Popularity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

Tony Collins
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This week’s question is as follows: What is the connection between Kathy Dunderdale, Maple Moose chips, Justin Bieber, “Family Feud” and “American Idol”?

To enter, send your answer in 900 words or less to me and I can run the winning essay under my byline in The Telegram.

No, wait … that wouldn’t be very ethical, would it? I’m the one who’s getting paid to do this so I’ll just have to put my shoulder to the wheel, keep my nose to the grindstone and write this column myself, as impossible a mission as that may prove to be.

So just exactly what is the connection between (among?) these seemingly so disparate entities, you may well be asking yourself right now.

In one way or another they all tell us something about what it is to be popular in the 21st century, the fleeting and ephemeral nature of fame and the extent to which the mass media, television and the Internet are shaping our perception of the people and the world around us.

Take “Family Feud,” for example. For those of you lucky enough never to have seen Steve Harvey in action, it’s an American game show in which two families compete against each other in a contest to name the most popular responses to a survey question posed to 100 people.

Whether the answers are right or wrong or even halfway sensible has nothing to do with the outcome. The contestants, most of whom seem to be in a constant state of greed-induced hysteria, either parrot the opinions of the majority or they’re out on their … ear.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because it is. If you’ve ever tuned

in to any of the open-line shows you’ll understand the psychological forces driving this phenomenon.

Then there’s Maple Moose chips. The brainchild of an Isle aux Morts resident, this short-lived product originated with Lay’s Do Us A Flavour Contest in which consumers were asked to choose their favourite flavour.

Unfortunately for the sponsors, however, it came down to which candidate, metaphorically speaking, could charter the biggest bus — basically the same as in many by-elections.

The one underlying flaw in the campaign was that the voters didn’t necessarily have to like their moose mixed with maple syrup, as proved to be the case when the company pulled the chips from shelves due to disappointing sales.

Yet one more example of might making right, even when it’s way off the mark.

Next up is Justin Bieber, the Canadian singing sensation everyone over the age of 11 loves to hate.

Apparently there’s a feature on the White House website whereby the Obama administration is required to respond to any online petition containing more than 100,000 names.

Not surprisingly, The Bieb’s recent string of youthful indiscretions has unleashed the lynch mob mentality still prevalent among our neighbours to the south, with all sorts of petitions being filed online calling on the president to not only have this “terrible influence on the nation’s youth” deported, but hung, drawn and quartered to boot.

Idolized one day, vilified the next.

Which provides a nice segue to “American Idol,” the mother of all reality singing competitions in which viewers get to vote for their favourite artiste by telephone, the Internet or text messages. Winners and losers are determined solely on the “authority of the many,” or, as it’s known in the debating business, an “argumentum ad populum,” meaning a totally erroneous argument that concludes a proposition to be true because many or most people believe it.

This, incidentally, is the exact same line of specious reasoning which has been the cause of some much grief for mankind in the past. And if what happened to our former premier, Kathy Dunderdale, is any indication, it looks like this pernicious fallacy is going to be around for a long while yet.

I have a feeling, though, that history will be far kinder to our first (and possibly last) female premier than her contemporaries were.

God knows she didn’t deserve the never ending torrent of vitriol and vituperation directed her way by the media and a small but strident group of partisan malcontents.

And I suspect that future scholars looking back on this period will scratch their heads in bewilderment and wonder to themselves, what the hell were they thinking?

In any event, her resignation certainly wasn’t any great victory for democracy in action and the freedom of the press, as some would have us believe.

Democracy shouldn’t be just a popularity contest and if our duly elected representatives are too intimidated to make the sorts of unpopular decisions which are sometimes necessary, how can we expect any government in whom we place our trust for an agreed upon number of years to do what is right for us, and not merely expedient for them?

If there’s a lesson to be learned from the political turmoil of the past few months it’s that the line between politics and pop culture is becoming increasingly blurred — to our detriment.

And the easier it becomes to make connections and draw parallels between the two, the greater the chances of our ending up with the kind of government we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemies.

 Tony Collins lives and writes in Gander.

He can be reached by email at tcollins75@gmail.com.

His column returns Feb. 22.

Geographic location: Isle aux Morts, Gander

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  • Cashin Delaney
    February 17, 2014 - 00:35

    I think the NL public could have suffered the Maple Moose for a while longer, however, the 1% stipulation of profit sharing to the creator that drove the "contest", also dictated that the chips be pulled, regardless of the democratically-chosen flavour. Lays did not expect this 1% incentive to discover a chip flavour worth losing 1% over, it was just a marketing ploy. A public novelty, Maple Moose and Dunderdale were used, abused, and tossed aside as per necessity of the company. Surely "a small but strident group of partisan malcontents" could no more have shelved Premier Dunderdale, or Muskrat Falls, if it did not fit into PC “company” timing? As for the vitriol and vituperation that she did not deserve from being placed into the high chair of the high castle at the eleventh hour, unexpected, unelected, by the populist out-going Premier who entirely contravenes the wistful folk-axiom of "Democracy shouldn’t be just a popularity contest" – a good chunk of this either produced, or hand-selected by mainstream-of-pee media. Most merely found her an ineffective leader and stated such in a calm even tone, but, what media outlet or public picks up on that? What is the Honourable Steve Kent doing if not straddling the "line between politics and pop culture"? Kathy tried Twitter, (Betcha can’t tweet just one!), it went bad, they tried to get Gerry Rodgers to kill herself over Facebook (no, they didn't, I exaggerate of course, but she did get abused like no one ever imagined abusing Kathy this year about her propane fireplace!)“In any event, her resignation certainly wasn’t any great victory for democracy in action and the freedom of the press, as some would have us believe.” I agree, it was a passion play produced by the progressive conservative party, a tactical moment. Anthropologist Nicholas Dirks describing public scandals, "ritual moments in which the sacrifice of reputation of one or more individuals allows many more to continue their scandalous ways, if perhaps with minimal safeguards and protocols that are meant to ensure that the terrible excesses of the past will not occur again." Democracy is mob rule, as per the Greek translation. Ritual moments are used to inform and shape the thoughts of the masses. The vacation-negating, ICE QUEEN RESIGNATION due to HUMPTY BULLY crossing the floor, was one of these manufactured moments. Yes, Kathy is human, like Joey. Like Joey, her naïve bird-brained self-love was nauseating. They both have budgie-birdy names and beaks to match. They make great profile busts and will be a part of our funny political history forever. Pretty Joey. Pretty Kathy.