You must’ve already heard that you were named Time magazine’s 2006 Person of the Year. The honor didn’t go to you because you turned America blue in the last election, brought global warming to multiplexes (that was good ol’ Al), or demoted Pluto to “dwarf planet” status. (Wouldn’t it be nicer to call it a “little planet” instead?) Instead, Time selected you because you posted drunk photos of yourself on MySpace; you embedded that hilariously bizarre Bollywood clip of the little Indian man maniacally break-dancing in your blog; and you “poked” strangers on Facebook, a perfectly legal social-networking feature that still somehow manages to sound like a raincoated sex crime.
But what Time’s all-inclusive, feel-good designation of you as the Person of the Year ignored was that you really weren’t so special — everybody else was doing this too. By everyone we mean, tabloid-plagued celebrities. An actress pretending to be a home-schooled blogger. Flavorpill’s “urban influencers.” Comedy Central writers. DJs. Teachers. Teenagers. Sex-party organizers. Your mom.
In 2006, to be culturally literate was to be Web-savvy and wired. In years past, to stay on top of shit (or pretend to), you’d buy the right records, subscribe to the right magazines, read the right books, watch a certain art-house genre of films. But in 2006, you had to read certain blogs, lurk on the right message boards, find the right You-Send-It leaks. You had to be on the right e-mail lists to know about the right on-the-downlow shows. This past year, terms like “early adopter,” “hypeman,” and “hipster” (whatever that means) became synonymous with “mouse clicker.”
Take for example, MySpace. Even emcees were obsessed with the Rupert Murdoch–created online hangout, perhaps because the “place for friends” proved itself to be another way to round up a sexy entourage — or to avoid wangling an ugly one. In “MySpace Jumpoff,” Queens-bred rapper Grafh narrates a hook-up forged through the site (“So you sent me a text. . . . It said somethin’ somethin’ somethin’ somethin’ sex”). Bay Area–rapper Nump devoted the paean “Thank Yew MySpace” to the site’s oft-acknowledged knack for turning icebreaking into bed-breaking. (“Hey, aren’t you that girl from MySpace?” he beckoned. “Shall we go to my place?”) Even Dirty Southerner T-Pain, a Billboard-chart rapper made most famous for his pole-luber ode “I’m N Luv (Wit A Stripper),” acknowledged that asking for a lady’s digits was so 1985: in “What’s Yo MySpace?” he begged A-listers like Beyoncé, Paris Hilton, and Lindsay Lohan to put him in their Top 8, the part of MySpace members’ profiles where people catalogue their favorite friends. (The eight has since been expanded to include up to 24.)
There was a clear mass-marketing incentive to create songs about an interest, tool, and brand shared with an audience of tens of millions. As Grafh told MTV over the summer about “MySpace Jumpoff,” “Think about it. MySpace gets over 84 million people on there, networking.” In turn, Grafh’s single garnered him airplay on New York’s Hot 97, a Clinton-Sparks-collaborated mix tape, and a video.
But there are other conclusions to be drawn from this year’s lyrical rash of MySpace tracks: a) texting a man a message with the word “sex” means that’s the only part of the note he’ll remember, b) putting people in your Top 8 area was this year’s PDA, and c) in 2006, representing technology and computers stopped being an act reserved solely for socially inept nerds.
Earlier this month, in a New York Times essay reflecting on 2006 as the year “brought to you by you,” arts critic Jon Pareles wrote, “The songs on music blogs are chosen not by companies desperate for profit, but by individuals with time to spare, and if the choices often seem a little, well, geeky . . . who but a geek would be spending all that time at a computer?”
Well, actually, everybody.
Another figure who scribbled a MySpace-themed song this past year was NYC-based comedian and Daily Show contributor Demetri Martin. Martin’s acoustic mock-lament “I Got 9000 Friends” aired on Comedy Central last winter at the close of a Daily Show “Trendspotting” segment about social-networking sites. Back then, the mainstream line on MySpace was that the News Corp. property was predominantly a scary haven for child-molesting perverts. Martin fired back to Jon Stewart: “On the down side, [social-networking sites are] loaded with sexual predators. On the plus side, they’re also loaded with sexual prey.”
While The Daily Show mostly covered the Internet when it produced amusing news, Stewart’s protégé Stephen Colbert — one of 2006’s defining entertainment figures and something of a ballsy hero to anyone with a brain — treated the Web not only as another pop-cultural niche to joke about, but also as a means to make The Colbert Report interactive. Colbert already had his own personal experience with viral popularity: back in April, when he’d hosted the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in the guise of his staunchly conservative Bill O’Reilly–satirizing alter ego, he “supported” President Bush with a roasting monologue of bons mots like, “I stand by this man because he stands for things. Not only for things, he stands on things. Things like aircraft carriers and rubble and recently flooded city squares. And that sends a strong message, that no matter what happens to America, she will always rebound — with the most powerfully staged photo-ops in the world.”