Introduction to Popular Culture Studies

Designing for Spreadability, Part 2

Posted by nathanpowers22 on April 10, 2017

Chapter 5 of Spreadable Media offered an interesting discussion of several key properties that may not be considered as often as they should. I, and arguably many others, thought the basis of most viral content was humor, which explains the success of the absurd Old Spice advertisement campaigns with Isaiah Mustafa (detailed in the book) and, later, Terry Crews. It also explains the trope about “cat videos” going viral, as well as countless vertical videos capturing some amusing scene in the life of an average citizen equipped with a smartphone. I also appreciated the nuance of “Parody and References” as a separate category because while this content is often (though not necessarily) humorous, it’s a very specific kind of humor that I agree should be considered distinct from humor in general. However, aside from the focus on spreadability of video-based content in this chapter, I think it’s important to think about the spread of music under the same framework as well.

For an extremely recent example, the new single from Harry Styles, “Sign of the Times,” probably owes its spread outside of his dedicated fan base from when he was in One Direction to the “Timely Controversy” dimension of spreadable media. While his lyrics are rather vague and repetitive, the overall atmosphere of the song reflects a sense of doom and gloom characterizing how many people feel in the current political climate resulting from notoriously polarizing events (i.e. Brexit and the election of Donald Trump). Coincidentally, the track was released only one day after Trump ordered missile strikes on Syria, likely bolstering the song’s popularity, and potentially its longevity as a song of protest (or something to that effect). Additionally, there are also many examples of how mystery has contributed to the spread of music, especially among “cult” followers of acts in underground circles. A notable example of this in recent years is the experimental hip-hop group Death Grips. Their cryptic lyrics, outlandish music videos, and refusal to participate in interviews have all contributed to the perpetuation of a certain mystique surrounding Death Grips, which drives fan engagement and deep-diving into the respective histories and music catalogues of the artists involved.


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