By Arturo R. García
Considering that at least part of her success has been buoyed by Twitter, Scandal showrunner Shonda Rhimes’ apparent views on Twitter seem somewhat dismissive.
During her commencement address at Dartmouth University, Rhimes encouraged students to “pay it forward” with their education, including this bit of advice:
Find a cause you love. It’s OK to pick just one. You are going to need to spend a lot of time out in the real world trying to figure out how to stop feeling like a lost loser, so one cause is good. Devote some time every week to it.
Oh. And while we are discussing this, let me say a thing. A hashtag is not helping. #yesallwomen #takebackthenight #notallmen #bringbackourgirls #StopPretendingHashtagsAreTheSameAsDoingSomething
Hashtags are very pretty on Twitter. I love them. I will hashtag myself into next week. But a hashtag is not a movement. A hashtag does not make you Dr. King. A hashtag does not change anything. It’s a hashtag. It’s you, sitting on your butt, typing on your computer and then going back to binge-watching your favorite show. I do it all the time. For me, it’s Game of Thrones.
Volunteer some hours. Focus on something outside yourself. Devote a slice of your energies towards making the world suck less every week. Some people suggest doing this will increase your sense of well-being. Some say it’s good karma. I say that it will allow you to remember that, whether you are a legacy or the first in your family to go to college, the air you are breathing right now is rare air. Appreciate it. Don’t be an as*hole.
Rhimes is incorrect on at least one of these examples: Take Back The Night did not begin as a hashtag. That particular campaign against domestic violence can be traced back to the 1970s, and has always included in-person vigils and marches. So for her to say it is just a hashtag doesn’t square at all with reality.
But it’s also fair to point out that a href=”http://time.com/114043/yesallwomen-hashtag-santa-barbara-shooting/” target=”_blank”>#YesAllWomen and #NotAllMen emerged as vital conversation points in the wake of the shooting and stabbing attacks in Isla Vista, California. They also served as points of connection for people who might not be willing to open up in a “public” setting, allowing them to share their stories as they saw fit. That doesn’t make them “Dr. King,” but the idea of online safe spaces shouldn’t be treated as invalid, either.
Likewise, #BringBackOurGirls did the same for the mass kidnappings perpetrated by Boko Haram in Nigeria, and the pressure upon the government to respond.
So in those instances, it can be argued that the tags did help, because they alerted people to the problems at hand in ways that larger media outlets were not able or willing to do. And in the case of #BringBackOurGirls in particular, the tag was a visible part of the first demonstrations associated with it in Nigeria, let alone the ones that followed around the world. In other words, seeing the tag led people to do just what Rhimes is calling for.
Moreover, what if a person has no outlets — or at least, no safe ones — within their communities? What if a person is not physically or emotionally able to put themselves in the middle of events that are typically crowded, loud and, in a worst-case scenario, potentially dangerous?
Lastly, it cannot be forgotten that Scandal, in particular, has not only survived, but thrived in part thanks to being able to generate such heated online conversation and live-tweeting. As Think Progress reported last year, data has emerged showing that people “sitting on their butt” can have quantifiable — and thus, money-making — influence on a show:
Specifically, the study found that for 18-34 year olds, an 8.5% increase in Twitter volume corresponds to a 1% increase in TV ratings for premiere episodes, and a 4.2% increase in Twitter volume corresponds with a 1% increase in ratings for midseason episodes. Additionally, a 14.0% increase in Twitter volume is associated with a 1% increase in TV program ratings for 35-49 year olds, reflecting a stronger relationship between Twitter and TV for younger audiences.
Further, the study found that the correlation between Tweets and TV ratings strengthens for midseason episodes for both age groups. An increase in Twitter volume of 4.2% and 8.4% is associated with a 1% increase in ratings for 18-34 year olds and 35-49 year olds, respectively. Moreover, by midseason Twitter was responsible for more of the variance in ratings for 18-34 year olds than advertising spend.
So what do you think, Racializens? Was Rhimes off-base?