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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Going Viral

A couple evenings back I attended a local event at the Saluki Bar sponsored by the website, Windy Citizen. At this event, the music group, the Clout Meisters, performed. The Clout Meisters is not your run of the mill music group. Instead, they were put together in order to satirize Chicago corruption by a whistle blower, Pat McDonough. McDonough was one of the whistleblowers on the Hired Truck Scandal and has since been an advocated against Mayor Daley and corruption. He wanted to put a song on his site that would verbalize what he felt about the way corruption affects the city. He reached out to a long time friend, Emery Joe Yost, and what came was this song.

Within days, this You Tube video became a sensation. It had gone viral. I spoke very briefly to Yost after the event. Yost is a lifelong musician who teaches music in the Chicago Public Schools. He reached a measure of musical success back in the early 1990's when a song of a group he was in was featured in the movie, Basic Instinct. Since then, he told me he has played in bars and performed music in relative obscurity for nearly two decades. That all changed in the last two weeks. He's now an Internet sensation with the song above. He's become a cult classic. He has "gone viral".

At first, Yost shrugged and down played his near overnight stardom. Yet, quickly he and I both remarked in amazement at the set of events and technology that made him an instant star. You Tube, more than any other vehicle, has created the force of "going viral". Whereas way back when, we had chain letters. Now, we have chain emails, links, and embeds. Since You Tube was invented just about five years ago, thousands if not millions of videos have "gone viral" but there are two that I am familiar with. Both have plenty of similarities to the meteoric rise of Yost and the Clout Meisters. The first is this speech by European MP Daniel Hannan. (a rant against PM Gordon Brown and runaway government and spending)

The second is the famous rant by Rick Santelli.

Daniel Hannan would still be a relatively unknown member of European Parliament and Rick Santelli would still be a relatively unknown business commentator had it not been for Youtube and the internet. Much like the Clout Meisters, both those videos immediately "went viral". There was no marketing campaign. It hit a nerve and they immediately were mass emailed, linked, and embedded. Nearly overnight, Daniel Hannan has become the face of fiscal conservatism. Meanwhile, Santelli, in five minutes, did more to create the tea party movement than months of organizing, a movement alive and well today.

There's more similarities between the three videos than merely their travels through the internet universe. Whatever the likes of Yost, Santelli, and Hannan owe to their newfound celebrity to You tube and the net, most videos do NOT go viral. Most videos are dropped on You Tube and seen only by family and friends. That these went viral means that they have unique characteristics that caused them to go viral.

Each of the three touched a nerve because they spoke for a segment of the population. Hannan spoke for millions of Brits and millions more outside Britain. He spoke for millions that were sick of bloated government, runaway spending, and unsustainable debts. They were sick of the excuses, the equivocation, and the double talk. As such, he spoke to them, and he immediately "went viral".

Santelli spoke for millions that weren't only outraged but petrified that our government would engage in policies that rewarded irresponsible behavior. This wasn't just morally outrageous to millions, but it was a policy that millions saw as counter productive. As such, Santellis spoke to millions, and he immediately "went viral".

The Clout Meisters also spoke for millions. They spoke for millions that were tired of corrupt governments the benefitted the few at the expense of the many. They were tired of governments that rewarded the insiders at the expense of the honest. They were tired of governments that rewarded its friends at the expense of the tax dollars of the rest. As such, he spoke to millions. While the Clout Meisters are a local sensation, they are also a national sensation. That's because many city governments have their Richard Daley. As such, like Hannan and Santelli before them, so too, the Clout Meisters went viral.

Beyond that, that they went viral meant that before them, there was no one speaking for them. We had gone through more than a decade of out of control spending. Fiscal conservatives had no voice. Even before the election of President Obama, fiscal conservatism seemed to be so very last century. In fact, it wasn't. It just needed a voice. Prior to Santelli's rant, we had the stimulus, the bank bailouts, and finally the mortgage bailout. By then, millions were sick of all the bailouts. We had some media criticism, but no one captured the emotional rejection that millions had of it all like Santelli did. Here in Chicago, the media reports on corruption, but then again, corruption is a way of life. That simply can't be if the media is really doing its job. So, just as in the previous two examples, the Clout Meisters lent voice to the thoughts and feelings of millions, millions that others had neglected. The reward for all three is that they "went viral".

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