What's Going on Here?

What's Going on Here?
Image:Jimmy Kimmel Live!

There’s a wonderful voice-over monologue in the My So-Called Life pilot during a Chase family dinner that I think about a lot. “I cannot bring myself to eat a well-balanced meal in front of my mother,” mutters Angela, dripping with ellipses. “It just means too much to her. I mean, if you stop to think about, like, chewing—what it really is—how people just do it, like, in public.” There’s a lot of humor in Angela’s stoney, pseudo-deep introspection, so precisely rendered in Winnie Holzman’s script. This micro-dissection of human behavior is at once absurd—people chew to prevent dying—and a funny-because-it’s-true way of examining something that we take for granted. Chewing, what it really is, is weird. What are we doing?

Which brings me to Offset and Cardi B’s performance of their duet “Clout” that aired Wednesday on Jimmy Kimmel Live! It featured them walking down Hollywood Boulevard, flanked by onlookers. When they appeared on screen, a small graphic displayed their Twitter followers, Instagram followers, and rough approximation of their net worth, displayed on dollar signs. As they strutted, some people from the crowd waddled up alongside them to take selfies and in turn their far less impressive social media metrics were displayed—selfie-taking @lil_M00ney’s 607 Twitter and 112 Instagram followers contrasted severely with Offset’s two million followers on Twitter and 13 million on Instagram. (By the way, @lil_M00ney isn’t a real account. Clout, you see, is a construct.)

This literalized certain values present in our culture, namely that the worth of any given human encounter is quantifiable and that having a picture of yourself with a celebrity is valuable. During the performance, there was interaction, virtually no direct eye contact between star and fan (the opportunity for eye contact came via the screen in front of them). It is not the moment of the celebrity encounter that matters, but the documentary proof of it. I mean, if you stop to think about, like, taking a selfie with a celebrity—what it really is— how people just do it, like, in public…

The selfies were as part of the performance as they were real pictures that the extras could take with them in life (assuming they were actually snapping the pictures). The crowd was as much of a prop as it was a throng of spectators who were entertained at least enough to stay standing there and not turn and walk away. It was obviously all contrived for the camera, but also all true, and that’s what makes it funny. What are we doing?

Naturally, the celebrities ended up onstage, standing in front of another crowd people looking up to them.

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