Borkowski End of Year Trends: Part Two
Award Season of Doom
Despite a global pandemic uprooting everything that is constant in our worlds, one thing remains the same – awards seasons perfectly balancing controversy and apathy. As the pandemic leaves us in a state of bewilderment, awards getting it wrong has almost become the norm, and somewhat strangely comforting. Something about esteemed institutions making the same mistakes year after year can offer a chuckle in these trying times.
Let’s start with the Grammys insatiable desire to cause their own problems starting with snubbing one of the biggest popstars in the world, The Weeknd. He may have ticked every proverbial box with his latest release; however, he didn’t receive asinglenomination. And why? Politics aside, the Grammys have failed to modernise their categories to fit in with how genres have evolved over the past decade. As contemporary popular music often crosses multiple genres, even global superstars fall awkwardly between some of the biggest categories.
Their failure to adapt with the times is a common theme. From failing to address the connotations ofcolonialism of the World Music genre(ignoring nuanced criticism of the category by simply changing the term ‘World’ to ‘Global’) or even theirhandling of former CEO Deborah Duganalleging an array of nefarious wrongdoings – something is rotten at the core.
When doneright, these award ceremonies can offer inspiration and hope. LikeDave’s Brits performancetargeting inequality and injustice, displaying his frontrunner status as the country’s next genuinely transcendent music icon. Without the Grammy-esque self-inflicted controversy, letting the talent on display shine brighter than the ceremony conducting the awards is the key to success. Sometimes, the controversy on stage is unavoidable for the organiser, likeSlowthai’s mad hourat the NME Awards - his aimless combustion on stage stole the headlines.
Awards ceremonies offer a platform to make headlines, but they should never make headlines themselves. Take the Oscars this year – a subdued affair in terms of big statements or stunts with a few brave souls sticking their heads above the parapet. Social media thrives of the controversy, which will maintain these awards relevancy. Whether it wasNatalie Portman’s embroidered capeorEminem’s performancethat left Billie Eilish’s rolling her eyes and boring Martin Scorsese to sleep.
These awards will continue to stoke drama and entertain social media for a few hours as the herd move onto the next trending topic. The ceremonies themselves remain out of touch, with no sign of anything changing. But bizarrely they perfectly represent the gulf between consumers and celebrities being celebrated. As the showbiz elite flock to the spotlight, we are almost guaranteed something to talk about. This slither of relevancy will be the lifeblood for these aging awards.
Big Tech's Reckoning
It was always going to be a big year for tech. The proliferation of fake news was inevitably continuing to rise, hand in hand with our ballooning ‘Daily Average’ screen times. In the face of a US election, the culture wars were raging harder than ever, whilst TikTok begun to assert itself as the next major social media platform, one that could start and spread trends like nothing before.
Then, of course, there was Covid. Before, our growing reliance on tech was, ostensibly, out of choice. In 2020, tech became a necessity, one that would fulfil some of our most fundamental needs: doing our jobs, speaking to other humans. There was no option but to spend greater swathes of our time staring into screens and, by dint, place greater parts of our lives into the hands of tech giants.
So, how did our motley crew, Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple et al, cope? Were they able to rise to the challenge, creating digital utopias free of fake news, abuse and corruption? Spoiler: No. But it wasn’t all bad.
We started the year reporting on Elizabeth Warren, who ‘uploaded a paid Facebook ad that asserted, falsely, that Mark Zuckerberg had officially endorsed Donald Trump for President.’ It was an ingenious move that left Zuckerberg with no choice but to ‘admit that there’s problem with fake news’ or, worse, to become fully partisan, and publicly back Trump.
Zuckerberg stood his ground for most of the year, adamant that social media companies shouldn’t have to be the ‘arbiters of truth’. But that all changed in October when Facebook announced that they were to start labelling misinformation around the election and, crucially, block political ads.
Facebook weren’t the to make the long-awaited move towards a fake-news free world. In June, we saw Twitter and TikTok block hashtags relating to the QAnon conspiracy (the now not-uncommon belief that ‘Trump is waging a secret war against elite Satan-worshipping paedophiles in government, business and the media). It’s a welcome safeguard, certainly. But conspiracies run deep, and echo-chambers aren’t easily broken. As the culture wars continue to play out in a Biden-governed US and a Brexited Britain, only time will tell whether it is too little late.
Meanwhile, the heads of Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon appeared in front of the US Congress over ‘claims that they abuse their power to achieve and sustain their historic monopolies’, in the antitrust case that could see Facebook forced to ‘unwind its acquisitions of WhatsApp and Instagram’ .
It remains to be seen what the social media landscape will look like by December 2021, but it is sure to feature TikTok, who started the year as a much-distrusted newcomer (‘declared a potential ‘national security risk’ by US intelligence’) and ended up as the new butter-wouldn’t-melt bastion of pop culture (one who’s CEO Kevin Mayer published a blog ‘advocating for ‘fair competition and transparency’… just hours before his competitors were due to face lawmakers over that exact issue’).
No doubt there will be continued debates over data, too. 2020 was the year, after all, that one woman reported being ‘been relentlessly targeted by adverts for cots, prams and baby clothes because she didn’t mark her period tracker app’, whilst elsewhere protestors and activist begun sharing tips to avoid facial recognition.
For now, though, settle into your 3rd Christmas Zoom quiz of the week. Only one thing is for certain in these final days of December: Big Tech’s reckoning isn’t over yet.