While the world goes on with its day-to-day life, it is, for the most part, completely unaware that one of the greatest social interventions of recent memory is happening right now on the Internet. It's called Twitch Plays Pokemon. First of all, what is it? Well I'll try to make it as easy as possible to understand. Someone at a YouTube-like channel for video games, called Twitch, was able to set up one of the original Pokemon games to be released, Red, (all the way back in 1996) to be played by the viewers of the stream, in real time. Still confused? Here's a link to the stream. What has resulted since, however, is simply spectacular. The stream started out small. Only a few hundred people or so were following it and playing the game. Then some of the nerdier websites got hold of it, and now, over 300 hours since its inception, the stream averages somewhere around 60,000 people simultaneously trying to play a simple game of Pokemon. Now when you click on that link you are very likely going to just see a simple character going in circles and constantly pressing start, but when you look at the grand picture of this adventure, you see something truly extraordinary. To see 60,000 people progress through a video game, even over a significant period of time, is a magnificent social experiment of cooperation and determination.
There is without an ideology behind this game of Pokemon. After all, the game being universally played has an objective: advance to the final boss and defeat him. On the way, the players create symbolic needs that they address and attempt to solve. For example, there are several smaller bosses, or Gym Leaders, that our unfortunate Pokemon trainer, Red (left) must face in order to get to the final boss. In order to defeat each boss, you must have a strategy. Each boss requires certain Pokemon to defeat them, and the players must acquire said Pokemon in some way. These issues are symbolically created needs.
Around day 6 of this event, something fascinating happened. Up until then, the game was set up so anyone could, through the chat, enter an input like up, down, left, right, or start, and the game would follow said command. Naturally, this led to complete anarchy. When there were only a few hundred or even a few thousand, this system worked. For the most part the players knew what to do, and, with the exception of a few trolls who managed to, with luck on their side, managed to release some of the more valuable Pokemon, were able to do it. However by day 5 the stream was up to 60,000-80,000 people. While this system was already being strained, it was completely broken when the players entered a very specific maze. After about 18 hours of no progress being made at all, a revolution began in the comments section calling for a democratic system. Eventually, a system was proposed where for 20 seconds all inputs would be tallied and the number one choice would be what Red did. This occurrence was the very definition of a power intervention. One side wanted to forestall the power event. After all, watching the anarchist system was fun! The social experiment was still just as fascinating as it was before the maze. Why change it? The new system would be boring and uneventful. However the other side, trying to promote the power shift, argued that the symbolically created needs were more important than the experiment. They wanted to get things done. Eventually, a compromise was reached where the players could vote on either a democratic or anarchist system. While anarchy usually still rules, the only time anything ever happens in the stream at this point is when the stream is in democracy mode.
There are so many more things I could talk about. Like the hundreds of memes on the Internet surrounding this intervention, or the "religion" that has risen from it, (all praise to our lord and savior, the Helix Fossil) but I'm going to end my discussion here. In the future, I may return to this stream, as they've already confirmed that they will play the next generation Pokemon game after this game is finally beaten, but I am not certain of this. All I can say is that it is one of the most fascinating social experiments I have ever seen.
Here's the link again in case I need it for a reference: http://www.twitch.tv/twitchplayspokemon
Recently, Bonnaroo unveiled its star-studded lineup for its celebration of music in June of 2014. With headliners including Elton John, Kanye West, and Jack White of The White Stripes, and many other featured bands including Lionel Richie, Phoenix, The Arctic Monkeys, and Skrillex, to name a few, the music scene went somewhat crazy. Ok. It went massively crazy. Who can blame us? The lineup is one of the best lineups to hit a music festival in recent memory. Seeing the overwhelmingly positive reception to this lineup, and many (including myself) virtually lining up to buy our weekend passes, it got me to thinking: is a music festival a social intervention? Tens of thousands of individuals all coming together for a single purpose under one ideology: their love of music?
For three days in June, we all will unanimously enter a symbolic reality at Bonnaroo. We will all go from stage to stage, hear various artists, various genres of music, and step into the respective band’s world that they have created over many arduous years of honing their craft. Some of the artists may not be very good, and we will struggle to find a name for what we just experience. However it’s all for the sake of music, for music is, no matter how big or small, still beautiful. We will be all be one for 3 days. Then return to reality and resume our daily lives.
I think one of the biggest pieces of a music festival as a social intervention is that of the ideology behind it. Well, there are many ideologies that will be at this festival. First and foremost, there will be ideologies courtesy of the various musical artists. I know for a fact that I am in for a real treat when Kanye West takes the stage. However, there are the individual ideologies as well. While music festivals have definitely evolved from their early hippie days in Woodstock and Lollapalooza, there is still a hippie mentality that arises at a music festival. It may not be immediately present, but by the end of the day when everyone gathers around one stage for the headliner, it’s in full force. I think our craving for music creates a biosocial need for togetherness. As the headliner plays, it only gets stronger. The feeling I got last year, at another music festival called Forecastle, when the headliner for the night came on was amazing. Nothing else mattered. Just the music. It is a feeling I will never forget, and I look forward to experiencing it again in June.
Update on the critical essay: I have sent in the proposal, and the professor approved it. I am now starting to collect research on the topic I have selected, which I have narrowed down to the Sound City recordings and Dave Grohl’s decision to purchase the studio, as recommended.
Recently, a social intervention took place between two great schools of thought: the creationists and the scientists. Through a couple of messages that went viral on the Internet, and an invitation on Twitter, Ken Ham, head of the Creation museum, challenged Bill Nye the Science Guy to a debate. A debate that would (somehow) solve the great question of where we came from in 150 minutes. The stage was Ham’s Creation museum, ironically in the backyard of my hometown, Cincinnati. Few were fortunate enough to get a ticket for the debate, (which sold out in minutes) but many more watched the debate on their computer, as it was streamed for free by NPR. Twitter was abuzz before the event, with quite a few hashtags trending surrounding the debate. (My favorite was #OMGWeAreDebatingCreationIn2014) The primary topic of the debate was whether we should be teaching creationism to our children in school. Something that happens in Cincinnati more than anywhere else in the country, by the way. 150 minutes later, nothing has changed. Life isn’t any more logical than it was before this debate. By this point it is safe to say that absolutely nothing came of this debate. However, it is still a fantastic intervention to talk about.
First of all, both sides have a very strict ideology they follow. Well, creationism is very strict at least. Because they are the smaller faction, creationists wanted this debate to happen so they could advocate their beliefs. They were unsuccessful. However, the science ideology was also unsuccessful in advocating their beliefs, so this is (unfortunately) a two-way street. Both sides tried to bring to the foreground each other’s anomalies while simultaneously ignoring their own. Honestly the worst part of this debate was how poor each side was at advocating their own points. Instead, they focused primarily on going after each other’s weaknesses. Essentially, the debate reaffirmed pre-existing beliefs. Creations now believe in creationism more and scientists believe in science more.
A good attention intervention occurred in this instance as well. This attention intervention was Ham’s invitation to Nye in the first place to have this debate. Ham and the rests of the creationists felt threatened by science and how it was slowly but surely taking over the schools. This act was creating deviancy among creationists. After all, if they lose the children, how are they going to continue to advocate for their beliefs? To throw in an incredibly biased comment: creationists can’t just let children chose what to believe because most of them will pick logic over creation. So, following a video Bill Nye created bashing creationists going viral, they felt even more threatened. This video also created more deviancies for our beloved creationists. In response, Ken Ham stepped up to the plate, and created a video that bashed science. Of course, it too went viral, in an attempt to create deviancy amongst scientists. It was in the height of this video’s success that Ham made his move. By offering to debate against Nye, Ham was creating an attention intervention, and he and creationists everywhere hoped that this would result in their problems being solved. While it did no such thing for the creationists, and ultimately resulted in a failed intervention, it was still a great way to spend 150 minutes for everyone else.
The Grammys. A great place for musicians to come together and celebrate their craft. It is the single biggest stage for music in any given year. One of the coolest things that the Grammys do is create inspiring musical performances every year. While personally I was upset with the fact that some of my favorite people in the industry, Trent Razner, Dave Grohl, and Joshua Homme, were cut off in favor of ads and product placements at the end of the show, one of the performances everyone was talking about involved a pairing of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, and P!nk performing Same Love. While this performance took place, 33 couples of varying sexualities exchanged vows and rings. A site that I never would’ve thought to see, this merged two very different ideologies into one: music and marriage. Through code switching, music was able to transform the symbolic reality created in marriage into reality.
Simultaneously, Macklemore was challenging the ideology that gays and lesbians are not permitted to marry because of the Bible through the song, which is entitled Same Love. The song itself is an intervention. In the song, Macklemore initially talks about his own childhood when he thought he was gay. Then he analyzes how numb society is to naming gays, as well as the stereotypes surrounding the gays. He criticizes our symbolic categorization when we call someone gay in a YouTube comment or a faggot behind the keys of a message board. All in the first verse. In the second verse, he calls for a unity among the masses to accept gays, calling all love the same love. In the performance, it was after this verse that the 33 couples in the audience exchanged vows and rings. What resulted was an extremely powerful symbolic act uniting all sexualities.
Another unlikely pairing at the Grammys was the rapper Kendrick Lamar with rock stars Imagine Dragons. This was undoubtedly the most financially successful of the Grammys performances, as Lamar and Imagine Dragons remixed the popular Imagine Dragons song, Radioactive, and later released the song on iTunes so that it is available for purchase. The unlikely duo showed up again a week later on Saturday Night Live and stirred more debate surrounding whether or not Lamar would start to tour with Imagine Dragons. The answer is still unknown. However this too was a social intervention, as two completely different genres of music came together for a beautiful musical moment. Rap and indie rock have never gotten along. The styles are so different that when this song was released, it was an anomaly within the music industry. For me personally, it created a strong deviance of what my expectations were for indie music. After all how can a rapper find an appropriate moment to throw down in rock? Well Lamar found a way by creating a breakdown section in the bridge of Radioactive. What resulted has swept up the music scene and left many, including myself, clamoring for more collaboration. Hopefully in time we’ll see more from Imagine Dragons and Kendrick Lamar.
Imagine Dragons and Kendrick Lamar on SNL