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.
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.
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.