Tide Pod challenge: blaming stupid millennials is the easy way out
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An interesting and somewhat bizarre trend recently cropped up on the internet. The “Tide Pod challenge” simply entails filming yourself biting down on a Tide Pod; a laundry detergent capsule, which some say resembles a sweet.Like many things on the internet, the origins of the challenge are murky and unclear. Some trace it back to a satirical article by The Onion, others to CollegeHumor videos, and others still to various tweets about the appetising appearance of the capsules. Various US and UK media outlets have claimed the trend is a “craze” that is “sweeping the internet”. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission warned its 42,000 Twitter followers not to take the challenge. Facebook and YouTube have been busy scrubbing all videos referencing the challenge from their platforms, and Tide Pod manufacturer Procter & Gamble has recruited New England Patriots player Rob “Gronk” Gronkowski to tell consumers not to eat the pods. Eating Tide Pods can be fatal, and the Washington Post reports that teenagers have been exposed to the capsules 37 times so far this year – only half of which were actually intentional. Yet this data, from the American Association of Poison Control Centers, doesn’t reveal an enormous increase from 2017, when nearly 220 teens were exposed and around 25% of the cases were intentional.
Hysteria and hand-wringingDue in no small part to the press coverage, trends like these are quickly blown out of proportion. As with the creepy clown sightings of 2016/17, or the Kylie Jenner lip challenge of 2015, the mainstream media seems to add to the hysteria surrounding these fads, which only serves to extend their relatively short shelf life. Some such coverage mourns the decline of younger generations – as though millennials and Gen Z-ers have a monopoly on stupidity. But as the brilliant Pessimists Archive podcast has shown, hand-wringing over the state of younger generations is nothing new, and there’s no evidence to suggest that today’s young people are inherently more reckless than previous generations. What is different about today’s young people, though, is that they have the technology to record their stupidity for posterity, as well as a desire to push boundaries and attract viewers to the content they post online. This is the “attention economy” in action, whereby attention is an increasingly scarce resource, which users are desperate to gain as ever greater amounts of content are put online. At their core, these trends are born and driven by what people do when others might be looking. The attention economy can help to explain the powerful effects of being watched on the way humans understand, conform to, and deviate from what’s “normal”. And this, in turn, gives us a way to make sense of the Tide Pod challenge and other internet phenomena, such as the vlogger Logan Paul’s fall from grace.
Enter the panopticon
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Watch and be watchedThe Tide Pod challenge is not fully explained by either the panopticon or the synopticon. Social media was meant to level the playing field by giving everyone their own personal publishing outlet. But in practice, it means that the general public are now competing with celebrities to be heard and observed. Welcome to the “omniopticon”. Here, we are all watching and (to varying degrees) being watched: both through increased social media use, and by platforms’ algorithms and tracking data. Having so many voices across so many different platforms not only leads us towards conformity, but also towards a culture of one-upmanship in the quest for attention. There has been a shift towards increasingly extreme behaviour and problematic publicity stunts. Logan Paul recently gave us an example. The YouTube star, known for posting prank videos, faced a public backlash after posting a video of himself with a dead body in a known suicide location in Japan. The mounting pressure to outdo oneself and others demands more extreme content, until eventually – inevitably – a line is crossed. Whether by embodying beauty ideals or eliciting laughs, everyone in the omniopticon is scrambling to be at the centre of attention and hold power and influence, however fleetingly, over what people are talking about. It’s becoming apparent that this competition is leading towards a culture of extremes. People are pushing the limits in order to get noticed, and this includes doing bizarre and even deadly things – like eating laundry detergents. Harry T Dyer, Lecturer in Education, University of East Anglia This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
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