Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Love or Loathe Loose Ties?
Laugh and Learn about Social Media Norms with Garfunkel and Oates

If you connect ML4ML with all your facebook friends, we promise to always wish you a happy birthday with lots of exclamation points, clever punctuation, and emojis, when prompted by an alert message, unless we forget or have something else to do--which you will be totally okay with because we don't really know each other anyway, we just like some of the same things, maybe. Yeah, emerging online behavior norms and interpersonal ethics are pretty tricky. If we are going to have any hope of sorting out the emotional confusion between our close friends and myriad acquaintances that our social media apps refer to as our "friends," we need to activate our digital media literacies. With help from musical parody act, Garfunkel and Oates, let's see how laughing with their song "Happy Birthday to My Loose Acquaintance" can help us consider some key questions about emerging interpersonal ethics.
"We coexist in a mutually unstated /unattached cohesion that facebook created...
to keep our minor affinity with minimal maintenance"
This song has a couple of brilliant moments, like the lyrics in the caption above, that offer tight definitions of what Internet scholars call "loose ties," connections to people that only exist through shared interests or other mutual acquaintances, often supported or created by digital algorithms in social networking apps and maintained with minimal attention and effort. This post offers resources for using the Garfunkel & Oates song to explore the value of loose tie relationships in social media, and how they affect our behavior, beliefs and attitudes towards friendship. First, enjoy a hot minute of crack-up from G&O:

Above is my Vialogues post with the embedded video featuring my annotated discussion questions and comments, and here is a link to a pdf of those notes. I have also uploaded the lyrics text, and my annotated questions/comments to Genius (embedded below), the awesome annotation app that I highly recommend (there is a way to get a free educator account to restrict the annotation/ discussion to your group's work, but my post is public). So, you can 1) focus on the lyrics conversation through Genius if that works best for your group, 2) start a group Vialogue of your own (or add to mine); or 3) do the group analysis analog, without tech, using the annotated printout pdf to support discussion for a group viewing or listening session. I also did a Vialogue post of just the lyrics, and here is a link to a pdf of the lyrics.
Once you've had a good discussion of this song, it can make for a nice model of how parody can be constructive (and instructive). Making funny songs is actually really hard (I'll reflect on my own experience in a musical comedy writing workshop in an upcoming post), but young media makers often strive to make their peers laugh through mocking familiar behaviors in the style of pop culture media they enjoy. It's hard to fine good models of doing parody to spark constructive discussion--so, this sort of video/song and discussion provide an opportunity to link analysis to learner's own production interests. Look for a post soon about some strategies for making musical comedy.

Often the best question to ask is the simplest; so, I recommend asking: Why is it funny? Ask for any given joke, like the line "Happy birthday dear person who I sort of know." The typical response is that it’s funny cuz it’s true. But that’s pretty weak. Push for better articulation. For this song, I think it’s more accurate to say that it’s funny because it seems like a contradiction ["dear person” instead of friend, who I “sort of know”] that many of us use without thinking about it. This makes us conscious of our error, and the inconsistency is funny (partly because it’s safe too, since so many people do it, we’re not feeling like the outcast or feeling like we’re cruelly singling others out). It’s nice to know we are wired to get pleasure from finding out our own mistakes and foibles.

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