In The Digital Turn, I devoted quite some pages to the power and speed of social media. The basic idea of social media is that its users are “pro-sumers:” they are both the producers and the consumers of content. Users can create their own Facebook page, a blog post, a YouTube video, an iTunes podcast, a Wikipedia article and so on. It reflects the ultimate ideal of democracy and involvement, while it provides a voice to everyone.
This week, the headlines in Dutch newspapers were dominated by a peculiar incident linked with the succession of Queen Beatrix by her son Prince Willem-Alexander. The National Committee that prepared the celebration had adopted a social media pro-sumer philosophy and incited the people of the Netherlands to post their text suggestions for a festive song for the new King. All text posts were then to be collected and condensed into a song for the new King: a song from the people, written by the people, sang by the people.
Thousands of people sent their rhymes and phrases. But right after the celebratory presentation of the song on the radio, a wave of criticism arose. Critics denounced the quality of the lyrics and qualified it as fragmented, rambling and full of linguistic blunders. Also the melody, which was even so composed by a renowned composer, was slated, and it was suggested to be plagiarized from an existing song. National celebrities tweeted against the song and an Internet petition was set up to ban the song. The YouTube version became inaccessible after people reported it as “spam,” “swindle,” “abuse” and “deceptive commercial content.” The composer broke down because of a load of hate mail. Within 24 hours, the festive mood had turned into a people’s tribunal. What was supposed to become the height of democracy had become a national nightmare.
Some analysts suggest that the commotion is not about the song itself, but reflects a deeply rooted aversion against monarchy, which is considered antidemocratic, outdated and hard to align with the egalitarian nature of the Internet and social media. Others ascribe this splitting of the nation to the contrast between the old Queen, who has been the patroness of the high-level elite arts, style and protocol, and her son, who – generally known for his nickname “Prince Pilsner Beer” – is supposed to be a supporter of popular amusement. Others link the commotion to the topical political issue of populistic budget cuts of museums, orchestras and theatres, which reflects a conflict between the upper class and the lower class.
The speed and intensity of the social media messages in this incident exemplify the power of the new media – the sympathetic initiative of national song writing for the King was mercilessly rejected by the crowd.
More information about the power of social media in The Digital Turn.