Google Protest Hoax May Have Been Theater, But It Contains a Truth About Our Angst-Ridden Times
I should know better. I really should. The tail end of 2013 has been all about the hoax. There was the lying waitress who claimed she was stiffed for a tip because she was gay, and the hysterically funny epic Thanksgiving note-passing war between two airline passengers chronicled in excruciating detail on Twitter. (Even Alec Baldwin fell for that one.) Then there was the fake Banksy art that sold out in an hour;Andy Kaufman lives! An there was Jimmy Kimmel's reveal that thetwerking woman on fire viral video was really just a stunt.
I can usually spot a fake, but I have to admit, I fell for the latest entry in the gotcha sweepstakes. Got a little charged up, right on cue. Maybe you did, too.
The scene: Monday's protest in San Francisco, where an affluent-looking, spectacled guy faced off against scruffy anti-eviction/gentrification protesters outside a private bus headed to Google headquarters. Google guy gets a little – OK, a lot – worked up over the protesters blocking his access to the bus. He needs to get to work! He bellowed:
This is a city for the right people who can afford it. You can't afford it? You can leave. I'm sorry, get a better job.
Fighting words for the easily outraged denizens of the internet: "Ah, to be young, entitled, and a douche," posted one. "This is what class warfare looks like," wrote another. Others weighed in: "[The protester] is lucky she didn't get slapped" and "maybe some of these whiney protesters would be happier in Oakland".
Google guy was so over the top awful that it should come to no surprise to anyone paying attention to the typical trajectory of these things that the whole affair was staged – "political theater" performed by a union organizer.
Now, I could sit here and turn this into a eulogy for the truth, which, in today's web-centric media landscape, has been dying a long slow death.
But I think something else is going on here. The Google hoax tapped into a nascent class outrage that's been brewing for sometime now, thanks to the Great Recession, encapsulated by Occupy Wall Street and Mitt Romney's "47 percent" snipe in the 2012 presidential campaign.
Depending on where you align yourself politically, you look at the protestvideo and see what you want to see: maybe that's greedy geeks taking over the city and jacking up housing prices; or maybe it's Grabby granola-ites who refuse to face reality. But whatever side you may fall on, we're all experiencing a massive, cultural angst. If you "have", maybe you feel a little defensive. If you "have not", maybe you feel really, really pissed.
This strange new economic reality has revealed the role that luck has played in who wins and who loses in the money game. Jobs have been lost that will never be regained; jobs that required a brain and a degree. A lot of middle class folks may never get back to the middle class whenever this recession ends. If it ever ends. (I'm inclined to think this is the new world order.)
Added to all that job insecurity is anxiety about home. Gentrification pushed out the working class from the cities and into the 'burbs. Now, there's all sorts of agitation as the so-called creative class realizes that it's being pushed out of the cities by the moneyed class of hedge funders and Internet execs. Our metropolises are mutating into something new and unrecognizable, looking more and more like sanitized playgrounds for black Amex cardholders.
I see this happening in New York, where I once lived and worked in Manhattan as a young, exceedingly broke modern dancer right out of college. Now, starry-eyed artists are moving to Philly. I see this in Washington DC, where I now live. (Full disclosure: I'm a gentrifier myself.) Washington has morphed from a staid company town to a weirdly pricey hipster haven. As its demographics change, the "Chocolate City" is looking a lot more caramel. And with those changes come tension and anxiety.
And that's why the Google hoax triggered such strong reaction, why its pranksters were able to fool so many so quickly. A hoax isn't a hoax without a very strong element of truth.