This past Sunday, Kanye West was unhappy with the results of the MTV Video Award that was presented to Taylor Swift. He decided to share his displeasure with the world by jumping up on stage and informing both the live and television audiences “Imma let you finish, but Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time.” And with these famous words, everyone on the Internet has been talking about him this week.
I’ve previously blogged about how we are each our own brand, but what is the currency of that brand? This was not Kanye’s first notable questionable comment on television, but each of these appearances have had both positive and negative effects on his career. With each instance, Kanye’s name appears more often in the weeks afterwards and people question his intelligence, but they continue to pay attention and his albums do sell. After saying “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” just weeks after releasing an album, his sales were unaffected, as his first 3 albums sold about equally. It wasn’t until his latest album, where sales halved the prior albums.
Many artists thrive on negative attention. As evidenced by references in prior blogs, I am a big nine inch nails fan. Trent Reznor has cultivated a large, loyal fanbase over the 18 years since he released Pretty Hate Machine, but even his career is rife with conflict. Trent often brings attention to himself by creating problems with other artists. Early on, Trent was a member of Pigface, with whom he first recorded “Suck,” which was later released as a bonus song on Broken. Trent credited himself with writing the song, which caused later releases of Suck to credit the writing to “Yeah, Trent, whatever.” He has also openly battled with artists such as Courtney Love, Chris Cornell, and Billy Corgan. Since a lot of his earlier albums are based on being angry, it has not affected his music career and his fans don’t mind because they expect him to be aggressive.
On the Internet, the same rules of attention seem to apply. There are individuals who go to websites and online forums with the express intent of fighting the other members of the site and bring attention to themselves. These people are commonly referred to as trolls. While they trolls take on the aspects of the musical artists above, aggressively interrupting other individuals and fighting, they gain no positive currency. The music artists gain public attention and sell albums, these people just fight for the sake of fighting. While the person gets personal currency by achieving their simple, chaotic goal, the most they can achieve is to publicize their name amidst a small community and most likely have themselves stricken from that small piece of the Internet.
One such individual came to RonFez.Net last year. This person would go from forum to forum online with the express intent of getting himself banned from the community, then post derogatory comments about that community and why they removed him from their website. Unfortunately for him, RonFez.Net is a community that has had its fair share of negative individuals and he didn’t know how to get a rise out of its members. After a half dozen tries that were largely ignored, he left as quietly as he came, his less than noble goals unachieved and his public currency unchanged – and still unvalued on RonFez.Net.
RonFez.Net already had its share of people who used aggressive tactics who raise their public currency among the website’s members, but at the cost of the community. There are several members of the website who attack, belittle, and insult fellow members to raise their profile. Some individuals see the people start to rise up and will encourage the behavior, which causes the original aggressor to play to the followers’ attention until they get into an endless loop where the two feed off each other. Unfortunately, those people who came to the website to just relax, enjoy themselves and communicate with other fans of the radio show are pushed out and leave that part of the community and some choose to leave it altogether, not wanted to communicate with other fans of the show because of this vocal minority.
Creating negative attention can up an individuals’ profile, but at the cost of the individual, the individual’s work, or the community from which the individual craves the attention. It’s a stronger long term prospect to gain positive currency and support the community you crave attention from, rather than have the destructive behavior that can ultimately take down everything that you are striving to bring attention to and the community you strive to gain attention from.