Written by Robert Brockway
In case you haven’t seen the ads framing Cracked.com these past few day, Family Guy starts back up tomorrow. Which is kind of strange when you consider that Fox canceled it almost 10 years ago. It’s still on the air because the unwashed masses demanded it. In fact, the little guy has been increasingly making huge media companies his prison-wife thanks to the two most dangerous things in existence: incredible amounts of spare time and knowing how to use the Internet.
The Internet Programs TV, Greenlights a Movie
Right at this very moment, you most likely have a device in your pocket that can show you your location from space, give you directions and reviews to your favorite restaurant, play a few rounds of virtual golf against a man in South Korea and stream whatever amateur fetish porn is currently floating your boat… and it can do all that within the next five minutes. And yet, most TV decision-making is based on Nielsen Ratings, which apparently consists of a small random sample of evil, inbred Nazis who rejoice in poisoning the zeitgeist with reality shows about fat people dancing for Brett Michaels’ anal virginity (or whatever). But when they canceled Family Guy, the Internet made its presence known and massive online petitions and email campaigns led to the resurrection of the show on two separate occasions. If you’re counting, that’s one more than Jesus Christ.
Then, in 2003, the Fox Network decided to cancel the most exciting new science fiction show in decades, Firefly.
Nerds suddenly felt like the entire world had turned upside down; it was like entering Jaynestown (that’s 14 Nerd Points! We’re going to level up into Geeks any minute now). Bespectacled women in brown trench-coats sobbed hysterically in the corners of darkened rooms, listening to "You Can’t Take the Sky From Me" on endless repeat. And really, nobody else cared. They were just nerds, right? They’re always whining about something. Ignore them, maybe throw them a Star Trek marathon or get a girl to talk to them or something; they’ll go away.
Pictured: Nerd not thinking about how much he misses Firefly.
But thanks to the word of mouth on the web, DVD sales skyrocketed; organized email campaigns flooded the networks and the show leapfrogged the entire medium of television, and became an actual big budget Hollywood movie. That’s like being fired from Burger King and then getting re-hired as official blowjob tester for Ice Cream Island.
Twitter Vs. Breaking News
Conventional news outlets have always treated the Internet like a foster parent treats their child at the supermarket: With thinly veiled disdain only kept from becoming outright physical abuse because people are watching. But that all changed last year, when Twitter scooped them all on the "Miracle on the Hudson" story with the above picture, two sentences and one fragment (if you wanna be a dick about it): "There’s a plane in the Hudson. I’m on the ferry going to pick up the people. Crazy."
Breaking News! The Internet is making our jobs unnecessary!
Suddenly, it became clear that when bad stuff happens, you don’t always need Anderson Cooper on the scene to tell you about it. Not when every asshole in the world has a camera, a printing press and a worldwide distribution network in their pocket.
Not a big enough story for you? Well, Twitter also scooped every news outlet in the entire world, and broke the history-making story that there is, in fact, water on the moon. That’s right: That thing you use to update family members on the consistency and difficulty of your bowel movements? Yeah, that just broke the biggest story to happen on the moon since Neil Armstrong got flashed by a three breasted woman.
And then his head exploded.
This all happened because Science Magazine, who were responsible for the ground-breaking research, wanted to announce their findings with the appropriate pomp and circumstance. There was to be a worldwide press conference attended by all the major news outlets, and an embargo was placed on reporting the story up until the conference. But as the scientific community went about gathering the trumpeters and confetti for their first major announcement in ages, Twitter was all "lol they found water on the mooooon, whuuuuuuuuuuut?!"
This generation’s Edward R. Murrow.
OK, so in reality it wasn’t some random jerkoff, but a concentrated, amorphous movement. When they announced the press conference, Science Magazine made the mistake of announcing which scientists would be in attendance. The Internet, loving nothing more than to check facts (to the frequent chagrin of Cracked writers), figured out that the common denominator between all of the scientists was water on the moon, and just went ahead and made the announcement themselves.
Newsweek Vs. The Drudge Report
If you touch this jpeg, it is sticky. Nobody knows how! It is the mystery of The Clinton.
There’s nothing all that special about Twitter; it’s just the latest service that illustrates the point. Before Twitter it was Facebook, before that it was MySpace, before that it was blogs. But the start of this trend is easy to trace. The Internet first started schooling conventional journalism all the way back in 1998, when Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff got word that special prosecutor Kenneth Starr was investigating political BBW Monica Lewinsky. Isikoff did extensive research. He dug through every lead, did all of his footwork and finally placed what he thought was the story of the year before his editors who promptly shut him down. This was probably because Lewinsky was "not a reliable source," but more likely because they didn’t want to alienate their connections in Washington.
But when the Matt Drudge got hold of this news, he–being big on the Internet in the late 90s–didn’t have to worry about stuff like "destroying relationships" (blogging was still mom’s basement territory back then) and so he freely covered the story with all the understated solemnity he’s famous for:
We should probably just be thankful that he managed to restrain himself to appending it with five exclamation marks and a "1." In the past, if a major publication dropped a story, that was it. It would be swiftly swept under the rug and forgotten about. But thanks to one screaming Internet News Queen and his tenuous grasp of grammar, this story was dragged screaming (and probably still sticky) into the public eye, and became so important it nearly dethroned the leader of the free world.
Internet Forums vs. Dan Rather
A series of memos known as the Killian documents were released by an "expert" (take note of quotation marks, they’ll become important later) to CBS News officials, who used them to put together a potentially politically devastating story critical of George Bush’s service in the Air National Guard right before the 2004 Presidential Election. CBS thought they had it all. This is the kind of story that takes down careers. This is the kind of story that knocks the reigning power on its ass and changes things forever. And it did exactly that. It just did it to Dan Rather instead of George Bush.
CBS’s problem was that the documents in question were what is politely referred to as "a pack of barely concealed lies." Where previously it could have taken months to discount the validity of said documents, thus allowing the damage to be done for the impending election, Internet forums and bloggers were able to call bullshit within mere hours of its release.
While there were all sorts of problems with the document, the one that played to the Internet’s strengths was the typography: The formatting, which was supposed to have been from an early 70s typewriter, looked suspiciously like the default settings in Mircrosoft Word.
The "original" document compared with the default settings in Microsoft Word. FAAAAAAAAKE!
CBS eventually admitted to shoddy journalism once they realized their only other option was a Bill Gates time travel conspiracy. Several people lost their jobs, and one of the most esteemed news anchors of all time had to live out his remaining days knowing that a bunch of Internet Cowboys derailed his entire career, probably without ever putting on pants.
The Internet Might Just Force Hollywood to Make … Good Movies
It seems the prevalence of (you guessed it) Twitter is putting pressure on Hollywood’s age-old tradition of green-lighting any script that’s title ends in a number or that can be described using the words "heart-warming" or "Will Smith." It used to be that if a movie sucked, word of mouth would get out in a week or so and your movie would tank… after the public had bought a few million tickets on opening weekend.
Word of mouth, much like herpes in a hot tub, inevitably spread. But it took time. And that buffer zone used to allow even the crappiest of Police Academy sequels to survive through their opening weekend, before everybody met at the water cooler on Monday to talk about how this one didn’t even have Steve Guttenberg. And that was still long enough for the movie to rake in more money than you will ever see in your lifetime.
If you could harvest the fury generated from that statement, you could use it to power a city.
Now, Twitter users are changing all that. Because no matter how omnipresent your ad campaign is, armchair reviewers can now gauge the level of "fail" or "gay" in your movie and have it out to the masses in a matter of hours. Some of them probably have their 140 character reviews up before the opening credits have finished.
As a result, movie studios are seeing a massive drop in box office of crappy movies, not after the first week, but after the first day. The disappointing Jack Black/Michael Cera comedy Year One is a great example. When it hit theaters in June of 2009 critics hated it, but fans lined up on opening night to see it anyway. It’s Jack Black! It’s Michael Cera! How can it not be awesome?
The numbers tell the story: First night, $8.5 million. Second, $6.5. Third, $4.7. It just kept plummeting from there, as vigilant tweeters spread the word Paul Revere-style, to keep their fellow citizens from getting screwed out of eight bucks.
Jesus Christ, has this… has this been an entire article about the Internet being used for good? What is this, Jaynestown?
It’s notable that Serenity, “leapfrogged the entire medium of television, and became an actual big budget Hollywood movie” but not a box office success. And I loves me some Firefly. But it didn’t win the public or sway the ticket-buyers, so it’s likely an example to Hollywood of why they _won’t_ listen to Geekdom in the future. So sad.