We could easily continue to beat the dead horse – is The Dress blue and black, or white and gold? (Personally, I saw white and gold, but that’s the last I’ll touch on that here).
I’m more concerned with what happened after the question infiltrated our lives, taking on a soul of its own and “breaking” the internet.
If you’reliving under a rock and somehow have no idea what I’m talking about, a band was playing a wedding in Scotland last weekend, and this member of the band was perplexed by the mother of the bride’s dress. Some called it blue and black, others, white and gold. The unsuspecting band member posted it to her personal Tumblr account, asking her followers for their sage inputs, and like what frequently happens with the most surprising things on the internet, it took on a life of its own and The Great Dress Debate was born.
Everyone from Taylor Swift, Kimye, and Mindy Kaling weighed in, and the following day, The New York Times published this article as a comprehensive summary and subsequent analysis. But what made me throw my pen across my cubicle wasn’t the fact we were still arguing about this dress (and still are – thanks, advertising of America for perpetuating this). It was what Buzzfeed editor-in-chief, Ben Smith, said:
“This definitely felt like a special thing,” said Buzzfeed’s editor-in-chief, Ben Smith. “It sort of erased the line between web culture and real culture.” (New York Times, February 27, 2015)
And if The Dress “erased the line between web culture and real culture,” that implies there was a boundary there in the first place. And what do lines do? They section off. They divide. They privilege.
Like it or not, we’re living in a post-modernist world (well, really, we’re in post-post-modernism, but I digress). Post-modernism has frequently grappled with the fact people still cling to the idea of high brow versus low brown culture (i.e.: opera, ballet, theater, vs. reality TV). Yet, now, for some reason, people, like Ben Smith, still assume that there are (at least) two cultures – digital, and “real.”
What happens on the internet is just as real as something that happens in our physical reality. Just because you can’t physically hold the computer code in your hands doesn’t mean it’s any less legitimate than something you can reach out and touch. We, as a Western society, have real trouble wrapping our brains around that concept.
It’s a digital world, and we’re just living in it. What happens online has very real consequences and reactions to things offline. Twitter sparked revolutions in Egypt. One asinine tweet got a woman (understandably) fired from her job and made her personal life an international mockery.
By differentiating web culture and “real” culture, we enter the messy realm of dichotomies and hierarchies. When you have a duality, one is automatically privileged and valued more than the other (Male/female. White/Black). And based off of Smith’s comments, it’s clear that “real” culture (i.e.: what happens in physical reality) is more privileged than the digital world (ironic, isn’t it, especially since Mr. Smith has earned his fortune managing one of the most popular digital journalism pieces in the world?)
I’m snarky by nature, so don’t let my words fool you. I don’t fault Mr. Smith or mean to maliciously attack him. His comment is just perplexing. In a world where so much occurs online, we as a Western society still feel uncomfortable to attributing legitimacy to our digital actions.
I don’t think The Dress erased the boundary between our “real” world and our digital world. I think it finally showed there was never a line there in the first place.