Ken Boned The Election

Within minutes of asking a relevant and fairly complex, albeit pedestrian, question during last week’s presidential debate, Kenneth Bone had already become an internet phenomenon. Frankly, I’m shocked that I’m the first one on this blog to contribute their thoughts on Ken Bone, since all other corners of the internet seem to have done so. Thankfully, though, I’m not alone in recognizing the problematic underpinnings of the Ken Bone phenomenon.

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This still doesn’t forgive the fact that Ken Bone became the only thing people were talking about after the debate. AND NOT EVEN FOR THE REASON HE WAS PART OF THE DEBATE. Forbes Magazine and Bill Clinton seemed to be the only ones taking Mr. Bone seriously, although for different reasons. In his (now infamous) Reddit Ask Me Anything, Bone shared that President Clinton approached him after the debate to continue the discussion:

“He talked to me about the peak of the coal industry in the 20s and how it has evolved with the nation’s infrastructure over the years. Then his security team reminded him that it was time to go yet again. I think his wife was waiting on him.”

The article appearing on Forbes proclaimed that the Ken Bone moment was actually a very relevant moment in the debate because:

“Hillary Clinton’s answer revealed serious misconceptions about so called American energy independence whereas Donald Trump’s answer showed a more astute understanding of the U.S. energy situation.”

Apparently this didn’t win Trump enough points though, since the winner of the debate was unanimously declared to be Ken Bone.

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Imagine, then, my shock in discovering that Ken Bone has already flamed out. The man Esquire magazine called, “someone, something to finally feel good about” in this election may not be the cuddly, honest hero America was looking for. After participating in the aforementioned Reddit AMA, the collective internet quickly used his profile info to drag the skeletons out of Bone’s closet. Still others were offended by his efforts to capitalize on his newfound meme status as he quickly partnered with Uber and launch his own memed t-shirts. (Get yours here…)

 

But, once again, the internet is missing the boat on Bone.

 

This isn’t just the death of a meme. This was, first of all, an unhealthy and unfair obsession. Most people seem to be enamored by Bone for the following reasons: he was dressed differently from everyone else, he looks or talks differently, and has a funny name. In just about any other setting, this would be considered cyberbullying. Sure, Bone hasn’t ended up with his life in pieces, as was Justine Sacco’s fate, but I think we need to seriously consider why we’re fixating on this man. And beyond that, we really should question what the prevalence of social media in this election cycle says about the political climate of the United States.

Did we really just let one man in a red sweater (who, ironically, had asked a totally legitimate and thoughtful question in order to encourage further political discussion) distract us from any serious election conversation for an entire week?

 

Unfortunately, this is the latest incidence of the ‘mainstream media’ blowing viral social media trends out of proportion in this election cycle.

And, sure, one could argue that all of this social media craze has engaged millennial voters and will help encourage a greater turnout at the polls. But it’s also worth considering what Mike Rowe had to say about fighting voter turnout after the most recent debate:

“Sure, we can blame the media, the system, and the candidates themselves, but let’s be honest – Donald and Hillary are there because we put them there. The electorate has tolerated the intolerable. We’ve treated this entire process like the final episode of American Idol. What did we expect? … The truth is, the country doesn’t need voters who have to be cajoled, enticed, or persuaded to cast a ballot. We need voters who wish to participate in the process.”

 

So, no, Kenneth Bone may not have singlehandedly thrown off the 2016 US Presidential Election, but he let both candidates and the media outlets off the hook from following up on the important issues raised prior to and during the debate. He represents the latest and one of the most absurd examples of social media bleeding into the ‘mainstream’ media channels. And he’s raised some serious questions that the US needs to address before 2020 rolls around. (Yes, even more important than what steps candidates’ energy policies will take to meet our energy needs, while at the same time remaining environmentally friendly and minimizing job layoffs.)

This is truly the first ‘social media election’ in the United States. An April report found that over the previous 12 months the United States had collectively spent over 1,284 years reading about Donald Trump on social media. And naturally this has instigated a ‘feedback loop’ which pulls all of these social media memes into the mainstream, drawing them out much longer than they would otherwise have been viral. Do we really want to go through all of this all over again…?

Personally I believe that we need to advocate for mainstream media outlets to focus on more substantial stories than we can already find on our own in Facebook’s News and trending on Twitter. We don’t need to give social media platforms a megaphone.

Especially in an election season, we need to make it clear that we are counting on traditional media outlets to maintain their credibility so that it’s possible to cut through all of the noise that’s being generated in the #BoneZone.

8 comments

  1. finkbecca · ·

    I thought this was a great article, very related to what we discussed in class last week. While in a normal election, I’d agree that it is a bit uncomfortable that mainstream media have focused on a social media trend, in this election, it feels necessary. It’s something light in an otherwise painfully dark election. I also think it’s just inevitable that as social media use continues to grow–especially use by the candidates themselves–that becomes part of the national dialogue, so mainstream media reporting on it is necessary.

  2. polmankevin · ·

    This was a great post, very thoughtful and extremely relevant. I think you are totally right about this issue. When I first watched the video of Ken Bone’s viral moment on twitter I listened to his question. I was expecting some sort of epic screw up or at least a poorly asked question. But that’s not what happened. He asked a thoughtful and honest questions. He challenged the candidates. I then realized that people weren’t laughing at what he said, but rather they were laughing at him. Although twitter and the media outlets are calling Ken Bone a distraction from a depressing situation, the fact of the matter is that he stole the show. When we look back at the debates from this election period we won’t remember what Donald or Hillary said in this debate. We’ll remember Ken Bone. It is completely ridiculous and honestly unfair that the media outlets let Ken Bone steal the show.

  3. This article definitely made me rethink my complicity in the Ken Bone phenomenon and regret it in some capacity. That said, I don’t know if I agree that the pretense of Ken Bone’s 15 minutes of fame is as close to cyber bullying as you mentioned. Sure he looked a bit quirky, but it seemed like a lot of people saw him (including his question) as a reflection of a skewed notion of middle American sincerity rather than someone to be dragged through the dirt because they looked funny. Beyond that, I really liked your emphasis on the need for more-substantial discussion in mainstream politics, and I hope that there is a way for social media to help catalyze that rather that make traditional media outlets stoop to a level of lower credibility.

  4. Aditya Murali · ·

    Great post! This actually fits so well with my post this week, where I talk about how social media has polarized us and is feeding us info that is dumbed down and made easier to consume. I completely agree that Ken Bone was a convenient way for social media and news media to avoid talking about the real issues. All the news media outlets that made cute and funny articles about Ken Bone probably realized they could get a lot more ad traffic if they wrote about him, as opposed to what was talked about in the debate, or what should have been talked about.

  5. cmackeenbc · ·

    Thoughtful and well-written post. This election, as almost all know, has been one of the most polarizing and somewhat ridiculous in history. I feel as though the Ken Bone phenomenon was merely an inevitable byproduct of the social media circus that has fueled politics of late. Of course, past modern elections have had their fair share of memes and mockery, but I would argue those were nothing compared to this year’s political content. I think I see a political meme every other hour of the day, regardless of the party it targets. The candidates are somehow so easily sensationalized–I completely agree with the quote about this election being like an “American Idol” finale. It seems as though making fun of the candidates is the easiest distraction from confronting important issues, and it makes me nervous to think about future elections if the digital world is setting this comedic precedent today.

  6. gabcandelieri · ·

    Great post! The Ken Bone phenomenon is a true testament to how our generation randomly fixates on certain concepts or attention-catching individuals. Ken Bone also shows how there is truly no rhyme or reason to who or what goes viral, and the fast pace at which social media can be disseminated with one post constantly building off another. In this case, social media hashtags generated an intense investigation into Ken Bone’s past and attributes that made up who he was as a person–true or not–and ran with them. It is slightly concerning that our society decided to obsess over his appearance and dress (i.e. Ken Bone halloween costumes) instead of the important policy questions he raised, but I definitely agree that it brought the election to many, previously indifferent, individuals’ attention. Therefore, I think the argument works both ways, although at first glance the Ken Bone obsession may seem superficial, it also entices civic responsibility. Perhaps a person caught wind of the social obsession with Bone, and as a result of prying realized the importance of his questions, prompting them to vote, or changing their vote entirely.

  7. Insightful take on the whole Ken Bone situation. It’s definitely random and fun, and does distract from the elections quite a bit. I noticed after the third debate that most of the trending news articles were talking about the memes from the night – “bad hombres” and “nasty woman” – instead of rehashing the candidate’s actual responses to the question. Because of social media, we’re so focused on soundbites instead of analyzing the actual stances that these politicians have. But American politics have always been like this – we remember quotes the best, regardless of election season. It is ridiculous that the media is focusing on such fluff, and while social media has responsibility, I think it’s just more human nature that directs us toward such obsession.

  8. I laugh at your closing statements that this is the “first social media election.” They’ve been saying that since 2008, but what we define as social just keeps changing so its true every time!

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