It was a bloody, weird year in peep culture. There was scandal, murder, two suicides, a pregnancy and a monkey. For those of you who are new to my work, peep culture is the phrase I coined in my book The Peep Diaries to describe the transition from pop culture to peep culture. In pop culture, we were “entertained” by anointed celebrities who performed scripted entertainments. In the age of peep culture, more and more we derive our “entertainment” from the unscripted events that occur in other people’s lives. In 2012 some of the biggest news stories of the year – stories with very serious implications and consequences – turned out to be events driven by our growing hunger for peep entertainment. And so, without further ado, here’s my top 5 peep moments of 2012.
#5 Darwin the Ikea Monkey
Wow, we went crazy about the the seven-month-old coat wearing Rhesus Macaque found wandering around a Toronto Ikea. Media reports circled the world and Ikea Monkey went viral almost as fast as the owner of the beast was relieved of her pet by animal control. Speaking of the owner, in order to keep the story alive newspapers resorted to headlines exploring the owner’s deep relationship to the little guy. ABC News: “IKEA Monkey’ Owner Vows to Fight for Primate’s Return”; Globe and Mail: “Owner of Darwin the Ikea monkey may be able to visit him at sanctuary”; The Telegraphin the UK: “Ikea monkey seen at home in YouTube videos”; and finally The Toronto Sun‘s awesome: “Ikea monkey owner: ‘He’s my son'”. To save us time, Gawker quickly assembled “The Best of Ikea Monkey, The Meme” but judging by the rising tide of hits on YouTube videos like the one featuring Darwin and owner brushing their teeth, I’m guessing we prefer the real Darwin to his photoshopped specter.
#4 New York Post Subway Killing
The New York Post decides to go with the most horrible cover possible. There’s only one reason to run this photo on the cover or, really, at all. This is not news. This is peep. A guy gets pushed into the subway tracks by a mentally unstable panhandler just as a train is coming into the station. A a photographer starts snapping photos. As hundreds of thousands of commentators have noted, nobody – not the photographer or anyone else on the scene – tries to help. One of the characteristics of peep culture is passivity – we watch and we record instead of intervening.
#3 The Life and Death of Amanda Todd
The public did not care about what this teenager living in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia was going through until she killed herself. Once she did, the video she made telling her story took off. 6 million views, 100 thousand plus comments and counting. The whole story is steeped in the values (or lack thereof) of peep culture. In grade 7 she’s on a chat room amusing herself and a guy tells her to flash her breasts. So she does. Later on, someone (perhaps the same guy) starts circulating the resulting still image. He even starts a Facebook page with the image as the profile picture. Lots of people get a kick out of this and Todd’s journey through depression, anxiety and multiple suicide attempts begins. Despite switching schools and moving cities multiple times, the picture and the cruelty of her peers follows her where ever she goes. Much of this cruelty manifests itself in social media – comments about her on Facebook, on blogs, on the videos she posted to YouTube. Peep is cruelest in the hothouse of adolescent culture. Todd was probably right in thinking that most of the young people who encountered her during her short life thought she was a loser. After all, they had the photographic evidence and they just seemed to want more and more. She wrote in her now infamous video that when she was attacked outside her school by a group of her peers, “kids filmed it, I was all alone and left on the ground.” In death, Todd is a peep superstar and the poster girl for global anti-bully campaigns. Everyone wants to use this girl’s story. The peep continues.
#2 The Petraeus Affair
Oh yeah, this one has everything. Threatening emails, flirtatious emails, lurid emails, all kinds of emails! Throw in twin sisters ready and willing to use the rapacious media to advance their cause (whatever it may be) plus the head of the CIA and you’ve got the #2 peep saga of 2012! So, in a nutshell, we have Florida socialite and army “social liaison” Jill Kelley who is receiving hostile emails from Paula Broadwell, who wrote the biography of General David Petraeus, who had recently been appointed head of the CIA. Kelley asks the FBI to look into these threatening emails. Somehow the FBI finds evidence of an affair between Petraeus and Broadwell. The scandal blows up, Petreaus is forced to resign, and the media goes crazy. Headlines like ABC‘s “Petraeus Scandal: Socialite Jill Kelley Fights Back”; CNN’s “After Petraeus scandal, Broadwell grapples with ‘normal life’” and the Toronto Star‘s”David Petraeus scandal: Jill Kelley’s twin hires lawyer Gloria Allred” obscure the real issue: that this isn’t a scandal at all. In fact, it’s barely even news. But it is definitely entertaining and, better yet, it’s pure peep.
The number one peep of 2012 is of course the pregnancy of Kate Middleton. Or is it the suicide of the nurse who transferred the call to the other nurse who told a couple of Australian DJs that Kate was improving in regards to the retching? Or is it the fact that the Duchess of Cambridge is set to miss the UK premiere of The Hobbit? And guess what: Kate is having twins! (Maybe…) First of all, let’s look at the prank call situation. Pranking has become more and more a stable of pop-peep culture. So these Australian DJs call up the hospital where Kate is getting treatment for severe morning sickness (a massive global news story in and of itself). Pretending to be the Queen and Charles, they are patched through by nurse Jacintha Saldanha to another nurse who updates them on Kate’s condition. This becomes a massive media event. Saldanha, a mother of two, kills herself even though she did nothing wrong. We’ll never really know what caused her to take her own life, but it seems obvious that feeling responsible for damaging the hospital’s reputation and being at the center of a peep frenzy just overwhelmed her. Of course in peep culture terms, Jacintha’s death is just a sideshow to the main attraction: Pregnant Kate. And once the kids are born, the whole fervor can start over again. The ROYAL BIRTH is already a contender for #1 peep of 2013, twins, DJ prank calls and Morrissey‘s opinions notwithstanding.