Beyoncé has a new album out, because she is perfect and magical and we are all very excited and if you are not excited, what is your deal? We've reached a new apex in our hyperbole-and-Internet-fueled world of universal peer pressure and we need to stop, because it's stupid.
To be very clear: Beyoncé is fine. She has a very nice voice, she sings songs that aren't my personal favorites but are catchy, she leverages her beauty very effectively. She is not the best singer ever. She is not the best performer ever. She is not the best marketer ever. She is popular and rich and pretty and talented, she is in the top tier of all of those things, but she is not the all-time greatest person to live. She's a woman who lives in TriBeCa with her husband and kid who has a high-profile job.
But this isn't enough. It is not enough now in this moment to be very good and very talented and great. You must be the best. Your video must be the best thing you've ever seen. You must be buzzy, up-worthy, viral. In the terrible arms race of instantaneous attention, a great singer releasing an enjoyable video will always be steamrolled by the Most Amazing Video featuring the Goddess of Modern America. Even an exceptional example of a normal thing isn't exceptional enough. Be Epic™ or be ignored. And when websites need more and more clicks to show to the advertisers every month, being ignored will absolutely not cut it. So: The 41 Most Unbelievably Flawless And Life-Changing Moments From Beyoncé’s New Album. Love her or not, Beyoncé runs the world. And so on.
We do feel silly clicking these things though, don't we? We know this isn't — to cull phrases from the homepage of ViralNova right now — "every bit as awesome as it looks" or "hilariously brilliant" or offering your heart "a good warming" or something for which you "have no words." But thanks to some weird visceral spark we click and then — the website hopes! — we share it on Facebook. Sometimes we're complicit in the hyperbole ("This is THE GREATEST GIF of Beyoncé!") and sometimes we are self-aware ("Probably not 'the greatest GIF of all time,' still pretty good."), but, regardless, we share these things.
And then we're part of the problem, just like that. This is not an entry into the great Snark-Smarm War of 2013; it is something different. It is peer pressure. The way peer pressure works is that a group decides something is cool and then pressures others to agree that it is cool. It's stupid and we warn kids about it when it comes to cigarettes or whatever. But it's somehow encoded in our brains, just like we have to click a link that is the "BEST WHATEVER YOU WILL SEE ALL DAY." We are stupid monkeys who are wired to want the acceptance of our peer group so we don't starve in the winter. So we click the links and we say, yes, Beyoncé is the greatest, she is a goddess, she is unparalleled, her videos are the best. We share these great GIFs and our friends love them and somewhere down inside, a little dopamine reward is triggered and it's all worth it.
Actually, it's more easily explained than that. The best way to deflate someone — and this is something that obnoxious boys learn at an early age — is to mock their enthusiasm. Huddling in a group lessens the damage caused by dismissal. No, I'm not dumb for liking Beyoncé, all these other people do, too. We do this with lots of things. We participate in smaller peer pressure social groups online, Vonnegut-style granfalloons focused on sports teams, or less-popular bands, or Sarah Palin, or anything. We build little communities and live there and share links to members of that community that are the best examples of the community and it's fun and there's always a support structure.
Peer pressure occurs when these groups overinflate.
For websites, this nestling is completely great. You make a few posts targeting those communities and you surf that traffic indefinitely. And when the group comprises half the country, as it appears today's Beyoncéfest must, the traffic potential is enough to make the mind boggle. Clapping and panting and celebration; "We all agree this is the best!" Posts collecting the hyperbole. It's self-reinforcing, and it eventually inspires the expected reaction from people who don't care: shut up. Shut up, shut up, shut up. And the peer pressure group constricts. And it says, "No haters" — especially when it's bad for traffic.
Please like Beyoncé. Enjoy her music; love the videos. But we might want to think about drawing better borders around when we determine that we will all exclaim cultural moments to the high heavens. We might stop insisting on ourselves so much. You know who does that? High school football players. You know who else? Justin Bieber fans on Twitter.
Oh, and also the Nazis. Happy Beyoncé Day!
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.