Why Twitter’s love of #fail could make conventions matter again

Virginia Heffernan, Yahoo News
National Correspondent
Yahoo! News

Here we go again. Complain about The Nonevent. Complain about the network coverage of The Nonevent. Complain about the networks’ missing the real events because they’re staring at The Nonevent.

Then watch the hell out of those networks.

Watch the beloved and quaint Nonevent, then—Conventions, Olympics, Election Night, a TV finale—so we can keep footnoting and complaining and amending.

And thus making a news story! A yes-event! An alt-event! A meta-event! It’s kind of fun. And it’s already happening with the Republican National Convention in Tampa. Twitter is watching it all closely, spinning out hashtags about the weather, the weirdos and the weary old mainstream media. Expect to see trending topics of #GOP2012, #RNC and #Isaac all week, and watch for new, more subversive hashing as Twitter gets its own story—involving oversights by the networks—in its teeth.

This Twitter hue and cry happened with NBC’s Summer Olympics, which were volubly deemed an abject catastrophic failure on Twitter, only to be the most-watched event in television history. Bigger than “M*A*S*H*.” Bigger than 9/11.

The rise of social media has, to widespread surprise, made TV blow up. Social media swells, and the tide lifts the boats of even the networks.

At the same time, we all know that commentary often grows bigger than the canonical work. The marginalia takes over. Star Trek fan fiction and spin-offs and analysis long ago eclipsed the original series. The Talmud likewise sealed the deal for the Torah. And, paraphrasing Alfred North Whitehead, “All of philosophy” is often said to be “a footnote to Plato.”

Now this is getting interesting. What the “media” are has already changed; now what an “event” is seems to be metamorphosizing, too.

With these stakes, the push-pull of old and new media is now news itself. Jeff Jarvis, the Buzzmachine.com pundit, believes nonevents—even one so reliably dull as the Republican National Convention—have turned into spellbinding attractions. “Social media adds a new layer to this gigantic nonevent,” he said recently. “It’s becoming fascinating. We could all be there. We don’t all want to be there but we can talk about it, and that can be more newsworthy than the actual event.”