Tuesday, June 9, 2009

On how you think people would have heard about the Streisand Effect by now...

When I graduated Chaminade High School in 1984, the school kept a rein in on such disruptive activities as protests during the ceremony, walking off stage after getting our diplomas, or any such displays that might detract from the event by reminding us that our final records would not be mailed out to our colleges of choice until AFTER the ceremony, and any such rowdedow might cause them to be delayed or withheld.

In today's litigious society, I'm sure such an act would be legally actionable and worthy of attention of the ACLU and any number of other organizations; back then we just sat there and stayed shut.

Except of course when the class target, the requisite one guy that everyone knew was okay to tease because he'd never retaliate (the position that Iraq once held in the world until Bush hit them and made them cry, and everybody else had to back off and say "Hey, man, that ain't cool...") went up to get his diploma, we all, to a man, cheered like he was the biggest hero on Earth. The Brothers gave us all withering gazes, but couldn't do anything - our sarcasm was unrecognizable to the parents. It probably made his parents feel great.

Florida senior Jem Lugo, owner of a 3.98 GPA and Valedictorian of her class, wrote a speech filled with jokes, whimsical advice to her comrades and generally a great deal of wit. It was rejected by the faculty, branded as "too individualistic". She was told to write a new speech, or be stripped of her position as Valedictorian.

She did so, and presented the new speech, which was approved. But she also went to her local paper, told them about the incident, gave them (and all her fellow seniors) copies of her original speech, and then delivered the second approved speech at the graduation without incident.

Then the paper published the story.

Over the weekend, Jem has been covered nationally in an assortment of papers and media. Many papers, blogs and websites have reprinted the transcripts of both the first speech and its emotionless and pedestrian younger brother. The Principal of the school and the faculty member who called the speech "Apalling" have spent the last few days hanging up on reporters and denying interview requests from all over the country. In an attempt to find more meat to add to the story, it was discovered that the principal has been fined and/or censured twice for plagarism in her own graduation speeches in recent years. And it's only Tuesday.

In short, an attempt to protect an organization by striking down controversy has resulted in more powerful controvesy than they could ever imagine.

This is the latest in an endless stream of examples of what's know as the "Streisand Effect". It's named after the singer, who tried to sue to have aerial photos of her beachfront property removed from a website which was chronicling erosion and coastal change. The result - the lawsuit got national attention, as did the website where the photos appeared, which caused the number of people looking at the photos jump by an order of magnitude, far more than would ever have found them if she'd never mentioned it at all.

There's endless examples of such behavior, many chronicled on the obviously-named www.thestreisandeffect.com. They all follow the same pattern - people attempting to get people to "stop looking at that thing over there" only serves to make people's head swivel and say "what thing?" Or as The Kid likes to quote from The Simpsons Movie, "Don't look where I'm pointing!"

It didn't start with the Internet, not at all. The very first story in the Bible deals with people being told not to do or even touch something, and resulting in an immediate desire for the thing. As a rule, a protest or scandal for a film or other work of art is almost a guarantee of increased ticket sales, something you'd think the Catholic League would have figured out by now. Whether it's out of pure curiosity as to what could be so bad, a desire to take a stand in the name of the First Amendment or a simple desire to see filth and you didn't know about this bit so thanks protesters for bringin' it to my attention, drawing attention to something you don't want people to know about is just counterproductive from any angle. The hilarious Joe Dante film Matinee has a scene where the producer actually staged his OWN protest, to get talk about the film started.

So far, Miss Lugo has apparently done a pretty good job of not letting her fifteen minutes go to her head. She actually turned down an opportunity to appear on the CBS Early Show and read her speech. An eponymous website has gone up, touting her as "America's Valedictorian" and is connected to her twitter feed that claims she's "Going to the White House". No idea if that's true or not - it could easily be someone grabbing the name in hopes of profiting from it. The Internet has its down side as well - just ask Susan Boyle.

Jem is heading for Harvard in the fall. My dearest hope is that she joins the Harvard Lampoon as soon as she hits campus, cultivates her wit and achieves success and fame that the faculty of Springstead High School could never dream of.

1 comment:

  1. Ah, it does one's heart good to see likable wiseacres like Jem Lugo crush hypocrites like Principal Susan Duval (is she any kin to Dean Wormer? :-)), with a little help from the press! I say, "You go, girl!"