The social Web has the reputation for being a cold and unsympathetic place—not always, but on occasion. The fickle Internet horde can both love and hate literally anything (or anyone) simultaneously; the ‘hive-minded’ online collective has the power to build something up almost instantaneously overnight and, with equal force, tear it down with unscrupulous mobilized proficiency just as fast.
This phenomenon is currently demonstrated in the Ted Williams story (a.k.a. the man with the golden voice) and previously Joe The Plumber, the ‘human interest’ story of 2008 that briefly captured the imagination of Web audiences during Obama’s U.S. Presidential Campaign.
The recent news surrounding Ted Williams and his golden voice, while very much the feel good story of the moment about second chances and compassion, illustrates a common caveat when examining the rise of viral media fame and notoriety—namely, that it can be an unpredictable double-edged sword.
On one hand, there are people coming out of the woodwork falling over backwards with offers to help Williams get back on his feet: a new house/mortgage payments, gigs for promotional voice-overs, and marketing for various products and services. While these lucrative offers seem quite genuine on the surface, many of these businesses appear quick to jump on a media bandwagon of sorts, hoping to ride the wave of popularity and profit from Williams’ seemingly rags-to-riches American-dream story. In fact, the motives of several US broadcasters seem shallow (at best) and exploitative of Williams’ former situation in the name of network ratings, as Andrea Peters writes:
“But the media bonanza surrounding Williams’ plight is both nauseating and hypocritical. The giant corporations fawning over “the man with the golden voice” are manifestly indifferent to the extraordinary social suffering in the United States today and the country’s growing homeless population.”
“Pat McManamon of the San Francisco Chronicle pointed out that Williams’ interviewers on NBC’s “Today Show,” Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira, respectively make $13 million and $10 million a year. “Imagine how many homeless Lauer and Vieira have passed on their way to work and not given a second glance to,” he noted. The same could be said about the entire legion of major producers and executives who stand behind them.”
On the other hand, there is growing coverage devoted to exposing Williams’ incriminating dark past which includes, most notably, a rap sheet of theft, robbery, escape, forgery and drug possession—the most recent incident occurring as late as July 2010 as reported by the Smoking Gun Web site. Not only do these and other online news networks feel compelled to expose every last detail of Williams’ troubled past, including among other things, various mug shot photos and police report transcripts, they seem almost driven to fanatical lengths to tear the man down. The scathing headlines and negative YouTube rants fuel a sense of resentment towards Ted Williams as though he somehow lied to us all and isn’t entitled to a better life.
Regardless of Williams past, the man deserves a second chance at life—no one should have to be homeless—and the world would be a much better place if we all took it upon ourselves to be little more compassionate towards one another rather than pass judgment based on the limited amount of information we gather online.
If Ted Williams capitalizes on the opportunities set before him, becomes a huge success and turns his life around, all the power to him.