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Bieber in the bonnet

2011: Justin Bieber was the man. And he proved it by facing a paternity suit, which removed some doubts that he was actually Lady Gaga in drag. Or even Lady Gaga not in drag. Anirudh Bhattacharya writes.

india Updated: Dec 31, 2011 00:34 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharya
Anirudh Bhattacharya
Hindustan Times

Dear Time magazine, you were wrong. The person of 2011 wasn't The Protester, but Justin Bieber.

The gatherings at Tahrir Square were to listen to Bieber warbling 'Baby'. Yes, to listen to these lyrics:

Baby, baby, baby, oh
Like baby, baby, baby, no
Like baby, baby, baby, oh

Okay, that's snarky, but if you were to crunch the social media numbers for 2011, it's Biebermania. The top trending topic on Twitter was, surprise, Justin Bieber. And the most searched for personality online, according to Experian, was, Justin Bieber. If Justin Bieber had camped in a yurt at Zuccotti Park, the Occupy movement may still have been relevant.

2011: Justin Bieber was the man. And he proved it by facing a paternity suit, which removed some doubts that he was actually Lady Gaga in drag. Or even Lady Gaga not in drag.

What's a Bieber, you ask? Obviously, you've not lived online this year or the courier to your Abbottabad mansion has wasted your time with inconsequential information. Bieber has more followers on Twitter than American President Barack Obama and every one of his Republican challengers for 2012, combined.

Bieber is a 17-year-old Canadian, who, in an interview to Rolling Stone magazine, said he wasn't sure about political parties but went on to offer the insightful comment that "whatever they have in Korea, that's bad." He may have been referring to Super Junior, a South Korean boy band, that's also among Twitter's top ten trending topics for 2011. He couldn't have been thinking of the Pyongyang regime, unless he was confused about Kim Jong-Il, the news of whose death many Twitter users mistook for that of rapper Lil Kim.

That Twitter list also includes Irish boy band One Direction, which released its debut album, 'Up All Night'. That album, though, isn't about insomniac Brussels Eurocrats concerned over a cratering continental currency. The Twitter list featured other natural disasters like Lady Gaga, Britney Spears and Fukushima, the Japanese city where an earthquake and tsunami caused a nuclear meltdown.

Meanwhile, according to Google Zeitgeist, the top rising search for all of 2011 belonged to 13-year-old pop celebrity Rebecca Black. And Facebook's Memology, on the most popular topics on the network in America, was topped by lms or like my status, followed by tbh or to be honest. The death of Osama bin Laden clocked in third, though it was the top global topic. We shouldn't forget the role Blackberry Messenger played in networking mobs, usually comprising teens and pre-teens, looting electronics and apparel stores in London and other British cities, for necessities of life - at least their lives - and, in one curious instance, stealing a watermelon.

Obviously, the likes of Osama bin Laden, Muammar Gaddafi, the executed Libyan autocrat or Kim Jong-il, the deceased North Korean totalitarian can't make the pop culture cut. Unless, of course, they formed the boy band from hell.

Not that celebrity obsession was absent before the social media onslaught, but it has been a great enabler, making tween mores go mainstream. The result is a domination of pap culture, or even poop culture, if you were to go by some of the more popular handles, like S**t My Dad Says, which was even turned into a television sitcom.

Data tells us that the average attention span today is five minutes, against 12 minutes a decade back. Social media is rewiring the brain, researchers warn. Perhaps soon, even the 140-character tweet limit may prove far too taxing for users.

Like everyone's Facebook profile picture, the social media revolution looks great on the surface, as the warts and blemishes are glossed over. As the new century began, the satirical website The Onion published the tome, Our Dumb Century. If paper books, already seemingly quaint, still exist as the 22nd century rolls around, the fitting sequel could be Our Dumbed Down Century.

That, fortunately, is several decades away. For now, here's hoping for an excellent 2012.

(Currently based in Toronto, Anirudh Bhattacharyya has been a New York-based foreign correspondent for eight years. The views expressed by the author are personal.)

First Published: Dec 31, 2011 00:32 IST