the unintended consequence of drawing far more attention to that thing.”
In short, be a Buckner, not a Streisand. You can’t change the past, and society isn’t just going to forget about something that blows up, whether it’s online or spills out of the web browser into other facets of life. Whether the popular thing your name is attached to is good, bad or anywhere else on the spectrum, sometimes it’s just a cool thing to admire how amazing it is that one person has the power to reach so many people in this world.