Hats Off to Bill Shatner for a Social Media Win

OK, so apparently William Shatner’s campaign to make Vulcan the winner in the “contest” to see what to name Pluto(not a planet!)’s moon, has been wildly successful. Read about it here.

I “follow” Mr. Shatner on Twitter (@williamshatner), and I’ve watched his campaign with a bit of smirking amusement. But thinking about it a little further, I realized it showed me a few things.

  1. The power of social media is real. Mr. Shatner didn’t go on the talk show circuit or air commercials. He went to Twitter and Facebook (note: not Google Plus) and swayed the vote to his whim.
  2. The dangers of populism are exposed in social media. Keeping in mind his appeals were all limited to 140 characters, or brief Facebook postings, mixed in with his moments of fan engagement, he was still able to sway the opinion of a large number of people who basically went along with what he was saying based on the fact that they have an emotional attachment to him. Not a cause, mind you, but a person.
  3. We support people based on cults of personality. Mr. Shatner enjoys his cachet of good will from people who never have met him based on the fact that he made a career pretending to be someone else. His appeal is based primarily on the fact that he’s a great self-promoter; he knows exactly why people even listen to him (emotional attachment to the mythos of Capt. Kirk) and he is unafraid to use that appeal.
  4. No one has made the connection that this is not necessarily a good thing. Imagine a politician, who has built a mythical “character” about themselves, and enjoys goodwill based not on their causes per se but on the fact that he/she can sway people to support said causes based on their ability to sell the myth of what people want to think about them. Mr. Shatner leverages Capt. Kirk, a politician is in a better position than ever to craft a legendary history and turn it into support for whatever they want.

See, it used to be that myths were built around people after they had earned their place in history. Apocryphal stories grew out of George Washington’s unwillingness to lie even to cover his own ass. Mythical stories have grown out of FDR’s ability to ignore Hitler and Stalin until the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. I think that social media is exposing an uncomfortable truth that now the myth can be created first and then the place in history is created from the fact that it’s leveraged to get what the person wants.

Think Kim Jong Il but on steroids.

Either way, it’s cool that Vulcan might be a moon of Pluto. It wouldn’t make sense for an alien species to name its homeworld after a sub-deity in a defunct human mythology anyway.

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7 thoughts on “Hats Off to Bill Shatner for a Social Media Win

  1. Actually, I was pointed to the survey through the Shatner’s Google+ post, so … no. The comments there were interesting. Many pointed out the innapropriateness of naming a planetary moon after a Roman god (in terms of custom). The best point against it, though, is that we should probably save such an iconic sci-fi name for something bigger. I wish I could take back my vote.

  2. I always figured “Vulcan” was just the human/Terran/English word for thier planet. Like isn’t the German isn’t “German” in the German language, right? But even Germans will use the word “German” when speaking English.

  3. …said the guy who uses his twitter feed to promote his blog, and his blog to promote his podcast. 😉

    But seriously, I kid. That said, I think you could delete the word “social” from all references to “social media” in the post above, and (with the exception of the reference to Twitter’s character limit) it could have been written in 1900.

    Re: “I think that social media is exposing an uncomfortable truth that now the myth can be created first and then the place in history is created from the fact that it’s leveraged to get what the person wants.”

    Who says that hasn’t always been true? The media has been manipulated as long as there has been a media. Remember the (disputed, but still quite telling) Hearst quote, “You furnish the photos and I’ll furnish the war”?

    See also: Crockett, Davey, King of the Wild Frontier. (AKA Representative David Crockett of Tennessee’s 9th District).

    Frylock also makes a strong rebuttal: the entire existence of social media is what gives dissenters like yourself a platform. The beauty of social media is that it allows the community to police itself. (Snopes, anyone?)

  4. Hey man, I’m just a hustler trying to make a name. 🙂

    You bring up a lot of good points, and one of your arguments even reminds me of “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” If you haven’t seen it, I really, really, really urge you to. Come for the John Wayne, stay for the Jimmy-freaking-Stewart.

    I can’t really refute anything you say, nor do I want to, but I will say that social media allows the skeptical to take measure but aso enables an Orwellian groupthink that is also to the advantage of the mythmakers. I’d further argue that instead of massive machines working to create myths, individuals can do irrevocable damage on things that once were considered truth. I love to trot out this story on those occasions: http://www.nysun.com/national/wikipedias-image-is-tarnished-as-an-editor-is/49955/

    Snopes has also been exposed as having its own biases and Obi-Wan-esque “depends on your point of view” moments as well.

    So does the democratization of the process help or hurt things? I suppose what I was trying to communicate, clumsily, was that this democratization has a darker side we need to keep an eye upon. But you know me – cautious to a fault. 🙂

    Thanks for the comments and perspective – you always make a good point to challenge me and I appreciate it.

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