Saturday, January 03, 2015

McCartney goes West; internet goes stupid

The Paul McCartney/Kanye West hook-up came out on New Years Day, bringing together, at last, the man who did Give Ireland Back To The Irish and the man who did George Bush doesn't care about black people.

Presumably the recording session breaks were filled with conversations about how easy it is to go from being a threat to the establishment to being a national teddy bear.

Anyway, the thought of Macca and West coming together brought out the wry side in a lot of people on Twitter:

Okay, not the best joke of the season, but funnier than anything in Mrs Browns Boys. Fair enough, that's a pretty low bar, but given that the tweet wouldn't have been worded in quite that way if, erm, :/ had really not known who McCartney was, the joke is obvious, right?

Apparently not, as Buzzfeed's Brian McManus managed to miss it:
Yesterday we told you about Kanye’s New Year’s Day surprise collaboration with Paul McCartney, “Only One.” Today on Twitter, some Kanye fans are wondering just who this Paul McCartney fella is.
Brian even manages to reproduce two Tweets which are sodding identical, like a man still expecting to be soaked the third time the clown throws an empty bucket at him:
It's even got the same poorly-chosen emoji, Buzzfeed. It was a laboured joke.

Trouble is, a depressing but not surprisingly large chunk of the internet followed Buzzfeed's line, as if we'd all drunk so much on New Years Eve we'd forgotten how the internet worked. Because if people are online and really want to know who someone is, they don't type his name into Twitter, they type it into Wikipedia or Google.

The only people who really try to find out background details about people by sticking names in Twitter are your gran and Ed Balls, and both of them would be far more likely to be asking who Kanye West is.

But beyond the anger of those with an inability to spot a joke came the counterwave - unfortunately, still comprising people who were unable to spot a joke, but with a different angle:

It's a spirited defence of young people, but manages to add being spectacularly wrong to not noticing the gag.

So let's at least allow the possibility that some of the people going 'who iz McCartney Beatle lolz' might, genuinely, not know who he is. Would that be justifiable because it's like someone in 1964 not knowing the Ray Miller Orchestra?

While it's true that McCartney and Beatlemania might have peaked a few decades back, it's not like he then went and lived under a rock - he did the Superbowl show in 2005; he headlined Live8; in 2009 he did a benefit gig in New York which raised three million dollars. It's fair to say he has something of a profile.

Indeed, it's that profile which is the reason for Kanye West wanting to work with him - it's not like West stumbled across the Wings theme from Crossroads and thought 'I need to find this person and work with him'; the attraction is that it is Famous Beatle Man McCartney. West is relying on people knowing who he's working with. Otherwise it'd be like having your photo taken with Prince Charles only Prince Charles has his back to the camera - it might as well be anyone. West's calculation is that his fanbase will know who the man is, otherwise it'd be pointless.

But beyond that: is it unfair to expect people to be at least aware of McCartney? Ray Miller might have been a mystery in 1964 partly because he'd not left as big a crater in popular culture as McCartney has - working a time when even radio fame didn't spread very far, and recorded music was less popular than sheet music; and on the far side of a world war which fractured and remade a lot of the culture, even someone passionate about big bands might have struggled to have much contact with Miller's work.

But in a 21st Century with Spotify and YouTube and never-ending channels of Gold and silver memories, it's harder to imagine someone growing up without having come across something Beatley - if, for example, you genuinely don't know roughly what the Abbey Road album cover is, a lot of modern culture will be inexplicable to you.

Whether you like The Beatles or not, the band and its members are surely on the list of shared assumptions of things you know in modern Western Anglophone culture - like Shakespeare and Star Wars and Dickens and Mark Twain and Elvis.

Frankly, not knowing who McCartney is would be the mark of someone culturally inept.

Which is, of course, exactly the point the Kanye fans were making with their jokes in the first place.